The 6 best women’s running shoes in 2021, from cushioned stability shoes to lightweight speed runners

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Solid running shoes that support your biomechanics will make miles more comfortable and safe.
  • It’s important to consider how much cushioning you need and where, and what surface you run on.
  • Our top pick, Brooks Ghost 13, is lightweight, cushioned, and durable enough to last long miles.

Running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise (and stress relief). Whether you’ve decided you’re going to start running a mile a week or you’re training for your first marathon, finding a quality, comfortable pair of running shoes is the first step to guaranteeing that commitment will happen – and that it’ll actually be enjoyable.

If you’re new to running, it’s hard to know how to choose the best pair of shoes off anything other than aesthetics. But, truly, it’s fit you want to look for. The amount of cushioning, stability, tread, breathability, and overall design shape is different for every shoe, and each of these effects or supports your natural biomechanics (that’s the way all the parts of your body move to create one overall unit).

If shoes often squish your toes, you want to look for a pair with a wider toe box. If you have bad knees or an old injury, you might do well with more cushioning in a shoe. What’s more, features like deeper lugs or waterproofing can make things like trail runs or winter runs not only more comfortable but also safer.

These aren’t just nice-to-haves: Over time, running miles and miles in the wrong shoe for your body can lead to stress and overuse injuries.

We would know: I’ve been an avid runner for years, as have all the fitness editors at Insider Reviews. Together, we comprise a diverse pool of varying foot shapes and biomechanical needs and have tested nearly every running shoe on the market.

Leveraging our experience as runners and as gear reviewers, we’ve narrowed in on the best running shoes for women with different needs. At the end of this guide, we go into more detail on how to shop for a women’s running shoe.

Here are the best women’s running shoes:

The best women’s running shoe overall

Ghost 11

The Brooks Ghost 13 shoes are durable enough for long runs, light enough for speedwork, and are even more responsive than the Ghost 10 thanks to a new sole unit. 

Pros: Well-cushioned, lightweight, smooth heel-to-toe transition, breathable, versatile design ideal for both speed work and long distances

Cons: Heavy, not supportive enough for overpronation, some reviewers feel the sole redesign creates a firmer feel that could become uncomfortable on long distances

If you’re looking for a cushioned, neutral running shoe that will fit most foot shapes, the Brooks Ghost 13 is your pick. The latest model of the Ghost line-up, the Ghost 13 has out-of-the-box comfort and works for both comfortable long runs and snappy speed work.

The Ghost 13 keeps much of what worked in prior Ghost iterations, including the 12mm heel-to-toe drop for a smooth ride. There have also been a few significant design changes, most notable the new sole unit which cuts down on the foam of previous models. This helps break away from Brooks’ reputation for heavy shoes — the Ghost 13 is comparably lightweight to other shoes on our list at just 8.8 ounces.

The rest of the sole keeps the original DNA foam which gives it the cushioned and responsive feel the Ghost line is known for. I found that this redesign offers a firmer feel underfoot than its predecessors, which is great for speedwork but could create some discomfort for longer distances. 

The shoe’s upper features a seamless, engineered mesh that promotes airflow while keeping dirt and debris out. It also gives the shoe a sleeker, more modern look. I also love that unlike many other shoes, the Ghost 13 has one tongue loop so it won’t slip around while you run and you don’t have to constantly readjust.

The best running shoe for overpronating

New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11

The New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11 is specifically designed for those who overpronate, providing a smooth, comfortable ride from heel to toe. 

Pros: Great overpronation support, comfortable cushioning, breathable, stable, 10mm drop for a natural heel-to-toe motion

Cons: Heavy, not ideal for neutral runners, upper too breathable for cold weather, narrower toe box than previous models

As a tried-and-true stability shoe line, the entire New Balance 860 line is solely dedicated to providing stability to those who overpronate, helping prevent any unnecessary running injuries.

The newest model in the line, the 860v11 has a new Fresh Foam midsole, which delivers a soft-yet-supportive feel. The 860v11 excels at providing a steady and well-supported run. One of the downsides of the 860v11 is, at 9.6 ounces, this shoe is slightly heavier compared to others on our list. But the slight weight increase comes with the payoff of more support, and its durability makes the 860v11 ideal for high-mileage.

It has a T-Beam stability shaft that runs under the midsole to help correct overpronation and still allows for a snappy and responsive feel often found in lighter running shoes. The blown rubber outsole works well in both wet and dry conditions, too.

Unfortunately, the 860v11 does have a slightly narrower toe box, particularly in comparison to past models, which will be a deal-breaker for some (though it’s worth noting the model comes in narrow, standard, wide, or extra-wide widths). 

The best shoe for trail running

Hoka CHALLENGER ATR 6

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 can handle rough terrain with its rugged soles, yet provides max cushioning and feels lightweight for a comfortable run.

Pros: Fantastic cushioning-to-weight ratio, rugged outsole and 4 mm lugs provide great traction, works on both trails and roads, toe-cap protection against rocks, comes in wide-width option, beloved by runners with joint pain

Cons: Not suited for overpronators, maybe too cushioned for rugged trails

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 is the ideal road-to-trail shoe for anyone who may be tackling mixed terrain. With Hoka’s signature cushioning underfoot, the Challenger ATR 6  provides stability and less stress and impact on the body. The Challenger ATR 6 is considered a neutral running shoe, so it won’t offer much in terms of support for overpronators. Devotees of the brand swear by that padding for reducing stress on their tendons and muscles, though.

Lightweight at just 8.8 ounces and with 4mm lugs, they’re responsive, rugged, and won’t weigh you down while you conquer your local trail. The shoe’s box is reinforced with thermoplastic polyurethane to protect your toes from rocks and roots on the trail. Hokas fit most feet, but the Challenger ATR 6 does have a wide-width option for those who need a seriously wide shoe. 

If you have to log some pavement strides before you hit trail, the traction and grip performance of this shoe is the sweet spot to works just as well on trails as it does on the pavement.

The biggest update to the ATR 6 from the 5 is the switch to recycled Unifi REPREVE® yarn derived from post-consumer waste plastic in the primary and collar mesh, and recycled poly laces, both of which are moves to help reduce waste in the running shoe industry.

The best lightweight running shoe

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon

The New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3 running shoes provide a super lightweight feel without sacrificing cushioned comfort, and they’re versatile enough to tackle both short and long runs.

Pros: Super lightweight, cushioned, comfortable upper, reflective, versatile for both short and long runs 

Cons: Shorter lifespan for total mileage, runs small

If you’re looking for a neutral, lightweight running shoe with a cushioned feel, the New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3 is your go-to. The women’s model weighs in at a mere 6.2 ounces, which is significantly lighter than most other running shoes.

This weight seems impossible with all the foam cushioning involved. The magic lies in what’s known as Fresh Foam Ground Contact, the concave and convex hexagon material that makes up the sole, sculpted and shaped to provide cushion and stability where its needed most. It’s ultra-light yet still provides a soft and responsive feel. 

The all-knit upper allows for comfort, breathability, and stretch. From heel to toe, there’s a 6mm drop, which is ideal for neutral runners. We also love the unique design feature of the ‘N’ logo being highly reflective, making for a safer dawn or dusk run.

The sole does have quite a bit of exposed foam, and while New Balance has strategically-placed lugs to keep the heel and forefoot supported, this design means this running shoe will last you more like 250 to 300 miles of running, as opposed to most other shoes’ lifespan of 500 miles. 

Also, we found that the Arishi v3 run slightly small, so we recommend going half a size up for a comfortable fit. 

Best running shoe for long runs

Under Armour HOVR Infinite

The Under Armour HOVR Infinite is specifically designed for long runs, with responsive cushioning, a durable outsole, and a built-in chip that tracks your running progress.

Pros: Cushioned comfort, responsive feel, durable outsole, gender-specific design, digitally connected to track running statistics

Cons: May need to size up, connectivity feature is currently only compatible with MapMyRun

If you’re logging longer and longer runs, the Under Armour HOVR are ideal for two reasons: its distance-specific design and built-in Record Sensor technology. 

A neutral running shoe, the HOVR Infinite is marked by its high energy-return HOVR foam. This has just the right amount of cushion to keep your legs feeling fresh even as you pile on the miles, and offers responsiveness with each stride to help keep you moving with more ease. The outsole is made of blown rubber and carbon rubber for extra durability — a must for shoes expected to withstand high-mileage runs.

The HOVR Infinite are specifically designed for the anatomy of the female foot, as well, to deliver a tighter better fit with a contoured sock liner. We found them to be not only comfortable with a soft tongue and breathable mesh upper, but also very lightweight at 8.8 ounces.

The other stand-out feature for these shoes is Under Armour’s proprietary Record Sensor tech. This is a removable chip is embedded in the insole of the shoe to track your speed, distance, stride length, and cadence. This data can then be uploaded to the Under Armour MapMyRun app post-run, allowing you to view your stats in one place. The data only works on MapMyRun (for now) but we love that you can still track your miles if you don’t own a GPS watch or if you want to know your end mileage without being distracted by your split times on your wrist. 

Even if you don’t care about the connectivity aspect, the shoe itself is still impressive. They clock in at $120, which is roughly the same as other running shoes on the market that don’t offer the same smart features. 

Best shoe for winter runs

Fitness writer Mallory Creveling taking the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield out for a winter run.
Fitness writer Mallory Creveling taking the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield out for a winter run.

The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield are incredibly comfortable, have great traction on icy roads, and keep your feet dry running through slush, snow, or rain.

Pros: Lightweight, springy, great waterproofing, superior traction

Cons: Can feel a little tight around the top of the midfoot, will feel narrow for wide feet

After testing 15 pairs of winter-specific running shoes, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield is our top pick thanks to its road-specific design that provides a little bounce back with each stride you take. What’s more, the traction on these shoes replicates what you’d find on tires. The result is a ton of grip underfoot without the lugs normally required for such a hold, which is a very hard combo to find in running shoes.

These shoes kept fitness writer Mallory Creveling’s feet dry on snowy runs, as well as when splashed directly with water in a bathtub test of the shoes waterproofing capabilities. Despite being water-repellent, these shoes are still flexible and breathable.

These do have a unique feature of giving a squeeze of support from the upper, which can feel a little too tight at times. Creveling notes loosening the laces is a simple fix, but these probably won’t be comfortable for a wider foot shape.

Overall, these are running shoe you could wear every day year-round without having to worry about cold, wet, or uncomfortable feet through many chilly miles. –Rachael Schultz

How to shop for running shoes

While shopping, you’ll want to consider the type of running you plan to do. Do you intend on doing a lot of road racing? If so, a lightweight shoe should be your go-to. Perhaps you’re planning on embarking on long trail runs; you may want a shoe designed specifically for trail running.

If you’re looking for a simple training shoe for casual running, then durability won’t be a big concern. However, if you’re the type of runner who lives in their running shoes, finding a high-mileage shoe gives you the best quality for your money.

One of the biggest factors in which running shoe is right for you depends on whether your foot strike overpronates, supinates, or remains neutral.

When your foot strikes the ground, the arch of your foot is going to collapse to some degree, which then causes your ankle to roll inward. This concept is called pronation, and it is the most defining factor in what kind of support you need from your shoe.

Some people have a neutral footstrike, so they don’t need cushioning on either side. But most of us have a tendency to overpronate or supinate.

If you overpronate, your foot rolls inward when you run, and your body isn’t absorbing shock as efficiently. To help with this, you’ll want a more supportive motion-control shoe designed to correct your foot motion.

If you supinate, your foot doesn’t rolling in far enough. This causes the outside of your foot to take the brunt of the impact with every strike. If this is the case, you’ll want a more neutral-cushioned shoe that encourages natural foot motion.

This is one of the most important things to consider when buying running shoes, too — overpronation or supination often causes serious injury over time if not addressed.

The difference between women’s and men’s running shoes

What makes women’s running shoes different from men’s starts with foot shape. Women tend to have smaller heels in relation to the forefoot, so the shape of the shoe needs to be slightly different. A lower body mass also results in slightly less foam in the midsole of the shoe, while deeper grooves make it easier to flex the midsole when toeing off.

Men and women also have different Q-angles, or the angle of incidence between the quad muscle and the kneecap, as women generally have wider hips than men. This tends to cause pronation, which requires different types of cushioning.

Read the original article on Business Insider