Are you ready to hit the trails and conquer new running terrain? Whether you're a seasoned trail runner or new to the sport, finding the perfect pair of trail running shoes is essential for a comfortable and successful run. In this article, we will unveil the best trail running shoes for women, designed to tackle any challenging terrain while providing optimal cushioning, traction, and support. Don't settle for anything less than the best when it comes to your trail running adventures! Join us as we dive into the world of the best trail running shoes for women and discover the perfect fit for your adventurous spirit.
Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
In this guide, we have included some trail shoes with cushioning. However, if you want a more detailed look at the best cushioned trail running shoes, check out our dedicated guide here. This guide features a larger selection of highly cushioned and moderately cushioned trail running shoes.
Best Trail Running Shoes for Mud
While most trail shoes can handle a moderate amount of mud, if you run in extremely muddy conditions, it's worth considering dedicated shoes with enhanced traction. Our guide to the best trail running shoes for mud can be found here. Check it out for some great options.
Best Trail Racing Shoes
In this guide, we have focused on generalist, everyday trail running shoes. However, if you're looking for something faster and more suitable for workouts, races, or simply having fun on the trails, our dedicated guide to the best trail racing shoes is a must-read. You can find it here.
Other Takes on Top Trail Running Shoes
If you'd like additional expert opinions on the best trail running shoes, we recommend checking out Switchback Travel's Best Trail Running Shoes of 2023 and GearJunkie's The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2023.
Hoka Speedgoat 5
Altra Olympus 5 ($180)
The Altra Olympus 5 is the most generously cushioned shoe on this list. It combines Altra's zero-drop and wide toebox design with a significant amount of midsole cushioning and a structured upper. Despite this combination, the shoe remains roomy and comfortable, providing cushioning and support without sacrificing natural movement. The Olympus 5 is lighter than its previous version and offers a more comfortable fit without compromising responsiveness or security. The shoe features a moderately lugged Vibram Megagrip outsole for traction. The Altra Olympus 5 is the most expensive shoe on our list, priced at $180.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 11.0 ounces (313 grams)
- Drop: 0 millimeters
- Pros: Provides plush comfort in a trail-worthy package
- Cons: Can feel somewhat clunky due to its maximal cushioning; higher price point
Salomon Sense Ride 4 ($120)
The Salomon Sense Ride line is designed for both road and trail running. It features Salomon's Optivibe midsole technology, which reduces vibrations and energy loss for a more comfortable and efficient running experience. The Sense Ride 4 combines this midsole technology with a moderate structure, providing stability without compromising the ride. It's an excellent choice for those new to trail running or those seeking a bit of support. The minimally lugged Contagrip outsole offers good traction on various terrains, including ascents and descents, while providing sufficient protection on rocky surfaces. The shoe's fit is accommodating, especially in the toebox area. The Salomon Sense Ride 4 is also the most road-friendly version of the shoe to date.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.3 ounces (292 grams)
- Drop: 8 millimeters
- Pros: Offers a great all-around ride on both road and trail
- Cons: May require a few miles to reach optimal performance
- Other Sense Ride Models: Gore-Tex (men's & women's)
Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 ($140)
The Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 is an excellent choice for runners looking for a versatile shoe that performs well on both trails and mixed terrain. Its key features include the highly responsive React midfoam and Nike's extensive experience in designing top-quality footwear. The Pegasus Trail 4 offers a comfortable and durable construction, with improvements made to its weight compared to the previous version. The newly designed lightweight engineered mesh upper performs exceptionally well in hot weather. While it may not be the top choice for extremely muddy trails or shorter trail races that require speed, it's a great option for most other trail running scenarios. The shoe provides a dialed-in upper fit, a responsive midsole foam, a great insole, and is almost 1.5 ounces lighter than its predecessor.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 9.5 ounces (270 grams)
- Drop: 9.5 millimeters for U.S. men's 10 and 8.5 millimeters for U.S. women's 8
- Pros: Offers a comfortable fit, responsive midsole foam, and a great insole; lighter than its predecessor
- Cons: None to note
- Other Pegasus Trail Models: Gore-Tex (men's & women's)
Hoka Torrent 2 ($125)
While not marketed as a racing shoe, the Hoka Torrent 2 is a fantastic option for races of any distance. It combines a grippy outsole and a responsive yet moderately cushioned midsole in a nimble package. Hoka describes it as a unique combination of cushioning and agility, and it definitely lives up to that description. The Torrent 2 features a generous upper fit that allows for toe spread without sacrificing precision. It offers a secure fit even on steep descents. With its well-rounded design, ample traction, and cushioning, the Hoka Torrent 2 provides a great racing experience at a solid value of $125.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 9.1 ounces (259 grams)
- Drop: 5 millimeters
- Pros: Surprisingly comfortable and fast shoe
- Cons: May lack sufficient protection on rocky terrain; lugs can shear off on the same terrain
Topo Ultraventure Pro ($150)
The Topo Ultraventure Pro is an excellent choice for runners who want a well-cushioned shoe without the maximal cushioning of Hoka models like the Speedgoat 5 or Olympus 4. It offers a balanced combination of structure, protection, and cushioning, with a generous midsole, a rock plate, and a protective upper. The shoe features a Vibram Megagrip outsole with substantial lugs, providing excellent traction on wet or rocky surfaces. The Ultraventure Pro offers a comfortable fit and ride for ultra distances, making it a versatile choice for various conditions. It is also a great value at $150.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.4 ounces (283 grams)
- Drop: 5 millimeters
- Pros: Provides an all-day fit and ride for ultra distances; a reliable and straightforward shoe
- Cons: Availability may be limited at local running stores
Brooks Catamount ($160)
The Brooks Catamount is a shoe that has been long in the making and now delivers outstanding performance. It is lightweight, breathable, well-cushioned, and features impeccable construction. This shoe is equally suitable for your first 100-mile race as it is for your daily runs. It offers instant comfort right out of the box, and our testers found it performed even better after a few dozen miles of wear. Once you try it, you'll likely fall in love with the Catamount.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.2 ounces (289 grams)
- Drop: 6 millimeters
- Pros: Offers a great balance of light weight and comfort for runs of any distance
- Cons: Takes some miles to fully break in underfoot
Brooks Cascadia 16 ($130)
The Brooks Cascadia 16 is a classic trail shoe that has remained popular for almost two decades. It is highly recommended for new trail runners, as it performs well on various trail conditions and is also suitable for road-to-trail running. The shoe has an 8-millimeter heel-to-toe drop, making it accessible to most runners. Recently, Brooks made some changes to the Cascadia 16, moving away from the Pivot Post system and increasing the midsole height. However, the shoe still provides a stable and moderately cushioned ride, along with excellent protection on rocky terrain. The upper of the Cascadia 16 offers simple performance, featuring a gusseted tongue and gaiter attachment points. Overall, the Cascadia 16 is known for its "total comfort" and affordability, making it a reliable choice for most runners.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.9 ounces (308 grams)
- Drop: 8 millimeters
- Pros: An effective everyday road-to-trail shoe
- Cons: Versatile outsole not great in mud
- Other Cascadia Versions: Wide (men’s & women’s); Gore-Tex (men’s & women’s)
Altra Lone Peak 6 ($140)
The Altra Lone Peak 6 is a versatile shoe that caters to both trail runners and hikers. Many trail runners choose it as their everyday shoe, using it for various terrains and distances. It is also a popular option for individuals looking to improve lower leg strength and mobility outside of running. The Lone Peak 6 offers a moderate amount of cushioning and a grippy outsole, all while providing a roomy toebox.
The latest version of the Lone Peak continues the line's comfortable upper, sufficient cushioning, and spacious toebox. The updates mainly focused on reducing stitching and overlays in the upper, resulting in the lightest version of the shoe to date. Despite the changes, the shoe still provides good foot lockdown and improved breathability and drainage. It's important to note that the Lone Peak 6 runs slightly smaller than its predecessor.
In terms of performance, the Lone Peak 6 offers the same level of cushioning as previous models, with the switch to more resilient AltraEGO foam. The shoe maintains excellent traction on most trail conditions and delivers a nimble and responsive yet comfortable ride. However, it's worth mentioning that Altra's zero-drop platform may pose a challenge for some runners. If you're new to low- or no-drop shoes, it's recommended to gradually increase mileage and allow for recovery when experiencing calf or Achilles tendon soreness.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.4 ounces (267 grams)
- Drop: 0 millimeters
- Pros: Incredibly roomy toebox while maintaining good lockdown; excellent traction in mud
- Cons: Less traction on wet rocks and logs
- Other Lone Peak Versions: All weather (men’s & women’s); LP Alpine (men’s and women’s)
THE BEST WOMEN'S TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
BEST TRAIL RUNNING SHOES:
HOKA SPEEDGOAT 5
Weight: 8.5 oz
Heel Drop: 4 mm
Stack Height (heel/toe): 31 mm / 27 mm (heel/toe)
Rock Plate: No
Ideal use: Daily trainer, most trails, moderate to long runs
What we like: support, stability, cushioning, traction
What we didn't like: takes a while to get used to the high stack
By far, out of all the “best trail shoe” lists out there, the Hoka Speedgoat 5 was consistently mentioned. So, it’s no surprise that we believe if trail shoes were high school, the Hoka Speedgoat would be most likely to win homecoming queen. Hoka is a renowned brand known for its superior cushioning, support, and foot protection.
To determine the Speedgoat 5s as our best overall trail shoe, we extensively tested them on various terrains, including snowy Tahoe trails, rolling hills, steep rocky trials, loose desert dirt, and muddy trails in Sonoma. Essentially, we took these shoes everywhere, and they performed exceptionally well.
COMPARE PRICES OF THE HOKA SPEEDGOAT 5
The Hoka Speedgoat 5 GTX is the waterproof version that is ideal for winter running.
The author tackling a technical, rocky descent in the Speedgoat 4. Photo by David Mitchell.
Unlike some trail shoes, the Speedgoats do not have or need a rock plate. After thorough testing, we can confidently say that you would need to be extremely sensitive to even notice the jabs and pokes of sharp rocks through the thick cushioning. That’s why we believe the Hoka Speedgoat 5 is the best trail running shoe for most people, as its support and protection on rugged terrain make it a solid option for any trail.
We tested the Speedgoat 5s—the newest iterations of the Speedgoat line—and were impressed with both the regular version and the Speedgoat 5 Gore-Tex. Read more about Hoka's Gore-Tex version below and in the section Should I get Waterproof Running Shoes?).
The Speedgoat 5 (like its predecessors) features the Vibram Megagrip outsole and 5mm lugs for excellent traction on technical trails. Runner’s World confirms that this shoe excels on wet and rocky terrain. In our extensive testing in the Wasatch Range of Utah and Sierra Nevada trails in Tahoe, we found that they performed exceptionally well on packed snow and felt secure on rocky trails.
Media and customer reviews also praise the improved grip, traction, and increased comfort in the 5th iteration of the model, which reinforces our belief that this is a great shoe for running through mud and snow. I've taken them out on many winter runs and love their traction. As the snow melts and mud sets in, these are dependable shoes to keep you steady.
Another aspect of the Hoka Speedgoat 5 that we appreciate is the shoe's inclusivity in sizing, with good wide options available. Additionally, the Speedgoat 5 GTX offers a weatherproofing option (see below).
After a run, most of us can't wait to take off our shoes. However, none of our testers feel this way about the Speedgoats. We love how comfortable our feet feel after a morning run in these shoes—some of us even wear them for the rest of the day while running errands. We attribute this to the shoe's superior cushioning and stability.
We are always on the lookout for shoes that can go the distance. Trail Runner Magazine says this shoe is perfect for ultra-marathoners and is Hoka's best version of the Speedgoat yet.
IS THE HOKA STACK HEIGHT WORTH IT?
Hokas generally have a higher stack height than other trail running shoes due to their classic cushioning in the midsole. We appreciate how the cushioning absorbs the impact of rocks, roots, and other obstacles.
When wearing the Speedgoats, we don't feel a thing running on technical trails. This means we can focus less on avoiding discomfort and more on our running technique (and enjoying the views). Unsurprisingly, Outdoor Gear Lab recognizes this shoe as a Top Pick for comfort and foot protection.
We were curious if we would be more prone to rolling an ankle while running in the Speedgoats. Our senior editor, Brandon Lampley, notes: “As a heavy runner with somewhat tricky ankles, I can attest that I am much more likely to roll an ankle in my Hokas than any of my lower stack shoes. The cushioning is awesome, and I put up with the tradeoff. But if I feel like it will be a clumsy day, I wear a lower stack shoe and forgo the cushion.”
The Vibram sole on the Speedgoat 4. Photo by David Mitchell.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SPEEDGOAT 4S AND 5S
The Speedgoat 5s incorporate aspects of both the Speedgoat 4s and the Speedgoat EVOs to build upon the already popular 4s and improve performance on tough terrain. While the specs haven't changed much, the Speedgoat 5s have replaced the welded upper with a more flexible upper. This change results in a slightly more forgiving fit in the toe box compared to the 4s. The stretchier vamp allows the shoe to adapt to the feet as they warm up during a trail run. The thinner gusset at the tongue also creates a little more space for the midfoot compared to the 4s.
Hoka also incorporated the midsole from the Speedgoat EVOs, which is slightly softer than the Speedgoat 4s. The Vibram Megagrip outsole remains the same in the 5s as in the 4s, although Hoka made some small edits to the grip layout for improved durability and traction.
THE BEST UPGRADE TRAIL RUNNING SHOE:
LA SPORTIVA JACKAL II BOA
Weight: 8.6 oz
Heel to toe drop: 7 mm
Stack Height: 29 / 22 (heel/toe)
Closure Type: Laces
Rock plate? Yes
Runs: SMALL (seriously—get a FULL SIZE bigger than other La Sportiva shoes)
Ideal use: rocky, technical terrain
What we liked: durable, great stability and traction
What we didn't like: sizing is off, expensive
If you're willing to spend more on the best trail running shoe, we believe the Sportiva Jackal II is the top choice. The best upgrade shoe category highlights a high-quality trail running shoe with great features at a slightly higher cost. The La Sportiva Jackals are the overall winners in our best men's trail running shoe guide, and while we were tempted to choose them as the best women's trail running shoe overall as well, we also recognize that the average income of those who buy women's running shoes is lower than those who buy men's running shoes.
Although not the most expensive shoes we tested, the La Sportiva Jackals are on the higher end of the price range. However, their features cannot be beaten for rugged terrain.
COMPARE PRICES OF THE LA SPORTIVA JACKAL II BOA
The author in the La Sportiva Jackal. Photo by Matt Johnson.
One of our testers' first runs in the La Sportiva Jackal II's straight out of the box was a 12-mile, 8-hour, 8,000’ vertical gain ridge traverse in the Wasatch mountains. After many more miles and big adventures in these shoes, here are our testers' impressions:
Treeline Review tester Sara literally dialing in the Boa fit in the La Sportiva Jackal II.
We initially had some difficulty finding the right size. One tester already owned the La Sportiva Mutants, so ordering the same size for the Jackals seemed logical (it wasn't). When they arrived, they felt way too small, and she had to go a full size larger than her usual size. (This is also a common issue with the La Sportiva Bushido II.)
This comes as no surprise, as this shoe was designed by La Sportiva specifically for long-distance runners. The EVA and Infinitoo™ PU layers in the Midsole provide support and stability. They also feature a dual-density rock guard and a durable toe cap for added foot protection.
We appreciate the feel of the near-seamless upper. One tester noticed that she had to stop twice during her 8-hour traverse to adjust and pull up the tongue and tighten the (extra-long) laces. She also experienced a slight bit of heel lift, but after lacing up the upper eyelets, she was able to secure her heel satisfactorily. (Admittedly, she's unsure if this is a common occurrence with the shoe or if it was associated with the 4th class scrambling involved in that particular adventure.)
The author in the La Sportiva Jackals. Photo by Matt Johnson.
We tested these shoes on various terrains, including snow, crumbly scree, and rock scrambling, and we appreciate the solid traction they provide. No one likes feeling uncertain about their footing on unstable ground, and the traction in a trail shoe plays a significant role in that. The Jackals have Friction AT 2.0 compound rubber that offers excellent traction and security on any trail. Given that La Sportiva is a climbing company, their proprietary rubber is known for its grip. The trade-off is that these shoes feel stiffer, but with that stiffness comes stability.
A Treeline reviewer also had the opportunity to take these shoes out on a couple of runs and felt that they didn't grip the best on mud. However, having worn several pairs of shoes from La Sportiva, they found the Jackals to be roomier in the toe box compared to other models.
Regardless of some sizing issues, it is evident that the features of this shoe were well-thought-out and designed with trail runners in mind. At a slightly higher price compared to other trail shoes, we believe this is an excellent option for those willing to pay a bit more for a "premium" running shoe.
THE BEST TRAIL RUNNING SHOE FOR LONG DISTANCE RUNNING:
ALTRA LONE PEAK 7
Weight: 9.2 oz
Heel to Toe Drop: 0 mm
Stack Height: 25 mm / 25 mm (heel/toe)
Closure Type: Laces
Rock Plate: Yes
Ideal use: long, technical trail runs
What we liked: comfort, no blisters, toe box
What we didn't like: durability
The Altra Lone Peak 7 is the highly acclaimed update of a shoe that has been around for a while. Its numerous iterations have consistently received recognition on top shoe lists, including winning in our own articles. The Lone Peaks are also our top choice for the best zero drop trail running shoe. We caught the Altra Lone Peak fever after hearing about them from a fellow thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in 2013 (who had caught the fever while on the Pacific Crest Trail). Our testers have worn each version on virtually every terrain imaginable and have plenty to say about them (both flaws and praises)!
The Lone Peak is excellent for long distances due to its patented Toe Shaped toe box. This design reduces the likelihood of blisters or injuries since your toes have ample room to spread out rather than being cramped in a tight space. Reviewers often rave about the roomy toe box, and we wholeheartedly agree. Moreover, these shoes have a 0mm drop between the heel and toe, encouraging a natural midfoot strike.
COMPARE PRICES OF THE ALTRA LONE PEAK 7
Treeline Review tester Sara in the Lone Peak 7 (regular width).
Slipping into a brand-new pair of Lone Peaks feels like putting on a pair of slippers. After covering over 100 miles in the latest Lone Peaks, we haven't experienced any rubbing or comfort issues. However, some reviews mention that the newest model isn't as comfortable as previous iterations due to the narrower midfoot section.
But for those with wider feet, there's no need to worry! The latest iteration of the Lone Peak 7 offers a wide option, as Altra continues to prioritize providing a wide fit in their popular models. This is their response to feedback that some recent Lone Peak models weren't wide enough.
In conclusion, whether you're conquering muddy terrains, racing against the clock, or exploring the trails with cushioned comfort, there is a perfect pair of trail running shoes out there for every woman. From the lightweight and speedy Hoka Speedgoat 5 to the durable and protective Altra Olympus 5, and the versatile Salomon Sense Ride 4 to the responsive and stable Nike React Pegasus Trail 4, the options are endless. Don't forget the Hoka Torrent 2, Topo Ultraventure Pro, Brooks Catamount, Brooks Cascadia 16, and Altra Lone Peak 6, each offering unique features to enhance your trail running experience. With this lineup of top-notch footwear, you'll be well-equipped and ready to conquer any trail that comes your way. So lace up your shoes, hit the trails, and unleash your adventurous spirit with the best women's trail running shoes!