When you’re on a trail run, you need stable footing. Stable footing helps prevent injuries and can give you extra confidence out on the trail — making your run more enjoyable. Since your shoes provide the foundation for your entire body, they should be comfortable and fit your feet well. But there are some other things to consider when choosing the best women’s trail running shoes other than just the fit.
Before choosing a pair of trail running shoes, think about the terrain you’ll be running in. For example, if you run primarily on trails that are hard-packed or you want to use your trail running shoes for running on both trails and roads, you’ll want to look for shoes with lugs (the cleats, or “tread” on the sole) that are closely spaced. Closely spaced lugs will help you comfortably navigate hard-packed soil and give you the grip you need.
If you’re running on gravel or rocky trails (like a lot of mountain trails in my home state of Montana), you’ll want trail running shoes with special added rubber grip material on the soles that improve your grip when you’re running on rock. I’ve learned that deep lugs can be uncomfortable to run in when you’re out on very firm dirt or pavement.
You’ll also want to consider the cushion of your trail running shoes. Do you like running in shoes with a lot of cushion that make you feel like you’re running on a cloud? Or, do you like a firmer running shoe that allows you to feel more of the earth under your feet (usually referred to as a “responsive” shoe)? The construction of trail running shoes varies, so you’ll want to choose a shoe that fits your specific needs and comfort level.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I like running on a variety of trails throughout the year (in addition to road running), so I keep at least three different types of trail running shoes in my rotation.
Here are five women’s trail running shoe recommendations for 2021:
1. HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4
HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 trail running shoes are a good choice if you’re trail running on technical terrain where you’ll encounter rocks, loose surfaces, tree roots, mud and water and need to navigate steep climbs or descents. These trail running shoes are names after famous athlete Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer and come in a variety of colors (eight different ones, to be exact!). The newest version has more midfoot support and an overall more secure feel. They are grippy uphill and secure downhill in dry and wet conditions due to the special Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole.
HOKAs are well known for their cushioning, especially in the award-winning Speedgoat series. Yet despite the big stack height, they come in surprisingly lightweight at just 1 pound, 2.4 ounces. There’s a 4 mm drop in the Speedgoat 4.
Compared with the previous version, the 4s have updated toe boxes and wider forefoot construction provide a more accommodating fit for enhanced comfort and stability, and they have gusseted tongues for added breathability and lacing eye-rows contain a small winged component to ensure a secure fit.
2. Brooks Catamount
The Brooks Catamount trail running shoes are a good choice for long distance trail running. And if you have wider feet and you like a lot of cushioning, you’ll love the feel of these lightweight and responsive shoes on rugged terrain.
These trail running shoes have an innovative DNA Flash midsole infused with Brooks’ adaptive DNA material with nitrogen — giving them a spring-like feel. The TrailTack sticky outsole material grips well and there’s a Ballistic Rock Shield built in to protect your feet from rocks and roots.
They have a large heel-to-toe drop at 6 mm and weigh in at 1 pound, 1.6 ounces. The white/blue ones are probably the most popular color, but a pink/black version is also out there.
3. Saucony Switchback 2
These unique Saucony Switchback 2 trail running shoes have a sock-like feel with Saucony’s BOA Fit — a system that lets you dial into the perfect fit quickly and almost effortless. If you like a lightweight shoe that still has support, these trail running shoes are a good choice.
Boasting a 4 mm drop and weighing just 7.8 ounces, they’re also great for running on gravel, so they can work for on and off the trail. You’ll also notice a spring-like cushion — typical of Saucony’s PWRRUN+ midsole cushioning, the brand’s newest and best foam material they’ve ever had. It’s becoming a fixture of all of Saucony’s higher-end shoes.
These shoes have low-profile directional lugs made of PWRTRAC tacky rubber so as to feel agile and secure on wet surfaces and tricky terrain, and they also have a rock plate protects from trail hazards and a mud guard on the upper to protect in high-abrasion zones.
4. Altra Lone Peak 4.5
Altra Lone Peak 4.5 trail shoes are a go-to all around trail running shoe. They’re built to keep your foot in a naturally flat position (known as “zero drop,” this is probably one of the biggest raves currently in the trail- and ultra-running community).
With moderate cushioning, these trail running shoes have enough comfort for longer trail runs, like spending all-day on the trail. They are best for wider feet and have a nice built in StoneGuard feature to protect your feet from rocks. These shoes are also great for hiking as well as running.
Altra has a fair number of proprietary features built into this shoe, such as MaxTrac outsoles with a multidirectional lug pattern; the flexible, skeletal Stoneguard rock protection; GaiterTrap hook-and-loop tabs secure your gaiters; and FootShape toe boxes that allow the toes to relax and spread out naturally. All of this on top of the Fit4Her designs, which focuses shoes around the unique shape of the female foot, like with a narrower heel and midfoot, higher instep, longer arch and unique metatarsal spacing.
They weigh 1 pound, 1 ounce.
5. Nike Pegasus Trail 2
Nike Pegaus Trail 2 trail running shoes are great for every day trail runs and road-running on moderate terrain. If you’re looking for a grab and go shoe, these shoes have enough cushion and support so you can hit the trails with confidence.
The Nike React foam is a nice added feature that gives these shoes a “foam” cushion feel. They’re also very fashion forward and come in a variety of colors. Compared with other shoes on this list, the Pegasus Trail 2 has the biggest drop at 10 mm, and it weighs in at the heaviest 1 pound, 3 ounce mark.
These shoes have an engineered mesh throughout the uppers that increases airflow and drainability so your feet can stay cool and dry, and they have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the tongues and collars to keep moisture away.
Suzanne Downing is an outdoor writer and photographer in Montana with an environmental science journalism background. Her work can be found in Outdoors Unlimited, Bugle Magazine, Missoulian, Byline Magazine, Communique, MTPR online, UM Native News, National Wildlife Federation campaigns and more.
Feature image by Jacob Lund, Shutterstock
We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works.