Trail running combines the best parts of road running and hiking into one exhilarating sport, but the combination poses a challenge for footwear. The best trail running shoes should provide the springy cushion and minimal weight of a running shoe, but with the traction and stability of a hiking boot. And while trail running shoes come in many different styles with a variety of features, they’re all meant for going fast on trails. While what that looks like exactly can differ, they’ll all have deeper lugs (the bit on the bottom of the shoe like a tire) on the outsole to grip different types of terrain. To help navigate this new realm of trail running, we talked to different trail runners with hundreds of miles under their belts. We got their top tips for what to look for and recommendations for their favorite shoes.
Before getting into the details of finding the ideal trail running shoe, we should mention this: If you’re brand new to trail running and just want to give it a shot without spending extra cash, you can use your regular running shoes to get started. With runs under an hour on easy trails (and you want to start on easy trails), beginners don’t necessarily need fancy trail running shoes.
Sammie Bennett, Trail Sisters group leader in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and ambassador for Gazelle Sports, says, “If you’re just testing it out, and you’re not certain this is for you, you don’t need to have the fancy-fancy shoes, though something with a little bit more grip is always helpful.” When you’re ready to set out on longer, harder trails, or you notice yourself slipping or feeling unstable on the trails, it’s time to look at what’s on your feet. However, if you search for trail running shoes, you’ll find tons of options out there. Plus, they’ll probably use weird technical terms like lugs, gusseted tongue, or Gore-Tex lining. Below we dive into the best tips when it comes to shopping for the best trailing shoes for women.
What to Look for When Buying Trail Running Shoes
The main things you want to consider is the shoe fit and the trails you’ll be running on. “The most important thing to consider is the fit for your activity,” says Bekah Broe, director of performance footwear at Hoka. “Some models will have a tighter, sleeker fit great for speedy, technical trail runs, while others provide a more accommodating fit for endurance efforts.”
If you prefer a more cushioned, cloud-like running experience, look at shoes with more padding. If you want to feel the trail more and keep your feet light and quick, a more minimalist shoe would be a better choice. If you can, we highly recommend going to a running or outdoor-specific store in person and trying on a variety of different shoes to see what shape works best for your foot.
Another aspect to consider is water resistance. If you’re only getting one shoe for all your trail runs and you’ll be running in many different conditions, you probably don’t want a fully waterproof shoe—like something with a Gore-Tex lining—because the shoe won’t be as breathable (plus, sweaty feet on a run is the opposite of what you want). However, if the majority of your runs will be in extra wet conditions or in the snow, then a waterproof lining is something to look for.
Whether you’re getting your very first trail shoe or you just need to replace your last pair, these women’s trail running shoes are the top options out there. You’ll find top shoe brands like Salomon, Hoka, the North Face, and more from retailers like REI, Amazon, and Nike.