As we head into winter, don’t let the weather keep you inside and off those muddy trails. We’ve corralled ten pairs of women’s trail running shoes to carry you through the stormy season. Tested in Northern California, these shoes have seen miles of the toughest trails the northern region of the state has to offer.
We were pleasantly surprised this testing season as we found that many of the women’s trail running shoes we ran in did well in a variety of conditions, which means companies are getting better at building shoes for multiple types of terrain. But for those of who run specific types of trails and want specific shoes, we have you covered.
For example, Hoka One One, Treksta, and Pearl Izumi are making shoes you’ll want to wear all the time: they have all the features for running on road, trail, or mine fields of sharp rocks. Companies like Salewa, Dynafit, and Merrell have a narrower audience, offering shoes designed for specific endeavors like speed or highly technical terrain. We’re looking at all facets of trail running, from mountain training and ultra-running to vertical running and even the “trail running looks cool and I want to try it” demographic.
We’re lucky up here in Northern California. The gods have graced us with miles of trails winding through forests, scaling ridgelines, and circumnavigating lakes. As we continue through winter and the weather proves unpredictable, these trails have become soft and supple leaving specs of mud on our calves and discoloring our shoes after the first outing.
We subjected each shoe to the same test course on one of Shasta County’s most versatile trails. Our shoes needed to experience rolling terrain, steep uphills, both hard- and loose-packed ground, and of course, a litany of obstacles. We ran this course in wet and dry weather, on warm and cold days. And while sneaking views of the Sacramento River and the Shasta Trinity National Forest, we were constantly being drawn back to how amazing these 10 shoes were.
We found that some shoes were amazing to wear the whole course, and some outperformed others on specific sections. As you move towards selecting the best trail running shoe for yourself, be aware of what style of terrain you’ll be running on and for how long. While some of the following models lend themselves to being the “one quiver” shoe, we found that others were built to thrive in specific conditions.
Assess the trail running shoe’s ability to confidently navigate varying trail conditions at speed
Ranges from materials selection to solid construction and a well-considered lacing system
Carries practical considerations including resisting abrasion, incursion of debris and eliminating foot-abrading seams
Not an isolated attribute, rewards the brand’s past and current investment in the other key attributes
In trail running, connects most closely with the trail shoe’s expected useful life at a worthwhile performance level – including multi-sport potential
Pearl Izumi’s Trail N2 V3 are the go anywhere and do anything – for any distance – women’s trail running shoe. A footbed built for natural foot splay and incidental swelling is one of the features that makes this shoe ultra-run approved. Protection underfoot and a rubber tread means this shoe can handle tough trails while providing superb traction. These shoes will keep your feet happy at the end of a long training day.
Tester Comments: “It’s not often we find a shoe that we want to wear for more than just running. We’d spend all day in these Pearls if we could. We actually look forward to running long miles, even on gnarly trails.”
Treksta has been making quality footwear for years, being praised for their innovation and anatomically-correct fittings. They’ve now upped their speed and agility performance, and its making waves (pun intended). The Trail Wave is a light, quick-to-respond shoe that can handle a variety of terrain in a variety of conditions. It’s another all-around great trail shoe that if you wanted, could be the only shoe on your shoe rack. With their NestFit system, your toes sit in their anatomically-correct position, increasing the quality of your run.
Tester Comments: “Because of the NestFit system, an 8.5 fits like a size 9, and the quick lace system makes for easy synching. These actually doubled as amazing light hikers while still being light enough to be quick on the training runs.”
For those training in the mountains and for the mountains, the Salewa Lite Train moves at full force. The highly technical design and sleek look to boot gives you the feel and performance of a total badass. The aggressive lugs create a responsive feel on a variety of terrain and perfect traction. Inspired by mountain bike tires, the tread grips every surface at every angle, making this the ideal shoe for serious training this winter.
Tester Comments: “We’re stoked every time we get to put these shoes on — they just make you feel like you can conquer any trail in any kind of condition. The minimal upper shoe fits snug so they respond quickly and confidently on the trail.”
The new Mazamas have the long-loved Brooks Cascadias looking over their shoulder, and they’re coming up fast. A trail shoe built for speed on technical terrain, you may as well be dancing over dirt and rock than running. With a focus on fit, protection, and tread, these trail women’s trail running shoes are feathery light without compromising performance. Trail ladies will love how much you can get out of one stride.
Columbia has been making quality outdoor gear for years, including footwear. This year Columbia along with its sub brand Montrail has made a trail running shoe friendly to all levels of female runners. The Montrail Caldorado II is a full-fledged trail shoe allowing first time trail runners and experienced trail nuts alike to enjoy their training. Both the FluidGuide and Foam technologies provide cushion and comfort while TrailShield offers total under foot protection, factors both parties can appreciate.
Tester Comments: “There were no hot spots at all, which is an important factor for women just getting into trail running. And our tester suffers from plantar fasciitis, so the fact she didn’t need a special insole means Columbia gets a double thumbs up from the Active Junky testing team.”
While maybe not everyone’s first guess at a trail runner, the Dynafit Feline Vertical is our first pick for steep terrain. Ultra tractiony soles and a minimal, secure fit to the foot makes this trail shoe an asset to those long steep training runs. The performance-to-weight ratio is a key components to what makes the Feline Vertical so popular among serious athletes. The 4mm drop on the ultra-light vertical midsole makes this shoe ideal for both training and steep alpine races.
Tester Comments: “We loved these shoes for hill repeats on old dirt power line roads or runs up to the top of local peaks. They feel quick under foot and responsive in nearly all terrain we ran on.”
After running the same course in minimalistic shoes, running it in the Challenger ATR 2 felt like a dream. The unbeatable cushion from Hoka One One actually rejuvenates the runner in every step. Take these running shoes on road and trail for uncompromised comfort and support. The Ortholite insole and oversized EVA midsole helps make these trail shoes perfect for anyone looking for a little extra love for their joints and running pains.
Tester Comments: “We gravitate towards these Hoka trail running shoes if given the option for hard packed trails or pavement. Feet can often become unnecessarily or prematurely exhausted, and the Challengers kept our feet live and kickin’.”
Whenever someone talks about La Sportiva, mountainous terrain and miles of ridgelines with epic views immediately come to mind. The Akashas give off that vibe the minute they’re pulled out of the box. Aggressive tread, serious rock protection, and cushion enough for long miles make these the perfect shoe for distance running in alpine terrain. The strategic protection of this shoe under the arch, in the heel and over the toe is what makes the La Sportiva Akasha one of the beefiest but most graceful women’s running shoe on the trail.
Tester Comments: “The upper shoe helps the foot feel stable and secure in these shoes as you run over uneven terrain. While a bit on the narrow side, this seemed to help a lot with responsiveness and control during training.”
While winter brings bad weather, the Merrell All Out Crush Shield brings weather protection. The TPU coated mesh on the upper shoe keeps water out despite all the rain and snow you’re running in. The 5mm lugs plus super grippy tread on the outer sole make this shoe a weapon on the trail. A light cushioning in the midsole gives you just enough comfort on rocky trails while remaining in the minimalist trail running shoe family.
Tester Comments: “If you’re not used to minimal cushioning, these will suit you best on softer trails. They have excellent grip even in the muddiest of conditions. The arch support is also much more noticeable in these shoes than in others we’ve tested.”
After years of boot making, Vasque has stepped into the running shoe arena with a few solid models. One of our favorites, the TrailBender takes comfort to a whole new level. A super soft, moisture managing interior and plush footbed make this shoe a dream to run on. This women’s trail running shoe is designed to make long miles as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Tester Comments: “We loved this shoe for its ability to keep our feet, joints, and muscles happy and strong. While it handled abrasive terrain, it thrived on gravel or hard packed trails. We couldn’t believe how much cushion there was to the TrailBender, yet they still respond like a minimalist trail shoe.”