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The best women’s trail running shoes for comfort, speed and grip on the toughest trails

best women's trail running shoes: Dolomites runner
The best trail running shoes for the world's toughest trails (Image credit: Getty)

The best women's trail running shoes continue to develop at breakneck speed, keeping pace with a pursuit that is rapidly gaining popularity. As leading athletes continue to crash through the boundaries of what was thought to be possible on the trails, manufacturers continue to innovate to keep up with them.

Today, the best trail running shoes are lightweight, comfortable, durable and give excellent grip for all manner of surfaces. Brands from all over the world compete to craft the ultimate running shoe. Competition between manufacturers is just as intense as between the world's best skyrunners.

best women's trail running shoes: mountain runner

Trail running shoes give you enhanced grip for technical trails (Image credit: Getty)

With so many excellent pairs out there, choosing the best trail running shoes for you will be down to what it is that you value most. British brand inov-8 pride themselves on unrivalled grip, perfect for technical, muddy trails; while Hoka, originally a French company now based in California, specialise in 'maximalist' shoes with supreme cushioning; while Cimalp's 864 Drop Evo allow you to customize the drop to suit your own running style.

All eleven pairs in our guide have been tested on forest tracks, mountain ridges, river crossings, moorland trails and more. In short, they've been well and truly put through their paces to see how they cope with the toughest terrain. 

How we test the best women's trail running shoes

Our female reviewers test women’s trail-running shoes on varied terrain, including technical singletrack and mud, in a range of conditions, on training outings and during competitive events. Specific features (including grip, foot support, toe and heel protection, cushioning, waterproofing, breathability, materials used and general comfort) are tested against claims made by the brand, and we assess factors such as durability, environmental impact and value for money.

The best women's trail running shoes you can buy today: our top picks

Without further ado, we introduce you to our selection of the best women's trail running shoes for 2022.

The best women's trail running shoes overall

Merrell Antora 2

(Image credit: Merrell)

Merrell Antora 2

Lightweight, tactile runners for women who like to feel the trail beneath their feet

Specifications

RRP: $110 (US) / £84 (UK)
Weight (per shoe): 270g/9.5oz
Materials used: Mesh and TPU upper, lightweight EVA foam midsole, Vibram TC5+ rubber sole
Drop: 8mm
Colours: Black / Lichen / Black and Camo / Black and Shark / Capri / Highrise
Compatibility: Women-specific, lightweight shoes for running a wide range of trails in moderate conditions

Reasons to buy

+
Good ground feel
+
Snug fit
+
Good traction

Reasons to avoid

-
Stiff ride

Merrell began its trail shoe journey with barely-there, minimalist offerings, and continues in that vein for, the most part, to this day. This sets the brand apart to a degree, as trends over the past few years have seen trail running shoes become increasingly more cushioned and maximalist in design. The Antora 2 is one of Merrell’s latest models and is designed for females only. Like most Merrell shoes, it delivers a lightweight, natural feel, but comes armed with a burly, super-grippy Vibram sole. With a lower stack height than many of today’s trail shoes, this model works well for those who prefer a closer-to-the-ground feel and some agility when jumping over roots and rocks. With a medial post for slight pronation control, the ride in this shoe is stable and firm, which is worth noting for those who prefer something a bit more free-feeling.

Best women's trail running shoes for versatility

best women's trail running shoes: Cimalp 864 Drop Evo

(Image credit: CimAlp)
Work out the right drop for your running stride with Cimalp’s 864 Drop Evo, customisable with three sets of insoles

Specifications

RRP: $132 (US) / £169.90 (UK)
Weight: 265g / 9.35oz
Drop: 4–8mm
Sizes available: 3.5–7.5
Colors available: Gray
Compatibility: Good for tackling varied terrain each time you run

Reasons to buy

+
Innovative customisable drop
Grippy Vibram soles

Reasons to avoid

-
Different insoles might be unnecessary if you always run the same terrain

Cimalp’s clever new 860 Drop Evo for women comes with three pairs of insoles, allowing you to switch downwards from an 8mm to a 4mm drop (also known as offset – different drops will suit different running styles, strides and surfaces). This is brilliant if you’re getting into running more seriously and want to work out what your natural stride suits. Even if you know what kind of runner you are, switching to less drop on more technical terrain and then going back to more drop on groomed trails and tarmac might suit you nicely, or you may want to experiment with dropping down to strengthen your Achilles heel. We always rate Vibram branded soles when testing out trail running shoes and hiking boots, and Cimalps are no exception, offering reliable grip even on wet, uneven ground.

best women's trail running shoes: On Cloudultra

(Image credit: On)
As cushiony as a cloud but with great grip on wet surfaces, the Cloudultra is ideal for swapping from trail to road surfaces as you please

Specifications

RRP: $212 (US) / £160 (UK)
Weight: 245g / 8.64oz
Drop: 8mm
Sizes available: 3–9
Colors available: Lavender / Black / Pale green
Compatibility: A good all-rounder that can tackle both tarmac and trail

Reasons to buy

+
Cushioning insoles
+
Great grip
+
Well-designed lugs

Reasons to avoid

-
The pale hues look dirty fast

The cushiony On Cloud collection of trail running shoes really are as comfy and as springy as they look, and the Clouldultra is our pick of the line-up for the great outdoors. A thick insole keeps feet comfortable when you’re clocking up longer distances, and the sticky grip really stood out on test – this shoe is reliable even on wet, slick surfaces such as rocks and roots, and the lugs are designed to stay free of debris, so you can keep your footing on long-distance runs. This was our favourite shoe on test for going from trail to tarmac, so if you like to mix up your runs, fancy a new pair of shoes for tackling Park Runs or just want one set of runners for all kinds of terrain, these are a great pick. We like the urban looks of the Cloudultra, although the paler colours do look dirty quickly (but they are reasonably quick to wash), so mud enthusiasts may want to pick the black version.

Best women's mountain running shoes

best women's trail running shoes: Salomon Sense Ride 4

(Image credit: Salomon)
Waterproofing meets breathability in these lightweight and airy shoes – great for changeable summer conditions

Specifications

RRP: $172 (US) / £145 (UK)
Weight: 235g / 8.29oz
Drop: 8mm
Sizes available: 3–9
Colors available: Blue
Compatibility: Great for wet conditions

Reasons to buy

+
Quick-adjust laces
+
Water-resistant
+
Breathable

Reasons to avoid

-
Look dirty fast

Most waterproof trail-running shoes are only recommended for the coldest weather, as they don’t let feet breathe very well. Not so Salomon’s Sense Ride 4, which boasts a waterproof membrane but is also breathable enough to keep your feet cool on warm, rainy runs. This shoe is not quite as waterproof as, say, a Gore-Tex hiking boot would be, but it does repel rain well, and if it does get saturated in puddles, it’s quick to dry – we’d class it as water-resistant.

The Ride 4s are pleasingly lightweight and speedy to wear, and we like the quick-adjust laces – no more faffing with knots mid-jog. The light weight and mesh-like outer fabric feel freeing to wear, but do offer a tad less protection than a stiffer shoe would, making these shoes better suited to trails rather than going off-piste on rocky ground. A quality choice for Britain’s mercurial weather, although the pale blue hue does look dirty quickly when you’re exploring dirt trails (we will never understand why trail shoes come in pastel colorways!).

La Sportiva Jackal

(Image credit: La Sportiva)

La Sportiva Jackal

A cushioned all-mountain trail running shoe for medium-distance training runs and ultra distance races

Specifications

RRP: $140 (US) / £130 (UK)
Weight (per shoe): 250g/8.8oz
Materials used: Sandwich Mesh upper with No-Sew thermo-adhesive reinforcements and breathable Mono-burr nylon inserts, TPU toe cap; 4mm Ortholite Insole with compression molded EVA and Infinitoo PU inserts; 1.5mm Dual Density Compressed EVA Rock Guard underfoot; FriXion XT 2.0 outsole with impact brake System, FLEX Inserts and 3mm lugs
Drop: 7mm
Colors: Hibiscus & Malibu blue / Neptune & Pacific blue / Celery & kiwi
Compatibility: This is an all-terrain off-road shoe, but it excels on mountain trails

Reasons to buy

+
Cushioned sole
+
Traction on a range of terrain
+
Soft, fitted tongue
+
Higher volume forefoot
+
Comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Only 3 color options for women

The La Sportiva Jackal is designed to be a comfortable fit for medium to long distances on a range of mountain terrain. The cushioned sole has a 7mm heel-to-toe drop and boasts ‘Infinitoo’ high-energy return technology. The midsole also incorporates a high-density EVA Rock-Shield for a more stable run with rock-guard effect (supplying protection for your sole from sharp rocks and sticks). The sole has longitudinal grooves to enhance the flex of the sole along the fold lines, while the dual compound ‘Frixion Red tread’, with differentiated ‘Impact Brake System lugs’, gives grip, traction and control on different terrains, including mud, wet rocks and tree roots. The uppers include lateral ‘Net-Mesh’ to improve ventilation and climate comfort, while protection comes from a toecap and rand. A soft, elastic tongue has what La Sportiva call ‘internal bellows’ to give protection against intrusion of stones and mud.  An extra wider pair of eyes at the top of the lacing facilitates the adaptation of the foot volume during long-distance runs, and therefore accommodates feet that may swell. 

The women’s Jackal is built on a different Tempo Ultra last to the men’s shoes, and this takes into account the fact that women’s feet are naturally slimmer and lower volume than men’s. In addition, the female version shoes weigh on average 50g less than the men’s, and the color options are brighter. La Sportiva shoe are often slightly shorter than other brands, so it might be worth going up a half or full size.

Best women's trail running shoe for general use

best women's trail running shoes: Saucony Peregrine 11

(Image credit: Saucony)
Smart and stylish runners best suited to summer – and to runners with narrow feet

Specifications

RRP: $153 (US) / £115 (UK)
Weight: 270g / 9.5oz
Drop: 4mm
Sizes available: 3–10
Colors available: Shadow & jade / Future spring / Future neon / Royal limelight / Zinc & sky
Compatibility: Ideal for warm but wet weather

Reasons to buy

+
Quick to dry
+
Waterproof version available
+
Great looks

Reasons to avoid

-
Narrow fit

All things bright and beautiful – the Saucony Peregrine comes in a range of eye-catching colorways, and we like its retro looks. Okay, so style probably isn’t your first thought when shopping for hardy trail shoes, but it can’t hurt – and the Peregrine delivers performance-wise, too. We tested out the non-waterproof version of the Peregrine, which worked fine for us (many runners prefer the better breathability of non waterproof running shoes), but if you prefer your runners to be weatherproof, Saucony offer a Gore-Tex version. We found the non-waterproofed version to be quick drying, and they also shed water fast, so they’re a good choice for most runs of medium to short distance. The fit of the Peregrines is a shade on the narrow side around the toes, so it may be worth trying on a few different sizes, or avoiding if you have wide feet or bunions.

Brooks Cascadia 15

(Image credit: Brooks)

Brooks Cascadia 15

The latest update of Brooks’ popular trail running shoe boasts rugged protection, trusted stability, plus improved fit and breathability

Specifications

RRP: Standard: $130 (US) / £120 (UK), GTX: $160 (US only)
Weight (per shoe): 283.5g / 10.4oz
Materials used: Monoloop mesh upper; TrailTack sticky rubber outsoles
Drop: 8mm
Colors: Black, ebony & coral cloud / Nocturne, zinfandel & black
Compatibility: A wide range of trails

Reasons to buy

+
Trusted and popular
+
Great comfort fit
+
Rock plate for protection
+
Wide range of sizes
+
Two widths
+
Good price

Reasons to avoid

-
Fairly stiff sole 
-
Not the lightest
-
High volume forefoot

The latest update of the tried-and-trusted Brooks Cascadia trail running shoe includes an upper made of newly engineered monoloop mesh with a  ‘3D Fit Print’ for increased breathability and faster dry time. Available for a pretty decent price (compared to many similarly featured trail running shoes, the uppers also feature a full circumference rand for protection from stones and vegetation, and a sole that folds up over the toe area for further durability. The sole has a built-in rock plate to provide greater protection underfoot from pointy rocks and roots, while there is enhanced cushioning thanks to something called ‘BioMoGo DNA’. We are not sure what BioMoGo DNA is exactly, but on test the shoes did feel very comfortable and cushioned. A ‘Pivot Post System’ offers a stable platform that allows the foot to adapt to any terrain, and the outsoles give added grip on off-road terrain. Other details include neutral support with an 8mm heel-to-toe drop; a choice of widths and a wide range of sizes for women; a lace-keeper loop to stow laces out of the way; and attachment points for gaiters if you choose to wear them. The forefoot offers high volume, which some runners will like while others will find too much. A more expensive GTX version is available in the US. 

The women’s specific Cascadia is designed to fit the female foot and is sold in a medium (1B) and wide (1D) fit. Each shoe weights on average 283g, which is lighter than the men’s equivalent. (This is not the lightest shoe on test but it is good to have a choice of width.) The three colorways available for the women’s shoe each feature pink, to a lesser or greater extent. This is fine if you like pink but not so good if you prefer not to wear girlie pink.

Best lightweight women's trail running shoes

best women's trail running shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider TT

(Image credit: Mizuno)
Lightweight and freeing to run in, the Wave Rider is lovely for long distances on dry trails

Specifications

RRP: $172 (US) / £130 (UK)
Weight: 230g / 8.1oz
Drop: 12mm
Sizes available: 3–10
Colors available: Coral
Compatibility: Dry conditions on established trails

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Breathable

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited grip
-
Big drop won’t suit everyone

If you like feeling fleet footed when you’re running, you may get on well with Mizuno’s Rider shoe – weighing in at just 230g, this really feels barely-there underfoot, and is ideal if you’re working up to tackling trail half-marathons, marathons or beyond and want your legs to feel fresh for as long as possible. 

They may not feel substantial underfoot but the Wave Riders still offer fair grip – on test they performed well on hard-packed trails but were less reliable on slippery wet surfaces, so we reckon they are best saved for dry days on more cared-for trails rather than challenging terrain. They’re also highly breathable, even on the hottest of summer runs – good if you like to fit trail runs in on your travels abroad. If you already own a more heavy-duty waterproof pair of trail runners for winter, this would be a good pair to swap into once the clocks go forward.

Altra Superior 4.5

(Image credit: Altra)
A minimalist shoe that lets you connect intimately with the trail

Specifications

RRP: $110 (US) / £115 (UK)
Weight (per shoe): 198g/7oz
Materials used: Seamless wrap-around engineered knit upper, MaxTrac rubber outsole, Contour footbed insole with removable StoneGuard
Drop: 0mm
Colours: black pink / Capri breeze
Compatibility: From woodland paths to technical singletrack trails – you can take this shoe most places, but your legs and feet need to be barefoot fit

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight, barely there feel
+
Wide toe box
+
Flexible ride 

Reasons to avoid

-
Less traction than some others
-
Less protection 

Altra has been around for about a decade now and it has remained true to its origins, offering up a foot-shaped design that allows for comfort and a barefoot feel. This translates into fantastic ground feel. The sole is also extremely flexible, a feature loved by those who prefer to let their feet move as designed. With less cushioning and bulk, the Superior also feels light and in touch with the trail. Another mainstay of Altra is its zero drop design, which appeals to minimalist runners. If you’ve never tried a zero drop shoe, however, do ease your way into it in order to prevent lower leg injury. If you like protection from obstacles on the trail, this probably isn’t the shoe for you, but it coped with the Appalachian Trail on our test.

Best maximalist women's trail running shoe

HOKA One One Challenger ATR 6

(Image credit: HOKA)

HOKA One One Challenger ATR 6

A versatile maximalist shoe, comfortable on trails, roads and lanes alike

Specifications

RRP: $130 (US) / £115 (UK)
Weight (per shoe): 229g/8.1oz
Materials used: recycled yarn, CMEVA foam midsole, rubber outsole with zonal construction
Drop: 5mm
Colours: Black iris and hot coral / Cascade and ombre blue / Provincial blue and saffron
Compatibility: Ideal for mixed terrain runs that take in sections of road and stretches of rough stuff, but nothing super gnarly

Reasons to buy

+
Well cushioned
+
Versatile
+
Roomy

Reasons to avoid

-
Not made for very technical conditions
-
Lower ground feel

If you are looking for a shoe that transitions well from road to trail and back again, the Challenger ATR 6 is for you. HOKA designed this shoe with a versatile, all-terrain sole that is suitable for a wide variety of surfaces. The outsole features ‘zonal’ construction with the goal of optimizing grip, while keeping the weight low. As the original ‘maximalist’ shoe, HOKA is known for its cushioning and has earned a cult following for the soft landing it provides. The Challenger stays true to this mission, while also feeling quite agile. The tradeoff for this cushioning is the lack of ground feel, which some runners are loath to give up on tricky trails. HOKA has a wide variety of model options, allowing you to pick the one that best fits your needs. The Challenger stands out for its versatility.

Best women's trail running shoes for running in mud

Best women’s trail running shoes: INOV-8 X-Talon G 235

(Image credit: INOV-8)

INOV-8 X-Talon G 235

Aggressive, toothy trail-hugging high performer in adverse conditions

Specifications

RRP: $180 (US) / £140 (UK)
Weight (per shoe): 235g/8.3oz
Materials used: Synthetic upper, Powerflow+ midsole, Graphene Grip sole
Drop: 6mm
Colours: Orange and black
Compatibility: The muckier, rougher, tougher and more technical the trail the better – a classic fell running shoe

Reasons to buy

+
Good grip
+
Minimal, lightweight feel
+
Fast ride

Reasons to avoid

-
Low cushioning
-
Expensive
-
Narrow toe box

This British brand has multiple models to select from, but the X-Talon is a consistently popular choice for experienced rough-terrain runners who frequent technical and challenging trails. It offers a rare combination of a flexible, lightweight feel equipped with a good grip in the sole. In fact, some users have commented that it gives the sensation of a trail shoe combined with cleats. It does all of this with a full rock plate running down the bottom. The shoe wraps and hugs the foot thanks to its gusseted tongue, which means your foot doesn’t slide around when hopping from rock to rock or slogging through mud. As a result, the shoe is a bit on the narrow side, not offering the toe splay you might find from a wider toe box. Cushioning is minimal, so this is not the shoe for someone who likes a pillow-like landing.

How to choose the best women's trail running shoes

Just like choosing road shoes or hiking shoes, picking the best women's trail running shoes is a very individual decision. However, there are different benchmarks to use when selecting the right pair.

If you’re new to trail running, the easiest place to start is probably finding the hiking shoe equivalent in the brand you prefer as a starting point. But if that doesn’t work for you, experiment a bit until you find your sweet spot. While doing so, think carefully about the following:

Where you run

Think about the type of terrain you usually take on – is it dry, muddy (see: Running in mud), rocky, smooth, or what? If you’ll be sloshing through streams or lots of mud, keep an eye out for upper materials that afford some waterproof qualities. Also look for an upper that offers quick drainage so that you’re not lugging around all that extra weight when wet. For more on this, check out Anatomy of a trail running shoe and How to choose trail running shoes.

best women's trail running shoes

A late afternoon jaunt on the trails (Image credit: Getty)

Protection and padding

If you’re intending to run on rough trails, with sharp rocks and sticks, you’ll need more protection – ideally a shoe with a rockplate, for instance. Think about whether you’re a tactile runner, who wants to feel the trail beneath your feet – if so, consider a more barefoot-style shoe. But if not, look for cushioning in the midsole.

Profile

A big difference between road and trail shoes is the size of the drop between heel and toe. For extra stability on tricky trails, off-road shoes tend to have less drop, although the exact amount varies.

best women's trail running shoes: runner in the Brecon Beacons

Sky high in the Brecon Beacons National Park (Image credit: Getty)

Weight

If you like something light on the end of your leg, you’ll probably have to forgo some of the protection you’ll get from a heavier duty trail shoe. Whereas, if you run in winter, you may want more protection and warmth and should go for a bulkier option. Anyway, you'll already be wearing running gloves, leggings and your best running hat so a bit of extra weight is just more water under the bridge. Speaking of water, there's your weight saving: at least you won't have to carry as much in the colder months.

Other considerations

Depending on where you live and what conditions you typically take on, you might want to add on gaiters to keep elements out and off of your shoes. Running socks matter, too – for trail running, an ankle length or higher sock will keep your ankles and lower legs protected from branches, rocks and other natural obstacles. Lightweight wool socks might be the best all around choice to help keep your feet dry and warm.

An award-winning travel and outdoors journalist, presenter and blogger, Sian regularly writes for The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile, Coast, Outdoor Enthusiast and Sunday Times Travel. Life as a hiking, camping, wild-swimming adventure-writer has taken her around the world, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, diving with turtles in Australia, climbing mountains in Africa and, in Thailand, learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help. Her blog, thegirloutdoors.co.uk, champions accessible adventures.