In general, women tend to have 15% lower body mass than men, this means shoes must have a deeper groove that can provide greater flexibility, which, translates to a smooth and natural toe-off motion through the running patterns of the foot. Seasoned runners agree that a little less foam in the overall cushioning of a running shoe goes a long way for female runners.
Studies on foot shape have shown that women’s feet aren’t just smaller, narrower versions of male feet—there are differences in overall shape that affect shoe fit. Women’s feet tend to be comparatively wider in the forefoot, with a narrower heel. Running shoe makers take this statistical difference into mind when designing their shoes, and generally build their shoes with different heel shapes and sometimes different heel materials between the two models of the same shoe. Companies like Altra, with its Fit4Her technology, specifically design shoes that anatomically mirror a woman’s foot.
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We chose all the shoes in this roundup based on feedback from the women on our test team, as well as test results from our RW Shoe Lab. We also researched the market, surveyed user reviews, spoke with product managers and designers to find the best of the best. Every shoe was evaluated over the course of hundreds of miles, with attention given to overall performance, comfort, ride, longevity, value, and yes, even style—because who doesn’t want to feel like they look good, even alone on a trail? Here are our favorite running shoes for women this year.
Altra builds all of its women’s shoes around its “Fit4Her” platform—a women-specific last takes into account the wearer’s narrower heel, higher instep, and longer arch. Add to that its zero-drop construction, which encourages natural foot positioning, a characteristic of Altra’s shoes. Compared to the 3.5, the 4 is slightly lighter according to tests at the RW Shoe Lab. For runners who have always wanted to give zero-drop shoes a go, the Torin 4 (or the even cushier Torin 4 Plush) is the perfect shoe to make the transition.
Researchers have also found that because women tend to have wider hips than men, our feet are more likely to strike the ground toward the outside of our shoe soles. The inward rolling of the foot that results from this is known as pronation, which explains why more women are believed to overpronate than men. Some women’s running shoes account for this increased tendency with different materials used for support through the sole.