How fast can you go on technical trails? The Antora is a trail-running shoe for runners who want to get a little crazy in the woods, with a soft ride but lightweight and responsive feel that makes navigating rocks and roots at PR pace a heck of a lot less terrifying and more fun. The shoe uses Merrell’s new Q-Form 2 midsole, which is made from compression-molded EVA engineered specifically for women’s feet. The design places softer zones of cushioning in the heel and forefoot that keep form true when fatigue sets in, while extra air pods at the heel maximize shock absorption. Our testers found that the water-resistant upper protected their feet through rain and puddles while maintaining breathability and lightweight flexibility.
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.
The 26th iteration of the Gel-Kayano brings big changes, including a sleeker look, more stability for overpronators, and a snug mesh upper with an external heel counter for a locked-in feel. All this—plus a longer medial plate that extends from the midsole to the heel—comes with the intention of providing more motion control and a sturdier ride. Two types of lightweight foam at the heel (for added bounce) and toe (for forward propulsion) give the shoe plenty of cushion and support. Plus, the women’s version has an extra 3mm of midsole height to reduce strain on the Achilles.
A perennial favorite for new runners and marathon maniacs alike, the Ghost has always provided a quick, smooth ride that holds up over the miles. This year’s edition somehow raises an already-stellar bar with a new 3D Fit Print upper that promises a lighter feel and sleeker aesthetic. While our testers thought the Ghost 11 had ample cushioning in the heel, they felt it could use a little more softness up front—and Brooks listened; our RW Lab data showed there is indeed softer cushioning in the forefoot of the 12. “From front to back, the cushioning is superb without being too mushy,” said one female tester. “The forefoot was cushioned enough to provide a soft landing while also letting me feel the terrain beneath me.”
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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.