December 28, 2016
Wendy Ewing

Women’s Trail Running Shoes Buyer’s Guide

Trail specific running shoes provide extra cushion and features to protect your feet from rocks, roots and other on-trail obstacles. Active Junky testers took to the dirt with some of the best women’s trail running shoes of the season. Check out our top picks.

Editor's Pick Pearl Izumi N2 V3

Pearl Izumi N2 V3

Best for – Mixed terrain in mixed conditions over long distances and even cruising around town
$87.46 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Best Value Treksta Trail Wave

Treksta Trail Wave

Best for – Running mid to long distances on technical trails in mixed terrain *Available Early 2017*
$130.00 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Also Great Salewa Lite Train

Salewa Lite Train

Best for – Tackling both soft- and hard-packed alpine trails over medium distances
$128.95 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Brooks Mazama Trail Running Shoes

Brooks Mazama Trail Running Shoes

Best for – Leaving all your running partners in the dust cruising over technical terrain
$139.95 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Columbia Montrail Caldorado II

Columbia Montrail Caldorado II

Best for – Great choice for all-around running shoe, whether first trail shoe or favorite pick for mixed trail conditions
$59.98 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Dynafit MS Feline Vertical

Dynafit MS Feline Vertical

Best for – Running or fast-packing up trails with steep and technical terrain
$135.00 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2

Best for – Running on mixed terrain (including asphalt) and smoother trails over ultra-long distances
$104.95 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
La Sportiva Akasha Women's

La Sportiva Akasha Women's

Best for – Any mileage on gnarly trails and rocky, alpine terrain
$140.00 + 10% Cash Back
Buy Now
Merrell All Out Crush Shield

Merrell All Out Crush Shield

Best for – Minimalist trail runners who need a shoe with more cushion, or runners looking for a taste of minimalism
$89.99 + 10% Cash Back
Buy Now
Vasque TrailBender

Vasque TrailBender

Best for – Long distances over moderately mixed terrain. A great option for people who suffer joint pain while trail running
$129.99 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now

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. 

How We Tested

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. 

Universal Attributes

Performance

Assess the trail running shoe’s ability to confidently navigate varying trail conditions at speed

Quality

Ranges from materials selection to solid construction and a well-considered lacing system

Design

Carries practical considerations including resisting abrasion, incursion of debris and eliminating foot-abrading seams

Innovation

Not an isolated attribute, rewards the brand’s past and current investment in the other key attributes

Value

In trail running, connects most closely with the trail shoe’s expected useful life at a worthwhile performance level – including multi-sport potential

Women's Trail Running Shoe Reviews

Pearl Izumi N2 V3 Pearl Izumi N2 V3

Editor’s Pick for Best Women’s Trail Running Shoe

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.”

Looking for more information about Pearl Izumi N2 V3? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$87.46
Before Cash Back
$82.22 After Cash Back
Treksta Trail Wave Treksta Trail Wave

Best Value Trail Running Shoe

Available Early 2017

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.”

Looking for more information about Treksta Trail Wave? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$130.00
Before Cash Back
$130.00 After Cash Back
Salewa Lite Train Salewa Lite Train

Best Performance Trail Running Shoe

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.”

Looking for more information about Salewa Lite Train? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$128.95
Before Cash Back
$113.48 After Cash Back
10% Cash Back
$129.00
Before Cash Back
$116.10 After Cash Back
Brooks Mazama Trail Running Shoes Brooks Mazama Trail Running Shoes

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. 

Tester Comments: “The stiff feeling of this shoe was surprising, but the moment we stepped on the trail that stiffness played a key role in flying down the trail.”

Looking for more information about Brooks Mazama Trail Running Shoes? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$139.95
Before Cash Back
$123.16 After Cash Back
10% Cash Back
$139.95
Before Cash Back
$125.96 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$139.95
Before Cash Back
$131.56 After Cash Back
Columbia Montrail Caldorado II Columbia Montrail Caldorado II

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.”

 

Looking for more information about Columbia Montrail Caldorado II? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$59.98
Before Cash Back
$56.39 After Cash Back
Dynafit MS Feline Vertical Dynafit MS Feline Vertical

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.”

Looking for more information about Dynafit MS Feline Vertical? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$135.00
Before Cash Back
$135.00 After Cash Back
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2

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’.”

Looking for more information about Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$104.95
Before Cash Back
$98.66 After Cash Back
La Sportiva Akasha Women's La Sportiva Akasha Women's

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.”

Looking for more information about La Sportiva Akasha Women's? Read the full review

Buying Options

10% Cash Back
$140.00
Before Cash Back
$126.00 After Cash Back
4% Cash Back
$139.95
Before Cash Back
$134.36 After Cash Back
Merrell All Out Crush Shield Merrell All Out Crush Shield

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.”

Looking for more information about Merrell All Out Crush Shield? Read the full review

Buying Options

10% Cash Back
$89.99
Before Cash Back
$81.00 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$110.00
Before Cash Back
$96.80 After Cash Back
Vasque TrailBender Vasque TrailBender

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.” 

Looking for more information about Vasque TrailBender? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$129.99
Before Cash Back
$129.99 After Cash Back