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Best women’s running shoes 2021: Tested and rated

A photo of a female running in the best women's running shoes
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’ve been inspired by marathon season, or are just looking to up your training, finding the best women's running shoes can make all the difference. For female runners, along with finding a comfortable sports bra (we've rounded up the best sports bras here), the right pair of running shoes can help elevate your performance and run stronger. 

To answer the obvious question, women’s shoes aren’t the same as men’s running shoes. Women’s feet are often smaller and narrower than men’s feet, plus there have been studies that suggest that women’s feet are more flexible. Although women’s running shoes will look similar, there will be small differences in terms of the fit, construction, and cushioning used. Confused? Read our guide on how to buy running shoes to understand the jargon behind shoes. 

What are the best women’s running shoes?

The best women’s running shoes are the shoes that fit your feet the best, but our favorites during testing were the Nike Pegasus 38, as they are a brilliant running shoe that can cope with most sessions. We found they are snappy enough to wear during speedwork and on faster runs, but also had a good amount of cushioning to wear for longer, slower outings. They’re a good shoe to invest in for experienced runners looking for a reliable training partner, and beginner runners who only want to buy one pair of running shoes. 

Another great shoe that will get you through all your training runs and around the course comfortably on race day is the Hoka One One Bondi X. The Bondi X has a good amount of cushioning, but the shoe also has a carbon-fiber plate, which allows for a fast, snappy toe-off on the run. 

Finally, for runners who are conscious about their impact on the planet, the Allbirds Tree Dashers are carbon-neutral, thanks to Allbirds’ sustainable practices. The Tree Dashers feel super-plush and comfortable underfoot and can be chucked in the washing machine after a particularly mucky trail run. 

Read on for our top picks when it comes to the best women’s running shoes on the market.

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Future)

1. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

The best women's running shoe overall

Specifications
Weight: 235g
Drop: 10mm
Reasons to buy
+A great all-rounder+Durable +Available in several different colorways 
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most responsive shoe 

The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is a great all-rounder and one of the best Nike running shoes on the market right now. It’s a good choice for runners who want one pair of running shoes that will do everything — the Pegasus 38 can be worn for speed sessions thanks to the React foam, which is lightweight and reactive underfoot. That said, it’s also comfortable on longer runs thanks to the wide toe box. The Pegasus is a workhorse - you can wear it for a marathon,  your first 5K, and pretty much everything in between. 

When it comes to fit, the Pegasus 38 comes up true to size, although, like most other running shoe brands, it’s definitely worth going up a size from your normal sneakers. Old-school Pegasus fans will be pleased to hear the fit of the 38 is more similar to that of previous versions of the shoe. The cushioned tongue and collar also add to the plush feel of the shoe, and the forefoot of the shoe is high and wide, which should prevent your toes from rubbing against the sides of the shoe as you move. The Pegasus also looks great, which doesn’t matter much in the final miles of your race, but is a selling point if you’re looking for a shoe to wear to the gym and out for that post-run brunch with friends. 

The main downside when it comes to the Nike Pegasus 38 is that for some faster runners, the shoe lacks that ‘pop’ during speed sessions. For dedicated fans of the Pegasus, the introduction of the React foam was controversial, but if you don’t fall into either of these camps, it’s a great running shoe that’s well worth investing in. 

Read our Nike Pegasus 38 review.  

Hoka One One Bondi X

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

2. Hoka One One Bondi X

Best women's running shoe for race day

Specifications
Weight : 257g
Drop : 5mm
Reasons to buy
+ The same Hoka Bondi comfort, but with a carbon-fiber plate +Extremely plush underfoot+Cool design
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most versatile shoe 

The Hoka One One Bondi X is Hoka’s latest carbon-fiber running shoe and it’s not what you’d expect — it’s the super-cushioned Hoka Bondi, but super-charged. Hoka says it designed this shoe for runners who love a high-stack and maximal cushioning, but still want the racer-feel of a carbon-fiber plate. It’s a niche shoe, but an impressive one. 

Underfoot, the Bondi X feels like the Bondi, but like it’s faster, sleeker cousin. The midsole foam is dense and plush, but still has a good amount of bounce that is extremely comfortable for slow, easy miles. That said, when paired with the carbon fiber plate, the ride is far more responsive and picking up the pace is much easier. The shoes also look great. While the white and yellow color combo might be slightly impractical for fall running, we love the look and feel of the rocker geometry and the upper is lightweight and breathable. 

While we’d definitely trust this for a marathon or on race day, it’s still a lot heavier than a lot of the carbon-fiber racing shoes on the market. That said, if you’re looking for a snappy, comfortable shoe to do some long-distance training in and wear on race day, this will comfortably fit the bill. 

A photo of the Asics Gel Cumulus 23

(Image credit: Asics )

3. Asics Gel Cumulus 23

The best Asics running shoe

Specifications
Weight: 230g
Drop : 10mm
Reasons to buy
+ Flytefoam midsole is plush underfoot + A good all-round running shoes  
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks the ‘wow factor’ of other shoes on the market 

If the Asics Air Cumulus was in the dictionary, it would be next to the word "reliable." These shoes won’t set the world on fire, but they'll be there for you, come rain or shine. It’s a lightweight, daily running trainer that isn’t quite as poppy as the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38, but will still get you around most sessions comfortably. 

The midsole is Asics’ Flytefoam, which is plush, without being overly cushioned. It’s firmer than say, the Brooks Glycerin 19, but will still give you a good amount of energy return on the run. The outsole is solid, with a good amount of grip on most surfaces and the upper is strong and breathable. Fit-wise, this is classic Asics — true to size, comfortable, and wide enough to prevent uncomfortable rubbing for most runners. It’s also extremely durable and will last a good few hundred miles. 

The downside is that for some runners, this shoe just doesn’t offer anything that exciting — it’s not the best for speedwork and not the plushest for long runs. That said, it’s got a dedicated following for a reason, it’s a good shoe to grab for most runs, it’ll last miles and it’s pretty affordable. 

A photo of the Adidas Ultraboost 21

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

4. Adidas Ultraboost 21

Best adidas running shoe

Specifications
Weight : 297g
Drop : 10mm
Reasons to buy
+ Sock-like fit keeps the foot secure in the shoe  + Extremely versatile 
Reasons to avoid
- On the heavier side 

The Adidas Ultraboost 21 is another good all-rounder for experienced runners and beginners alike. When Adidas released its first Ultraboost in February 2015, the running world went mad for the bouncy ‘Boost’ foam, which really did feel exciting underfoot. Six years later, the Boost foam is still as exciting — it’s fast and responsive when it needs to be, but still feels plush on longer, slower miles.

Compared to the Ultraboost 20, the Ultraboost 21 has six percent more Boost foam, as well as a plastic insert underneath the midsole, which Adidas calls "Linear Energy Push," designed to help you pick up the pace when you need it. The sock-like bootie upper is designed to cradle and secure the foot on the run. It also looks great and is stylish enough to wear to the office, or out with friends, as well as on the run. 

The downside here is the weight — this isn’t a light shoe, but unless you’re really trying to PR, it shouldn’t bother you. It’s a great all-rounder for anything from your first 5K to a fast half marathon. 

Nike ZoomX Invincible Run

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Future)

5. Nike ZoomX Invincible Run

The best for easy runs

Specifications
Weight: 253g
Drop : 9mm
Reasons to buy
+Extremely cushioned and comfortable  + Brilliant for long training runs 
Reasons to avoid
-Not a fast shoe -Outsole can be slippery 

When Nike released the ZoomX Invincible Run earlier this year, it brought it to market as a shoe for long, marathon training runs. While it is brilliant for that purpose, it's a great training shoe for beginners, too. 

The Invincible uses the same ZoomX midsole as that used in Nike’s speedier shoes, but here, it's responsive and cushioned in a way that’s designed to take some of the load off, rather than propel you to your next PB. The midsole incorporates the rocker geometry we’ve seen in Nike’s faster shoes, but with no carbon fiber plate, this is far more gentle. The Flyknit upper is soft and supportive and the tongue and collar are super-plush and comfortable. 

This is one of the most comfortable running shoes we’ve ever tested — your foot feels surrounded by soft, marshmallowy foam — but the shoe still feels lightweight on the run. Faster runners will love the comfort this offers on easy, long runs, and beginners will love the marshmallow comfort. It’s an excellent shoe and unlike anything on the market right now, the only downside is the outsole needs some slight tweaks to make it more durable and less slippery on wet pavements. 

A photo of the Allbirds Tree Dasher running shoes

(Image credit: Allbirds)

6. Allbirds Tree Dasher

The best environmentally-friendly running shoe

Specifications
Weight: 275g
Drop : 7mm
Reasons to buy
+Carbon-neutral+Machine washable+Plush and comfortable on the run 
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most responsive running shoe-Sizing can be a little off 

If you’re a runner who is conscious about your carbon footprint, the Allbirds Tree Dasher is a good shoe from a brand that’s pretty new to the running market. It’s made from sustainably sourced materials and features an upper made from eucalyptus tree fibers, a partial sugarcane midsole, and a castor bean liner. 

Underfoot, the Tree Dasher is a plush, comfortable shoe, and feels similar to the Nike Infinity React, but not quite as snappy. We’d say this would be a great shoe for anything from a 5K to a half marathon. Beginners will love how comfortable it feels underfoot and faster runners will like using this for slower, easy runs. The Tree Dasher also looks great — you could easily wear these with jeans or a skirt in the office, as well as on a lunch break run, plus they’re available in a number of different colors. You can also chuck them in the washing machine after a particularly muddy trail run and they come out looking like new, which is super-handy if you are wearing them to the office.

The downside with the Tree Dasher is the weight — it’s not a shoe you’d want to wear for speed sessions or faster miles. That said, if you’re looking for a shoe you can wear on the treadmill, or out for a 5K around the park, and look stylish, this is a no-brainer.

Brooks Glycerin 19

(Image credit: Brooks)

7. Brooks Glycerin 19

The best Brooks running shoe

Specifications
Weight : 255g
Drop : 10mm
Reasons to buy
+ A super-plush, cushioned running shoe  + The 19 has more foam than previous iterations 
Reasons to avoid
-Not a very fast shoe 

The Brooks Glycerin 19 is one of Brooks’ most popular running shoes. The Glycerin contains Brooks’ ‘DNA LOFT cushioning’ which is designed to be soft and plush underfoot and the 19th iteration of the shoe contains more foam than ever before. It’s extremely comfortable and suited to beginners and marathon runners alike. 

Underfoot, the Brooks Glycerin 19 is designed to be plush — it’s got a comfortable mesh upper, that stretches across the foot without being too snug. The tongue and the collar of the shoe are also cushioned for extra comfort. Looks-wise, the Glycerin is unassuming and comes in a wide variety of colorways, meaning you’ll be able to find something you like enough to wear on the run, and probably off the run too. 

The main downside here is that the Glycerin isn’t the fastest or lightest shoe on this list, so if you’re looking to run a PR or qualify for Boston, you might want a snappier shoe. That said, if your goal is to get going, or get around the course, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable shoe to do this in. 

Read our full Brooks Glycerin 19 review

What to look for in the best women’s running shoes 

When it comes to finding the best pair of running shoes for you, there are a few different things to consider. Firstly, how you run — like finding the right sports bra, there will be certain brands that just fit your foot better than others, so it’s a good idea to head down to your local running store and try on as many brands as possible. It’s also worth knowing whether you’re prone to overpronating when you run, as you might find you need to buy a pair of stability shoes to help this. 

Secondly, it’s a good idea to think about the type of running you plan on doing. If you’re looking to PR on race day, you’re probably going to want something lighter, snappier, and faster. If you’re just trying to get around your first 5K, you’ll just want something comfortable and supportive, that won’t rub or leave you with blisters on the finish line. 

Finally, the type of surfaces you’re running on mostly. Most road shoes will be able to cope with wet pavements, treadmills, and light trails, but if you’re planning on heading out on more technical terrains, you’ll probably need to invest in a pair of trail running shoes, which will have a deeper, grippier tread. 

How we test the best women’s running shoes 

We test the best women’s running shoes by running in them; we’ve clocked at least 50 miles in all of the shoes mentioned on this list. We also look at the fit of the shoe as well as the feel underfoot. We’ll test the shoes on several different sessions, from faster runs on the track to longer training runs — some shoes will be great on a long run, but feel heavy during a speed session. We also look at any impressive features of the shoe, such as carbon fiber plates, or ultra-lightweight midsole foams. 

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.