This article has been updated with current models for January 2022. The Nike Downshifter 10, Infinity React, Pegasus 37, Structure 23, Winflo 7, Wildhorse 6, and Vaporfly Next% have been replaced with their updated versions. The Nike Pegasus Trail 3, Renew Serenity Run, and ZoomX Invincible Run are new additions. The Nike Renew Run, Terra Kiger 6, and Zoom Streak 6 have been removed. The preface has been edited to reflect the current trends.
Here’s the catch; there aren’t any women-specific running shoes in Nike’s assortment per se.
By gender-specific, we refer to running shoes that have a different last (that defines the fit) or cushioning. Nike running shoes do not offer that and follow the common practice of selling feminine colors in a narrow ‘B’ last and smaller sizes.
For example, it’s common practice at Asics to offer a women’s variant for many of their popular models. The women’s Asics Nimbus 24 has a thicker heel than the mens’ Nimbus with a higher heel-to-toe offset.
Nike does nothing of that sort. The next best thing is women’s specific styles, and this buyer’s guide contains a couple of them.
The first is the React Phantom Run Flyknit 2, and the other shoe is the Renew Serenity Run. However, we doubt those shoes are built on a women’s last – otherwise, Nike would have advertised it.
There’s also the React Escape Run, but we’ve excluded it due to the React Infinity Run 2.
The rest of Nike women’s running shoe assortment has familiar names like the Pegasus, Structure, and Vaporfly. They have the same build and function as the men’s version but in different colors and a narrower fit.
When compared to men’s footwear, the sub-categories do not change either. There are road, trail, and affordable sub-$100 shoes to choose from, and that’s how we’ve split this guide. Not much has changed from last year except for the annual model updates.
There are a couple of interesting entries like the Pegasus Trail 3 and ZoomX Invincible. The Pegasus Trail 3 is a soft-roader – an outdoor shoe for mild trails as well as the occasional road run. The ZoomX Invincible is an incredibly cushioned trainer that’s best used for high-mileage cruising.
Though we have been huge fans of Nike’s Free assortment in the past, the recent models aren’t as great. Perhaps things will change in 2022; let’s see.
We also have a separate guide that curates a list of women’s running shoes. Some of them (like the ones from Altra) have women-specific lasts and cushioning. Go have a read.
A) Women’s road running shoes
1) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 Women’s
The Pegasus 37 and 38 aren’t all that different, considering that both models are based on an identical midsole architecture. The Pegasus 38 has a softer upper, that’s all.
From a performance viewpoint, the Pegasus has a soft heel and relatively firmer and responsive forefoot.
That’s because the rear is all-foam whereas the front has an extra-large Zoom Air unit. This split personality of the midsole makes the Pegasus 38 a very different neutral trainer than the Pegasus we all once knew.
But as long as the Pegasus 38 isn’t subjected to a lot of stress – for example, like tempo runs and such – it works as a comfortable daily trainer and high-mileage cruiser.
We like the Pegasus 38’s upper better than the 37. The tongue is now foam-padded, and the heel grips better. The mesh exterior is softer than before and increases the fit comfort.
2) Nike Air Zoom Structure 24 Women’s
If you’ve never tried the Structure before, just know that it was an extremely stiff and stable running shoe with a medial post. That’s not what the Structure 24 is. At all.
Last year, the Structure 23 turned into a much softer shoe with no sign of a firmer medial post.
Nearly nothing has changed between the Nike Structure 23 and 24. Both versions use the same midsole and outsole, and have only minor differences in the upper design.
None of that leads to drastic changes in the fit character – the fully-sleeved upper hugs the foot with a generous amount of comfort.
In short, the Nike Structure 24 is a supportive neutral that’s good as a daily trainer and long-distance runner.
The high sidewalls cup the foot and deliver a higher than average under arch support, and that’s all the stability one needs. The Structure 24 is like the Lunarglide reincarnated, but with a softer ride.
3) Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Women’s
At the time of writing this article, there is no running shoe that’s plush and lively as the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run. We reviewed the men’s version a while ago; the women’s model is the same except for the narrow (B last) fit and gender-specific colors.
The uber-cushy Invincible Run is what happens when a high-volume midsole is made of nothing but Nike’s ZoomX foam – the same material that made its debut on the Vaporfly 4%.
Except that there’s no plate inside – just lots and lots of ZoomX foam. This is a PEBA-based foam, so it isn’t just soft, but springy as well. This is a shoe for all-day cruising in superlative cushioning comfort.
What’s interesting is that the Invincible Run doesn’t feel unstable. Sure, the tall and soft midsole means that it won’t go fast. However, the wide footprint creates a relatively supportive midsole.
The ride isn’t the only part that’s plush; the upper gets the same treatment too. The tongue and heel are plump with foam, and the interiors have an accommodating fit. The Invincible Run has a broad toe-box without the snugness found in Nike models like the Structure and React Infinity.
4) Nike React Infinity Run V2 Women’s
At the time of its release, the React Infinity V1 was a softer and more comfortable version of the Epic React Flyknit.
Nothing has changed for the React Infinity V2, as both the shoes share the same midsole and outsole. The Infinity V2 is a very comfortable running shoe with plenty of high-mileage cushioning. The outsole is also split into segments to work seamlessly with the midsole and enhance the cushioning experience.
Before the Invincible Run arrived, the React Infinity V2 was one of the softest shoes in Nike’s current line-up. The heel has a raised (and firm) TPU clip that adds a touch of stability to the soft ride.
So if the sole hasn’t changed, what has?
The React Infinity V2 ditches the bootie design of the V1 and gets a proper tongue flap. The midfoot fit is also more secure because of the Flywire cords that connect to the lacing. Except for the stiff last two rows of eyelets, the Infinity V2’s upper is an improvement. We reviewed the men’s model here; the women’s version is identical except for the narrower (B width) last.
5) Nike React Phantom Run Flyknit 2 Women’s
The first edition of the React Phantom was a lace-free, slip-on version of the regular Epic React. Instead of laces, the bootie upper made of elastic Flyknit mesh held the foot in place. That said, it was a very simple and lace-free version of the Epic React Flyknit.
The React Phantom Run Flyknit 2, on the other hand, has a couple of new tricks up its sleeve. The soft upper has additional support in the form of elastic cords that wrap around the midfoot for a conforming fit. Like the V1, the heel clip stabilizes rearfoot landings and transitions.
The React midsole has a higher volume than the Phantom V1 for a cushier ride.
6) Nike Vaporfly Next% V2
The Vaporfly Next% V2 is the updated version of the Vaporfly Next%. Just like its predecessor, a full-length Carbon fiber plate resides within a soft and responsive ZoomX (Pebax) foam.
The said design produces an extremely lightweight running shoe with a unique springboard feel. The plate is anchored under the forefoot but ‘floats’ under the heel, thus creating a spring-like cushioning feel.
The soft and responsive ZoomX keeps the feet fresh during those high-mileage runs. All this comes without compromising the transition quality. The rigid forefoot helps with fast roll-overs whereas the quick rebound of the foam and plate keeps the transition lag to a minimum.
A thin, lightweight mesh creates a secure and smooth interior, while the asymmetrically skewed lacing reduces the top-down lacing pressure. The foam pockets inside the heel help secure the foot.
The low level of rearfoot stability is the only flaw on the Vaporfly Next% – a behavior that’s also shared by the adidas Adios Pro 2 and Saucony Endorphin Pro V2.
Also see: The Nike Alphafly Next%.
Affordable running shoes
1) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8 Women’s
Premium Nike running shoes aren’t the only ones upping their game. Shoes priced below $100 have come a long way since the days of the $45 Nike Dart. The Zoom Winflo 8 women’s is a case in point. Its $90 price is skirting the three-digit barrier, but still.
The high-volume foam midsole (made of Nike’s Cushlon EVA) delivers snappy forefoot transitions, thanks to its pressurized Zoom Air bag. In other words, the Winflo has a cushioned and responsive ride that proves versatile enough for most runs.
The Winflo 8’s upper uses soft-touch materials along with a partial bootie for a comfortable fit without any tongue slide. Like most budget Nike running shoes, the toe-box runs shallow and pointy. An optional ‘wide’ sizing offers more room.
The Vaporfly inspired aesthetic doesn’t hurt either.
2) Nike Renew Serenity Run Women
Here’s a women’s-only Nike running shoe for a change; it’s truly refreshing to see a model that isn’t shared across genders. The Renew Serenity Run is a basic running shoe that delivers everyday comfort.
It’s not a serious performance running shoe that’s comparable with the Pegasus or even the Winflo, but there’s ample comfort for low-intensity runs.
The Serenity Run delivers great value for its $80 price tag. An EVA blend midsole and soft insole result into everyday comfort; a full rubber outsole adds traction and longevity.
As with most budget Nike shoes, the upper fits narrow and a mite short. For more space, it’s worth getting a half size larger. Else, the mesh upper is smooth on the inside, and the plump heel and tongue add interior comfort.
3) Nike Downshifter 11 Women’s
At times, a basic running shoe is all that you need. No fancy midsole foam or inserts – just a foam midsole and a rubber outsole topped off with a comfortable upper.
That’s exactly what the $60 Downshifter 11 is. The upper doesn’t have any hot spots and secures the foot during runs. Under the foot, there’s enough EVA foam to make daily runs comfortable. It’s not a shoe that’s going to do marathons, but suffices for most low-intensity activities.
The upper is nicely done for the price. The translucent midfoot window, molded Swoosh logo, and contrast color accents on the lacing panel make the Downshifter 11 appear more premium.
The women’s Downshifter 11 has the same midsole and outsole as the V10, so both the models are remarkably similar. It doesn’t matter which version you get; the ride and fit are near-identical.
Like most affordable Nike running shoes, the Downshifter has a narrow upper fit.
Women’s Nike trail running shoes
1) Nike Pegasus Trail 3 Women’s
The Pegasus Trail 3 sells in two variants – standard and the waterproof Gore-Tex version. Despite the $30 price premium, we recommend the Gore-Tex model, and that’s not only because of its waterproof upper.
The GTX version has a soft gaiter attached to the heel collar. This provides additional protection against the water and debris on the trail. Of course, the regular version is going to be slightly more breathable, but having waterproofing on a rainy day is worth it.
Other than the upper, both the models share the same midsole and outsole. The soft React foam midsole is comfortable enough for longer trail runs without feeling mushy. The outsole lugs grip well but are not aggressive – that makes the Pegasus Trail 3 versatile enough for multiple running surfaces.
We don’t recommend this shoe for technical trails because of its soft midsole and absence of a rock plate. For a more protective and firmer ride, get the Nike Terra Kiger 7 instead.
Except for the toe-bumper (which is an extension of the outsole), heel counter, and the lacing eye-stay, there’s aren’t any stiff parts on the upper.
The Pegasus Trail 3 GTX has a pliable upper that takes no time to break in. The interiors do an excellent job of securing the foot over uneven terrain, and the lacing loop makes the cinching process quick.
2) Nike Wildhorse 7 Women’s
First things first; the Wildhorse 7 is a very soft running trail running shoe. That’s not surprising, given the low-density React foam and stack heights of 22.5 mm (rear) and 14.5 mm. (front)
That makes it an 8 mm heel-to-toe offset midsole with lots of cushioning; even the raised midsole ‘guards’ under the heel are soft. This is not a firm shoe like the Wildhorse 5 from a few years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the Wildhorse 7 is best used on low-difficulty trails at easy speeds.
Even though the midsole is fitted with a rock plate and a grippy outsole, the soft midsole has low levels of proprioception. On the other hand, the comfortable midsole makes the Wildhorse an excellent choice for traversing gravel or packed trails.
The upper will be found wanting in protective details on rough terrain. Other than that, the closed mesh and heel gaiter do a decent job of keeping the dust and debris out. Inside, the Wildhorse 7 fits comfortably and is true to size.
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