For most premium sportswear brands, the kid’s footwear business does surprisingly well. In certain countries, sports footwear for children contributes to as much as 10% of a brand’s total footwear business. But when you look at a number like that, you know there’s bound to be a catch somewhere.
Because you have to ask – how can an assortment of children’s footwear amount to so much business?
The catch is that not all shoes in this category are bought by children. Merchandisers working for retailers and brands often buy kids footwear for women; after all, the grade school sizing (3Y to 7Y) share common stick-sizes with women’s running shoes. The fact that children’s shoes are lower-priced makes it an easier sell.
This mindset speaks volumes about the footwear industry’s apathy towards the female consumer. Everybody knows that there is a fundamental difference between the male and female foot anatomy, an aspect which requires different lasts (fits) and cushioning treatments. But despite this common knowledge, it is hard to find running shoes designed specifically for women.
Most ‘women’ running shoes are derived from a ‘pink it and shrink it’ design approach. In other words, take a men’s running shoe, narrow the last to a ‘B’ width, size it down, and splash some pink or blue over the shoe – a done to death color stereotype for women’s athletic footwear.
There have been some half-hearted efforts by the brands. adidas released its PureBoost X for women over a year ago, but that’s only one shoe. To our knowledge, Nike does not have a gender specific running shoe, and neither does New Balance.
By the way, you won’t see the adidas Women’s PureBoost X included in our list. It’s a terrible running shoe, do not buy it.
Niche brands like Ryka are women focused, but only have a limited assortment of running shoes. Besides, most Ryka products are entry level (below $80) which translates into a lower material spec (and hence not as comfortable) than mainstream brands.
The excuse offered by footwear brands for not offering (enough) gender specific footwear is that the ‘women’s business isn’t large enough.’ But how do you know that without selling women’s product in the first place? And no, the occasional ‘women only’ shoe release doesn’t count.
The easy way to do this is to pick five currently bestselling men’s running shoes and create a women’s version of them with a different fit, ride character, and a 20% lower price. Don’t change these models every year (which is pointless anyway), but every three. Offer these styles in at least five colors and four different widths. This, in our opinion, would be a good way of gauging the potential of the market.
But all this is wishful thinking, and we know that this isn’t going to happen.
So if brands do not sell gender-specific shoes, how did we come with a list of best running shoes for women? The short answer is: we made the best of what’s available.
We applied the following set of selection criteria, ordered by their degree of importance. Not all of these conditions are met by the recommended shoes, it’s all in bits and pieces though. Specifics are included in the individual product descriptions.
1. The running shoe should have a women’s specific last: On the list below, only the Altra Escalante qualifies.
2. The shoe should have gender specific cushioning: We’ve often given Asics a hard time for failing to innovate and doing funny things with their upper fit. But the Japanese brand lords over others when it comes to gender-specific cushioning. Hence, you’ll see a lot of Asics on this list.
3. Choice of multiple colors: At the time of writing this review, we looked at the women’s running shoes which offer more than just than a pink or sky blue version.
4. Unisex friendly silhouette: Not all men’s shoes look good when shrinked and pinked. Some models have a sleeker profile compared to the others.
5. Multiple widths: Although the standard fit for a women’s running shoe is a narrow ‘B,’ we’ve included models which offer multiple widths. Predictably, it’s New Balance which does an excellent job here.
Similar to how our other buyer’s guides are structured, we have split our recommendations by neutral and stability, and then into further sub-categories within those two. Here goes:
Women’s neutral running shoes – soft to medium-soft
|Neutral - soft, medium-soft||Altra Escalante||Amazon|
|Neutral - soft, medium-soft||Asics Nimbus 19||Amazon|
|Neutral - soft, medium-soft||Nike Pegasus 33||Amazon|
1) Altra Escalante Women’s
The Escalante is the only shoe on this list which comes in two different lasts – PFS-2 and PFS-W. This means the women’s version uses a gender-specific PFS-W last which translates into a different upper fit for the female runner.
And then there’s the regular goodness of the knit upper and the new midsole material which produces a cushioned and responsive ride. If you’re ok with a zero/negative drop running shoe, then this is the shoe you should buy.
2) Asics Nimbus 19 Women’s
The Nimbus 19 does not have a last specifically made for women, but the midsole does have a couple of gender-specific cushioning features. Simply put, it means that the midsole foam is slightly softer for the women’s Nimbus 19 than it is for men.
This is the result of an additional 3 millimeters of midsole height and a softer top layer which increases the cushioning level of the Women’s Nimbus 19.
3) Nike Pegasus 33 Women’s
Though the Pegasus was designed for the male runner, its streamlined silhouette works well for both genders. The women’s version comes in multiple widths.
Women’s neutral running shoes – Lightweight
|Neutral - lightweight cushioning||Asics Dynaflyte||Amazon|
|Neutral - lightweight cushioning||New Balance Zante V3||Amazon|
|Neutral - lightweight cushioning||New Balance Vazee Breathe V2||Amazon|
|Neutral - lightweight cushioning||New Balance 1400 V5||Amazon|
1) Asics Dynaflyte Women’s
This Asics model does not have a women-specific fit or cushioning, but happens to have a sleek profile available in plenty of colors. The Dynaflyte is a lightweight trainer which uses the new Flytefoam material for a higher quality of ride.
2) New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V3 Women’s
This shoe has many sophisticated women’s colors, multiple widths, a sleek design profile, and a proven track record as a lightweight trainer. That’s why the Zante V3 is on this list.
3) New Balance Vazee Breathe V2 Women’s
This low-profile New Balance model is perfect for the approaching summers. The single piece engineered mesh lets the air circulate, and there’s plenty of lightweight cushioning too.
4) New Balance 1400 V5 Women’s
The 1400 has the same Revlite midsole material which makes the 1500 so great. Though this lightweight speedster lacks any women-specific bells and whistles, the low-slung design gives the shoe aesthetic versatility.
Women’s stability running shoes – mild support
|Stability - mild support||Asics Kayano 24||Amazon|
|Stability - mild support||Asics GT-2000 5||Amazon|
|Neutral - mild support||Nike Lunar Skyluxe||Amazon|
1) Asics Gel-Kayano 24 women’s
The latest Kayano edition offers an extra 3 millimeters of stack height and cushioning on the Women’s model. The last (fit) is the same across both genders, except that the women’s is built on a narrow ‘B’ last.
The shoe comes in four colors which go beyond the stereotypical pink and blue.
2) Asics GT-2000 5 women’s
Think of the GT-2000 5 as a milder version of the Kayano – firmer ride with a smaller medial post. Like the Kayano 24, the women’s GT-2000 5 has a midsole with a lower density foam layer, increasing the ride softness in the process.
3) Nike Lunar Skyelux women’s
The Lunar Skyluxe is not categorized by Nike as a support shoe, but in our view, it is a very supportive neutral shoe. The ride quality will remind you of the older Lunarglides (versions 7 and earlier) which delivered a cushioned yet supportive ride.
Though it lacks gender-specific fit or cushioning, we included the Skyelux on this list due to its sleek unisex profile.
Women’s stability running shoes – lightweight
|Stability - lightweight support||Asics DS Trainer 22||Amazon|
|Stability - lightweight support||New Balance 1500V3||Amazon|
|Stability - lightweight support||Nike Air Zoom Span||Amazon|
1) Asics DS Trainer 22 women’s
There are no gender-specific bits and pieces on the DST 22, but this popular lightweight stability trainer has a sleek, unisex-oriented design.
2) New Balance 1500 V3 women’s
Like most women’s running shoes, New Balance’s 1500 V3 is a narrow fit version ( ‘B’ width) of the men’s model. But that shouldn’t get in your way of getting a pair.
The 1500V3 Women’s model comes in multiple widths and colors, and its low-profile design broadens its appeal to all genders.
3) Nike Zoom Span women’s
Nike does not offer any features exclusive to women on this shoe, but the Span’s sleek profile and the wide choice of colors make the latter worth considering as a mild support shoe.
Read our detailed review of the men’s Span version here.