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 got to be a catch somewhere.
Because you have to ask – how can children’s footwear amount to so much business?
Not all shoes in this category are bought by children. Merchandisers 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 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 based on 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 color stereotype for women’s athletic footwear which is done to death.
There have been some half-hearted efforts by the brands. adidas introduced the PureBoost X for women sometime back, but it was gone within a year. To our knowledge, Nike does not have a gender specific running shoe, and nor does New Balance.
The reason given by footwear brands for not offering gender-specific footwear is that the ‘women’s business isn’t large enough.’
An easy way to remedy 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 this is wishful thinking; it isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
So if brands do not sell gender-specific shoes, how did we compile a list of the 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 couple 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 after shrinking-and-pinkin’. 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 category.
Best women’s neutral running shoes
1) Altra Escalante 1.5 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 the Escalante 1.5 should be on your list.
2) Asics Gel-Nimbus 21 Women’s
The Nimbus 21 does not have a last specifically made for women, but the midsole has gender-specific cushioning. Simply put, it means that the midsole foam is slightly softer on the women’s Nimbus 21 than it is for men.
This is the result of an additional 2 millimeters of midsole height (25 mm vs 23 mm ) which increases the cushioning level of the Women’s Nimbus 21.
As far as the Nimbus is concerned, the 21 is a good update. The updated Flytefoam Propel layer is softer than before for more comfort. The upper fit and feel has improved too. The Nimbus 21 isn’t the lightest but is a comfortable daily trainer for easy runs.
3) Saucony Ride ISO Women’s
Not only is the Ride ISO an excellent daily trainer, its just-right softness helps it play multiple roles.
Unlike some soft neutral trainers, the Ride ISO’s relatively firm midsole supports runs at faster paces. In short, if you’re running a marathon with a personal time goal, then lacing up the Ride ISO is a good idea. It’s lightweight for a fully-loaded running shoe – the Ride ISO weighs 8.5 ounces.
The ISOFIT upper can feel bunchy at times. That being said, the inner sleeve and the engineered mesh covering wraps the foot in secure comfort.
4) Nike Epic React V2 Women’s
One of the good things about a stretchable knit upper is that it fits all genders extremely well. The V2 has an improved fit and rear-foot stability over the V1. The new external heel counter cups the foot better during runs. Inside the upper is more room, hence making it less narrower than the V1.
The midsole is very comfortable for long-distance runs and daily use; the React foam is very lightweight and yet densely cushioned.
Best Women’s stability running shoes
1) Asics Gel-Kayano 25 women’s
Just like the Nimbus 21, the Kayano 25 offers an extra 2 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 also comes in colors which go beyond the stereotypical pink and blue.
The Kayano has been a motion-control staple for over two decades. A hard medial-post is used to make the inner midsole more supportive. Not that the rest of the midsole is squishy – like the past versions, the Kayano 25 has a firm ride which is soft-topped by a foam insole and lasting.
2) New Balance 860V9 women’s
The New Balance 860V9 is an everyday stability shoe with a comfortable fit and ride comfort. While the rest of the world is getting rid of medial posts, the 860 embraces it – there is a prominent wedge which sits just below the upper midsole layer.
There’s plenty of ride comfort in the 860; the blown rubber outsole, the foam insole and the midsole stack takes care of that. You’ll find the upper to be soft and roomy . The 860’s design is based on a conventional form factor, relying on soft-touch lining materials and an engineered mesh for interior comfort.
The 860 is also available in four widths so you’re sure to find one that fits.
Best Women’s lightweight running shoes
1) New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit Women’s
The Pursuit is a lighter version of the standard Zante. Despite shaving off a full ounce, the Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit is cushioned enough for runs of at least 10k, if not more. The new outsole geometry and layout offers improved traction.
Its expandable fit is one of the reasons why the Pursuit is on this guide. Though the stretch makes the upper fit narrow, it also conforms to the foot shape regardless of the gender.
Use the Pursuit as a running shoe for your tempo runs and 10K races. Or fast daily runs.
2) Saucony Kinvara 10 Women’s
The 6.7 oz Kinvara 10 is the next generation of one of the most recognisable 4 mm drop lightweight trainers in the market. A very airy and lightweight upper fits well and feels great over the foot – the 10th edition has cleaned up the unnecessary overlays.
This shoe is good for daily training, half-marathons and everything in between. The firm midsole is also responsive, courtesy of an Everun Topsole. This secondary insole adds a bit of springiness to the ride without slowing you down.
Best Women’s road running shoe
1) New Balance 1400 V6 Womens
The New Balance 1400 features a lot on our rotation charts. Frankly, we don’t see any other road racer which offers a near-perfect blend of tempo-friendly cushioning, outsole grip, and optimal fit.
The 1400 is a good a racer as it gets. Best of all, it retails at $100 and weighs only 6-ounces.
Best Women’s trail running shoe
7) New Balance Summit Unknown Womens
This shoe is also featured on the men’s guide, and with good cause. The Summit Unknown is a versatile trail running shoe with just the right amount of protection and cushioning. All of that is built into a low-profile, 7.4 ounce meld of mesh, foam, rubber and TPU.
A rock plate keeps the foot insulated from protruding rocks and roots. The upper gets its protection from the rubberized overlays and a toe-cap. The fit is snug and secure – something that’s desirable in a trail shoe.
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