If you’re on the hunt for new running shoes, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of options and spend hours and hours searching for the perfect sneaker with the right look, fit, comfort level and price. But don’t fret—we’ve been there and done that to help take the guesswork out of shopping for new running shoes.
When choosing the best women’s running shoes, there are several features to consider: weight, support level, the sole (made up of the out sole layer, midsole or cushioning layer and the underfoot layer), the upper (body of the shoe, toe box and heel fit), heel drop height (how fat a running shoe's heel feels) and more. After consulting some pro runners and using our previous running shoes testing as guidelines, three SI staffers with backgrounds in marathon running and athletics set out to find the best-of-the-best in women’s running shoes right now. We tested on the streets of New York City; on sidewalks; gravel paths and trails around New Jersey; and in the gym, on treadmills and even on elliptical machines. Our testers also wore the shoes on weekend errands and onto the gym floor for post-run stretching or weight-lifting workouts, because who actually ends up only running in their running sneakers?
So whether you’re looking for a shoe for speed, one for comfort during long miles or a cute sneaker that will take you from a jog to the gym to brunch, we’ve got you covered. Below, we’ve found the best running shoes you can buy right now, including favorites from Nike, Brooks, Asics, New Balance and more.
Nike Epic React Flyknit 2
New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v9
ASICS Gel-Nimbus 21
Brooks Glycerin 16
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35 Shield
Our pick: Nike Epic React Flyknit 2
Following the initial debut of the Epic React shoe in January 2018, featuring the Nike’s proprietary foam of the same name, the brand released a slightly revamped style in early 2019. At first glance, the Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 is very similar to its predecessor and testing of the shoe revealed a few improvements, but not many. And that’s because the shoe was already a superior sneaker—you know what they say, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That adage proved to be true for Nike’s newest iteration of its innovative running shoe, which gave the same lightweight, almost invisible feeling on the foot. The designers said they wanted it to feel like the shoe “just disappears” and I definitely get that sensation, whether I’m running, warming-up, stretching or simply walking around.
One of my favorite parts of the Nike Epic React 2 is the form-fitting, sock-like Flyknit material that holds your foot that feels as close and comfortable as when you wrap yourself up and snuggle on the couch on a cold winter evening. Compared to the first version, I felt like the upper on this shoe was a bit more structured, so I felt like it helped my foot feel more secure and shift less during runs. This could simply be from the fact that my older Epic Reacts were feeling “looser” from so much wear in the past year, so I’ll have to report back after I get near 10-12 months of running in the shoes. Another part of the shoe I really appreciate is the small tab on the back. It may seem like a simple thing, but because the shoe is so form fitting, there’s not much to grab onto and it can sometimes be difficult to put on. But the little loop at the heel is a huge help.
When running on the roads or the treadmill, the Epic Reacts provide a cushioned but springy feel underfoot—one that gives me an extra boost during workouts. It’s responsive but super soft, while still being lightweight and supportive. As compared to the first version, I noticed that the distinct pink heel clip is surrounded by a different construction at the heel. As a heel striker, I felt that this new design provided a bit more stability in the heel area.
Beyond logging miles, I’ve worn these Nike running shoes everywhere—to the gym for cross-training workouts; to Rumble for a boxing-inspired group fitness class; to the airport to catch a flight; to Trader Joe’s for grocery shopping—and found them to be more than suitable for both workout sessions and everyday settings. Whether you’re a serious runner, an active athlete or just in search of a sleek and comfortable running shoe that you can wear anywhere, the Nike Epic Reacts are a great choice. —JL
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19
Brooks running shoes are categorized into four pillars (or “experiences,” as Brooks calls them)—speed, connect, energize and cushion—and each shoe offers either a neutral or a supported ride. As a long-time wearer of Brooks running shoes, I’ve always gravitated towards neutral shoes with an energized or cushioned experience—the Glycerin, the Levitate and the Ricochet are three of my favorites. So before trying out the newly redesigned Adrenalines, which offer a supported ride, I was skeptical of the GuideRail holistic support system.
Would it mess up my stride? Would the extra support uncomfortably press into my arches with each step? Would my knees and hips ache after each run? Why should I wear these seemingly clunky shoes?
Pulling the shoes out of the box, I noticed the color scheme first and foremost—the mango and the purple accents pop against the black, and a fellow runner pointed out how the bright pop of color on the sole looked sharp. Looking on the Brooks website, the other color schemes look very appealing as well (the navy with teal accents? Swoon!). However I also immediately noticed just how much shoe there is—the heel of this shoe looks thick, which isn’t the most appealing to the eye, and the guard rails on either side of the heel stood out. I immediately knew that I would only be wearing these shoes on the run, and probably not be throwing these shoes on with jeans for errands.
As I slid my foot in and laced up the shoes, I was pleasantly surprised by the secure fit. I noticed how the flat laces lay cleanly and securely without putting any pressure on the top of my foot. I have a wider-than-average foot (but not enough to size up to a wide shoe) and laces can sometimes squeeze the top of my foot if laced too tightly. I laced up the shoes using the extra hole at the end (I do it for every pair of shoes) and my foot stayed locked in place. I also noticed suede on the underside of the tongue—I’m not sure yet what purpose that serves, but it is a nice touch.
Out on the run, the shoes felt great out of the box—no rubbing, hot spots or adjustments. I felt the stable, sturdy support of the GuideRails support system on both feet, which I appreciated more than expected, and the shoe was plenty cushioned with the DNA LOFT sole, but not so much that I felt like I was running on a mattress. The support created lots of steady, forward motion and a smooth heel-to-toe transition—likely a result of the 12mm midsole drop—and I easily fell into a “cruise control” pace. And I found that the arch support was perfect for my normal-to-low arches. The shoes are on the heavier size at 9.6 oz, but it wasn’t a noticeable problem for my runs.
Overall, this shoe is best for a steady state long run or a recovery run—would not recommend for speedwork or a run where you are drastically changing paces. It’s a great go-to shoe for the average runner who likes a stable ride, but this shoe is far from the minimalist feel that some runners crave. I would not wear these shoes for anything but running because they are not the most sleek or attractive shoes out there, but on the run I forget that I’m wearing them—and that’s a good thing! —BM
New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v9
At first glance, the thickness of the foam cushioning that extends from heel to toe on the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v9 raised some concern about the weight and heaviness of the shoe. But it turned out to be surprisingly comfortable for me, offering enough springy-ness and bounce back to alleviate any worry.
With the thick sole, the 1080 v9’s provided sufficient support without a ton of added weight. I will say that they’re not the lightest shoes on the market, but given the amount of foam under your feet, they still avoid becoming too cumbersome due to the airiness of the material. The thick sole did, however, take a bit of getting used to under the midsole, where it’s more rigid than at the heel. As a runner with a pretty flat arch, the thickness under the middle of my foot wasn’t the most comfortable on longer runs on the road. Without the same responsiveness as the shoe boasts at the heel, it felt a bit stiff in the middle by around the five-mile marker.
While the extra cushioning there was a bit much for my personal liking, this New Balance running shoe does seem to be an ideal fit for any runner with a neutral to higher arch.
The bonus is that New Balance placed the mid-foot wrap in a position where doesn’t add any pressure on the widest parts of the foot, which made the thickness under the midsole more bearable. I tend to like shoes with plenty of support around the middle of my foot, as opposed to under my arch, but the 1080s made it work with the reverse features.
Overall, the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v9s are a comfortable wear with more cushioning all around—from the tongue to the mesh to the ankle collar and sole—than most others. They’ve got a nice rock to keep you rolling on the run and are durable enough to last on longer routes or through more rigorous training regimens. They’re reactive without being too rigid and provide a stable and supportive stride perfect for daily mileage and all-purpose use. The soft stride makes these shoes ideal for everyday runners looking for a cushy, neutral trainer. —EC
Brooks Glycerin 16
If the Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 feels too springy or form fitting for your taste, but you’re still in search of a super comfortable and cushioned running shoe that works in a variety of running situations, the Brooks Glycerin 16 is a great option. This neutral running shoe uses the brand’s DNA Loft cushioning, which it says provides “a plush fit and super soft transitions to make every stride luxurious.”
You’ll feel the softness as soon as you lace up, but you’ll also feel a reassuring stability when running, which will be a good balance for most. That being said, this sneaker is not the best choice for severe over- or under-pronators, as the shoes don’t provide any additional stability. The good news? There are narrow, medium and wide width options, which great for those with concerns about sizing. The Glycerin 16’s extra plush cushioning means that it’s far from the lightest shoe on the market at 9.4 ounces, but it definitely doesn’t feel overly clunky or heavy on your foot.
If you’re concerned about sweaty feet during your workouts, you’ll be happy to know that the Glycerin 16s have a breathable mesh fabric in the toebox area that provides a lot of airflow. I am also happy to report that my shoelaces didn’t come undone nearly as much as some other Brooks running shoes, which is a huge plus in my book—nothing is more frustrating than when you’re in the zone and you suddenly feel your shoelaces whipping at your ankles.
The Brooks Glycerin running shoe has been a favorite of SI staffers for quite some time now and we wouldn't hesitate recommending it if you're in search of a do-it-all running sneaker in 2019. —JL
ASICS GEL-NIMBUS 21
The ASICS Gel-Nimbus is a sentimental shoe for me—I wore the shoe back when I started running and for my first marathon, the 2013 NYC Marathon. So I was thrilled to try out the latest version of the shoe, the ASICS Nimbus 21.
Out of the box, I noticed that the color scheme (mid-grey and dark-grey with blue soles and laces) didn’t excite me. I feel like I’ve seen this color scheme before, and I knew that it wouldn’t jump out to me on a shelf next to other shoes. However a friend pointed out that this is probably because shoe brands are gravitating towards more muted colors that can be worn more frequently along with clothing from the surging athleisure trend—someone might not necessarily want a brightly colored shoe, like I would. Fair point. (If you’re also seeking a more vibrant option, it’s important to note that there is a bright-blue colorway with some white and orange details available.)
When I laced up, I noticed that the tongue of the shoe was very thick. I laced up using the extra hole in order to make my heels feel more secure, and the laces all bunched together on top of the tongue. The reimagined mesh upper of the shoe felt light and flexible, and the toebox gave my wide foot and toes plenty of space. The fit is true to size, with no rubbing anywhere. The rounded laces put some unwanted pressure on the top of my foot, but the allover fit, including the “Heel Clutching Technology,” was snug and secure.
Bouncy, plush, squishy—all of these words describe how these shoes felt on the first run. If you like the feeling of running on a mattress or what I imagine running on clouds feels like, then these are the shoes for you. The Flyte Foam propel technology combined with the classic GEL technology makes this ride a top-of-the-line cushioned ride. Coming in at only nine ounces, the shoes give a smooth feel throughout the entire stride.
While the sole of the shoe is cushioned and the fit is right, my arch didn’t quite feel as supported as I like. Without that support (and because of the general plush-ness of the sole) it takes a bit more effort to get my foot up and out of the shoe while running, putting extra pressure on my ankles and upper foot. I wouldn’t recommend wearing this shoe for speedwork or even a tempo run requiring a quick turnover.
Overall this is a great shoe for someone looking for that cushioned, soft ride who doesn’t need any support for over- or under-pronation. If you’re a runner just starting out, this ASICS running shoe is probably the place to start in the search for your perfect pair—it worked for me. —BM
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35 Shield
Whether you’re running in the pouring rain, trekking out after a snowstorm or avoiding puddles of God knows what in the city streets, the waterproof Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 3 Shield is the best choice for braving the elements. But it’s also a solid all-around sneaker.
The Air Zoom Pegasus has been around for more than 35 years and it is Nike’s all-time best-selling running shoe, which means that this Shield water-resistant version has all of the much-loved features that make the original so popular. We’re taking about a solid combination of cushioning and responsiveness that’s suitable for nearly every type of runner. What makes the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35 Shield, beyond the element-blocking construction, is the toggle lacing system. Have you ever been out on a run in messy, wet conditions, only to look down and see your fabric laces untied and sopping up water with every step? What about a run in freezing cold temperatures, where you had to stop and take your gloves off in order to tie your laces? These dreaded situations are the inspiration behind this feature, which eliminates the traditional laces and uses a toggle that easily clips onto the shoe, making sure things stay secure and stay put. Bonus: the seams are completely sealed, so even if you sprint through a puddle, the water won’t seep in, keeping your feet dry and warm.
The best part about these Nike running shoes is the water-blocking technology, which also keeps your feet dry and warm during rainy, cold or wet workouts. Plus, the shoe has a ton of reflective details to help with visibility at night and the sole is super grippy, even in slippery conditions. The shoe also feels plush and cushiony underfoot, so it’s a good choice for daily running—even when it’s sunny with clear skies. —JL
Using some initial feedback from professional marathon runners, three SI staffers—Bette Marston, Emily Caron and Jamie Lisanti—set out to find the best women’s running shoes available right now. In the last five years, Marston has run 10 half marathons, three marathons and plenty of shorter-distance races. She’s also logged thousands of training miles in Central Park in New York City and Liberty State Park in New Jersey, and when she’s not running, you can find her at the gym, hiking or in a spin class. A former college athlete, Lisanti has run two half-marathons and logged hundreds of training miles on the road and on grass and turf soccer fields over the years, and regularly takes on running routes and trails around New Jersey. Her workouts also include short-distance speed days on the track, interval training on the treadmill and weight lifting in the gym. Caron has always been a recreational runner—usually getting in three to five miles at least a few times a week—but is now training for her first half-marathon in May, using the Williamsburg waterfront and East River Park as her go-to training grounds.
Full disclosure on our experts’ foot sizes and types: Marston wears a women’s size 10 and has feet with an average arch height but a wider-than-average width, though not enough to warrant wearing a wide shoe. Lisanti wears a women’s size 8.5 and has feet with an above-average arch. Caron wears a women’s size 7.5 and has a relatively flat foot with a narrow heel.
THE TESTING METHOD
Marston, Caron and Lisanti tried several new models, most of them neutral running shoes from top brands, including Asics, Brooks, Nike and more. The sneakers were tested during runs on the streets of New York City, on sidewalks and gravel paths in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, on the roads and trails of Garret Mountain Reservation in Woodland Park, N.J., and more. All three testers also wore the shoes at the gym, on treadmills, at fitness classes such as Mile High Run Club, and during other cardio and weightlifting workouts. Lisanti and Caron also wore the sneakers for everyday errands and walking to and from workouts.