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Women's Running Shoes

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How to Choose Running Shoes

Where Do You Plan to Run?

Road-running shoes are designed for pavement and occasional forays onto packed surfaces with slight irregularities.

  • Light and flexible, they're made to cushion or stabilize feet during repetitive strides on hard, even surfaces.
  • Best for people who run on sidewalks, road, treadmills or track.
  • Road-running shoes have flatter, smoother soles to create a consistent surface for running on paved roads.

Shop road-running shoes on REI.com

Trail-running shoes are designed for off-road routes with rocks, mud, roots or other obstacles.

  • They have bigger lugs (the "cleats" on the outsole) than road-running shoes for better grip on uneven terrain.
  • They are sometimes fortified with plates underfoot to help protect your feet from rocks or sharp objects.
  • They're generally stiffer through the midsoles for more support on rugged trails and uneven surfaces.

Shop trail-running shoes on REI.com

Cross-training shoes are designed for gym workouts, cross-training or any balance activity where having more contact with the ground is preferred over a thick platform sole.

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How Much Cushion Do You Want to Feel?

The "ride" provided by your shoes is determined by two aspects of cushioning: the firmness of the foam and the thickness (also called the stack height) of the shoe material between your feet and the ground. This material in the midsole is usually a type of foam, typically EVA or polyurethane, that helps absorb the impacts as your feet strike the ground. From maximally cushioned midsoles to ones with no cushion, how thick or firm the midsoles below your feet is a matter of personal preference. Some runners want a plush, soft ride for extra comfort. Others don't want or need that much cushioning, preferring more response from each stride. The best way to decide is to try on a variety of shoes and see how they feel.

Here are your choices when it comes to cushioning:

Understanding Drop

The heel drop of a shoe represents the difference in cushioning between the heel and toe of the shoe, measured in millimeters. The drop primarily affects how your foot strikes the ground.  

A traditional running shoe usually has a heel drop of about 10mm and up. It offers lots of cushion in the heel and promotes landing first on the heel as the foot moves through its motion. By contrast, a zero-drop shoe means there's an equal amount of cushioning under the heels and toes. The lower the drop, the more a shoe will help promote a midfoot strike—considered by many to have a lower impact stride than a heel strike. Keep in mind that the lower the drop, the more your Achilles tendon will have to work. For those used to a traditional shoe, any lower-drop shoe (in the range of 0mm up to about 8mm) may require an adjustment period.

Heel drop and the total amount of cushioning are independent of each other; it is possible to find ultra-cushioned shoes that still have a zero or low drop. 

How Much Support Do You Need?

How does your foot hit the ground when you run? Pronation is the natural way your foot rolls inward when it strikes the ground and then propels forward. There are three different types of pronation, and you may want shoes with features that support your pronation level. Brands use different footwear technologies and features that reduce excess movement. The technologies are meant to guide the foot through a smoother transition.

Basic Pronation

(Also called Neutral Pronation) When your foot rolls inward a typical amount. It helps you absorb impact and relieve pressure on knees and joints. It is a normal trait of neutral, biomechanically efficient runners.

Overpronation

When your foot rolls inward excessively, leaving you at risk of injuries. Overpronators may want stability or motion control shoes. Look for patterns of wear near your big toe and the inside sole at the ball of your feet. 

Supination

When your foot rolls outward when it hits the ground. Relatively few runners supinate, but those who do may want shoes with more cushion and flexibility. Look for signs of wear along the outside edge of your shoe.

Determining Your Pronation

One way to determine your pronation is to have a footwear specialist observe your gait when you run. Another way is to examine the wear pattern on a well-used pair of running shoes. Use this guide to figure out your pronation and the level of shoe support you might consider:

Basic Pronation

Your foot rolls inward a typical amount.

Pattern of Wear on Shoes: 
Centralized to the ball of your feet and portion of your heels.

Shoes to Consider:
Neutral shoes or stability shoes with light structure.

Overpronation

Your foot tends to roll in too much.

Pattern of Wear on Shoes: 
Concentrated along the inside edge of the shoe.

Shoes to Consider:
Stability shoes with structured support. In extreme cases, motion control shoes.

Supination

Your foot tends to roll outward excessively.

Pattern of Wear on Shoes: 
Concentrated along the outside edge of the shoe.

Shoes to Consider:
Neutral shoes may work well.

Shop running shoes on REI.com

Finding Your Level of Support

Once you've decided what kind of ride you'd like to experience from your shoes, depending on your biomechanics, you can find a level of support in your shoes to bolster your gait. There are three categories of running shoe support: neutral, stability and motion control (high support).

Neutral shoes:

  • They can work for mild pronators but are best for neutral runners or people who supinate (tend to roll outward).
  • They typically do not have motion control features such as "medial posts" that reinforce the arch side of each midsole. 

Shop neutral running shoes on REI.com

Stability shoes:

  • These shoes have stability devices that help control pronation.
  • They often include guide rails which control side-to-side motion.
  • Good for runners who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation.
  • Shoes are not as rigid as motion control shoes.

Shop stability running shoes on REI.com

Motion control shoes:

  • These are the most stable of running shoes to counter moderate or severe overpronation. (Note: These are less common and most likely to be carried in specialty running stores.)
  • Best for runners who exhibit moderate to severe overpronation.
  • Features include firm posts that reinforce the arch side of each midsole, stiffer heels and a design built on straighter lasts to counter overpronation.
  • Special internal construction such as stiffer heel or denser foam.
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