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Women's Trail-Running Shoes

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How Women's Trail Runners Differ from Women's Road Runners

Though the activities are similar, trail-running shoes offer three attributes road-running shoes don't need to have:

  • Grip on rugged terrain: Soles that provide traction on dirt, mud and gravel.
  • Foot protection: Features that shield feet from rock and root impacts.
  • Stability: Construction that minimizes foot rotation.

Types of Women's Trail-Running Shoes

Running on a manicured dirt path differs from thrashing along a root- and boulder-studded tract. The following shoe categories reflect increasing levels of traction, durability, foot protection and stability:

  • Light trail
  • Rugged trail
  • Off trail

Cushioning in Women's Trail-Running Shoes

Terms (barefoot, minimal, moderate and maximum) are the same for trail and road shoes, so consider matching cushioning level in any road runners you might already own. Unsure where to begin? Look first at trail runners with moderate cushioning.

Heel-to-Toe Drop in Women's Trail-Running Shoes

The difference between sole thickness at the heel and at the forefoot ranges from 0mm to 12mm or more. Switching to a shoe with a significantly different drop than you are used to can upset the mechanics of your stride. If you own road runners or other athletic shoes and know their drop, then look for a similar drop in trail runners. Alternatively, you can start by looking at trail runners with a drop spec nearer to the middle (5-8mm) of this range.

Fit in Women's Trail-Running Shoes

Getting an in-person fit at a specialty store like REI is your best bet. (You can also get advice on heel-to-toe drop and shoe cushioning.) When shopping online, use the size of your road runners, especially if it's the same shoe brand. Another option is to select trail runners a half size up from your casual shoes. Well-fitting shoes will have the following characteristics:

  • A heel cup that's snug enough so your heel won't slide up and down or side to side
  • A midsection that's snug, but not constricting
  • A toe box that gives the front of the foot and toes room to wiggle
  • A length that leaves a thumbnail width between the front of your toes and the front of the shoe

For more fit guidance and buying advice, read our full article: How to Choose Trail-Running Shoes.

REI carries top brands for women's trail running shoes, including Salomon, HOKA, Brooks, Altra and more!