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13 best women’s trail running shoes to tackle tough terrain

Break away from the beaten track with Adidas, Hoka, Salomon and more

Clare O'Reilly
Thursday 25 May 2023 13:10 BST
Every pair was tested on a run between 10km and 30km distance
Every pair was tested on a run between 10km and 30km distance (The Independent)
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According to the International Trail Running Association, there are around 1.77 million trail runners across the globe. And while only 23 percent of those are female, the percentage of women choosing to run in the wild on unpaved surfaces is increasing.

Since 2008, the number of trail races has increased over 1,000 percent with distances from 5km to hundreds of miles over several days. But whatever the distance, there’s no denying the importance of the right footwear.

While every trainer choice is important, choosing the right trail shoes may be the difference between a seamless, glorious trail run in nature or a trip on a tree root and a twisted ankle. And don’t forget that the same trail can change overnight depending on rain, wind and whether it’s being run in daylight or in the dark.

Whether you’re just getting into the sport and fancy trying a run on your local gravel canal path or in your local woods, or are a seasoned competitor accustomed to elevation that would make a mere mortal shudder, we’ve found a reliable shoe for you.

We’ve put in hundreds of miles doing the hard work to help you make your choices so you can enjoy miles of trails with the right shoes on your feet.

How we tested

The South West Coast Path and the Two Moors Way in Devon and the rugged wilds of Dartmoor were the testing grounds for the 13 shoes on this list. Every pair was tested over 10km in the shortest distance and 30km on the longest run.

They were put through their paces – literally – in wet and dry conditions on a mixture of surfaces from gravel to mud, rocks and grass and streams and were also tested up and down hill too with plenty of elevation thrown into the mix. Used in daylight and in darkness with a head torch lighting the way, each of these shoes was thoroughly tested to help you make the right decision for your feet.

From Devon to Dartmoor, each pair in this round-up was taken for a proper spin (Clare O’Reilly)

The best women’s trail running shoes for 2023 are:

  • Best women’s trail running shoes overall – Hoka tecton X2: £185, Hoka.com
  • Best budget women’s trail running shoes – Evadict XT8: £69.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best women’s trail running shoes for distance – Arc'teryx norvan LD 3 shoe: £150, Arcteryx.com
  • Best women’s trail running shoes for speed – Merrell MTL skyfire 2: £170, Merrell.com

Hoka tecton X2

best women’s trail running shoes Hoka tecton X2
  • Best: For speed
  • Sizes: UK 3.5 - 9.5
  • Colourways: Two options available

The newest kid on the block, the tecton X2’s weigh in at 211g – which is still 10 percent lighter than the previous incarnation – with a 5mm heel drop. With carbon fibre plates these aren’t for the faint hearted. They feel explosive and propulsive with every stride and despite not being the lightest on the list, they feel pretty weightless – maybe thanks to the energy yielding carbon fibre plate.

Whispers among the trail community that these could be the fastest trail shoe yet are easy to understand when you lace up and head out on the trails. They feel responsive to what’s underfoot and have 4mm lugs, and the gusseted tongue did a great job at keeping debris out during testing.

  1. £185 from Hoka.com
Prices may vary
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Arc'teryx norvan LD 3 shoe

best women’s trail running shoes Arc’teryx norvan LD 3 shoe
  • Best: For distance
  • Size: UK 3.5 - 12.5
  • Colourways: Four options

Lightweight at just 265g per shoe, The Norvan LD 3 has a 4mm lug which gives it a confident bite in mud and on gravel yet the Vibram Litebase sole feels grippy on rock. It might not be the most beautiful colour scheme on the list but they’re a quality trail shoe and one we really enjoyed testing.

When tested on a rainy bank holiday weekend in ankle-deep water they dried out fast and were ready to go again the following morning. There’s plenty of room in the toe box too and the arches aren’t huge which makes for a comfortable run that lets you adapt to terrain and trail angles easily.

They have a heel drop of 9mm and they’re also abrasion resistant. Neither the shoe nor the laces snagged any of the brambles run through during testing. And if that wasn’t enough, it comes in a Gore-tex version that is water-resistant, too.

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Merrell MTL skyfire 2

best trail running shoes review Merrell MTL skyfire 2
  • Best: For speed
  • Size: UK 2.5 - 14
  • Colourways: One available

Launched in April, the MTL Skyfire are some of the newest on the list. While they’re towards the more expensive end too, you get your moneys worth in every stride. At 198g per shoe they’re fairly light and they feel it too. With 5mm lugs, 25mm stack height and a 6mm drop they’re built for speed across rough terrain and they skipped lightly across rocks. Plus, they’re vegan-friendly and made with recycled material they’re an eco-friendly choice without sacrifing style or function for environmental friendliness.

They also feature a brand new flex plate which is the first of its kind and offers under sole protection. When it comes to looks they’re not too shabby either, the two-tone orange and black make them look more like a road shoe than a multicoloured trail. Regardless of the terrain these performed well in wet and dry conditions and were one of the few that didn’t get any stones in them.

  1. £170 from Merrell.com
Prices may vary
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Columbia montrail trinity max

best women’s trail running shoes review Columbia montrail trinity max
  • Best: For grip and traction
  • Size: UK 3 - 9
  • Colourways: One option

At 346.9g these are not the lightest on the list, but the 5mm lug and 36mm heel mean they’re grippy, smooth and a very enjoyable trail shoe. Traction is brilliant and the Techlite mid sole promises a glide transition from heel to toe and durability. There’s also something about these shoes that feels explosive and propelling, maybe it’s the seamless mesh and the asymmetrical lacing. We also love that the futuristic sole design gives them an unusual profile from the wearer’s perspective while the iridescent colour scheme is the nicest on the list – they even garnered compliments from fellow runners on a coastal race they were tested in.

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Saucony xodus ultra 2

best women’s trail running shoes review Saucony xodus ultra 2
  • Best: For toe space
  • Size: UK 2 - 10
  • Colourways: Two options available

Arguably some of the best looking on the list, these come in two colours, jauntily named Sunstone and night, and cool mint and dusk. They’re almost 30g lighter than their previous incarnation too, weighing in at 241g. The stack height is 32.5mm with a 6mm drop and a 4.5mm lug – once they grip, you’re not sliding anywhere. The toe box is roomy yet the mid section is snug and well fitting. The team at Saucony has made a minimal upper with less overlays to reduce hot spots too.

While these shoes claim they’re “specifically designed for the long-haul” they were comfortable over shorter, faster runs as well as performing well over longer distance. The rock plate prevented stubbed toes and the heel loop made them easy to get on and off. They boast a debris shield but that didn’t stop grit and stones getting in – which was to be expected given the terrain they were tested on.

  1. £145 from Saucony.com
Prices may vary
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Hoka challenger 7 GT

best women’s trail running shoes review Hoka challenger 7 GT
  • Best: For foot support
  • Size: UK 3.5 - 9.5
  • Colourways: Three options

At 198g these are among the lightest on the list and this newest incarnation is lighter than the last with an increased stack height too. The 4mm lug puts it among the shortest on the list but the sole grip has been inspired by tyres and gives a formidable grip in both wet and dry weather. With a 5mm drop – one of the smallest on the list – the Challenger 7s have been approved by the Royal College of Podiatry and are the only shoe on the list with an official accreditation.

It’s a matter of personal taste and not all trail runners enjoy the rain but the Gore-tex prevented some of the water from puddles from escaping. It was absorbed by socks but in constant wet weather, depending on runner gait, these could give hotspots where water meets fabric on socks. They do come with Hoka’s amazing 30 day guarantee though.

  1. £140 from Hoka.com
Prices may vary
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Salomon S lab ultra 3

best women’s trail running shoes review Salomon S lab ultra 3
  • Best: Lacing system
  • Size: UK 3.5 - 12.5
  • Colourways: One option

Arguably one of the best looking on the list, the S Lab Ultra is also the only pair with Salomon’s trademark Quicklace system. Not to everyone’s tastes but well worth giving a go if you haven’t before – and you’ll likely be a convert once you’ve tried it.

At 260g with a 4mm lug depth and 8mm drop, it sits in the middle of the list but it’s the matrix mesh that makes it stand out. The sock-like fit at the ankle even kept sand out and was fast draining when faced with puddles and a stream crossing during testing. It performed well on all terrain, even holding traction downhill on gravel. The price tag puts it towards the more expensive on the list but you get what you pay for and there’s good reason Salomon as a brand is still going strong 76 years after it started in 1947.

  1. £190 from Salomon.com
Prices may vary
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VJ Sport ultra 2

best women’s trail running shoes review VJ sport ultra 2
  • Best: For distance and elevation
  • Size: UK 3.5 - 13
  • Colourways: One option

If you haven’t heard of VJ, well listen up. These trail shoes pack a serious punch and are at home on even the toughest of terrain. Developed in partnership with elite runners these shoes weigh in at 275g have a 4mm lug and a 6mm drop. The outsole is made from VJs own butyl rubber and the grip is second to none even in wet conditions. The brand claims to have the best grip on the planet and from slippery rocks to mossy stones, they didn’t falter at all.

These are comfortable trail shoes which have a fitlock system to hold the foot firm once laced in locking it from the arch. The toe space gives balance and comfort and the new Ultra 2 version includes a rock plate protecting the foot from sharp rocks and sticks. Put simply, these shoes make you want to keep running.

If you’re faithful to a brand but have never tried VJ, give them a go, you won’t be disappointed and will want to run further.

  1. £149 from Vjsport.fi
Prices may vary
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North Face vectiv pro

best women’s trail running shoes North Face vectiv pro
  • Best: For slippy trails
  • Size: UK 3 - 9
  • Colourways: Two options

If you’re after stability, comfort and a shoe that looks the part too, the Vectiv Pro is worth every penny. At 242g, it’s not the lightest on the list but with a 6mm offset and 3.5mm lugs it’s responsive and makes running feel that little bit easier.

One of only three on the list with a carbon fibre plate – which is likely where a lot of the cost is – it really does propel and give a bounce in every step while holding you safely on the trail with zero slippage. It also has a forked design in the heel and forefoot to increase stability and it tested brilliantly skipping over rocks on the edge of a river. It’s breathable and dried out fast when it got wet, too.

Available in two hard to choose between colour schemes, this is a shoe you’ll get a lot of miles and a lot of enjoyment out of come rain or shine.

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North Face vectiv sky

best women’s trail running shoes North Face vectiv sky
  • Best: All rounder
  • Size: UK 3 - 9
  • Colourways: One

At 227g, the Vectiv Sky’s might not be the lightest on the list but they’re pretty close. The carbon fibre footplate delivers propulsion and ease with every foot strike, while the rockered midsole really feels like it’s driving you forward and the 4mm toe to heel offset makes feet feel more connected to the trails and mud.

The brand claims they’re moderately cushioned but they’re doing themselves a disservice as they felt as cushioned as the Vectiv Pro over 10km distance – although in an ultra the difference might be felt at around 50 miles in.

That said, the carbon fibre plate gives energy back with every step and the 3.5mm lugs didn’t slip even in the wettest conditions. Whether your park run is a bit trail based or if you’re heading to the mountains of Snowdonia, these lightweight, breathable and quick drying trail shoes are a great all rounder.

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Adidas soulstride flows

best women’s trail running shoes review Adidas soulstride flows
  • Best: For multi surface trails
  • Size: UK 5.5 - 14.5
  • Colourways: Three options

Very few trail runners will spend an entire run on the same terrain and if you experience mud, gravel, sand, rocks and paths on your runs, these are the ones for you. Designed to cope with mixed surfaces, the soles are made from Continental rubber – the same type found on road tyres – and the cushioning is second to none. They’ve got an 8mm drop, are 275g and the 3mm lug might be one of the shortest but the grip is utterly reliable.

Incredibly breathable, there were comfortable on hot days in testing and they drained water and dried out fast after stream crossings too. Plus, they’re also made from 50 percent recycled material making them one of the most environmentally friendly pairs on the list. And with three colours to choose from, if you’re looking for a trail shoe to adventure in, these are a great option.

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Adidas trailrider GTX

best women’s trail running shoes Adidas trailrider GTX
  • Best: For looks
  • Size: UK 5.5 - 14.5
  • Colourways: Three available

Gore-tex is one of those divisive words in the trail running world – some runners want waterproofing, others believe it holds water in and you end up running in puddles on each foot. What can’t be debated with these though is that they are most definitely waterproof. White socks were still white after a wet run and the gusseted tongue is designed to seal out water and mud.

Designed for dynamic, lightweight movement these feel light under foot even though they weigh in at 300g with a 6mm heel drop. These feel responsive and with Adidas’ distinctive three stripes on the heel they’re also some of the best looking on the list too even if the colour names (magic beige, wonder taupe and solar gold) are a little unusual. If you’re after a stylish shoe that’ll keep you dry, look no further. They can also be personalised on each foot so make a perfect gift for the runner in your life.

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Evadict XT8

best women’s trail running shoes Evadict XT8
  • Best: Budget option
  • Size: UK 3 - 8
  • Colourways: One option available

If your budget won’t stretch to the three figures of the other shoes on the list, the Evadict XT8 is a lot of bang for very little bucks. The 5mm lugs feel like they glue to every surface they touch, from mossy rocks to greasy mud they didn’t shift or falter. And though they weigh 285g, they feel lighter when they’re on and the heel-to-toe drop is 8mm – one of the biggest on the list. There’s a pocket on the tongue for the laces and they come with a two-year warranty. Phew!

These shoes were three years in the making and you can tell when you put them on. The lacing holds the whole foot snugly, the toe box is roomy too. They might only come in one colour scheme that’s not particularly snazzy but when they’re covered in mud, who’s to know what colour your runners are? We didn’t have huge expectations for these, but they knocked our socks off.

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Walsh PB elite trainer

best women’s trail running shoes Walsh PB elite trainer
  • Best: For fell running
  • Size: UK 4 - 13
  • Colourways: One option available

The only pair of British-made trainers on the list, Walsh might not be a familiar name if you’re new to trail running but the brand’s retro styling and uniform grip makes it a must if you’re into your elevation when it comes to running. Fantastic grip uphill and brilliant at traction downhill, the PB elite might just give you the PB you’ve been searching for. Available in one colour scheme, with sizes from adult 4 to 13, they’ve also got the biggest size range on the list. The Walsh signature pyramid grip outsole tested brilliantly in mud and on wet rock, while the lacing system pulled tight enough that even the smallest particles of gravel stayed out of the shoe during a 10k run.

If you want history in every step, these are your shoes. It was founder Norman Walsh who was selected to make the track spikes used by Team GB in the 1948 Olympics. Walsh also adorned Roger Bannister’s feet on his successful four-minute mile attempt in 1954.

While the elite has a more snug fit, those with wider feet can find all the same qualities in the Walsh PB ultra trainer (£75, Normanwalshuk.com), which is essentially the same shoe but differs in fit.

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The verdict: Trail running shoes for women

The Hoka tecton X2 lead the charge as the best trail shoe on the list. They feel light, the grip is excellent and the carbon plate really gives back – much needed when you’re looking at serious elevation several miles into a run.

Special mention goes to the VJ Sport ultra 2 – they might not have the research and development budgets as some of the bigger names on the list but if you’re a serious trail runner and intend to clock up hundreds of miles, these are definitely worth investing in, they’ll surprise you and you’ll become a loyal customer the first time you put them on.

If you’re restricted by price, the Evadict XT8 are by no means a shoe to settle for. They might not be too much to look at but feeling like all the focus was on the technology behind the shoe rather than the colour scheme is a good thing and they have pedigree with an actual race winner wearing them.

After a supportive pair of kicks for your run? Check out our edit of the best running shoes for women

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