The best running shoes for women in 2023, tried and tested

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The right shoes can make or break a run, quite literally. Supportive trainers are even more important than any other element of your kit for both performance and injury prevention, whether you’re a regular racer or a first-time jogger. (Shoes are even more crucial than finding a decent sports bra and gym leggings that won’t fall down mid-run.) And, if you need a helping hand to reach your fitness goals, you can read our guides to the best fitness trackers, exercise bikes and yoga mats.

Emma Kirk-Odunubi is a sports scientist, running coach and footwear specialist with over a decade of experience. She has trialled “hundreds, if not thousands” of running shoes over the course of her career so far, so she’s well placed to advise on how to choose the right pair. 

“The first questions to ask are what are you going to be using them for, how far do you run and over what terrain? What previous experience do you have? Do you only run, or will you use the shoes for other things, like gym classes or strength training?” she asks. The best way to find the right running shoes is to have a gait analysis (a simple test to determine your running style) in person, although some brands now offer a questionnaire online. You could also book a one-to-one virtual consultation with Kirk-Odunubi. 

What is the best running shoe for me?

There are several key types of running shoe: road running shoes, trail shoes, lightweight running shoes for racing, and more. Road shoes have more cushioning and shock absorption for running on hard surfaces, while trail shoes offer better grip and stability for tricky terrain. (As most people are looking for the former, this review focuses on road running shoes.)

There are two main subcategories of road running shoe. Nicola Cowee, a Buckinghamshire-based running coach and qualified personal trainer with a specialism in women’s fitness and pre-and-post-natal training, explains: “The main types of road running shoes are ‘neutral’, which tend to be suitable for everyone, and ‘supportive’, which are best suited to runners who pronate [run with their weight on the inside of the foot].” The best way to find out what suits you best is gait analysis with a professional.

How much do you have to spend? “The amount you need to spend depends on what kind of runner you are; if you’re trying to shave time off your personal best, you might spend more on a lighter or more responsive shoe,” says Cowee. “But if you’re a beginner, comfort is key – it doesn’t have to cost loads.” 

If you train in a gym and run no more than a couple of times per week, Kirk-Odunubi recommends a lower-profile shoe so you’re “a bit closer to the ground with a bit more stability.” For more regular runners covering longer distances, a shoe with a higher ‘drop’ – ie. “the difference in the height of the cushioning between the back of the shoe and the front of the shoe” – and more cushioning would be preferable. “An eight to ten millimetre drop is the sweet spot, but if you’re a more advanced runner you might go a little lower,” she says.

So, what exactly is the “right” type of cushioning? For most runners, the best shoe is soft, but not too soft, and springy – but not too springy. Still with me? “I use the analogy of a trampoline versus a pillow,” says Kirk-Odunubi. “Pillows are comfortable. But imagine trying to run over them – it’s going to be quite unstable. Then think about trampolines. Again, pretty comfortable to run over, but you’re going to spring up and down quite aggressively. I would say where 80 to 90 per cent of people want to sit is in the middle of that continuum. 

“Yes, you want cushioning that’s plush and comfortable, but you also want it to be responsive and take back the energy you’re putting into the ground with each stride.” 

For sizing, the usual advice is go one size up from your usual, but Kirk-Odunubi uses the rule of thumb. “When you’re standing up in your running shoe with your heel right towards the back, you want to have about a thumbs width between your foot and the end of the shoe – if you’re running a long distance and that gap is too small, you might lose a toenail…” 

How I tested the best running shoes

I spent over a month pounding pavements (and treadmills) to find this year’s best running shoes

As a fitness journalist I’ve been almost continually testing new running shoe models for the past three years. Since this piece was first published a year ago, I’ve re-tested all the newest releases with a combination of outdoor runs and treadmill training. After quizzing the experts Kirk-Odunubi and Cowee, I rated each shoe on its cushioning, stability, fit and support. 

At a glance – the best running shoes for 2023

Read on for our full reviews

Best running shoes

1. Lululemon Blissfeel

£138, Lululemon

Best overall

We liked: the perfect, spongy support and woman-specific design

Lululemon Blissfeel: a women-specific fit that’s well worth the investment

New running shoe releases are described as a “game changer” very frequently and are rarely that different from whatever came before. But athleisure label Lululemon’s first running shoe is – in my opinion – worthy of the accolade. They’re definitely more of a lifestyle runner’s shoe than speedy racing shoe, but if you’re in the former camp, you won’t be disappointed. 

They aren’t the first brand to do so, but Lululemon analysed over one million female foot scans to engineer a fit that’s specific to women’s feet, which generally have a wider forefoot and narrower heel in comparison to men’s, according to Kirk-Odunubi. 

The sleek, breathable upper hugs your foot, and the “tuned foam cushioning” feels different to every other running shoe on this list. It is spongy and absorbs every last bit of impact, but still feels light and responsive, with a stable forefoot and snug heel. I should also note the lovely range of colours, especially the pink and green pair pictured. 

My only minor gripe is that the design itself is slightly lacking in style. But that hasn’t stopped me reaching for these every time I run or go to the gym – they’re uniquely comfortable and springy. Lululemon recommend going up a half size or so, as they come up slightly small.

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2. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

Was £109.95, now £94.47, Nike

Best support

We liked: the springy cushioning and wider toe-box

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38: a next-level neutral shoe that’s springy and supportive

The Pegasus 38 is snappy yet supportive enough to make even the most reluctant of runners feel like Nike’s namesake, the Greek goddess of victory. It’s a genuine pleasure to run in. The first Nike Pegasus trainers were introduced in 1983 with the slogan ‘the shoe for every runner,’ and that’s a reputation they’ve managed to maintain to this day. This shoe is dependable, comfortable and unobtrusive in the best way. 

On the tech specs: this 38th iteration of the Nike Pegasus is made with more lightweight Nike React foam for a springy, supportive feeling. It’s a reliable neutral shoe with a 10mm drop. Another key development is that this shoe is slightly wider at the front than predecessors, which I appreciated – I have narrow feet and found this shoe fit perfectly. It’s snug along my foot but doesn’t rub my toes. 

I can always tell whether a product’s worth recommending if, while testing, I find myself gravitating to using or wearing it again and again. That’s the case with these trainers. Like Goldilocks, I’ve finally found the right combination of springy and soft, and my perfect everyday running shoes.

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3. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22

£130, Brooks

Best for comfort

We liked: the excellent arch support for overpronators

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22: cushioning that makes a tangible difference to performance

I usually hit a wall about halfway round my usual run route, but these supremely supportive, comfortable shoes made a tangible difference to how tired I felt. Brooks shoes are known for being very cushioned and comfortable, and having previously tested the Brooks Glycerin trainers, I had assumed these would be a little on the soft side for me (although I’d recommend them if you need a shoe that offers plentiful squidgy support). But this model – the Adrenaline 22 – is just that little bit more structured, especially under my arches, and would be a great choice for everyday mileage. 

It still has that supple, cushioned feel Brooks is famed for and has a slightly higher than average 12mm drop. But the patented “guard rail” technology (essentially firmer foam ‘bumpers’ on each side of the heel) keeps my form and posture in check, too. It’s a stability shoe designed for those who overpronate slightly, but it’s lighter, simpler in design and faster-feeling than other bulky stability shoes. 

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4. Hoka Kawana

£125, Hoka

Best for cross-training

We liked: the ‘rocker’ sole and unique design

Hoka Kawana: the best of both worlds for running and cross-training

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of running in Hoka’s deeply cushioned shoes before, you’ll know they’re geared towards offering plenty of support for running long distances. But with the Kawana, the brand’s newest release, you get the best of both worlds – a supremely supportive shoe for clocking up the miles with a bit more stability and responsiveness for the the gym. It’s the first of Hoka’s shoes to be a hybrid trainer for both running and cross-training (although do note that it’s not as stable as the shoes you’d need for weightlifting). 

It has a slightly rocked sole to propel you forwards while you clock up the miles and Hoka’s signature ‘swallowtail’ heel to reduce impact on landing. I found it pleasingly bouncy and felt that it definitely helped me pick up the speed. I also like the design, which blends in slightly more than a usual super-stacked Hoka shoe. 

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5. Asics Gel-Kayano 28

£155, Asics

Best for long distances

We liked: the best-in-test stability and support, although it does come at a cost

Asics Gel-Kayano 28: stability and support for long runs

I can’t claim to have run a marathon in this shoe as, to be honest, I couldn’t if I tried. But the Gel-Kayano 28 is what I’d choose to wear to ramp up mileage and train for a half-marathon or marathon, as the shock absorption and support it offers is second to none.  

Asics’ stable Gel-Kayano design is another recipe for success, as the shoe is now in its 28th iteration and, for the first time, the design is gender-specific. It’s designed to offer extra support for runners who overpronate (find that their ankle rolls inwards as they run). I find it feels very plush around my ankles and underfoot, and the fit is perfect – tailored and snug, but not too warm, with a bit more space in the forefoot. 

The midsole is a layer cake of different types of high-tech Asics cushioning for stability and impact absorption, topped with a new layer of new, slightly softer “Flytefoam Blast” for comfort. Not everyone will require this much structure and cushioning, so Asics also make a Gel-Kayano “Lite” (£165). 

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6. On Running Cloudstraus

£150, On Running

Best for speed

We liked: the explosive take-off from the brand’s ‘Cloud’ technology, although they’re still rather firm

On Cloudstraus: responsive cushioning to power up your performance

The distinctive hollow pods on the outsole of this shoe are called ‘clouds’, and they’re engineered to protect from impact as you land and propel you forward as you take off again with multi-directional cushioning. Instead of a layer of foam, which can be slower and less responsive, On’s “Cloudtec” is designed with energy return in mind. It makes a difference you can genuinely feel. 

I’ve been a big fan of this Swiss-born brand for several years, and have also tested their Cloudswift and Cloudflow shoes. But this model, the Cloudstraus, is the only one to have two layers of those clever cloud pods on the sole for more shock absorption. I also found this slightly roomier than previous On shoes, so it would suit runners with wide feet. 

Like all On’s shoes, it still feels fairly firm, so won’t suit everybody. It’s not the shoe I’d choose for easy, comfortable runs. However, it’s a good compromise if you want speedy responsiveness with the top-notch support required for mid to long-distance. 

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On Running

7. Adidas Ultraboost 22

£165, adidas

Best women-specific running shoe 

We liked: the intelligent design, engineered for female runners

Adidas Ultraboost 22: a shoe engineered specifically for women’s feet

An all-female team at Adidas used 1.2 million foot scans to update this running shoe with a streamlined design specifically for women’s feet. The biggest updates are a narrower heel design and lower instep, which results in a snug, sock-like fit that I’m a big fan of. The midsole is made from Adidas’ “Boost” foam, which is like a mini trampoline – very bouncy, with excellent energy return. 

My only gripe is that they’re fairly heavy, at 289g. But this doesn’t make a difference to how they perform, so I would suggest it comes down to personal preference.

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Also Recommended

The following running shoes also impressed, if not quite as much as my top six 

Veja Condor 2

£135, Veja

Made from sustainable materials with firm support and a 10mm drop. Stylish enough to wear out and about.

New Balance Fresh Foam X 860v12

£125, New Balance

Good grip and superb stability for overpronators, but a little too dense for me. 

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