Hundreds of pairs of trainers come across our desks and inboxes annually. How could we possibly narrow them down to just a select few? At times, the choices we had to make felt as hard as watching Peter on the finale of The Bachelor. But that level of competition is honestly a huge part of what makes this so fun. (And way less awkward than how things usually play out on reality TV.)
Over the course of several months of testing, it became increasingly clear that the top sneakers for women in 2020 all had one thing in common: The look of this year's best kicks is just as cool as the majorly innovative technology used to create them.
Below, you'll find our winners across seven different categories. Of course, there are your cross-trainers and trail runners, but also running shoes that were built for speed, recovery kicks, and everything in between. Meet the new class of sneakers ready to help you lift heavier, sprint faster, and optimize your workouts, whatever they may be.
Long-Distance Ride or Dies
Endurance runners, rejoice! These shoes were constructed to keep up with you, no matter how many miles you wanna go.
This distance gem got a makeover from the inside out. The plush vibe of the cushion combined with the sleek stitching (so pretty!) is a combo we’re here for.
The classic Gel Nimbus is a runner go-to…and this new model is lighter and faster. We were able to pick up the pace without sacrificing comfort.
Now you can run away from pain—literally. With serious shock resistance and a curved bottom for a smoother stride, this shoe reduced injuries by 52 percent compared with Nike’s previous problem-reducing sneaker in a study of 226 runners.
The perfect balance between speed and cushion is here. The Forever Floatride Energy 2s offer just enough support to smooth things out, without stealing your connection to the ground beneath your feet.
Meet Altra's most supportive shoe yet. Made with seven types of trademarked technology, the Provision 4 supports your stride (but only when you need it) for a comfortable ride that customizes to your foot.
Meet the perfect balance of oomph and support. The Liberty ISO 2 boasts a bouncy feel with just enough stability and an adaptable fit.
This sole may make you even speedier: It’s strategically laser-cut to lighten your load while maintaining its infrastructure. Win-win!
A pod in this shoe analyzes your run and measures specifics such as foot-strike angle. You can also level up your form with real-time coaching via a MapMyRun app.
If you have a need for speed, then the Floatride is your sole mate. It was designed specifically with endurance runners in mind to minimize friction and irritation during long hauls like half and full marathons.
Serious Speed Racers
Go ahead and live your life in the fast lane. These lightweight sneakers were designed to keep up.
Cloudflash is the featherweight champion of racing sneakers. Its nano-mesh upper is so light you'll forget you're even wearing shoes, while its heel cap keeps your foot locked in no matter how fast you're flying.
The extra bounce in your step is just one reason to love this lightweight sneaker. Another? The flex added to its midsole that makes rolling through your whole foot on every stride a breeze compared to pairs with stiffer bottoms.
The New Balance Rebel is light and tight, thanks to a fully knit upper, which offers a snug fit to prevent foot rolls. What's more: This sneaker's curved shape was constructed to propel you forward with every step.
A nod to Adidas’ partnership with the International Space Station, the iridescent design of the Ultraboost 20 is far-out. Plus, you’ll feel as if you’re defying gravity with every stride.
The Skechers GOrun Razor looks sharp but rides smooth thanks to a newly engineered Hyper Burst foam sole that's designed to be extra resilient and long-lasting—plus, a seamless non-stretch upper that hugs your foot in all the right places for added stability.
Hoka's Rincon running shoe seriously rocks. No, seriously, the sole is designed in a rocker shape for faster acceleration. What's more? The single-layer mesh upper shaves some of the weight off of this shoe making it blissfully lighter.
With the 600 2, Puma didn't just design its fastest sneaker yet, but also its most fun. The structure of this running shoe is optimized to get you to the finish line ASAP thanks to high-energy return cushioning that'll reduce the impact of your foot strike to keep your legs feeling fresh for longer, plus a super-grippy outsole for more traction.
Hoka's Carbon Xs practically give you wings. The insole's PROFLY X combo of light foams, plus a carbon fiber plate, which acts like a lever to propel you forward for more fluid strides, makes this one of Hoka's speediest rides without sacrificing the brand's trademark comfort.
The Nike Zoom Fly 3 looks practically supersonic—because it is. Its carbon fiber plate and Nike React midsole provide the perfect balance between speed and support, while the rest of the shoe is designed to take pressure off your instep and Achilles tendon.
It's zero-percent surprising that the winner of the 2018 5th Avenue Mile in New York City wore these kicks. Absurdly breathable and lightweight, the Fuel Cell 5280s feature New Balance's bounciest carbon fiber plate, propelling you forward with every stride.
Top Trail Runners
So long, clunky sneakers—these models will keep you stable and stylish. Go ahead and own the rockiest of roads with ease.
We can basically guarantee you’ll never get another rock in your shoes thanks to the ultra-secure uppers, which keep debris out and feet totally dry.
This slip-on has a “Peak-to-Pavement” outsole that can take you from rough terrain to the airport terminal. They are quick-drying and have an antimicrobial mesh liner, so you’ll stay stink-free, too.
The refreshed PWRTRAC rubber lugs on the bottom of this pair make us feel like badasses powering up hills, yet the flexibility in the sole is built for speed.
Your rainy hike won’t turn into an absolute Slip ’N Slide with these soles, inspired by mountain-bike tire patterns for ample traction, and designed to deflect dirt and mud.
The Hierro V5s make the most aggressive trail feel like a cloud. The Fresh Foam midsoles are pillow soft, while that grippy AF Vibram outsole means A+ traction on all terrain.
The perfect combo of style and function, Nike's uniseux ACG React Terra Gobe goes the (rocky) distance. It features an impossible-to-tear upper, a super cushiony midsole, and foam padding around the ankle for endless comfort.
This Merrell-Trail Sisters collab will support you through every last mountainous mile. The vegan-friendly construction features a dual-density midsole that helps you leave pronation at the trailhead.
You'll fly up even the toughest trails in the race-ready MTL Skyfires. The Quantum Grip® rubber lugs fear no mountain and the upper is just as breathable as it is tough.
Comfy, Cool Cross-Trainers
These sneakers were designed to pivot between all your workouts, like running, HIIT, and strength training—as well as to hangouts—as readily as you do.
The overlays on this shoe were inspired by luxe sports cars; it switches gears (from gym to street) as fast as they do.
A strappy webbing system replaces laces on this shoe, so you can skip the double knot—and the annoying mid-day lace-up. They can be cinched, too, if you like ’em tighter.
Reebok asked women who heart HIIT what they want in a shoe (answers: better grip, stability, and durability), then designed a sneaker that offers it all. Boom!
Designers did hundreds of hours of HIIT to inform this sneaker’s construction, which includes responsive cushioning in the toe and side arcs that basically act like brakes to ensure your foot doesn’t roll during lateral moves.
Designer Stella McCartney added cool-factor to this cross-trainer, but it earns our vote because its glove-like fit helps us grapevine through dance cardio without turning an ankle.
On a mission to make every rep explosive, Under Armour applied its Hovr (zero-gravity) technology to these cross-trainers. The foam molds to your feet, offering a sizable return on your energy investment, and a tri-base outsole offers three points of contact with the ground for added stability.
These cross-trainers fear no WOD. Thanks to their strong woven upper, support cage, and responsive cushioning, the Nano 9s can handle everything from barbell battles to mid-distance runs.
The knit version of New Balance's beloved shoe is worth the hype, guys. The 20v7 Minimus has the grippy Vibram outsole you expect, plus the benefit of extra breathability.
Vans UltraRange EXO, vans.com; New Balance Test Run PRJ 3.0, newbalance.com
Stellar Street Sneakers
Running errands—and meetings? Cutting-edge tech and fashion-forward fabrics mean you're ready for anything.
New Balance has really stepped up its sneaker game as of late, and we can't get enough of its design-forward kicks, like the More_Hi. Its honeycomb sole is made from a single piece of foam for added support, while its upper features no-sew overlays in on-trend translucent fabric.
We used to live in Vans' low-tops. When the brand released this new style with improved traction and a comfier footbed, it made us reinstate their ride-or-die status.
The sneaker’s beloved 50-year-old design recently scored some new bells and whistles, as well as sustainability boosts, including recycled rubber in the footbed.
Let’s just say we’re wild about the animal print on this sneaker, which also features a foam sole specially developed by APL—it’s the actual embodiment of “walking on clouds.”
This French brand’s kicks, made from wild rubber and corn waste, are the cream of the sustainable-sneaker crop. This vegan pair will have you (and everyone else) saying, "I can't believe it's not leather."
We high-key love the Ash Vertu low-tops enough to give our go-to white sneakers a rest day (or several). These transparent low-top sneakers were inspired by windsurfing (!) and are made from a technical fabric called ripstop that’s resistant to wear and tear.
There is nothing cooler or more classic than a pair of Stan Smiths when it comes to street sneakers...but, this pair makes the 50-year-old shoe feel new thanks to a subtle twist: The signature green heel patch has been replaced by an on-trend powder-blue snakeskin one.
This Italian low-top has everything you need in an ideal day-to-day shoe: Its minimalist design will literally go with any outfit. It also comes in a ton of different color options, but it's totally worth going for the gold here because metallics are having a major moment.
Next-Level Lifting Shoes
Go ahead an add that extra weight to the bar because these trainers will spot you, even on your heaviest lifts.
It’s hard to find lifting shoes that aren’t low—trust us, we’ve tried. The ankle support in this pair is a perk, and a leather upper tops it off.
The Adidas Powerlift 4 passes our squat test. The midsole wedge helps increase ankle range of motion, meaning you can get lower even with a heavier load.
The Nike Metcon is a go-to shoe for top trainers. Why? The heel on this trainer is low, wide, and flat, making them uber stable.
The last thing you want to worry about when you're moving major weights around is your feet sliding under you. Which is why we love Reebok's Legacylifter. It's perforated upper is a breath of fresh air for your feet.
The Ryderwear D-Mak is the next best thing to lifting in your bare feet. What's more: It was designed in collaboration with a bodybuilding world champion.
We love Chuck Taylors because you can wear them anywhere—even the weight room. The flat sole is actually pretty ideal (read: stable) for lifting.
You can't lose with the Pendlay Do-win. The double velcro straps guarantee that your feet are oh-so secure.
New to lifting? The Inov-8 Fastlift 335 is best thing you can bring to the weight room other than a spotter. Its soles are super grippy, and its lower heel height will keep you feeling grounded.
Recovery Run All Stars
Every pair of sneakers below is flush with plush to keep your feet comfy on your easier runs.
The Asics MetaRide takes running shoe design to new heights, literally. The stack (i.e., the distance between your foot and the ground) on these is plush like a platform, giving you plenty of foam cushion to protect your joints while you're pounding the pavement.
The Asics Torin 4 sneakers are like La-Z-Boys for your feet. Thanks to grid-like grooves in the midsole, they're super-flexible, meaning they won't feel clunky or weigh you down.
Hoka One One broke the mold with its update on the Elevon running shoe. More support in the midfoot and softer cushioning means you can go for miles without missing a step.
Skechers proves it's in it for the the recovery run with the GOrun MaxRoad 4 Hyper. The soles of these sneakers were created using a special technology that produces a unique foam that holds up mile after mile.
The Saucony Triumph 17 is truly an achievement in sneaker design. These kicks are 25 percent lighter than their predecessors without sacrificing essential cushioning underfoot.
There is so much to love about Mizuno Wave Sky sneakers. But our favorite thing about them is that they've combined two types of foam in the sole for superior comfort.
It might not look like it, but the On Running Cloud sneaker is like a pillow-top mattress for your feet. Thats due to the zero-gravity foam in its soles, plus a special technology that only activates when your foot hits the ground to help absorb impact and disperse energy.
The New Balance Vongo is a true game-changer. It was designed to have even more foam cushion in the midsole than its predecessor by eliminating the hard support system that normally gives that part of the shoe structure and support. Instead, a geometric foam design does the same thing. Genius!