A: No, I can’t recommend a trail runner with good ankle support. Ain’t any such creature. The first thing to look for is a runner that emphasizes stability over cushioning. Candidates: the New Balance 805 ($85); Merrell’s Rip ($100) and the Salomon X-A Pro ($90). For even more stability, try adding an after-market insole, such as a pair of the Superfeet insoles ($30). These really help your heel sit down in the shoe, for less pronation and less risk of ankle rolling.
Then, invest in a pair of lace-up ankle supports. You want some that are made of ballistic nylon—they should wrap the ankle like a trainer would tape it, then lace up to really lock things in place. Most models cost around $30 and fit under nearly any shoe—the Swede-O Strap Lok is a good example. These things will really give your ankle the support it needs. You lose some flexibility, but that’s the trade-off. Even if you found a high-top trail runner or something that worked as such, it wouldn’t have even close to the stiffness you’d need to really protect that ankle. The only way to solve the problem—and I have the exact some problem that you do—is to reinforce the ankle independently of the shoe.
Filed To: Trail Running

Have a think about where you’re going to run most. Do you want shoes that can cross comfortably from road to trail? Do you want a pair that’s going to help you get over tough, stoney tracks? Or perhaps you’re hitting hills that have just as much grass as dirt track?

Many online retailers offer free returns nowadays so feel free to order a few different pairs and choose the one that fits your running style the most. Running shoes in general should be an almost perfect fit, but when you tumbling over rocks and various terrain vegetation, how the shoes fit will become even more important of a requirement.

Truth to be told, the below trail running shoes have been selected to represent the best of the best in the category so you can rest assured there is no bad choice here. They do differ, however, in how they react to your feet and the terrain, so running in one will provide a different running experience than others.

Contents

The best trail running shoes, in order

1. On Running Cloudventure Peak

Best trail running shoes for rapid hill chasers

Specifications

Built for: Race days, tempo runs, mixed terrain Weight: 260 grams Drop: 4 mm

Reasons to buy

+Extra stability on the descent+Look good off the trails

Reasons to avoid

-Pods on soles can collect stones

• Buy the On Cloudventure Peak Directly from On Running

With a tagline like “as fast as the Alps are high”, the Cloudventure Peak sets a pretty lofty goal. The minimalist, highly flexible shoes have been stripped down to create the fastest shoe possible, whether you’re running up or down those challenging hills or powering along horizontal surfaces.

The overriding goal is to make ascents and descents feel flatter, while still offering the cushioning, protection and durability you’ll need on unpredictable surfaces.

To assist with this, the patented Speedboard tech (which has underpinned On’s running shoes since 2013) combines with the Cloudtec pods to propel you forward on the uphill stretches, all while helping you maintain your natural running style.

On the up, the design reduces the temptation to transfer too much weight onto the forefoot and can unlock speed you didn’t know you had when powering up those mountains.

Then, during your descent, the Cloudtec pods slide backwards on contact, offering you more support and cushion, and a little more resistance when planting your foot. Rather than the unpleasant slapping of the forefoot, the shoe encourages a nice forward roll for a feel more akin to cycling than running.

For the Cloudventure Peak, On deployed a super-detailed micro-engineered, 4-level rubber grip profile, delivering different levels of traction and control where you need it most.

Design wise, the Cloudventure Peak offers a considerably lower ankle profile than most of its competitors. It’s a striking design choice, even for a shoe company that thrives on them. However, this has enabled On to reduce the weight and prevent any unnecessary rubbing against the ankle. There’re also heel and toe caps to guard against those pesky rocks and tree roots that sometimes appear out of nowhere.

The Peak also offers a unique upper constructed from a lightweight, breathable, durable and fast-drying ripstop material. There’s an inner sock construction that eliminates blisters, while the slim and comfortable tongue helps to bring the weight (260g) down further.

Unlike some trail running shoes, these are also stylish enough to wear around town and comfortable enough on a workday when a lot of walking is in order.

On’s Cloudtec pods can split opinion, mainly because they’re prone to stone intrusion rather than any issues with the cushion provided. However, those unwanted passengers they tend to work themselves out relatively quickly. Also, it’s fair to say some runners (especially those with previous injuries) might miss the ankle support when tackling longer distances.

Overall though, the innovative tech on board and the ability to unlock a more explosive running style makes the On Cloudventure Peak our top pick for trail running. Although not ‘cheap’ as such, they’re priced comparably to their competitors.

For those who enjoy On’s road running shoes, this is the perfect equivalent if you’re planning a switch to the trails. It uses the same 6mm heel to toe offset, so you’ll feel right at home.

(Image credit: Inov-8)

2. Inov-8 Mudclaw G 260

Best trail running shoes for REALLY muddy conditions

Built for: Mud, glorious mud, and sloppy OCRs (obstacle course races) Weight: 260 grams Drop: 4 mm +Exceptional grip +Superb energy return -Unforgiving on harder ground -Not for the inexperienced runner

• Buy the Inov-8 Mudclaw G 260 directly from Inov-8

Inov-8 make running gear for the most extreme conditions you’ll ever come across, and with the latest Mudclaw design they’ve created a light, minimalist shoe that embraces mud with the gusto of an over enthusiastic hippopotamus.

Admittedly they look more like a pair of blade football boots than a traditional running shoe, but don’t let that put you off as the whopping 8mm rubber lugs offer unbeatable traction in the wettest, sloppiest conditions. 8mm lugs aren’t new to Inov-8, but here they’ve updated the rubber by lacing it with Graphene. 200x stronger than steel, Graphene makes these soles incredibly tough, and according to the brand 50 per cent stronger, 50 per cent more elastic and 50 per cent harder wearing than anything they’ve ever done before.

While we’ve not had months to test the durability of the soles, what we can tell you is that they’re an absolute phenomenon on soft, wet ground. On miles of flooded Cotswold trails the Inov-8 filled us with confidence to push harder, even over treacherous tree roots and slick festival-style mud. The upper has also been redesigned to include a dash of Kevlar to keep weight down while improving durability.

Be warned though: they’re a pretty minimalist shoe, so, while there is some heel cushioning, don’t expect road-running levels of squish. We sure felt the ground under our feet, but we never felt vulnerable. That could be the Underfoot Metaplate, a lightweight, flexible rock plate that aligns with your foot’s metatarsals, and the Exteroflow midsole that offers plenty in the way of power return.

The Inov-8 MUDCLAW G 260 isn’t a shoe for everyone, but if you’re serious about getting off road, and even off the path, they’re hard to beat for grip, speed and durability. They drain quickly, dry fast and positively demand you to run further.

(Image credit: Hoka One One)

3. Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX

Built for: mixed terrain, rainy days Weight: 297 grams Drop: 5 mm +Sublime Hoka One One cushioning+Great energy return+Feels rugged -Not the lightest

• Buy the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX directly from Hoka One One

While the Hoka One One Evo Speedgoat 4 might attract more attention-seeking runners with its vibrant colours, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX will turn heads because it delivers a pitch-perfect running experience, both on and off road. Hoka hit the nail on the head with the Challenger ATR 5 GTX and fused great running dynamics with a waterproof bootie, creating the ultimate bad-weather trail running shoe.

The lug pattern on the outsole grips both the tarmac and the mud, there is no loss of traction on any surface, not even when you hop from one to another in the same run. The lugs are deep and really dig into the ground, so not even muddy and slippery towpaths are an issue for the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX.

The ‘GTX’ in the name stands for Gore-Tex, a lightweight and breathable material covering the top of the shoes. Gore-Tex is famous for its all-weather condition performance and it is the same here, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX won’t let you down in any weather and you can definitely count on it on rainy days.

The sublime running mechanics are further enhanced by the Hoka signature Meta Rocker midsole geometry; this chunky construction rolls the foot forward and combines landing and take-off into one smooth movement. Even is your form is not perfect, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX will help you transform art least some of the impact force into forward momentum.

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX is definitely on the snug side, just like the Hoka One One Carbon X, which will suit most runners, but if you prefer a roomy toebox, opt in for other offerings instead. Should you choose the Challenger ATR 5 GTX, the tight fit will come in handy when you have to regain balance after stepping on some random roots under the thick cover or dry leaves on your off-road run, which will most likely happen.

As for aesthetics, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX offers more subtle branding and an all-black colour, which is perfect for the purpose of the shoe. As much as we like the vibrant colours on the cool-looking New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5, you won’t mind stepping in a puddle and getting your shoes wet using the Challenger ATR 5 GTX.

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX is a waterproof, comfortable and durable trail running shoe, the ideal choice for runners who appreciate functionality over looks. Not saying the Challenger ATR 5 GTX is an ugly shoe, but its main appeal is not aesthetics for sure, it will more likely win you over with just how great it feels to run in it. Guaranteed.

(Image credit: Adidas)

4. Adidas TERREX Agravic Flow GTX

Best trail running shoe for wet weather comfort

Built for: Dry feet on long runs Weight: 310 grams Drop: 7 mm +Actually look quite stylish +Gore-Tex power +Great toe protection -Relatively heavy -Not so much sole protection

• Buy the Adidas Terrex Agravix Flow GTX directly from Adidas

The big draw here is the combination of Continental rubber outsole, tried and tested Adidas Boost midsole and Gore-Tex (hence the ‘GTX’ suffix). They mean the Agravic Flow has a reliable grip in all conditions, a smooth ride that evens out the bumps and a layer of GTX protection that shrugs off water, keeping your feet nice and dry. These shoes just love wet conditions.

They’re also comfortable thanks to the tongue-free sock construction that minimizes seams and stops stones and debris getting in. The heel cup is also cushioned and with a hefty amount of rubber around the front, your toes won’t be battered and blue after a long rocky run.

We’re big fans of the Adidas Boost midsole, and here, teamed with the EVA frame that keeps your foot nicely stable, our efforts were rewarded with plenty of oomph for our efforts. The outsole has plenty of large rubber lugs that make scrambling up slopes so much easier, but they’re not too deep, so you get a nicer ride on hard trails and even road.

All these features come together brilliantly in the wet, and if you really don’t like soggy toes, you’ll love the Gore-Tex layer that shrugs off puddles, wet grass and mud with ease. Obviously, there’s still a large hole where your foot lives, but the elasticated sock does help avoid seepage. If water does get in however it won’t drain away like many trail runners.

Another plus here is that you could easily wear these down the street, especially if you live outside of London or Birmingham. A great looking trainer, with yellow and black our pick of the colourways. A far less intimidating to the casual runner than many of the more serious designs on test. The only down side is that the Gore-tex adds to the weight (330g size 9), so these feel comparatively heavy as a result. It’s not like you’ve got lead in your boots, but real speed freaks will notice.

(Image credit: Hoka One One)

5. Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat 4

Race-ready shoes with sublime traction on all terrains

Built for: Race days, mixed terrain runs Weight: 306 grams Drop: 4 mm +Lighter than the Speedgoat 3+Low heel-to-toe drop for extra maneuverability -Bit stiffer than needed

• Buy the Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat (Woman) directly from Hoka One One
• Buy the Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat (Men) directly from Hoka One One

If you thought the word ‘goat’ only meant wall-climbing animal only, you would be wrong. Goat also stands for ‘Greatest of all time’, and the person who inspired the Hoka One One Speedgoat line is surely one of those people.

Named for HOKA Athlete Karl Meltzer, “The Speedgoat,” who holds the record for the most 100-mile trail race wins, the EVO Speedgoat offers elite traction and cushion with a racing-weight, resilient upper

The Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat builds on the foundation laid by the Speedgoat 3 and further improves it. The main difference between the Speedgoat EVO and the Speedgoat 3 is the upper and that the former is 11 grams lighter.

The Matryx upper textile features high-tensile synthetic fiber strands across the midfoot for added strength and durability as well as being made out if non-wicking treated fabric. This optimises water drainage and keeps your feet dry in damp environments.

The very shallow drop (Woman – 5 mm, Men – 4 mm) provides extra stability and maneuverability on uneven terrain.

(Image credit: New Balance)

5. New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5

Best trail running shoe for miles of comfort, in some style

Built for: Comfort in all conditions Weight: 350 grams Drop: 8 mm +Stylish design +Exceptional comfort +…But durable nonetheless -As usual, sizing is off-Some will find the fit overly loose

• Buy New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5 from New Balance

Even more fashion-forward than the Adidas Terrex, with their street styling and designer looks, we expect to see the Hierro v5 in more bars than back country trails. That would be a shame, as these are great all-terrain shoes that deserve to do some hard miles. That said, we would be lying if we didn’t feel a pang of regret as we stomped our box-fresh shoes through the first of many muddy puddles.

But run we must, and our feet were treated to a super-cushioned outing thanks to the extra thick Fresh Foam midsole, and the ultra-sticky Vibram MegaGrip sole. The Fresh Foam offers a plush run that out squishes the Adidas Boost, but still propels you forward energetically. It’s far from bouncy, and the extra durable sole adds a welcome stiffness, so even over uneven rocks and roots you’ll still feel stable.

The unusual upper is made from a TPU coated material that has stretch and plenty of durability and breathability for your toes. The Hierro v4 had a sock style liner which has been dropped here in favour of a large padded tongue. The main body of the shoe still fits like a glove, but it has a traditional tongue. We don’t think it impacts on comfort, with the v5 a pleasure to wear for long periods, but it does mean there’s more chance of small irritating stones getting in and giving you grief.

As you’d expect from a decent trail shoe the front is reinforced to avoid the agony of a stubbed toes, and with the v5 they’ve used a rubberised coating that wraps generously over the toe. And speaking of rubber, at the heel you’ll find a small protruding wing of Vibram MegaGrip that supposedly increases your foot’s landing zone when hurtling downhill. In fairness, we didn’t notice it when running, but didn’t come across any huge descents either.

All this rubber and padding does add to the shoe’s weight and at 350g they’re pretty hefty. Not being the fastest of the T3 reviewers this didn’t impact performance or enjoyment, but if you’re a real mile eater you may want to find a lighter option.

(Image credit: 361º )

6. 361º Taroko

Best trail running shoe for running off-road AND on

Built for: Easy trails, towpaths and tarmac Weight: 255 grams Drop: 9 mm +Versatile design +Good value +Porous knit upper -No toe protection -Experienced runners will demand more

• Buy the 361° Taroko from 361º Europe

Innovative Chinese brand 361° has only recently hit Europe, but already offers a good value range of runners based around their QU!KFOAM (yes, really – someone doesn’t know how SEO works) cushioning that blends EVA, rubber and a thin polyurethane skin.

The Taroko is a hybrid that can handle off-road and pavements without making your legs complain too much. Aimed at the casual runner – a world away from the hardcore Inov-8 club – who wants to get out and explore more than just the local Park Run, it’s a really sensible design. If you run on a mixture of terrain, maybe mixing up towpaths, forest trails and pavements it’s a great concept.

As a case in point, this reviewer lives one mile from the endless trails of Epping Forest and found the relatively lightweight design (~250g), breathable knit upper and traction perfectly acceptable on the road, and then really benefitted from the extra grip and cushioning when tackling tree roots, slopes and mud. The outsole is significantly better than a standard pair of road shoes – chunky lugs and a smartly designed grip maintains natural foot movement – but don’t expect to be scrambling up slopes like a mountain goat.

It’s a firm midsole compared to many bouncy road-only designs, and you’ll notice they’re not especially dynamic on harder surfaces but running in them is fun across all but the most technical of trails.

The Taroko’s knit upper keeps your feet cool and also drains water quickly, but unlike many trail shoes they lack toe protection, so watch out for hidden rocks. The wrap-around padded tongue helps them feel comfortable right from the box, and even after a sopping run the laces stayed securely tied and our feet never felt like sliding around.

If you’re fed up of slipping all over the shop when running from road to trail to park, and you’re not looking to smash any Strava records on route, these could be the trail shoe for you.

(Image credit: Salomon)

7. Salomon Sense Ride 2

Best trail running shoes for everyday trail addicts

Built for: All-day off-road comfort Weight: 270 grams Drop: 8 mm +Cushioned ride+A little bit of style -Struggle on more rocky terrain-Size up pretty small so try before you buy

• Buy Salomon Sense Ride 2 from Amazon from £80

The Salomon Sense Ride 2 are also a pair of trail blazers that you can look down at and enjoy the view. Beyond the pleasing aesthetics – and more muted colours are available than the red shown above – the Sense Ride is headlined by the Vibe cushioning system, which helps to disperse vibrations from shock before they reach your foot. The EnergyCell+ tech within the midsole also delivers great energy return, while the Contragrip outsole is designed to combat wet and slippery surfaces.

The upper has Salomon’s trademark easily-adjustable quick-lace technology, and the laces themselves contain Kevlar fibres that encourage one-pull tightening. Once you’ve got the perfect fit, the laces can be tucked a way into a pocket and won’t interfere with your run. Salomon also includes its Endofit inner sock, promising a snug fit and heightened foot security.

(Image credit: Saucony)

8. Saucony Peregrine ISO

All the top tech from Saucony, all in one place

Built for: Training days in dry weather Weight: 298 grams Drop: 4 mm +Low heel-to-toe drop+Great midsole tech -Bit heavy-Not waterproof

• Buy the Saucony Peregrine ISO (Women) direct from Saucony
• Buy the Saucony Peregrine ISO (Men) direct from Saucony

The latest edition of Peregrine, an award-winning trail running shoes series, now features the ISOFIT system (hence the ‘ISO’ in the name). The ISOFIT is a “soft inner sleeve and floating support cage that combines to create a dynamic fit system that adapts to the shape and motion of the runner’s foot”. This means that the Peregrine will hug your foot on long runs out in the wild, ascending hills and descending in leafy forest trails.

The Peregrine ISO’s POWERFOAM midsole is lighter and 50% more responsive than standard EVA midsole from Saucony, so you’ll have more directional control over the shoes. The shoes’ 4mm heel-to-toe offset further helps to put you in control and promises a smoother ride. The ISOFIT upper also aims to enhance the running experience by bringing the upper as close to the top of your feet as possible.

Men and Women, find your new favorite trail running shoes (great for hiking, too)

If you’re looking for a lightweight, responsive, trail-gripping shoe for your next adventure, check out the new TerraFlex.

What’s the best trail running shoe?

The most important features for a trail running shoe are:

  • Grip – you want a sole that gives you great traction
  • Weight – you don’t want heavy bricks on your feet
  • Low-to-the-ground for balance and agility
  • Comfort – real comfort comes from these features
    • Wide toe box so your toes can spread and splay
    • Non-elevated zero-drop heel for proper posture
    • LESS padding — paradoxically, more padding makes you put MORE force on the ground, as your brain tries to get feedback from your feet
    • Flexible sole so your feet can move through their full range of motion
  • Breathable upper to keep your feet cool

Depending on your needs, you may want a waterproof upper, but keep in mind that this will come with a much higher cost. It may be better to simply have an upper that can dry out fast and, maybe, keep a pair of super lightweight sandals with you for water crossings.

Not surprisingly, we think the trail hiking and running shoe that gives you what you need is the Xero Shoes TerraFlex.

You can see the trail gripping sole, the low-to-the-ground design, the breathable upper, the wide toe box, and the adjustable ankle and mid-foot straps for security.

What you can’t see is the 3mm layer of BareFoam™ “hiding” in the sole for just the right amount of protection, while still letting you FEEL The World® below you.

Where can you get a good trail shoe (for running or hiking)?

Thanks to the Internet, practically anywhere.

We have runners and hikers in the TerraFlex all over the world — from the Philippines to South Africa to Australia to Germany, and everywhere in between.

If you order trail shoes online, keep in mind that no two shoes will necessarily fit the same. In fact, if you took 3 people with identical feet and put them in the same shoe, their reaction to fit and sizing would be like Goldilocks — one would say “Too small,” one would say “Too big,” and one would say “Just right.”

Make sure you can try the shoe on to see what’s right for you. Xero Shoes, to help with sizing, has a free domestic exchange policy. Plus we have stores that carry the TerraFlex listed here.

Don’t I need ankle support for trail running and hiking?

In short… NO.

But let me clarify.

If you’re wearing a shoe with a stiff sole, YES. If you’re wearing a shoe whose sole lets your foot bend and flex naturally, then, no.

Here’s why.

Imagine wearing a stiff-soled shoe, and stepping on a rock on the outside edge. Because the sole is stiff, the rock will act like a fulcrum and make your whole foot twist inward… and that’s WHY you needed ankle support: to accommodate the stiff sole.

But with a sole that FLEXES, your foot can flex as well, and it won’t get twisted and, therefore, you don’t need the support.

Besides anything that keeps your joints from moving naturally is, ultimately, making them weaker.

Similarly, by having a sole that lets you FEEL the ground, your brain gets the feedback it needs to help you move your body efficiently. When you have a stiff (or, just thick) sole, you’ve dampened and reduced the information that your body needs to effective functioning.

That’s why we made the TerraFlex (and all our shoes and sandals) with flexible soles that provide a combination of protection and “ground feel.”

Ready to hit the trails this fall? While there’s no bad time of year to head for the woods in search of twisty, flowing singletrack to run, crisp temperatures and colorful canopies make autumn trail running a special treat. Of course, if you’re going to conquer technical terrain, it helps to have dedicated trail shoes that bite into dirt and mud and cushion your feet against rocks. See at-a-glance reviews below of five of our top-rated trail options, or scroll down for full reviews of these trail shoes and more of our test team’s favorites, plus buying info.

Best Grip Cascadia 14 Brooks $130.00

Brooks’s tacky outsole works on both trails and pavement.

Best Cushioning Evo Mafate 2 Hoka One One $170.00

Steamroll every obstacle with this burly midsole.

Best for Uneven Terrain Bushido II La Sportiva $130.00

Sticky, aggressive lugs and lots of protection add versatility.

Best Longtime Favorite Peregrine ISO Saucony $120.00

A cushioned top performer with ground feel.

Best for Ultrarunners S-Lab Sense Ultra Salomon $180.00

High-end speed and traction for the competitive set.

Why Trail Running?

What trail running means to each of us is as varied and unique as the off-road terrain that we cover. To some, it’s a spiritual, transformative experience. But you don’t have to experience a transcendentalist mindset or nirvana to qualify as a trail runner. To lots of us, running a short trail adjacent to a local park is simply an easy way to add extra miles onto a regular neighborhood loop. These benefits are equally legitimate, and they’re what inspire ultrarunners and weekend warriors alike to spend more time outside.

What to Look for in a Trail Running Shoe

A quality trail shoe needs to be ready for the trail’s obstacles, like this rock. Trevor Raab

Whatever your preference or personal ideology, we think everyone can be a trail runner, especially with the help of a good pair of shoes. The two main things to consider before purchasing trail running shoes are what type your feet need (think stiff or pliable, neutral or stable, wide or narrow, high or low heel-to-toe drop) and what type of shoes the terrain you run demands. With the latter, try to think about whether the trails you encounter are technical or smooth, flat or steep, have loose or firm footing, and whether or not you cross water.

Rigid shoes with deep lugs (5mm+) are best on technical trails with poor footing, but they’ll also be far less forgiving, even uncomfortable, on road runs. These shoes will serve you better the more unforgiving the terrain and may work for day hiking as well.

Hybrid shoes have shorter lugs (2 to 4mm) and a softer on-road feel than their burly siblings, and are well-suited for soft singletrack and local wooded trails that don’t make you slow to a walk due to unsure footing.

How We Tested These Trail Shoes

Trail surfaces change with the seasons—wet leaves give us a chance to test outsole grip and stability (which you’ll need when you step on unforeseen roots beneath the dead foliage). Trevor Raab

Runner’s World has the most comprehensive shoe testing process in the industry. We work with more than 350 local runners of all abilities, ages, and sizes for real-world wear-testing on paved roads, dirt paths, and rocky singletrack trails. After a month of running more than 100 miles, our testers report back their findings on features like fit, comfort, performance, and ride. While our testers are putting miles on the shoes, the same models undergo a battery of mechanical tests in our shoe lab, to objectively measure the cushioning, flexibility, sole thickness, and weight of each. Out test editors combine their own experience in the shoe with data from the lab and feedback from our wear testers to create reliable, useful reviews of every shoe we test.

The following are trail shoes that we think deserve special recognition because they are worthy of our readers’ feet. These 12 shoes were tested by us, and at least one will likely offer the fit and function you need.

Related: The Best Trail Running Gear

Hoka One One EVO Mafate 2

Hoka One One EVO Mafate 2 $170.00 rei.com

  • Thick, forgiving midsole
  • Grippy Vibram outsole
  • Laces loosen over time

Hoka One One wins our informal “Don’t Mess It Up” award for using a deft hand when improving on the (mostly excellent) original EVO Mafate 2. The upper is now roomier and stays comfortable after your feet swell up. And its Kevlar construction also protects your foot from trail debris, while a soft and stretchy panel over the top allows the toe box to expand. The thick, rubberized foam midsole provides a soft landing with surprising energy return. Thick, angular Vibram outsole lugs bite into every trail surface, helping us dance across wet rock slabs and dig into mud.

FULL REVIEW MORE IMAGES

Brooks Cascadia 14

Brooks Cascadia 14 $130.00 rei.com

  • Four-point stability system
  • Grippy on trails; comfortable on pavement

The latest Cascadia got new rubber in the form of Brooks’ TrailTack outsole, a sticky compound that gave us excellent grip on wet rocks, mud, and gravel. Yet unlike many trail-focused shoes, the Cascadia 14 also works on pavement, thanks to a springy, responsive foam midsole. “I didn’t miss the cushioning that I’m accustomed to with my Hokas and had a much better feel for the trails,” said one tester.

FULL REVIEW MORE IMAGES

VJ XTRM

Trevor Raab VJ XTRM OCR Shoes $160.00 amazon.com

  • Fantastic grip in mud
  • Highly protective upper
  • Thin sole feels firm on hard ground

The XTRM is Finnish trail shoe company XTRM’s first offering for the U.S. market. Trails in Finland must be pretty gnarly because this shoe grips absolutely everything. Designed with input from OCR athletes, the outsole uses hard, durable rubber and 6mm lugs to dispatch loose terrain. Above the rubber, a thin, firm layer of foam and full-length rock plate keep you connected to (yet protected from) the trail surface. A fiberglass midfoot shank and midfoot strap in the upper lock your foot in, and all of these details combine to form an aggressive trail shoe that’s bred for setting PRs.

FULL REVIEW MORE IMAGES

Saucony Peregrine ISO

Courtesy of Saucony Saucony Peregrine ISO amazon.com

  • Foot-hugging lacing system
  • Excellent traction
  • Not soft enough for some testers

The Peregrine has always had a place in our hearts for its deep lugs and maximum traction, coupled with an uncanny ability to transition to the road. The latest iteration is no different, but gets an ISOFit upper—Saucony’s winged midfoot system for lacing, which easily adapts to any foot. The shoe’s Everun midsole strikes a nice balance between just enough cushion and a connected ground feel.

Full Review More Images

Altra Superior 4

Courtesy of Altra Altra Superior 4 amazon.com

  • Zero-drop midsole mimicks barefoot running
  • Flexible and responsive midsole

  • Not very protective

Altra’s lightest trail shoe yet (we weighed it at 8.7 ounces for a men’s size nine and 8.3 ounces for a women’s size seven), the zero-drop Superior 4 has a softer, cushier feel than the 3.5 but the same highly responsive ride. The shoe’s clawlike lugs give it solid grip, even on slick surfaces. Removable stone guards are included for tackling more technical trails. And the brand’s signature wide toe-box allows your feet plenty of room to move, breathe, and even swell after a long day.

Full Review More Images

Topo Athletic Terraventure 2

Topo Athletic Terraventure 2 $119.95 amazon.com

  • Grippy Vibram outsole
  • Accommodating fit
  • Not very cushioned

The OG Terraventure won us over for its versatility on and off the trail. We were wary of changes with the second iteration, but the two biggest updates—a sticky Vibram sole and grippier lug pattern—only solidified the shoe’s placement among our favorites. Yeah, it’s also slightly heavier and firmer than its predecessor, but remains lightweight and nimble-feeling overall. An anatomical toe-box lets your toes naturally splay, while a tighter-fitting midfoot keeps the shoe in place while you’re hopping around rocks.

Full Review More Images

Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra

Salomon S/Lab Ultra $179.95 backcountry.com

  • Secure-fitting internal sleeve
  • Extra-sticky rubber outsole

Salomon’s S/Lab line is the brand’s crème de la crème of shoes, featuring premium materials and geared toward competitive runners and the company’s stable of professionals. Designed for ultrarunners, this shoe features an internal sleeve that snugly wraps the foot, keeping you firmly in place while allowing the shoe to respond when your feet swell over hours on the trail. This version of the Ultra also features a set of detached “wings” on the upper that provide adaptability over the arch and midfoot. Note that the S/Lab Ultra is sold only in men’s sizes.

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Hoka One One Speedgoat 3

Courtesy of Hoka Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 $139.95 backcountry.com

  • Lightweight and responsive
  • Megagrip outsole lives up to namesake

Much like its namesake, record-setting ultramarathoner Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, the Speedgoat 3 is fast. Light despite its mass cushion, the shoe provides the ultimate platform for soft landings when darting downhill on technical trails. This iteration has a wider toe-box and snug-yet-unrestrictive fit through the heel and midfoot. Sticky 5mm lugs practically cling to the ground when you’re running up rocky inclines.

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La Sportiva Bushido II

La Sportiva Bushido II amazon.com

  • Rubber toe cap and forefoot rock plate for protection
  • Firm, stable ride
  • Not highly cushioned

This burly trail crusher brings plenty of structure and support to a responsive platform. But the outsole is what we like most—sticky, aggressive lugs line the perimeter and bottom of the shoe, making it easy to virtually grab hold of uneven terrain. We also appreciated the heavy-duty toe cap, which protects the foot should you kick into rocks. A breathable mesh upper and just the right amount of cushion in the midsole make this stand-out shoe versatile enough to manage long, slow mileage and speed workouts.

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361 Degrees 361-Taroko

Courtesy of 361 361 Degrees 361-Taroko amazon.com

  • Durable foam-rubber midsole
  • Wide, accommodating upper
  • Designed to excel on trails and roads
  • Feels slow, dead as a road trainer

When you’re lucky enough to have a trail system within running distance of your house, owning a great hybrid road-trail shoe is clutch. The 361-Taroko doesn’t put a whole lot of foam underfoot for protection on pavement, but it has enough to get you to the trailhead without that clunky feeling you might get from a straight-up dirt-oriented shoe. Its chunky, directional lugs provide good grip without being sticky, and the porous knit upper (our favorite part) ventilates well but doesn’t block out water. We loved all the extra space in the toe box and the shoe’s robust build. Just be warned: We felt the sizing ran long.

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Arc’teryx Norvan SL

Arcteryx Norvan SL $150.00 moosejaw.com

  • Ultra-lightweight
  • Breathable mesh upper locks down foot
  • No rock plate and minimal cushioning

A trail shoe that weighs less than a racing flat? The Norvan SL, originally designed for weight-conscious rock climbers, is lighter than light—to the tune of 6.4 ounces for a men’s size 8.5. All the excess has been stripped away here, resulting in a snug-fitting shoe that feels firm and less-cushioned underfoot but moves with the grip and nimbleness. We dug the minimalist aesthetic, compact build, and breathable mesh upper—though for longer outings, we’d choose a shoe with more padding.

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Salomon Speedcross 5

Courtesy of Salomon Salomon Speedcross 5 $130.00 rei.com

  • ContraGrip outsole excels on loose terrain
  • Quicklace systems keeps laces out of the way
  • Outsole slips on wet rocks

A grippy outsole helps you find firm footing on dirt, gravel, slush, and all the sloppy, post-snow trail conditions we try to avoid when we’re not testing shoes like this. The mesh upper isn’t waterproof but has welded overlays that succeed in protecting against debris and trail obstacles. Lots of long-lasting cushioning in the back makes this shoe ideal for heel-strikers. Deep lugs provide plenty of traction on all trail surfaces and a surprisingly forgiving platform on the road.

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The 12 Best Trail Running Shoes of 2018

This guide provides information on the best trail running shoes of every type, alongside tips and advice from experts before you buy.

The best thing about trail running is that, like road running, all you need is a good pair of shoes and you can hit the trails. The tricky part about it, however, is that if your shoes can’t hold up to the trails, you can spend a lot of time and money slogging through miles. We pulled together a comprehensive list of the newest and best trail runners for spring and summer 2018. Whether you’ve never run trails before, or are a seasoned expert, this is a great place to start.

How We Tested Them

We started with a list of 58 pairs of trail runners for all types of trails: from dirt roads to gravel paths, loosely packed gravel to straight up rocks. We spoke with Lance Olian, a nationally recognized strength and conditioning coach and employee of JackRabbit Sports who has a decade of experience with running shoes, as well as Altra founder and trail running expert Golden Harper. To provide additional insight and gain a professional runner’s perspective, we spoke with ultrarunner Scott Jurek. We spent hours researching, reading reviews and asking friends, then narrowed down our picks to the top 23, which we then took to the trails of Storm King Mountain, just north of New York City. On top of that, we’ve tested these runners in the woods of New Jersey and trails of Central Park, down dirt roads in Greece, along the mountains outside of Denver and Aspen, and across grassy, off-season ski slopes of Park City, UT and Lake Tahoe, CA.

Types of Trails

Golden Harper breaks down everything you need to know about the different types of trails that you’ll encounter.

Mountain West: Fairly hard-packed trails, not a ton of mud, and filled with lots of undulation and vertical. You’ll hit a variety of conditions on your way to the mountaintop, but the ground is pretty hard-packed and rocky.
Midwest to South: Flat as a pancake, but mixed conditions depending on the weather and season. There are not too many rocks underfoot, nor is there a ton of vertical. There’s more slip and grip to be dealt with here.
Upper Midwest, Northwest and Northeast: Floppy and filled with mud. You’re running in mushy and soft terrain with lots of grass.
Southwest: Think mostly desert areas. San Diego, CA to Phoneix, AZ to San Antonio, TX to Santa Fe, NM. The dry, hard sand is tough on shoes. Sand and mud crystallize on the upper and are essentially sandpaper on the shoe when it gets wet.

What to Look for in a Trail Runner

Just like with road running, there are a variety of terms that every trail runner should know. While a shop like JackRabbit or Paragon Sports will be able to help you narrow down the types of shoes offered, we talked with a range of experts from different aspects of trail running to help prime your initial research.

“You can run a road shoe on the trail, especially as a newer trail runner,” Harper says. “The trail eats shoes for lunch, though, so it’s a good way to destroy your road shoes a bit quicker.” If only one pair of shoes is available at the moment, don’t let that stop you.

The first difference to note between road running shoes and trail runners is the rubber on the sole of the shoe. “You’ll notice it’s going to be a stickier, grippier compound than the rubber used on a road shoe, so it handles wet and slippery conditions better and grips on rock better. Trail shoes tend to skew toward the soft and sticky side,” Harper says. “The second thing is the lugs on the shoe. A road shoe is pretty flat, but a trail shoe is undulated. There’s more contour to the bottom and the lugs stick to as many surfaces as you might come upon.”

Another thing to notice between trail and road shoes is the heel height. Jurek calls this the heel differential. “The heel to toe ratio is lower than most road shoes, so I personally like something in that three to five-millimeter drop, that keeps the foot closer to the ground and the heel lower to provide a more stable platform to push off and land,” he says. “It also helps with stability in the ankle and hips.”

Cushioning is the same — go for more or less cushion depending on personal preference. “I tend to like a thinner midsole, and the trend now is a midsole where people prefer more cushion. But go with what feels comfortable to you,” Jurek says. The more cushion and padding you have between your feet and the roots mean the less of the trail you’ll feel. It mostly depends on preference. Go with what feels best to you. “New trail runners might think ‘I want to protect myself completely from the trail,’ but having some sense of feeling is important,” Jurek says. Harper also adds that the midsole on a trail runner tends to be a hair firmer because the ground is softer (compared to the road). “Some sneakers also have a rock protection plate or a stone guard, and it allows you to hit rocks and not injure your foot, so you can go faster,” Harper says.

The upper on a trail shoe tends to be a bit more supportive than a typical road shoe. It has a more durable fabric around the toe so that as you’re kicking stones or climbing up intense rock formations, you don’t have to worry about abrasions. “It’s always a trick with the mesh to get something that’s breathable, but doesn’t let sand in and doesn’t wear out,” Harper says. The worst feeling is having to stop on the trail and take off your shoes to kick out whatever tiny pebble made its way inside.

Contrary to popular belief, Harper mentions that you don’t really need shoes to have a sock liner that comes up past your ankles. “Adding ankle support actually increases ankle rolls,” he says. “Take for example hiking boots, basketball shoes and trail running shoes — people roll their ankles more in high tops than in low tops. When your body senses there is support there, it turns off or turns down the defense system, so it’s late to respond to a roll.”

Lastly, one major thing to look for is how waterproof and quick-draining the sneaker is. If you’re spending a lot of time in a wet environment, it’s important that you can “cross a creek or step in a puddle and go above the collar of a shoe, and expel water in that upper. hydrophobic is really critical,” Jurek says.

Depending on how hard you’re running, and how rough the trails are, you can put a decent amount of miles on a pair of trail running shoes. “If you run fairly tame trails, you can put thousands of miles on each pair of shoes,” Harper says. “When it comes to a trail shoe, the ground is softer so every step is different and you’re not nearly as concerned about cushioned running because it’s taken care of by the unevenness of the trail,” Harper says. For Jurek, his estimate is slightly more moderate. “I’ve put 500 to 700 miles on my shoes,” he says. “I like to test how they feel at certain points.”

The Best Trail Running Shoes For 2020

Trail-running is an appealing proposition for most people, especially runners who have to dodge hordes of people on polluted city streets.

It’s a chance to get away from it all, forget about your split times and enjoy the nature around you. Taking to the trails really opens up a different side to running compared to pounding city pavements.

However, to really enjoy these runs, you need the right kind of footwear. All the fun of trail-running goes out the window when you’re slipping on mud or turn your ankle several miles from your car.

We’ve got great options to fit every kind of trail-runner, but first some things to think about it to make sure you get the right pair for you. Or if you’re an old hand looking for new kicks use these quick links to jump straight in to recommendations.

  • Best for cross-country and obstacle course races
  • Best for the mud
  • Best for hard trails
  • Best all-rounders
  • Best for road to trail
  • Best for trail ultras
  • Best for support

How To Buy The Best Trail-Running Shoes For You

For all the info you need to help select the perfect trail shoes for you, we spoke to Simon Callaway of Saucony UK.

How do trail running shoes differ from road shoes?

“The main differences are the traction on the sole – trail running shoes have more and deeper lugs for a bigger surface area, which is designed to increase traction,” says Callaway. “The uppers tend to be knit meshes, so less debris can get into the shoe itself, and trail shoes generally have a lower offset – the heel height to the toe height is lower so the shoe is relatively flatter, giving a more stable platform to run on.

“In terms of cushioning they are generally about as cushioned as the road running shoes.”

What lug depth should you look for on a trail shoe?

One key measure of a trail shoe is the depth of the lugs on the sole, as that will determine which terrain it’s best suited to.

“At Saucony – plug! – we have a 3.5mm lug on the Koa TR which is designed for road-to-trail,” says Callaway. “It’s for the person who wants to run around the park but also has a bit of road running to do as well. The slightly shallower lug works on wet Tarmac as well as it does on light trail.”

“Then we’ve got the Peregrine which have a 6mm tread. They are designed for traditional trail running. And then we’ve got the Koa ST which has 8.5mm lugs, almost like a studded lug, and is designed for really muddy conditions. It’s not the best shoe for road-to-trail but if you go directly to the trail to run – with a change of shoes for the drive there and back – that depth is useful.”

It’s crucial to consider how much time you’ll be spending on road in your trail shoes, because the extra deep lugs that offer grip on muddy trails do the exact opposite on the road.

“Because the 8.5mm lug is almost studded, it reduces the surface area on a hard surface,” says Callaway. “On a soft surface you penetrate the wet mud at the top to get to the firmer ground underneath and deliver traction. But on the road what we want is as much rubber making contact as possible, because the surface is more slippery when wet, so we use a 3.5mm lug with lots of them so the shoe can gain traction.”

What type of lug should you go for if you’re a fell runner who is constantly tackling steep gradients?

“Generally fell runners will be in deep-lug shoes,” says Callaway. “If you’re running downhill flat out, you want to make sure the heel is gripping as soon as it lands. Similarly on uphills, when you’re at steeper angle you get water run-off and patches where it’s particularly muddy.”

What is a rock plate and why do many trail shoes have one?

“A rock plate or rock counter is basically a flexible piece of plastic that sits across the forefoot where you’re pushing off from,” says Callaway.

“If you’re on rocky ground then stones can push up into the foot. That, repeated over several hundreds or thousands of steps, can cause irritation to the foot. It’s a little bit of extra protection where the shoe absorbs more of the impact and disperses it over a greater area.”

Why are trail shoes generally not waterproof?

If you’re heading for the hills for a hike, the first feature you might look for in walking boots is waterproofing, but most trail shoes are at most water-resistant.

“There is waterproofing available but the issue is that to make the shoe waterproof you have to wrap the upper under the whole of the midsole and then glue it down to create a complete seal,” says Callaway.

“This makes the shoe heavier and less flexible. It’s a trade-off. A lot of brands refer to their uppers as water-resistant, which means the material is probably waterproof but they haven’t wrapped it right underneath the foot and glued it to the sole. So it can only be called water-resistant as opposed to waterproof.

“Also waterproofing means a shoe is not particularly breathable so your foot gets very hot and sweaty. It’s a comfort thing. People will accept if they’re running off-road they’re going to get wet feet, in which case what’s really important is making sure you have good-quality running sock that you can get wet and sweaty in and not blister.”

Are there any other features to look out for?

Traction, protection from rocks and a comfortable upper are your key boxes to tick when looking at trail shoes, but another handy feature can be no-tie shoelaces, which are looped with a toggle that you pull to tighten them. These are easier to deal with when your hands are cold and your shoes are muddy, and less likely to come undone.

Best Trail-Running Shoes For Cross-Country And Obstacle Course Racing

Inov-8 X-Talon 212 Classic

When cross-country season rolls around, you need a lightweight shoe with exceptional grip if you want the best chance of success on the muddy, rutted ground that forms most trails in the UK. Inov-8 has a range of shoes that feature 8mm studs on the bottom – perfect for finding grip in boggy conditions – such as the X-Talon 212; it tips the scales at just 212g, which is ridiculously light considering how much rubber is on the outsole in those lugs.

The X-Talon 212 also bears up well under the pressure of trail racing, which can rip through shoes in rapid fashion – we’re into our second season of using the X-Talon for racing and the upper is still good as new. It’s also a great shoe for fell running and obstacle course races as well, thanks to the superlative grip it offers on soft, slippery ground.

Buy men’s from Inov-8 | Buy women’s from Inov-8 | £105

Best Trail-Running Shoes For The Mud

Most UK trail runners will be well acquainted with boggy conditions and many will have donned a pair from the Salomon Speedcross line to help them negotiate slippery terrain without taking a tumble. The latest version of the shoe has been designed to provide even more grip when pushing off, so you can throw caution to the wind and head out at full speed on muddy terrain. The upper on the shoe has also been redesigned to be softer and more comfortable than past Speedcross shoes, especially around the toe box.

Buy men’s from Salomon | Buy women’s from Salomon | £120 (currently £96)

Inov-8 Mudclaw G 260

The giant 8mm studs on the bottom of this shoe mean that you’ll have a fighting chance on the muddiest trails and the steepest fells. It also makes the Mudclaw a great pick for OCR events, which are never short of boggy ground, especially since the shoe uses Inov-8’s lightweight and extremely durable graphene-enhanced rubber on the outsole of the shoe, so you can rely on good grip for years to come.

Buy from Inov-8 (unisex) | £140

Best Trail-Running Shoes For Hard Trails

Adidas Terrex Agravic XT

The midsole on this shoe uses the same Boost foam that makes Adidas’s road-running shoes such a springy and comfortable joy, making the Terrex Agravic XT a fine choice for long runs on hard-packed trails. The Continental rubber outsole with shallow lugs provides reliable grip even on wet surfaces, while an EVA frame helps to provide stability on uneven, rocky ground.

Buy men’s from Adidas | £159.95

Inov-8 Trailroc 285

The Inov-8 trail running shoe line-up is expansive, with many types of terrain catered for. The Trailroc 280 is the best bet for hard and rocky tracks, with a sticky rubber sole to grip the stony ground and extra protection in the shape of an underfoot rock plate and toe cap. The 285 is also well-cushioned so you can tackle long runs on uneven ground in comfort.

Buy men’s from Inov-8 | Buy women’s from Inov-8 | £140 (currently £84)

Best All-Rounder Trail-Running Shoes

On Cloudventure Peak

In the past we’ve found On’s trail shoes to be comfortable options for harder trails but lacking in grip when the going is softer, with the distinctive pod design on the outsole better at collecting mud rather than finding traction. However, the clever outsole on the Peak is suited to a range of terrains, with traditional chevron-style lugs on the front of the shoe that are able to grip on muddy ground – especially for your toe-off – and large pods on the heel to provide welcome cushioning for your landings.

The Peak is also lightweight for a trail shoe at 260g (men’s), and On recommends it as a racer or for hill reps. It might not stand up to the bogs of a British cross-country race, but for mixed-terrain events it’s a great option.

Buy men’s from On | Buy women’s from On | £95

Most all-rounder trail shoes lean towards shallower lugs in order to be comfortable on hard trails and even roads, which comes at the expense of a little extra grip in the wet – but the Peregrine 8’s PWRTRAC outsole 6mm lugs mean you can steam straight through muddy patches on your run with less fear of hitting the deck. It’s still a good shoe for hard trails too, with an Everun (Saucony’s energy-returning tech) topsole and PWRFOAM midsole to help you bounce through long spells on firm ground. The latest version of the Peregrine also uses Saucony ISOFIT upper that adapts to your foot and stretches as you move to provide comfortable support without any tight spots.

Buy men’s from Saucony | Buy women’s from Saucony | £110

Hoka One One Torrent

The Torrent is our favourite shoe in Hoka’s excellent trail line-up – it’s lightweight and responsive enough to tackle short runs and races, but also well-cushioned and hardy enough to handle long runs and even ultras. The lugs grip well in wet and muddy conditions, but aren’t uncomfortable or even noticeable on harder trails, and the ProFly midsole offers an excellent heel-to-toe transition for those running at speed. The Challenger ATR is Hoka’s classic all-rounder line, but in our experience the nimbler Torrent outdoes it on all counts, although those who want truly maximal cushioning might still prefer the Challenger.

Buy men’s from Sports Shoes | Buy women’s from Sports Shoes | £104.99

Best Running Shoes For Road To Trail

New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi v3

A great road-to-trail shoe has to provide comfort on the asphalt and grip on the trials, even if you shouldn’t expect to take it on any particular muddy tracks. The Gobi v3 gets the balance just right, making it a great option for jogging out to sun-dried trails in the summer or taking on the off-road sections of a city park.

Buy men’s from New Balance | Buy women’s from New Balance | £90 (men’s currently reduced to £63, women’s currently reduced to £45)

Saucony Koa TR

This is a wise choice for city runners whose trail running mostly consists of off-roading in parks with the odd trip out to the countryside. The Koa TR is comfortable enough for running on roads, while the 4mm lugs give just enough grip to cope with a range of trails – although you obviously wouldn’t want to try speeding through a bog in them.

Buy men’s from Saucony | Buy women’s from Saucony | £120 (men’s currently reduced to £72, women’s currently reduced to £96)

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail

While the road version of the Pegasus is updated every year without fail, the last time there was a trail edition of this line was in the 2000s. The influence of the road shoe can be seen in the comfort and cushioning of the Pegasus 36 Trail, which is great on hard surfaces, but the shoe is also beefed up for trail use with a lugged outsole and reinforced sections of the upper to deflect twigs and pebbles. The lugs are wide and flat rather than deep, so the Pegasus Trail is well suited to hard ground and will grip well on wet rock but isn’t ideal for soft and muddy trails.

Buy men’s from Nike | Buy women’s from Nike | £114.95

Best For Trail Ultras

Hoka One One Speedgoat 3

Although it’s inspired by Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer (now that’s a nickname), who holds the record for the most 100-mile trail race wins, rest assured the Speedgoat 3 performs just as well on the feet of slower ultrarunners. The lightweight shoe has a wide midsole and toe box, along with “seatbelt” support on each side of the upper to provide a stable platform for runs of any length on any surface.

Buy men’s from Sports Shoes | Buy women’s from Sports Shoes | £124.99 (currently £74.99)

Inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 260

You know who goes through a lot of running shoes? Ultra runners, because preparing for insanely long distance events involve running similarly insanely long distances in training. Inov-8’s new graphene-enhanced rubber is very good news for ultra runners then, because in testing it’s survived 1,000 miles of running. The Inov-8 TERRAULTRA puts that durable graphene sole on a lightweight, zero-drop shoe that’s ideal for longer efforts on a variety of terrains.

Buy from Inov-8 (unisex) | £140

Arc’teryx Norvan LD

Arc’teryx offers a few different versions of the Norvan trail shoe. The VT excels on steep terrain, the LD is cushioned for long-distance runs and there are Gore-Tex versions of each for those who want a waterproof shoe. The LD without waterproofing is our pick for your ultradistance runs, because the Gore-Tex liner can make your foot hot and sweaty over long efforts. The Vibram Megagrip outsole provides reliable grip across a variety of terrains and is at its best on harder trails. Opt for the blue or black versions of the Norvan LD and it’s smart enough to wear with your civvies too, which truly makes it an outlier in the colourful world of trail shoes.

Buy men’s from Arc’teryx | Buy women’s from Arc’teryx | £140

Best Trail-Running Shoes For Support

The Cascadia has a well-deserved reputation for being a highly stable and supportive trail shoe, part of which is based on the tank-like size and heft of it. Impressively, the 14th edition of the shoe manages to retain that supportive feel while trimming more than 30g off the weight of the shoe, bringing it down to 303g (men’s) and making it better suited to faster trail running.

Brooks has also reworked the outsole of the shoe to provide more grip on soft ground, but it’s on rocky terrain where the Cascadia particularly shines thanks to the extra protection it offers through a rock plate under the forefoot and the toe bumper on the upper.

Buy men’s from Brooks | Buy women’s from Brooks | £110

From muddy local trails to epic mountain runs, we’ve found the best trail-running shoes for women.

Sure, you could get away with wearing normal sneakers on the trail, but having a pair of trail-specific running shoes provides increased comfort, grip, and protection from rocks and debris.

From sloppy southern trails to rocky peaks of the Pacific Northwest, we’ve spent the past 6 months running, hiking, and testing to find the best trail-running shoes for women. While testing, we focused on choosing a variety of shoe styles to fit each runner’s needs and feet — because the shoe each trail runner needs is unique as the trails they run.

3 Tips for Choosing a Trail-Running Shoe

  1. Set realistic running goals. If you dream of running a 100-miler one day but realistically will use the shoes for 5-mile training loops around your local park, buy shoes for the latter use first.
  2. Consider shoe width. For folks with wide feet, or those running very long distances, a wide forefoot can be a bonus that lets toes splay. The downside is that wider shoes are less precise, can be a little more clumsy, and won’t fit well on people with narrow feet.
  3. Test out the tongue. Does it fit comfortably? Will it keep rocks out of your shoe?

For the complete guide to choosing a trail-running shoe, check this out:

Best Trail-Running Shoes for Women

Whether you prefer a minimalist feel, extra cushion, extreme grip, or a do-all workhorse, we’re confident you’ll find a new favorite running shoe here. Get ready to lace up and hit the trails.

Best Overall Trail-Running Shoe

Saucony Peregrine ISO: $120

The Peregrine is a perennial favorite, and the newest ISO version is no exception. These tick all the major boxes for comfort, durability, traction, and weight. The cushion provides comfort for long days on the trail, and the reinforced sole protects against sharp rocks and debris. We found them plenty responsive on the uphill and pleasantly forgiving on the down.

The ISOFit lace system has been lauded for providing a custom fit. And while we can’t promise it’s anything revolutionary, we did find these snug-fitting — an important factor when navigating uneven terrain. The one piece we’re not unanimously sold on is the extra-cushioned heel collar. Some testers found it helpful in providing a snug fit whereas others hate how bulky it is. This is a matter of foot shape and preference but is worth noting.

Weight: 10.5 ounces
Drop: 4 mm
Price: $120
Best for regular use and variable terrain.

Shop Saucony Peregrine ISO

Runner-Up Overall Trail-Running Shoe

Salomon Sense Ride: $120 (On Sale for $60 Now at REI)

Borrowing from the elite S/Lab line, the Sense Ride offers excellent functionality without breaking the bank (at least compared to the $180 elite series). Weighing in at 8.8 ounces and with a 27mm heel stack, these shoes offer plenty of protection without weighing you down.

The quick-laces are great for anyone used to fighting with laces coming undone on the trail. And we like that the breathable mesh keeps feet cooler and helps avoid blisters. It’s an all-around solid trail-running shoe for a multitude of terrains and up to ultra distances. Salomon does tend to run a little narrow, so try on a few pairs to see how they fit your foot. And if you’re looking for a more aggressive lug, the popular Salomon Speedcross is a great option.

Weight: 8.2 ounces
Drop: 8 mm
Price: $120
Best for ultra distances.

Shop Salomon Sense Ride

Best Wide Toe Box Trail-Running Shoe

Topo Athletic Ultraventure: $130

If squished toes are your problem, Topo Athletic is your answer. The wider toe box provides plenty of foot space while remaining snug enough for maximum support. The 6mm rubber lugs proved plenty grippy on slick and uneven terrain. And we like that the sole provides just enough cushion without feeling overly stacked.

We’ve used them on rough terrain and have been impressed with how well they’ve held up against abrasions. They don’t have a rock plate, so they may not be the best choice for extreme rocky trails. But for logging high singletrack miles, these give toes room to breathe and provide all-day comfort. If you like the wider toe box design and are looking for a waterproof trail-running shoe, be sure to check out the Topo Athletic Hydroventure.

Weight: 8.02 ounces
Drop: 5 mm
Price: $130
Best for variable terrain, lightweight day treks, and off-road runs.

Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure

Best Hiking and Trail-Running Crossover Shoe

Vasque Vertical Velocity: $130

These provide just enough protection from rocks and sticks without losing the ability to feel the trail beneath your feet. Great for trail running, we also like them as a lightweight hiking option. The wide toe box gives feet plenty of room, and the high-energy return will keep you feeling spry. At 8 ounces per shoe, these we won’t weigh you down either.

With a milder lug pattern, we don’t recommend these for particularly technical or slick terrain. But for mixed-terrain runs or dirt trails, these are a favorite.

Weight: 8 ounces
Drop: 4 mm
Price: $130
Best for fast-and-light hiking.

Shop Vasque Vertical Velocity

Best Adventure Racing Shoe

Inov-8 X-Talon 212: $100-150

This entire shoe is so flexible you can literally wring it out like a wet rag. Combined with the ultrasticky sole, this makes the Inov-8 X-Talon 212 an amazing choice for off-trail running and unpredictable, technical trails. They are also great for big climb runs, as they work well for scrambling up rocks and are light enough to easily clip onto a harness.

We don’t suggest using these as your everyday trainers; the rubber wears down over time. However, for special occasions like race days and hard training days when the terrain is loose, wet, or muddy, these are your best weapon.

Weight: 7.42 ounces
Drop: 6 mm
Price: $100-150
Best for race days scrambling up rocks and running down loose trails.

Shop Inov-8 X-Talon 212

Best Cushioned Trail-Running Shoe

HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 Trail: $122-300

For maximum comfort and cushioning, look no further than the Challenger. The oversize foam sole provides plenty of protection, and the extended toe cap guards against rocks and branches. The 5mm drop and rocker shape can take some getting used to, but the extra padding and breathable upper provide all-day comfort. Some testers found it to run large, so we recommend trying on to find the perfect fit.

Weight: 7.3 ounces
Drop: 5 mm
Price: $122-300
Best for anyone looking for a shoe that can transition from trail to road while providing plenty of cushioning.

Shop HOKA ONE ONE Challenger

Best Trail-Running Shoe for Mud

Altra King MT 1.5: $140

This is a specialized shoe for mud and slop, so it’s not a good choice for everyday running. But for mud racing or steep, sloppy trails, this is our top choice on the market. The King MT has gnarly 6mm Vibram lugs to grab soft earth. A Velcro strap over the instep keeps the shoes stable even when wet.

Think of them as mud tires for your feet. We’ve used them and love them on the super-soft muck of spring. Just don’t plan to bang out pavement miles, as these things are dedicated off-road traction!

Weight: 7 ounces
Drop: Zero
Price: $140
Best for mud racing and steep, sloppy trails.

Shop Altra King MT 1.5

Best Minimalist Trail-Running Shoe

Merrell Trail Glove 4: $100

Barefoot aficionados will love the Trail Glove 4. The lightweight design prevents “lead foot,” and the thin sole provides plenty of ground feel. We wouldn’t wear these on rocky or extreme trails, but for light trails, they provide plenty of protection combined with a barely-there feel.

If you’re new to minimalist running and zero drop, it’s best to build miles slowly. Focus on form when running and work up to longer runs.

Weight: 6 ounces
Drop: Zero
Price: $100
Best for barefoot fans who want to hit the trail.

Shop Merrell Trail Glove 4

Best of the Rest

Altra Superior 3.5: $110 (On Sale for $55 Now at REI)

Designed to “look like a foot,” the expanded toe box is a favorite among wide-footed runners. Very similar to the Superior 3.0, the 3.5 brings the addition of a more durable upper and varied color options. Our barefoot-running fans like the zero drop, but it may take some getting used to for those accustomed to more padded shoes.

It’s perfect for a lightweight day trek, minimalist thru-hike, or off-road trail run. We’ve used these on ultramarathons up to 100 km where, with a light 21 mm of cushion underfoot, they were a little thinner than some may prefer. If you have sensitive feet, consider adding some more cushion with Altra’s Lone Peak (25 mm) or Olympus (36 mm) for long distances.

Weight: 8.02 ounces
Drop: Zero
Price: $110
Best for lightweight day treks, minimalist thru-hikes, and off-road runs.

Shop Altra Superior 3.5

Topo Athletic Runventure 2: $110

With a roomy toe box and responsive traction, these shoes have quickly become one of our favorites for long days on the trail. The breathable upper kept our feet cool on the Appalachian Trail even in the heat of summer, and the ESS rock plate provided plenty of protection.

For more technical terrain, you may need a sole with more aggressive tread. But for dirt, mud, and even some pavement, the Runventure will get you there in comfort and style.

Weight: 7.4 ounces
Drop: Zero
Price: $110
Buy this if you like to give your toes more room to wiggle and want a shoe that will provide all-day comfort on the trail and off.

Shop Topo Athletic Runventure

Inov-8 TrailRoc 285: $150

The new 285s have an even more durable upper mesh than previous models. And best of all, it’s fine enough to keep out tiny rocks, grit, and sand. Additionally, the soles have a slight increase in heel and midsole cushion, making these even more comfortable for longer and harder trail runs.

For the recreational hiker or runner, these may be too much. However, for the technical mountain runner, ultrarunner, or climber looking for a long-distance, light approach shoe, these could be your new best mates.

Weight: 10 ounces
Drop: 8 mm
Price: $150
Best for technical mountain runs.

Shop Inov-8 TrailRoc 285

Brooks PureGrit 6: $60-131

Looking for increased traction without the bulk? The PureGrit 6 has it. Plus, the mesh-like upper provides plenty of ventilation, and the expanded toe rubber protects from rocks. We’ve worn these dashing about on trail runs, hiking along the AT, and even to the gym on a few occasions. Through it all, they’ve provided plenty of comfort, durability, and, of course, traction.

Weight: 7.8 ounces
Drop: 4 mm
Price: $60-131
Best for fast hiking and trail running.

Shop Brooks PureGrit 6

Columbia Montrail Caldorado III: $50-139

Updated with a new seamless upper, these shoes rate high for abrasion-proof comfort and offer plenty of grip with a 4mm lug. The reinforced toe cap protects from debris without adding bulk, and the patented midfoot technology provides top-notch stability. These also come in an OutDry model, which is a great choice for sloppy winter conditions.

Columbia’s Montrail is a favorite all-around trail running and hiking shoe. Overall, it’s an excellent running shoe that also gives enough support and traction for lots of fast hiking.

Weight: 8.5 ounces
Drop: 8 mm
Price: $50-139
Best for anyone looking for a supportive trail shoe that works for running and hiking.

Shop Columbia Montrail Caldorado

How Long Do Running Shoes Last?

The life of a shoe depends on a variety of factors, including running style, weight, and how often they’re used. But in general, 300 to 500 miles is a good rule of thumb.

So if you run 10 miles per week, your shoes could last 8 months to a year. If you’re logging 20 miles per week, plan on replacing your running shoes every 4 to 6 months.

And if you see excessive wear patterns, holes, tears, or notice a decrease in footbed comfort, it’s probably time to grab a new pair of sneakers.

Have a favorite trail-running shoe we didn’t include? Let us know, and we’ll check it out for future updates.

Now that you’re ready to run, let’s make sure you have everything else you need to hit the trail:

13 Best Hiking Shoes | From Trail Runners to Lightweight Boots

A guide to hiking shoes, lightweight boots and trail runners for thru-hiking.

© Daniel Winsor

Boots have been around since the dawn of hiking, but they are not your only option when you hit the trails. Many hikers now choose to wear low-cut footwear that takes the best of a boot and mixes it with a running shoe. What goes into a good pair of low cut shoes and why are they so popular?

Trail Runner vs Hiking Shoe

There are two styles of low cut shoes on the market for hikers and backpackers – trail running shoes which are lightweight and nimble much like a sneaker and hiking shoes which are low-cut versions of a traditional boot. Both trail runners and hiking shoes cutoff just below your ankle allowing you to bend and flex your ankle when traversing challenging terrain. Because they are cut so low, you lose the ankle support of a traditional boot.

TRAIL RUNNERS: borrow heavily from a sneaker, but they still are influenced by a boot. The soles of a trail runner are made of Vibram or similar grippy, durable rubber material, and their treads are lugged for offroad use. Some have toe caps to protect your feet from roots and rocks. Trail runners tend to have a flexible midsole and cushioning which provide an extra degree of comfort that you typically don’t find in a boot. They are very popular among thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers, who are willing to trade ankle support for a lightweight and cushiony shoe.

HIKING SHOES: considered to be more of a lightweight boot with rubber soles and a stiff upper made of leather or leather and mesh. Like a boot, they have rubber toe caps and stiff midsoles that protect you from roots, rocks and other obstacles on the trail. They provide enough support to carry a light to medium load comfortably over mixed terrain without the bulk of a full boot. They break in more easily than a boot, too.

Main Considerations:

WATERPROOF VS BREATHABLE: Waterproofing repels moisture, so your socks and feet stay dry on the inside of your shoe. This water barrier is a lifesaver for day hikes through slushy snow or rain, but for thru-hikers, this waterproofing can be your worst enemy. The same waterproof membrane that keeps the water out also tends to trap sweat in leaving your feet damp and dank. If you happen to submerge your boot in water, the waterproofing also makes it difficult to dry out a boot.

*Tip: For long-distance hikes, a non-waterproof shoe is preferable because it is fast drying and breathable. No matter what you do, your feet are going to get wet so you might as well have a shoe that can dry out quickly. Some breathable trail runners drain water so well that your shoes and feet will dry as you hike. With dry shoes, you’re less likely to get blisters, too.

CUSHIONED (Support) vs MINIMAL (“Zero Drop”): Whether you are hiking ten miles or a thousand miles, it’s essential to find the right amount cushioning for the terrain — too much cushioning and you can’t feel the nuances of the trail beneath you; too little and your legs and feet will hurt. Zero drop is another feature you’ll encounter when shopping for a shoe. Drop is the difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot. Most shoes are designed with a rise that raises the heel of your foot slightly more than the ball of your foot. A zero drop shoe keeps your heel and toes equal, much like standing barefoot. A growing body of evidence suggests zero drop shoes are better for your feet and back while hiking.

FIT AND SIZING: Choosing the correct fit for a shoe can make or break your hike. A shoe that is too small will hurt your toes on downhills, while an oversized shoe will allow your foot to slide causing blisters. Always try on a shoe before buying it and wear it around the house a while before you hit the trail for a long distance hike.

*Tip: If you have to err, err on the side of too large as your feet often swell while hiking. It’s also helpful to have some extra room if you need to throw on a sock liner or any sort of blister prevention tape.

SIMPLE LACING: Lacing and tieing a shoe is an underappreciated art. Most hiking and trail running shoes use a basic criss-cross lacing that you tie utilizing a bow-knot. You can modify this lacing pattern and knot for comfort. Some shoes though, like those from Salomon, have a quick lacing system with a sliding lock that you pull to the most comfortable tightness. These speed lacing systems are easy to adjust, but they don’t allow you to change the lacing pattern or the type of knot at the end.

TRACTION: Pay attention to the shoe soles and the lug pattern. Think of lugs like “shoe teeth” or flattened, rubber cleets. Deep lugs provide exceptional footing in mud and loose dirt, while shallow lugs perform best on hard packed trails. Vibram soles are the gold standard for traction, delivering outstanding no-slip performance on slippery trails and steep rock slab. Not all manufacturers use Vibram, though. Salomon developed its own version, Contragrip that performs equally as well as Vibram.

*Tip: Keep your lugs relatively shallow. Deep lugs trap mud and can lead to a slippery hike. The added height can also cause compromise stability (like walking on platforms).

© Mark Christian Aguilar (@markaguilar)

DURABILITY VS SPEED: Want to travel fast and light? Then grab a pair of trail runners. Their lightweight frame won’t slow you down as the miles fly by. Just be prepared to replace them more frequently as they are not as durable as a hiking shoe. If you want a shoe to last a 1,000 miles or be tough enough to tackles some rocky terrain, then look for a more durable hiking shoe which is constructed with leather uppers and longer-lasting soles.

LOAD WEIGHT: Knowing your base weight will help you choose the correct shoe so you can travel in comfort. In general, you should select a hiking shoe with ample support for heavy loads and leave the trail runners for times when your base weight is lower (under 20 pounds).

COST: Cost is another factor to consider when deciding between a hiking shoe and a trail runner. Hiking shoes tend to be more durable than a trail runner so you might need three pairs of light trail runners to hike the Appalachian Trail versus only one or two pairs of more rugged hiking shoes. Both hiking shoes and trail runners cost about the same with price tags between $65 to $150.

*Tip: If you love a specific shoe model, always check the price and availability of the prior year’s model. They are often nearly half the price of the current year’s model… and still (roughly) the same great shoe.

MINIMAL ANKLE SUPPORT: Getting a hiking shoe that provides ankle support is another big footwear debate. Traditional thinking is ‘more support = less injury’. This is not always the case though. Footwear that climbs above the ankle can act like a cast. Allowing natural movement can help strengthen muscles and tendons, making you less prone to a nasty ankle turn in the long run.

Suggested Models:

Altra Lone Peak 3.5

Price: $120

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 4.8 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 0 mm

Waterproof: No

Altra has quickly become one of the top trail running shoes thanks to the success of its Lone Peak model. The latest version, the Lone Peak 3.5, keeps the zero drop, generous cushioning and wide toe box of its predecessors. The most significant gripe against the Lone Peak is durability. With an average lifespan of 200 miles, the shoe just doesn’t last as long as we would like. We also love love love the gaiter velcro strap built-in to the heel.

See on amazon.com

Brooks Cascadia 12

Price: $130

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 8.2 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 10 mm

Waterproof: No

The Brooks Cascadia is insanely popular among AT thru-hikers. It is so popular that hikers even look for Cascadia’s unique tread prints as a confirmation they are on the correct trail. The trail runner is a stiff, supportive shoe with excellent cushioning and a heavy duty rock plate that’ll help you cruise over rocky terrain. The tread also lasts longer than your typical trail runner.

See on amazon.com

Salomon XA Pro 3D and X Ultra 3

Price: $120

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 10.5 oz. / 1 lb. 9.8 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 12 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

Salomon makes excellent outdoor recreational gear, and its trail runners are no exception. The XA Pro 3D and X Ultra 3 have just the right amount of cushioning and stability– not too soft and not too rigid. Salomon is known for its grippy Contragrip soles and its convenient quick lacing system.

See on amazon.com

New Balance Leadville 3

Price: $125

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 7.5 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 8 mm

Waterproof: No

Inspired by the Leadville 100 ultramarathon, the Leadville v3 shoe can handle everything from mountains to flat paved roads. A high-mileage performer, the shoe has a wide, comfortable fit. New Balance is no longer manufacturing the Leadville shoe, so grab a pair while you still can. It will be replaced with the new Summit Unknown and Summit K.O.M./Q.O.M.

See on amazon.com

Saucony Peregrine 8

Price: $120

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 4 mm

Waterproof: No

The Saucony Peregrine 8 is a solid all-around shoe known for its stability. The Peregrine 8 uses the company’s PWRTRAC outsole and unique lug pattern that provides exceptional grip to handle even the most challenging terrain.

See on amazon.com

La Sportiva Wildcat

Price: $110 on rei.com

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 12 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

Hikers looking for a nimble, lightweight shoe can’t go wrong with the La Sportiva Wildcat. The Wildcat earns praise for its “right out of the box” comfort and a mesh upper that is so breathable you can feel the wind through your shoes. It also has excellent grip on rock slab and similar terrain.

Adidas Rockadia

Price: $65

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 8 mm

Waterproof: No

The most striking feature of the Adidas Rockadia is its low sub-$100 price, making it the least expensive shoe on our list. It’s an affordable option for new hikers or as a backup pair of shoes. The Rockadia are comfortable right out of the box and are more stylish looking than most trail runners or hiking shoes. They run small and narrow, so you’ll need to buy a 1/2 or full-size up.

See on amazon.com

Salewa Firetail 3

Price: $140 (see at amazon.com)

Type: Approach Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz. per pair

Waterproof: No

The Salewa Firetail 3 is an approach shoe for rock climbing, but its roomy toe box and wide stable design are perfect for the trail. With climbing-specific lacing and Vibram Reptail sticky soles, you’ll have ample support and solid footing even on slippery, steep or rocky terrain.

KEEN Targhee III WP

Price: $135

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 14.8 oz. per pair

Waterproof: Yes

The Keen Targhee III is a classic Keen shoe with a sturdy leather outer, ample cushioning and wide, roomy fit. It provides just the right amount of support and comfort for shorter hikes, making it popular among day hikers. Though rugged looking, it is casual enough to double as a daily shoe for wearing around town.

See on amazon.com

Adidas Outdoor Ax2

Price: $99

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz. per pair

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

Another affordable option from Adidas, the Outdoor Ax2 is geared for easier day hikes and light trail running. It delivers excellent traction in the mud and is comfortable to boot.

See on amazon.com

North Face Storm III

Price: $110 (view at amazon.com)

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz. per pair

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

The North Face Storm III has deep lugs and Vibram outsoles that provide ample grip and traction in both wet and dry conditions. A forefoot rock plate protects you from stone bruising and interior padding deliver a comfortable ride. The Storm III runs on the narrow side so you may want to order a size up.

Merrell Moab 2

Price: $120

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz. per pair

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

They may not be the lightest hiking shoes on the market, but the Merrell Moabs deliver one of the best values in a shoe. The Moab 2 has a durable upper, a comfortable fit and ample cushioning in the heel. A little on the clunky side, the Moab 2 are perfect for day hikes and light overnight treks.

See on amazon.com

Oboz Sawtooth Low

Price: $110 on rei.com

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 2 lb. 0 oz. per pair

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

The Sawtooth Low from Oboz is as close to a boot as you are going to find in a hiking shoe. The shoe feels substantial when you lace it up and has ample support that’ll carry you through day hikes and multi-day backpacking trips. The outer nubuck leather and abrasion-resistant mesh hold up well against rocks and roots. Our only complaint is the sole. It has a rugged tread that grips exceptionally well on the downhills and dry rock but tends to slip if you are not careful on wet slab.

Read next: 6 Best Minimalist Sandals: Guide to Barefoot and Running Sandals

By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

Affiliate disclosure: We aim to provide honest information to our readers. We do not do sponsored or paid posts. In exchange for referring sales, we may receive a small commission through affiliate links. This post may contain affiliate links. This comes at no extra cost to you.

Discover how one simple shoe swap greatly benefitted her run.

Photo: Coolofthewild.com

Although I would never class myself as a serious runner, I do love getting out for a trot every now and again. But over the last few years my running habits became somewhat sporadic, ranging from regular 5-8K jogs in flat parks, to not running for ages and then busting out a 10-15K trail run out in the hills.

I owed my dwindling commitment to regular city runs, to the overly concreted routes that don’t really agree with my ageing knees and back. And in all honesty, I was just a bit bored of the same old places; I love a good view when I’m running, or at least one to aim for, and although there are certainly no shortage of interesting things to gander at in our urban jungles, it just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

Related: Tips To Start Trail Running For The Older Athlete

So about a year ago, when my running shoes were about to give up on me, I decided to change my tact and ditch road runners altogether to invest in something more suited to off road running. A bold move, yes, but probably the best thing I could have done to make running feature regularly and consistently in my life.

I bought myself a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3 trail shoes and fell in love with them immediately. Never before had my feet experienced such instantly comfy shoes, and having tried on a bunch, I knew immediately that these were for me.

So why have my new best friends, those trail shoes, changed running so much for me?

Well for starters, I just love being in them; they look pretty and feel great, and whenever I wear them I can’t help but skip and bounce around! The footbed pushes my weight slightly forwards which has helped my running technique considerably. I now run much more on my toes which in turn has taken some of strain off my back.

The trail shoes are not really suited to road running, and although their bounciness absorbs a good deal of the impact from pounding on concrete, the soft rubber lugs on the sole will wear out much more quickly than your average pair of road runners. The odd km or two on concrete is no problem, but the potential for the soles to wear down has forced me into planning much more interesting off road runs as the norm, giving my back and knees the TLC they’ve been asking for. And then because my body feels less battered, I feel like running more!

Related: The Top Trail Running Shoes To Invest In

My new shoes have also shifted my focus from running for fitness, to running as a hobby. Instead of fitting in runs around my schedule, just to keep in shape, I now plan my time around getting out on the trail. If I’m out camping, my trail shoes are packed and I’ll plan a route to do during the trip. I’ll drive places to discover new trails, and I’ll seek out parks with hills that offer great views as my reward.

My attitude towards running has also altered slightly. Previously, I would be really disappointed with myself if I stopped during a run to rest. Perhaps it’s because the terrain is more demanding on trails, but I now have no qualms about taking a breather at the top (or bottom) of a hill if I’m feeling pooped. I know I’ve earned the rest, and it makes the whole experience one of enjoyment and accomplishment rather than great expectations followed by guilt.

And finally, getting out running on the trail has enabled me to discover so much more of the countryside. I love hiking, but to really get to see lots, you need to invest a whole day to a route, that in your runners you could tackle in an hour or two. Yes, it’s much tougher work, but the scenery, variety and route finding are the perfect distractions from aching legs and struggling lungs.

So if you find yourself getting tired of the same old running routine, I would highly recommend getting off road and onto the trail. You’ll be fine in your regular trainers if you try it on a dry day, and then if you love it, your shoe upgrade will be the catalyst to rekindle your love affair with running.

For some inspiration on where trail running could take you, check out Of Fells and Hills—an exploration of the trail and fell running culture in Northern England.

Joey is the editor of Cool of the Wild, an online resource for outdoor lovers. She has endless enthusiasm for the outdoor world and loves sharing this passion to inspire others to find and follow their own dreams. Find her full shoe review here.

Finding the right shoe can make a world of difference in your running experience and overall motivation. Good shoes will help prevent injury, open up new terrain, and just make running more fun. With the aid of 30 testers, we evaluated close to 50 shoes, both road and trail, from racing flats to off-road monsters, in every condition we could throw at them (more on how we test shoes at the bottom of this article). We found some new favorites (the Hoka One One Evo Mafate), great updates on old standbys (the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35), and some releases at fresh price points (the Salomon Ultra Pro). Here are seven shoes we love and some pointers for choosing a pair that’s right for you.

Our Favorite Road Shoe

(Photo: Courtesy Brooks)

Brooks Bedlam ($150)

With a two-part midsole that offers gentle, unobtrusive support, the Bedlam will appeal to a wide range of runners, from those who need pronation control to those who don’t. A layer of dense EVA foam, which Brooks calls guide rails, encircles the perimeter of your foot and nudges it gently into proper alignment. A complete layer of silver foam underneath the guide rails—Brooks’s DNA Amp material, a polyurethane-based cushioning—provides great energy return.

Meanwhile, the Bedlam’s knit upper and asymmetrical tongue wrap around your feet like a comfortable security blanket—snug but not too tight. Testers with different shapes of feet all felt it was comfortable. The Bedlam is relatively heavy, at 11.2 ounces per shoe for the men’s version and 9.9 ounces for women. It also has a moderate eight-millimeter drop from heel to toe.

Men’s Women’s

Best Road Shoe for Speed

(Photo: Courtesy New Balance)

New Balance FuelCell Impulse ($120)

No matter your speed, you should have a shoe that makes you feel fast. The FuelCell Impulse is that shoe. It’s light—8.1 ounces for men and 6.7 ounces for women—but still has 23 millimeters of EVA foam under the heel and 17 millimeters under the forefoot.

The cushioning felt notably responsive toward the front of the shoe—there are two nitrogen-infused pods here—and provided a smooth and quick toe-off. But the beauty here is that this shoe isn’t a racing flat. It’ll work as a daily speed-oriented trainer for runners who like more cushioning day-to-day, making this a very appealing option for road races and workouts, as well as for everyday training. Its moderate six-millimeter drop should also appeal to a wide range of runners.

Men’s Women’s

Best Road Shoe for Speed with Cushioning

(Photo: Courtesy Nike)

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35 ($120)

Nike has been making the Pegasus for nearly 35 years, and the newest version reminds us of why it has become the company’s all-time bestselling running shoe. Aside from cosmetic updates—the Pegasus 35 now takes cues from Nike’s world-famous Zoom Vaporfly 4%—the most significant change is in the midsole, which features an air pod running the length of the shoe. (The previous version had two separate air chambers.) The new single-chamber design is intended to carry the foot more fluidly from impact to toe-off. Our testers thought the Pegasus 35 felt firm, and one noted that it resembled “a racing flat or a light tempo shoe.” It’s not harsh, but it’s not as soft as the Brooks Bedlam.

Nike stuck with a tried-and-true breathable mesh upper, with a three-quarter bootie-style construction in the midsection. (For structure, Nike uses internal cables to distribute pressure evenly when you tighten the laces.) The men’s version is about ten ounces per shoe, and the women’s is eight.

Men’s Women’s

Best Road Shoe for All-Weather Conditions

(Photo: Courtesy Under Armour)

Under Armour Hovr ColdGear Reactor MidConnected ($140)

Outfitted with a thick, water-resistant upper, and available in standard and midankle versions, the Hovr ColdGear Reactor is meant for cold-weather running. The midankle model has an elastic knit collar, which adds warmth and protection against the elements. (One tester noted that the extra material gives these shoes a tight fit, enough to consider buying a half size up.)

The midsole, made of extrasoft foam wrapped in mesh webbing, falls on the squishier end of the spectrum, yet not so much that it loses its responsive edge. And the outsole is made from a sticky Michelin rubber (yes, the auto tire). Some models also come with a small chip embedded in the midsole, which can connect to MapMyRun. Given all these features, the Hovr ColdGear Reactor’s 10.9 ounces (8.8 ounces for women) are reasonable.

Men’s Women’s

Our Favorite Trail Shoe

(Photo: Courtesy Salomon)

Salomon Ultra Pro ($150)

The Ultra Pro is a new, more consumer-friendly (read: cheaper) version of one of Salomon’s all-time top-selling shoes, the S/Lab Sense Ultra. Underfoot, 24 millimeters of midsole (16 at the toe) offer a mildly cushioned and responsive ride without feeling too soft. In lieu of the S/Lab Sense Ultra’s rock plate, the company opted for an all-new TPU-based foam insert to protect against small trail obstacles and deliver consistent cushioning whether at mile one or fifty. (TPU bounces back more readily than typical midsole foams.) We agree, the Ultra Pro did deliver on its promise of lasting cushioning over long days, though one tester found that rock protection tapered off toward the forefoot.

Regardless, the Ultra Pro’s relatively light weight lends a nimble feel (the men’s size nine is 10.3 ounces and the women’s size seven is 8.8 ounces). One tester thought it “would be a great trail-racing shoe as well a daily trainer.” The four-millimeter outsole lugs are relatively tame but handled any terrain—sand, rocks, mud, and water—like a champ.

The breathable mesh upper, though complex, is surprisingly versatile, with an internal midfoot bootie that seals out trail debris. An external adjustable skeleton keeps the shoe secure while allowing you to loosen or tighten the fit at will. (The skeleton attaches to the laces. Loosening them relaxes the skeleton and creates more room around the sides of your feet.) The shoes worked for testers with narrow and wide feet alike, accommodated swelling, and still let us lock down the fit for technical descents.

Men’s Women’s

Best Trail Shoe for Adventure Runs

(Photo: Courtesy Hoka)

Hoka One One Evo Mafate ($170)

Thanks to tiny, lightweight Kevlar wires woven into its mesh upper, the Evo Mafate offers something that’s been missing from Hokas for years: an agile ride. The shoe kept our feet in place on off-camber trails better than any other Hokas, which can feel unstable because they have so much cushioning underfoot. The Mafate still rides high, sitting at 34 millimeters under the heel and 30 millimeters under the forefoot, but the combination of softer and firmer foams felt more energetic than other Hokas with softer midsoles.

The Evo Mafate’s five-millimeter lugs, made of Vibram Megagrip—sticky but lightweight—gave us traction on loose dirt and mud, and in combination with a hydrophobic upper, lent confidence on sloppy, snow-covered roads. A fattened-up section of foam on the medial side of the midsole gives this shoe some stability to boot. The men’s version is 9.6 ounces and the women’s is 8.5 ounces.

Men’s Women’s

Best Trail Shoe for All-Weather Conditions

(Photo: Courtesy Adidas)

Adidas Terrex Agravic XT GTX ($170)

Layer one of the most responsive midsoles on the market (the Adidas Boost) on top of outsole rubber designed for tires on the world’s fastest sports cars, wrap the whole thing in Gore-Tex, and what do you get? One badass, versatile, all-weather trail shoe.

A low profile (15.5 millimeters in the heel and 9 millimeters in the forefoot) means feet stay close to the ground, allowing precise footwork through those rocky fall lines, when missteps sometimes mean rolled ankles in shoes with thicker midsoles. The aggressively patterned Continental rubber outsole sticks like glue on wet or dry terrain but rides silky smooth, even on mellow ground. A bombproof upper lined with Gore-Tex and thick, abrasion-resistant, welded materials means hiking boot–like durability and protection. Accordingly, these shoes are on the heavier side: 12.5 ounces in the men’s and 11.5 ounces in the women’s.

Men’s Women’s

How We Pick the Best Running Shoes

Our reviewers have earned their chops in this field. Lisa Jhung has been a runner for roughly 30 years and has reviewed shoes off and on for Outside and other magazines for roughly 15 years. She has also worked at running magazines and has written a book about trail running. Cory Smith has been testing running shoes for our Buyer’s Guide since 2014. He was a nationally ranked runner at Villanova University and now lives in Santa Barbara, California, where he owns an online running-coaching business called Run Your Personal Best.

For this test, we researched new shoes across four categories—lightweight road, cushioned road, lightweight trail, and cushioned/protective trail—and had testers focus on one category for the best comparative results. We had close to 50 shoes across 18 brands, spread out among 38 testers who live and run everywhere from Montana to Alberta and Kentucky to California. All of the women’s shoes were tested by women. Each tester ran at least three times in each shoe over the course of several months, at various speeds, in different conditions, and, for trail shoes, on a range of terrain from steep and rocky to mellow and buffed.

What You Should Know Before Buying Running Shoes

Walk into any running store or visit any online site and what originally seemed like an easy task turns into a never-ending search full of confusing sales jargon. Subtle and often unseen differences in how shoes are constructed can change how comfortable they feel.

To add more complexity to the buying process, how a shoe fits and runs can vary greatly from brand to brand and even model to model. Altra, a company famous for its flared toe boxes, tends to accommodate runners with larger toes and wider feet. Asics, however, tends to fit on the narrower side of the spectrum. Our Gear of the Year shoe, the Brooks Bedlam, feels much softer underfoot than, say, the New Balance 860.

How to Choose Running Shoes

Intended Use (Road Versus Trail)

Road running shoes are flexible in the forefoot, to flow smoothly and allow a quick turnover, and they have lower-profile outsoles—no need for toothy lugs for traction. On mellow trails, road shoes can work just fine and are usually lighter, more flexible, and more comfortable than burly trail models. But on rocky, muddy, snowy, or steep trails, you’ll want a specific shoe with aggressive lugs on the sole for better traction and more secure-fitting uppers to keep your feet stable on uneven terrain.

Fit

Ill-fitting running shoes will cause blisters, hot spots, and, in some cases, rolled ankles. There are a few elements to a good fit: length, width, and overall volume.

With regard to length, we recommend roughly a one-quarter-to-one-half-inch (a thumb’s width) gap between your longest toe and the front of the shoe to keep your toes from jamming forward during the toe-off phase and on downhills.

Width and overall volume can be a bit trickier. Excess pressure spots or parts of your feet bulging at the sides are good clues that a shoe may be too tight. Alternately, if you find yourself having to cinch down hard on the laces to feel secure, the shoes are most likely too wide or deep. Some brands offer shoes in wide and narrow versions to accommodate runners outside the standard foot width.

Pronation Control

When feet hit the ground, they either collapse inward, roll outward, or maintain a neutral orientation. Many brands design shoes for each of these three typical pronation patterns by varying the density in parts of their shoes’ midsoles to offer targeted support in the direction that you pronate and nudge your foot into a neutral position on impact.

There’s little scientific evidence to support this strategy, however, and it’s not clear that people who match shoes to their pronation patterns get fewer injuries. Our best advice is to simply choose the shoe that feels most comfortable.

Cushioning

Cushioning refers to the amount of foam under your foot and how firm or soft it is—whether the midsole holds its shape under pressure or compresses easily. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Soft midsoles absorb impact, which is helpful for keeping joints happy over long distances. But they don’t feel springy. On the other hand, firm midsoles are peppy—the technical term is “responsive”—but don’t offer as much impact relief.

Ultimately, ideal cushioning is a matter of personal preference and running style. Those seeking an easy-going, comfortable ride should gravitate toward softer, cushioned midsoles, while performance-oriented runners should lean toward a firmer, more responsive midsole.

To help conceptualize responsiveness as it relates to cushioning, think about the difference between dropping a lacrosse ball on concrete and dropping it on sand. Which surface would make the ball bounce back higher? Concrete would, because it’s harder than sand. Shoe midsoles work in a similar fashion.

Weight

Running shoes usually fall somewhere between 5 and 12 ounces per shoe for men and 4 and 10.5 ounces for women. Lighter shoes, unsurprisingly, are usually designed for racing. Numerous studies have confirmed that shaving weight results in quicker performance. One 2016 study found that a 3,000-meter race time increased by 0.78 percent per 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of shoe weight. But lighter shoes are less durable than those made for everyday training. Trail shoes, which often have tough outsole rubber compounds, rubber toe protectors, and rock plates, will usually be even heavier than road shoes.

Heel-Toe Drop

Most running shoes have a heel that’s slightly higher than the toe. A shoe’s “drop” is the difference between the two. In the past, running shoes had heel drops around 12 millimeters, under the assumption that most runners land on their heels and need more cushioning there to soften the blow. But that model has been challenged with the argument that a lower drop—one more in line with a bare foot—encourages more natural running. Companies have started selling shoes with lower drops, some even going to zero. There is no offset that works universally for every runner. Just be careful if you make a big change in either direction, and ease into running in the new shoe slowly. Jumping from, say, a 12-millimeter-drop shoe to a zero-drop shoe can put a lot of strain on lower leg muscles like the calves and Achilles tendon.

Weatherproofing

Winterized running shoes block moisture, often with a gaiter, a high-top cut, a weather-resistant fabric, or an internal waterproof layer. The downside: winterized shoes are often stiff, heavy, and not very breathable. In the last five years, winterized shoes have improved in all those areas, but the trade-offs still exist.

Price

High-quality running shoes retail for between $120 and $160. Specialized shoes come at a premium. (For example, expect to pay an additional $30 to $50 for winterized shoes.) On the other hand, racing flats will be cheaper, in the $80-to-$120 range.

Filed To: RunningRunning ShoesRacingTrail RunningRoad Running Lead Photo: swissmediavision/iStock

Trail-Running Shoes vs. Road-Running Shoes

Trail-running shoes or road-running shoes: which are the best choice for you? Both have their benefits and drawbacks, so it can be hard to make a decision when you’re faced with all of the great options. To make your decision easier, I’ll answer the most common questions people have when deciding between trail-running shoes and road-running shoes.

What’s the difference between trail- and road-running shoes?

So is there really a difference between trail-running shoes and road-running shoes? The answer is yes, and here’s all of the ways they’re different:
Trail-running shoes are designed for tackling rocky, rugged terrain, so they are generally heavier, sturdier and more durable than road running shoes. When you run over the uneven terrain of a trail, your foot and ankle move to maintain your balance, so some trail-running shoes offer beefed-up torsional support along the sides, as well as added support underfoot.
Another big difference between road- and trail-running shoes is the outsole. You can get a good look of a trail-running shoe outsole in the picture above. It has a deeper traction pattern and heavier outsole than a road-running shoe outsole (see picture below). Trail-runner outsoles are built to provide aggressive traction so you can better move over rocky terrain, gravely trails and uneven ground.
Road-running shoes are all about responsive speed on smooth surfaces. They are lighter than trail-running shoes, but not as protective or durable. Running shoes are designed to move quickly over smooth pavement, so their outsoles aren’t as aggressive as trail-running shoes. They don’t need as many reinforcements as trail-running shoes, either. That means road-running shoes tend to be more breathable, because their upper is primarily mesh. Like trail runners, road-running shoes provide adequate support for all sorts of runners, and can feature a variety of technical features.

Can I wear trail-running shoes on pavement or treadmills?

Yes, as long as your trail-running shoes don’t have metal ice studs you can wear them anywhere. Like road-running shoes, you have a lot of options when choosing your trail-running shoes. If you think you’ll be using your trail runners on the treadmill or road, opt for a lighter pair that boasts flexibility and a responsive design. However, if you’re planning on using your running shoes on pavement and treadmills the vast majority of the time, you’ll want to opt for a pair of road-running shoes.

Can I wear trail-running shoes on hikes?

Yes. Trail-running shoes are built for the trail, so some people like to wear them as lightweight, low-cut hiking shoes. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that they aren’t built for long hikes or backpacking trips. While some backpackers like to wear trail runners, others find that they aren’t supportive enough for the added weight and mileage. If you like to go for long hikes and occasional backpacking trips, it might be worth it to buy a pair of hiking shoes or boots.

Can I wear road running shoes on trails?

It depends on the trail. Road-running shoes will work just fine on smooth, groomed trails with few rocks. If you already own a pair of running shoes, you can always give a trail a try with those before deciding to spring for a pair of trail-running shoes and take up the hobby. I wouldn’t recommend using your road-running shoes as your go-to trail-running shoes or hiking shoes, though. They don’t offer the support, protection and traction you need to feel comfortable on trails that aren’t groomed.

Trail or Road: which running shoe should I get?

This question isn’t as straight forward as all of the others, but you should be able to easily answer it for yourself. It all comes down to your intentions. Are you a new runner who wants to get started by lacing up your shoes and stepping out your front door? Get road-running shoes. Are you a dedicated runner who takes to the sidewalk or road for a run every week, but might check out a groomed trail every once in a while? Again, get road-running shoes.
Are you a seasoned runner who’s ready to take on the challenge of trails on a consistent basis? Trail-running shoes are for you. Do you live in an area where trails are easily accessible for daily or weekly runs and hikes? Trail runners are a perfect fit. Trail-running shoes are also a great choice for dedicated runners who want a second pair of running shoes to add some variety to their running footwear choices.

Best trail road running shoes

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