The simplicity and wonder of a run through nature can decrease stress and push people out of their comfort zone. If you are already an avid runner, taking your run off-road is a great way to get more out of your run. Having the best pair of trail running shoes will help you get the most out of your run and boost the fun and fitness gains. Luckily, for the off-road runner, there are plenty of great options for trail-specific running shoes, with each having something different to offer. Trail running is becoming increasing popular in many continents. Many road runners get bored of running the same routes and surfaces and want to venture out for a new experience. The transition from road running to trail running is pretty simple. However, runners need to understand that even though some people might say “all you need is a trail”, what they really should be saying is “all you need is a trail and a great pair of trail running shoes.”
In the running world, users typically assess 5 areas before considering which shoe they will buy. These are comfort, stability, traction, weight and durability. All play a huge role in the happiness of the runner wearing the shoe. In this buying guide, all areas have been reviewed to create this top 10 list. The good and bad have been pulled from real online reviews to give you the best understanding of what each pair of shoes have to offer.
The Top Rated Trail Running Shoes
In its’ 4th generation, this shoe is made for soft and technical trails. There are many vibrant color combinations to choose from so runners can display their sense of style. Made with Ortholite® foam, this will keep your feet drier, cooler and better cushioned under any environment. A mud guard and anti-debris mesh will protect your feet and keep mud, sticks, and stones out.
High stack height
Not as breathable as most
Comfort & Support
Designed with the Sensifit® system, when this shoe is put on, runners will notice a soft, great step-in feel. It gives runners a 10mm heel to toe drop and the EVA midsole provides excellent cushioning and anatomical support. The easy-on, easy off Quicklace system is special to the Salomon shoe line. Having this will give you a one-pull, secure, customized fit. It also has lace pockets to secure the ends of your laces. The shoe is designed with a gusseted tongue which keeps debris out during your run. Salomon also has a waterproof, Gore-Tex option for those runners who seek a waterproof version. For those who do not choose the waterproof version, they will find better breathability for their feet when running the trails.
The outsole is made of Contagrip ® which works well on a variety of surfaces. It has been tested on wet surfaces and did not have any slipping issues. The specific geometry of the lugs has been scientifically tested and designed to give the right solution for everything you encounter. The grippy, deep lugs will keep you upright on unpredictable surfaces, keeping you fearless on your runs.
This shoe is lighter than the previous model with a weight of 10.9oz. It does not give up foot protection for its lighter weight.
Typical for most trail running shoes, The Speedcross 4 offers a protective rubber toe cap and mud guard. Of the numerous online reviews available, no one commented on a lack of durability. It is praised for its resilient performance, time and time again.
Altra is becoming better known in the trail running community as its fan base loves its signature wide toe box. If you are looking for a slimmer fit, the Altra Superior 2.0 would be the alternative. However, they were designed to run on the Wasatch rocky rugged terrain, owners found the best performance out of these shoes on less technical trails.
Wide toe box
Gaiter attachment site
Offered in different shoe heights
Wide Toe box
Comfort & Support
Anyone who spends a lot of time in this shoe will appreciate the moderate cushioning. This is a true zero-drop shoe which is meant to support a runner’s natural gait. If you currently use a small zero-drop shoe, this won’t be a big transition. Added cushioning does give in to lack of stability on technical trails. Reviewers noted that although this is the best Lone Peak version Altra has come out with, to avoid frustration you need to check the sizing chart as they felt it had changed from the 2.0 model. Also- if you have high arches, expect to purchase inserts to give you the additional support you need, as the built in arch support is not very high.
The TrailClaw (outer sole) can perform well in most environs, including slippery rocks. Mud will not get stuck between the spaced out lugs which is a plus.
This shoe is on the heavier side at 16oz. Even though they carry a heavier weight, users still felt like they were responsive to the ground and their individual step and stride.
Although not waterproof, the mesh upper dries quickly after a soggy run. No complaints about the outsole were reported. Normal wear and tear can be expected. Cushioning will hold strong throughout the miles put on this trail shoe.
New Balance Leadville V3
Inspired by the Leadville 100 trail race, this shoe is designed for distance trail running and will leave you feeling confident and protected. It has a normal lace up closure and sewn-in gusseted tongue which helps keep debris out. It does lack a protective rock plate, but firm cushioning provides ample amount of underfoot protection.
Vibram Rubber Outsole
No-sew material application
Runners report lugs wear down
Comfort & Support
This is a comfortable shoe right out of the box due to its Skeleton FantomFit and Low Profile N2® responsive cushioning. This shoe has a medial post which works well for over-pronators and runners with wide feet. The upper mesh is stretchable to accommodate for swelling during ultra-marathons. The uppers design is also fit to reduce weight, irritation during long runs and stiffness. The support around the heel and rock plate keeps sharp rocks from pushing through. One user commented that even after an 18-mile run which involved running through creeks, the shoe dried quickly and he did not need to change socks the entire run.
The biggest change in this shoe from its previous version, the 1210V2, is the Vibram outsole. Runners rave about the quality of this technology, however, you shouldn’t completely count on it in snowy, sloppy conditions. Runners noted that it can be trusted on packed snow, gravel, rock and in the mud.
The Leadville 3 weighs 10.8 ounces and has an 8mm heel to toe drop which works for most runners. The stack height provides great underfoot protection without taking away from the runner’s ground feedback.
This is has a good balance of “armor” and mobility. New Balance claims that their cushioning will hold up for over 500 miles. Many reviewers noted that their V3s continue to go strong with no stability breakdown or mesh ripping. It was built to last under the toughest conditions.
Saucony Peregrine 7
Take a break from life and wonder into the wild with the Saucony Peregrine 7. The successor to the Peregrine 6, this versatile shoe has been found to do well going from road to trail. Many runners like the adaptability of the shoe and that they can be used on a daily basis.
Sock liner odor control
Heel plate might cause irritation
Comfort & Support
Runners like the firm and responsive cushioning and lightweight feel of this pair of trail running shoes. The heel plate and stiffness of the posterior aspect of the shoe gave some users blisters while working uphill. The designed this series with a wider toe box and neutral support which pleases many users. Heel to toe offset is 4mm, which delivers more of a natural ride and lets your feet and body to more work while relying less on the shoes’ cushioning and stability features.
This shoe does well on flat trail, but might struggle on steeper, smoother surfaces. Its PWRTRAC outsole has remained unchanged in this version and grips well to rocky terrain and you won’t feel anything piercing through the sole. Its outer teeth-like lugs give the shoe a great appearance and keep runner upright on technical terrain.
The 8.4 ounces per shoe is on the lighter end, at least for a trail shoe. The lighter feel will help you be able to work more on speed during your training runs. This also sets the runner up for a more sensitive and responsive run.
This shoe is good value for the price. With the protection of the rock plate and grippy outsole, this shoe should hold up well on any running excursion. The RUNDRY collar lining wicks away moisture for a fresher in-shoe feel, each time they are worn. The upper stays together well, due to being made by tightly-knit mesh and synthetic materials.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3
The Nike Terra Kiger makes running fast on difficult terrain easy. This light trail running shoe with moderate cushioning will give you the right balance of weight and support when getting outdoors.
Great underfoot protection
Mesh Upper lacks protection to sides and top of foot
Comfort & Support
This shoe has a wide toe-box for runners requiring a little more room for socks/orthotics etc. and near zero drop (4mm). It is also lightweight and you will find the sole has a spring-like feeling that will give you a bounce of energy in each step. The tongue of this shoe is made from part of the upper that wraps around the top of your foot, which eliminates one potential area of discomfort as there is no seam on the lateral side of the shoe.
Great traction is one of the top features of this shoe. users of any experience level will enjoy wearing this one on the typical gravel, asphalt, grass and dirt. The traction on this shoe can also give you stability on snow and ice. The outsole is made of a high-abrasion rubber with a waffle-like pattern, which makes it durable and sticky.
Weighing in around 10 ounces depending on size, this shoe is not the lightest on the market, but it does run like it. With the way it forms around your foot, you will not find any heaviness with your steps.
This shoe holds up to the slightly higher price tag. It’s strong enough to endure very long distances and ultras as well, which makes it a top choice for people who train for these.
Pearl iZUMi Trail EM N2 V3
This shoe is in its third version and continues show improvements. It has enhanced its rock plate and took away a tad of cushioning to find that happy balance for runners.
Comfort & Support
The biggest complaint about this shoes previous version was that it was too firm. The company listened to the reviewers and made this version with a 4mm heel 1:1 energy foam and took it from a 52C to 45C. In addition, mesh Strobel board, which is used to connect the upper of the shoe to the sole, is made with less adhesive and material. This helped take the firmness out of the shoe. Midfoot support of this shoe is provided by a saddle that was added to the medial aspect and is incorporated into the laces. The sure-lace system that is custom to this shoe, helps the laces stay tied for your entire workout. The heel of the shoe still uses a rigid heel counter that has additional padding and a nice collar to provide comfort and lock in the heel. Reflective heel accents and tongue mesh increase low visibility safety on the road.
Durable and sticky lugs make up this rubber outsole. The lugs weren’t designed with anything specific in mind, which makes it a great, all-around shoe to wear on any type of terrain.
Weighing in at 11.4 ounces, this show is middle of the road when it comes to overall mass. It gives the right balance of protection without being too bulky.
Due to sturdy construction, these shoes should last. The flexible, yet protective rock plate protects user’s toes well. Reviewers also felt that when these shoes picked up moisture, they dried quickly.
Brooks Cascadia 12
A lowered heel and flat laces are two improvements Brooks made with this version of the Cascadia. This shoe tends to have a loyal following, which shows outsiders how easy these trail runners are to love if they fit your needs. The Cascadia 12 offers a neutral level of support and medium to high arch support.
Great underfoot protection
BioMoGo DNA midsole cushioning
Lack of design
Too narrow/firm for some runners
Comfort & Support
Although it has improved since the previous version, this is a narrower fitting shoe, so if you need a wide toe box or want to fit orthotics inside, this might not be for you. It would be a good fit for a moderate pronator or a runner looking for a more stable shoe. It provides a nice medium to high arch support and mesh upper to keep your feet cool and dry. The Pivot Post system connects areas to create a stabilizing suspension system for improved great toe flexion and toe-off.
The lugs on this shoe have been redesigned and are placed closer together, which makes it a target for mud to get stuck between. There are also tiny lugs along the edges that some noted if take a lot of wear and tear, are prone to rip off. However, other reviewers liked the new outsole design and thought they handled well in the snow.
This shoe rings in at 10.5 ounces per shoe with a 10mm heel to toe drop. Some runners prefer a smaller heel to toe drop, but if you are used to a normal running shoe and looking to get into trail running, this would be a good option.
The upper of this shoe is made of a tougher material than previous years and the toe cap is sewn down, which makes the shoe more flexible and resilient. Amazon reviewers note needing a new pair every of this shoe every 1-2 years, depending on how frequently they are used. You can expect normal wear on these shoes.
La Sportiva Bushido
This Italian made brand has some serious style. This shoe specifically was designed for technical terrain and max stability. This shoe can be used for speed work or longer mileage. Expect adequate protection and traction from this line.
Comfort & Support
Owners rave about the fit and comfort of this shoe and say it has a “sock-like” feel. Also, the toe cap will help protect you avoid any pain when it comes to clumsy movements. With its 6mm heel-drop, this is the perfect shoe that will bridge the gap between a natural running minimalist and a traditional running shoe. Runners noted that this shoe is a better fit for those who like a narrower midsole and roomier toe box. Breathability was also complimented on a lot from those who own these shoes.
This pair is made with FriXion XT, a sticky compound that holds onto many types of terrain. The Impact break system provides excellent stability on steep descents and this is not something you will find in many trail running shoes. The outer lugs have rounded edges and wrap over the midsole, which gives added traction and remarkable appearance.
While it may not be the lightest (10.5oz.) or most flexible shoe, users still felt like they were running naturally and without added weight on their feet. The STB Control construction provides great stability and responsiveness but reduces overall weight.
Whether it is being used for 5k’s or ultras, this shoe is going to be with you for the long haul. There were no complaints about the toe cap wear or lug breakdown. After use, the shoes drained and dry well if they were wet.
Asics Gel Venture 5
Asics, which is an acronym which stands for “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” in Latin, translates to “A sound mind in a sound body.” The Asics Gel Venture 5 is a trail running shoe that definitely honors that moto. This shoe has been found to be versatile, durable and comfortable, as many users didn’t want to take them off after their run was over. It is equipped with AHAR traction technology and a Rearfoot Gel Cushioning System to deliver out of the box comfort. There are also many color options to fit your exact style.
Reasonable price tag
Many color choices
Wider toe box
Slightly narrow shoe
Comfort & Support
This shoe is equipped with rearfoot gel cushioning system to displace shock during impact, which makes it ideal for heel strikers. It also provides a smooth conversion to midfoot when running and makes running downhill less jarring. A removable sock liner can be taken out if you need more room in the shoe for a pair of orthotics. This shoe seems to fit runners who like a narrow midfoot with a wider toe box for toe splaying. This Asic has a great arch support in it, which makes it ideal for runners who have plantar fascia issues or high arches.
Asics AHAR (Asics High Abrasion Rubber) has been placed in critical areas of the shoe to give you the most traction. Reversed lugs provide stability going up and down hill. The outsole is also designed with horizontal and vertical flex grooves which let the foot move more naturally.
The weight per shoe is 10.7oz which is pretty average in the trail world. No complaints were found about this shoe being too heavy or too light.
Most users praised these trail running shoes for their durability, citing the amount of miles they put on these shoes without breakdown. This is due mostly to the full-length midsole foam which carries the foot well. Several reviewers noted outsole separation and stitching coming apart.
Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi WP
This dynamic trail running shoe has been mixed with the benefits of a hiking shoe to offer the user a real experience. Its deep active foot frame helps stabilize the foot, while its flexible molded collar gives runners next-to-foot comfort. The shoe laces thread from the far toes all the way up to the ankle, which gives the user the ability to adjust how tight you want the shoe to fit in each area of your foot and ankle. If you can look past or embrace the bizarre look of the shoe, you will find a dynamic, water-proof cross bred trail running shoe.
Supportive through the ankle
“Moon-boot” type look
Comfort & Support
Users of this particular model tend to comment most that it has helped with their previous knee/ankle/foot aches and pains due to its engineered RMAT® midsole. The oversized midsole also gives runners excellent shock absorption and increased support. The increased support is ideal for runners with weak ankles or heel/foot issues. The protective rubber toe cap prevents accidental stubs from stopping your run. One key advantage this shoe holds over others is its Event® waterproof membrane. It has a full-bootie construction which helps keep feet dry in any situation. Reviewers noted that even though this shoe is heavier than most that their feet did not get too hot or sweaty while training.
The Hoka’s 5mm lugs and Vibram® MegaGrip Hi-traction outsole gives users an average amount of trail traction. The Forefoot flex grooves also supply comfort and support. Runners should feel confident hopping from rock to rock and working through muddy areas without slippage.
The large midsole of this show is 2.5 times the size of a normal running shoe. That volume comes with extra weight in each shoe (approx. 1lb each). However, runners generally feel that weight is worth the stability and comfort and do not notice the added bulkiness. Due to this shoe being bulkier and heavier, runners lose sensitivity they would normally feel in a less cushioned shoe.
These are the only trail running shoes on the market that will give you a waterproof, durable and stable ride. Sturdiness won’t be an issue with its body made of full grain leather, something you don’t see other shoes on the market being made of. Reviewers noted that even though these shoes were more expensive, they are well worth the investment.
These are the shoes that made our top ten list for tackling the trails. Runner-ups to this list would include The North Face Ultra Endurance and Merrell All Out Rush trail running shoe. As you can see, there are a ton of great shoes out there with lots of options. The science and thought process behind each of these products is pretty remarkable. What’s most important is to find what works for you. Finding the right balance between price, comfortability, traction, durability and support will help you avoid injury and enjoy your hobby.
Once you find a pair of trail running shoes that works best for you, be sure to give them the proper care so you can get the most out of your purchase. Avoid washing your shoes in the washing machine. Mud and dirt can be removed with a toothbrush with soap and warm water. Going along with that, do not place your beloved shoes in the dryer. This will alter the shape and fit of your shoe. If your shoes are wet from a run and need drying, simply place newspaper inside of them and wait.
Important Factors To Consider Before Buying A Pair
As mentioned before, there are a few factors to think about when it comes to finding the appropriate runner for off-road terrain. While many of the characteristics are ones that you would also look for in a road shoe, there are some key factors to take note of for use off of the pavement. The one that stands out and makes the most difference is traction or grip. When you hold a trail shoe up next to one designed for road use, the difference between the tread and sole are often pretty obvious. As trails don’t offer a consistently even and stable running surface, the appropriate footwear will have quite a bit more grip designed in the tread. Durability is another key point to take into consideration. Depending on the terrain you typically plan on attacking, the overall strength and construction of the model can make a ton of difference as well. Here are some of the major things to pay attention to when find a pair that will work best for you.
This is a big one for most types of footwear, but can make all the difference on the trails or rougher terrain. The obvious visible difference with trail shoes is, often times, the more aggressive tread and outsole. The level of aggressiveness may depend on where you plan to normally run. If you are usually going to a park where the paths are well groomed without any major obstacles, then a less aggressive tread pattern will suit your needs well.
If you want to really push yourself, going for the sections of the forest or hills where the beaten paths end and the challenges begin, Then you will need to choose something that will help keep you upright and attached to the ground. A more rugged and aggressive sole and tread will then be your best option. For those more challenging areas, a model with deeper lugs and even outward facing treads on the outsole would be something you may want to consider.
If you intend on keeping your run focused on clean paths and light trails, all that extra grip is probably overkill. However, it is better to still have something with a bit more traction than a road shoe.
This is absolutely an important thing to factor in with choosing any type of footwear for running or other sports. Not only does breathability affect overall comfort, this also help avoid issues that come with built up moisture such as blisters as well as hygienic and bacterial problems.
Especially when running across harsher terrain, the sweat tends to pour a bit more in the summer. For that reason you should really try to find a decent model that offers a great amount of ventilation and breathability.
If you are like me, and like to keep heading off-road through the winter months as well, the a trail shoe which offers good breathability in addition to protection from the elements is going to be your best bet. A good way to do it is to have different pairs for different seasons. Take a look at models that are made with Gore-Tex or other proprietary weather proofing materials, which most brands seem to offer these days. The more weather resistant models will most likely cost a bit more, but once you land in that first puddle in the beginning of a late fall or winter run, you’ll be glad you spent the extra money. That is especially the case when you are at mile 2 of a 10 mile brisk December run.
Just remember, waterproof and weather resistant don’t always have to mean zero or minimal breathability. The technology applied to footwear in general has come a long long way.
Comfort / Stability
This area really has more to do with your own personal preference, as well as your specific feet and what they need as far as comfort is concerned. Most trail shoes, by design, have a decent amount of stability. In most cases that comes for the wider splay of the shoe’s outsole and tread layout. And, as far as comfort is concerned, many models are cushioned to take the changing surface that is encountered with off-road terrain. Although the dirt, grass and sand is much softer than pavement or hardtop, you have to take into account exposed tree roots, rocks and loose surface that may have debris underneath.
There are also quite a few minimalist and barefoot type trail runners available. With these you shouldn’t expect much or any cushioning. So, if you are a bit more sensitive the ground feel, or have foot conditions which require more cushioning and support, it may be wise to stay away from those more minimalistic designs.
The way to look at it is, do these provide enough stability for the area I want to run? And, will they get me through my entire run comfortably?
Weight is another important thing to consider for all types of runners. Do you really want to lug heavy shoes over any type of terrain, no matter if it is easy or technical? Of course not.
With the technology that goes into manufacturing new footwear, most options that are currently available will not be super heavy. However, there are still options which are much lighter weight than others. Although newer materials are much lighter these days, the more cushioned models may still weigh a bit more than than those with a lower profile design.
Lighter is always better, but this can also be left to personal preference. There really aren’t too many super heavy runners being made these days, but, like I said, there will always be those which are lighter than others.
Simply put, you want these to last. Trail models can often cost a little more than road models, so you definitely want to get your money’s worth out of your purchase. You will see many brands producing runners with abrasion resistant panels, protective overlays and even heavier duty laces and proprietary lacing systems.
The shoe you pick needs to be able to stand up to the particular type of terrain you plan on attacking. This is absolutely a situation where you quite often do get exactly what you pay for.
Unlike the road, paths and trails and even forest environments often present obstacles such as exposed tree roots, sharp rocks, thorns, and sometimes even fallen trees or limbs that you will have to get over or around. The option for footwear that you choose should really have some type of protective properties to help you stay safe.
Many brands who produce models intended for more challenging environments will build in trail protection plates, to help against those sharp rocks and other rougher surface obstructions.
My thought on these types of protective additions is that this allows me to go further and more aggressively with an added bit of safety.
I really hope that this was helpful. Finding the perfect pair mostly comes down to what you feel is most comfortable, as well as what fits your budget. However, the above factors should really be considered to get something that will last and provide you with the best possible overall experience while heading off-road, no matter the experience level or difficulty of the terrain you choose to go for.