The Best Trail & Fell Running Shoes Reviewed
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 and enjoy a new experience. The transition from road running to trail running is pretty simple. However, runners need to understand that though some people might say “all you need is a trail”, the reality is “all you need is a trail and a great pair of trail running shoes.” 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.
- ASICS GEL VENTURE 6
- SALOMON SPEEDCROSS 4
- ALTRA LONE PEAK 3.5
- NEW BALANCE LEADVILLE V3
- SAUCONY PEREGRINE 7
- NIKE AIR ZOOM TERRA KIGER 3
- ALTRA SUPERIOR 3.0
- BROOKS CALDERA
- PEARL IZUMI TRAIL EM N2 V3
- MERRELL ALL OUT CRUSH
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Picks
1. ASICS GEL VENTURE 6
Great lug system keeps traction
Many find that these shoes run small
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 6 is a trail running shoe that definitely honors that moto. This shoe has been found to be versatile, durable and comfortable, as many users don't want to take these runners off after they're done with the trail. Find out more about this shoe below.Read more
Comfort and Support:
The synthetic outer along with the mesh on the exterior provides excellent breathability, so your feet will stay dry and cool when you're out running and prevent bacterial growth. Asics opted for a special gel midsole in the Venture 6, which is designed to offer support and shock absorption while being comfortable on any type of terrain.
The multi-directional lugs are designed to promote good traction, so you can take on uneven trails with ease. These lugs also allow the Asics Venture 6 to perform well even in rainy conditions. No matter the terrain or the weather, these shoes will take you anywhere.
The men's variant weighs about 12 ounces, and the women's variant weighs about 9, depending on the exact size. This means that these shoes are very lightweight without sacrificing features or durability.
The rugged one-piece rubber outsole is made for trails and technical paths. Using AHAR (Asics High Abrasion Rubber) in strategic places along the outsole reinforces durability and ease of movement. The outside is made with a synthetic material that's durable enough to handle any debris kicked up on the trail.
2. SALOMON SPEEDCROSS 4
High stack height
Not as breathable as most
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 mudguard and anti-debris mesh will protect your feet and keep mud, sticks, and stones out.Read more
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 mudguard. 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.
3. ALTRA LONE PEAK 3.5
Wide toe box
Some find it too wide in the toe box
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.Read more
Comfort & Support
The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 has been unveiled and updated with improvements upon the already best-seller. This shoe features drainage holes that allow your feet to stay dry when the weather on the trails gets rainy or muddy. The drainage holes also help to ventilate your feet, so they stay feeling fresh. In order to keep rocks from entering your running experience (rocks in your shoes is the worst), these shoes feature a 4-point gaiter system. In essence, the gaiter system acts like a strict border patrol officer who won't let one single rock through to your feet's comfort. The mesh upper has been updated to increase airflow and durability so that your runners last for the long-haul. The Zero-Drop platform is fully cushioned so that you can tackle any trail terrain in full comfort and with shock absorption. As many Altra runners have come to be known for, this Lone Peak 3.5 has a FootShape Toe Box.
The Max Trac outsole ensures that you will stay firmly on the path with no wobble or slippage.
These shoes are incredibly lightweight, at 9.7-ounces. We are baffled at how Altra managed to fit so many features into such a lightweight shoe.
Overall, this running shoe is ideal for hitting trail terrain. You can feel comfortable knowing that they are durable, have a solid grip, well ventilated, and feel great, too.
4. NEW BALANCE LEADVILLE V3
Vibram Rubber Outsole
No-sew material application
Runners report lugs wear down
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.Read more
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.
5. SAUCONY PEREGRINE 7
Sock liner odor control
Heel plate might cause irritation
Take a break from life and wander 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.Read more
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 a 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 a 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.
6. NIKE AIR ZOOM TERRA KIGER 3
Great underfoot protection
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.Read more
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.
7. ALTRA SUPERIOR 3.0
Zero drop running platform
Exceptional traction with aggressive treads
Includes Altra's Gaiter Trap
If sized right, these can be a good option for wider feet
No water resistance
A little expensive
If you're into zero drop shoes, like Altra, but don't necessarily want a bulky shoe, check out their newest version in the Superior line. The Superior 3.0 packs more than what you might expect when looking at it for the first time.Read more
Comfort & Support
Although noticeably less bulky in the sole than many other models from Altra, there is quite a bit of cushioning. The grip is what we really noticed about these though. With the brand's FootShape design, you get a much wider forefoot that translates into more surface area for stability on uneven ground.
I addition to many of the usual attributes seen in Altra's shoes, such as zero drop, anatomical foot shaped build, decent traction, we also really like the Gaiter Trap. This is basically an attachment on the heal of the shoe that holds onto Altra's trail running gaiter. It seems like a little thing to get excited about, but wait until you get a small rock in your shoes...
These Altra running shoes weigh in at 9.2-ounces.
The durability that you can expect is quite good. Like most of their products, these will last as long as you take care of them. Definitely avoid taking on hardtop too often. The tread will wear down quicker on the road, as these are intended for the trail.
8. BROOKS CALDERA
These give you snug fit but you still have a roomy toe box
According to reviewers, feet are less fatigued in these shoes
Very big amount of cushioning
Some runners complained about stability
If you want to test yourself on technical trails, these shoes will be your good friend. Brooks Caldera shoes are very popular among trail runners because of the durability and comfort they provide. Many users really liked the simple design of these shoes and the ventilation system. Only a few runners didn’t like the colors of the shoes but there were also runners who adored black-orange version.Read more
Comfort & Support
The upper is nearly seamless. There’s a great amount of cushioning and there’s a big energy return. The shoes are quite wide but they still stay true to the size. These shoes work great when it comes to absorbing the impact. There’s very good ventilation and even if you get your shoes wet, they will dry fast. Also great if you want a little bit more of arch support. There’s also heel counter so your heel is less prone to injuries and it also boosts comfort.
What many runners didn’t like about these shoes is the traction. The traction is quite average, it may not be good enough for many runners. When the mud isn’t a big problem, rocks or wet rocks are a big problem.
You may think that this bulky looking shoe isn’t very lightweight but in fact, it’s not very heavy and what’s most important, you don’t feel this weight on the feet.
Runners said that in general, these shoes are durable but some complained about the outsole.
9. PEARL IZUMI TRAIL EM N2 V3
This is the third iteration of the Trail EM N2, and it continues to show improvements. With an enhanced rock plate and a little less cushioning than its predecessor, the V3 has struck a balance that's satisfying for most runners.Read more
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.
10. MERRELL ALL OUT CRUSH
Some runners had a problem with debris getting inside the shoes
Merrell All Out Crush closes the list of best trail shoes. Great traction and construction will definitely help you continue your running adventure. Runners really adore the simplicity of the design and the colors, most of them are classical, it’s really hard to see mud or dirt on them. There’s 6 mm heel to toe drop. See what Merrell offers!Read more
Comfort & Support
There are two foams in the heel and the toe area and there’s one another around them to provide more comfort. The upper is really lightweight and there’s a big boost when it comes to ventilation. There’s also an additional layer to provide more protection while running. Many users really praised the breathability, there are little perforations which helps your feet to stay drier while running. There’s special Merrell long lasting that helps to keep your feet dry while running. It also prevents unpleasant odor as there is an antimicrobial feature. What is extraordinary about these shoes is that they’re also vegan-friendly.
The rubber provides good traction no matter on what terrain you run. The grip is excellent and it’s really slip-resistant.
As you see, we try also focus on weight as running in lightweight shoes is much more comfortable. These shoes aren’t an exception- they are quite lightweight but they still provide enough support.
Many runners, after having tested these shoes, said that these will stay with them for a long time.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
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 accounts 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 the loose surfaces that may have debris underneath.
There are also quite a few minimalists and barefoot type trail runners available. With these, you shouldn’t expect much or any cushioning. So, if you are a bit more sensitive to 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.
Besides fit, other features on a fell running shoe can also dictate how comfortable the shoes will feel each time you put them on. One feature is the level of cushioning you find in the shoe, and how well that cushioning is at absorbing shock to help reduce fatigue and injury. The cushioning system found inside the shoe also needs to be flexible enough to help you out with your range of motion, so that you never feel restricted.
Also, some shoe manufacturers provide extra stability and support in certain areas of the shoe, like in the foot arches as well as the heels and toe boxes. It’s important to check out the features your trail running shoes have because having extra support in your arches, heels, and toes can also boost the level of comfort you experience in your shoe. 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?
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.
When trail running shoes first came out as a product on the market, they were designed mostly for racing, and many of the designs we find on the market today still have that activity in mind. Most trail running shoes don’t have bulky cushioning, but still provide enough cushioning so that you get effective shock absorption. The reason there isn’t an abundance of cushioning on these shoes is because it keeps their weight to a minimum, and also helps runners fell to the ground so they get better balance and stability. Also, most trail running shoes are made with long-term adventures in mind and are built so that they won’t create fatigue or restrict your flexibility even if you’re outdoors all day long. Since trail running shoes are still manufactured today to provide this closeness to the ground as well as great stability, they also come designed with excellent grip systems to help you handle all types of terrain.
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 the 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.
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 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, as 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.
As far as a pair of fell running shoes goes, the overall durability will depend much on the materials that are used to create the shoe and the overall design of the shoe as a whole. All of the products we’ve mentioned on our list are decently durable, but some shoes will last longer than others. When you are deciding what pair of trail running shoes to buy, you don’t want to sacrifice too much quality for the price, since most of the shoes on our list are not overly expensive in the first place, while still bringing ample quality and functionality to your outdoor runs. The less quality you find in a shoe, the more affordable it will be, but also, the less durable. 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.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
This is a very important factor to consider when choosing a shoe. If you live in a rainy region, you will want to find a shoe with an outstanding grip, like the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3, which provides traction on snow and ice. As another example, the Brooks Caldera is an amazing shoe but doesn't perform as well on rocky terrain.
No matter how amazing your sheos are, if you aren't prepared for other aspects of the outdoors, your day could be a fail. Always map out your route ahead of time, check in with a ranger (if possible), carry a flashlight or cell phone, and let someone know what time you expect to be home.
Other Factors to Consider
This is absolutely an important thing to factor in with choosing any type of footwear for running or other sports. Not only does breath ability affect overall comfort, but this also helps 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, then 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 weatherproofing 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 at 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.
The breathability of your trail running shoes will also dictate the level of comfort you feel each time you hit the trails. Most of the products on our list come with breathable mesh ventilation systems, but not all ventilation systems are created equally. As you run, you will sweat inside your shoes, and this moisture build-up can not only feel uncomfortable but can also create other problems like the shoe rubbing and creating blisters. Shoes with effective ventilation systems will help your feet stay dry as you run, which will also help increase your comfort level. Just remember, waterproof and weather resistant doesn’t always have to mean zero or minimal breathability. The technology applied to footwear, in general, has come a long long way.
When looking at the mid-sole and out-sole of your trail running shoes, you want to make sure they feature high-quality construction systems. The mid-sole area of the shoe needs to provide adequate support and comfort without feeling too bulky, and should also help absorb shock to reduce fatigue. Also, the mid-sole needs to be flexible enough to provide enough range of movement as you run. The out-sole area of the shoe should be made from some high-quality rubber, which will also need to have lugs to help add elements of grip and traction while you are on the trail.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not every running shoes will be waterproof. There are many models that tend to be really good for trail running and you can really enjoy comfort but when the weather is becoming rainy, shoes that aren’t waterproof may be destroyed. If you ever plan to run on heels, you must remember that the water may appeal and it’s better to have good shoes for that. The problem is that even when the producer describes shoes are waterproof, many runners complain about the shoes not being waterproof at all. In general, you need to be aware that a significant amount of water isn’t good for many shoes when you have them on your feet. It’s not that they can be destroyed but it’s also about the moisture inside. This is a great environment for bacteria to spread.
There are many differences between trail running shoes and road/ normal running shoes. Imagine that you’re going to run in the hills, on a rocky surface. Would you like to do it in your normal running shoes? This wouldn’t be the greatest option for you and your health. Trail running shoes provide usually more protection as your feet are more prone to injuries. When it comes to the sole, trail shoes have much deeper traction and it’s better than in road shoes. This is because you need this grip on the rocky terrains. Road running shoes are less protective and durable. On the other side, you don’t need as much protection when you hit the road. Road shoes are also much lighter than the trail shoes and road shoes are definitely more stylish. Even if you have great quality road shoes, we really don’t recommend to use it for trail running as you may get an injury.
Price isn’t the most important factor when it comes to choosing trail running shoe but the cost of the shoes should also be evaluated. It’s not a good idea to look for very cheap running shoes as they probably won’t be the best quality. Even if you need to tighten the belt, good trail running shoes are a necessity. It must provide good protection and traction or you may get hurt and have serious problems with muscles, tendons and etc. On the other side, very expensive running shoes are sometimes overpriced. The key to success is to think what features do you need in your trail shoes. It’s obvious that comfortable wearing, stability, great traction are must have but some shoes are packed with many others features that you may not need.
Well, this is a very frequent question as many runners tend to think that the more expensive running shoes the better they are. That’s not true. The price depends on many different factors. It’s natural that very popular brands with more prestige, their prices are higher. There are many cases where the shoes form lesser known brands have the same quality as those from the more prestigious brands. On the other side, there are brands that are priced a little higher because they use only high-quality materials. You need to think about the price but it shouldn’t be the decisive factor. There are many other important factors like comfort and stability, focus on them first.
There is one reason why they’re a little bit more pricey. Good trail shoes, like those on our list, are made from high-quality materials. The materials for the shoes like rubber or special mesh aren’t very cheap especially if you want good ones. There’s also much more support for particular parts of the feet so additional changes need to be made. Trail shoes must be more protective, which is why the overall construction needs to be sturdy. Trail shoes must be very durable as they are used on different kinds of surface like rocks, mud and many more. That’s why the trail shoes may be more expensive.