Trail running allows any enthusiast to escape the hustle and bustle of urban streets in pursuit of twisty trails and pure clean air. Of course, the technical terrain of trail running calls for dedicated trail running shoes designed to grip dirt and cushion your feet against the inevitable rock or root system. You won’t get away with a traditional pair of sneakers out on the trails.
If you’re planning to escape your current running route in favor of going off-road, make sure you have a solid pair of running shoes built to contend with everything mother nature can throw your way. To help you find the perfect pair, we’ve whittled down a list of the best trail running shoes available today. From lightweight racers to hill-busting sneaks, these shoes will help to transform you into a trail tour de force.
Not quite sure where to start? We’ve included a handy buyer’s guide to ensure that you’re getting the best trail running shoes for your unique needs. After all, no two feet will feel enlivened by the same trail shoes.
If you’re looking for a supportive trail running shoe that offers both comfort and stability, look to the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4. This is a maximum cushion trail running shoe that offers up superior traction, increased stability, and a comfortable fit that never veers towards “too tight.” Underfoot, you’ll find a nice fat stack of supportive EVA foam. For trail runners, this offers underfoot protection against diverse terrain, while also absorbing repetitive strain that can occur when long-distance trail running.
With a Vibram Megagrip outsole, this is a trail running shoe that is very grippy. There are 5mm lugs to increase your stability on any type of terrain. With a slightly widened toe box and the option for a EE Wide version, you’ll find that the overall fit is accommodating to a wide range of runners. If you are an ultra-distance trail runner or tend to contend with achy joints, the maximum cushioning is far superior to many trail running shoes. Additionally, these will effectively reduce repetitive strain and offer the comfortable balance you crave while running on uneven surfaces.
Smack dab in the middle of Altra’s trail running shoe lineup sits the Lone Peak 4.5 shoe. Beefier than the Timp but bulkier than the Superior 4, the Lone Peak 4.5 has long been regarded as a very comfortable and cush shoe that is well-loved by most hikers and trail runners. Despite this enthusiasm, the Lone Peak typically had a pretty short life span due to an overly soft mid foam and sloppy fit. Luckily, the 4.5 version has rectified any previous issues, standing out as a solid trail running shoe.
With a highly resilient midsole foam compound, trail runners enjoy generous cushion, and much needed relief from achy joints while contending with uneven surfaces. The fit of the shoe has been seriously tightened up, offering a nice refined feel, specifically in the midfoot. This helps to support your stride as you hit the trails, keeping everything in place and guarding against ankle rolls. The Altra Lone Peak 4.5 also offers up a StoneGuard Rockplate which is sandwiched right into the midsole. This addition offers up very sticky and grippy traction, meaning you can glide over mud, dirt, or grass with total ease.
Saucony has long been regarded as a top brand in the realm of crafting trail running shoes. The Saucony Peregrine 10’s are far from the exception. Without question, this is a sensitive shoe underfoot, despite the fact that the midsole is firm and not overly flexible. The inclusion of a rock plate adds for adequate traction on all trail surfaces and makes for the stability that most runners crave. A low stack height makes for a stable run, while a thin, lightly cushioned upper grants extra support and comfort.
As mentioned above, this is a very sensitive shoe, meaning any runner will feel the trail as they run over it. This is a key aspect many trail runners seek in a great running shoe. Aside from the basic aspects, Peregrine 10 also features some serious innovations, including guidance on the sole by adding screws for traction and drilling holes for drainage. If you’re a runner who craves low to the ground trail shoes that make for a speedy ride with optimal traction, this is a top pick.
A modern take on the traditional trail running shoe, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 excels as an option for those who crave traction above all else. With a sticky rubber outsole complete with large grippy lugs, this is a trail shoe well suited to any type of terrain you may encounter. With Hoka’s signature EVA foam cushioning underfoot, the repetitive impact from harsh terrain is a thing of the past. In fact, you’ll experience a springy rebound that is equal parts stable and efficient for your run.
The One Challenger ATR 5 is a remarkably balanced shoe, with body-prolonging impact absorption that is further maximized by the optimum cushioning. The repetitive impacts of running, especially among older adults, is no longer an issue. Underfoot obstacles are also diminished thanks to a firmer foam midsole and a diverse range of widths. Another thing worth noting is how efficiently the dual-layered upper layer absorbs and sheds water when crossing streams or puddles.
In a sense, Hoka One One has crafted a trail running shoe that is designed with actual runner’s needs in mind. There is an exquisite balance of comfort, stability, traction, and sensitivity.
Anyone looking to tackle varied and rugged terrain should not ignore the Nike Wildhorse 6. This is a trail running shoe designed to tackle long distances, as well as the roughest terrain a runner could possibly encounter. Though a bit heavier than some trail running shoes, the amount of foot protection offered by the underfoot React foam and the durable upper, more than makes up for any added heft.
This same underfoot foam also offers ample protection from trail perils while boasting unique springiness that moves with you. The foot is well protected by the burly upper, while still proving more than sufficient in water drainage tests. With lugged outsoles that wrap up and around the heel, you have a trail running shoe that can tackle any type of terrain with total ease.
In terms of stability, the Nike Wildhorse 6 has a robust 8mm heel-toe drop and an ample amount of underfoot foam. This means that your foot is nicely distanced from the ground you’re landing on with each step. While it may not be the most stable trail running shoe on the market, you’ll never have to worry about rolling an ankle or feeling off-kilter on your run.
The best trail running shoes know how to marry form and function, especially when it comes to traction and comfort. What makes the Salomon Speedcross 5 trail running shoes so unique at first glance are the aggressively deep lugs that make for a profound amount of traction. Any type of terrain you choose to tackle, these shoes can handle the job. The Contagrip TA rubber compound and arrow-shaped lugs can grip both wet and dry rock, proving an asset on more technical trails.
In terms of comfort, the Salomon Speedcross also offers up a wider forefoot, as well as a spacious toe box design. Straight out of the box, you’ll notice that this is a very comfortable shoe requiring no break-in time. There is excellent padding on all sides and a high heel pad that adequately cradles the back of the foot gently. In terms of stability, the Speedcross offers up a wider forefoot landing platform. This enables the foot to splay out more when you land, making it more difficult to twist an ankle.
With a Sensifit upper and a quick lace system, these shoes would conform to your foot perfectly, ensuring that your foot stays firmly in place even as you tackle whatever trail you choose.
SEE ALSO: Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX
Brooks has long been regarded as a top player in the trail running shoe game. The Brooks Caldera 4 proves a great option for anyone looking for a maximal, low drop shoe that will take you from the front door out to the trail. This is a trail shoe that is designed to be smooth and well-cushioned, providing ample support for trail running distance runners. While this may not be the best shoe for technical mountain terrain, it is perfect for moderate trails or those who simply want adequate stability.
Lined with comfort-foam, the Caldera 4 offers a tongue with an elastic lace keeper strap and upper gaiter attachments. A well-padded heel collar and upper gives these shoes a very road-esque quality, while a thermoplastic toecap designates this as a true trail shoe. An ample toe box allows for plenty of toe splay, but not too much room that your toes feel banged up on steep downhills.
In terms of traction, the Brooks Caldera 4, offers up TrailTack sticky rubber which proves adequate in slippery rocky conditions. Though this is a low-rugged shoe, it does do just fine on most types of terrain, though you might want to avoid muddy areas. A smooth midsole gives an added boost of confidence over loose terrain and the shoe itself allows you to climb without feeling cumbersome. While there is no rock plate in place, the high stack height proves an impressive replacement.
On technical surfaces, trail runners need a shoe that is tried and tested. The La Sportiva Bushido II is known for its agility and stability on tough terrain. With high sensitivity and amazing stability, this is one of the best trail running shoes if you’re a runner who seeks to tackle rough terrain on your runs. With innovative foam integration, this is a highly responsive shoe that’s well equipped with a heel cup that slips less and a toe cap that is truly reinforced to provide maximum durability.
Though the toe box can be a bit narrow, making splay more difficult, it still offers excellent performance on all trail types. In terms of protection, the La Sportiva shoe provides just the right amount of protection on advanced trails. The midsole has a nice stack height of 19 mm in the heel and an adequate 13 mm in the forefoot. An integrated rock plate works hard to disperse direct rock impacts, which adds to sensitivity but compromises on protection.
If you’re a runner who prefers a highly sensitive thinner shoe where you can really feel where your toes are placed, this is an excellent option. This is truly a technical shoe that offers comfort, sensitivity, stability, and just the right amount of traction.
Not to be confused with its non-trail versed counterpart, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail offers up typical Nike comfort with the technical specs a good trail shoe should possess. With a 10mm heel-toe-drop and a raised heel counter, these are noticeably cushy trail shoes integrated with those iconic Nike Air pockets. This adds adequate shock absorption and resilience against heel strikes for less repetitive stress on the body.
The highly-breathable light upper mesh allows for a high degree of air to get through, but can absorb some water should you run through a stream or puddle. A rubberized toe bumper adds a bit of extra protection. For traction, Nike crafted a trail-oriented outsole with generous surface area on the tops of the short lugs that present amazing traction on all surfaces. You’re also getting a highly durable trail shoe that offers up stability and balance.
In true Nike fashion, the Pegasus 36 Trail is a seriously comfortable shoe that doesn’t require breaking in. While they may not be ideal for technical trails or steep ascents, they are perfect for moderate trails with less aggressive terrains. They also prove quite handy if you live in a place that allows you to mix your runs between the trail and the street.
For some runners, a great trail running shoe boils down to versatility. They want something that will carry them on a diverse number of trails and terrain types. The Salomon Sense Ride 3 trail running shoes are designed to be the versatile all-in-one trail shoe that delivers. This durable and trail-tested shoe offers streamlined protection with optimum comfort. You’ll find ample cushioning placed adequately throughout the heel and midfoot. The forefoot offers just enough sensitivity to tackle tough trails with the utmost agility.
In terms of traction, the Sense Ride 3 trail running shoe ditches the large lugs in favor of small grippy lugs that hold onto technical surfaces with ease. Both steep and flat terrains are easy to tackle, even when surfaces are slippery or wet. When it comes to stability, the Sense Ride 3 may not perform as well in sticky mud as some alternative options, but it will help you to cruise right over 99% of the terrain you’re bound to encounter.
When it comes to comfort, these trail running shoes do offer a very specific fit. It doesn’t boast a wide toe box, but there is still plenty of wiggle room. There is little arch support in the heel, making for a wider platform. Still, this shoe would likely be best for narrow or regular feet. It does have a nice 8mm drop that will work well for both heel and midfoot strikes.
For a trail running shoe that is equal parts versatile and comfortable, look to the Brooks Cascadia 14. As soon as you slip this pair of shoes on your feet, you’ll immediately notice the ample amount of cushioning included in the midsole, along with an extra 8mm of cushioning in the heel. This allows for less stress on the body with each strike. To enhance protection, the Cascadia 14 shoes also offer up a rock plate. Despite this, the shoe is not necessarily the most stable, but this won’t matter much on moderate or typical running trails.
In terms of traction, the Cascadia 14 offers up tightly spaced short lugs and a super sticky rubber outsole. These do an amazing job of handling dry surfaces or on pretty standard trail terrain. In fact, you’ll find great traction on a majority of surfaces. With that said, the shoe does not necessarily hold its own on super soft turf or mud, likely because the lugs are not spaced quite far enough apart for this kind of grip.
For those with a narrow or regular foot, you’ll enjoy the concise fit of the Cascadia 14 trail running shoes. Those who require a wider fit may want to look for a shoe with a bit more splay. With that said, this is a well-built trail running shoe that is highly adept at performing on traditional trail surfaces. If you’re looking for comfort, a nice midsole, and a rock plate, give these a try.
Trail runners know the brand Inov-8 for their commitment to shoes that actually work on tough terrain. The Inov-8 Roclite 290 shoes hold up to the promise this band made when first conceptualized, proving that you can have comfortable shoes that hold up on wicked trails. This is a shoe that offers up excellent traction, with G-Grip graphene-enhanced rubber outsoles and revolutionary lug spacing. Graphene which is the strongest textile substance on the market today also increases the overall strength and durability of the shoe itself. With 6mm deep lugs, you’ll find that these shoes are capable of gripping nearly any surface, even very soft terrain spots like grass or mud.
The upper of the shoe utilizes a nice thin mesh, making the shoe very breathable, especially in hot weather. Despite this, the shoe does do well with drainage, should you encounter water on your run. Much like previous versions of this shoe, the Roclite 290’s do offer a foot cradling system with a nice narrow gauge nylon used as laces. We found that they do firmly secure the foot in place without adding any additional pressure to the foot itself.
This is a very stable trail shoe, which has an amazing landing and taking off platform. Low stack height and a 4mm heel-toe drop allow your foot to run closer to the ground, giving an excellent trail feel.
More than anything else you’ll use while in the great outdoors, trail running shoes can prove a truly personal choice. A shoe that seems to be beloved by most, might be loathed by others. With so many options and choices on the market, knowing where to begin can be difficult. When looking to buy the best trail running shoes, follow these guidelines to make the process a bit easier.
If you want to make the most of your trail running experience, you need to find the best pair of shoes for venturing beyond the urban jungle. Trail running shoes differ from traditional running shoes in several regards, including:
These aspects are important, but not as important as knowing what to truly look for in a pair of running shoes. In our opinion, when searching for the best trail running shoes, there are four important aspects to keep in mind: Heel-to-toe-drop, shoe type, overall cushioning, and foot fit. Let’s explore each of these aspects below.
If this is your first time buying trail running shoes, heel-to-toe-drop may sound like a pretty foreign concept. In reality, it is simply the measurement that dictates cushioning height in the shoe itself. Generally, heel-to-toe-drop can range from 0mm to over 12mm. The drop is the overall difference between the height of the heel and the height of the forefoot. For perspective, barefoot shoes will have the lowest drop at 0mm. Minimalists will range from 0 to 4mm and moderate or maximalists will be higher than 4mm.
How do you know which drop style works for you? Start by picking up your current preferred pair of athletic shoes. If you don’t currently own a pair of sneakers or athletic shoes, casual shoes will do fine. Most pairs of shoes are going to have a moderate heel-to-toe drop. This implies that you should steer clear of trail running shoes that are 0mm or 12mm as these can be quite extreme. In our opinion, if this is your first pair of trail runners, stick with the moderate range until you figure out your unique strike patterns on the trails.
While looking for the best trail running shoes, you’re going to run into three distinct types of shoes: rugged trail, light trail, and off trail. Knowing which pair will work for you starts with assessing the type of trails you plan to habitually run on. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the three types of trail running shoes.
As the name implies, light trail running shoes are designed for uniform surfaces. These work best on fire roads, gravel paths, grassy paths, and terrain that doesn’t prove too tricky. These shoes will be the most similar to traditional running shoes.
Unlike light trail shoes, rugged trail shoes are designed with running on actual hiking trails. These tend to cover the broadest spectrum of terrains. Most rugged trail shoes will include underfoot protection from rocks/roots, midsole cushioning, supportive uppers, as well as diverse lug patterns to provide grip.
If you’re someone who prefers to run on trails that present constant challenges that few mortals can contend with, you’ll want a pair of off trail running shoes. These offer all of the characteristics of rugged-trail shoes, but tend to be more resilient in the midsole while offering better torsional rigidity. These are for remote running trails that can take you onto all types of terrain or waterways.
Sometimes referred to as stack height, support/cushioning in your trail running shoes is pretty important. Some shoes will offer very heavily cushioned midsoles while others will not. Generally, you’ll have a few key options:
Above all else, fit is going to bear the most impact on how a shoe actually works for you as a runner. Even a shoe with glowing reviews won’t work if it doesn’t personally fit your foot. Unfortunately, getting a good fit from a trail running shoe involves more than just simple length and width. You’ll also want to account for arch length, foot volume, arch shape, and many other factors.
With that said, we recommend getting your feet measured before picking out the best trail running shoes. Don’t assume that you can just simply order your regular size. You’ll need to account for factors such as swelling while running, toe box width, and adequate length. Strive to try on shoes later in the day rather than early on, as your feet will be at their most swollen and you’ll find a pair with enough room to fit you properly.
The best trail running shoes often come down to personal preference and your style of running. Odds are the right pair for one runner, won’t be the right pair for you. Consider the factors mentioned above and give highlighted brands with renowned success a try. Make sure to keep shoe type, fit, cushioning, and heel-to-toe-drop in mind. Also strive to buy your trail running shoes in an actual store.
This can allow you to have your feet measured and properly assessed. You’ll want to try on your shoes several times before purchase. Once you find the perfect pair, you’ll be hitting those trails hard in no time!