10 Best Cross Country Shoes Reviewed & Tested
For cross country runners, it’s important to invest in the right pair of cross country shoes. These shoes need to stay in good shape no matter the distance or the terrain. Some models fare better than others, so picking out the specific shoe matters. Cross country shoes need to have the ability to do it all, over various surfaces. To get that done, you will need to keep things in mind such as durability, grip, flexibility, comfort, etc. We think you might be surprised at some of the shoes we picked, but we definitely have our reasons, which you can read about just below the list.
To understand the best cross country shoes available, we have put together this list of the best cross country shoes out there.
- Salomon Speedcross 3
- Mud & Snow Contagrip Outsole
- ASICS GEL Kayano 22
- Impact Guidance System
- Brooks Mach 15
- Spiked Forefoot for Optimal Grip
10 Best Cross Country Shoes
1. Salomon Speedcross 4
An integrated low-profile cleat system provides strong traction on hard and soft surfaces. It's particularly effective in mud and snow conditions. The sole is reinforced in key places to ensure that runners will stay comfortable.
The upper is built of debris-resistant materials to keep them cleaner and hazard-free. The laces are kept in top-mounted lace pockets. Synthetic materials are used to make these shoes more breathable and lighter.
Enhanced comfort and durability are built in through the design and material selection. Improved traction features make running in adverse conditions safer. The rugged design helps them last longer.
- Several gender-neutral colors available
- A wide range of sizes available including half sizes
- Provides strong all-terrain and condition support
- Can be expensive
- Limited widths available
2. ASICS GEL Kayano 24
The GEL-Kayano 24 is available in a variety of colors to fit everyone’s style. Advanced cushioning designs help support runners’ feet which can be helpful for longer running distances. The fit can be adjusted by removing the insole.
The FluidRide system provides better support at a reduced weight so runners can conserve their energy. An integrated system helps guide the runner’s gate so that each foot placement is more stable and energy efficient. Gel cushioning helps protect the runner’s feet from rough impacts.
Multiple integrated technologies contribute to increased endurance and comfort over longer distances. A lighter weight reduces foot stress, allowing runners to withstand harsher conditions. The well-fitting design can be especially helpful for those with foot conditions.
- Lots of color and style options available
- Many sizes available for a variety of foot types
- Breathable design keeps feet comfortable over long distances
- Sizes can be slightly smaller than advertised
- The toe box has more room than most expect, which may make them uncomfortable.
3. Brooks Running Mach 15
It features a bright color design that grabs people’s attention. The high-quality design adds to the Mach 15’s durability. It's designed specifically for outdoor running with features to make it more effective at maintaining a strong footing.
Low-profile cleats make it possible to run in outdoor conditions while maintaining stronger traction. It is made out of lightweight and breathable materials to improve foot comfort. It's flexible enough to allow runners’ feet to contour to the surface, making it possible to get a better footing in unstable conditions.
The lower price makes it possible to easily replace them at the end of their life cycle. The added traction from the integrate cleats improves runners’ safety in cross country conditions. Several design enhancements keep it from causing unnecessary wear on runners’ feet over long distances in rough terrain.
- The affordable price makes it easy to get multiple pairs.
- Lightweight design makes running more comfortable
- Provides a better fit for those with slightly wider feet
- Cleats make running on hard surfaces more difficult
- Low-top design doesn’t support the runner’s ankles on uneven terrain
4. Adidas Supernova Riot
The soles and top section are made of breathable materials to keep your feet comfortable while running. The outsole design is good for trail running as well as textured bike pedals for trail riding. The high-top design supports runners’ ankles in unstable terrain.
The overall design of the Supernova conserves more energy from each step making it easier for wearers to run longer distances without tiring. The reinforced rubber soles maintain their traction on a variety of surfaces. There is a large binding hook on the front to secure shoe laces and keep them from becoming an obstacle while running.
At a moderate price for trail running shoes, the Supernova Riot offers a variety of advantages for runners in different environments. Their durable design ensures that they will last a long time. They are easy to maintain thanks to the breathable and durable materials as well as quality construction.
- Conserve energy from each step to make running comfortable and to reduce exhaustion
- Supports the runner’s ankle in uneven terrain
- Can maintain traction in a variety of hard and soft areas
- The price may make the cost-prohibitive for some.
- The high-top design may make it uncomfortable for some.
5. La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX
The Wildcat 2.0 was redesigned to be more effective in rougher, colder climates. It's heavier construction makes it more durable and provides stronger foot support. New materials are used to improve breathability and provide a better fit.
The use of Gore-Tex makes the Wildcat 2.0 waterproof for running in wet climates. The Wildcat 2.0 has reinforced padding and materials for improved support. The La Sportiva Impact Brake System improves runners’ stopping power by up to 20% for emergency stopping.
The Wildcat 2.0 performs better in colder climates while providing the support needed for running in rough terrain. The outsole gives it a strong grip in most conditions. The materials used in its construction make it durable, breathable, and comfortable for extensive trail running.
- A wide range of sizes available
- Made of thicker materials which is more suitable for colder climates
- Well-fitted without needing to be broken in
- More expensive than other options
- Thicker materials make it less suitable for warm climates
6. Mizuno Wave Ronin 5
The lightweight design prevents runners’ feet from wearing out prematurely. It's breathable for better comfort while running. It fits well in the appropriate size range.
Light, breathable materials make it unobtrusive to the running experience regardless of the terrain. The soles are designed to have a strong grip on gritty and hard surfaces. The design lends itself to fast running.
Although it is a bit pricey, the Wave Ronin 5 is good for runners in multiple conditions. It uses advanced designs to reduce the stress on feet and provide the appropriate amount of protection on different terrains. It allows runners to maintain the minimalist running experience while still getting the protection needed to prevent injuries.
- Designed for flexibility to mimic the natural motion of runners’ feet
- Minimal design makes it light and flexible while providing enough protection
- Designed for multiple terrain conditions including hard and soft surfaces
- More expensive than other alternatives
- Sole design makes quick direction changes and stopping more difficult
- Sizes may not conform with other alternatives, sizing big on some runners
7. Pearl Izumi Peak 2
They are designed to be light, breathable, and comfortable. The low weight facilitates faster and longer running. A variety of simple and ornate color options are available.
The sole is made of carbon to increase its durability for trail running. Various design features make it more flexible than other options. The lightweight materials make it more breathable for better foot health.
The Pearl Izumi Peak XC is good for minimalist runners that want the protection of a shoe and the feel of barefoot running. A smaller profile makes for a snug fit which some find more comfortable. They are moderately priced and last a long time.
- Flexible for better foot positioning while running
- Very lightweight thanks to the minimalist design
- Improved carbon sole for improved durability
- Not recommended for hard surfaces
- Slipper/sock-like feel may not be comfortable for everyone
8. New Balance 1400
The New Balance 1400 has thicker cushioning than other running shoes, making it a great fit for those that need extra support. A snug fit helps runners feel connected to the shoe and have a better feeling on the ground. A wider design helps with those needing slightly wider shoe options.
The tighter fit makes the New Balance 1400 fit more like a sock than a shoe which helps runners maintain higher speeds. The cushioning is made of REVlite which is lighter and more durable than other support options. The upper is made from breathable materials for improved comfort.
The additional support makes for a more comfortable running experience. Enhanced breathability and support allow longer distance running. The thicker support should result in less foot strain over the lifespan of each pair.
- A wide range of sizes are available
- Additional support makes it more comfortable
- REVlite lasts longer than alternatives due to their advanced design
- The taller stack height makes them taller than other running shoes
- The width of the toe box may be too small for runners with larger feet
9. New Balance 840
Thick soles and strong sidewalls provide good foot and ankle support on uneven terrain. It's available in several basic colors for those looking for something that blends in well with any outfit. Well-positioned arch support keeps the wearer’s feet comfortable.
The sole is reinforced with extra padding in specific places to keep the wearer’s feet in the right position. It is durable thanks to its thick design and strong materials. It provides enough protection to traverse any terrain without concerns.
It is a great shoe for those that want to get involved in trail running, but need additional support. The New Balance 840 makes walking and running comfortable for those that experience foot and leg issues. The thick construction will make them last longer.
- Extra support in specific places for added comfort
- Made of durable materials to last longer
- Provides extra protection in rough terrain
- Not as flexible as other options which can make running and walking difficult in certain conditions
- Thick design makes them less breathable
10. Nike Zoom Victory Waffle 3
The Nike Zoom Victory Waffle 3 has improved treads and an integrated cleat system for better traction in soft and hazardous areas. The minimalist design creates a more natural feel for running. The tighter fit leads to less rubbing and fit issues for runners.
The cleats and sole are designed to get a tight grip on loose surfaces. The upper is made of breathable and flexible materials to provide better comfort. The use of lightweight materials allows runners to run longer and faster.
Quality construction practices increase the longevity of the Victory Waffle 3’s. Each pair is made to exacting standards that lead to higher quality and consistent shoes. At a moderate price, runners can consistently replace these shoes at the end of their life cycles.
- Integrated Cleat design makes running on soft surfaces easier
- A variety of sizes and colors available
- Designed to be light and flexible for long distance running
- Cleats make running on hard surfaces more difficult
- Low amounts of padding may lead to increased wear on a runner’s feet
Selecting a pair of cross country shoes is a decision that can impact a runner’s time and risk of injury. While some cross country shoes are known for durability, others help promote stability during a run. Depending on a runner’s specific needs, any number of these shoe models may work.
The Criteria We Used For Our Evaluation of the Best Cross Country Shoes
Cross country running is a very specialized type of terrain running, and therefore it requires a specialized type of running shoe. There is a set of metrics we applied when choosing the cross country running shoes that made our list. The metrics we used are based on product research and reviews about the cross country shoes available on the market, as well as questions that are commonly asked about cross country running shoes.
Each of the key factors in creating our list of the Best Cross Country Running Shoes is explained below.
Are these shoes breathable?
Just like other parts of your body, your feet sweat, especially when running. With this in mind, it is important for your shoes to allow air to flow through the upper of your running shoes so that moisture can escape. When moisture gets trapped in your running shoes, there is a buildup of bacteria which causes foot and shoe odor and other foot problems, like athlete’s foot.
When selecting running shoes, keep the health (and smell) of your feet in mind and select a shoe with breathable uppers constructed of mesh or another lightweight synthetic material. The airflow promoted by these types of materials will help keep your feet dry.
How much protection does this shoe provide?
When you are running on a trail, like in cross country racing, foot protection is incredibly important. There are innumerable obstacles that you could encounter on this type of train run, including rocks, logs, and uneven terrain, among other things.
So, in order to be prepared for the unknown, a cross country running shoe should be able to handle any obstacle you could encounter on the trail. It is best to look for a shoe that has high outsole durability, an upper that is snug to your foot, and a reinforced toe. These features will help protect your feet from not only what you can encounter underfoot, but what also might try to sneak inside your shoe.
How flexible is this shoe?
Shoe flexibility is important because this determines how naturally your foot is able to move while you run. It also is a factor in how much support the shoe is providing to your feet during a run. The more flexible a shoe is, the more naturally your foot will move, but this may also lessen the support provided to your shoe. A more rigid shoe will provide more support, but your foot may move in a less natural manner.
Are these high or low profile shoes?
Having a high or low profile on your running shoe affects the amount of support and stability you will have while you run, but it also affects the natural movement of your foot. A lower profile shoe will allow for more natural foot movement, especially while running over uneven terrain, but may not provide sufficient support for some runners. A higher profile shoe will provide greater direct ankle support, but can make balancing more difficult. This can lead to ankle injuries such as sprains or rolled ankles, and this is more common in runners that overpronate and wear high profile shoes.
How thick is the sole?
Sole thickness affects positive ground contact. A sole that is too thick has the potential to minimize the positive ground contact you experience on your run. On the other hand, a sole that is too thin won’t provide you with enough underfoot protection and you may experience pain or discomfort while you run. However, a thinner sole does allow for more natural foot movement.
Your best bet is to look for a shoe that has a sole that is thick enough to provide comfort and protection, yet allows your foot to move naturally while keeping your balance. This may require some trial and error while trying shoes on, but when you find that Goldilocks fit (i.e. it’s just right) it will make all the difference while you run.
How wide is the toe box?
The toe box is the front are of the shoe where – you guessed it- your toes are housed. Your toes need room to move and fan out, which provides natural arch support and balance control. A toe box that is too tight will not only be uncomfortable, but can affect your ability to balance on uneven terrain and how much mid-foot support you have.
It is best to choose a toe box that is wide enough to allow for your toes to spread out, or even go with a little extra width, rather than one that is too narrow.
How durable are these shoes?
As with any other type of product you buy, you want your running shoes to last. This is especially true for cross country runners who run on rough and uneven trails. These running trail conditions will definitely challenge the durability of your outsoles and uppers. With this in mind, you want to look for high quality materials. This, unfortunately means you might have to spend a little more on your running shoes, but the longevity of a pricier pair of shoes may make the splurge worth it.
Other Important Factors to Consider When Selecting the Best Cross Country Running Shoes
There are other details, although small, that should definitely be paid some attention when selecting the best pair of cross country running shoes to meet your needs. At the end of your shopping trip, what you should have selected are the running shoes that best meet your needs in both fit and purpose.
To help make this decision a little easier, below are some extra features you should consider during your quest for the best cross country running shoes:
When selecting a running shoe, it is important to do a little research into the sizing of individual companies. In a perfect world, all shoes would be made true-to-size and we would be able to purchase the same size every time we shop for shoes. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Some manufacturers have shoes that run small, and other have shoes that run large. Reading user reviews of running shoes will help you know what to expect in terms of sizing for a particular pair of shoes.
Your Unique Feet
Your feet are special in ways that only you understand. Maybe your left foot is wider than your right foot. Maybe you have flat feet, or extra long toes. Regardless of what makes your feet different, those traits are important to keep in mind when selecting a pair of running shoes. The shoes you choose should accommodate any intricacies your feet present.
The majority of people not only want their running shoes to feel good, they also want them to look good. Some brands of running shoes are notorious for their blinding colors and flashy designs, while other companies only offer neutral colors. Pick a shoe that you actually want to wear, but remember that fashion should never trump function, especially when it comes to running shoes.
Q: How are cross country running shoes different from regular running shoes?
A: The biggest difference between the two types of shoes is the spikes (notice a trend?). Although you can buy trail or winter running shoes with enhanced lugs, the grip provided by the metal or rubber spikes found on cross country running shoe is much more intense. This is because of the unpredictable terrain that runners occur on cross country courses, and they need the extra traction from the spikes to remain agile, fast, and balanced.
Q: What is the difference between trail running and cross country running?
A: Well, let’s start with what they have in common. They are both types of running. They can both be races or just for training. Where they really differ is terrain consistency. Trail running is usually restricted to, you guessed it, the trail. Cross country, in contrast, can happen on grass, on trails, or even on some paved surfaces, depending on the course.
Q: Where can I buy cross country running shoes?
A: Cross country running shoes are available at all running shoe/gear stores and at many large sports retail stores, like Dicks, REI, or Big Five Sporting Goods. You can also order cross country running shoes from internet retailers like Amazon and your local running store.
Q: Do I have to have spikes?
A: Having spikes as a feature of your cross country running shoes is a personal preference. Having spikes as a feature of your cross country running shoes is a personal preference. There are benefits to having spikes in your running shoes. They help you get a better grip on the terrain, especially in wet or muddy conditions. Many spiked shoes have removal spikes, which mean that the shoes can be worn on different terrains. This makes them versatile and a potential asset, depending on the type of race you are running.
However, there are drawbacks to having spikes, including a lack of durability in the shoes, as spike shoes tend to be extremely light, and having to replace the spikes frequently.
To spike or not to spike… it’s up to you!
Q: What is the most important feature I should look for in a cross country running shoe?
A: Traction is by the most important feature to look for in a cross country running shoe. And because cross country courses usually consist of grass and trail, most cross country running shoes get their traction from spikes.
You have two types of spikes from which to choose: metal and rubber. Metal spikes will serve you better if your race courses are mostly grass and dirt. If your races primarily take place on harder surfaces that are baked or paved, a rubber spike is your best choice.
Here are some sources we used while conducting our research:
We utilize many different resources while trying to provide the best information to our readers. Some are scholarly or clinical sources, some are information provided by medical and dietary professional, and some sources are even other sites which may specialize in information that is relevant to our topic.
- The GO Outdoors Guide to Breathability, Informational Outdoor Website, ,
- Trail-Running Shoes: How to Choose, Informational Running Webite, Feb 13, 2017 ,
- 7 Tips to Help High School Runners Choose the Right Shoes, Informational Running Website, Aug 21, 2015 ,
- Want to Avoid Injury? Good form, flexibility, right shoes help, Informational Health Website, Mar 08, 2017 ,
- Tips for Cross Country Training and Racinng, Informational Running Website, Jul 17, 2014 ,
- Do Spikes Make You Run Faster? , Informational Running Website, Jul 03, 2015 ,
- Spike It, Informational Running Website, Apr 25, 2007 ,
- Running Shoes Vs. Cross Country Shoes, Informational Running Website, Nov 02, 2010 ,