5 Best Cross Country Shoes | 2021 Buying Guide

In a Hurry? Editors choice:
Saucony Kilkenny XC 8
Test Winner: Saucony Kilkenny XC 8
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Standout Picks

Looking for a great trainer that is lightweight, comfortable, durable, and affordable? The Vanish XC is designed to fit on your feet like a glove and provides a little extra support where you need it most. Subtle spikes on the outsole help to confidently grip trails and slick surfaces, and it boasts a low profile for heightened flexibility. Plus, it comes in at an affordable price point that won’t break the bank.
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Sometimes less is more. What runners love most about the Kilkenny XC 8 from Saucony is that it is incredibly lightweight like a minimalist trainer, but it is packed with simple features to help keep your feet and legs protected for those long runs on the trail or on the sidewalks. The best part about this design is that it comes in at an affordable price point that won’t break the bank.
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The New Balance 1400 is designed for runners needing extra support while running at high speeds. It's light and durable while remaining breathable and comfortable. Despite its weight, it provides a higher amount of cushioning to absorb shocks and prevent unnecessary stress on the wearer’s feet.
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The Pearl Izumi Peak XCs are built for off-road running. They are lightweight and made of breathable materials for increased comfort. The added heel support absorbs shocks and allows runners to run longer distances.
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These cross country trainers are designed with advanced XC runners and racers in mind. The feature what ASICS calls their Trussic system. This combines strong overlays for stability with a deeply lugged outsole and 5-spike system for great traction. They're comfortable and very durable considering how light they are.
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From grass, pavement, mud, sand, and stone, all cross country events are different which means cross country running shoes must stand up to varying challenges.

The top criteria we look for when testing and reviewing the best cross country running shoes are; fit, weight, ground feel, and grip on multiple types of terrain, amongst a few other key elements.

Take a moment to peruse our top picks below and test out a model or two before your next event.

Criteria Used for Evaluation

Breathability

Active feet make more sweat. Finding the right breathable option is crucial for both women's cross country running shoes and men's models.

With this in mind, finding a shoe that offers good airflow makes for a drier running experience. When moisture gets trapped, bacteria that cause foot and shoe odor build up and can cause slipping or even worse, foot fungi.

Most cross country running shoes are light, arid and work with the elements and not against your feet. Built-in mesh panels, vents, etc, are all simple but effective designs that aid in shoe breathability.

Protection

When cross country racing, foot protection is incredibly important.

There are innumerable obstacles that you could encounter on this type of trail run, including rocks, logs, and uneven terrain, among other things.

So, to be prepared for the unknown, cross country running shoes should be able to handle any terrain obstacle. Finding a shoe with sturdy outsoles with a snug, arid upper is a good place to start. Some even offer plates and rubber compounds, which are great for harder debris and can prevent puncturing and foot bruising.

Flexibility

Flexibility and support go hand in hand. This extremely important when considering the best cross country training shoes especially.

Allowing the foot to flex and feel natural is vital for a smooth cross country run. You don’t want your shoe to lack the support of a sock but you want it to move and feel almost like one. Offering just a bit of support so you don’t destroy your feet.

You won’t get good flexibility if too much support is built-in either. These should work together to give you a solid, more natural run. Also, make sure the material doesn't break in the bends, you want it to be able to handle the stress.

Traction

Cross country running or XC, means sometimes you may be running on trails as well as other rougher terrain.

Encountering wet and slippery grass, mud, or slopes is normal so cross country running shoes should be made to handle all of it. This meaning great traction is one of the higher criteria we look at.

Staying upright is key to the success of a good cross country run. Furthermore, having a well-made traction design is going to offer different durability elements. Some traction is made for the dirt and rubble. This usually will wear out faster when moving from one terrain to the next.

Due to this, the traction in cross country shoes is usually spiked and made to be more versatile than those that are strictly for trail or pavement running. Taking shoes that work better on pavement into the trails and “cross-country” will kill them faster too.

Shoes are made for different activities so make sure you are getting the traction you need for the element you’ll be using them in.

Durability

Durability is going to make or break a design.

When looking into the best cross-country shoes, make sure they can handle your terrain. They are going to be made with materials and technology that works with rugged active use: rocks, mud, debris.

Material strength, protective properties, how well they fit and work with wet environments are all features that come into play when researching durability. How these are going to work all together and how ell the shoe is held together.

Different technologies in rubber and mesh will define how long a shoe lasts as well. Simply put, you want your shoe to last. Therefore, all the reviewing and searching we do based on what people are reflecting on, gives us a solid platform to view what works and what doesn't. It may cost a bit more, but you will get more.

Best Cross Country Running Shoes

1. Altra Vanish XC

Where to buy
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ALTRA Men's Vanish XC
ALTRA Men's Vanish XC sole
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Looking for a great trainer that is lightweight, comfortable, durable, and affordable? The Vanish XC is designed to fit on your feet like a glove and provides a little extra support where you need it most. Subtle spikes on the outsole help to confidently grip trails and slick surfaces, and it boasts a low profile for heightened flexibility. Plus, it comes in at an affordable price point that won’t break the bank.

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The first thing that we noticed about the Vanish XC is that it boasts an upper that is composed of lightweight and breathable materials that have a slight stretch to it. This upper contours to the shape of your foot for a great fit and flat laces help to promote lockdown. It also comes in a wide variety of color options that are bound to get you noticed.

It boasts a sculpted insert with a 5 mm drop for just a bit of extra stability and support where you need it most. If you want to transition to a minimalist trainer, simply remove the insert to turn the Vanish XC into a trainer with a zero drop. It boasts a springy and responsive Max-LT midsole, and a rubber outsole with subtle lugs that transition from sidewalks to trails effortlessly.

What runners love most about this simple trainer is that it clocks in at a price point that makes it one of the most affordable cross country running shoes out there on the market. It is composed of simple and lightweight materials that keep you light on your feet for those long runs, but also provides a small amount of support as well.

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2. Saucony Kilkenny XC 8

Where to buy
Amazon Link
Saucony Kilkenny XC 8
Saucony Kilkenny XC 8 so9le
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Sometimes less is more. What runners love most about the Kilkenny XC 8 from Saucony is that it is incredibly lightweight like a minimalist trainer, but it is packed with simple features to help keep your feet and legs protected for those long runs on the trail or on the sidewalks. The best part about this design is that it comes in at an affordable price point that won’t break the bank.

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The very first thing that we noticed about this design is that it has a streamlined upper that reduces the risk of blisters and chafing when you turn up the heat. It is composed of a layer of mesh fabric that works to lift hot air away from your foot to keep it cool and dry. The simple and flat laces also work to promote lockdown for a great overall fit.

The midsole is composed of molded EVA foam that contours to the shape of your foot as you wear it and provides you with just a little bit of extra support. What we love most about this design is that it boasts a Carbon Rubber outsole that adds an extra spring to your step, and also has increased durability as well.

If you are in the market for a durable roadrunner that is perfect for long trips, the Kilkenny XC 8 from
Saucony is a great choice. It has a very simple design that is durable and effective and comes in a wide variety of neutral and bright color options. Plus, it comes in at a price that is one of the more affordable designs making our list.

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3. New Balance 1400v6

Where to buy
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New Balance Men's 1400v6 Running Shoe
New Balance Men's 1400v6 Running Shoe
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The New Balance 1400 is designed for runners needing extra support while running at high speeds. It's light and durable while remaining breathable and comfortable. Despite its weight, it provides a higher amount of cushioning to absorb shocks and prevent unnecessary stress on the wearer’s feet.

Read more

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 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.

Enhanced breathability and support allow longer distance running. The thicker support should result in less foot strain over the lifespan of each pair.

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4. Pearl Izumi Peak 2

Where to buy
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Pearl Izumi Peak 2
Pearl Izumi Peak 2 sole
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The Pearl Izumi Peak XCs are built for off-road running. They are lightweight and made of breathable materials for increased comfort. The added heel support absorbs shocks and allows runners to run longer distances.

Read more

These Pearl Izumi running shoes 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.

This option 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.

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5. ASICS Cross Freak 2 Spike

Where to buy
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ASICS Cross Freak 2 Spike
ASICS Cross Freak 2 Spike sole
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These cross country trainers are designed with advanced XC runners and racers in mind. The feature what ASICS calls their Trussic system. This combines strong overlays for stability with a deeply lugged outsole and 5-spike system for great traction. They're comfortable and very durable considering how light they are.

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They won't create a total swamp in your shoe, and the upper is made of mesh, but it's of a very fine weave and they don't score as highly in this aspect as other options on this list.

While these don't have a toe bumper, the high-strength overlays give them a lot of stability which can help prevent slipping and/or ankle twists and sprains.

Users found these to be quite pliable despite the high-strength supportive overlays. These are really good cross country shoes when it comes to traction control. The company's Trussic system, consisting of 5 spikes and a deeply lugged outsole, gives the user excellent traction on variable XC terrain. Users were surprised by how well these held up over time despite being extremely lightweight.

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