10 Best Trail Running Shoes Reviewed & Tested
Bored of running on roads? Ready to try something different? Trail running just might be your niche.
Instead of simple blacktop with no challenge, try trail running which gives you added bonuses! You’ll be jumping over logs, rocks, and maybe even creeks. In the woods, you’ll encounter hills (for building strength) and valleys (to give you a little break). Not to mention the scenery! There’s not much more peaceful and tranquil than calm, quiet nature. You can even run in light rain and be protected by the trees. Trail running shoes, however, are very different from road running shoes. You will need extra tread for gripping soil and rocks. Depending on your preferences, you may want extra waterproofing if you like running in rain or wet conditions.
In our guide, we’re going to cover our top ten picks for trail running. Each shoe includes a list of features, pros and cons, and a link where you can find them. These are some of our favorites. You don’t have to take our word for it though, check them out for yourself.
10 Steps to Choosing The Right Trail Running Shoe
- Salomon Speedcross 4
- Water resistant upper
- Asics Gel Venture 5
- Rearfoot Gel cushioning
- Merrell All Out Peak
- HyperWrap Fit System
10 Best Trail Running Shoes
1. Salomon Speedcross 4
The Speedcross 4s are very well cushioned shoes which provide lasting comfort for those longer trail runs. Additionally, the Quicklace system that this shoe employs actually works well to provide a custom fit to the user, offering a secure fit and ensuring comfort. At first the shoes may feel a bit tight, but after wearing them for a short while they seem to break in easily. The secure fit also works well in conjunction with the multi directional lugs attached to the shoe’s Contagrip rubber outsole to provide excellent stability and traction for multiple types of environments.
Quality / Durability
When compared with other trail shoes, the Salomon Speedcross holds its place at the top of the list. With attributes such as a durable upper, rigid outsole and protective toe caps, the Speedcross has everything needed to hammer through those rough trails and keep you moving. In other words, they are pretty durable shoes.
For beginners these may seem expensive. However, the more experienced runners as well as those who tend to stick to the trails and off-road courses, these are fairly priced.
- Good grip on mud and snow
- Quicklace technology
2. ASICS GEL Venture 5
The comfort of ASICS’ Venture 5 is, in one word, outstanding. These shoes even have comfort features that are desirable for those who have plantar fasciitis. They provide the same great support that we saw in their predecessors. The sole extends out just enough to give the shoe excellent stability, without being too bulky and becoming a hindrance, offering the wearer an exceptional trail running experience.
Quality / Durability
There are some issues with parts of the rubber peeling off from the bottom of the soles. However, other than that, the durability of these shoes for an extended period of use is, overall, quite good.
For the price, it’s really difficult to beat this shoe. You can find them most places for a pretty good deal.
- Outsole with reversed traction lugs for grip
- Rearfoot GEL cushioning
- AHAR outsole rubber in high-wear areas
- A bit narrow
3. Merrell All Out Peak
These shoes score well with runners of all skill set with regards to both overall comfort and stability over various type of terrain. Built with all of the appropriate properties, they provide the comfort needed to effectively get through long distance trails runs as well as high tempo events such as spartan races. The grip that these shoes provide is outstanding for most uses.
Quality / Durability
There are a few reviews out there that state durability issues with these shoes when put to hard use. However, the positives by far outweigh the few negatives. For the most part these shoes seem to last through some pretty tough treatment.
You will find the price of Merrell’s All Out Peak hanging out in the affordable range of trail running shoes.
- TrailProtect pad for under foot protection
- Reflective design for increased visibility at night
- Synthetic and mesh coverage for breathability and flexibility
- Some had minor durability issues
4. Pearl Izumi Trail EM N2 v3
The shoe has a seamless upper which is designed with an anatomical fit, allowing a more natural splay in the forefoot. The upper is also quite breathable with a lightweight mesh construction. The reinforcing synthetic overlays help to maintain structure, fit and durability. There is just enough protection surrounding the EM N2 without overdoing it.
In the midsole, the offset design is tuned for trail use and is ideal for a neutral running gait. The 1:1 Energy Foam in the forefoot and heel provide energy returning shock absorption. There is also a rock plate in the forefoot to help prevent injuries from loose rocks and other trail debris
These aren't exactly cheap shoes, But for a comfortable and protective pair of trail runners with the positive user ratings that this model has, they seem to be worth it.
- Aggressive multi-directional outsole tread offers excellent traction on the trails
- Anatomical fit allows natural forefoot movement
- Adequate trail protection provided by a toe cap on the upper, and protective rock plate under the forefoot.
- A bit expensive
5. Inov-8 X-Talon 200
The mesh upper allows a decent amount of airflow through the shoe while remaining protective from the elements, due to their DWR coating. Reinforcing overlays provide additional upper support and fit. Also, there is plenty of room for natural forefoot splay, without being loose and unstable.
In the midsole you'll find EVA foam that provides adequate cushioning which offers great shock absorption, as well as energy returning bounce back.
The X-Talon's Rop-Tech outsole has some fairly aggressive tread to maintain a positive grip on just about any trail. The reinforced toe bumper provides additional protection against loose rocks and debris encountered along the way.
Quality / Durability
The feedback from users has been typically positive, although many would like to see more underfoot protection built into the model. As far as durability goes, these seem to stand up to most rough terrain, however there are a few reviews critical of the shoe's lifespan under heavy use over extreme types of terrain.
- DWR coating keeps the elements out
- Aggressive outsole offer exceptional grip
- Breathable upper construction
- Toe box is roomy without creating a loose improper fit
- Needs more underfoot protection
6. The North Face Ultra Endurance
The Ultra Endurance provides a supportive fit for the trail with its heel stability technology which they call the Ultra Protect Cradle system. The breathable upper provides both excellent airflow and quick drying properties, which are essential features for the trails.
The midsole is constructed from single density compression molded EVA, offering enough comfort for a decent run.
The durable Vibram Megagrip outsole provides sticky traction on multiple surfaces, with the added protection of their ESS Snake Plate under the forefoot.
Quality / Durability
As far as durability goes, they really don't seem to have any real issues which users are too concerned about. In fact, we couldn't really find much negative feedback about this model at all.
The construction and materials seem to be of good quality.
- Sticky Vibram Megagrip outsole
- Ultra Protect CRADLE provides heel stability
- Snake plate offers forefoot protection from the trail
- A bit bulkier than some models
7. Salomon XA Pro 3D CS WP
Salomon’s XA Pro 3D, they have been remarkably improved, thanks to Endofit technology which offers an internal fit sleeve, designed to hug the runner’s foot.The adjustability is easily customizable thanks to the Quicklace system. Furthermore, there is a bit more room in the toes with this shoe, but it is recommended to purchase a half size larger to have a perfect fit. Additionally, the solid stability from Salomon’s 3D chassis gives added confidence over rough trails.
Quality / Durability
This shoe is well built using quality materials. It will stand up to the riggers and challenges of consistent trail running. They seem to be made to last.
These are rather expensive trail running shoes. However, keeping the benefits of these in mind, they may be worth the price for serious trail runners.
- Aggressive lug design
- Sizing runs a bit narrow
8. La Sportiva Bushido
These shoes comes equipped with a special lacing with several adjustment point—allowing them to custom fit your foot.
They are also known for being insanely stable and supportive. They feature grip lugs that will get you through any terrain and their rigid footbed and steel shanks featured embedded in the midsole won’t let you feel a thing—no matter how intense the terrain.
Quality / Durability
The quality and durability of the shoes make them one of the best options available this year. If you are looking for a shoe that will make it through intense trail runs, then this is the perfect shoe for you.
At around $70 these shoes are highly affordable given what they provide you.
- Highly durable
- Cost effective
- Narrow toe box
9. Merrell Vapor Glove 2
As large amounts of cushioning and similar features are not typically characteristic of shoes built on a minimalist design, the Vapor Glove is considered to be a pretty comfortable shoe
Quality / Durability
There are some customer reviews that claim that the durability of this version of the Vapor Glove lacks the durability of its predecessors. The complaints suggest that after consistent use they begin falling apart sooner than expected.
Found for a lower price point than Merrell’s Trail Glove, they are reasonably priced.
- 0mm cushioning and heel-to-toe drop
- Machine washable
- No need for socks
- Comfortable and durable
- Some who prefer the minimalistic design felt these had too much padding
10. Altra Lone Peak 3.5
These shoes are specifically tailored for individuals with wide feet, so if you have a narrow foot steer clear.
That being said, they feature a zero drop--meaning they the entire shoe is the same height. ALtra also uses its' A-bound EVA foam combined with rock plate embedded midsole--this allows for a well-cushioned and stable shoe that will not get destroyed (or sacrifice comfort) when running on those rugged terrains.
This shoe is up their in cost, but it is definitely reasonably priced--especially with all of the features it provides.
The Criteria We Used For Our Evaluation Of Suitable Trail Running Shoes
What Level of Protection Is Offered?
We started by taking a very close look at the total amount of protection offered by the footwear. Most trail runners agree that it’s important to look beyond the simple advertised specs that individual manufactures offer. This is why we chose to look at what seasoned outdoor enthusiasts had to say after using their trail runners on the most intimidating of courses. We found the safest of shoes that sport underfoot protection and rugged uppers for maximum safety.
Solid Amount of Grip
When you expect to come across wet terrain, loose gravel, and dusty paths, you’re going to need a lot more traction and grip than what is offered from your standard running shoe. When it comes to this type of running, the stickier, the better. We complied our list with this important factor in mind. Our research led to the selection of some of the most aggressive and rugged outsoles on the market. We found that nicely separated lugs prevented small stones from becoming lodged and negatively affecting the traction level of runners. Additionally, the material of the outsole itself contributes to the grip of the footwear. A perfect balance translates to excellent grip and stability.
The general consensus is that weight should remain as low as possible when taking the run away from the hardtop, to help with endurance and agility. We made sure that no features were sacrificed in the name of weight to ensure that your next pair of runners still deliver high performance when you need it most.
The most durable models are usually constructed from the ground up (literally). When determining durability we started by taking a look at the outsole material and how well it holds up to the elements and harder than average impacts. Midsoles need to maintain a solid level of comfort while not giving out as more miles are added. The uppers should be comprised of strongly constructed materials. It’s crucial that you can trust your footwear when you might find yourself out in the middle of nowhere, and our research uncovered the most trusted trail runners on the market.
Form and Function
Today’s runners (both men and women) don’t have to choose between style and performance. These shoes aren’t your grandfather’s old leather hiking boots. Everyone likes a personal selection when it comes to choosing what they put on their feet. We made sure that our picks come in a wide variety of colors and styles that fit every runner’s personal sense of style.
Are the trail shoes waterproof ?
With the great outdoors comes the possibility of water; Mother Nature has the tendency of surprising you when you least expect it. We wanted to make sure that our selections were capable of sloshing through mud and splashing in puddles while leaving your feet comfortable and dry. off-road runners should be able to keep water out while still maintaining the breathability that is so important with a higher level of activity.
Other Important Factors To Ponder When Choosing Top Performing Trail Running Shoes
If you’re like most outdoor enthusiasts, you are excited to get out there and take a run through the great outdoors. As you can see from the list provided, you no longer have to depend on a heavy leather hiking boot to give you the protection and support you need when heading out for your next outdoor adventure.
What Kind Of Terrain Will You Encounter on your trail run?
If you are a recreational trail runner, you might typically come across only slightly rocky paths. If this is the case for you, you might want to consider sticking to a trail shoe that best reminds you of your daily road running shoe.
This way, you are provided with some outdoor protection while still maintaining the comfort levels that you are used to when not sticking to the groomed paths. Likewise, if you know that you are going to be coming across a lot of slick, jagged rocks, layers of ice, and steep slopes then you want to choose a trail running shoe that offers a high level of protection such as a rock plate and a toe box guard. After all, if you are miles away from civilization the last thing you want to worry about is your footwear.
Get To Know Your Feet
Another factor to consider can best be summed up in a well known runner’s motto: “Know Thy Feet”. Meaning that if you have supportive needs for example, it’s important that these characteristics are also applied to the particular pair shoe that you select. You’re still going to want your footwear to offer you additional support.
If you have more of a neutral foot type, look for a proper running shoe that has a sole that agrees with your neutral foot type. Runners report that a minimalist design is all the rage now, however we advise you not to select a running shoe based on trends. Rather, select one based on your foot type. If you are unsure, most specialty running stores can provide you with a lot of information on your foot type and even give you gait analysis.
Selecting The Right Size For Your Outdoor Trail Adventures
This is something that is frequently overlooked, especially by novices. Spend some time when selecting the right size of running shoe for you. From the context of selecting a suitable runner, it’s best to ask yourself about how many miles will your runs or hikes be, and how long do you plan to be out there? This is crucial because for both road runners and trail runners alike notice that their feet will swell within a few hours.
Again, this is an area where the motto “Know Thy Feet” Will help you to make a more educated decision. Seasoned runners who know that their feet are going to swell, typically go a half size to a full size larger depending on the severity of their swelling and how many miles they expect to log in when hitting the outdoors.
Know When To Replace Your Shoes
It is recommended for running shoes to be replaced after every three hundred to five hundred miles, trail shoes are a bit different and harder to judge. Most runners have an agreement that 400 to 600 miles is the furthest that you would every want to go on trail runners regardless of how they look. However, keep in mind that seasoned veterans also alternate between two pairs of running shoes.
Take a look at the questions we have compiled below. They will help you in your search for the perfect trail running shoes.
Q: Why should I start Trail Running? What are the benefits?
A: This is not an easy question to answer, But this video is a great introduction to why you should be running on the trails. Words alone would not be enough.
Q: What should I look for when I need a significant amount of grip on wet or excessively rugged terrain?
A: You are going to look for deeper lugs on the outsole; this will make quick work of larger pebbles and stones that you might encounter. Also look for an aggressive tread pattern. Well placed grooves will help with stability on uneven terrain.
Q: I’m going to be running or hiking in wet and muddy conditions. What are some features that can help me?
A: First off, look for a waterproof design. That will be your first layer of protection against the elements. Secondly, find a pair that have features like a mudguard to help keep your feet dry. Gore-Tex liners can be worth their weight in gold in wet conditions. Perhaps something that is not as obvious to novice runners is looking for lugs that are well spaced. This will help the sole release mud more efficiently.
Q: What kind of cushioning can I expect with this kind of running shoe?
A: While there are trail shoes that take cushioning into consideration, don’t expect them to be as cushiony as your normal road running shoes. Typically, off-road shoes have a stiffer sole and hidden plates that protect your feet from rocks and other obstacles that you might come across. Keep this in mind if you surprised by lack of cushioning.
Q: I’m used to providing maintenance to my outdoor gear like my pack, what kind of maintenance should be provided for when it comes to my outdoor footwear?
A: Your going to want to inspect the sole of not just wear, but to rocks or stones that sometimes can remain lodged in-between lugs and grooves. Additionally, just because they may be waterproof or water resistant doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check for moisture build up. Properly air drying your runners well after use will keep them nice and fresh for your next outing. Something that is frequently overlooked: the laces. Before you head out, inspect the laces to make sure they are not damaged or that they won’t snap on you when you need them the most.
Q: I have a pair of top quality road running shoes; can’t I just use those off the road?
A: We can’t recommend that at all. Having footwear that is specifically designed for the task of outdoor trail running is crucial for your safety. Road running shoes simply aren’t made to give your feet and ankle support and stability on rough terrain, or to provide above average grip. Just compare soles and you will be able to tell which you would want to take out there with you. Additionally, road running shoe features that help with ventilation for example, will collect mud, dirt and debris on even light non-technical trail runs
Thanks for reading our guide about the best trail running shoes. Now make the perfect selection for you and hit the paths with confidence, Mother Nature awaits!
Here are some sources that we used while conducting our research
The research would not be successful if not by the help of the following sources;
- A Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running, Healthy living website, Jun 01, 2010 ,
- Trail Running 101 FAQ How-To Wiki-Thingy, Running blogspot, ,
- Choosing A Trail Running Shoe That’s Right For You, Running website, May 23, 2014 ,
- 13 Must-Knows For All Beginner Trail Runners, Running website, May 24, 2014 ,
- 21 Quick Trail Running Tips, Running enthusiast website, May 23, 2014 ,
- If the Shoe Fits: The anatomy of a trail shoe and how to select the best fit , Running website, May 16, 2013 ,
- Trail Running 101: The Complete Guide to Running Trails, Running enthusiast website, ,