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The Best Trail Running Shoes [2024]

This year's best trail shoes, plus our comprehensive buyer's guide to finding the right pair for you. All running shoes have been tested by Trail & Kale Editors.

If you’re looking for a shortlist of the best trail running shoes then you’ve come to the right place. We live and breathe trail running and have personally run thousands of miles in hundreds of different trail shoe brands and styles.

Choosing the best trail running shoes can be confusing when you factor in things like ‘type of terrain’, ‘elevation gain/loss’, ‘distances’, ‘weather conditions’, and even ‘running styles’.

Wondering what our top picks for road running shoes are? Read our guide to choosing the best Road Running Shoes, next.

I’m here to demystify the jargon and narrow down the wide range of options when it comes to finding the best trail shoes for you, not just provide you with a list of every trail running shoe currently available.

Whether you are a beginner trail runner and are looking for your first pair of all-round trail running shoes, or you already run trails (including 5km, 10km, marathons, 50k+ ultra marathons, Swim-run, or even OCR events like Spartan and Tough Mudder), I’ve shortlisted this year’s best trail shoes by type.

Matterhorn Ultraks 30k Alastair 2 Trail Kale

I’ll also share the things to think about if you’re researching trail running shoes for hiking or walking, rather than running.

➡ To learn more about the other important trail running gear, read our Ultimate Trail Running Gear Guide, next.

My Trail Running Shoe Top Picks

If you’re short on time and are not able to read my trail running shoe reviews for each model that made it onto this list, here are my top picks:


Table of Contents

This post is split into two parts – Part 1 is our list of best trail running shoes, sorted under various headings that focus on the type of trail running our top picks are best suited for, so be sure to read the entire post.

Part 2 is our guide on how to choose the best trail running shoes for you. After reading Part 2, you’ll be an expert on trail running shoes.


The Best All-Round Men’s and Women’s Trail Shoes

The following are considered to be the best for all mountain/trails, mixed-use, or varied terrain trail running.

HOKA Speedgoat 5 review

1. HOKA Speedgoat 5 ($155)

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10oz / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about these great trail running shoes, read my HOKA Speedgoat 5 review.

The HOKA Speedgoat 5 is quite frankly, a masterpiece of trail running engineering when it comes to combining, comfort with performance and style.

Hoka Speedgoat 5 review for web 2

Named for Karl Meltzer aka “The Speedgoat”, who holds the record for the most 100-mile ultra trail race wins and epitomizes the “go everywhere, run everything” attitude, these Hoka trail running shoes are designed to attack all kinds of technical trail.

The Hoka Speedgoat 5 has some chunky Megagrip Vibram lugs which are designed to be able able to handle very rugged terrain and there’s extra heel support and midfoot lockdown in the upper, which helps provide comfort when running in for many hours at a time on hard trails. I use these for all my ultra running endeavors.

Expect lots of new HOKA trail running shoe reviews coming to Trail & Kale – I’m impressed HOKA, really impressed!

The Speedgoat 5 is one of the fastest and toughest options out there and our top pick when it comes to the best trail running shoes, and they’re only $155! It’s my current go-to trail shoe right now.


Nike Zegama trail running shoes

2. Nike Zegama ($170)

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10.1 oz (286g) / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about these trail running shoes, read my Nike Zegama review.

In this Best Trail Running Shoes Buyer’s Guide, the Nike Zegama stands out for its exceptional performance on technical trails. At $170, it combines a rugged grip, responsive ZoomX cushioning, and a breathable upper for ultimate trail comfort.

The deep, claw-like lugs ensure superior traction across all terrains, while the lightweight design (10.1 oz for a US Men’s size 9) and 4mm drop enhance its responsive feel. It’s an ideal choice for runners seeking a shoe that offers both protection and performance on demanding trails and over longer distances.


hoka mafate speed 4 best trail running shoes

3. HOKA Mafate Speed 4 ($185)

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10.4oz (295g) / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about these great trail running shoes, read my HOKA Mafate Speed 4 review.

The Mafate Speed 4 has that perfect heel-to-toe drop of 4mm and is extremely lightweight considering all the cushioning they have, weighing in at 10.4oz.

The tread on these best trail running shoes is incredibly sticky, and the lugs are deep enough to dig into wet mud and loose trail debris – this means total confidence on steep descents.

HOKA Mafate Speed 4 review Trail and Kale web wm 2

HOKA Running shoes tend to be very cushioned and lightweight, so when they added this aggressive outsole I was so excited because I just knew it would be a winner for me!

In case you hadn’t noticed from our previous content, I’m a trail runner who loves most kinds of trails but particularly loves steep ascents and descents with technical terrain. That’s what really gets my heart racing! 🙂

It also means that during challenging climbs, the Mafate Speed 4 is able to dig into the trail and provide you with the traction required to ascend quickly.

Then there’s the midsole cushioning on these trail running shoes that has just the right amount of protection and comfort underfoot to give trail runners a smooth enjoyable ride when running on the road, and hard-packed trails, while maintaining a very responsive ride with total control.

The stack height is at the level where the cushioning is plentiful, yet there’s none of that lateral roll when running over technical terrain – it’s just a really damn great trail feel!

If you’re a trail runner who wants one of the best trail running shoes available right now, these are for you!


Salomon S Lab Ultra 3 trail running shoes

4. Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3 ($180)

Drop: 8mm / Weight: 10.2oz (290g) / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about them, read my Salomon S Lab Ultra 3 review.

The Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3 is one of those running shoes that’s so comfortable it feels like a road running shoe.

This is to some degree down to the very breathable, lightweight upper and the long-lasting foam that provides soft cushioning and protection for long-distance trail running whether 5k to ultra marathons.

The outsole of these unisex Salomon trail running shoes is built for a wide variety of surfaces, and it really does handle it all very well, whether wet, dry, hard or loose and offers long-term durability.

This shoe is expensive, but when you think about how durable the outsole is, you’re actually getting a great value for money when compared to other less-expensive trail shoes which can wear down more quickly.

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 haa a built-in gaiter to stop debris from getting in. It closes around your ankle very effectively, where some other brands fail to manage with with their built in gaters.

Assuming you’re not looking for a trail running shoe with loads of cushioning, these are excellent running shoes that will do it all.


salomon ultra glide 2

5. Salomon Ultra Glide 2 ($150)

Drop: 6mm / Weight: 11.9oz (337g) for men’s size US 9 / Support Type: Neutral

To learn more about these mixed-terrain ultra shoes, read my in-depth Salomon Ultra Glide 2 review.

The Salomon Ultra Glide 2 is a fantastic choice for trail runners seeking an all-terrain running shoe at a reasonable price of $150.

The redesigned upper addresses the previous version’s minor issues, resulting in an even better fit and performance on steep descents.

One of the standout features of the Ultra Glide 2 is its exceptional Contragrip outsole, which ensures remarkable traction on various surfaces. This shoe is also a great value, offering numerous features at a competitive price point.

Salomon has improved the toe box, providing a more spacious and comfortable fit compared to previous models, and the quick lace system remains reliable and convenient, making it easy to secure the perfect fit and stow away excess lace into the tongues pocket pouch.

Overall, the Salomon Ultra Glide 2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor, offering an enhanced upper design, excellent traction, and a comfortable fit.

It’s a top choice for trail runners looking for a versatile and affordable shoe that will allow you to run longer on the trails.


Nike Terra Kiger 8 trail running shoes

6. Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 8 ($140)

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10.4oz (295g) / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about these great trail running shoes, read my Nike Terra Kiger 8 review.

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 8 is an excellent all round Nike Trail running shoe for fast trail runs or races.

I was blown away by the performance of the Terra Kiger 8 while testing them on our most challenging local trails here in California.

These trail running shoes remind me a lot of the original Pegasus Trail (Peg 36 Trail) which was one of Nike’s best trail running shoes until now because the Terra Kiger 8 is something really special!

It’s not often I get so excited about a trail running shoe, generally every two years a brand will surprise me with a high performer, this year Nike has done it.

The Nike Terra Kiger 8’s hybrid Zoom / React foam midsole is so much better than the other running shoes in the Nike Trail range which only offer full React foam.

Zoom foam provides much better response and control when navigating technical terrain so trail runners who enjoy been fast and nimble on the trails will appreciate the feel of these trail running shoes.

This midsole on these trail running shoes gives a smooth and responsive ride on hard trail surfaces, and its forefoot rock plate gives just the right amount of protection from sharp rocks underfoot.

If you’re a Nike fan and like to run trails fast with a low heel-to-toe drop (4mm), the Terra Kiger 8 is a great pick for running anything up to trail marathon or 50k distances.

These running shoes also climb well and descend even better due to aggressive lugs and very sticky rubber which has been keeping me in total control of my local steep downhill trails.

This is something that many trail shoes out there do not do very well!

If you run fast and light-footed you could absolutely compete in longer ultra-marathons wearing these Nike trail shoes, too.

The $140 price point is also very reasonable for these do-it-all trail running shoes.


On Cloudultra 2

7. On Cloudultra 2 ($180)

Drop: 6mm / Weight: 10.2oz / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about them, read my On Cloudultra 2 review.

The On Cloudultra 2 is On Running‘s best offering for off-road running, and a seriously worthy contribution to the trail running and ultra running arena.

I’m a big fan of On Running due to their consistent ability to innovate when it comes to running shoes and even apparel.

Yes, this running brand has a larger focus on road running, but On’s trail running shoes have been developing super-fast year on year.

The On Cloudultra 2 has answered my calls for an On trail running shoe that can handle uneven terrain extremely well and remain comfortable for many miles on trails or hard surfaces like concrete and tarmac.

When you wear them, regardless of whether on roads or trails, you get a firm yet responsive ride that is confidence-boosting and enjoyable.

These are great running shoes for distances up to and over the marathon and my current favorite On trail running shoe all-rounder.

If you’re a trail runner who loves the fit of the hugely popular On running shoes range, you’ll also love how these feel for running and even hiking.


la sportiva bushido 2 trail running shoes

8. La Sportiva Bushido 2 ($155)

Drop: 6mm / Weight: 10.5oz (298g) / Support Type: Neutral.

For more, read our full La Sportiva Bushido 2 Review.

The La Sportiva Bushido 2 running shoes are great if you want a high-performing shoe with a combination of responsiveness, stability, and comfort with excellent protection and impressive traction.

The Bushido 2 style has been around a while, which is a testament to what a great, reliable, and all-round popular trail shoe La Sportiva has created.

These La Sportiva running shoes provide enhanced cushioning while also providing a stable, lightweight, sticky, and aggressive outsole – the performance and protection on technical terrain is impressive.

These would be a better pick than the Salomon trail shoes listed above if you need that extra protection and stability for running on harder, rockier terrain more frequently.

The La Sportiva Bushido 2 trail shoes are also in our opinion one of the best trail running shoes for hiking, that 6mm drop and support gives you lots of control no matter the speed at which you navigate the trails.


Inov 8 TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300

9. Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 MAX ($195)

Drop: 6mm / Weight: 10.5oz (300g) / Support Type: Neutral

We only have good things to say about these lightweight, rugged-yet-flexy running shoes from Inov-8.

The grip on these ultra-worthy running shoes is the best out there, and when you run in these you can really feel the spring and rebound provided by the graphene-enhanced foam midsole.

If you’re looking for protective, yet breathable trail shoes that will give you confidence running at speed over uneven and loose terrain, especially on descents of technical trails, these are a great choice.


The Best Hybrid Running Shoes (Road To Trail)

HOKA Challenger 7 review

1. HOKA Challenger ATR 7 ($145) | Best Hybrid Running Shoes

Drop: 5mm / Weight: 8.9oz (252g)/ Support Type: Neutral.

For a more detailed look at them, read my HOKA Challenger ATR 7 review.

The HOKA Challenger ATR 7 is a seriously impressive all-terrain that actually does perform well on road surfaces and on a huge variety of trails.

I say “actually does” because so many hybrid running shoes out there just don’t cut it. They’re either road running shoes with a trail running-esq tread slapped on the outsole, or they’re trail running shoes with added cushioning in the midsole.

Hoka has been thoughtful with the Challenger 7 and have managed to pull off a really decent pair of hybrid running shoes that feel incredibly comfortable in the wet yet also perform on most trail surfaces I put them through (even in wet conditions).

The only area they didn’t perform was in deep sticky mud due to the closely packed 4mm lugs on the outsole which had reduced traction when clogged up. Having said that, they wouldn’t be great hybrid running shoes on road surfaces if the lugs were any deeper.

So all in all, for $145, the HOKA Challenger ATR 7 are fantastic hybrid running shoes for the beginner trail runner or experienced level trail runners who like to (or are required to) split their routes between road and trail surfaces but don’t want to compromise on ‘road comfort’, or ‘trail control’.


Nike pegasus trail 4 road to trail running shoes

2. Nike Pegasus Trail 4 ($140) – Excellent for beginners!

Drop: 9mm / Weight: 10.2oz (290g) / Support Type: Neutral.

For a more detailed look at them, read my Nike Pegasus Trail 4 review.

The Nike Pegasus Trail 4 are high-performance trail running shoes for light, or buffed / hard-packed trails – OH, and also roads because this is a road to trail hybrid running shoe.

The 9mm drop forces a more forward-leaning stance which is typical of a running shoe for runners who want to run fast and keep that forward momentum pushing them forward.

The Pegasus Trail 4 is well suited to running fast downhill and they also pack a punch while running uphill due to the aggressive tread on the outsole and that super-cushioned React foam in the midsole.

The React foam midsole protects the bottom of your feet from spiky rocks extremely well too.

The Nike Pegasus Trail’s construction is very durable and personally, I think the design looks great.


Best For Racing (Up To And Including Marathon Distance)

Do you love to run trails FAST over distances spanning 5k to trail marathons?

If so then you need a high-performance lightweight trail racing shoe that delivers on speed but may sacrifice a little in cushioning underfoot.

These trail running shoes are for the speed junkies who like to fly over any type of trails!

SPEAKING OF RACING… if you haven’t read my ultimate 50k and trail marathon training plan/guide, and you’d like to improve your training and racing strategy for the 50k and trail marathon distances, then definitely go have a read!

There’s a lot of great information in there for people new to the 50k/marathon distances, and seasoned racers alike – information that many won’t talk about in order to give themselves the edge over other competitors but I’m a sharer, so go and have a read after absorbing this best trail running shoes buyer’s guide.


HOKA Tecton X 2 review

1. HOKA Tecton X 2 ($225)

Drop: 5mm / Weight: 9.1oz men’s size US 9 / Support: Neutral / Width: Medium

To learn more about these trail racing shoes, read my HOKA Tecton X 2 review next.

The HOKA Tecton X 2 is an excellent choice for trail runners seeking a fast and lightweight shoe that’s 100% race-ready, albeit quite expensive ($225) due to the carbon fiber plate that edges out additional speed.

Its standout features include a PROFLY-X dual-layer midsole with a carbon fiber plate and early-stage meta rocker, which provides exceptional responsiveness and control on the trails.

The new Matryx upper in the Tecton X 2 is not only lightweight and breathable but also incredibly durable. This ensures a comfortable experience while tackling challenging terrain.

The shoe’s overall lightweight design allows for quicker and more agile movements on the trails too.

A gusseted tongue adds to the comfort factor, staying in place during runs and preventing any unwanted distractions to re-adjust, which would be criminal to have to do mid-race.

The HOKA Tecton X 2 boasts a fast, lightweight design with a comfortable and breathable upper, making it perfect for trail runners seeking a shoe that’s ready to tackle race day.


HOKA Zinal 2

2. HOKA Zinal 2 ($160)

Drop: 5mm / Weight: 7.1oz men’s size US 9 / Support: Neutral / Width: Medium

Read my in-depth HOKA Zinal 2 review to learn more.

The HOKA Zinal 2 is a reliable pair of trail running shoes that are extremely lightweight, responsive, and versatile. True to HOKA’s usual sizing, these shoes fit like a glove right off the bat.

A notable feature is the new knit stretch around the upper collar, designed to keep trail debris out and make them a cinch to slip on (and stay on). Weighing in at a mere 7.1 ounces, these shoes aid in reducing leg fatigue, giving you that much-desired connection with the trail over longer distances, and increased speed over shorter runs.

They are also surprisingly cushioned, proving that minimal shoes don’t have to sacrifice comfort – they’re highly responsive, making them an ideal choice for racers too.

The newly designed (and vastly improved over V1) outsole featuring deeper lugs enhances traction considerably, especially during steep downhill runs. Plus, they tackle a range of terrains very well, from asphalt to hard rocky surfaces, forest trails, and loose scree.

The reduced stack height also contributes to a better trail feel and control.

There are, however, the breathability in the upper’s rigid section is not as good as its predecessor, so you may notice this during long runs on very hot days, and while the shoe grips well on steep trails, the absence of deep lugs at the front may limit steep climbing efficiency.

Despite these minor setbacks, the HOKA Zinal 2 is an impressive performer that offers plenty of PROS for the trail-running enthusiast. It’s a shoe that’s ready to accompany you across varied terrains, helping you run with both comfort and confidence.


Best Waterproof Trail Running Shoes

Looking for a shoe that will give you no excuses to go out running during the winter, even on rainy days?

If you need to keep your feet warm and dry, you may need a pair of waterproof trail running shoes, which feature technologies such as GORE-TEX to keep water out while you’re running in wet conditions.

But first – just to be sure – scroll down to our tips on choosing waterproof trail shoes in case you decide not to opt for a waterproof version once you’ve read them.

Nike pegasus trail 4 gore tex

1. Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX ($160) (GTX Waterproof)

Drop: 10mm / Weight: 9oz / Support Type: Neutral.

Nike’s Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX is an excellent waterproof Nike trail shoe and has earned my pick as the best Gore-Tex trail running shoes for wet and cold winter running.

The Pegasus Trail 4 Gore-Tex is a high-performance trail running shoe that feels just as comfortable on the road as it does on the trails, making it a great door-to-trail hybrid running shoe.

They’re great for running on light trails and even road surfaces, and I love how comfortable they are while running fast downhill due to the cushioning in the heel. They also dig in very well while climbing hills.

Nike React foam offers great protection and cushioning underfoot and they are generally a very comfortable fit, in my experience. They are also very reasonably priced for a waterproof trail shoe!

By the way, if you often run in the wet and would like tips on how to dry out your shoes quickly (because even waterproof shoes can get wet inside), read how to dry running shoes the right way.


Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX trail running shoes

2. Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX ($160)

Drop: 10mm / Weight: 11.6 oz / Support Type: Neutral.

This guide would not be complete without the inclusion of this classic wet-weather trail shoe from Salomon.

The Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX is the latest waterproof (Gore-Tex) addition to an extremely popular shoe amongst runners who love to get dirty on the trails.

The Salomon Speedcross 6 GTX is a lightweight trail shoe, especially considering it’s a waterproof shoe and offers a very aggressive grip on technical, soft terrain.

This Salomon trail shoe offers tons of support too, which makes it a popular choice for hikers who don’t want the bulk of a traditional hiking boot and would prefer to wear running shoes for hiking.

And finally, there’s the Quicklace adjustment system that so many people love as it’s so fast and easy to do up and doesn’t come loose as standard running shoelaces can.


On Cloudventure Waterproof

3. On Cloudventure Waterproof ($170)

Drop: 6mm / Weight: 12.2oz / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more read my On Cloudventure Waterproof Review

The On Cloudventure Waterproof trail shoes look so badass and offer excellent cushioning while thrashing the trails.

When wearing these waterproof shoes to test for our more detailed review of these On running shoes, I was able to storm down the hills much faster than usual on harder terrain.

You get the same ‘run on clouds’ feeling wearing these running as you do with the On Cloudultra and On Running’s road running shoes range, but with a much more solid and, of course, waterproof trail shoe specifically designed for running in wet conditions.


Best For Hard Packed Trails

On Cloudventure Peak 3 review

1. On Cloudventure Peak 3 ($160)

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 8.6oz / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more read my On Cloudventure Peak Review

The On Cloudventure Peak is another On trail running shoe, designed for moving fast in the mountains and it delivers on that promise, so long as you’re an experienced trail runner with a lightfooted running form, that’s why I have ranked it as the top choice for smooth buffed trail runs and forest trails.

On has added some significant new design features to their Cloudventure Peak 3!

The Missiongrip outsole has been significantly improved compared to previous versions, with the pods now retired, resulting in better traction and performance on the trails.

Weighing in at just 8.6oz (244g), the Cloudventure Peak 3 offers an impressively lightweight design that excels in climbing gradients of 5-20% with ease. This makes it an ideal companion for challenging trail races.

The shoe’s upper is not only comfortable but also highly breathable, ensuring a pleasant experience during long runs. Its minimalistic design offers a nice ground feel for those who prefer a more natural running experience.

In summary, the On Cloudventure Peak 3 is a top choice for trail runners seeking a lightweight, comfortable, and breathable shoe with a minimalistic design.


Best Zero Drop Trail Running Shoes (Also the Best Trail Shoes for Wide Feet)

If you’ve heard about barefoot running or the use of zero drop running shoes before, then you’ve probably also learned that they come with various benefits.

Click here to jump down to learn more about zero drop shoes or read on to see the shoes.

altra lone peak 8 trail running shoes 2

1. Altra Lone Peak 8 ($140)

Drop: Zero drop shoes / Weight: 9.16oz (259g) / Support Type: Neutral / Cushion: Moderate

The Altra Lone Peak 8 has evolved to tackle any terrain with its upgraded MaxTrac outsole for enhanced grip and stickiness. The TrailClaw canted lugs design ensures you stay slip-free as you navigate those challenging trails.

Featuring a seamless, stitch-less upper construction, the Altra Lone Peak 8 is lightweight and durable (even more lightweight than its predecessor, the Lone Peak 7), allowing you to stay nimble and confident on any terrain. The midsole delivers the perfect balance of responsiveness and comfort to keep you going mile after mile.

Altra’s signature Original FootShape Fit ensures your toes relax and spread out naturally, with the big toe maintaining a straight position.

The wide toe box, a hallmark of the Lone Peak series, allows your feet to splay out naturally, and a ‘wide’ version is also available, making it an excellent choice for wide trail running shoes.

The Altra Lone Peak, a very popular zero-drop shoe, continues to cater to trail runners wanting that spacious wide toe box and those seeking rugged running shoes for hiking.


Best Trail Running Shoes for Hiking

If you’re looking for a pair of trail runners for hiking in then it’s worth considering what features are important to you in a pair of shoes when you’re hiking in them, and you can read more about that in our trail shoes buying guide below.

The best trail shoes for hiking on this list in our opinion are the ever-popular:

  1. HOKA Speedgoat 5
  2. On Cloudultra 2
  3. Salomon Speedcross 6 / Waterproof version
  4. La Sportiva Bushido II
  5. Brooks Cascadia 17
  6. Altra Lone Peak 8

The latter of which are differentiated further from the other shoes on this list due to them also being available in a high-top version (‘mid’) that offers greater ankle protection if worn hiking and running on more rugged trails.


Best Ultra Running shoes

If you love to run huge distances from marathons up to 100-mile ultra marathons and beyond then it’s essential that you have running shoes that will keep your feet comfortable for many hours at a time.

See below for the top trail shoes for ultra running. These trail shoes can handle anything from 50ks to 100 miles and more.

HOKA Speedgoat 5 review

1. Hoka One One Speedgoat 5 ($155)

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10oz / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about these great trail running shoes, read my HOKA Speedgoat 5 review.

Named for Karl Meltzer aka “The Speedgoat”, who holds the record for the most 100-mile ultra trail race wins and epitomizes the “go everywhere, run everything” attitude, these Hoka trail running shoes are designed to attack all kinds of technical trail.

The Hoka Speedgoat 5 has some chunky Megagrip Vibram lugs which are designed to be able able to handle very rugged terrain and there’s extra heel support and midfoot lockdown in the upper, which helps provide comfort when running in for many hours at a time on hard trails.

The Speedgoat 5 is one of the fastest and toughest options out there and our top pick when it comes to the best ultra running shoes.


Brooks Ghost 15

2. Brooks Cascadia 17 ($140)

Drop: 8mm / Weight: 11.4 oz (323g) / Support Type: Neutral.

To learn more about these trail running shoes, read my Brooks Cascadia 17 review next.

The Brooks Cascadia 17 are especially comfortable trail shoes for hard, rocky trails but will perform across most trail types on account of their excellent grip – some of the best grip out of all the running shoes in this buyer’s guide!

I find myself pushing harder on the downhill sections when wearing these trail shoes due to the extra cushioning, which makes such a difference how your feet feel after a run on the more punishing, rocky trails, in particular.

The Brooks Cascadia 17 also performs well when running on road sections, very handy when it’s hard to avoid roads during a run, such as when you have to run to a trailhead.

There are very good reasons why Brooks Cascadia trail shoes have been around for so many years and are so very popular among trail and ultra runners.

They also make a great choice if you’re looking for trail sneakers for hiking in, on account of the excellent cushioning and stability they offer.


Best For Obstacle Course Racing Like Tough Mudder & Spartan Events

The two most important things to think about when choosing a trail running shoe for mud run and OCR-type events are: “Will water pass through the shoe and will it dry off quickly?” and “Is the grip good enough for thick mud or the obstacles when the running shoes are wet?”.

These running shoes are in our opinion the best for OCR that meets these criteria.

Salomon Speedcross 6

1. Salomon Speedcross 6 ($140)

Heel to toe drop: 10mm / Weight: 10.5oz / Support Type: Neutral.

The Salomon Speedcross range has long been a popular shoe amongst runners who love to get dirty on the trails, but also for hikers who don’t want to wear heavy hiking boots.

To anyone looking for a lightweight trail running shoe for hiking in, as an alternative to a hiking boot, I always point them towards the Salomon Speedcross.

This is why I rate these Salomon trail shoes as the best for Spartan and Tough Mudder OCR courses.

They’re workhorse running shoes that will perform and endure pretty much anything your throw at them – and they LOVE mud.

The Salomon Speedcross 6 promises all the same features as the beloved Speedcross that came before it if you’ve ever worn its predecessors, with even more grip, even more stability and even more dynamic uppers.


Salomon Amphib Bold 2

2. Salomon Amphib Bold 2

Notice a pattern? Salomon has the OCR trail shoe genre dialed. The Salomon Amphib Bold 2 is a true Swim-Run shoe.

This is a summer sneaker ready for water adventures AND also a water shoe you can run in.

I like how you can collapse the heel to wear it like a slide, or use the Quicklace system and take it for a run.

They are very lightweight (7.4oz), quick-drying, have a breathable mesh and lugs that drain well too. They’re basically your best choice right now if you love to play on land and in water, on the same day.


Best For Vertical Kilometer (VK) races (uphill trail running)

A Vertical Kilometer trail race is an uphill mountain running race, which ascends approximately 1000 meters (3,300ft) while covering a distance of no more than 5km (3.3 miles).

The spelling is often referred to as a ‘VK’ or ‘VKM’. These are a popular category of mountain running race in Europe but anyone can get into uphill trail running as a hardcore niche!

la sportiva vk

1. La Sportiva VK Boa

The La Sportiva VK is a mountain running shoe created specifically for Vertical Kilometer endeavors and other uphill running challenges.

This shoe was designed in collaboration with the VK world record holder – La Sportiva Mountain Running athlete Urban Zemmer, who knows a thing or two about running uphill up the side of mountains.

This purpose-built lightweight shoe is specifically for short, steep trails and our top choice for Vertical Kilometer style running.

This La Sportiva trail shoe a snug-fitting shoe with seamless uppers to hug your feet as you go, although designed to be snug, it’s recommended that you go half a size up to get a better fit.

The toe cap and rock-guard at the forefoot offer rock protection while the lightweight rubber sole helps you conquer steep trails, quickly.

The versatile tread will help you get your footing on rocks and mud alike, two very common terrains on a VK.


Buyer’s Guide: Choosing Your Next Pair of Trail Shoes

Before you choose to buy a pair of trail runners, it’s worth learning about the key features of trail shoes, how they differ from road running shoes and which of those features are likely to be most important to you.

Alastair Running in Bend Oregon Why you should take your phone running
Control, response, and grip make light work of cornering on the trails

As trail and ultra runners we at Trail & Kale have personally tested many different brands and styles of running shoes.

We’ve run in everything from wide zero-drop trail shoes such as Altras to rugged and cushioned trails shoes such as Brooks Cascadia.

We’ve also tested countless pairs of Nike Trail and Salomon trail running shoes, including lightweight and minimal options through to waterproof gore-tex trail shoes designed for wet and slippery trail conditions.

Using this experience over many years of trail running, we have put together this buyer’s guide to help you find a pair you’ll love to run in – and if the guide doesn’t answer your question, ask us in the comments!


Buyer’s Guide contents


Trail vs road running shoes

The key difference between trail and road running shoes is that trail shoes are built to be more rugged and durable.

They have to be able to keep you on your feet when navigating uneven, often slippery and loose terrain, including steep inclines and descents.

The key features of trail shoes, as well as more on how they differ from road shoes are explained below.

Grip and traction in trail shoes

The most noticeable difference between trail and road running shoes is that trail shoes are designed to have varying degrees of textured grip and knobby lugs designed to help you achieve and maintain traction when running off-road.

The type of grip and traction varies between the different types of trail shoes depending on what terrain they are designed to be used on.

The all-round best on this list such as the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3 and the La Sportiva Bushido 2s are designed to be good at all terrains other than the most extreme.

On the other hand, if you’re going to be running through slippery muddy conditions regularly, then a trail shoe with a more aggressive, sticky outsole like the Salomon Speedcross is going to be a better choice.

We find this style doesn’t hold up as well (or last as many miles) if worn to run regularly on hard, rocky terrain due to the softer rubber used to produce the grip on the outsole.

Trail shoe stability, rock plates, and cushioning

I mentioned above that these shoes are designed to help keep you upright!

What this means when it comes to design is that they generally have a wider, firmer base than road shoes to provide a more stable platform underfoot, reducing your chances of rolling an ankle or losing balance when stepping on uneven ground.

The ‘midsole’ of a pair of trail shoes is typically stiffer than road shoes, with less flex – and some trail shoes have a ‘rock plate’ built into this part of the shoe, which adds underfoot protection when running on rocky terrain.

When it comes to cushioning, trail shoes generally have less ‘soft’ cushioning than road running shoes.

Most people need that cushioning when running on roads, to protect from the repetitive punishment your body receives from running on harder, unnatural concrete and tarmac surfaces.

Cushioning is important but needs to be more ‘responsive’ so you can feel the ground underfoot and be able to remain light-footed and adaptable if it’s uneven or loose/slippery terrain.

Heel-to-toe drop

Heel-to-toe drop is the height differential between where your heel and toe areas sit within your trail running shoes.

These generally range from between 0mm (zero drop trail shoes) to 10mm and we find that a mid-range heel-to-toe drop of 4-8mm on trail running shoes suits most trail runners by offering the sweet spot between cushioning on rugged trails and ground-feel so you can remain responsive to the terrain you’re running on.

I’m a trail runner who prefers a drop of around 4-6mm as it feels most natural when running up and downhill, and it’s always better to be running closer to your natural biomechanics as possible rather than raising your heel up to an unnatural height.

Before we talk about zero drop trail running shoes, let’s talk about barefoot running.

Sometimes referred to as minimal running, barefoot running is the art of re-aligning your running style to a more natural and efficient one, because people didn’t always wear cushioned shoes (or any shoes at all).

The difference between barefoot running and running in zero drop running shoes is that zero drop running shoes allow you to run with a zero drop (heel to toe drop of 0), whilst still providing protection from the trail or road surface underfoot.

Zero drop trail running shoes are not for everyone, but if you are looking for something different or really like that style of running without having your heel sit higher than your toes in the shoe, then these are definitely something to try out.

To learn more about barefoot running and how you can practice it, have a read of our easy-to-follow guide on how to try barefoot running.

Breathability

Both types of running shoes are designed to be breathable, i.e. they should allow your feet to ‘breathe’ and moisture to escape.

That said, road running shoes are generally made of lighter, more open-knit fabrics as they are not required to be as durable to protect the tops of your feet from trail debris and obstacles as trail running shoes.

Trail running shoe durability

As mentioned above, trail shoes are designed to be more durable when it comes to the fabric and protection offered in the upper (the top of your feet), toe area (to protect your toes from kicking rocks and roots), and rock-plate underfoot.

The outsoles, being the grippy sole that hits the trail, are generally made out of softer, grippier rubber than road running shoes.

This means that trail running shoes’ outsoles may wear down quicker, especially if you wear them on roads, or if you wear trail running shoes designed to perform best on soft terrain, wet conditions, or hard, rocky terrain.

Can you wear trail shoes on the roads and pavement?

As a general rule, because of the durability of the outsoles, we do not recommend you wear them for running on pavements for your normal runs if you don’t plan to run on a trail at all, however, most styles are perfectly fine and comfortable when worn on roads for short periods of time.

If you’re a trail runner, wearing trail shoes on pavements is inevitable at some point because you may have to run on a road to get to a trail or on a route that is mixed terrain.

Running shoes described as being good ‘door to trail’, ‘hybrid’, or ‘road to trail running shoes’ are generally very comfortable for this type of running. Scroll up to our list see our favorite road to trail running shoes right now.

Do I need waterproof trail running shoes (Gore-Tex)?

If you’re going to be running on trails and getting your feet wet then you are best off buying Gore-Tex, waterproof trail running shoes like the On Cloudventure Waterproof or the Salomon Speedcross GTX version.

However, most trail running shoes that are waterproof are generally a little heavier, stiffer and less breathable than the non-Gore-Tex alternative, and this can mean that the shoes take longer to drain water if they get submerged.

Generally, we only wear waterproof styles for running in cold, exceptionally wet and/or snowy conditions where we need to keep our feet warm and we don’t want water getting into our shoes.

If we are running in warmer conditions then generally regular off-road running shoes that are more breathable and drain more quickly are a better choice.

Many trail races may have river crossings but OCR events like Tough Mudder and Spartan will most definitely have them.

Can you wear them for hiking?

Wearing trail running shoes for hiking is becoming a popular choice amongst people wanting to do faster, more lightweight hiking in particular, although people interested in thru-hiking and keeping overall weight to a minimum may favor trail runners over hiking shoes or boots especially if you are one of those people that likes to hike fast.

Off-road running shoes tend to be overall lighter and more breathable than chunkier hiking shoes and boots so they offer some comfort advantages, especially when worn hiking in summer months when wearing very breathable shoes helps keep your feet happy and dry.

The downside to wearing them for hiking is that by comparison, they’re likely to wear down quicker than a pair of hiking shoes or boots worn for the same distances, as their outsoles tend to be made of softer rubber.

For most people, the best running shoes for hiking are going to offer a good amount of cushioning and stability support, on the basis that your steps are going to each take all of your weight as well as the weight of whatever you are carrying in your hiking backpack, so in this case, minimal running shoes are probably not the best choice.

In addition to the cushioning and support, running shoes best suited to hiking tend to be the more durable, rugged trail shoes with features such as a solid rockplate underfoot and enhanced toe protection to protect your toes if you kick a rock or root (for example) when hiking.


Now you’ve read the full buyer’s guide, scroll back up and see the full list.

NEW TO TRAIL RUNNING or PREFER TO RUN ON ROADS? Read our Trail Running Guide for Beginners next – and if you enjoy running on roads too, then our Best Road Running Shoes Buyer’s Guide is for you.

Alastair
Alastairhttps://www.trailandkale.com
Hey, I'm Alastair and I'm totally obsessed with discovering the latest, greatest & coolest gear for outdoor pursuits. Learn more about Trail & Kale, and everything we stand for as an outdoor gear & healthy foods publication.

49 COMMENTS

  1. I’m on my 3rd pair of Speedcross 4s and absolutely love them. However I’m starting to get metarsal bruising in my left foot. I’m in AZ and as you know it’s very rocky here. I was looking at a pair of Hokas but not sure which ones to go after. The Speedgoats? The Stinson atr because of the added stability in the uppers? Also not a fan of the Bushidos. Altra lone peaks were way too wide and felt very sloppy. I love the fit and stability of the Speedcross but I think they are just not padded enough for the terrain I’m on. Thanks and great read!

    • Hi Shaun,

      Thanks for dropping by!

      The Speedcross are excellent, I agree. Have you tried Merrell by any chance? I think you may enjoy the comfort, responsiveness and grip of the new Agility Peak Flex 3 (I’m going to be reviewing it in full this week) – It’s this one here: http://bit.ly/2UJygRz

      Best,
      Alastair

  2. Dear Alastair,
    what about the Terraultra 260 as a versatile long distance shoe (approx. 40-60km), enough cushion ? Or do you have a comparison shoe cushion-wise) ? Inov 8 is quite harsh in hard ground after my Experimente…
    Thank you, Ingo

    • Hi Ingo!

      It should be good for that distance, but my top choices for that distance right now would be the La Sportiva Bushido 2, or the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 2 (both in this list, and great shoes).

      Do you have any experience with them?

      -Alastair

  3. Hi and thank you for the fast andere…the Salomon is too narrow, but I tried the Bushido 1 lately and was really impressed. As the Bushido 2 seems to be Note flexible, I might give it a try, good review of yours.
    Kind regards from Germany, Ingo

  4. The Lone Peak is a shoe I really like but the midsole is dead after 150 miles. So basically I’m looking for a replacement. The Terraultra has way less cushion I suppose, right ?
    Thank you, Ingo

    • I’ve only worn my new Terraultra G 260 for shorter runs so far (I’ve worn Lone Peak 4.0’s for a 50K), but the amount of cushioning in those Inov8’s is surprising. Although the stack height listed online is quite low, it doesn’t feel like it when I’m running in them. The midsole almost feels just like a firmer version of the Lone Peaks; I didn’t even notice that it was thinner. The wide toebox also gives them somewhat of an Altra-like feel. I’m interested to see how they feel over longer runs.

  5. Hi, I’ve signed up for Tough Mudder classic, and need guidance on which shoes to buy. I suffer from compartment syndrome in my calves, have had operation to relieve but still use insoles. Any advice on which shoes would give best support and comfort would be great.

    • Hi Neil!

      The Salomon Speedcross 5 is an excellent shoe for Tough Mudder because they have such good grip. Perfect for deep mud (like the mud mile) and also for Everest when you may be attempting it while your shoes are wet. They also have great support and drain well. That would be my choice!

      It’s on this list in the bottom section ‘Running Shoes For Tough Mudder & Spartan Events’. Have a great time at Tough Mudder! 🙂

      -Alastair

  6. Hi,
    I’ve been running in the Nike Terra Kieger 4 which I’ve really liked, mostly 15-30km run range. They need replaced now and I just cant decide if I should go with the new terra kiger 5 or try something else? Have been looking at the cascadia’s, salamons or new balance hierro as options. Any thoughts?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Dan,

      I think if you’ve been enjoying the Kiger 4 then you should really like the extra improvements Nike have made to the 5. The Cascadia 13 is a great shoe too though, and I’m always enjoy running in Salomon shoes. I have to say though, my current favorite is the La Sportiva Bushido 2.

      Hope you find your next shoe, let me know what you go for and how you get on with them.

      -Alastair

  7. Hello! I’ve signed up for the Beaverhead 55km ultramarathon and am needing a pair of trail runners. I love Nike pegasus turbo’s for road running, do you have any suggestions?

  8. Hi I am running the tough Mudder and just bought HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3 Trail-Running Shoes. I seen the recommendations in the article but those shoes just don’t have the same feel as the Hokas. Do you think I made a mistake and the Hokas will not drain well enough after the water obstacles? Do you think they will be to heavy?

  9. Hi! Thanks for the article. I live in Costa Rica and there’s micro-climate every 3-5 miles. I mostly run 10-25k, I’ve been using the Altra Superior 4.0 but now I’m looking for a replacement. I’m looking for something that performs well in rough dry climates to a mid mud type of terrain with rain sometimes. PS. I have a wide feet and tends to swallow after a while. Thanks!

  10. Hi there, thanks for the in depth reviews – they are so valuable! I was wondering if the Adidas TERREX AGRAVIC XT MEN’S TRAIL didnt make the list, or if you haven’t finished the long term review for it?

    • Hi James,

      I’m going to be reviewing the Agravic XT very soon but unfortunately I don’t think it will be making it onto our ‘best trail running shoes’ list due to the their stiffness in the upper and outsole.

      Alastair

  11. I am on my 3rd pair of ON Cloudventures (the second pair with the new, more square pods on the bottom) – they are my go to for muddy, technical trails and races with variable surfaces (I just ran a 25 mile race that combined rooty single track, grass, gravel and even a little road). I’ve had people ask me if the pods get mud trapped in them but I have not found that to be the case at all – you might hear a mild “squish” for a few seconds after coming out of a bog or through a creek, but both the pods and the shoe itself drain quickly. The longest race I have run in them is 50 miles and I felt supported throughout. I definitely find that I feel more confident on steep descents with these than with other trail shoes I have worn – the pods seem to “grip” the slopes well.

  12. Hi Alastair,

    I am looking for a versatile trial shoe that is suitable for marathons and ultras.
    I have participating in a 40 mile ultra later this month in Worcestershire which will cover some road running, farmlands, hills, meadows etc.
    I typically have a low arch, medium/over pronation.
    I was looking at a pair of Inov8 Roclite 305 but can’t seem to find a pair in my size, so have been looking at the Trialroc 285 GTX and Nike Pegasus 36 GTX. Ideally looking something at an affordable price.
    Also any recommendations on road shoes would be great as well- I bought a pair of Adidas UltraBoost ST six months ago however the outsole rubber on both shoes have already worn and split so they are on their last legs.

    Thanks
    Dave

    • Hey Dave,

      The all-round shoe That I’m living right now is the Pegasus 36 Trail. It drains well if you do get soaked through. The GTX version is also a great show and waterproof, but the weatherproofing comes at the cost of a little extra flexibility. Both are very durable and relatively well prices when you look at the competition.

      And the road shoes I love right now are the On Cloudflow(also reviewed on the site) and the Pegasus 36. Good luck in your Ultra!

      -Alastair

    • I can’t wait to find out! They will be arriving in the mail early next week and I’ll be spending a lot of time on the trails testing them. Watch this space…

      -Alastair

  13. Thanks for a great post. Having used Altra now for a few years – Its hard to be able to consider anything else. I was on Vivo before, but love the cushioning now on Altra. I’m not convinced of the quality of Altra. Anything similar to recommend. Wide, zero drop is a must.

  14. Cheers for the round up. Personally get on well with Merrell but not tried the Agility Peak Flex 3, will keep an eye out for them. Always find that the uppers go on my shoes (of all brands) any that were stand out in terms of durability? Be interested to hear the comunities views on this one.

  15. Hi, which trail shoe would you recommend for running trail half marathons and 30ks? I just switched to trail running from roads so this is my first pair of trail running shoes. I’m thinking Nike Pegasus Trail or the Salmon Sense 8? Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

    • Hi Hannah!

      The S-Lab sense 8 is a great shoe but you may feel it is a little minimal if you’re just switching to trail, and so you may prefer a shoe with more cushioning like the Pegasus Trail 2 or even the Brooks Cascadia 15!

      -Alastair

  16. Hello Alastair,

    First of all I would like to thank you and appreciate your efforts for making things easier for runners with your detailed reviews. I love to visit your site often and always read your reviews before buying and am happy with the decision. I have used Nike Pegasus Trail (1st version) which was top ranked and really loved that shoe and is my go to shoe (even now and that too for road running).

    Now I am looking for another road-to-trail shoe that can be used for 50K+ to longer distances (maybe up to 100 miles as I plan to do one in a year or so). After reading reviews I kind of narrowed down to few shoes and somewhat confused and need advice. The ones I selected are On Cloudultra , Salomon Ultra Glide/S-Lab Ultra 3, Brooks Cascadia 16, and Nike Pegasus Trail 3. I am based out of India and a lot of ultra/trail runs involves roads, gravel, forest and good elevation. Also I cannot train a lot on trails as I don’t have many options in Mumbai where I belong but still would use these on road to get used to. But the events that I plan to run are ultras & trails with some ultras being completely on road. So basically I won’t be using these trail shoes for training (except sometimes) and would be used for primarily trail race events only. While ON & Salomon S-Lab are expensive, they seem innovative & great options, whereas the Pegasus & Cascadia are better in terms of cost. What would you suggest based on my requirements.

    What’s your suggestion for 100k race that’s completely on road. Does any of the above choice fits in for this or I should be buying another shoes. Kindly suggest.

  17. Hi Alastair!

    I am running my first ultra marathon – 50 miles in Squamish, Canada. So lots of rocks, roots and ascents and descents. I currently run marathons in the Saucony Endorphin Speeds. Any suggestions for a trail runner?

    thanks!

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