outdoor gear reviews you can trust slogan one line 450w alt 2
outdoor gear reviews you can trust slogan h72
ADVERTISEMENT

The Best Trail Running Shoes

This year's best trail shoes, plus our comprehensive buyer's guide to finding the right pair for you.

All opinions are our own and never influenced by brands. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here's our process.

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.

ADVERTISEMENTOn Running sale

Choosing the best trail shoes can be confusing when you factor in things like ‘type of terrain’, ‘distances’, ‘weather conditions’, and even ‘running styles’. We’re 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 shoes, or you already run trails (including 5km, 10km, marathons, 50k+ ultra marathons, Swim-run or even OCR events like Spartan and Tough Mudder), we’ve shortlisted and picked out this year’s best trail shoes by type.

This trail running shoes buyer’s guide is made up of two parts:

PART 1: Best trail running shoes – this is a list of the best trail shoes for different styles of trail running, distances and types of trails.

As there are so many great trail shoes out there, each category has a winner and some have one or two runners up for you to also consider.

PART 2: Buyer’s Guide – this is a complete guide to choosing the best pair of trail shoes for you, including different types of trails you may run on, heel-to-toe drop, and whether or not waterproof trail shoes are a good idea.

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


Table of Contents

  • PART 1: THE BEST TRAIL RUNNING SHOES
    • All-round trail shoes for men & women
    • For trail running races (up to marathons)
    • Best waterproof trail shoes
    • For running on hard-packed trails
    • Best zero-drop trail runners
    • Best trail runners for hiking
    • Trail shoes for ultra marathons
    • Best for Tough Mudder & Spartan / OCR
    • For Vertical Kilometer (VK) races
  • PART 2: BUYERS GUIDE | HOW TO CHOOSE

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.

Nike Terra Kiger 8

1. Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 8

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

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.

These trail running shoes remind me a lot of the original Pegasus Trail (Peg 36 Trail) which was Nike’s best trail running shoe 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 and React foam midsole is so much better than the other shoes in the Nike Trail range which only offer full React foam. Zoom foam provides much better response and control when navigating technical terrain.

This midsole 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.

The 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 best trail marathon shoes trail and kale

2. On Cloudultra

Drop: 8mm / Weight: 10.41oz (295g) / Support Type: Neutral.

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

The On Cloudultra is On Running‘s best offering for off-road running, and a seriously worthy contribution to the trail running and ultrarunning 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 shoes have been developing super-fast year on year.

The On Cloudultra has answered my calls for an On trail running shoe that can handle technical 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 shoes for distances up to and over the marathon and my current favorite On trail running shoe all-rounder.


Salomon S Lab Ultra 3 Best Fastpacking Gear Guide Trail and Kale

3. Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3

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

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 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 pretty good deal compared to other less-expensive trail shoes which can wear down more quickly.

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 have a built-in gaiter to stop debris from getting in. It’s similar to the gaiter on the Nike Pegasus Trail 2, although it closes around your ankle more effectively in my opinion.

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 ultra running shoes reviews

4. Salomon Ultra Glide

Drop: 6mm / Weight: 9.2oz (260g) / Support Type: Neutral

To learn more, watch my Salomon Ultra Glide review on YouTube.

The Salomon Ultra Glide did a brilliant job of tackling pretty much any type of terrain I chucked at it.

On steep technical downhills, I had total control of my footing and felt very confident in my ability to run hard knowing that the grip on these trail runners would keep me upright.

They’re comfortable out of the box, and fit true to size with Salomon, and other running shoe brands that we review here on Trail & Kale.

I love the Quicklace system for fast adjustments when you need to make them, and as mentioned earlier, the outsole provides formidable grip when you need it.


la sportiva bushido 2 review trail and mountain running trail and kale

5. La Sportiva Bushido 2

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 options when it comes to trail running shoes for hiking.


Inov 8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max Trail and Kale

6. Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 MAX

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 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 some protective, test breathable trail shoes that will give you confidence running at speed over uneven and loose terrain, especially on gnarly descents, then these are a great choice.


nike pegasus trail 4

7. Nike Pegasus Trail 4 – 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 is a high-performance trail running shoe for light, or buffed / hard-packed trails – OH, and also roads because this is a doo-to-trail hybrid 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 high-performance lightweight trail running shoes but may sacrifice a little in cushioning underfoot as a result.

These 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 marathon shoes buyer’s guide.


Salomon S Lab Sense 8 Trail and Kale 2

1. Salomon S/Lab Sense 8

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 6.87oz / Support Type: Neutral.

The second pair of Salomons to make this list, the Salomon S-Lab Sense 8 is my choice as the best for mixed distances of anything up to the trail marathon distance.

Top endurance runners demand lightweight, precision and ground feel.

The Salomon S-Lab Sense 8 is approximately 6.87oz, which is an insanely lightweight trail shoe – much lighter than the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3 included above.

Key features of the Sense 8 include an integrated sock liner and a welded stitch-free upper that fits like a sock, a minimal drop of 4mm, and softer cushioning under the front of the foot than in previous versions.

This is a unisex shoe so if you’re looking for the women’s version, it’s on the same link below.

zappos.com Zappos.com $162.99
out of stock
See Deal
amazon.com Amazon.com See Deal
Last Amazon price update was: 4th July 2022 4:00 pm

Nike Terra Kiger 8

2. Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 8

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

The Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 8 is an excellent all round Nike Trail running shoe hence why it wins the best all-round trail running shoes title.

I was blown away by how well the Terra Kiger 8 handle every type of trail I thrashed it on, and it felt so good I was able to smash my personal best times on many segments of my local trail running shoe test route.

These trail running shoes remind me a lot of the original Pegasus Trail (Peg 36 Trail) crossed with the Salomon S-Lab Sense 8 listed above!

The only reason this shoe sits in second place for racing is because it weighs more than the Sense 8. When you think about the fact it’s $40 cheaper than and performs astonishingly well in it’s own right, however, I’ll let you be the decider on which one is best for you.


HOKA One One Zinal Trail and Kale

3. HOKA ONE ONE Zinal

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 17oz (482g) / Support Type: Neutral

Watch my HOKA ONE ONE Zinal review on YouTube

If shorter trail runs are your thang, then the HOKA Zinals could be your new best trail companions.

These breathable, 100% vegan trail shoes are a lightweight choice, offering a moderate level of cushioning for some great responsiveness when you’re pushing for speed, whether on singletrack or those punishing fire roads.

To help with responsiveness and to provide that feeling of being close to the ground, these HOKA trail shoes also feature a relatively low 4mm heel-to-toe drop.


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 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.

pegasus trail 2 gore tex best waterproof trail shoes Trail Kale

1. Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GORE-TEX (GTX Waterproof)

Drop: 9.5mm / Weight: 11.8oz / Support Type: Neutral.

Nike’s Pegasus Trail 2 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 2 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!


salomon speedcross 5 GTX best fastpacking gear guide trail and kale 800x

2. Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX

Drop: 10mm / Weight: 12oz / Support Type: Neutral.

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

The Salomon Speedcross 5 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 5 GTX is a lightweight trail shoe, especially considering it’s waterproof and offers a very aggressive grip on technical, soft trails.

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 best on running shoes web wide

3. On Cloudventure Waterproof

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 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 FW19 2nd Gen 2019 trail and kale

1. On Cloudventure Peak

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 9.2oz / 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, that’s why I have ranked it as the top choice for smooth buffed trail runs.

On has added some significant new design features to their 2nd Generation Cloudventure Peak!

The new Missiongrip outsole has been improved in terms of ‘trail-feel’, cushioning, grip and durability, all the while maintaining the same lightweight of 260g (9.2oz).

The breathable ripstop upper mesh is still there, albeit redesigned but still weighing next to nothing. The Cloudventure Peak is also a top contender for the Racing Trail Shoe Category above.


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 6

1. Altra Lone Peak 6

Drop: 0mm / Weight: 10.6oz (300g) / Support Type: Neutral.

The Altra Lone Peak 6 is ready to take on any terrain with Altras grippy MaxTrac outsole with TrailClaw canted lugs designed to keep you going without any slips.

The Lone Peak 6’s upper construction and customizable lacing system provides a more secure fit than previous versions, so you can take on the trails with even more confidence.

Altra’s signature FootShape toe boxes allow the toes to relax and spread out naturally and the big toe to remain in a straight position.

As well as being the best zero drop trail shoe on the market right now, these Altra trail runners are also a top pick if you’re looking for wide trail running shoes, as this model is known for having a wide toe box to allow your toes to splay out naturally when inside.

The Altra Lone Peak 6 is a highly popular shoe and deserves a place on this list, especially when considering how well they cater to people looking for trail shoes for wide feet.

It is also a great choice if you’re looking for rugged running shoes for hiking, especially as they also come in a ‘mid’ style which offers more ankle support than the regular low shoe option.


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 by clicking here to jump down to our trail shoes buying guide.

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

  1. La Sportiva Bushido II
  2. Brooks Cascadia 15
  3. Altra Lone Peak 5

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.

The Salomon Speedcross 5, which is on this list below, is another great choice especially if you’re hiking in soft, wet and slippery mud conditions.


Best For Ultra Running

If you love to run huge distances from marathons up to 100-mile ultra marathons and beyond then it’s very important that you have 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 One One Speedgoat 4 Best Fastpacking Gear Guide Trail and Kale

1. Hoka One One Speedgoat 4

Drop: 4mm / Weight: 10.8oz / Support Type: Neutral.

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 4s have some chunky 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 run in for many hours at a time on hard trails.

The Speedgoat 4 are one of the fastest and toughest options out there and our top pick when it comes to the best ultra running shoes.

Brooks Cascadia 15 Trail and Kale

2. Brooks Cascadia 15

Drop: 8mm / Weight: 12oz / Support Type: Neutral.

The Brooks Cascadia 15 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 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 how your feet feel after a run on the more punishing, rocky trails, in particular.

The Brooks Cascadia 15 trail shoes also perform 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.

In addition to the Hoka Speedgoats and the Brooks trail shoes listed above, Salomon’s S-Lab Ultra 3s are also great shoes for ultra running (they’re my top pick as an ‘all-rounder’ for good reason!).


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 shoes are wet?”.

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

Salomon Speedcross 5 best OCR running shoes

1. Salomon Speedcross 5

Drop: 10mm / Weight: 11.3oz / 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 shoes that will perform and endure pretty much anything your throw at them – and they LOVE mud.

The Salomon Speedcross 5 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 s Lab XA Amphib 2 best running shoes for swimrun trail and kale

2. Salomon S-Lab XA Amphib 2

Notice a pattern? Salomon has the OCR trail shoe genre dialed. The Salomon XA Amphib 2 is a true Swim-Run racing shoe designed by and for the athletes in the sport.

It’s fast and super efficient both wet and dry which is why it’s the perfect trail shoe for OCR events.

They drain so well that you’ll be able to wash these off after your race and they will still look and feel new, just as well because they aren’t cheap (and hence being beaten by the Speedcross shoes to top the list).

The Salomon XA Amphib 2 is definitely the best shoe for Swim-run events, if you don’t mind paying that much extra.

I ran 2x Tough Mudders in my Salomon S/Lab Sense SG trail shoes but only because the XA Amphib 2 didn’t exist back then!

This is a unisex shoe so if you’re looking for the women’s version, it’s on the same link below. Here’s a video of one of those Tough Mudders. It’s an old classic: Tough Mudder South West Video.

rei.com Rei.com $89.83
out of stock
See Deal
amazon.com Amazon.com See Deal
Last Amazon price update was: 4th July 2022 4:00 pm

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 best vertical kilometer trail shoes trail and kale

1. La Sportiva VK

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.

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 shoes.

These generally range from between 10mm to 0mm (zero drop trail shoes) and we find that a mid-range heel-to-toe drop of 6-8mm suits most people 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.

Before we talk about zero drop 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 (from heel to toe), whilst still providing protection from the trail or road surface underfoot.

Zero drop trail 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.

Click here to head back up to our recommended zero drop options.

To learn more about barefoot running and how you can practice it, have a read of our easy-to-follow guide: The Freedom of Barefoot Running: How-To Guide.

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 tough to protect the tops of your feet from trail debris and obstacles as trail 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 they may wear down quicker, especially if you wear them on roads, or if you wear trail shoes designed to perform best in soft, wet conditions, on 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 suggest 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.

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’ running shoes are generally comfortable for this type of running, and shoes in this list include both the Nike trail running shoes (Terra Kiger and Pegasus Trail 2).

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

It’s easy to think that 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, with a waterproof trail running shoe you also get a shoe that is 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 on 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 this is the type of running you’ll be doing, head back up to our recommended waterproof trail shoes above.

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.

If you need shoes for these types of events that will drain water, then jump to our recommended shoes for Tough Mudder/Spartan.

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.

Click here to jump back up to our recommended running shoes for hiking.


Now you’ve read the full buyer’s guide, click here to jump back up and see the full list.

NEW TO TRAIL RUNNING or 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.

RELATED POSTS

Nike Trail Running Shoes Compared: Which Are Best?

Everything you need to know about this year's Nike Trail running shoes lineup. Nike Trail Shoes Compared Terra Kiger, Peg Trail, Wildhorse & More!

Trail Running for Beginners: How To Start Trail Running

The trail running for beginners guide: Includes how to trail run, the gear you need to progress, how to find local trails, trail running tips, & much more!

The Best Running Headphones & Wireless Earbuds

The best running headphones, including wireless earbuds, over-ear, and outside-ear bone conduction headphones for running and gym workouts.

47 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.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

TRENDING ON T&K

ADVERTISEMENT

LATEST ON T&K

Get our weekly Newsletter

To round out your week, we'll send you our top-tier gear reviews, buyer's guides, deals & tips every Sunday.

You have Successfully Subscribed!