Trail running is a sport on the move, if you’ll pardon me for opening with a pathetic pun. It’s challenging, exhilarating, satisfying, and highly effective as part of your training regimen. From the casual jog along a wooded path to the charged world of competitive trail running, the activity can be casual and relaxing or serious sport.
Ditching the gym, track, or roads for the trail is great for myriad reasons, not the least of the cross-training potential;: when you run on a boring ol’ treadmill or flat city streets, you’re not engaging nearly as many muscles as you can when vaulting roots and fallen limbs, deftly leaping from stone to stone across a rushing book, and navigating the ups and downs that come with a great nature trail.
Of course, there’s the another big bonus that comes with a trail run: nature! Or at least the outdoors, assuming you’ve chosen a trail of an urban/suburban nature. Getting away from your job for an hour or two of bucolic aerobics is a great way to recharge your mental and emotional batteries while staying fit and trim.
But unlike with treadmill or sidewalk, where most any running shoe will do just fine, with trail running, you need to carefully pick the right footwear both for your own feet and for the conditions you’re likely to encounter on the trail.
Nothing replaces being able to try on for fit and feel, but here are 12 new styles we love this season. We size-tested each one at 11.5/45 (U.S./Euro).
La Sportiva Lycan – $115
This shoe is at home in the mountains and is ideal for hard, rocky terrain. The sticky rubber sole provides grip when needed while the roomier toe box allows for maximum comfort for long runs off-road. Fit: true to size.
Saucony Peregrine 8 – $120
This latest iteration of the long-running Peregrine model may be its most significant in recent years. The PWRTRAC outsole makes it ideal for groomed trails, aggressive off-roading, and even some road running (especially if it saves some time lacing up and just running to the nearest trail). Fit: true to size.
Salomon XA Elevate – $130
It’s no surprise that the XA franchise is one of the top-selling on the market, and the XA Elevate is no exception. The Premium Wet Traction Contagrip provides excellent performance in a variety of conditions and the shoes fit like a glove. Fit: true to size.
Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 – $140
Inspired by Karl Meltzer, who has won more 100-mile trail races than anyone and holds the record for the fastest completion of the Appalachian Trail, this fully redesigned iteration of the Sppedgoat features improved fit, stability, and durability, as well as a wider toe box. Fit: true to size.
SCARPA Spin RS – $135
This lightweight shoe is designed for logging high mileage off-road. The new Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole boasts Lightbase technology to help reduce shoe weight. All of the features of this shoe are designed with durability and comfort on the forefront all while keeping the weight to a minimum. Fit: bumped up 1/2 size (45 to 45.5) on the Euro chart (11-2/3 on the U.S. chart).
Merrell MQM Flex GTX – $140
Moving Quickly in the Mountains (MQM) is the mantra behind this hybrid shoe with Gore Invisible Fit, which provides lightweight, breathable protection feels like a shoe without membrane protection. Fit: true to size.
Brooks Caldera 2 – $140
The Caldera 2 is designed to keep the runner moving forward. The midsole (featuring BioMoGo DNA) is stacked high to provide responsive cushioning thus promoting a steady side for the long haul. An integrated Gaiter Tab on the heel secures gaiters with a hook and loop. Fit: true to size.
Vasque Trailbender II – $130
The Trailbender II is built for the long haul with a near seamless upper that maximizes comfort. The sole has AxisGrip for high performance grip for a variety of trail conditions. This upgraded version of its predecessor provides the most cushioning of any shoe in the brand’s 2018 line. This makes it ideal for racking up mega miles in comfort. Fit: true to size.
inov-8 Parkclaw 275 – $130
This hybrid shoe is ideally suited for road to trail and back. The Powerflow+ midsole delivers 10 percent better shock absorption and 25 percent better energy return than standard midsoles. Fit: true to size.
adidas Terrex Agravic GTX – $160
The GORE-TEX membrane is ideal for wet conditions and the Continental Rubber outsole provides extraordinary grip regardless of terrain. The shoe features adidas-brand “boost” cushioning for more responsive output. Fit: true to size.
Altra King MT 1.5 – $140
The King MT is named draws inspiration (and its name) from one of the highest and roughest peaks in Utah. The outsole features Vibram MegaGrip with 6 mm lugs for control on varying terrain. As has become the benchmark of Altra, this shoe also features the FootShape toe box for natural foot positioning. Fit: true to size.
Topo Hydroventure – $130
A single-layer eVent waterproof membrane makes this shoe the lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market. We haven’t found one to challenge the company’s claim and there is definitely not one is this roundup. A full-length flexible rock plate protects your feet while delivering a smooth responsive ride. Fit: true to size.