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 creek, and navigating the ups and downs that come with a great nature trail.
Of course, there’s another big bonus that comes with a trail run: nature! Or at least the outdoors, assuming you’ve chosen a trail of urban or 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. And given the current state of things amidst the pandemic, it’s also a great way to social distance oneself from the crowds.
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. At 19 brands, this is our largest trail running shoe roundup to date and we tested them each so you can select the style that’s best for you. Note: We size-tested each one at 11.5 U.S. (45 Euro) unless otherwise noted. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order by brand name.
Altra Timp 2
What was lightweight just got lighter. Altra has reduced the weight of the Timp 2 over its predecessor. Also, thanks to the sticky MaxTrac rubber outsole, the shoe will grip even under the wettest of circumstances. As has become the benchmark of Altra shoes, this shoe also features the FootShape toe box for natural foot positioning. Fit: True to size.
Arc’teryx Norvan LD 2
While more widely known for their premium outdoor gear, their shoes are beginning to make waves in the trail running community. The second iteration, the Norvan LD 2 has improved on its DNA to create a lighter successor. The Vibram MegaGrip outsole provides superior traction on challenging terrain. Fit: True to size.
Asics Fujitrabuco Lyte
This latest iteration of the Fujitrabuco is lighter than previous versions thanks to the new lightweight Flytefoam midsole. The brand’s proprietary outsole rubber , Asicsgrip, provides outstanding grip on a variety of surfaces. The lace garage allows laces to be tucked away while on the trail. Fit: True to size.
Brooks Caldera 4
Drawing on its predecessors, the fourth generation of the Caldera, has undergone some significant improvements. Strategically placed mesh improves breathability while a reconfigured midsole and outsole enhance the shoe’s ability to adapt to variable terrain. Fit: True to size.
Dynafit Feline SL
Whether you’re traversing steep, rugged, rocky, or wet terrain, the Feline SL will help you claw your way from start to finish. The shoe’s design was inspired by the paw of the snow leopard to be adaptable to the ever-changing demands of the trail. The quick lacing system ensures a secure fit every time. Fit: True to size.
Where fashion meets function, this vegan casual trail running shoe features the brand’s Peak-to-Pavement outsole. The breathable mesh upper provides a quick-drying solution to damp or humid conditions. Fit: True to size.
Hoka One One Speedgoat 4
Named after Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, who has won more 100-mile trail races than anyone, the Speedgoat 4 (the latest version) is one kickass shoe. This fourth iteration in the Speedgoat line, the updates include updated mesh uppers for enhanced breathability and drainage. And like previous models, the sticky Vibram MegaGrip outsole provides superior traction on even the most extreme surfaces. This cushy shoe is designed for long runs on technical terrain. Fit: True to size.
Inov-8 Roclite G 275
No roundup is complete without the innovation of the Inov-8 line of trail running shoes. And the Roclite G 275 is no exception. It’s the lightest shoe in the Roclite series and features the graphene (G-Grip) outsole that provides exceptional grip for unpredictable conditions. It was also the shoe of choice last year for Kristian Morgan’s attempt to break the Appalachian Trail speed record. And while he failed to break the record in 2019, there is speculation that he will make another attempt in 2020. Fit: True to size.
La Sportiva Jackal
This shoe is at home in the mountains and is ideal for hard, rocky terrain or pretty much anything off-road. The extremely durable and lightweight Jackal features a highly breathable upper for long days on the trail and the rock guard provides protection underfoot. Fit: Went up 1/2-size.
Merrell MTL Long Sky
This shoe is designed to go the distance on technical mountain trails. The Long Sky features a vegan-friendly design and it’s traditional lace closure and internal bootie ensure a glove-like fit right out of the box. The Vibram MegaGrip outsole for providing superior grip under an array of conditions. Fit: True to size.
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5
This may very well be the most colorful shoe in this roundup. However, it’s not a smokescreen for what lies beneath its anatomy. The Fresh Foam midsole delivers superior cushioning for long miles while the Vibram MegaGrip outsole provides durability and protection from everything underfoot. Fit: True to size.
On Cloudventure Waterproof
This is yet another newbie brand to our annual roundup. And while this shoe comes in a non-waterproof model, spring rains make it an ideal option for testing this season. The Swiss brand brings innovation and technology to the Cloudventure. The multiple grip patterns on the outsole ensures extreme control in a variety of conditions while the cushioning provides, dare we say it, cloud-like cushioning underfoot.
Salewa Dropline GTX
While technically classified as a speed hiking shoe, we found the design and qualities to be more than adaptable for trail running. The GORE-TEX lining provides additional protection against the elements. The “speed hiking” qualities in the Dropline make it advantageous for use in rugged terrain. Fit: True to size.
Salomon Sense Ride 3
Salomon makes so many great trail running shoe options it was hard to narrow down to just one. At the end of the day, we settled on the Sense Ride 3 for our daily go-to shoe. The shoes feature the brand’s Quicklace lacing system that quickly and securely cinches down. The ContaGrip outsole provides excellent performance on a variety of surfaces and conditions. Fit: True to size.
Saucony Xodus 10
This recently released addition to the trail series promises a much more comfortable ride than previous models. Aggressive treads paired with cushioned midsole promises comfortable ride from start to finish without compromising grip on whatever terrain you choose to travel. Fit: True to size.
Scarpa Spin Ultra
Scarpa has long held a reputation for making climbing and mountaineering footwear. They have more recently been recognized for pushing the envelope in the trail running shoe arena. Last year, we introduced you to the Spin RS. This year, the Ultra takes the prize as it provides more cushioning than its predecessors while the Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole features Lightbase technology to help minimize shoe weight. Fit: Bumped up 1/2 size (45 to 45.5) on the Euro chart, which is 11 2/3 on the U.S. chart.
Tecnica Origin XT MS
This is Tecnica’s first inclusion in our roundup and we couldn’t have picked a better shoe for its debut. After years of successfully creating ski and hiking boots, the Origin literally creates an entirely new mold in the trail running market. Specifically designed to cater to the individual runner’s weight and gait, this shoe promotes optimization for the runner from the first stride.
The North Face Ultra Traction Futurelight
With several options in the Ultra Trail Collection, we opted to go with the Ultra Traction as it featured the new Futurelight membrane (the brand’s new proprietary breathable waterproof membrane). In addition to the waterproof protection, the shoe is designed to provide superior protection and comfort below the foot with a FastFoam midsole. For those running in a dryer environment but still seeking the ultra traction platform, there is a non-waterproof version in the pipeline.
Topo Runventure 3
I’m always keen to see what new innovations Topo comes out with each year. The Runventure 3 did not disappoint. This zero-drop trail running shoe features an aggressive Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole for extreme durability and traction on a variety of surfaces A rock plate located in the forefoot protects against stone bruises while the drainage ports in the mesh upper quickly disperse the water from creek crossings and damp days on the trail. Fit: True to size.
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