This review first appeared in the August issue of Competitor Magazine.
Written by: Mario Fraioli
Trail running’s popularity is blowing up all across the country and the number of shoes built specifically for this fast-growing form of exercise is also on the rise. Many top footwear manufacturers now offer trail or all-weather versions of some of their most popular road models, while niche brands that cater to die-hard trail lovers are making products exclusively for off-road adventurers.
Competitor’s in-house testing team took 12 of the most rugged all-terrain running shoes to the trails and offered feedback using our Fit, Feel and Ride shoe review system. Research by Benno Nigg, a noted biomechanist and running shoe expert at the University of Calgary, suggests that athletes are less likely to become injured when they choose running shoes based on overall comfort: how well they fit your foot, how good they feel when you stand in them and how smoothly they ride during a run.
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A variety of factors affect how comfortable running shoes will feel, and while trying on the shoes and running in them is the best way to hone in on the right pair, you can make the weeding-out process more efficient by using the feedback provided by our experienced team of testers. Happy Trails!
Salomon Speedcross 3--$125
www.salomon.com 9.9 oz Fit / Snug through the heel, the Speedcross 3 opens up in the toe box to provide a comfortable fit for a variety of foot types. “The drawstring-style laces helped create an adaptable fit,” remarked one tester. Feel / “I always felt lighter on my feet in these shoes,” said one tester. In fact, testers across the board were impressed with the lightweight feel when running. With a non-restrictive but protective upper, these shoes will feel good on a variety of feet. Ride / With a protective outsole, soft landing and smooth transition, these shoes tested well on diverse topography. “These shoes provided a springy ride. The plastic spikes gripped the terrain well and helped provide balance on the trail,” said one tester.
Montrail Rogue Racer --$110
www.montrail.com 7.4oz Fit / The Rogue Racer wraps the foot like a glove. Most heels fit securely in the shoe, but some testers wished they had a little more room in the toe box. “These felt a little tight on the top of my foot and I needed to wear a thinner sock when running in them.” Feel / “This shoe felt extremely lightweight and fast,” raved one tester. Runners looking for a soft landing will need to look elsewhere, but those who like to feel the ground beneath them will enjoy this low-profile off-road racing shoe. Ride / Testers liked the shoes’ flexibility and fast transition: “It’s the fastest, most nimble trail race shoe I have ever worn, yet solid enough to use as a daily trainer,” said one tester. However, it’s lacking in forefoot protection, making this shoe inappropriate for the most technical of trails.
Brooks Ghost GTX--$120
www.brooksrunning.com 10.1oz Fit / “They felt great when I put then on—very comfortable and roomy—but I noticed my foot started to slide around when I ran at faster paces,” commented one tester. While some testers enjoyed the roomy fit of the Ghost, others had a hard time adjusting to the extra volume through the midfoot of the shoe. Feel / The GTX, which features the same cushioning technology as the road version of the Ghost 4, was the softest shoe we tested for this review. One tester said, “These felt like a heavily-cushioned road shoe.” A good option for heavier runners or those who prefer a very forgiving feel underfoot. Ride / Featuring a flexible midsole and not overly aggressive outsole, the Ghost rides more like a road shoe than any of the other shoes we tested. The Gore-tex upper makes this shoe a great option for inclement weather and winter road running. Not suitable for technical downhill running or challenging terrain.
Brooks Adrenaline ASR 8 --$110
www.brooksrunning.com 9.9oz Fit / Highlighted by an overall snug fit, the ASR 8 was a favorite of testers with narrow-to-average foot types, who were impressed with how well the shoe held their foot. One tester noted the shoe fit just as well at mile 70 as it did at mile one. Feel / “They felt good right out of the box,” said one tester. Weather-resistant materials add some stiffness to the upper, but the shoe received high praise for its comfortable step-in feel, lightweight and balanced cushioning. Ride / It looks like a trail shoe, rides like a road shoe and performs like both. The ASR 8 offers a well-cushioned landing for heel strikers, plenty of mid-foot support and a smooth transition to toe-off—much like its award winning cousin, the Adrenaline GTS 10. With a slightly more aggressive outsole, this shoe is a solid choice for wet roads and entry-level off-road terrain.
K-Swiss Blade Max Trail--$130
www.k-swiss.com 12.2 oz Fit / Featuring a generous, but not too roomy toe box, this shoe provides a snug midfoot wrap and secure heel fit. Average to wide-footed runners will enjoy the balanced fit. Feel / Testers were impressed with the forgiving feel underfoot and how well the shoe transitioned from pavement to trail. Although it’s not the lightest shoe we reviewed, testers commented on how light the shoes felt on their feet. Ride / “It rode like a road shoe with snow tires; it would also be perfect for snowy road runs in the winter,” remarked one tester. With a flexible midsole and a rock-stop plate, the Blade Max Trail provides a smooth ride with enough protection for small rocks, roots and other off-road obstacles.
Asics Gel-Trabuco 14--$100
www.asicsamerica.com 10.9oz Fit / A new integrated lacing system wraps the entirety of the top of the foot from the ankles down to the toes, providing a very secure all-around fit. (A traditional lacing system only covers the middle of the foot, often feeling “sloppy” and causing heels to slip.) Testers remarked how well their heels sat in the shoe, but noted that wiggle room in the forefoot was less than optimal. Feel / A generous amount of gel in the heel softens impact, but a stiff protection plate in the forefoot led testers to rate the overall feel as firm. Built-in support in the form of medial midsole posting adds to the perceived weight of the shoe. “The shoe felt heavy, but it was one of the most supportive trail running shoes I’ve ever worn,” said one tester. Ride / Our testers were impressed with the traction the Gel-Trabuco provided over technical terrain, but rated the overall ride as somewhat stiff. Testers noted the shoe performed better over technical trails than on groomed paths.
Mizuno Cabrakan 3--$130
www.mizunorunning.com 12.1 oz Fit / Wide-footed runners will love this shoe for its roomy fit through the midfoot and toe box. “I couldn’t get the shoe tight enough,” remarked one tester. A secure heel makes it suitable for the average foot, but narrow-footed trailbirds should look elsewhere. Feel / Packing a ton of stability, this shoe “feels like a bullet-proof vest” on your foot, according to one tester. It offers a lot of protection through supportive overlays, and its beefy midsole ensures that off-road obstacles won’t wreak havoc on your feet. Ride / With its stiff midsole and rugged outsole, the Cabrakan is made to tackle the toughest terrain nature throws your way. It’s a trail shoe in the truest sense of the word, and definitely rides like one, too. If you’re a heavier runner looking for a little more control over uneven ground, the Cabrakan is worth taking for a ride.
Inov-8 Roclite 319 --$105
www.inov-8.com 11 oz Fit / The lacing system allows you to make the Roclite 319 as tight or loose as you desire and helps eliminate pressure over the top of the foot. “You can really crank them tight without the painful trapping of other lacing systems,” said one tester. Midfoot and toe room is ample and testers reported no trouble with heel slippage. Feel / Protection is the name of the game with this shoe. With lateral and medial posting encasing the shoe, the Roclite 319 carries a bit of weight, but offers a lot of support for those who need it. Newer trail runners worried about unsure footing off the road will feel safe in this solid shoe. Ride / Not the nimblest of shoes according to our testing team, the Roclite is recommended for larger runners looking to tackle tough terrain. Large lugs on the outsole of the shoe provide plenty of traction for tricky trails, but the slow transition turned off a few testers. “They felt clunky,” said one tester.
The North Face Double Track--$110
www.thenorthface.com 11.6 oz Fit / “Balanced” best describes the fit of this shoe from The North Face. “The roomy toe box and snugness of the midfoot really fit my foot well,” said one tester.” A solid heel counter provides excellent rear-foot security and squashes the possibility of slippage. Feel / With a well-cushioned midsole and soft tongue, the Double Track provides a plush feel around the entire foot. “I was pleasantly surprised by how forgiving these shoes felt over tough terrain,” remarked one tester. Ride / Good front-to-back flexibility makes this shoe an excellent option for flying up and down non-technical trails and fire roads. Testers remarked that it lacked the lateral protection necessary to run on rocky terrain. “This shoe was great on soft, dry ground, but didn’t do so well when it was wet outside.”
La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0--$100
www.lasportiva.com 10.7 oz Fit / If you’ve got a skinny foot, it will fit well into the Crosslite 2.0. The shoe offers a snug fit from heel to toe and a gator that covers the laces helps gives the sensation that your foot isn’t going anywhere. Feel / High-arched runners will enjoy the shapely midsole this shoe features. The cushioning is on the softer side for a trail shoe and proved to be forgiving underfoot during long runs and over more technical terrain. Ride / Grip rules in the Crosslite 2.0. Designed for mountain runners traversing rugged terrain, this shoe offers a smooth transition up and down the most technical of trails. “This shoe stuck like glue,” said one tester. Testers also raved about the shoe’s exceptional forefoot flexibility.
Newton Terra Momentus--$139
www.newtonrunning.com 11.2 oz Fit / “These had probably the most secure heel I’ve ever felt in a shoe,” said one tester. The rest of the shoe fits snugly, too, but there’s plenty of room for the toes to spread out. Feel / Lightweight and soft underfoot, the Terra Momentus scored big on step-in feel. Testers said the elevated forefoot felt strange when standing in the shoes, but was less of an issue while running. Ride / The raised lugs in the forefoot encourage landing with a forefoot strike and running with a faster cadence. “The shoe put me up on my toes and made me more aware of where I was planting my foot,” said one tester; some reported lower-leg soreness after their first few runs in the Terra Momentus. The stickiness of the forefoot lugs on the trail was sub-par compared to other shoes we tested.
New Balance 915 --$125
www.newbalance.com 11.1 oz Fit / Consensus across the board was that this shoe ran big. Ample forefoot room and a generous midfoot fit led one tester to comment that, “these shoes felt huge, especially in the toe box.” Heel slippage was also an issue. Our testers recommend sizing down half a size to avoid the feeling that your foot was swimming in the shoe. Feel / The 915 features a wedge on the medial side of the shoe that adds stability but lends to a very stiff feel underneath the foot. For weak-footed runners looking to tear down a technical trail, this might not be such a bad thing. In regard to perceived weight, one tester said, “The shoe feels a bit heavy when holding it in your hands, but feels reasonably light on the foot.” Ride / Runners looking for a shoe to soften the blow will not enjoy the firm ride the 915 has to offer, but experienced trail blazers will love the forefoot protection plate and added traction the aggressive outsole brings to an off-road environment.
Fit Feel Ride