Light, Fast & Free: 2014 Summer Trail Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide

INOV-8 Trail Roc 245


Trail running is evolving. On one hand, more recreational runners are venturing off-road than ever before. And with more fast track and road running speedsters testing their mettle on dirt, trail races from 5K to 100 miles are getting much faster. Not surprisingly, shoes are generally getting lighter, softer and more nimble at the expense of sacrificing protection and durability.

Many of this year’s models also reflect the trends in road running shoes, namely that they feature more resilient foams, more dynamic-fitting uppers and a less-is-more design ethos. While these shoes demand a runner be stronger, more agile or perhaps more careful, if you find the right shoe to match your preferred terrain, you’ll be able to float over smooth trails and fly over more rugged terrain. In this review, we highlight the best trail running shoes available at running stores this spring and summer in three categories: Lightweight Minimalists, Moderate Hybrids and Mountain Marauders. (However, a few shoes straddle the line between two categories.)

Competitor’s spring 2014 trail running shoe test team:

Amy Allison, Casey Blaine, Mark Bockmann, Dave Butler, Jim Conaghan, Wendy Drake, Mark Eller, Mario Fraioli, Kurt Hoy, Steve Hughes, Louisa Jenkins, Marianne Martin, Brian Metzler, Allison Pattillo, Greg Salvesen, Jason Smith and Michelle Smith.

INOV-8 Trail Roc 245

8.6 oz. (men’s), 7.9 oz. (women’s)

18 mm (heel), 15 mm forefoot

Category: LIGHTWEIGHT MINIMALIST

Fit: Ideal for runners with wider feet, this shoe fits slightly wider in the heel and moderately snug in the midfoot and toe box.

Feel: Soft, svelte and low to the ground, this shoe has just enough rubber and foam under foot to offer a twinge of cushioning, but not enough to inhibit the feel for the trail. It’s a minimally designed shoe with maximum flexibility that allows the foot to move naturally over the terrain.

Ride: There’s no two ways about it, this shoe offers a “barely there” ride. A thin, flexible forefoot plate provides a little bit of structure (and protection) to this otherwise soft and completely pliable shoe. The sticky rubber outsole offers great traction on rocky, rooty terrain and feels OK on smooth, flat trails, too. “If you want to feel the ground, this is definitely a shoe for you,” one wear-tester said. “I would like this shoe even more if it had more protection. My feet felt a bit vulnerable running in these,” said another.

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