The fall season is the perfect time to get off the road and hit the trails. Crisp air, cooler temps, changing leaves and clear skies just beg for adventures on dirt, wood chips or pine needles. We scoured the season’s latest trail running shoe offerings—from weather-protecting hard chargers to road-to-trail hybrids—and tested them mile after mile on trails in Colorado, California and New Hampshire to help you find your perfect pair.
Why Trail Shoes?
Yes, you can run trails in your road shoes. But the off-road-specific features found on these shoes enhance your running experience on the trails. Here’s how:
TRACTION. Trail running shoe outsoles often feature toothy multi-directional lugs and/or sticky rubber to keep you surefooted on any surface.
PROTECTION. Toe bumpers (extra material reinforcing the toe area) and reinforced sidewalls (the sides of the shoe, at your arch and exterior midfoot) will keep your foot protected from rocks and roots.
ARMOR. Some trail running shoes have thin, hard rubber rockplates sandwiched between the midsole and outsole to keep rocks and roots from jabbing your feet.
STABILITY. The uppers of trail running shoes tend to be more supportive than road shoes, encasing your foot more securely to keep you in control uphill, downhill and on off-camber trails.
ALL-AROUNDERS: ASICS Gel-FujiRado, $130
Boa laces on a solid runner Weight: 10.6 oz. (men); 9.1 oz. (women) Offset: 8mm Stack heights: 18mm heel, 10mm forefoot (men); 17mm heel, 9mm forefoot (women) Pictured: men’s Interestingly, this shoe features Boa laces—Kevlar threads tightened uniformly by a dial—that have traditionally been reserved for cycling shoes and snowboarding boots. This is Boa’s first real push into the run space. Testers found the lacing system secured their feet well, making them feel “connected” to the shoe and therefore notably agile. Some felt the laces tightened evenly, while others complained of not being able to cinch down enough on roomy spots in the shoe. Aside from the interesting lacing, the shoe rides low to the ground and feels nimble and fast.
ALL-AROUNDERS: Inov-8 ParkClaw 275 GTX, $150
Waterproof and ready for anything Weight: 10.8 oz. (men); 8.7 oz. (women) Offset: 8mm Stack heights: 24.5mm heel; 16.5mm forefoot Pictured: women’s While this shoe is touted as a road-to-trail crossover—and did fine on roads compared to other shoes in this roundup—we found it really shined on rocky, technical trails. It runs a bit stiff, which we actually really liked for underfoot protection and support. The traction also gave us a solid and reassuring grip. Compared to other Inov-8 shoes, the cushioning both in the midsole and around the heel collar added comfort. Most notable for a Gore-Tex shoe, it’s surprisingly comfortable, lightweight and supple. This shoe is ready for cold and sloppy winter running.
ALL-AROUNDERS: New Balance 910v4, $110
Versatile with good rock protection Weight: 10.9 oz. (men); 9.1 oz. (women) Offset: 8mm Stack heights: 20mm heel, 12 mm forefoot Pictured: women’s Solid sidewall and toe protection join a ¾-length rockplate underfoot to make this a shoe bomber while remaining runnable and smooth. We tested this shoe in rocky, rugged Colorado and on rooted East Coast trails and felt sure-footed (the rockplate seems more protective running over larger, round rocks than on small, pointy jabs). The traction is confidence-inspiring while remaining low profile enough to keep this shoe from feeling clunky on smooth trails. A stiff heel counter adds stability, and a plush heel collar and gusseted tongue help create an overall comfortable shoe.
ALL-AROUNDERS: Merrell Agility Peak Flex, $130
Rugged, hard-charging mountain shoe Weight: 11 oz. (men); 9 oz. (women) Offset: 6mm Stack heights: 33.25mm heel, 27.25mm forefoot Pictured: men’s With bomber protection from roots and rocks at the toe bumper and sidewalls, plus a super-aggressive outsole, the Agility Peak Flex is ready to charge mountainous terrain. And despite its very rugged appearance, the shoe ran smoothly and flexes in all the right places. However the outsole felt like overkill on anything but technical trails, so this wasn’t our pick for smooth dirt or mixed road/trail runs. And while we liked this shoe on short and long runs alike, it’s not the fastest-feeling shoe. Note: The toe box is particularly roomy, “cavernous” to some.
ROAD TO TRAIL: Brooks Adrenaline ASR 14, $130
Supportive, weather-treated with road chops Weight: 10.9 oz. (men); 8.8 oz. (women) Offset: 12mm Stack heights: 30mm heel, 18mm forefoot Pictured: men’s For runners who need a pronation-controlling shoe that can handle off-road terrain, the Adrenaline ASR 14 is a solid pick. And thanks to a water-resistant finish on the upper, this shoe keeps feet relatively dry in weather (while still breathing). Testers noted the instant comfort of plush materials and a sense of their feet being cradled. They also liked how the laces tightened uniformly without any pressure points. Compared to some of the more rugged shoes in this roundup, the Adrenaline ASR lacks protection at the toe box and doesn’t have the hard-charging mountain feel of some, but we loved it for its support and versatility.
ROAD TO TRAIL: Salomon Sense Pro Max, $150
Comfort for the long haul Weight: 10.2 oz. (men); 8.8 oz. (women) Offset: 6mm Stack heights: 30mm heel, 24mm forefoot Pictured: women’s With ample, responsive cushioning that creates a very comfortable ride, this shoe is ready to go the distance on a variety of surfaces. Testers were raving about the “comfort to keep you going” while still feeling fast and peppy. And we loved the traction afforded by Salomon’s proprietary outsole materials. The shoes grabbed fl at rocks without slipping and the tread pattern worked great for sure-footedness on gravel. We were also quick to appreciate how structure around the heel, combined with a nicely padded heel collar, created ankle support. Another plus for warm climates (or rainy runs): The mesh is very breathable and dries quickly.
ROAD TO TRAIL: Saucony Koa TR, $110
Solid road-to-trail hybrid Weight: 10.3 oz. (men); 9 oz. (women) Offset: 4mm Stack heights: 22mm heel, 18mm forefoot Pictured: women’s This shoe is built to function both on- and off-road, and testers appreciated its versatility. The Koa TR runs notably smooth and flexes well on hard-packed surfaces, while providing enough traction to perform on rocky, rugged trails. Its relative light weight—and likely its 4mm offset, encouraging a midfoot strike—inspire speed. We found ourselves wanting to push the tempo on both rocky, hilly runs and smooth, gravel paths. And we liked the comfort of the nicely padded tongue. One beef: The outsole grabbed onto tiny gravel rocks and didn’t let go.
SUPER CUSHY: Altra Timp, $130
The Goldilocks of cushioning Weight: 10.7 oz. (men); 8.9 oz. (women) Offset: 0mm Stack heights: 29mm heel and forefoot Pictured: women’s This new shoe to Altra’s line falls in between the max-cushion Olympus (36mm of cush) and the Lone Peak (25mm). The outcome is a shoe that allowed testers to run over rocks and roots and not feel a thing underfoot, while still enabling us to feel agile. Solid traction and support added to the nimble ride. Asymmetrical lacing seemed to enhance natural flexing in the ideal spot, right where our feet wanted as our toes pushed off. Narrow-footed testers thought the fit a tad too roomy, while others liked how the laces cinched the upper in place.
SUPER CUSHY: Hoka One One Stinson ATR 4, $160
Massive cushioning yet lightweight Weight: 11.8 oz. (men), 9.6 oz. (women) Offset: 5mm Stack heights: 37mm heel, 32mm forefoot (men); 36mm heel, 31mm forefoot Pictured: men’s The Stinson 4 is Hoka’s daddy of cushioning, and that’s saying a lot if you’ve taken a ride before in a Hoka. The major amount of cushion underfoot softens each step effectively, which is more noticeable on hard-packed and rocky downhills. And yet despite all of the cush, it’s amazing how light-feeling this shoe remains. Updates in this iteration include much better traction on the outsole, reinforcements on the upper for increased durability and a wider platform for more stability. The high-off-the-ground ride takes some getting used to, but the shoe rides inherently stable.
SUPER CUSHY: Skechers GoTrail 2, $100
Cushy, smooth and water-resistant ride Weight: 9.2 oz. (men); 7 oz. (women) Offset: 4mm Stack heights: 28mm heel, 24mm forefoot Pictured: men’s The GoTrail 2 has the same rockered shape—fatter beneath the arch and slightly rounded at both the toe and heel—of other Skechers running shoes, and testers enjoyed how the shape seemed to encourage a smooth gait. We also felt this shoe had just the right amount of cushioning. It felt soft and comfortable, like a max shoe but doesn’t inhibit nimble running. The lacing system, with eyelets toward the forefoot, created a snug and custom-feeling fit, aided by laces that stretch just a touch. A water-resistant coating helps shed water.