Summertime means it’s time to venture off-road and explore the great outdoors, no matter if that’s at a local trail near your neighborhood or an epic route inside a national park. Running on trails offers a bit of serenity you’re not likely to find within an urban or suburban environment. But while you’re winding through forests and taking in the views, you’ll want to make sure you’re properly shod. In this review, we highlight 11 of the best trail running shoes available at running stores this spring and summer in three categories: agile cruisers, mid-range hybrids and mountain marauders.
Note: Weights listed per shoe are for men’s size 9.0 and women’s size 7.0
Scarpa Atom, $119
This is a shoe built for runners who run like mountain goats. You know, the ones who bound up the rockiest trails with ease and hardly seem winded. Scarpa called on its heritage of rock climbing shoes to develop this lightweight, agile specimen. It’s lightly cushioned—most of our testers agreed that it was “just enough”—and offers great proprioceptive feel for the trail. It doesn’t offer much protection in the upper, but the Vibram outsole (and its widely spaced array of lugs) is just thick enough to keeps sharp rocks at bay while also offering great traction.
Plus: Our wear-testers loved the snug fit and secure lacing system of this shoe.
Minus: The pinky toes are left a bit in harm’s way without any material to protect against abrasion.
Weights: 8.8 oz. (men’s), 7.5 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 4mm; 14.5mm (heel), 10.5mm (forefoot)
Brooks Pure Grit 5, $120
The Pure Grit is a low-to-the-ground speedster built for dashing over mild and moderately technical terrain. Brooks has updated this lightweight, moderately cushioned cruiser with a new upper that helps keep dust and debris out, does a better job protecting against abrasions and offers a more locked-down fit. It also has a sturdier heel and a slightly wider footprint, which adds some stability. Our wear-testers appreciated the upgrades made to this shoe without losing its best features—most notably that it’s still easy-flexing and very smooth. Although it’s built for a range of natural trail surfaces, it can also cover miles on roads or bike paths en route to a trailhead.
Plus: The array of small, hexagonally shaped outsole lugs grips rocky surfaces and provides great traction in loose dirt and gravel.
Minus: It’s a narrow-fitting shoe, and a few of our wear-testers said they would have appreciated more wiggle room in the midfoot and toe box.
Weights: 9.9 oz. (men’s), 8.3 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 4mm; 19mm (heel), 15mm (forefoot)
Inov-8 X-Claw 275, $120
As its name implies, this shoe has outsole lugs like talons that grip and grab every type of trail surface. The X-Claw is actually an update of the X-talon 212, an amazingly grippy shoe that was a mainstay on the competitive short-distance mountain running circuits in the U.S. and Europe. The new version has a bit more cushioning and protection without losing its turn-on-a-dime agility and supreme flexibility. Our wear-testers thought this shoe had the best traction of the bunch we tested this spring and loved how it performed on loose gravel, dry rock, sloppy mud and wet grass.
Plus: The upper is smartly reinforced to offer protection without
Minus: The luggy nature of the outsole made it less suitable for running on hard-packed dirt trails and dirt roads.
Weights: 9.7 oz. (men’s), 8.3 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 8mm; 26.5mm (heel), 18.5mm (forefoot)
Altra Superior 2.0, $110
Since its inception five years ago, Altra has made a name for itself by developing zero-drop shoes—in other words, shoes that have a level platform from the heel to the forefoot. The idea is that it leads to a more natural gait style, one that is similar to how a foot would connect with the ground when unshod. That underlying design ethos has helped the company grow pretty big in five years, but what’s really helped it gain a following is its well-built, performance-oriented trail running shoes. The Superior 2.0, the latest edition to earn high marks from our testers, has been only slightly updated from the previous model, but some additional sidewall protection really completes this shoe. It retains its directional knobby-lugged sticky rubber outsole that adheres to both wet, dry and granular surfaces and its innovative removable rock plate insole that protects against pointy rocks, roots and other trail debris. (You can remove it if you’re running on soft, smooth terrain.) It has a modest amount of cushioning under foot, but the two-layer midsole offers just enough softness upon impact and a subtle bit of energy upon lift-off. The breathable mesh upper, slightly wider, foot-shaped toe box, reinforced toe bumper and supportive heel cup were all appreciated by our testers on long mountain runs.
Plus: It also has the ability to affix gaiters on the outside of the heel cup.
Minus: Zero-drop shoes aren’t for everyone, so make sure you’re accustomed to the ride before purchasing this shoe.
Weights: 8.7 oz. (men’s), 7.5 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 0mm; 21mm (heel), 21mm (forefoot)
New Balance Vazee Summit, $100
With the Vazee Summit, New Balance has developed a speed-
oriented trail running shoe that will allow runners to zip over the trails with few inhibitions. It has just enough lightweight cushioning and purposeful protection to be a versatile shoe for most types of conditions and most types of runners. The three key features of the Vazee Summit are: the breathable mesh upper that’s reinforced by a durable film overlay, a flexible rock plate that runs from the tip of the toes to under the arch, and an outsole rubber and medium-sized lugs that are equally tacky on both wet and dry surfaces. Our testers raved about this shoe for its do-everything capability.
Plus: Although amply cushioned, this shoe has a snappy, responsive feeling to it.
Minus: A few testers had some issues with the neoprene-like tongue bunching up and getting caught on socks while putting on this shoe.
Weights: 9.3 oz. (men’s), 7.5 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 10mm; 27mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
Salomon Sense Pro 2, $130
Light, fast and versatile, the updated Sense Pro is a jack of all trails. While it’s amply cushioned in the heel, it serves up a low-to-the-ground, agile feel in the forefoot. That combination allows it to be comfortable running slow or fast over short or long distances. The low-profile sticky rubber outsole lugs provide great adhesion on rocks and wet surfaces, but they’re smooth and subtle enough to stay out of the way while running on hard-packed dirt roads. A slightly bolstered toe cap and a slice of protective film underfoot offer just enough protection without inhibiting the flex and nimble feeling of this shoe.
Plus: The one-pull lacing system snugs the shoe down with equal pressure from all points, creating a reliably secure fit.
Minus: A few testers thought this shoe had too cavernous of a toe box.
Weights: 9.2 oz. (men’s), 8.5 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 6mm; 23mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
Topo Hydroventure, $130
This relatively new brand continues to offer innovative and unique running shoes built off of modern minimalist design constructs like a low-to-the-ground feel and a roomy toe box. The Hydroventure is a softly cushioned trail runner that offers protection from both rocky terrain and wet conditions. It has a single-layer eVent laminate upper, making it the lightest fully waterproof trail runner on the market. It also has a flexible rock plate, a reinforced toe bumper and thin but durable overlays along the sidewalls for optimal trail protection. Our wear-testers liked this shoe for trail running and for light hiking.
Plus: Unlike most waterproof trail running shoes that have stiff uppers, this one is extremely supple and flexible.
Minus: As with any waterproof shoe, this one gets warm (and leads to sweaty feet) in hot weather.
Weights: 9.7 oz. (men’s), 8.0 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 3mm; 23mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)
361° USA Santiago, $120
A new player to the American running shoe market, 361° started off last year with road running shoes that are super soft but also super resilient. The brand’s first trail running shoe follows the same mold. It has a plush interior and two layers of foam that help absorb impact shock and also propel the foot forward. The fit is comfortable and engaging, with a breathable mesh over the forefoot and a securely locking saddle that snugs down the arch and midfoot. The ride is noticeably soft and slightly bouncy, but our testers deemed that as a good thing. Our testers liked this shoe for mild trails and even for runs that include some dirt paths and some roads. But they didn’t feel it was cut out for evenly mildly technical terrain, given its low-profile traction and modest trail-specific protection.
Plus: It has the smooth-riding feel of a road shoes and offers the versatility of crossing over from paved roads to mild dirt trails and gravel roads.
Minus: It’s definitely built more like a road running shoe and not suited for mountain-oriented trail running.
Weights: 10.9 oz. (men’s), 9.1 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 9mm; 28mm (heel), 19mm (forefoot)
Saucony Xodus ISO, $130
Saucony has overhauled its most rugged trail runner, and our testers loved nearly everything about it. This shoe is considerably lighter and more agile than the Xodus 6.0 that came out last year. It also serves up an enhanced fit, feel and ride. Part of the reason for that is the additional soft and responsive layer of foam called EverRun, which Saucony rolled out in its road shoes earlier this year. It’s also due to a new outsole lug system with a directional wave pattern that offers amazing stability and traction on rocks and steep terrain. Although this shoe is best for rugged trails, the improvements have made it great for mellow terrain too.
Plus: The ISO-Fit system (which is on many of Saucony’s road shoes) effectively wraps the top of the foot like fingers of a glove.
Minus: Proprioceptive feel for the trail is a bit muted in this shoe because of the thick cushioning and outsole lugs.
Weights: 10.3 oz. (men’s), 9.2 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-toe offset: 4mm; 25mm (heel), 21mm (forefoot)
ASICS Gel FujiEndurance, $180
This is a big-mountain workhorse with the vibe of a more agile hybrid. The FujiEndurance is by far the most rugged trail shoe ASICS has ever made but it still retains the fit and feel of a road running shoe. The unique, water-resistant upper keeps moisture at bay without reducing breathability too much, but it’s the full-length rock plate and durable and slightly wider outsole with directional lugs that make this shoe viable for running mountains. Our testers appreciated the stable and sturdy undercarriage of this shoe for rugged terrain, but liked that it offered a flexible and nimble midsole and outsole suitable for milder terrain too.
Plus: The “lace garage” on top of the tongue helps keep laces from flopping around or getting caught on trail debris.
Minus: This shoe is a tad heavier and slightly less flexible.
Weights: 11.7 oz. (men’s), 9.6 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 8mm; 25mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
La Sportiva Akasha, $140
With the Akasha, La Sportiva stepped away from its short-
distance racing roots to develop its first long-haul shoe suitable for ultra-distance running. It has a copious amount of soft cushioning in the heel that is enhanced by the slight rocker shape of the underside of the shoe. It has a fairly agile and smooth demeanor like a road running shoe, but it also has the smart mountain protection—a rock plate and reinforced upper and toe bumper—featured in the rest of La Sportiva’s trail line. Our wear-testers loved this shoe for long runs on semi-technical routes to very rocky trails in the mountains.
Plus: The outsole is made from a sticky rubber compound and has directional lugs for superior acceleration and braking.
Minus: Each of our wear-testers felt this shoe fits snug for its size and opted for a half-size larger.
Weights: 11.3 oz. (men’s), 9.8 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 6mm; 26mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)