Trail is a very different beast to road running (find the best shoes for tarmac here) and demands shoes that are versatile enough to cope with the extra physical challenges that will come your way.
They need to strike a balance between being lightweight, stable and delivering good energy return, to help keep you moving forward.
Changes in terrain and direction mean that there is extra movement within the shoe, so a good trail model has to fit well, holding the foot in place whether you’re going uphill or down, speeding up or slowing down.
Traction and adequate protection are also essential if you’re going to stay on your feet and minimise the risk of injury, so every shoe we tested had to tackle various terrains on Dartmoor’s trails over the winter months, which meant mud, bogs, gravel, boulders, wet rock and even the occasional river crossing.
These shoes were suckers for punishment, delivering where it mattered and getting us out and back without incident.
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On cloudventure waterproof
As the name suggests, these shoes are made for the hills and mountains and are equipped to deal with the elements that you’d expect to find there too. The shoe holds the foot well from heel to toe, and the outsole offers multiple grip patterns and deep lugs that really dig into the ground without becoming a magnet for small stones, which can reduce the effectiveness of the tread.
Weighing in at 345g, the cloudventures still feel light on your feet, with good cushioning that absorbs impact when you’re speeding up or going downhill. Another standout feature of the shoe is the supremely efficient waterproofing that also allows feet to breathe.
Buy now £150.00, On-running.com
Adidas terrex speed ultra trail running shoes
Weighing in at just 240g, this is a very lightweight shoe that still feels like it can take a lot of punishment on the trails. The fit is excellent, holding the foot securely with no slippage, and the see-through design not only looks great, but also provides some sweat-wicking qualities. Adidas has combined both its “boost” and “lightstrike” materials in the midsole, which adds to the overall performance and offers a great combination of speed and cornering. This is all underlined with a well thought out tread pattern made from Continental rubber, so you won’t have any trouble keeping your feet planted.
Buy now £160.00, Adidas.co.uk
Merrell agility peak 4
The peak 4 comes with a slightly chunkier midsole made from “floatpro” foam, to beef up the protection without adding to the weight of the shoe, which tips the scales at just 290g. With an upper that moulds well to the foot, the 4s has a tread pattern that does a good job of promoting speed over flat ground, while being deep enough to anchor you on the downs and ups.
Buy now £120.00, Merrell.com
Saucony peregrine 11
The peregrine is a long-established trail shoe and this update concentrates on the upper, with some strategically placed padding in all the right places, so that the foot feels cradled, regardless of whether you’re training or going all out to break a PB. At 310g, the 11 has retained its lightweight feel and offers good protection from below. It also has an aggressive tread pattern which imparts a lot of confidence, especially over dry, loose trails, so that you can really open things up and commit to every stride.
Buy now £115.00, Saucony.com
Vivobarefoot primus trail II FG
The first thing you’ll notice about the primus trail II is that you don’t notice them. At just 136g, they are the lightest shoe in this round-up, giving a wonderfully responsive feel to your runs and an incredibly light running sensation, which still feels cushioned and comfortable if you’re out in them for a long time. Ideally suited to dry, hard-packed trails, the outsole gives tonnes of grip, and because they act like a second skin, you feel connected to the trail, but protected from the rough stuff.
Buy now £120.00, Vivobarefoot.com
Salomon S/LAB ultra 3
The updated ultra provides a very responsive fit, and the addition of an ankle collar not only keeps out any dirt and rocks, but also creates a snug seal so you’re not fiddling around with your footwear in the middle of a run. A combination of very sticky rubber and a great tread pattern meant that we got lots of traction on both dry, loose trails and mud-bound routes. At 290g, they’ll never weigh you down, and there was plenty of energy return from the midsole, which kept us bouncing along, even towards the end of the run when our legs started to feel heavy.
Buy now £165.00, Salomon.com
361 yushan 2
The 353g second-generation yushan does a good job of improving on the flexibility issues that many runners complained about in the original. Now the shoe offers a generous amount of give while still providing bags of protection from below, meaning you really won’t feel a thing even when hammering down over hard, sharp terrain. We got good traction from the outsole, and the upper mesh encases the foot nicely, while remaining breathable for comfortable running in warmer weather.
Buy now £119.39, 361europe.com
Hoka One One men’s speedgoat 4 Gore-tex
If your go-to getaways are wet, sloppy trails, then you can have confidence that the speedgoat 4s will cruise through puddles, streams and even rivers without leaving you with soggy socks for the rest of your run. Of course, there’s no point having a Gore-tex shoe if it doesn’t fit snugly around the foot to stop any ingress over the top – thankfully, the speedgoats did a great job of providing a tight seal so you can really charge through any water obstacles. Traction was also excellent, and the 348g weight was barely noticeable thanks to a very responsive midsole.
Buy now £140.00, Hokaoneone.eu
Nike pegasus trail 2
If you live in a town or city and does’t have immediate access to off-road trails, then the trail 2 has been created with you in mind – it’s a true hybrid shoe that’s designed to get you down the road and onto the trail head. It does this with a rugged outsole that facilitates the transition between pavement and footpath, with a fast tread that still digs into all kinds of terrain. At 333g, it’s light enough for those who feel the need for speed, while the “react” foam midsole means the shoe retains that characteristic pegasus bounce.
Buy now £114.95, Nike.com
La Sportiva kaptiva
The fit on the 316g kaptivas is very nice, with a comfortable, foot-hugging inner, so once you’ve laced up they won’t need any adjustments. They’re built for abuse, with a tough toe bumper that will keep you protected when you’re picking your way through boulder fields or careering down a scree-side. The hexagonal tread was also well suited to rockier terrain, but overall traction is excellent thanks to the sticky rubber compound that it’s made from.
Buy now £174.90, Lasportiva.com
The verdict: Men's trail running shoes
No matter what your level of experience, On’s cloudventure waterproof trainers are a confidence-boosting shoe that will help you get off the beaten track without sacrificing speed. Light, comfortable and very well-designed by the manufacturer, this is a shoe that will appeal to a wide selection of trail runners.