Best trail running shoes - the best men's and women's trail running shoes
Bored of pounding the pavements? The mental and physical benefits of trail running are astounding, with researchers finding getting off the beaten track lowers anxiety, reduces your risk of injury and forces you to use more muscle groups.
Many of the world's top distance runners – including those from Ethiopia and Kenya – run the majority of their miles off-road, often running only once a week on concrete. So even if you're training for a road marathon, there's plenty to recommend about getting off the pavement on a regular basis.
Before doing so, however, it’s important to ensure you're wearing the right pair of trail trainers.
What to look for in a trail running or off-road shoe?
Consider the kind of trails you'll mostly be running on. Are these firm, well-groomed and mostly flat? If so, you might be okay running in your normal road running shoes – particularly during the summer months – or a trail shoe with a less aggressive tread. If, on the other hand, you're likely to be running in thick mud, or over rocks and more technically challenging terrain, you'll want a shoe with bigger lugs to help with the grip. Here are some things to look for in a trail running shoe:
Look for a shoe with a low profile – the need for a thick layer of foam between your foot and the ground is negated when trail running. In fact, the lower the profile of the shoe, the more stable you’ll be on uneven ground. There's a balance, though: if you're running marathon or ultra-marathon distances off-road, the need for ample cushioning is crucial.
Grip is everything – without a good grip, you can’t run with confidence. But what constitutes good grip will depend on the kind of trails you're running on. For hard, rolling trails, you won't need too aggressive a grip. For mud and rocks, look for a shoe with longer lugs.
There should be in-built protection – off-road running can be hard on your shoes, especially the upper. Look for rubber or nylon reinforcements around the toe box, heel counter and the bottom of the upper. This can help to protect the shoes against rocks and other off-road debris.
Look at the waterproof protection – water will often be a problem on Britain’s trails, and when it comes to trail running trainers, there are two schools of thought: the waterproof shell, which works well when splashing through puddles, but does not allow water to escape from the shoe. The second approach is more of a sieve design, with focuses on the belief that keeping your feet watertight is impossible, and focuses on drainage rather than protection. Most shoes follow the latter design.
Budget/longevity – Like their road running counterparts, trail shoes vary greatly in price. When choosing a pair, think hard about what you require from the shoe, how often you'll be wearing it and whether you require a top-of-the-range model or reliable workhorse. Also, focus on longevity: shoes that will stand up to miles and miles of off-road running without wearing down will, ultimately, be better value than a less durable pair – even if they cost slightly more.
What are the best trail running shoes on the market in 2023?
We put a wide range of the latest models to the test and selected the best trail running shoes to suit every type of trail runner, from the occasional path dabbler to the hardened mountain tamer.
Hoka Speedgoat 5
Won: Best In Test 2022
Weight: 271g (men), 234g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 4mm
Named after US ultrarunner Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer, Hoka’s Speedgoats have garnered a devoted following as dependable, robust and comfortable performers. They feel snug and slipper-like, hugging the foot to keep it in place. A gusseted tongue aids the sock-like fit and the toe box delivers extra protection without feeling too solid.
On the run, Hoka’s trademark ride comes to the fore on approach roads and hard packed trails – pillowy soft, with enough bounce to keep your legs feeling lively. On more demanding terrain, they truly come alive. The lightweight foam midsole and grippy outsole combine to carry you over any terrain at speed, and testers said that their legs stayed energised after long miles. Some of that is down to Hoka’s late-stage Meta-Rocker easing you onwards, making the Speedgoats a good option for any trail distance, and superb over marathons and ultras.
Traction is improved via the reworked Vibram with MegaGrip outsole, built for technical trails with 5mm multi-directional lugs providing stability and sure-footedness.This traction combined with lightness meant that testers felt ‘goat-like’ on uphills, while descending was a ‘revelation’ with impact lessened on tired joints. All in all, they sprinkle a little magic on your trail experience.
Saucony Peregrine 12
Won: Best Technical Trail Shoe 2022
Weight: 275g (men), 235g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 4mm
Saucony's Peregrine line has a fine reputation as a shoe that can answer all of your trail needs. Light without being minimalist and comfortable without being unresponsive, the Peregrine has long been a go-to all-rounder. Sensibly, the 12 is an evolution not a revolution. A new PwrRun midsole adds to the cushioning – though testers noted that it’s still a relatively ‘firmride’ – and a rock plate adds protection over tough ground. Most noticeable, though, is the reduction in weight – from 310g to 275g in men’s and 272g to 235g in women’s. This comes partly from stripping back the upper, but there were no complaints that they felt flimsy, while there was positive feedback on their breathability.
Saucony’s PowerTrack outsole impressed testers across ascents and descents and on a wide variety of trail terrain. But while it’s versatile enough to handle some road sections, ultimately, its 5mm lugs are too aggressive for lengthy periods on the road. Overall, the Peregrine 12 remains a great off-road all-rounder, capable of performing well over a wide variety of distances and terrains – improved by the handful o ftechnical updates and weight reduction
Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280
Won: Best Road-To-Trail Shoe 2022
Weight: 309g (men), 275g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
Unusually, the Parkclaw G 280 is marketed as a multi-terrain shoe, suitable for both road and trail. It’s a great sell if you only have budget for a single pair of shoes but intend to run both on- and off-road, or if all your trail running takes place in parks, meaning a sizeable portion of your route is still on tarmac. But can a shoe pull off doing both things well? The first iteration of the Parkclaw felt a little safe and underwhelming. Not so its successor. The Graphene outsole brings last-forever durability and they’re so comfortable you’ll want to wear them out. The roomy toe box, plush upper and G-Fly midsole create a shoe that feels both fast and luxurious. The 8mm heel-toe drop feels more like a 4mm, hitting the sweet spot that delivers both ground feel and long-miles comfort.
Inov-8 shoes are grippier than a Greco-Roman wrestling match, but it’s had to rein in the lugs to 4mm here, so they’re not your go-to on boggy trails. For drier stuff, though, they perform brilliantly and transition from trail to road beautifully. They may not be as unique as the marketing suggests – most dry-trail shoes do a decent job on road – but it’s a good multi-terrain performer.
Salomon S/Lab Pulsar
Heel/toe drop: 6mm
Designed in response to to Kilian Jornet’s request for a shoe to break records on the trail, the Pulsar is straight up built for speed. All of the features you might expect to find on a trail shoe – a rigid toe guard, a thick midsole, a rock plate – have been jettisoned to reduce weight and make a shoe that’s as stripped-back as a racing flat. The elasticated mesh offers a compressive, sock-like fit, but this makes the shoe really hard to get on – and it’s strange there’s no heel tab to help this.Moreover, the shoe is so close-fitting that the Quicklace system is pretty much redundant, though a lace pouch on top of the tongue is handy for tucking the lace-lock tab away.
Once on the move, though, they fly: the Energy Surge foam and rocker geometry push you on to your toes and offer noticeable spring; the fit makes them feel like they’re an extension of your feet, so they feel stable and secure; and they run just as well on roads as they do on trails. In fact, with minimal foot protection and tread, they work best as door-to-non-technical trail option, or a trail race shoe when you’re looking to floor it.
Vivo Barefoot x Finisterre Primus Trail Knit
Weight: 297g (men), 227g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 4mm
Flatter than a Belgian cycle path and more flexible than an Olympic gymnast, these are built for those who like to travel light and low to the ground. The collaboration with Finisterre upgrades the aesthetics, but it’s very much a Vivo shoe and stays true to the minimalist mainstay’s immutable pillars: shoes should be foot-shaped, flat and flexible.
The result is excellent ground feel, but the flipside to such minimalism is that they’re pretty unforgiving. Our testers found them a joy to run in on dry trails and grass, but less so on wet and technical terrains or long road sections.
If you’re prepared to invest in more than one pair of trail shoes and want one of those to be minimalist and/or you plan to also use them for walking and hiking, these are an excellent option. Equally so if environmental credentials are important to you – they’re made from recycled materials and are 100% vegan. A bit of housekeeping: you’ll probably want to go down half a shoe size as our testers found them roomy; and if you’re not already a minimalist shoe user, plan a transition period as minimalist shoes put more emphasis on the calf and achilles.
Montrail Trinity AG
Weight: 286g (men), 246g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
Long-time trail runners may remember the burly tanks Montrail built in the 2000s. Columbia Sportswear acquired Montrail in 2006, and the parent brand had been quiet on the running shoe scene until last year, when it released the Columbia Escape Ascent– a model best suited for tame-to-moderate trails. Does the Trinity AG, now with the Montrail name, reignite the rugged legacy?
Unlike the early Montrail models, theTrinity AG isn’t bowl-of-nails-for-breakfast tough, but it rides lighter and nimbler than the Escape Ascent. A new construction underfoot makes it better for going fast, too, with a full-length piece of Pebax between two layers of EVA-based foam. The softer top layer of foam, combined with less aggressive 4mm lugs, gave testers just enough cushioning to take the shoe from road to trail with what they felt was a nice mix of ground feel and protection. Capable of absorbing most rocks and bumps while running downhill, testers found they performed well on loose gravel, roots, wet leaves and moderately rough terrain, but felt they would need something with a more aggressive tread underfoot if tackling heavy mud or snow come winter.
Arc’Teryx Norvan LD 3
Weight: 265g (men), 250g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 6mm
Arc’Teryx is known for its highly technical and consequently high-priced mountainwear. Over the past few years, however, the company has branched out into trail-running kit, including shoes. The LD 3 is its latest model, designed for running from road to trail. The 4mm lugs on the Vibram MegaGrip outsole provide medium levels of grip on gravelly surfaces, while being comfortable enough to run shorter sections on the road. The lugs cut through mud dependably and our testers found they provided stellar and dependable traction for dusty ascents.
As well as being ideal for hybrid trails, the LD 3 is also built for running longer distances due to the lighter weight and well-cushioned midsole. You particularly notice the soft ride as you bounce nimbly over exposed roots and jagged rocks. Our testers also noted that the gusseted tongue is a handy addition as it not only makes getting the shoe on and off easier, but it also enhances the fit while ensuring the tongue doesn’t slip while you run. A versatile, high-spec and highly impressive performer – all without the eye-watering price tag you might expect.
The North Face Vectiv Enduris II
Weight: 309g (men), 275g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 6mm
One of three new models in The NorthFace’s expanded Vectiv range, the Enduris II is super-cushioned specifically for ultra-distance trail running. There’s a TPU plate underfoot and the first thing our testers noticed was how quick they felt for relatively bulky shoes. Energy return was palpable on the pavement and once on the trails, if anything, speed increased. Testers reported flying along all manner of trails, from hard-pack gravel to short-and-steep rocky climbs.
The plate is designed to add stability as well as speed, and they felt secure over the roughest of terrain. But if you like to feel the terrain under your feet, these are not the shoes for you. They are designed for running long, with the OrthoLite X-55 footbed offering extra protection and cushioning turned up to the max (the midsole hits 31mm at the rear) to ease the load on your battered legs.
More assistance for aching limbs comes from the dual-density rocker midsole, which is designed to combine with the TPU plate to help keep you moving when your legs scream ‘no more’. The benefit of all this tech is worth the extra grams in weight, meaning these will delight long-distance trail runners.
Salomon Ultra Glide
Weight: 286g (men), 221g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 6mm
Traditionally Salomon's kicks have earned a reputation for being fast, but are also quite firm, aggressive and narrow –often better suited for elites than midpack runners. The Ultra Glide breaks the mould as Salomon’s most cushioned and accessible trail shoe; our testers found that the upper provided protection when tired feet kicked rocks and roots, while the rocker design and extra cushioning underfoot took the sting out of pavement and extra-rocky sections –enough for one tester to run 75 miles in them.
Our testers found that grip held firm on runnable ground and while climbing over boulders, but the traction didn’t inspire confidence on flat, wet slabs of rock. In those conditions, it’s better to reach for a shoe with sticky rubber designed for wet terrain. But there’s little to find fault with here. All our testers loved the shoe’s fit; the upper mesh is breathable but more padded than Salomon’s Sense Ride, and it retains the SensiFit wing system from the S/LabUltra 2 to help lock down the midfoot. A great option for mere trail mortals wanting to benefit from Salomon’s mountain-running pedigree and know-how.
Adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra
Weight: 341g (men), 299g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
There's a lot of tech at play underfoot here. At the base of a three-layer midsole, Lightstrike foam helps build the foundations of a stable platform, then comes a full-length plate made from 90% renewable carbon. In the Agravic, as in most trail shoes, the plate’s aim is to add protection, aid stability and guide tired legs through the gait cycle rather than all-out propulsion – but with the subtle rocker, our testers noticed the benefit. The top layer of the midsole adds Adidas’ famous Boost foam for a hit of energy return, too.
Up top, our testers found the sturdy mesh upper (made using 50% recycled materials) didn’t hold water, dried fast and was highly breathable. The consensus was they felt stiff, though, and while the protective toe cap and roomy forefoot went down well, some testers found the high, rigid ankle collar didn’t get on with their achilles tendons.
Grip is pretty impressive, with the super-durable Continental rubber outsole and its4mm lugs taking design inspiration from the tires on gravel bikes. Overall, the Agravic Ultra is a beast – a little heavy and stiff, but offering a stable and protective ride with a little extra boost in the midsole.
The North Face Vectiv Eminus
Weight: 295g (men), 255g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
Though firmly in The North Face’s trail stable, the Eminus could comfortably rub haunches with the Parkclaw G 280 in the multi-terrain category. A high-comfort, genuine road-to-trail option, it surpassed testers’ expectations on both trail and asphalt, and will suit runners who want to cover a mix of the two. The Surface CTRL outsole rubber was found to offer plenty of grip both on wet roads and through rocky stream crossings, while the 3.5mm lugs bit into everything but the sloppiest mud, inspiring confidence to push the pace.
The on-road ride was so good that some felt that the Eminus actually feels more like a trail-capable road shoe, rather than a road-capable trail shoe. The single-density EVA midsole provides plenty of cushioning for comfortable long runs on pavement, whereas many trail shoes feel overly firm as they’re tuned for softer ground. The carbon-fibre plate found in all Vectiv shoes is limited to the forefoot to provide stability on toe-off. While testers noted the Eminus feels a bit too sluggish for speedwork, the extra flexibility and comfort make it a great option for longer runs at an easy pace on- or off-road.
Under Armour Hovr DS Ridge Trail
Weight: 306g (men), 226g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
Designed to meet Under Armour’s pro athletes’ request for confidence on the trail, the DS Ridge uses a Vibram outsole with microtread lugs that shed mud and debris quickly to offer good grip on wet and uneven surfaces. But it’s not a particularly aggressive traction set up, so our testers felt less confident when things got really muddy. They had no problems when on the road, though.
There was universal appreciation of the bounce factor delivered by the Hovr midsole, which testers found offered great cushioning, protection and energy return making them ‘gloriously springy’. Praise also came for the upper, which offers added protection at the toe and heel, with plenty of flex and stretch in the midfoot – balanced nicely by 3D overlays, which keep the foot locked down for extra stability. The OrthoLite sockliner, made using recycled waste material, adds to the comfort factor. It feels like you’re getting a lot of shoe here and it all works efficiently to make this a forgiving, protective and very comfortable ride without adding too much weight. Not ago-to for extreme underfoot conditions but versatile enough for grass, packed dirt and rocky trails. A good road-to-trail option, too.
Hoka Tecton X
Weight: 240g (men), 196g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 5mm
The first trail shoe to incorporate not one but two propulsive, parallel carbon plates, Hoka reckons the Tecton is a ‘seismic shift’ in trail-running. There’s plenty of debate as to how much a carbon plate can actually add speed on the trail due to so many changeable trail-based factors, including varying gradients, inclement conditions and differing terrain, but our testers were impressed. They feel stiffer than Hoka’s putty-soft Speedgoat 5 due to the plates, but the verdict was the carbon tech undoubtedly helps in propelling you along a little faster with less effort. The key here is that, unlike other carbon-plated trail shoes, the Tecton X features two plates in the sole, which lie parallel to each other and independently kick back and spring you forwards as you run.
Above the plates, the upper is stripped back but comfortable, while underneath the 4mm lugs aren’t designed for feet-sucking mud, but they’ll tackle most types of terrain that the trails throw at you. They can also move over to roads seamlessly. Another thing to note is that, as is the Hoka way, all the tech comes in a seriously lightweight package.
Merrel MTL Long Sky
Won: Best In Test 2021
Weight: 280g (M) 230g (W)
Heel/toe drop: 11mm
Durability is an underestimated quality in a shoe these days; the word somehow suggests bulkiness or clumsiness, but the MTL Long Sky, designed for long trail runs, proves this doesn’t have to be the case. The Merrell Test Lab worked with elite ultrarunner Anna Frost to develop the shoe. Designed for rugged terrain, it features a combination of tear-resistant mesh with reflective details; an internal bootie to hug the foot snugly; and 5mm Vibram rubber lugs to offer grip and toughness. That grip proved its mettle through sludge in Epping Forest, wet rocks in the LakeDistrict and tricky single track in the Chiltern Hills. ‘Stability’, ‘reliability’ and ‘solid’ were all words used in the feedback and it seems the highest praise our testers could bestow on theLong Sky was that both their toenails and the structure of the shoe remained intact after many gruelling outings. A brilliant option both for trail-running newbies and experienced runners who are looking for shoes as endurance-focused as they are.
Montrail Trans Alps FKT III
Weight: 319g (M) 262g (W)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
You'll find this shoe on the feet of many a runner at the UTMB. Given this is one of the world’s toughest races (traversing 166km of MontBlanc through three countries in one go), you’d think it would more than stand up to the rigours of the RW test team...and it did. It’s a splendid trail all-rounder with a lovely mix of bouncy cushioning and nimbleness. The 6mm outsole lugs performed well across every type of surface except one (a field full of cow poo) and several runners applauded the fact that you don’t have to lace them up tight to get a decent fit that doesn’t work its way loose. Tester Nicola Waterworth said: ‘I can be fussy about pressure on the top of the foot– this remained firm but light in feel and I didn’t experience any heel lift.’ If you don’t like even temporarily wet feet, these won’t suit, because the wonderfully breathable knitted upper does let water in – but they’re designed to drain again very quickly and not hold on to moisture.
Read full review
Salomon Speedcross 5
Weight: 320g (M) 280g (W)
Heel/toe drop: 1omm
The best word to describe these off-road shoes is ‘aggressive’. The upper includes a gusseted tongue and a reinforced mesh, both of which aim to keep out debris – which they did very efficiently. Salomon’s Energy Cell+midsole provides high rebound and ample cushioning, allowing you to fly down descents. The Speedcross is especially cushioned in the heel – on its website, Salomon describes it as having a biomechanical fit for heel-striking – however, the shoe seems to have sufficient cushioning in the forefoot, as well. One midfoot-striking tester noted, ‘I felt the cushioning has greatly improved over previous versions of the Speedcross, especially in the forefoot.’ The fit has also been made a little more generous; previous versions were on the narrow side. Finally, the chevron-shaped outsole lugs are immense. They’re spaced far apart, which is ideal for shedding mud, and they extend to the tips of the toes and stick out the sides to give a greater sense of reassurance.
Weight: 305g (M) 248g (W)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
The FKT is not earth-shattering and it might not have any game-changing new technologies, but it’s quietly impressive. After some initial tightness on the first couple of runs, the upper adapted to give a soft, snug caress around the foot and kept expanding slightly as testers’ feet did, meaning there was no pinching on longer runs. Wide-footed runners, in particular, loved it. The traction of the 4mm outsole lugs is extremely good and we found we could plough through pretty much anything on the trail without worry, especially as the shoe felt nimble enough that we could pick our way through overgrown single tracks. There are some areas to work on, though, mostly the upper – the dye ran into socks when the shoes got wet and the protection is not the best, with even a slight splashing enough to soak the feet, and the odd stick poked its way through the mesh. A good, basic offroad shoe for occasional trail runners looking to go door-to-trail.
5. New Balance Hierro V5
Weight: 324g (M)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
When a shoe looks as natty as the Hierro v5, there’s a suspicion that more attention has been paid to its appearance than it has its performance. But after running in it, such fears are allayed. The Hierro v5 is best thought of as a multi-terrain shoe. Its Vibram outsole feels at home on the pavement, hard trails and even the sand. The only surface on which it is not good is thick mud. If you’re looking for a shoe for cross-country, obstacle races or technical mountain yomps, this is not it. For everything else, it’ll work a treat. This is a comfortable yet responsive, multi-tasking, multi-terrain marvel. If you have the confidence to pull it off, the Hierro v5 will not disappoint.
Inov-8 X-Talon G-210
Weight: 210g (unisex)
Heel/toe drop: 3mm
Buy now - unisex
There are times on the trails when you want to bumble along with your head up marvelling at the scenery. And there are times when you want to put the hammer down, and crunch over and through anything in your path as fast as you can. This is a shoe for the latter times. It’s the lightest, fastest shoe that trail specialist Inov-8 has in its range.
Merrell Moab Flight
Weight: 300g (men), 241g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 10mm
While Merrell is better known as a hiking brand, its running creds shouldn't be underestimated. Over the past few years, it's been pumping out a string of excellent, versatile trail shoes – and the Moab Flight is the latest example of this. Our testers called the shoe 'durable and robust, with a nice hugging fit'. Unlike the majority of trail shoes, it has a signficiant heel-toe drop (10mm), meaning it's also a good shoe for hiking. That's not to say it's overly clunky. In fact, our testers said it feels 'light on the foot', while it also scored highly in terms of looks, durability and comfort. In sum, an excellent shoe at a decent price.
Columbia Escape Pursuit
Weight: 312g (men) 279g (women)
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
If you want a plush pair of entry-level trail running shoes, look no further than Columbia’s Escape Pursuit. Currently retailing at £63 (down from £90) in the UK, these are a comfortable way to tackle wilder paths at speed. With 4mm lugs, ample upper cushioning, showerproof mesh and a considerable heel-to-toe drop, Columbia has addressed all the key demands of the pursuit. They look good on, too. While outsizsed plates and fluorescent flourishes give some highly-coveted running shoes the look of Smurfs’ clogs, Escape Pursuit offer an understated black and red combination instead. So what’s not to like? One tester felt there is an excess of mid-shoe comfort. In other areas: the toe-box, the tongue and cuff, Columbia have got it right.
Columbia makes a virtue of an integrated midfoot lockdown system and put together with the drop and cushion, this enables the Escape Pursuit to insulate the foot over broken ground. At first it feels magical – a proper off-road vehicle – but some may start to hanker after a little less insulation and a little more connection with the earth. This is most true, our testers said, when ascending. ‘The sole shape propels well on the level but all that midfoot protection is not a boon for climbing,’ commented one.
Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra
Heel/toe drop: 8mm
Adidas Terrex is the off-road branch of Adidas. One of its pro runners, Briton Tom Evans, was heavily involved in the development of this shoe, which has adorned his feet on various winning outings. Its designed chiefly for hard-packed trails, but its versatility was appreciated by our testers who said it felt ‘as comfortable and at home on road sections as it did on trail’. It feels quick, too, thanks to a midsole of a Boost TPU compound and Lightstrike EVA cushioning. Other plus-points include its sleek looks and excellent grip. A truly impressive trail shoe for those looking to move fast and light on trails.
Heel-to-toe drop: 9mm
The most lightweight of On's off-road range, the Cloudvista is designed for short- to mid-distance trail runs. With a versatile outsole that can cope with a variety of off-road terrain – from mud to hard-packed trails as well as road sections – it's an attractive option for those looking to run from door to trail. Our testers wore the shoe on short, fast runs and long, slow outings, finding the shoe could cope well on both. 'The shoe feels secure, the foot is supported well by thin laces over the midfoot and there were zero hotspots,' said one tester. However, it should be flagged that the shoe comes up small –On themselves recommend you take the shoe a half size up, which worked for our testers. Overall, our testers were impressed with the Cloudvista, with one calling it 'a sturdy, lightweight shoe with good grip enabling you to be nimble and fast on a wide variety of ground conditions'.
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