After a long day stuck in the office or boardroom, sometimes pounding pavement just doesn’t cut it. Maybe you’ve been craving a change in scenery — have you seen the backcountry in the spring and fall? Regardless of your motivation to trade pavement for dirt, the right shoes make the difference between enjoying the boulder field at 10,000 feet and calling it a day at the first stream crossing. Whether you’re training for the Sky Running Race of Champions or just looking to trade your tried and true 5k evening run in for some time on gravel and dirt, GP’s testers have a shoe for every off-road run.
Altra Lone Peak 1.5
Best All-Day Shoe: We had a chance to sit down with Altra’s founder, Golden Harper, earlier this year to take a look at their origins and to get a sneak peak at some of their award-winning trail line. The updated Lone Peak 1.5s were designed around the storied Wasatch 100 endurance race. With beefy soles, excellent breathability, and a weight of under 10 ounces, this is the trail shoe for all day adventures.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra
Best Race-Day Shoe: Designed in collaboration with world champion ultra runner Kilian Jornet, this update to Salomon’s popular Sense shoe features additional cushioning and deeper lugs. While these changes add an ounce of weight, the Sense Ultra still only comes in at 7.4 ounces, even with a durable 13-millimeter heel. At $180, they’re a little pricier than other options, but come race day, these sturdy, nimble shoes will leave your opponents seeing red.
Brooks Cascadia 8
Best Shoe For Heel Strikers: The eighth edition of the Cascadia holds up Brooks’s strong trail tradition. A beefed-up BioMoGo DNA foam protects your feet from even the sharpest boulder hopping trails. The upper design is easy on the eyes, but more importantly, it keeps your feet locked in place — especially important on slick Pacific Coast or New England Trails. This is the comfort shoe your feet have been asking for.
La Sportiva Helios
Best Short-Distance Shoe: Don’t mistake the Helios for a lightweight, even if it does come in at just over 8.1 ounces. This hard charger is perfect for everything from short tempo runs to full-blown trail half-marathons. The toe and heel caps protect you on the rough trails, and the over-lugged sole sticks to everything. Go ahead and turn the speed up to eleven.
Merrell Barefoot Trail Run Ascend Glove
Best Minimalist Trail Shoe: If you’re looking for more connection to the trail, the Ascend Glove from Merrell provides the perfect minimalist platform with zero drop and only 6mm of cushioning. Ventilated and Gore-Tex-lined options are ready for any conditions (may we suggest a good runnning jacket if you’re planning on battling some harsh weather?). With a Vibram outsole and Merrell’s TrailProtect padding at critical points, the Ascend will be ready to go long after your feet are screaming for a break.
The North Face Single-Track Hayasa
Best Ultralight Shoe: The North Face collaborated with renowned Japanese runner Tsuyoshi Kaburaki to design the fastest trail shoes on the planet. (Hayasa literally means “speed” in Japanese.) Because of the ultralight touches — a neutral platform, minimal footbed and lightweight toe and heel protection — these shoes are not for the faint of heart or beginners. However, if you’re looking for a new set of tools to push you further, maybe a little Hayasa is what you need.
Newton Terra Momentum
Best Everyday Trainer: We got our first taste of the Terra Momentums at the GoPro Mountain Games during the 10k trail race up Vail Mountain. Since then, we’ve used them to handle everything from urban gravel paths to tricky ridgeline traverses. The flexibility of the shoes’ Action-Reaction technology makes them suitable for any runner’s style. If you don’t have the cash to spring for a few pairs of shoes (and really, who does?), these Newton trainers are easily versatile enough to take on any terrain, and, more importantly, are just as fast on a training day as they are on race day.
New Balance Leadville 1210
Best Long-Distance Shoe: Dirty, grimy feet are a constant in ultra-distance running, the inevitable result of grueling miles hoofed through the worst dust and mud imaginable. Clean feet mean fewer blisters and more time spent smiling during your run, and the breathable uppers of New Balance’s Leadville 1210s are tightly stretch woven to ensure that trail debris stays on the trail. A combined Vibram outsole and an N2/Revlite (New Balance’s proprietary cushioning foam) midsole make for a plush slog through long miles.
Hoka One One Rapa Nui Comp
Best Cushioned Ride: Hoka One One spurned the minimal debate and instead built a line of shoes with as much cushioning as possible. The result is a “running on air” feel. The oversized midsoles, with almost double the EVA cushioning foam of many other brands, function as foot-sized shock absorbers to provide superior flexibility and far more comfort than than competitors’ stiff rock plates.
Pear Izumi EM Trail 2
Most Stable Shoe: Pearl Izumi took their proven E:MOTION carbon rubber sole system and paired it with a new, completely seamless upper. The result is an EM Trail 2 that’s the most stable shoe on the market. If you’re prone to rolled ankles, the biomechanically designed E:MOTION midsoles help keep you on track to good midfoot form, even when you’re tired and would otherwise get sloppy. The water shedding and wicking uppers round out a great feature set. Trust us, you won’t want to take them off.