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The 14 Best Trail Running Shoes for Off-Road Running
The right trail running shoes make the difference between enjoying the boulder field at 10,000 feet and calling it a day at the first stream crossing.
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.
Best OverallHoka Speedgoat 5 Read More
Best Upgrade PickSalomon S/LAB ULTRA 3 Read More
Best Budget OptionMerrell Trail Glove 6 Read More
Best Trail Runner For SprintsSaucony Endorphin Edge Read More
Best for TrainingBrooks Caldera 6 Read More
What Are Trail Running Shoes?
Trail running shoes are shoes that have been engineered to perform on rugged and obstacle-filled trails. Your typical trail runner will feature a stiffer midsole than its road-oriented counterparts, and rugged outsoles with grippy lug patterns that help maintain stability, and braking, on the dirt and gravel alike. Common features on trail running shoes include reinforced toe caps to protect against rocks and roots, waterproofing to combat variable weather and rock plates between the midsole and outsole for enhanced protection.
How Do I Pick Trail Running Shoes?
The first thing you'll want to consider is feel — do you want something light and flexible, or could you stand a few extra ounces in exchange for extra cushioning? There are varied opinions on what's best on the trail for an obvious reason: there are varied gaits, level of experience and foot shape. What you ultimately choose should depend on what's best for you and you alone.
With that said, there are some pretty standard features on a trail runner you'll want to make sure your next pair has before clicking "Purchase." You'll want a protective toe box since you're inevitably going to encounter rocks and tree roots on your path. A grippy outsole is a must and weatherized, waterproof uppers never hurt either. Make sure lugs are at least 3mm, so you can really dig into the trail. And finally, read up on the midsole: some shoes will prioritize responsiveness, while others will lead with cushioning. Depending on where you're running and what you're used to, it pays to read up on these features.
Are Trail Runners Good for Hiking?
Like all specialized footwear, trail runners and hiking shoes and boots are purpose-specific designs, and while you can certainly get away with inter-changing them, for the best performance and feel, you'll want to stick with trail runners for running and vice versa.
Do Trail Runners Provide Good Ankle Support?
Ankle support is a tricky subject in the world of trail running and hiking: proponents of low-profile hikers and trail runners will tell you that the height and rigidity of the ankles on boots actually promotes twisted and sprained ankles, while fans of boots will insist the opposite. In our experience testing, we've found no true difference between the two: what really matters is a secure fit, finding the footwear that matches your foot shape and making sure you're paying attention as you run or hike. At the end of the day, the battle between boots and low-profile runners on the trail is entirely subjective.
How We Tested
Our testers wore their trail runners in a variety of conditions, from washed-out, sand-filled trails to slippery river crossings, to shale-filled hills with plenty of room for error. We tested our trail runners across all four seasons, and each shoe was tested for at least two months before reviewing, in at least two weather conditions. Each tester ran an average of 50 miles in each pair of shoes.
Our testers prioritized three factors while running in their shoes: weight, responsiveness and cushioning. Fit and feel on trail were top of mind, and waterproofing and protective features like TPU overlays and tough, durable outsoles were also documented throughout the duration of testing.
Learn more about the different running shoe styles to get the most out of every stride.