Challenge the trail in style
If you’re planning to leave the tarmac and take your running off-road, make sure you’re lacing up a pair of shoes built to contend with everything the trail can throw at them. To help you find the perfect pair, T3’s ultra-running expert and Marathon des Sables finisher, Kieran Alger, has hunted down 2015’s best running shoes for hitting the dirt tracks.
What to consider when buying
Just like road-running shoes, there are a number of things to consider when searching for your perfect pair. High up the list for most people are things like weight, grip, increased support, durability and decent waterproofing.
Look beyond the big brands
Most of the big brands like Nike and Adidas offer adaptations of your favourite road runners, but there are plenty of other brands that specialise in off-road running, such as inov-8 and Salomon.
Don’t restrict your search to the obvious. Your perfect trail running partners are quite likely to come from a shoe maker you’ve never tried before.
Know your terrain
Have a think about where you’re going to run most. Do you want shoes that can cross comfortably from road to trail? Do you want a pair that’s going to help you get over technical stoney ground? Or perhaps you’re hitting hills that have just as much grass as dirt track.
Try before you buy
It sounds obvious, but try on as many pairs of shoes as your patience can stand. If they feel in any way niggly in the shop, they’re going to be 10 times worse when you’re clambering down steep hills.
You need to find shoes that almost feel like they’re not there the moment you slip them on. That’s a good sign you’re on the right track.
Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3
Putting all of its expertise in running shoes built for the track, Nike’s low profile trail runner packs in all you need to take on the toughest terrain. With a heel-to-toe drop of 4mm, the Kiger 3 boasts larger than average lugs in the outsole to enhance traction for uneven surfaces.
The rubber forefoot is constructed to help keep your grip on wet, slippery surfaces, while the rugged plastic built into the toe box and heel add an extra layer of protection. That’s handy for any debris you don’t spot on your route.
For comfort, there’s a cushioned midsole and a sock liner that’s moulded for a snug fit and adds much needed support.
It wouldn’t, of course, be a Nike shoe if it didn’t carry the customary Flymesh upper, offering breathability when things get really sweaty.
£120 | nike.com
Merrell All Out Terra Trail
Part of Merrell’s All Out range, the Trail is designed to promote a natural running style, while keeping you well protected on the dusty trail. Vibram, the company known for its barefoot running shoes, provide an outsole which offers plenty of grip for a variety of surfaces.
The flexible underfoot encourages continuous ground contact to make sure you’re running efficiently and keeping up your pace. Merrell’s TrailProtect pad offers protection underneath the foot, and the reflective elements in the design illuminate your feet when the trail begins to darken.
Inside the shoe you’ll find a sock liner to keep things comfy, and a removable foot bed to keep your feet cool and dry. A synthetic leather lacing system will also ensure you’ve got the tightest and securest fit to keep your feet well supported.
£100 | merrell.com
Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra
The fourth edition of the Sense Ultra range is still built for hot and dry running conditions, but makes key improvements in the most important areas.
These include a reduced heel drop that promotes an even foot strike. Muscles absorb more of the shock when your feet hit the ground, which aids both balance and running efficiency.
For added stability, Salomon’s Sensefit tech cradles the foot, and the lugged outsole offers plenty of grip.
This is the lightest Ultra yet, thanks to a new Endofit design that reduces weight and hugs the foot where it needs support. A forefoot rock plate and Profeel Film across the upper guard also protect against rough surfaces.
A tough Kevlar-based lacing system ensures you have a secure fit, while the reflective mesh upper keeps your feet snug and protects against debris.
£140 | salomon.com/uk
Saucony Xodus 4.0 GTX
Built for the roughest trails, the GTX sees Saucony partner up with minimalist running shoe experts Vibram to help you stay on your feet.
That’s courtesy of the XS-Trek outsole along with a 4mm heel-to-toe drop to give you stability and efficiency even on the most technical terrain. Unlike most trail running shoes, it’ll also give you an advantage on wet tarmac surfaces.
A midfoot support strap keeps your foot secure with a moulded sock liner contoured to cradle the heel, support the arch and reduce pressure. An EBO plate helps fend off stones, roots and objects underfoot, while the bootie construction should make sure no debris gets inside your shoe.
When you plough the puddles or watery ditches, the waterproof upper keeps you blister-busting dry.
If you're up-to-date with your running legends, then you’ll know that Speedgoat is named after trail icon Karl Melzeder. These colourful runners are build on Hoka’s Rapa Nui range, except this time they’re more flexible and comfortable.
Hoka opts for cushioning over a more minimalist fit; the outsole packs 4mm Vibram lugs for great traction, and a wide mid foot platform provides extra stability. The side-cuts on the heel and forefoot mean there’s greater flex sideways when you run across uneven surfaces.
The megagrip rubber is built for all trail running surfaces and conditions with a rubber toecap adding an extra layer of protection up front. The injected moulded EVA offers lightweight cushioning with microfiber underlays that keep your feet snug and secure.
£110 | hokaoneone.eu
The North Face Ultra Cardiac
A company renowned for its climb-friendly kit, the Ultra Cardiac is a trail running shoe to help tackle those steep climbs in the hot or cold.
The Vibram outsoles offer plenty of friction for those uphill battles and a compression-moulded EVA for a more efficient run.
To help you on uneven terrain, there’s plenty of midsole cushioning for that added support. There’s also extra protection on the heel and toe sections, with a wide design and built-up medial sidewall, to fit a variety of foot types.
For comfort, there’s thick cushioning in the collar lining and tongue with a mesh and FlashDry upper that not only keeps you cool, but also dries your feet when you’ve been running in the rain.
£100 | thenorthface.co.uk
Brooks PureGrit 3
Taking inspiration from climbing shoes, the PureGrit 3 gives plenty of grip and protection on the most testing routes. On the outsole, the 3D hex lugs keep you on your feet on uneven terrain, while the BioMoGo midsole offers adaptive cushioning to accommodate the impact on altering surfaces.
To help prevent injury, the rounded heel reduces the stress on your body and aligns through the ankle joint where there’s great impact as you run.
A propulsion plate guards the foot from rocks and loose branches, with a Nav-band offering glove-like snugness. A breathable upper adds another layer of comfort, and the asymmetrical lacing brings in added support.
Brooks claims that the PureGrit 3 will get you through 250-300 miles of running, so they should be a good fit for short distance trail runners.
£100 | brooksrunning.com
New Balance Leadville 1210v2
If you really like to put the miles in, these should be a good fit. Inspired by one of the world’s toughest trail races, Colorado’s Leadville 100 trail run, NB has designed a comfortable running shoe that can take on mud, rocks and anything else you can encounter on a trail.
The first key ingredient is the tough, durable Vibram outsole, which offers traction and a satisfying amount of grip on tough surfaces. In the midfoot area, the gusseted tongue has been sewn to prevent stones and twigs getting caught.
A REVlite midsole brings in cushioning and responsiveness. Plus it's 30% lighter than other foams commonly used in running shoes. To keep things relatively fresh, the collar has been given an odour-resistant treatment, and the synthetic and mesh upper should offer plenty of ventilation.
£100 | newbalance.co.uk
Asics Gel-Fuji Runnegade
Asics takes some of the best features from its road running shoes and packs them into these military-looking trail runners for the tough, muddy runs.
The big lugs on the rubber outsole will get you through muddy, swamp-like terrain, and are easier to clean so you don’t get weighed down on your travels. These lugs also give you consistent underfoot grip.
Asics takes its Gel cushioning to absorb the impact as your foot hits the tough ground and deliver a more consistent running action. An Anti Gravel Tongue and fully-gusseted upper will fend off debris, while reflective material built into the design gives you some low-light visibility.
The rip stop mesh upper adds a layer of much-needed durability and is easy to clean after you’ve been caked in several layers of mud. To top things off, the removable EVA Sockliner can mould to the shape of your foot, making sure comfort is the last thing on your mind.
£90 | asics.co.uk
inov-8 TerraClaw 250
The Claw, as the name suggests, ensures maximum grip to give you the smoothest run possible. This is achieved by a lug design that provides multi-directional traction to closely mimic natural foot movement and deliver a more natural grip.
Two sticky rubber compounds in the outsole compensate for the varying hardness in surfaces, so you won’t lose your footing even in wet conditions. A Met-Cradle fit provides support and helps keep foot movement to a minimum as you change direction, encouraging you to run with confidence.
On the toe cap, a double layer of protection with a welded overlay keeps the foot in place and comfortable. A diagonally attached lace lock flattens the tongue so it doesn’t flail about or irritate.
To stop things getting too smelly, there’s a breathable mesh upper and interior lining with a removable insole that has fast-wicking and quick-drying fibres.
£120 | inov-8.com
inov-8 Ultra 270
This is one high-tech shoe. inov-8 has reduced the heal to toe size here to just 4mm, bringing your foot closer to the ground and increasing both positioning and comfort. The outer sole has been flattened to keep you stable even when you're tired and there's plenty of grip for any type of terrain.
The Race Ultra Gaiter attachment system can be fitted to keep dust and debris away, if that's your thing.
£99 | inov-8.com
Merrell All Out Charge
Lightweight and breathable, Merrell has kitted these durable trainers out with an M-Select outsole, which boasts deep angular lungs that improve acceleration and agility.
Another nifty addition is the UniFly foot wrap, which keeps constant contact with foot arch and helps you move more efficiently, conserving energy in the process. Shock pods on the sole ensure a stable takeoff and landing.
£95 | merrell.com
Saucony Ride 7 GTX
Getting your feet wet is never fun, so Saucony has equipped this pair with a waterproof Gore-Tex and DWR treated sockliner, to ensure your toes are dry from the start to finish. The Rundry interior lining wicks away moisture, while improved heel-to-toe cushioning is also onboard. Reflective panels don the heel, making sure you’re seen whatever the conditions.
£120 | saucony.co.uk
Merrell Barefoot Run Bare Access Trail GTX
This full-features trail shoe will float you through the muck with a 4mm lug depth and keep your toes relatively dry with it’s GORE-TEX connect fit. With a pro’s choice of 0mm drop it’s not for beginners, but for the barefoot runner wanting better impact protection it's all win.
I found the new lug pattern particularly effective on muddy descents, while the snug fit encourages commitment.
Another positive is the broad toe box, giving plenty of movement over longer distances. Merrell’s regular choice of Vibram graces to sole, in all it’s grippiness.
£115 | merrell.com
Salomon Speedcross 3
Salomon is making some fantastic trail gear at the moment, and the Speedcross 3s are leading the way. The sole provides masses of grip from the edge of the heel to the front of your toe, and the shoe is littered with great little details, from the bungie-cord laces to the elastic lace pocket behind the tongue.
£95 | salomon.com/uk
Icebug Anima2 BUGrip
These hardcore Swedish trailers are more than a match for a damp British winter. Carbide tipped studs are minimalist enough not to interfere with tarmac, but will grip on slippery roots and icy roads. The water-repellant upper is great too, though you might want a gaiter to keep your ankles nice and dry.
£94 | icebug.se
Saucony Xodus 4.0 GTX
Built with the ability to endure all weather conditions, the Xodus 4.0 GTX features a waterproof-breathable upper and an outsole made from Vibram XS-Trek to increase grip and prevent slipping.
Its Pro-Lock midfoot support band has been integrated into the lacing system for a ‘locked-in’ fit so you can cross uneven surfaces with the same balanced feel you’d have on flat ground.
£115 | saucony.co.uk
Salomon XR Crossmax 2
The Crossmax 2 provides a customed fit with thicker outsoles to protect your feet against trail running. It incorporates Quicklace technology to let you take your shoes on and off easily no matter how cold your fingers.
They also sport a thicker cushioned heel, resulting in a fit that makes this shoe ideal for longer, more technical, distances.
£100 | salomon.com/uk