Want to go off-road? You'll need the best trail running shoes. The best trail shoes can not only enable you to go fast off-road but will also protect your feet from rocks, branches, mud or anything else you come across as you devour the miles on a forest path or mountain trail.
Don't let the wrong running footwear slow you down as you leave the tarmac behind: choose the best trail running shoes for every off-the-beaten-path running session with this handy guide.
Trail running shoes from the best brands, including Inov-8. Salomon, Adidas Terrex, Nike Trail, New Balance and Saucony, are always sought after, and even more so now that park runs are becoming ever so popular, thanks to people turning to run in droves during the lockdown.
Forest and park runs have been the most accessible way to exercise and stay fit during the lockdown, and it seems that new park runners are here to stay on the long run (pun very much intended).
We expect to see a lot more 'hybrid' trail running shoes launched in the coming years: these will be specialised shoes for people who need 'intermediate' shoes for running both on the road and the trail.
Of course, hybrid trail shoes won't replace the best running shoes, but they might offer a good alternative for people who prefer more flexibility. For even more shoe reviews, check out T3's best workout shoes guide too.
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The best trail running shoes, in order of preference
The Brooks Catamount is hands-down the best trail running shoe on the market today. It is light, feels secure, comfortable and above all, it is also a highly functional trail running shoe.
The DNA Flash midsole brings its A-game here and provides just the right amount of bounce to make each stride comfortable. The TrailTack outsole and the Ballistic Rock Shield will guard your sole from protruding objects on the ground as well as provide a stable platform to land and take off from on uneven terrain.
The upper of the Catamount is white, brilliant white, in fact, but it's not supposed to stay like that. Once you used it for a couple of weeks or months, it will take on the colour of the soil and make the shoes look unique. Granted, all Catamount will eventually take on a shade of brown, but each one will be slightly different brown.
I highly recommend the Brooks Catamount, and if you are about to have your old trail shoes replaced or planning to get your first pair, you will find what you are looking for in the Brooks Catamount.
The Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max is not the first trail running shoe from Ino-8 that uses graphene, but it's the first one featuring a graphene-enhanced midsole, the Inov-8 G-GLY. This G-FLY midsole has some rather appealing features, including increased resilience and better energy returns compared to standard EVA foam used in other trail running shoes.
And although the Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max is not necessarily the wonder shoes Inov-8 claims them to be; it's still a pretty decent shoe that's not only agile but also comfortable. Said G-FLY midsole might be on the chunky side, but thanks to the Boomerang insole, made of expanded TPU beads, comfort levels are through the roof when running in the Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max.
On the outsole, you’ll find 35 'multi-directional' 4mm deep lugs and vertical grooves cut into the rubber that "allow the foot’s metatarsal bones to move more independently", as Inov-8 puts it. The lugs provide decent grip on semi-hard surfaces, but we probably wouldn't wear the shoes on very slippery surfaces.
While many trail running shoes have many layers on the top to protect the feet of runners from any debris they might come across when running off-road, the Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max sports a lightweight and breathable upper that's comfortable to wear and a joy to run in. The thinner upper doesn't mean you're completely exposed to the elements either: the Adapter-Fit upper is reinforced in key areas for added support and protection.
It's in the name: the Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra is meant to go fast. And when we say fast, we mean fast. After testing the shoes, we concluded that Adidas cranked the speed setting of the shoes to the 'max' setting and forgot to include a switch to turn it down. The Terrex Speed Ultra reeks agility and is raring to go as soon as you put them on.
How can the Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra be so fast?
First of all, it uses the combination of Boost midsole and Lightstrike cushioning, both amazing tech on their own terms. Still, when blended, they provide explosivity that we haven't previously experienced in trail running shoes. The lightness of the shoes further enhances the perception of speed: a size 10 (UK) shoe weighs a mere 277 grams which is 100 grams (!) lighter than the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max.
The Terrex Speed Ultra feels like it was made for racing, and the fit is certainly race-like, tight and narrow. Great for races, not so much for comfort or when you want to run for longer than an hour. Of course, if your feet are narrow anyway, the slender upper might be as bothersome as it was for us when we ran in the shoes. It wasn't uncomfortable, just a bit tight.
The Continental rubber outsole is grippy on wet, hard surfaces, but the lugs are not too deep, so we wouldn't go crazy in the shoes when running on really muddy trails. On the other hand, the Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra is perfect when running on mixed surfaces, going from trail to road and back to trail. And let's face it, most people will wear the shoes like that.
The New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro series always tried to be different from other trail running shoes. Sure, the Adidas Terrex series is not an eyesore, but Hierros look great and can truly be worn whenever: on the trail, in the pub or when you're out on a walk with the fam.
This doesn't mean it won't perform well on the trail, though. On the contrary, the plush Fresh Foam midsole will make every step comfortable, and you will be happy to clock in the miles in the Hierro v6. The shoes are not as soft as the road running shoes that use the same midsole due to the extra protection underfoot, but they are far from firm.
The Vibram MegaGrip will help you descend safely and provide some grip when trying to attack hills too. The Hierro v6 is not quite as grippy as the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max, but you don't need a crazy aggressive grip for every surface.
The synthetic/mesh upper uses 'zonal' TPU threads for added support and protection in high wear areas, plus laser perforations for ventilation. The upper is well-padded, maybe a bit warm due to all the extra fabric surrounding the foot, but this works well with the ultra-cushioned lower half of the Hierro v6. We certainly wouldn't put a thin mesh upper on such a plush midsole.
The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail is a great all-terrain running shoe that can also be worn as an everyday trainer on occasions. These shoes will perform well on lighter trail runs – when you are not completely off-road – and on the road, too, as long as it's not coming down too heavily.
The Air Zoom foam underfoot, combined with the Cushlon sole tech, will cushion your landings and soften impact force. The outsole lugs will give you extra traction on softer terrain, and the mesh upper will support airflow inside the shoes.
Being a 'jack of all trade, master of none'-type shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail's main appeal is not that it provides the ultimate trail or road running experience; it is the fact that for the money paid for these shoes, you will get a great trail running shoe and a decent road running shoe.
One can say that these might be Nike's best value for money shoes for runners who like to run on all types of terrain.
I feel that you either really like Hoka One One shoes, or you dislike them to the nth degree. Hoka has always been famous for its chunky midsole that made some of its greatest running shoes, such as the Hoka One One Carbon X and Hoka One One Mach 4, so memorable.
As much as I belong to the former group of people, I appreciate that the Hoka One One Zinal tones down the chunkiness in favour of more stability. I was a big fan of the Speedgoat EVO and the Challenger, but, admittedly, that much elevation can be rather dangerous in some cases, especially on harder surfaces where you need more flexible shoes to maximise grip.
The Zinal is the type of trail running shoe that can do just that. The PROFLY Midsole features a dual-layer system with an ultra-light foam on top and EVA on the bottom that provides comfort and propulsion. The Vibram Litebase outsole ensures you'll find footing even where there is minimal traction in between the sole and the ground.
The low profile construction of the Zinal allows the feet to breathe and move naturally without much restriction. I found the collar well-padded but a bit less supportive than needed, making it feel like my heels could pop out of the shoes at any point, although they never did.
The recycled yarn mesh upper allows for some expansion which is great news as the Zinal is a bit on a narrow side. The shoes are by no means uncomfortable, and you certainly won't be thinking about wanting to get out of them when running less than 15k. After all, the Zinal was designed for shorter runs (around 10k), and it performs well in these distances.
While the Hoka One One Evo Speedgoat 4 might attract more attention-seeking runners with its vibrant colours, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX will turn heads because it delivers a pitch-perfect running experience, both on and off-road. Hoka hit the nail on the head with the Challenger ATR 5 GTX and fused great running dynamics with a waterproof bootie, creating the ultimate bad-weather trail running shoe.
The lug pattern on the outsole grips both the tarmac and the mud; there is no loss of traction on any surface, not even when you hop from one to another in the same run. The lugs are deep and really dig into the ground, so not even muddy and slippery towpaths are an issue for the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX.
The 'GTX' in the name stands for Gore-Tex, a lightweight and breathable material covering the top of the shoes. Gore-Tex is famous for its all-weather condition performance, and it is the same here. The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX won't let you down in any weather, and you can definitely count on it on rainy days.
The sublime running mechanics are further enhanced by the Hoka signature Meta-Rocker midsole geometry; this chunky construction rolls the foot forward and combines landing and take-off into one smooth movement. Even if your form is not perfect, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX will help you transform art at least some of the impact force into forward momentum.
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX is definitely on the snug side, just like the Hoka One One Carbon X, which will suit most runners, but if you prefer a roomy toebox, opt-in for other offerings instead. Should you choose the Challenger ATR 5 GTX, the tight fit will come in handy when you have to regain balance after stepping on some random roots under the thick cover or dry leaves on your off-road run, which will most likely happen.
As for aesthetics, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX offers more subtle branding and an all-black colour, perfect for the shoe. As much as we like the vibrant colours on the cool-looking New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5, you won't mind stepping in a puddle and getting your shoes wet using the Challenger ATR 5 GTX.
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX is a waterproof, comfortable and durable trail running shoe, the ideal choice for runners who appreciate functionality overlooks. Not saying the Challenger ATR 5 GTX is an ugly shoe, but its main appeal is not aesthetics for sure. It will more likely win you over with just how great it feels to run in it. Guaranteed.
From our Saucony Peregrine 11 review by Tina:
"It’s hard to find fault with the Peregrine 11, and it feels like a great all-rounder – working well on an easy trail and performing when needed with tougher conditions underfoot. They may be a bit heavier than some other trail shoes, but it’s not something that you’re aware of when you’re out in them, as they felt light and responsive on the trails."
"The PWRRUN cushioning in the midsole feels firm under your foot, which suits me, although it may not suit those runners looking for a softer ride. The lugs do a brilliant job, and the grip of these shoes stands out straight away."
We couldn't agree more. The Saucony Peregrine 11 is a great trail running shoe for people who like to dabble in park runs, participate in trail races and everything in between. The Peregrine 11 stays true to its workhorse reputation and offers a decent running experience, regardless of the type of trail running you do.
And thanks to the Bright Future design, it has a bit of personality too, which is good to see from a Saucony shoe. Maybe not quite as stylish as the Hierro v6 but not every trail running shoe has to be: when you decide to wear a Saucony, you do so because you want it to perform well as a running shoe. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Salomon brand needs no introduction in trail running circles. Nevertheless, the Ultra Glide is something new from Salomon: it's the brand's first attempt to offer a cushioned trail running shoe such as New Balance's Hierro v6. And after testing it for a few weeks, I can confirm it's a decent attempt.
The Salomon Ultra Glide's SensiFit upper provides a snug fit, enveloping the foot with its padded goodness. Not in a suffocating way, but nicely. Salomon calls the shoe 'lightweight' but I wouldn't necessarily call shoes that weigh over 300 grams super light. Still, considering the amount of padding involved, the Ultra Glide isn't a terribly heavy shoe for sure.
The Energy Surge midsole combined with a new rocker shape delivers a responsive ride. It's not quite as pronounced as Hoka's signature early stage Meta-Rocker but the Salomon rocker has potential in it.
In summary, if you're looking for Salomon trail running shoes but want to make sure you're in for a comfortable ride, the Ultra glide is your best option. You get the best of both worlds: Salonom performance and well-padded comfort.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv shoes seem to illicit slightly Marmite responses. While there are some glowing reviews from hardcore long-distance trail runners – and if you fall into that camp, they could be well worth a look – amongst less experienced runners, the responses are more hit-and-miss.
The Vectiv seems to work best on flatter, hard-packed routes, and if you're new to the rocker midsole style you might also want to start with shorter distances, to begin with, to avoid sore feet. However, once you get comfortable with the Vectiv, the world indeed becomes your oyster: you will be able to fly across vast swathes of countryside in a blink of an eye.
This ultra running shoe is certainly not for everyone, but if you're one of those trail runners who enjoy a bit of a challenge and constantly strives to beat your previous PB, the Vectiv will enable you to do that as long as you do it on a relatively flat surface.
If you prefer your trail running shoes to be waterproof, have a look at The North Face Vectiv Futurelight Infinite shoes. These shoes feature an "ultra-thin nanomembrane that creates airflow while keeping water out", as The North Face explains. Other than that and from a performance point of view, the Flight Vectiv and the Vectiv Futurelight Infinite shoes are almost identical, apart from the weight, of course: the latter is 50 grams heavier thanks to the added waterproof layer on the upper.
I really like the concept of the Arc'Teryx Norvan SL 2 trail shoes: super lightweight technical trail running shoes for when every step counts, whether because you're on a race or trying to tackle a tricky section on a mountain ascend. The tight-fitting upper envelopes your feet as a second skin while the Vibram Megagrip outsole bites into any surface it touches, providing steady footing for when you need it the most.
Better still, the hydrophobic TPU mesh upper resists taking on water, keeping your feet light and your socks dry. The shoes are also super packable: you can practically fold them in half, put a rubber band around them and in the bag they go. I can't really think of any other trail shoes that are so light and easily foldable as the Arc'Teryx Norvan SL 2.
However, there is a slight issue with the fit: the Norvan SL 2 is super tight, to a level where even putting them on might be uncomfortable. I love the snug, race fit shoes like the next person, but the Norvan Sl 2 pushes the envelope really hard with its tightness.
Two areas stand out in particular: the toe box and the heel counter. The former is rather narrow and doesn't have much give, making the shoes rather uncomfortable for runners with wider feet (like myself). Interestingly enough, the heel counter is soft and even has a bit of padding, but as soon as you put the shoes on, it 'firms up' and digs into the heels a bit, and that's before you even started running.
Is the Arc'Teryx Norvan SL 2 a bad trail running shoe? I don't think so. Trail runners with slender feet will like the shoes a lot, especially those who need lightweight footwear when out and about on the trail. I think the Norvan SL 2 would perform better on races instead of training, but then again, why else would you wear such light trail shoes if not for racing? Don't be silly.
Inov-8 make running gear for the most extreme conditions you’ll ever come across, and with the latest Mudclaw design they’ve created a light, minimalist shoe that embraces mud with the gusto of an over enthusiastic hippopotamus.
Admittedly they look more like a pair of blade football boots than a traditional running shoe, but don’t let that put you off as the whopping 8mm rubber lugs offer unbeatable traction in the wettest, sloppiest conditions. 8mm lugs aren’t new to Inov-8, but here they’ve updated the rubber by lacing it with Graphene. 200x stronger than steel, Graphene makes these soles incredibly tough, and according to the brand 50 per cent stronger, 50 per cent more elastic and 50 per cent harder wearing than anything they’ve ever done before.
While we’ve not had months to test the durability of the soles, what we can tell you is that they’re an absolute phenomenon on soft, wet ground. On miles of flooded Cotswold trails the Inov-8 filled us with confidence to push harder, even over treacherous tree roots and slick festival-style mud. The upper has also been redesigned to include a dash of Kevlar to keep weight down while improving durability.
Be warned though: they’re a pretty minimalist shoe, so, while there is some heel cushioning, don’t expect road-running levels of squish. We sure felt the ground under our feet, but we never felt vulnerable. That could be the Underfoot Metaplate, a lightweight, flexible rock plate that aligns with your foot’s metatarsals, and the Exteroflow midsole that offers plenty in the way of power return.
The Inov-8 MUDCLAW G 260 isn’t a shoe for everyone, but if you’re serious about getting off road, and even off the path, they’re hard to beat for grip, speed and durability. They drain quickly, dry fast and positively demand you to run further.
The big draw here is the combination of Continental rubber outsole, tried and tested Adidas Boost midsole and Gore-Tex (hence the 'GTX' suffix). They mean the Agravic Flow has a reliable grip in all conditions, a smooth ride that evens out the bumps and a layer of GTX protection that shrugs off water, keeping your feet nice and dry. These shoes just love wet conditions.
They’re also comfortable thanks to the tongue-free sock construction that minimizes seams and stops stones and debris getting in. The heel cup is also cushioned and with a hefty amount of rubber around the front, your toes won’t be battered and blue after a long rocky run.
We’re big fans of the Adidas Boost midsole, and here, teamed with the EVA frame that keeps your foot nicely stable, our efforts were rewarded with plenty of oomph for our efforts. The outsole has plenty of large rubber lugs that make scrambling up slopes so much easier, but they’re not too deep, so you get a nicer ride on hard trails and even road.
All these features come together brilliantly in the wet, and if you really don’t like soggy toes, you’ll love the Gore-Tex layer that shrugs off puddles, wet grass and mud with ease. Obviously, there’s still a large hole where your foot lives, but the elasticated sock does help avoid seepage. If water does get in however it won’t drain away like many trail runners.
Another plus here is that you could easily wear these down the street, especially if you live outside of London or Birmingham. A great looking trainer, with yellow and black our pick of the colourways. A far less intimidating to the casual runner than many of the more serious designs on test. The only down side is that the Gore-tex adds to the weight (330g size 9), so these feel comparatively heavy as a result. It’s not like you’ve got lead in your boots, but real speed freaks will notice.
Merrell is definitely not new to the trail running/hiking business and I must admit, including one of their shoes on this list was long overdue. On the positive side of things, the Merrell MTL Long Sky is a brilliant trail running shoe and a great first entry from the American manufacturer.
The Merrell MTL Long Sky looks like a hiking shoe/trail running shoe hybrid: the mesh and TPU outer shell, the thick padding and the traditional lace closure all reinforce the trail nature of these shoes. The not-so-subtle branding on the lateral side of the shoes has another purpose: it is reflective which makes your feet more visible in low-light conditions. Don't leave your head torch at home if you are running in the dark, though.
Right at the bottom of the shoes you'll find the Vibram Megagrip outsole with its aggressive lug system that grips into anything and everything. The EVA foam midsole has light pronation control, perfect for people who suffer from this condition. The TPU heel counter is not too tight and holds the rear of your sole firmly.
Although the mesh lining in the Merrell MTL Long Sky is breathable, due to the ample of padding, the shoes can get pretty warm even after running short-to-medium distances in them. In return, your feet will feel locked-in and snug in them, but if that's too much for you, the EVA foam insole can be removed to create some extra space inside the shoes.
These vegan-friendly shoes have an 8 mm drop and weigh 280 grams (per shoe).
What are the best shoes for trail running
Technically, you can use road running shoes for trail runs but we strongly recommend getting appropriate footwear for muddy trails. Trail shoes are especially well suited for providing grip on slippery surfaces, one of the biggest obstacle you need to overcome when running on uneven terrain.
Among more established contenders, our pick for the best trail running shoe currently is the Catamount, the latest trail shoes from Brooks to utilise the light and bouncy nitrogen-infused DNA Flash midsole technology we so loved in the Brooks Hyperion Tempo. It is also comfortable and very grippy too.
If you are looking for even more energy return, try the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max for size. These aggressive looking shoes use a Graphene-infused rubber outsole that provides more energy return than standard EVA midsoles. The upper is pretty comfortable and breathable too, ideal for warm-weather runs.
If you're after pure speed, look no further than the Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra. These sleek looking trail running shoes use Adidas' Boost midsole technology and although the Terrex Speed Ultra might not provide an awful lot of grip on very soft surfaces, you will be able to unleash your full potential on semi-hard to hard trail paths wearing these shoes.
Can you run on road with trail shoes?
Sure you can! Most trail running shoes will work just fine on the road and it's recommended to use trail shoes if you prefer to run on mixed surfaces. Trail running shoes will provide better grip off road than road running shoes and won't break your feet when running on tarmac either.
That said, road shoes will provide way better energy return than trail shoes when used on road. That's because trail shoes often have integrated rock shields underfoot which makes them bend less and return less energy. Due to the extra layers of protection, trail running shoes are generally heavier than road running shoes, although not always: well cushioned and stability road running shoes can be pretty hefty too.
What is the most cushioned trail running shoe?
The most cushioned trail running shoe right now is probably the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6. Not only New Balance's Fresh Foam is one of the softest midsole foam on the market today, the Hierro v6 even goes a step further by combining it with a padded collar and tongue, creating the ultimate, mega-cushioned trail running shoes for people who prefer to run in comfort, even when they are uncomfortable because it's piddling down outside and their head and running gear are soaking wet.