Best trail running shoes 2021: the best trail shoes for off-the-beaten path running sessions

The best trail running shoes will provide speed and support across grassy, muddy or stoney trails

best trail running shoes
(Image credit: inov-8)

The best trail running shoes are equally as good on grassy forest trails as they are for running uphill on the side of a rocky mountain. Come rain or shine, trail shoes will protect your feet and propel you forward on or off the beaten path. If you're planning to escape the tarmac and run off-road, make sure you're lacing up a pair of trail running shoes built to contend with everything the wilds can throw at you.

Trail running shoes are always sought after and even more so now that park runs are becoming ever so popular. We expect to see more 'hybrid' trail running shoes to be launched in the coming years: these will be specialised shoes for people who need 'intermediate', as in trail shoes that can be used for park runs but also for running on the road. Hybrid trail shoes won't replace the best running shoes but they might offer a good alternative for people who prefer some more flexibility.

To help you find the perfect pair, T3's off-road running experts have hunted down the finest trail shoes available to humanity, from lightweight racers to full-on ice-busting, hill-conquering trainers that will transform you into a human mountain goat.

What are the best trail running shoes right now?

Among more established contenders, our pick for the best trail running shoe currently is the Brooks Catamount, the latest running shoes from Brooks to utilise the light and bouncy nitrogen-infused DNA flash midsole we loved in the Brooks Hyperion Tempo. It is also comfortable and very grippy too.

In second place, the Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley has a well-balanced mix of functionality, design and comfort coupled with sustainability. Trail running is not popular because it makes one feel comfortable but this shoe does its best to make you feel as less uncomfortable as possible.

For people who prefer minimalist trail running shoes and planning on racing more, the On Cloudventure Peak would work perfectly. This lightweight, versatile and fast off road shoe provides power on the ups and stability on the downs and is a great option for those who split their time between tarmac and trail.

The other shoes are then listed very approximately in order of how much we like them. However, you should also note there are also shoes in the list below for different off-road specialisations, different levels of grip and support, and so on. To help you make the best choice, we've indicated what we think each shoe is best for.

Before you head out for your next trail run, don't forget to take a running watch and maybe even a head torch with you: you never know when you'll need to navigate your way out of a forest. 

How to buy the best trail running shoes for you

Trail runners, just like road-running shoes, come in numerous variants, with something to suit every style and level of running ability. High up the list of requirements for most people will be features and parameters like weight, grip, support/cushioning, durability and decent waterproofing.

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, so don't restrict your search to the obvious. Your perfect trail running partners might even come from a brand you've never tried before.

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 tough, stoney tracks? Or perhaps you're hitting hills that have just as much grass as dirt track?

Many online retailers offer free returns nowadays so feel free to order a few different pairs and choose the one that fits your running style the most. Running shoes in general should be an almost perfect fit, but when you tumbling over rocks and various terrain vegetation, how the shoes fit will become even more important of a requirement.

Truth to be told, the below trail running shoes have been selected to represent the best of the best in the category so you can rest assured there is no bad choice here. They do differ, however, in how they react to your feet and the terrain, so running in one will provide a different running experience than others.

The best trail running shoes, in order

best trail running shoes: Brooks Catamount

(Image credit: Brooks)

1. Brooks Catamount

The best trail running shoes in 2020

Built for: long- to ultra-distance races
Weight: 300 grams (mens 10UK)
Drop: 6 mm
Reasons to buy
+DNA Flash midsole is still amazing+Roomy toebox+Laces can be tucked away+Excellent traction

• Buy the Brooks Catamount directly from Brooks Running (US)

• Buy the Brooks Catamount directly from Brooks Running (UK)

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 getting your first pair, you will find what you are looking in the Brooks Catamount.

Brooks Catamount review

best trail running shoes: adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley Trail Running Shoes

(Image credit: Adidas)

2. Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley

Great cushioning and grip meets sustainability

Built for: everyday training
Weight: 320 grams
Drop: 8 mm
Reasons to buy
+Great grip+Boost cushioning is comfortable+Uses recycled plastic
Reasons to avoid
-Be vary of sizing (order up)-Not waterproof

• Buy the Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley Trail Running Shoes at Adidas

• Buy the Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley Trail Running Shoes at

Much like the Adidas Pulseboost HD and the Adidas Ultraboost 19, the Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley sports a knitted upper for a sock-like feel and comfort. Said Primeblue upper features Parley Ocean Plastic which is made from recycled waste that's "intercepted from beaches and coastal communities before it reaches the ocean". Don't get too excited, though: each pair of these shoes only contains 11 PET bottles worth of plastic, so running in the Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley won't make you Captain Planet for sure (it's still an admirable effort).

The Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley uses the Boost midsole technology, used in many Adidas road and trail running shoes. The midsole contains tiny TPU capsules that are moulded together to form a platform that is different to standard, solid foams: Boost midsoles are bouncy and soft by nature. Boost technology works well on the road and on the trail too, sparing your joints from impact force whilst still providing ample amount of energy return. Adidas also claims Boost midsoles will provide the same running dynamics all the way down to -20 degree celsius: something I won't be able to test anytime soon.

The Continental Rubber compound is highly-durable and allows you to grip the ground beneath in both wet and dry conditions to reduce the chance of you slipping. According to Adidas, the Terrex Two Ultra Parley Shoe "provides adaptable traction to tackle any rural area." And for sure, the strong lug pattern works well in the mud and on drier, off the beaten path roads too.

Best trail running shoes: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX

(Image credit: Hoka One One)

3. Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX

Keep your feet dry at all conditions

Built for: mixed terrain, rainy days
Weight: 297 grams
Drop: 5 mm
Reasons to buy
+Sublime Hoka One One cushioning+Great energy return+Feels rugged
Reasons to avoid
-Not the lightest

• Buy the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX directly from Hoka One One

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 is your form is not perfect, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 GTX will help you transform art 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, which is perfect for the purpose of 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 over looks. 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.

best trail running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail

(Image credit: Nike)

4. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail

Get these shoes if you like to get your money's worth

Built for: intermittent runs of mixed surfaces
Weight: 291 grams (size 10)
Drop: 10 mm
Reasons to buy
+Roomy toebox+Good ventilation in shoes+Padding is comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Collar sits a bit too low-Loss of traction on wet, hard surfaces

• Buy the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail directly from Nike

The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail is highly recommended for people who are after good all-terrain running shoes that can even be worn as everyday trainers 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 to 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 a bit of extra traction on softer terrain and the mesh upper will support air flow 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.

• Read our full Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail review here

Best trail running shoes: On Cloudventure Peak

5. On Running Cloudventure Peak

Best trail running shoes for trail running races

Built for: Race days, tempo runs, mixed terrain
Weight: 260 grams
Drop: 4 mm
Reasons to buy
+Extra stability on the descent+Look good off the trails
Reasons to avoid
-Pods on soles can collect stones

• Buy the On Cloudventure Peak Directly from On Running

With a tagline like “as fast as the Alps are high”, the Cloudventure Peak sets a pretty lofty goal. The minimalist, highly flexible shoes have been stripped down to create the fastest shoe possible, whether you’re running up or down those challenging hills or powering along horizontal surfaces. 

The overriding goal is to make ascents and descents feel flatter, while still offering the cushioning, protection and durability you’ll need on unpredictable surfaces. 

To assist with this, the patented Speedboard tech (which has underpinned On’s running shoes since 2013) combines with the Cloudtec pods to propel you forward on the uphill stretches, all while helping you maintain your natural running style. 

On the up, the design reduces the temptation to transfer too much weight onto the forefoot and can unlock speed you didn’t know you had when powering up those mountains. 

Then, during your descent, the Cloudtec pods slide backwards on contact, offering you more support and cushion, and a little more resistance when planting your foot. Rather than the unpleasant slapping of the forefoot, the shoe encourages a nice forward roll for a feel more akin to cycling than running. 

For the Cloudventure Peak, On deployed a super-detailed micro-engineered, 4-level rubber grip profile, delivering different levels of traction and control where you need it most. 

Design wise, the Cloudventure Peak offers a considerably lower ankle profile than most of its competitors. It’s a striking design choice, even for a shoe company that thrives on them. However, this has enabled On to reduce the weight and prevent any unnecessary rubbing against the ankle. There’re also heel and toe caps to guard against those pesky rocks and tree roots that sometimes appear out of nowhere.

The Peak also offers a unique upper constructed from a lightweight, breathable, durable and fast-drying ripstop material. There’s an inner sock construction that eliminates blisters, while the slim and comfortable tongue helps to bring the weight (260g) down further. 

On’s Cloudtec pods can split opinion, mainly because they’re prone to stone intrusion rather than any issues with the cushion provided. However, those unwanted passengers they tend to work themselves out relatively quickly. Also, it’s fair to say some runners (especially those with previous injuries) might miss the ankle support when tackling longer distances. 

Overall though, the innovative tech on board and the ability to unlock a more explosive running style makes the On Cloudventure Peak an excellent choice for trail running.

Best trail running shoes: Inov-8 MUDCLAW G 260

(Image credit: Inov-8)

6. Inov-8 Mudclaw G 260

Best trail running shoes for REALLY muddy conditions

Built for: Mud, glorious mud, and sloppy OCRs (obstacle course races)
Weight: 260 grams
Drop: 4 mm
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional grip +Superb energy return
Reasons to avoid
-Unforgiving on harder ground -Not for the inexperienced runner

• Buy the Inov-8 Mudclaw G 260 directly from Inov-8 

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.

Best trail running shoes: Adidas TERREX Agravic Flow GTX

(Image credit: Adidas)

7. Adidas TERREX Agravic Flow GTX

Best trail running shoe for wet weather comfort

Built for: Dry feet on long runs
Weight: 310 grams
Drop: 7 mm
Reasons to buy
+Actually look quite stylish +Gore-Tex power +Great toe protection
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy -Not so much sole protection

• Buy the Adidas Terrex Agravix Flow GTX directly from Adidas 

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.

best trail running shoes: Merrell MTL Long Sky

(Image credit: Merrell)

8. Merrell MTL Long Sky

Vegan trail running shoes that look the part

Built for: Early-morning low light runs
Type: Slight stability
Weight: 280 grams
Drop: 8 mm
Reasons to buy
+Slight pronation control+Vegan-friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Lot of padding can get warm

• Buy the Merrell MTL Long Sky directly from Merrell

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).

Best trail running shoes: Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat

(Image credit: Hoka One One)

9. Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat 4

Race-ready shoes with sublime traction on all terrains

Built for: Race days, mixed terrain runs
Weight: 306 grams
Drop: 4 mm
Reasons to buy
+Lighter than the Speedgoat 3+Low heel-to-toe drop for extra maneuverability
Reasons to avoid
-Bit stiffer than needed

• Buy the Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat (Woman) directly from Hoka One One
• Buy the Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat (Men) directly from Hoka One One

If you thought the word 'goat' only meant wall-climbing animal only, you would be wrong. Goat also stands for 'Greatest of all time', and the person who inspired the Hoka One One Speedgoat line is surely one of those people.

Named for HOKA Athlete Karl Meltzer, “The Speedgoat,” who holds the record for the most 100-mile trail race wins, the EVO Speedgoat offers elite traction and cushion with a racing-weight, resilient upper

The Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat builds on the foundation laid by the Speedgoat 3 and further improves it. The main difference between the Speedgoat EVO and the Speedgoat 3 is the upper and that the former is 11 grams lighter.

The Matryx upper textile features high-tensile synthetic fiber strands across the midfoot for added strength and durability as well as being made out if non-wicking treated fabric. This optimises water drainage and keeps your feet dry in damp environments.

The very shallow drop (Woman – 5 mm, Men – 4 mm) provides extra stability and maneuverability on uneven terrain.

best trail running shoes: saucony peregrine 10

(Image credit: Saucony)

10. Saucony Peregrine 10

The littlest sibling of the Peregrine 10 family

Built for: Park runs
Weight: 303 grams (men), 264 grams (woman)
Drop: 4 mm
Reasons to buy
+Aggressive lugs for extra grip+Integrated tongue construction+Reinforced nose
Reasons to avoid
-Not too aesthetically pleasing

• Buy the Saucony Peregrine 10 directly from Saucony

The Saucony Peregrine 10 consists of three models: the Peregrine 10, the Peregrine 10 ST which has an even more pronounced lug design and the waterproof Peregrine 10 GTX. The 'standard' and the ST model is the same price and according to Saucony, the latter was designed for softer surfaces and sloppy terrain, so of you are planning on running on such surface often, go for the ST.

What all Peregrines 10 models have in common is the new PWRRUN cushioning, something that's been introduced very recently and has been slightly tweaked to better match the uneven nature of trail running paths.

The outsole – admittedly one of the most important parts of any running shoe – sports a directional lug system called PWRTRAC. As mentioned above, the different Peregrine 10 models have different patterns but they are all equally aggressive and agile. At the front, the chevrons face forward to give you extra grip as you take off the ground while the 'backward' chevrons under the heel will provide a more stable and controlled landing.

The reinforced upper uses the "trail-specific" FORMFIT technology to protect your feet, all the while providing a snug fit. The toebox is not generous but not too tight either and the reinforced nose of the Peregrine 10 gives you a reassuring feel that you won't break your toes anytime soon, accidentally kicking a random rock under the blanket of dried leaves.

The Saucony Peregrine 10 hasn't got much to offer in the looks department although it does come in two different colourways (standard model) so at least there is a choice there. To be fair, given the trail running nature of the Peregrine 10, it will get pretty muddy soon anyway, so I guess the colour doesn't matter all that much.

Given the snug feel, we recommend the the Peregine for short- to medium-distance runs. Doing long and even ultra runs in these tighter shoes might result in your toenails falling off eventually due to the extra pressure on the feet. For majority of runners, however, the Peregrine 10 will work just fine.

Best trail running shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5

(Image credit: New Balance)

11. New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5

Best trail running shoe for miles of comfort, in some style

Built for: Comfort in all conditions
Weight: 350 grams
Drop: 8 mm
Reasons to buy
+Stylish design +Exceptional comfort +…But durable nonetheless
Reasons to avoid
-As usual, sizing is off-Some will find the fit overly loose

• Buy New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5 from New Balance 

Even more fashion-forward than the Adidas Terrex, with their street styling and designer looks, we expect to see the Hierro v5 in more bars than back country trails. That would be a shame, as these are great all-terrain shoes that deserve to do some hard miles. That said, we would be lying if we didn’t feel a pang of regret as we stomped our box-fresh shoes through the first of many muddy puddles.

But run we must, and our feet were treated to a super-cushioned outing thanks to the extra thick Fresh Foam midsole, and the ultra-sticky Vibram MegaGrip sole. The Fresh Foam offers a plush run that out squishes the Adidas Boost, but still propels you forward energetically. It’s far from bouncy, and the extra durable sole adds a welcome stiffness, so even over uneven rocks and roots you’ll still feel stable.

The unusual upper is made from a TPU coated material that has stretch and plenty of durability and breathability for your toes. The Hierro v4 had a sock style liner which has been dropped here in favour of a large padded tongue. The main body of the shoe still fits like a glove, but it has a traditional tongue. We don’t think it impacts on comfort, with the v5 a pleasure to wear for long periods, but it does mean there’s more chance of small irritating stones getting in and giving you grief.

As you’d expect from a decent trail shoe the front is reinforced to avoid the agony of a stubbed toes, and with the v5 they’ve used a rubberised coating that wraps generously over the toe. And speaking of rubber, at the heel you’ll find a small protruding wing of Vibram MegaGrip that supposedly increases your foot’s landing zone when hurtling downhill. In fairness, we didn’t notice it when running, but didn’t come across any huge descents either.

All this rubber and padding does add to the shoe’s weight and at 350g they’re pretty hefty. Not being the fastest of the T3 reviewers this didn’t impact performance or enjoyment, but if you’re a real mile eater you may want to find a lighter option.