The best trail running shoes can help you easily scale and descend the most technical hills and mountains. Trail shoes will not only help you go fast when running on uneven terrain, but they 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.
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 remain in the long run (pun very much intended).
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. Looking for shoes that will keep your feet dry? Check out our best waterproof running shoe guide for more info. For even more shoe reviews, check out T3's best workout shoe guide.
Best trail running shoes to buy right now
The Saucony Peregrine 12 (link to our full review) is a durable, versatile trail shoe which performs well in all weather and on all terrain. They may not be the cheapest trail shoes on the market, but they will protect your feet for longer and cope better in slippery conditions than value footwear.
If you want to invest your cash in a pair of reliable treads that will see you through hundreds of gnarly miles, this is the trail shoe for you. They look great, feel good and respond quickly, and you know they will be a great all-rounder, particularly for long-distance runners tackling a variety of surfaces.
The new lightweight design and sticky traction mean they are great for speed, too and won't weigh your feet down in marathon and ultra races even when wet. With additional drainage in the sole, this pair should keep you light and dry on your feet for mile after mile.
The Hoka Speedgoat 5 is quite frankly delicious to look at and wear. It combines unrivalled bounce, extreme comfort and excellent grip into one helluva trail running shoe that's hard to beat.
Sure, the Speedgoat 5 is a chunky unit, like most of Hoka's shoes, but the extra foam underfoot protects the foot from impact/rocks and cushions landings beautifully.
One small thing to note is that the standard version of the Speedgoat 5 has a relatively narrow toe box; people with wide feet should opt for the wide (EE) model, especially if you happen to run longer distances.
Read our full Hoka Speedgoat 5 review.
The Asics GEL-Trabuco 10 is a very exciting prospect if you're looking for a trail shoe designed for overpronation – on our test runs, the grip was great on an 11-mile trail run over all sorts of terrain, including grass, rocks, road, wooden stiles, stoney tracks and dusty dry-mud fields.
However, if you are already into trail running and not having any problems in that direction, they may be a tad on the stiff, heavier side for you. That said, it's hard not to love the on-trend look of the Gel-Trabuco 10 with the turquoise knitted uppers combined with a hot pink sole with design accents and laces to match. Not to mention, it's comfy right away!
Read our full ASICS Gel-Trabuco 10 review
The Trail Runner SWT (Sugar-Wool-Tree) is Allbirds' first-ever running shoe designed for the trails. It has a breathable one-piece upper featuring durable ripstop protection and a water-repellent finish – these shoes were genuinely made for trails.
As expected, the shoes are highly sustainable; the upper is made from a mix of FSC-certified TENCEL Lyocell (eucalyptus tree fibre) and ZQ Merino Wool, while the SweetFoam midsole is made with sugarcane-based green EVA. The outsole is FSC-certified natural rubber, and even the seam tape and heel counter are all bio-based TPU material.
Even the eyelets are bio-based nylon, and the shoelaces are also made from recycled plastic bottles.
Despite being so sustainable, the Trail Runner SWT didn't cut any corners in terms of comfort and performance. In fact, Allbirds claims that the shoes are comfortable enough to wear without socks; we can confirm this is true. The lugs provide just the right amount of grip on softer surfaces without reducing grip on tarmac, making the shoes ideal for mixed terrain training.
Granted, the Allbirds Trail Runner SWT (opens in new tab) (retailer link) aren't high-performance trail shoes but provide good enough energy return for everyday training.
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 runners' feet 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 genuinely be worn whenever: on the trail, in the pub or when you're out on a walk with the fam.
This doesn't mean the Hierro v6 won't perform well on the trail. 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.
Shop our New Balance discount codes to save on your new footwear.
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 (opens in new tab) (link to retailer) 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 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.
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 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 strive 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 (opens in new tab) (retailer link) 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.
Read our full The North Face Flight Series Vectiv review
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.
Initially, we were impressed with the comfort of the Arc'teryx Norvan LD 3, but the longer we wore them, the more we realised they were best suited to beginners.
They have a reasonably high price tag and will appeal to those looking for a trail shoe with additional cushioning and support. If you are a fan of Asics Cumulus or Brooks Ghost road shoes, these are good crossover trail shoes.
They are also suitable for runners whose feet meet the ground heel first and require a 6mm drop. But longer distance, experienced trail runners may prefer something less restrictive, which allows them to feel the earth more intuitively.
Read our full Arc'teryx Norvan LD 3 review.
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 obstacles 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 shoe 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 a 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 stable 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 foams 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.