The best trail running shoes 2018 for storming over tough terrain

Get speed and support across rugged terrain with our pick of the best off-road, trail running shoes. Warning: things WILL get messy

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With the tracks getting muddier and icier, you need the best trail running shoes.

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 resident off-road running experts have hunted down finest trail running shoes available to humanity, from lightweight racers to full-on ice-busting, hill-conquering mountain goat-like apparel.

How to buy trail running shoes

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 things like weight, grip, increased support, 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.

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 want 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.

How we picked the best trail running shoes

Our running experts Kieran and Luke have sampled numerous trail running shoes from the best brands, to pick a selection that offers something for everyone.

Our pick for the best trail running shoe overall was Adidas' Terrex Agravic, for its versatility, comfort and support. 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 for you, we've indicated what we think each shoe is best for. 

  • Handy tip: we've generally included the most up-to-date versions of each of these shoes, for obvious reasons. However, you can usually still buy older incarnations, from previous years, that are functionally very similar, but often cheaper. That is a bit skanky, though.

1. Adidas Terrex Agravic

Best for trail running at speed

If you’re venturing off the beaten path, the Adidas Terrex range contains everything from high-tops for 'fast hiking' to the hybrid Trailmaker GTX. 

The Agravic, however, is purely for off-road runners, confidently and speedily navigating rocks, ice and wet with Continental rubber soles – yup, from the tyre manufacturer – retaining grip on all surfaces

The waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex lining helps keep mud out without the shoe filling with sweat, while the Boost sole gives top class energy return. Light yet supportive, they're also unusually stylish for trail running shoes.

2. Merrell All Out Terra Trail

Best for natural running, but with protection

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. 

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. Vibram provides an outsole which offers plenty of grip for a variety of surfaces.

If you’re heading for more inhospitable climes, you might also want to consider the Merrell All Out Terra Ice Waterproof, which boasts a sole with nine carbide-tipped spikes for grip, a padded tongue and, obviously, waterproofing. 

Buy All Out Terra Ice Waterproof

3. Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3

Best for an adapted road-running feel

Putting all of its expertise in running shoes built for the track into a trail shoe, 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, plus a great fit and comfort.

4. Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra

Best for summer and desert running

The fourth edition of Salomon's excellent range for hot and dry running conditions 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.

5. Asics Gel-fujirunnegade 2 Plasmaguard

Best for rain and mud

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 rip-stop mesh upper adds a layer of much-needed durability and is resistant to mud and wet thanks to ASICS’ Plasmaguard everything-repellent coating. 

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.

Gel cushioning absorbs the impact as your foot hits the tough ground and delivers 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.

To top things off, the removable EVA Sockliner can mould to the shape of your foot, making comfort one less thing to worry about.

6. Salomon S-Lab XA Alpine

Best money-no-object option

A more expensive shoe, sure, but one that justifies the price jump with some serious tech leaps.

Lightweight yet very supportive, the XA Alpine offers waterproofing, moulded EVA for comfort, one-pull lace tightening, with a special pocket to then keep the laces safe, a protected toe cap, and an endofit foot wrap to enhance feedback. 

With all the kinds of smart you’d want when venturing above the tree-line, this is essentially a welly that you can run in.

7. Merrell Bare Access 4

Best 'barefoot' option

Not for the beginner, perhaps, this full-featured trail shoe has a pro's choice of 0mm drop.

Rest assured, its 4mm lugs will still float you through the muck, with Gore-Tex connect fit keeping your toes relatively dry. 

We 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, while Merrell's regular choice of Vibram graces the sole, in all it's grippiness.

For the barefoot runner wanting better impact protection, it's all win.

8. Saucony Xodus ISO GTX

Best for those who mix winter roads and trails 

Built for the roughest trails, the GTX range sees Saucony partnering 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 technically demanding 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 in your shoe.

When you plough the puddles or watery ditches, the waterproof upper keeps you blister-bustingly dry.

9. Brooks PureGrit 5

Another strong all-rounder

Taking inspiration from climbing shoes, US road-running stalwart Brooks serves up plenty of grip and protection on the most testing routes with the PureGrit.

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 will get you through 250-300 miles of running, making them a good fit for shorter-distance trail runners.

10. Saucony Ride 9 GTX

Another rain-repelling classic 

If you're hitting trails in the wet, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more able pair of running trainers than these. 

These keep your feet dry with Gore-Tex and a gasketed boot design, and this latest version has managed to drop a chunky 20 percent of its weight to feel light while still offering a plush cushion.

12. 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.