Choosing the best trail running shoes is a different process from picking shoes for the gym or road running. Trails are uneven terrain, ranging from muddy or sandy to hardpacked dirt or slick rock. Picking the best trail running shoe is an exercise in knowing your trail, and knowing your run.
Some trail running shoes will keep you stable on wet mud and sand, digging in with big teeth known as lugs. Others are built for long-distance endurance, making sure you don't blow out a shoe when you're miles away from the trailhead.
To pick the best trail running shoes, you need to be sure of what you'll use them for since some work better for endurance while others emphasize speed.
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Why You Need Trail Running Shoes
If you've spent any time trail running, you know that it's a lot different from running on the road. The terrain is uneven, with rocks and roots threatening to throw you off balance. Dirt and gravel can be slippery, and there's always a chance you'll end up crossing a stream.
What you need is a shoe that can handle anything nature can throw at it. It should be rugged, durable, and most importantly, comfortable. We'll help you decide what makes the best trail running shoes work for you.
Picking The Best Trail Running Shoes
When it comes to picking the best trail running shoes, REI recommends three criteria to look for.
The first one is the shoe's grip. On rugged and difficult terrain, trail running shoes will help you traverse things like mud, slabs of rock, and gravel.
You'll also want to look for foot protection. A shoe that can handle dangerous terrain won't do any good if it can't also help your feet handle it! The construction of the sole should focus on protecting your feet from rocks and sharp objects. At the same time, the upper should be able to withstand damage and not rip open.
Finally, look for a sturdy shoe. Trail running shoes need to let you adjust your stride to the terrain. But, if they're not stiff enough, it could result in a rolled ankle. Think about the type of trail you usually run on and find the best trail running shoes to meet those conditions.
How We Picked The Best Trail Running Shoes
Our first step for selecting the best trail running shoes was to consult professional reviewers and gear experts. Some of the best places to go for reliable reviews are Switchback Travel, Runners World, and Outdoor Gear Lab. These sites are among the best for detailed and thoughtful reviews of the best trail running shoes and other outdoor gear.
Of course, they're not the only sources to consider when it comes to finding the best trail running shoes for you. One of the most important sources of reviews around is the customers who buy and wear these shoes.
And wear them they do. Every day runners put these shoes through their paces, wearing them down in ways that reviewers may not be able to.
How Much Will You Pay For The Best?
Trail running shoes are an investment. They elevate your run and protect your feet, and you'll pay a bit more for them than you would a general pair of sneakers. But you shouldn't confuse price with quality.
Most of the best trail running shoes cost between around $ and $$$. Often, the shoes with fewer advanced functions cost less than those that are extensively engineered. However, this is not always the case. Several of the lower-cost shoes have similar materials and constructions techniques of more expensive models.
Whatever your budget is, we know you'll be able to pick a trail running shoe that works the best for you.
Our Picks For The Best Trail Running Shoes
We have listed our choices for the best trail running shoes below. We didn't rank them against each other but in alphabetical order.
ASICS Women's GEL-Kahana 8 Trail Runner
The ASICS Women's GEL-Kahana 8 Trail Runner shoes focus on comfort and durability rolled into one great product. This product has several proprietary pieces of ASICS engineering that make it worth much more than its low price tag suggests.
It gets its name from the Rearfoot GEL cushioning, which gives you a smooth landing and lets you roll easily through your whole step. That combines with a SpevaFoam midsole and DuoMax support system that give you more cushioning, durability, and stability. These shoes protect your ankles and knees from impact, helping you run longer in the short and long term.
The ASICS Women's GEL-Kahana 8 Trail Runner is well-liked on Amazon.
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Brooks Caldera 3
The Brooks Caldera 3 trail running shoes are heavily cushioned and come ready to protect your feet and keep them dry. With a special mesh upper and high-stacked midsole, you'll be ready to go the distance with the Caldera 3.
The first thing you may notice about the Caldera 3 is how thick the sole is, also known as its stack. With a high stack, the Brooks Caldera 3 will shield your feet from any hazard.
Just know ahead of time, you won't be able to feel the trail as well if that's something you want in your shoe.
The Brooks Caldera 3 strives to keep your feet protected in all trail conditions. Its Ariaprene mesh upper keeps your foot airy and breathable while drying out quickly, should you come into contact with water.
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HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3
HOKA ONE ONE's Speedgoat 3 should inspire confidence based on its namesake. They named their shoe after the record-holder for the most 100-mile race wins. With that in mind, you should consider the Speedgoat 3 for shoes that will endure the longest distances you can put on it.
The HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3 has increased durability and stability, which are both crucial if you're going to be running long distances. The midsole and toe box are also wider than previous versions for additional comfort, and this iteration of the shoe has heel support to cradle and protect your foot.
On the outside, the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3 has a mesh upper that maximizes breathability so your foot won't get too warm on long runs. These shoes have a Vibram Megagrip outsole, and the lugs are 5mm, so you'll grip onto any surface with absolute ease.
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Merrell Women's Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner
The Merrell Women's Vapor Glove 3 are minimalist trail running shoes which emulate a barefoot running experience while giving you a comfortable and protected running shoe that will give you traction on slippery trails.
Merrell made these shoes with a Vibram sole. Vibram soles are famous for their advanced traction capabilities, so even with a barefoot feel you'll be able to keep your grip.
Alongside a TrailProtect pad, the Vapor Glove 3 shields your foot without stopping you from feeling the ground. These shoes are also incredibly light, which helps you feel like you're running barefoot.
You can purchase them on Amazon and the Merrell website.
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New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail
The New Balance Minus 10v1 Trail shoes fall into the barefoot running trend. They're small, light, low-profile shoes that protect your foot while giving you protection from hazards on the trail.
The upper of the New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail is synthetic and mesh, which is flexible and extra lightweight. You won't have to worry about feeling your shoes weigh you down with the Minimus.
However, the shoe does have a midsole wrap which locks your foot into place. Your foot won't slide or slip inside the shoe.
One of the most important parts of a barefoot shoe is that you aren't actually barefoot. With this in mind, the sole is the most complex part of this shoe. Performance foam provides support and protection from rocks and roots. At the same time, a grippy Vibram outsole adds traction and maneuverability.
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Salomon Unisex S/LAB Sense 7
Salomon is usually known for its heavy-duty, endurance-focused shoes. These shoes, the S/LAB Sense 7 are a shocking red color and built for running trail races rather than enduring heavy duty use.
In order to achieve this, the S/LAB Sense 7 shoes are lightweight and closely fit your foot. Since responding to the terrain is essential to a good run, Salomon engineered the Sense 7 shoes to have a superior ground feel. You'll be able to react perfectly to the ground under you.
To make sure your shoes carry you to victory, the Sense 7 has a breathable upper which dries quickly, supporting your foot through the whole race.
Cushioning from the EnergyCell+ midsole layer gives you reactive energy, which conserves yours for those long races. Plus, Wet Traction Contragrip rubber ensures hold in every condition, so a wipeout won't keep you from the finish line.
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Salomon Women's Speedcross 4 Trail Sneaker
The Women's Speedcross 4 features Salomon's trademark durability, combined with lightweight shoes that can maintain traction on any terrain. With an abundance of cushioning and specially engineered fit, the Speedcross 4 Trail Sneaker will serve you in the worst of conditions.
Salomon's Women's Speedcross 4 Trail Sneaker emphasizes use in wet, muddy, and otherwise challenging trail conditions. Salomon makes sure you won't take any spills with its Wet Traction Contragrip that will grab onto any terrain. Plus, the upper focuses on protecting your feet from debris and mud with a mudguard.
An easy-to-use Quicklace system keeps your shoes on tight in any condition and makes sure that laces soaked in water and mud don't come undone at the worst time.
It's available on Amazon and Backcountry.
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Saucony Peregrine ISO - Trail
These shoes are the trail iteration of Saucony's
popular Peregrine ISO running shoes. Saucony updated their award-winning Peregrine model with a foam midsole and an outsole that grips on rugged trails.
The most notable addition is Saucony's proprietary PWRTRAC rubber outsole. This coating is especially grippy and durable, so it will hold up when you find yourself running on slippery terrain.
Plus, the sole of this shoe has large lugs, the teeth that help you grip into muddy or soft soil.
Saucony's Peregrine ISO - Trail also has an EVERUN topsole for energy return, so the shoes propel your foot forward with the energy you use to step. And the ISOFIT dynamic upper hugs your foot for a better fit.
As a side note, these shoes are the Men's S20483-2 Trail Running Shoe on Amazon, but it's still the Peregrine ISO - Trail.
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Which Are The Best Trail Running Shoes For You?
So which are the best trail running shoes for you? It all depends on the kind of experience you want when you're on the trail! Some of these shoes are made for speed and ground feel. Others will give you contact and protection at the cost of weight.
For women, the ASICS GEL-Kahana 8 Trail Runner is an excellent all-purpose trail running choice. It's a low-cost option, especially compared to other trail running shoes we have mentioned.
But despite costing less than other shoes here, it has quality grip and cushioning that rival the most expensive. If you trail run for fun, or are training for bigger events, the GEL-Kahana 8 is a great option.
As for the best men's trail running shoes, the Saucony Peregrine ISO - Trail is one of the best around. These shoes are based on several iterations of great shoes, and offers a good balance of grip and weight.
As a bonus, its midsole gives you energy return so you can run harder for longer. It also comes in at a reasonable cost.
However, while both of these shoes are great options, none of the shoes here are in any way bad. It's all about the running you plan to do, and the terrain you're running on.
What kind of running do you do? What do you wear on your feet? Tell us about it in the comments!
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