The Best Trail Shoes for Off-Road Running
With their durable uppers and grippy outsoles, trail shoes are designed to protect your feet and help you push the pace in the dirt.
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Trail shoes are your ticket to the wilder side of running. Instead of logging miles on suburban sidewalks or city streets, these off road-friendly kicks allow you to run with confidence on dirt trails. While your typical road running shoes can handle the occasional flat gravel path, trail shoes are a worthwhile investment if you plan on mixing off-road routes into your training plan. They’ll give you the grip and protection you need for running on trails. You can also use them for more than just running: Many trail shoes also make great hiking shoes.
Best All-Around Trail Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 13
Best Minimalist: Xero Mesa Trail II
Best Waterproof: Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 Gore-Tex
Best Zero-Drop: Altra Lone Peak 7
Best Customized Fit: La Sportiva Jackal II BOA
Best Affordable: New Balance Fresh Foam Garoé
Best Cushioning: Asics Trabuco Max 2
Best for Speed: Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
Best for Mud: Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 v2
Best Cushioned Shoe for Technical Trails: Hoka Speedgoat 5
Things to Consider:
As with any running shoe, you’ll need to consider the kind of running experience you like and where you’ll run when shopping for trail shoes. In addition to the usual considerations, like a comfortable fit, there are a few trail-specific features and criteria to keep in mind.
Outsole Material and Design: The outsole, or the bottom part of the shoe that touches the ground, is one of the most important aspects of any trail shoe. There should be rubber and plenty of it. Vibram rubber outsoles are the industry standard, and this grippy material is used in many brands’ models (some brands, like Inov-8, have developed their own proprietary outsole compounds). Trail shoe outsoles also have lugs, which are small protrusions that dig into soft ground. Some are relatively small, making them suitable for hard-packed ground and even pavement, while others are larger and more widely spaced, making them better suited for soft or muddy terrain.
Protection: Trails present some unique hazards you won’t find on the street. Things like roots, rocks, thorns and pokey branches. Trail shoes are built with durable uppers that can resist abrasions so that they won’t tear, and they’ll protect your feet from encounters with obstacles. If you expect to run frequently in wet weather, consider getting a shoe with a waterproof upper that’ll keep your feet dry (and check out our list of the best waterproof running shoes here, if you’re more of a road runner). If you run on trails with creek crossings, however, you’ll likely want the opposite: a very porous upper shoe that lets water drain quickly. In addition, many trail shoes come with rock plates embedded in their midsoles, keeping sharp rocks or roots from painfully jabbing up into your feet.
Your Running Shoe Preferences: Like road shoes, different trail shoes offer different running experiences (like soft, cushioned shoes or lightweight, firm shoes tuned for speed). If you prefer a plush, well-cushioned road shoe, look for trail shoes designed for a similar ride. Trail shoes with lots of cushioning can also provide extra protection: The thick slab of foam keeps debris from poking your feet, sometimes obviating the need for a rock plate. On the other hand, leaner trail shoes can give you a better feel for the ground, which helps navigate obstacles on technical trails. If you’re unsure of your preferences, visiting a running store and trying on a few pairs before buying is best.
Hitting the trail is a great way to liven up your running routine and explore new places. Whether you’re an experienced trail runner or you’re just getting started with off-pavement adventures, these men’s trail running shoes will put you on the right path.
Best All-Around Trail Shoe
Saucony Peregrine 13
Peregrines have graced the feet of trail runners for years. Saucony recently released an updated 13th iteration, continuing the model’s reputation for dependable performance in the dirt. The midsole is made with Pwrrun, Saucony’s lightweight EVA cushioning foam and a Pwrrun+ sock liner for added comfort. A rock guard protects your feet from sharp objects on your path, and the outsole’s sturdy 5mm lugs generate plenty of bite for sure footing across sketchy terrain.
Best Minimalist Trail Shoe
Xero Mesa Trail II
Spend some time browsing trail-running subreddits, and it won’t take long before you start seeing people talking up the Mesa Trail. It’s a well-regarded shoe among the minimalist running crowd, and Xero recently updated the shoe for improved performance. It now comes with a thinner, more durable toe cap and welding on the upper to better protect your feet. The thin, highly flexible sole gives you a good feel for the ground, and adjustable straps on the upper help you get a snug, comfortable fit.
Best Waterproof Trail Shoe
Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 Gore-Tex
There’s no better feeling than gliding through a rainy run with warm, dry feet. That’s exactly what you’ll get with the Pegasus Trail 4 Gore-Tex. An off-road variant of Nike’s beloved Pegasus training shoe, this souped-up Peg features a Gore-Tex upper that does a great job of blocking out moisture — I’ve tested it on multiple rain-soaked runs, and it worked flawlessly. The rubber outsole provides dependable grip on wet pavement and dirt trails. I’m also a big fan of the React midsole: It creates an ideal balance between softness and energy return.
Best Zero-Drop Trail Shoe
Altra Lone Peak 7
The Lone Peak is a popular option among trail runners who like a zero-drop shoe. Not sure what that means? In most running shoes, the footbed slopes downward from the heel to the forefoot (that’s called “drop”), but Altra shoes are designed with zero drop, so the forefoot and heel are at the same level. This promotes a more natural foot positioning and movement as you run, and the Lone Peak’s wide forefoot design gives your toes plenty of room to play with each step. The bottom of the shoe features a rugged MaxTrac outsole, and it’s a capable pick for just about any trail.
Best Trail Shoe for a Customized Fit
La Sportiva Jackal II BOA
The Jackal II BOA allows you to dial in an ideal fit. The upper features two easy-to-use BOA closure systems; just rotate the knobs to get a snug wrap around your foot. Post-run, pop the knobs upward, and the shoe slides right off. In my testing, I appreciated how the two BOAs let me get a tighter fit toward the top of my foot and leave the midfoot a bit looser — these shoes are really narrow, which helped accommodate my somewhat wide feet. The dual compound rubber outsole creates lockdown traction, and overall the Jackal offers a firm, responsive ride that’s great for negotiating technical terrain or zipping along flowy trails.
Best Affordable Trail Shoe
New Balance Fresh Foam Garoé
The Garoé is a bargain pick that includes some top-shelf features, most notably New Balance’s plush Fresh Foam cushioning and an upper with lots of overlays for protection and durability. It’s designed for a comfortable ride, and the lugged AT Tread outsole should create dependable traction for jaunts on mellow trails. If you’re just dipping a toe into trail running and don’t want to spend a fortune — or you need a pair of shoes, you won’t feel bad about beating up — this is a great model to go with.
Asics Trabuco Max 2
If you prefer a well-cushioned running shoe, the Asics Trabuco Max is a good model to consider. This shoe features a thick slice of the brand’s FlyteFoam Blast+ foam, a soft, highly responsive material that’s also used in the NovaBlast training shoe. It gives the Trabuco a plush-yet-bouncy sensation, and the sole’s rocker shape helps you roll smoothly through each stride. This shoe will help you power through trail runs of any distance.
Best for Speed
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
The S/Lab Ultra 3 is a hero shoe in Salomon’s lineup, and it’s built for the demands of long-distance trail racing. The firm midsole utilizes EnergyCell+ foam for responsiveness, and it’s combined with a polyurethane-based foam that resists packing out, so you get a consistent feel even after high-mileage efforts. The upper includes an integrated gaiter to keep out dirt and debris, and Salomon’s Quicklace system, which uses a cinched drawcord instead of laces, helps you get a close fit. The Contagrip outsole is formulated to generate traction on all kinds of surfaces, so no matter where you’re running, you can focus on your pace and keep pushing.
Best for Mud
Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 v2
U.K. brand Inov-8 makes hardcore trail shoes for the most demanding conditions. The X-Talon Ultra 260 is designed specifically for covering long distances over mud and soft terrain. The latest version has a slimmer tongue for an improved fit, and the upper is made from ballistic nylon for exceptional durability. Inov-8 kicks generally have a firm ride, but you won’t need much cushioning in the muddy conditions this shoe is designed for.
Best Cushioned Shoe for Technical Trails
Hoka Speedgoat 5
Another much-loved model among trail runners, Hoka’s Speedgoat is a capable pick for challenging terrain, but it offers more cushioning than the Salomon and Inov-8 shoes above. When I ran in this shoe, I found it absorbed impacts well but still provided a firm, responsive base; the rocker sole shape also encouraged smooth, quick strides. The Vibram Megagrip outsole has a great bite on uphills, downhills, loose gravel, packed dirt — basically any terrain I ran on.
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