Stuff We Swear By: The Nike Wildhorse Is the Only Outdoor Shoe You Need

Trail running, hiking, biking — this shoe has been with me through it all

July 25, 2023 9:11 am
Nike Wildhorse Hero
Nike Wildhorse
Getty Images / InsideHook

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When I first started covering running shoes, I didn’t understand how runners could fall in love with one shoe. They purchase and hoard multiple pairs and still choose to run in only one model for years. Why miss out on upgraded cushioning foams and other tech in newer shoes? Why not mix things up? How good could one model really be? Then I found a shoe that fit like Cinderella’s glass slipper: the Nike Wildhorse. Of course, the rugged, trail-ready Wildhorse is the opposite of a glass slipper in nearly every way, but just like in the fairytale, this capable shoe has opened up a whole new world for the person wearing it (that’s me — and it could be you, too).

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I’ve worn my Wildhorse 7s for years, and they have helped me venture boldly through all kinds of off-road excursions. Although I didn’t hoard several pairs like other shoe obsessives, I now understand why people stock up on their favorites — the Wildhorse is worth holding onto. If you don’t already have a pair, I have good news for you: the latest Wildhorse 8 carries on the rugged legacy of the previous generation. Here’s why it’s worth splurging on this go-anywhere trail runner.

The Nike Wildhorse is a trail running shoe designed for a comfortable ride and plenty of traction in the dirt. The midsole is made from React cushioning, a soft and bouncy thermoplastic elastomer foam, and it’s paired with an embedded rock plate to protect your feet from sharp roots and rocks. On the bottom, there’s a sturdy rubber outsole that’s studded with lugs (cleat-like protrusions that dig into the soft ground). Up top, the shoe features a breathable dual-layer mesh upper, and a separate “saddle” (another layer of fabric) connects the footbed to the lace eyelets; when you tie the shoe, this saddle creates a snug wrap around the middle of your foot. 

How I Use It:

My favorite trait in any piece of gear is versatility. I love an item that can perform well in many different situations, and the Wildhorse falls squarely into that category. It’s an excellent trail shoe, and in the years I’ve owned my pair, it has become my favorite hiking shoe as well. These shoes have carried me through countless trail runs and hikes in the mountains around Southern California, where I live, and beyond. 

But they’re not just for running or walking: they’ve also become my go-to mountain biking shoe. The Wildhorse isn’t designed for cycling, of course, and it certainly can’t match the efficiency of a clipless bike shoe. Even so, the lugs mesh well with the gaps in the flat pedals on my vintage mountain bike, so the shoes stay put while riding, and the wide toe box gives my feet a comfortable platform for pushing down on the pedals. I recently laced up my Wildhorse 8s for a mixed-terrain, 42-mile ride from my apartment through winding fire roads in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the shoes stayed comfy and never held me back on the bike.

With just the right amount of cushioning, an accommodating fit, lockdown traction and enough durability to withstand rugged trails, these shoes have proven themselves to be a capable pick for running, hiking and biking.

Why I Swear By It:

These ponies love the dirt. The other day I wore my Wildhorse 8s for a trail run at a state park near where I live, and they gobbled up rolling, hard-packed trails without a single slip. Tight switchbacks, loose gravel, rocky stairs — these shoes delivered lockdown traction on every surface I encountered. I expected nothing less. Stellar grip has always been a highlight of my experience with these shoes: they provide a solid connection to the ground that inspires confidence and keeps me pushing forward. 

The Wildhorse also performs on the pavement, too. On another visit to that same trail system, I started and ended my run at my apartment, which means covering several miles of pavement in addition to hitting trails. While many trail shoes can feel awkward on the road, the Wildhorse handled city streets and sidewalks with aplomb. The trapezoid- and chevron-shaped outsole lugs essentially disappeared under my feet, with no harsh feedback or weird blocky sensation on the concrete. The shoe’s flexible forefoot promoted smooth transitions, and the midsole soaked up impact forces for a comfortable ride on hard ground.

I love the cushioning Nike uses in the Wildhorse. The React foam midsole strikes the perfect balance between softness and energy return: it has just enough squish to cushion my footfalls, but it bounces back quickly and creates a peppy feel under my feet. The heel feels soft on landing, and the firmer forefoot provides a responsive base for powerful toe-offs.

Many Nike shoes have a narrow fit, but the Wildhorse is quite roomy, especially in the toe box. This gives my toes plenty of room to spread out, which makes the shoe more comfortable, and the wider sole helps the shoe feel stable on uneven ground. Farther back, the upper creates a snug fit around the ankles, which boosts the Wildhorse’s stability even more. My feet stay planted within the shoe, whether I’m charging uphill or picking my way over ledges and rocks on the trail.

As a gear writer, I’m always trying out new shoes (my apartment balcony is currently full of shoe boxes). But if I had to thin the herd down to just one pair, it would be an easy decision: I’d save the Wildhorse.

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