The Best Trail Running Shoes
Picking the best trail running shoes depends entirely on the type of runner you are and the type of trails you’re running. We divide our trail running shoe reviews into two main categories—the Best Lightweight Trail Running Shoes, for stronger runners looking for a faster, more agile, close-to-the-trail experience, and the Best Cushioned & Protective Trail Running Shoes, for trail runners who want more cushioning and protection from trail hazards. Of course, if road running shoes are really what you’re after, check out our tests of the Best Road Running Shoes.
Each season, our expert team reviews the best trail running shoes head to head against each other in each of these two primary categories. Each tester spends approximately 2-3 weeks running in each shoe, providing objective feedback on comfort, speed, security of fit, agility and responsiveness. We run on a variety of trails—from flat and rolling to steep, technical mountain trails, on dry terrain and in mud and snow. We never let our advertisers or brand biases influence our reviews in any way, so you get unfiltered, candid assessments directly from our experts.
Want to join our wear testing team? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alpine XT is a new trail model from Asics that strikes a balance between agility and protection, without sacrificing either. Our wear-test team found it versatile across a wide range of trails and conditions, thanks to an outsole with edge-to-edge lugs. The SpEVA foam midsole is responsive and lively, and cushioned enough (26mm heel, 20mm forefoot) that the lack of a forefoot rockplate wasn’t a serious hindrance. Some runners, however, may find the midsole too stiff. The uppers are a near-seamless dense knit that looks great and holds the foot securely and comfortably. Overall, our wear-test team was impressed with the new Asics Alpine XT.
Best All-Day Protection for Ultramarathons
New Balance Hierro v3Cushioned & Protective Trail Running Shoes, Running & Running Shoes
The New Balance Hierro v3 is almost unrecognizable compared to its predecessor. From the ground up, there are changes to the outsole, midsole, and entire upper. While the upgrades add weight (the Hierro v3 is the heaviest shoe in this round of testing, and about an ounce heavier than last year’s Hierro v2), the benefits are substantial. The new Hierro v3 has outstanding comfort and protection with a snug bootie upper, all of which make it an excellent choice for ultramarathons and long trail days. The new design is also visually striking. On the downside, some of our wear-testers found that the extra benefits didn’t offset the added weight. There were also serious disagreements on the team about fit and traction, with wear-testers giving the Hierro v3 very high and very low marks. Overall, the New Balance Hierro v3 is a shoe that everyone will like to look at, but runners should test out before buying.
Best Lightweight Cushioning
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4Cushioned & Protective Trail Running Shoes, Running & Running Shoes
The new Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4 keeps what most runners loved about the previous version, namely the maximal-cushioned outsole and lightweight, responsive ride. There are some changes to the upper to shave substantial weight over the previous version. But the weight savings comes from stripping down the upper, and that’s the source of most of our wear-test team’s concerns. Multiple runners on our team noted the flimsy structure to the uppers and lack of support. Overall, the Challenger ATR 4 sets the standard for a cushioned, lively ride, but there’s debate about whether saving weight by scaling back the uppers was worth it.
Most Plush and Comfortable
Brooks Caldera 2Cushioned & Protective Trail Running Shoes, Running & Running Shoes
The Brooks Caldera 2 is a lightweight, versatile trail shoe that tries to find a balance between protection and cushioning on one hand, and agility and speed on the other. Our wear-test team gave it high marks for comfort and design, but were split on how well it found the right compromise on protection and responsiveness. One called it one of his favorite trail shoes ever and an easy go-to for training, while another said it was a poor choice for anything but easy, mellow terrain without any technical features.
Best in Class
The North Face Flight RKTLightweight Trail Running Shoes, Running, Running Shoes & Trail Running Shoes
Best for Race Day
Inov-8 Trail Talon 235Lightweight Trail Running Shoes, Running, Running Shoes & Trail Running Shoes
The Inov-8 Trail Talon 235 is a no frills, lightweight trail shoe. It is fast, flexible and firm and will be a fantastic sub marathon distance race shoe. This updated version has a sock like fit that is very comfortable right out of the box. It has very little underfoot protection so it is best suited on buffed or non highly technical trails.
Best for Rock Hopping Agility
Inov-8 X-Talon 230Lightweight Trail Running Shoes, Running, Running Shoes & Trail Running Shoes
The Inov-8 X-Talon 230 is a rugged, go fast in the worst possible conditions kind of shoe. Hands down the best grip in this group thanks to its 8mm deep lugs. But also, one of the least comfortable. This is your shoe for mountain running, OCR, fell or snowshoeing. When grip and speed are at a premium, you can’t go wrong with the X-Talon 230.
Best For Zero Drop Fans
Topo Athletic Runventure 2Lightweight Trail Running Shoes, Running & Trail Running Shoes
The Topo Runventure 2 is a solid and comfortable trail runner that provides protection in rough terrain and outstanding comfort for longish days on the trail. Like all Topo Athletic shoes, the Runventure 2 is built to maintain natural running biomechanics, but can also accommodate traditional heel strikers or transitioning runners.