The Best Lightweight Trail Running Shoes

For our Spring 2017 test of lightweight trail runners, we had seven experienced runners put five similar shoes head to head on the same trails for between to and three months of testing. We rated them objectively on five categories—speed, agility, security of fit, responsiveness, and protection.

The shoes we tested in this category are designed for faster, more agile trail running. These are built lower to the ground lighter, generally weighing under 10 ounces for men’s sample size (size 9) and 8 ounces for women’s. They are best for more efficient runners who prefer a speedier, more responsive trail running experience.

Overall, the best lightweight trail shoe of the season, by a slim margin, was the New Balance Vazee Summit V2. The second generation of the Vazee Summit simply had the best overall trail running experience—it is fast, agile, lightweight, adequately protected, and delivers a very secure and confidence inspiring fit on fast downhills. It was also one of the most versatile shoes we tested this year—it absolutely flies when it needs to, but there is enough cushioning and support for fairly long distances and technical trails.

For thicker, more comfort-oriented shoes, check out the tests for our “cushioned and protective trail runners” which are typically slower, thicker, and meatier shoes.  

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
New Balance Vazee Summit 2
89
Best in Class
2017
Comfort 8
Speed 9
Security of Fit 9
Agility 8
Responsiveness 8
Protection 7

Excellent speed & turnover

Balanced responsiveness & comfort

Improved fit & cushioning

10mm heel-to-toe drop

Bootie can be a bit warm

MSRP
$100.00
BEST DEAL
$69.73
Saucony Peregrine 7
88
Comfort 8
Speed 8
Security of Fit 8
Agility 9
Responsiveness 8
Protection 7

Outstanding turnover & responsiveness

Very intuitive handling

Excellent traction & protection

Narrow toebox

Overbuilt heel cup

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
$89.93
La Sportiva Helios SR
81
Best in Class
2015
Comfort 8
Speed & Agility 7
Security of Fit 5
Responsiveness 6
Stability 5

Extremely soft and comfortable


Excellent responsiveness and turnover

Sticky outsole rubber grips well on rock

Poor traction on gravel and scree

Limited protection underfoot

Upper breathes and drains poorly

MSRP
$125.00
BEST DEAL
$130.00
Hoka One One Challenger ATR
80
Comfort 7
Speed and Agility 7
Security of Fit 8
Responsiveness 1
Stability 7

More cushioning than any other shoe in its weight class

Surprisingly responsive

Increased ground contact area improves both stability and traction

Narrow toe box

Larger stack height requires adjustment, particularly on technical terrain

Somewhat lacking in upper protection

MSRP
N/A
BEST DEAL
$77.83
Altra Superior 3
80
Comfort 7
Speed 5
Security of Fit 5
Agility 9
Responsiveness 6
Protection 8

Facilitates agility & foot placement

Well cushioned

Roomy toe box

Poor grip on loose surfaces

Boxy fit

Less efficient turnover

MSRP
$110.00
BEST DEAL
$60.47
Montrail Bajada 2
78
Comfort 4
Speed and Agility 7
Security of Fit 4
Responsiveness 7
Stability 6

Excellent traction

Decent turnover for a shoe in this weight class

Well protected underfoot

Narrow midfoot and toebox

Stiff ride and cushioning

Stack height can inhibit stability on technical terrain

MSRP
BEST DEAL
N/A
ASICS Gel Fuji Attack 4
77
Comfort 4
Speed & Agility 7
Security of Fit 5
Responsiveness 4
Stability 7

Slightly more responsive than shoes in this category

Full-length outsole adds protection

Low profile lugs facilitate turnover

Slightly odd fit

A bit stiff for a comfort shoe

Traction struggles on wet surfaces and bare rock

MSRP
$110.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
The North Face Ultra Cardiac
76
Comfort 6
Speed & Agility 6
Security of Fit 7
Responsiveness 1
Stability 6

Comfortable fit and ride

Full length outsole aids traction

Good balance between flexibility and responsiveness

Protection is somewhat lacking

Short lugs struggle on loose surfaces

Narrow toe box

MSRP
$110.00
BEST DEAL
$109.95
Scarpa Spin
74
Comfort 3
Speed 5
Security of Fit 5
Agility 9
Responsiveness 4
Protection 8

Very precise handling

Excellent traction, protection & weight

Lightweight & comfortable upper

Very stiff & unforgiving midsole

Lacks ground feel

MSRP
$130.00
BEST DEAL
$77.83
Topo Athletic MT2
73
Comfort 7
Speed 4
Security of Fit 7
Agility 8
Responsiveness 3
Protection 4

Roomy toe box

Natural feel

Poor traction on loose surfaces

The MT2 is a comfortable shoe with a very natural ride and flexible feel. The low heel-to-toe drop and light weight also make the MT2 very agile. This is not, however, a fast running shoe due to the rather unresponsive midsole. 

MSRP
N/A
BEST DEAL
$59.83
Scarpa Neutron
72
Comfort 7
Speed 6
Security of Fit 3
Agility 4
Responsiveness 5
Protection 7

High level of protection

Durable outsole

Large heel inhibits handling on technical terrain

The Scarpa Neutron is a rugged, durable shoe capable of racking up big mileage on tough terrain. Be mindful of a somewhat unusual fit however.

MSRP
N/A
BEST DEAL
$70.92
La Sportiva Helios 2
71
Comfort 8
Speed 7
Security of Fit 4
Agility 4
Responsiveness 5
Protection 3

Excellent responsiveness and turnover

Grips well on rock

Limited protection underfoot

Upper breathes and drains poorly

MSRP
N/A
BEST DEAL
$124.95
New Balance Vazee Summit 2

The New Balance Vazee Summit is a lightweight trail shoe that excels on runnable terrain at faster speeds. The shoe also has enough versatility to handle longer distances and more technical terrain. 

Read the Full Review Shop Now at REI.com

Saucony Peregrine 7

The Saucony Peregrine 6 was one of the best all-purpose trail shoes to hit the market this year. The Peregrine 7 is largely unchanged from the prior version, and retains the same outstanding combination of long-haul cushioning with the agility and responsiveness necessary for faster running.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at REI.com

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 is a highly cushioned trail shoe built for long distance training and racing. It offers a smooth ride at a weight that is simply unbelievable for this level of cushioning. The Challenger definitely requires some getting used to however when running on highly technical terrain.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at REI.com

Altra Superior 3

The Altra Superior 3 is an outstanding zero drop shoe suitable for a variety of distances and firm terrain. But the outsole had problems on loose surfaces. This shoe is extremely well cushioned for its weight class.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Backcountry.com

Scarpa Spin

Runners who can handle the firm ride of the Scarpa Spin will find it to be a protective and remarkably well handling shoe suitable for a wide range of surfaces.  

Read the Full Review Shop Now at REI.com

See All Lightweight Trail Running Shoes Reviews