11 best men’s trail running shoes for taking on tough, off-road terrain – msnNOW

11 best men’s trail running shoes for taking on tough, off-road terrain  msnNOW

There are a few adjustments necessary when you make the jump from road to trail running. You’ll be swapping street lights for a head torch, tarmac for turf and your latest pair of road racers for something with a bit more traction.

Think of trail running shoes as the 4×4 equivalent of the pair of shoes you regularly lace up for your ParkRun, offering even more protection and stability from the upper to the midsole, while the outsole is similar to a 4×4 tyre, with a larger tread block and deeper lugs, allowing them to get better purchase on tough terrains without the tread becoming clogged.

What is similar to road runners is how upper, midsole and outsole combine to give your legs a good return of energy and plenty of bounce, to help you stay motivated when the elevation kicks in, or when the trail twists and turns away into the distance.

We also wanted to get feedback on fit, which is supremely important, as the ground you’ll be running over will change constantly, causing your foot to shift within the shoe. Feet that are held in place are less likely to rub and blister, so you won’t have to call it quits prematurely.

With this criteria in mind, we put the latest off-road runners on trial to see which offered the best balance of stability, protection and energy return, so you can just concentrate on making the most of your time on the trail.

How we tested

All the shoes were tested in the Devon countryside and given an outing on some very technical trails over Dartmoor and some hard-packed coastal routes. Testing was carried out through the heat of August and then the wind and rains of late October and early November.

This took our testers through streams and over boulders, and saw them picking their way through the forest, as well as taking on a number of challenging trails, from hard-packed to messy.

The best men’s trail running shoes for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Saucony peregrine 12: £91,
  • Best for training – Adidas terrex agravic flow 2: £120,
  • Best for ultra racing – Merrell MTL long sky 2: £125,
  • Best for hard trail runs – Inov-8 trailfly ultra G 280: £165,
  • Best trail connectivity – Hoka mafate speed 4: £160,
  • Best energy return – On cloudvista: £130,
  • Best fit – Salomon pulsar trail pro: £160,
  • Best for muddy runs – Nike wildhorse 7: £109.95,
  • Best for traction – Montrail trinity AG: £94.50,
  • Best for comfort – The North Face vectiv enduris II: £112.50,
  • Best value for money – Inov-8 trailfly G 270: £87,

Saucony peregrine 12

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Launched earlier this year, the peregrine just seems to keep getting better and better with every new incarnation (admittedly, after a little dip in quality a few years back).

Anyway, number 12 is here now and it has improved again on the supremely comfortable but connected feel of peregrine’s past. The softer feel to the midsole hasn’t impacted on protection, thanks to a rock plate that really does its job well and stops anything sharp and jagged throwing you off your stride, without deadening any connection with the trail through the mid and outsole. The front bumper supplements the plate too, so you can run with confidence without having to worry about tortured toes at the end of your run.

What really impressed us was the outsole, with a 5mm lug pattern that digs in and propels you forward, even when conditions get really treacherous. Finally, for those stylists out there, we got more comments and compliments from fellow runners wearing the eye-catching vizigold colourway than with any other shoe on test.

£91.00, Saucony.com

Adidas terrex agravic flow 2

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The flow 2 has a comfortable mesh upper made from recycled materials, with laces that dial in the fit. There’s plenty of protection so you can stride out confidently, and even though the shoe has a low profile that offers good connection with the terrain, you can feel the protection from a promoderator foil that runs through the midsole.

In terms of the outsole, there is the traditional Adidas terrex collaboration with Continental to rely on. This isn’t too aggressive but grips well and seems suited to harder, rockier trails, although the flows also kept us upright when the rain came in and things started to get muddy. They’re one of the heavyweights in this line-up, so are best suited to shorter shuttles up and down the trail.

£120.00, Adidas.co.uk

Merrell MTL long sky 2

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The second iteration of the long sky offers up the same comfortable, secure fit straight out of the box as its predecessor. But this version seems to have amped up the comfort factor without compromising on any of the other things that we loved about the original Long Sky.

The Vibram megagrip outsole is in evidence again and gave lots of traction, even when we had to engage in a spot of bouldering after the shoes had been fully immersed in water only moments before. In fact, we were very glad we had them on our feet when our way forward was littered with the hard stuff and we were reduced to rock hopping and scrambling to get through.

The grip pattern anchors well in both dry and wet conditions, and the shoes really performed on fast stretches of rolling terrain where they allowed us to easily pick up the pace and eat up the miles. Finally, we found that the upper dries incredibly fast too – even after being completely saturated, it only took them a couple of hours to be bone-dry again, which can be a real bonus when you’re running on back-to-back days.

£125.00, Merrell.com

Inov-8 trailfly ultra G 280

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If you often run hard-packed trails and are out for longer distances, then the 280s will be well matched to your training goals. They have a breathable, knitted upper and a roomy toe box that gave us plenty of freedom up front, while the lacing system still locked the foot securely into the shoe.

The midsole is infused with nitrogen, which means the manufacturer has been able to turn up the energy return of the shoe without adding to the weight.

As is standard with Inov-8 shoes, the outsole is graphene enhanced and the multi-directional 4mm lug pattern is well thought out – grippy in mud and tacky over harder sections. We had no problem with the tread getting clogged up, even after the rains came and things got particularly messy. A channel running across the outsole improves flexion and trail connectivity even further, and helps the shoe mould to what’s underfoot – particularly useful if you want to traverse rocky sections without being slowed down.

£165.00, Inov-8.com

Hoka mafate speed 4

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One of the latest updates to Hoka’s mafate speed range adds a comfortable mesh upper that kept feet cool on hot days. Hoka has also struck a good balance in the midsole between rigidity and responsiveness, which really added to the overall trail connection we got from the shoe.

The outsole is shaped from Vibram megagrip, and a well-constructed 5mm lug pattern made for good propulsion from the front of the shoe, while making it easy to put the brakes on too. Plus, the front bumper provided good protection from trip hazards.

£160.00, Hoka.com

On cloudvista

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If you really like to run light, then this shoe provides a nice, soft ride across the trail. This is thanks to a superfoam midsole, which gives plenty of bounce-back and good protection, so that we experienced gentle landings with every foot strike. This protection continues in the outsole, with a grip pattern largely suited to drier runs and hard-packed trails.

The upper and tongue are breathable and there’s plenty of foot-hugging comfort. But what we really like about the Cloudvista was the energy return we got from the shoes, along with lots of bounce from the toe off, which kept us ticking along the trail.

£130.00, On-running.com

Salomon pulsar trail pro

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The pulsar trail pros do have a slim fit and so might not suit runners with broader feet. However, the mix of textile and synthetic material on the upper was comfortable and worked well with the inner, which really kept the foot where it should be within the shoe throughout our runs, so we didn’t have to worry about any hotspots or skin rubs.

The anti-debris collar on the upper also did a good job of keeping out any unwanted trail trash we kicked up.

Salomon has inserted something called an energy blade in between the midsole and outsole, which makes the whole shoe feel really responsive the faster you travel, and is a real help when the elevation starts to bite.

There’s a low profile to the shoe, too, which helped with connection, and the Contragrip outsole, with its 3.5mm lugs, kept the overall weight down without compromising on traction in wet or dry conditions.

£160.00, Salomon.com

Nike wildhorse 7

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If you’re a runner who likes some room, then the updated wildhorse will be a good fit, as it provides a spacious toe box but a secure fit. It also has enough cushioning to take the sting out of the trail when things get adventurous.

The eye-catching and beefy outsole that creeps around the sides of the shoe really clamped down on muddy ground and gave good traction and control on some sloppy turf after a night of heavy rain. Plus, the midsole dampened vibration on harder sections, so our feet didn’t end the run totally numbed.

The react foam in the midsole remains from earlier versions and gave us good bounce when we finally hit our stride.

£109.95, Nike.com

Montrail trinity AG

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There’s a race-ready feel to the trinity AGs, with an upper that delivers a snug fit in all the right places and offers good balance between stiffness and protection over rocky ground and cushioning on hard, flat surfaces. The shoes have a nicely enclosed fit to keep out tiny stones or pieces of wood that can derail the momentum of a run.

Where this shoe is really outstanding is in the traction it delivers. There is something about the 4mm lug pattern that is hugely efficient – when we encountered some heavy-going ground, it really felt like the Montrails were biting down through the bog to firmer ground underneath, so we never felt in danger of going head over heels, even when barrelling down a slope.

The wide pattern also ensures you won’t be taking half the trail with you as you run, and the shoes do a great job of jettisoning mud and stones.

£94.50, Columbiasportswear.co.uk

The North Face vectiv enduris II

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High on the comfort factor, these mesh upper shoes were snug without being suffocating and offered a nice spacious toe box, which kept our toes from ramming into one another when heading downhill. This was supplemented by one of the most comfortable tongues on test. There was no sliding around in the shoe when we were off and running either, so we didn’t have to worry about hotspots.

The rocker midsole really sent us on our way and the footplate provided a good barrier between sole and soil, while the outsole, with its 3.5mm lug pattern, helped us keep our feet in most conditions. However, we did find the shoe more suited to drier, hard-packed trails.

Weighing in heavier than many of the other shoes in the line-up, this is offset by the 6mm drop, which we really liked because it offered a good balance between trail connection and propulsion.

£112.50, Thenorthface.co.uk

Inov-8 trailfly G 270

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If you really want to feel the ground beneath your feet, this 0mm drop shoe is an absolute belter. It’s been around for a few years now and we simply love it for outings on hard-packed earth, where speed is the key. Rebranded by Inov-8 to be included in its trailfly range, it’s a real trail runner’s shoe and it’s easy to see why so many runners have this in their armoury.

Lightweight and with a good fit, the midsole is responsive and aids momentum, while the graphene composite outsole gives a real sense of security and was almost approach-shoe like in its levels of grip. With a comfortable upper that we found was very quick drying, you’ll soon forget you’re wearing them, leaving you to concentrate on your time plan or just get lost in the environment.

Amazing value for money, if you rely on lots of feedback as you run, these are definitely the shoes you need on your feet.

£87.00, Inov-8.com

Men’s trail running shoes FAQs

Is it OK to use trail-running shoes on the road?

Trail running shoes are, of course, designed for off-road terrain, but they’re still pretty adaptable. Although they may not always be 100 per cent necessary for every run, you can, on the whole, use them on pavements and roads, too.

What’s the difference between trail-running shoes and walking shoes?

While both offer a good level of protection and support, there are a few differences to consider. Trail shoes tend to be more lightweight and breathable, while they also prioritise comfort and are more likely to fit comfortably from the first wear. That said, given that walking shoes are slightly heavier and more robust, they’re more suitable for cold, wet weather, and are likely to last longer than the more nimble, lightweight trail shoe.

Are trail running shoes necessary?

You may already have a pair of running shoes, but if you’re planning on tackling tougher terrains with steep inclines, mud, rain and sharp surfaces underfoot, you’ll want shoes that are purpose-built. Trail shoes provide better traction than regular running does, with sticky rubber soles and deep gripping pads – great for navigating slippery mud and rocks. This will come in handy when whipping round those tight corners at speed.

Many trail shoes will also provide ample protection against uneven, jagged running surfaces, thanks to a thin layer of plastic or fibre fitted inside the midsole, while extra space for your toes to spread is also a plus. And, of course, thanks to their durability, trail shoes will outlast regular running shoes.

The verdict: Men’s trail running shoes

Getting the most out of the upper, mid and outsole – and having them work together to produce a pleasing balance of comfort, protection, traction and energy – is a tricky thing to pull off, but the has got very near the bullseye, making it the stand-out trailblazer. Saucony has stripped back on the upper to save on weight and it has done this without leaving the shoe feeling unprotected. The greatest compliment we can pay is that, once you’ve laced them up, you’ll probably forget all about them and will be left to concentrate on running your race or tracking down that PB.

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