The Best Trail Running Shoes For All Types Of Terrain – Forbes

The Best Trail Running Shoes For All Types Of Terrain  Forbes

In any given week, I log between 10 to 30 miles either jogging or riding my bicycle. Most of the miles on foot are on sidewalks and streets, with a few on gravel, dirt and grass, depending on the day’s route. But regardless of whether I’m running or riding on roads or trails, I’m wearing trail running shoes, because they are simply the most versatile type of athletic shoe you can own.

The best trail running shoes are designed for use on terrain that varies from roots and rocks to dirt and mud, so they are also the perfect footwear for urban or suburban runs that may take you down city streets, through grassy parks, on stretches of sand or on rain-slick sidewalks. Trail running shoes are also designed to offer you maximum support, stability and protection. (The difference between a trail running shoe and a hiking boot is that hiking boots are heavier than trail runners as they are designed for someone carrying a heavy pack and logging many miles many days in a row, not someone moving as fast as possible with minimal gear for an hour or two.)

Heavier than your average sneaker (and much heavier than track shoes), trail running shoes have added cushioning to protect against painful heel strikes, which can be more intense as you go downhill, and a sturdier outsole that helps prevent injury on even surfaces, like gravel and tree roots. Then there’s the lug pattern on a trail shoe’s outsole, which is more aggressive than you’ll see on road runners. The large, grippy soles of a trail runner give you more traction on rough terrain, which helps keep you on your feet and moving fast. (Though, like off-road tires, aggressive treading can actually slow you down on a street or track.)

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While all decent trail runners share the characteristics touched on above, this is by no means a monolithic category — there is a huge variety of trail shoes out there and they are suited to varied uses based on their differences. Fortunately for you, I’m a bit obsessed here (I own, at present, more than 10 pairs of trail running shoes, and have been through more than that many pairs in recent years), so I’m primed to elucidate the category for you. As such, here are some of the best trail running shoes I’ve encountered in my years in the game for every terrain, condition and more.


Best Trail Running Shoes Overall

Adidas Outdoor Terrex Agravic XT Trail Running Shoe

Adidas Outdoor Terrex Agravic XT Trail Running Shoe

The Terrex line has been a huge success for Adidas for good reason: it’s comprised of multiple examples of excellent outdoor gear. I’ve worn my Adidas trail runners in everything from rain and snow to cement and non-maintained trails and I always feel stable. Their sole is on the stiffer side, so not ideal for urban or suburban use when the conditions are dry and you don’t need extra traction, but on trails covered in loose rocks, leaves and branches, and where the consistency of the surface varies, the wide spacing of the lugs offers great bite. And the TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) toe cap protects your toes against stubbing even as you scramble over a boulder or catch a curb. Also, the shoes have an understated style that allows you to wear them with jeans or other casual apparel, making them a good choice for when you need to pack extra light.


Best Trail Running Shoes For Flat, Dry Land

Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 6

Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 6 Trail Running Shoe

If you’re going to be logging long miles on well-maintained trails (or predictable terrain like grasslands or country roads), these shoes are a great choice. The Terra Kiger 6’s woven heel ensures the shoes stay securely in place by flexing with your foot so you enjoy support and avoid blisters. A padded tongue offers the top of your foot the same support and comfort even if it swells some during a long slog, while a thick, cushioned midsole supports the bottom of your foot. Mesh near the toes is bad news if it rains or you step in a puddle, but great news for hot dry days, as the ventilation and heat release are sublime. The tread pattern is only moderately aggressive, thus the shoe being best suited for reliable terrain.


Best All Weather Trail Running Shoes

Columbia Sportswear Facet 45 OutDry Shoe

Columbia Facet™ 45 OutDry™ Shoe

The Facet 45s don’t look like trail running shoes until you turn them over and see the tread pattern, and that’s exactly the point. This looks more like upscale urban footwear, yet once your feet are slipped into these shoes — and I mean slipped in: there is no lacing system, you simply pull them on and then feel the upper secure around your foot thanks to the proprietary “Kinetic Lacing System” that uses two secure elastic bands over the foot bridge — you will enjoy the cushioning and support you expect in a trail shoe.

The shoes are reliably waterproof right up to the elevated collar which adds ankle support, warmth and keeps out snow, gravel and other unwanted stuff. The soles are quite thick and you may feel off-balance for a few minutes after first donning your Facet 45s, but you’ll come to greatly appreciate how well the shoes absorb impact.


Best Trail Running Shoes For Steep Terrain

HOKA ONE ONE Mafate Speed 2

HOKA ONE ONE Mafate Speed 2

If your trail runs take you up and down again and again, then the Mafate Speed 2 trail runners belong high up on your list of shoes to consider. These shoes are ideally suited for steep terrain — whether you’re slogging uphill or charging down — thanks to their highly grippy five millimeter Vibram treads that stick well to all sorts of surfaces and thanks to the varied pattern of the treads which interacts with the ground well whether your toes are hitting first as you gain elevation or your heels are making first contact on a descent.

If you prefer a muted, subtle style in your trail shoe, HOKA ONE ONE isn’t your brand. But if you want a shoe that sticks you to the ground then helps propel you forward again at each step, go for it.


Best Trail Running Shoes For Cross-training

Merrell Bare Access XTR

Merrell Bare Access XTR

I’ve worn my Bare Access shoes from Merrell on plenty of trails, but truth be told I use them even more often on my bike or at the gym. At barely more than eight ounces per shoe, these things are crazy lightweight, which makes sense given that they were expressly designed as minimalist trail runners and give better ground feel for your feet. That means they also let me connect well with bike pedals and stay light and fast while circuit training at a fitness center.

As trail shoes they offer enough cushioning and support for maintained trails and they’re great on packed dirt, grass or streets, too. I’d never wear these to hike all day with a 45-pounds pack on my back or even go for a multi-mile run on rough terrain, but for days when I cycle, jog and do calisthenics or some weight training, they offer perfect versatility.


Best All Terrain and All Weather Trail Running Shoes

Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail Running Shoe

Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail Running Shoe

There’s no secret why the Speedcross 5 is a superlative shoe for terrible conditions: just turn it over to get your answer. Yep, it’s the lugs. The bottom of a Salomon Speedcross 5 has 33 lugs, including the two facing directly off the front of the shoe for grip during crazy steep climbs (compared to the 73 on the bottom of one of my Columbia Facet 45 trail shoes). These massive lugs are almost more like ice crampons than shoe treads, and as such this shoe will keep you stable on snow or ice, in mud, on dunes, and anywhere else the ground is just generally inhospitable to bipedal locomotion. (Want more convincing? At the time of this writing, these shoes have a glowing 4.8-star overall rating on Amazon with nearly 1,000 reviews posted to date.)


Best Lightweight Trail Running Shoes

New Balance Minimus Trail 10v1

New Balance Minimus Trail 10v1

These shoes have the least aggressive treading of any on this rundown, yet thanks to the stickiness of the Vibram rubber sole, they’re suitable for use on many surfaces including trails in decent condition. And while not ideal for high alpine scrambles, they are actually a great choice for the country lane, the track, the street or even the gym. And at just 7.5 ounces per shoe (assuring mid-sizes, like a 9 or 10), they’re so lightweight you could bring a pair along as a respite from your boots during a through-hike or pack them down into a small bag for a weekender.


Best Trail Running Shoes For Speed

Salewa Ultra Train 2 Trail Runners

Salewa Ultra Train 2 Trail Running Shoes

If you’re moving fast, as you tend to want to when, y’know, running on trails, these shoes are a good choice. Their 3F system provides support to your upper, heel and midsole, keeping your foot in proper position even as the ground changes thus affecting the pressures on your foot. They’re also a good choice if you don’t want to be slowed down by something pesky like tying shoelaces thanks to a quick lacing system or if you don’t want to stop to get a rock out of your shoe thanks to a gaiter that covers most of the tongue. Competitive trail runners owe this storied European brand’s shoes a test.