Ready to hit the trails this spring? While there’s no bad time to head for the woods in search of twisty, flowing singletrack to run, escaping to a blooming—or thawing, at the very least—trail system is a special treat. Of course, if you’re going to conquer mud and technical terrain, it helps to have dedicated trail shoes that bite into dirt and cushion your feet against rocks. See some of our top-rated trail options below, or scroll down for full reviews of these trail shoes and more of our test team’s favorites—plus buying info on how to choose your next pair.
The 12 Best Trail Running Shoes
- Best All-Arounder: Salomon Sense Ride 4
- Best Update: Saucony Peregrine 12
- Best Road-to-Trail Hybrid: Topo Athletic MT-4
- Best for Long Runs on Wet Terrain: Hoka Speedgoat 4
- Best for Long Runs on Dry Terrain: Salomon Ultra Glide
- Best For Uneven Terrain: La Sportiva Bushido II
- Ready for All Weather: Merrell Moab Flight
- Firm and Fast: Brooks Catamount
- Best Traction Overall: VJ Ultra
- Springy with Ground Feel: Inov-8 TerraUltra G 270
- Best Deal: Brooks Divide 2
- Best for Wide Feet: Altra Lone Peak 6
Why Trail Running?
What trail running means to each of us is as varied and unique as the off-road terrain that we cover. To some, it’s a spiritual, transformative experience. But you don’t have to have a transcendentalist mindset or nirvana to qualify as a trail runner. To lots of us, running a short trail adjacent to a local park is simply an easy way to add extra miles onto a regular neighborhood loop. These benefits are equally legitimate, and they’re what inspire ultrarunners and weekend warriors alike to spend more time outside.
What to Look for in a Trail Running Shoe
Whatever your preference or personal ideology, we think everyone can be a trail runner, especially with the help of a good pair of shoes. The two main things to consider before purchasing trail running shoes are what type your feet need (think stiff or pliable, neutral or stable, wide or narrow, high or low heel-to-toe drop) and what type of shoes the terrain you run demands. With the latter, try to think about whether the trails you encounter are technical or smooth, flat or steep, have loose or firm footing, and whether or not you cross water.
Rigid shoes with deep lugs (5mm+) are best on technical trails with poor footing, but they’ll also be far less forgiving, even uncomfortable, on road runs. These shoes will serve you better the more rugged the terrain and may work for day hiking as well. Hybrid shoes have shorter lugs (2mm to 4mm) and a softer on-road feel than their burly siblings, and are well-suited for soft singletrack and local wooded trails that don’t make you slow to a walk due to unsure footing.
How We Tested These Trail Shoes
Runner’s World has the most comprehensive shoe testing process in the industry. We work with more than 250 local runners of all abilities, ages, and sizes for real-world wear-testing on paved roads, dirt paths, and rocky singletrack trails. After a month of running more than 100 miles, our testers report their findings on features like fit, comfort, performance, and ride. While our wear-testers are putting miles on their shoes, the same models undergo a battery of mechanical tests in our RW Shoe Lab, to objectively measure the cushioning, flexibility, sole thickness, and weight of each. Our test editors combine their own experience in the shoe with data from the lab and feedback from our wear-testers to create reliable, useful reviews of every shoe we test.
The following are trail shoes that we think deserve special recognition because of their value and overall performance both on foot and in the lab. These 12 shoes were tested by us, and at least one will likely offer the fit and function you need.
Salomon Sense Ride 4
The Salomon Sense Ride is a cult favorite that works for a lot of different runners, from beginners to longtime trail racers. That could be a byproduct of its two-layered cushioning system well-suited to all distances, or it could be related to a moderate heel-toe offset that feels familiar to those used to both standard and zero-drop shoes. Our testers praised those features, and also the soft cushion, confidence-building traction, and durable mesh upper on these rugged trail runners. Fans of earlier iterations of this shoe won’t be disappointed by the latest version, which deleted some of the fabric excess of the previous version’s upper, but all in all, didn’t mess up a good thing.
Saucony Peregrine 12
Saucony’s Peregrine line has long been a speedy trail shoe that works well for many types of runners in a wide variety of conditions. It’s just as suited for newbies’ first footprints on a muddy trail as it is for shielding vert-chasers’ toes on rock-strewn singletrack. And, it’s earned multiple awards from our team for its versatility—across terrains, foot shapes, and distances—at a price that didn’t break the bank. It still does all of those things well, though underwent a big change: Saucony shaved over an ounce compared to last year’s Peregrine. Most of that weight savings comes from the upper and topsole. A more durable, sleek mesh keeps the same level of protection without the need for more layered overlays. Underfoot, Saucony peeled off the TPU bead-based topsole and instead used it for the sockliner. The midsole itself still uses less responsive Pwrrun foam, but embedded in it is a new rock plate tuned to be slightly more flexible.
Brooks Divide 2
With basic features, including a rock plate and sticky rubber outsole, the Divide 2 is for runners who want to transition from road to trail at an affordable price. As its name implies, the Divide is for runners who split their workouts between the road and trail. It comes at a bargain price ($100) for multi-terrain newbies venturing off smoother surfaces. A rock plate in the forefoot shields your foot from whatever obstacles await you on a less-groomed path. Our wear-testers deemed the lacing system secure and stable. “I never once had to retie these shoes,” said one. Another standout feature was its BioMoGo DNA midsole, which accrued praise for its abundant cushioning. “I would consider the Divide a great transition shoe from the road to beginner trail runner; a great shoe for tow paths, cinder trails, rails to trail paths,” another tester added. “It’s perfect for the runner who runs an equal mix of roads, and gravel/cinder.”
―BEST ROAD-TO-TRAIL HYBRID―
Topo Athletic MT-4
If you’re new to trail running or want to try a lower-drop shoe without fully committing to 0mm, the MT-4 is your entry point. Two layers of foam provide all the comfort and protection you’ll need for most off-road excursions. It features a dual-density midsole with a top layer that’s 10 percent softer than the bottom layer. Instead of a rock plate, this denser foam acts as a buffer against hard ground. Still, the overall tester consensus was that the shoe lacked enough cushioning for long runs. “As a runner who mostly sticks to the groomed path, I found the MT-4 had nice ground feel with protection from stray rocks and roots over shorter distances,” said test editor Amanda Furrer.
—SPRINGY WITH GROUND FEEL —
Inov-8 Trailfly G 270
Our wear-testers liked the original TerraUltra G 260’s firmer ride for short runs, but found the cushioning pretty harsh and “a little dead” for covering ultra distances. Their impressions were in line with our mechanical tests at the RW Shoe Lab, where the 260 scored “very hard” in both the heel and forefoot cushioning and ranked in the lowest percentile for energy return. For the 270’s midsole, Inov-8 switched to a new “Max” iteration (and new name) of its EVA-based Powerflow foam that incorporates more TPU in the mix, which both returns more energy and feels more forgiving. Sitting on top of that new midsole is a fresh footbed to match. (Made from tiny compressed TPU beads, it’s more responsive than a regular foam or gel insole.) Together, those two elements combine for a ride that feels like a firm Salomon with some subtle bouncy Adidas Boost undertones—without losing good connection to the trail.
―BEST FOR LONG RUNS ON WET TERRAIN―
Hoka Speedgoat 4
The Speedgoat 4 builds on its predecessor’s legacy as a fast and furious trail monster known for sticky lugs and soft landings. But this time around, the shoe adds a little extra foam in the heel and updates the mesh upper to breathe and drain better. Some of our testers found the 4’s cushioning to be too pillowy and less reactive, but most found it to be an overall comfortable and protective trail runner that feels much lighter than its stats would suggest.
—BEST FOR LONG RUNS ON DRY TERRAIN—
Salomon Ultra Glide
The Ultra Glide is by far Salomon’s most cushioned trail shoe but, don’t be fooled, it’s not the squishiest ride around. We found it’s plush enough to impress our Hoka fanatics, thanks to a lightweight midsole that combines EVA and Olefin for a more forgiving ride. That combo of compounds makes the foam durable and springy. While many tall-stack shoes can feel unstable on technical terrain, the Ultra Glide feels incredibly planted. In our testing, though, we found the shoe held firm on runnable ground and while climbing over boulders, but the traction didn’t inspire confidence on flat, wet slabs of rock near the summits.
―BEST FOR UNEVEN TERRAIN―
La Sportiva Bushido II
The Bushido has been around for awhile, but it continues to earn a spot on this list. Why? This burly trail crusher brings plenty of structure and support to a responsive platform. But the outsole is what we like most—sticky, aggressive lugs line the perimeter and bottom of the shoe, making it easy to virtually grab hold of uneven terrain. We also appreciated the heavy-duty toe cap, which protects the foot should you kick into rocks. A breathable mesh upper and just the right amount of cushion in the midsole make this standout shoe versatile enough to manage long, slow mileage and speed workouts.
―READY FOR ALL WEATHER―
Merrell Moab Flight
Over the years, the Moab model has become the most popular and most sold boot in the world, and has evolved over several different iterations. Among the most recent is the Flight, a low pared down version of the original that gives trail runners a taste of the Moab action. A taller drop and stout build preserve some of that “fast hiker” feel, but also make the Flight more accessible to runners coming from high-offset road trainers like Brooks’s Ghost or Asics’s Kayano. But, the Flight uses none of the dense EVA foam found on the original Moab, and instead recruits Merrell’s new FloatPro midsole. The material feels lighter and softer, and relies on its thickness rather than a rock plate to add protection underfoot. It results in a burlier ride, but offers a seriously appealing amount of cush per dollar. Testers only felt stones poking through the softer midsole on more rugged technical trails.
―BEST TRACTION OVERALL―
While VJ models like the Maxx and the XTRM are specifically built for obstacle course racing and trail running, the Ultra is the first shoe from the brand that is specifically designed for mega-distance. It adds considerably more cushioning underfoot for spending hours to days on the trail. The best part of VJ shoes is still the outsole, and the Ultra lives up to the brand’s hashtag #BestGripOnThePlanet. The butyl-rubber outsole is studded with 4mm, chevron-shaped lugs, which give the Ultra a really tacky hold on wet, jagged surfaces. “The traction this shoe had in all conditions was insane,” said one tester. “I ran these shoes through everything from bone-dry trails to monsoon summer rainstorms and was blown away—definitely the most grip I’ve had on a trail shoe, hands down. On short road stretches, the feeling is like walking across a dirty dive bar floor on a hot summer day—sticky.”
―BEST FOR WIDE FEET―
Altra Lone Peak 6
Our testers loved the Lone Peak 5 for its perfect positioning on a spectrum between minimalism and ultra-cush comfort. Like the Superior, the Lone Peak has a MaxTrac outsole with angled chevron-shaped TrailClaw lugs that can practically stick to the wall. But it’s a bit heavier than that more minimalist model and has more cushion in its new Ego midsole, with better underfoot protection from rocks and roots. Testers definitely noticed. “The midsole provides many happy miles of running on technical trails,” said one, “but it’s not over-cushioned where it adds unnecessary bulk, making the shoe feel heavy or clumsy underfoot.” Altra removed overlays from the quick-drying mesh upper to increase flexibility, and reconfigured the lacing, which gives the 6 a more secure fit. “I try to avoid using ‘slipper-like’ to describe a shoe’s fit, but the Lone Peak 6 feels as comfortable as a pair of moccasins, with a wide toebox for extra wiggle room,” said test editor Amanda Furrer.
―FIRM AND FAST―
The newest trail shoe from Brooks, the Catamount borrows some of the technology introduced in this year’s road-race-oriented Tempo and Hyperion Elite 2. That new midsole tech is called “DNA Flash” and combines the brand’s ultra-lightweight DNA foam with infused nitrogen designed to provide more bounce at a low weight cost. Much like the Hyperion Elite 2, the Catamount feels super-fast and firm—but at the potential expense of long-term durability. From the moment these are on your feet, you’ll want to drop into race pace and surge up hill, thanks to the smooth ride and barely-there weight. The sticky TrailTack outsole is aggressive enough to grip mud and technical terrain but still feels smooth and un-clunky on harder-packed ground. The whiteness of the perforated mesh upper won’t be long for this world, but hey, it looks pretty good out of the box.