Trail running is one of those joys in life that people who don’t participate in it can’t comprehend and understand. There’s something about exhausting yourself while reaching peak athletic performance, all while in unison with nature.
Sure, ripping up the track and achieving a land record of a small family car is fine for some, but for those who enjoy the air, the sounds, and the relaxation that nature brings to the turf, there is nothing quite as good as trail running.
Trail runners are a devoted bunch, but they face the same perils, and most of them can be solved with a good, sturdy, and durable pair of trail running shoes.
In this article, we’ll talk about trail running shoes. We’ll help you pick out the best pair for yourself, explain why you need a particular pair for trail running, and to top it off – we’ll give you our top twelve picks for the best trail running shoes available.
All our picks are available on Amazon so that you can purchase them from the comfort of your own home.
Why Do I Need Specialized Trail Running Shoes?
Trail running isn’t exactly like other types of running. While running on the soft and slick tarmac is charming, and the endurance runs on concrete are quite straining, trail running out and about is the best of both worlds and the most challenging type of running out there.
You’ll need to conquer all types of terrain, you’ll need to push yourself to the limit, and you won’t be able to do it without proper equipment. We were born and bred in nature, so returning to nature is one of the best things we can do, especially when it comes to athletic performance.
Many people say that training on a mountain top is like no other type of training, and every good runner will tell you that if you want to make your bones as an athlete, you’ll need to give trail running a shot.
Specialized trail running shoes are carefully designed to help trail runners achieve optimal athletic perfection, all while giving them the comfort they need. While running on a nature trail is fun, twisting your ankle isn’t, and that’s only one of the many issues that trail runners face daily.
Special trail running shoes are there to help you with your trail running. They make the process far more comfortable, more forgiving, and give you a perfect way to reconnect with nature without having to sacrifice things such as comfort.
What Makes Good Trail Running Shoes?
A good trail running shoe needs to fulfill a lot of roles. It should be versatile enough to fit most terrains and paths, but it should be comfortable enough to fit as many people as possible. Like any other type of shoe, many people will have their personal opinion on what makes the best one out there.
To make this as simple, general, and straightforward as possible, we’ve listed four aspects of any trail running shoe contributing to its performance and value.
Don’t take these as be-all-end all requirements of all trail running shoes – take them as suggestions that you can include in your judgment of the shoe itself. After all, no one will know your individual needs and wants better than you do, but taking some general requirements into account might help you make a better choice overall.
Lug Length & Drop
Lug length is one of the most important components of any top-tier running shoe, but it’s not universal. While mid-size lugs are suitable for most terrains, the lug length will depend on the trail you’re running on.
For softer terrains such as sand or mud, you’ll want more extended lugs which grip the landscape as well as possible, but if you’re running on a hard surface, low-profile lugs are the right choice for you, as they won’t interfere with your balance.
Another thing that dictates your balance and overall performance is the drop. The drop is the length between the heel and the forefoot, and depending on your personal preference of angle, you’ll want a different one.
Width & Fitment
The width of the shoe is almost as important as it’s night. A shoe should be wide enough to help you keep your balance on the trail, but it shouldn’t be as wide as to ruin your nimbleness. The width you want from a trail running shoe will depend on your foot size and shape, so make sure to find one that fits snug but is agile and breathable enough.
Speaking of fitment, the rest of the shoe should follow the same rules as the width. It should fit snug, but it shouldn’t impact your feet in any way. Think of good trail running shoes as an extension of your limbs; they should complement, not take away.
Weight & Durability
Speaking of agile, the shoe’s weight is perhaps one of the most critical metrics you need to keep in mind if you want the best of the best. A fantastic trail running shoe should be as light as possible without sacrificing any sturdiness and durability.
That’s very hard to achieve without using high-end materials, but if you have to compromise, never sacrifice weight for durability. Trail running shoes aren’t exactly cheap, so making your pair last against the elements for as long as possible is mandatory.
Tongue & Protection
The tongue of the shoe is one of its most essential components for fitment and balance. A tongue should be slim enough not to impact the shoe’s shape, but it should be soft and comfortable enough to cling to your feet.
It will also protect your feet from any foreign objects that are aching to enter your shoes, such as rogue rocks and things you might encounter on a trail. That’s why tongues are usually gusseted and stitched to the sides on trail running shoes.
Protecting your feet is one of your top-priorities with trail running shoes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what you think. For example, a puncture-proof shoe is fantastic, but a waterproof one isn’t. A waterproof shoe isn’t breathable, and that makes your feet prone to overheating and sweating, which is less than desirable.
List of Great Trail Running Shoes
To come up with a list of our top trail, running shoes were quite a challenge. We’ve tested more shoes than we can count, and to pick a dozen out of this selection was a nightmare. However, somehow, we’ve managed to compile our top twelve picks that tick all of the right boxes.
While some are arguably better than others, all of the shoes on our list are great trail running shoes that are superb in almost every right. They’re priced differently and have different features, all of which contribute to their placement on our list.
Here are our top twelve picks for the best trail running shoes without further ado, which you can find on Amazon.
Men’s Brooks Cascadia 14
Brooks is one of the most popular trails running shoe manufacturers out there, and they’re as popular for a good reason. Most of their selection is a bulletproof manifest of trail running shoe technology, and their Cascadia 14 model is no different.
This shoe might not look like a top-tier trail running shoe, but trust us, it’s a sleeper. It’s elegant, comfortable, and grips onto any terrain like a gorilla.
It also comes in a broad range of different color schemes, meaning that you can find the exact pair you’re looking for. In short, these shoes offer superb stability, fantastic comfort, and work for most terrains.
Asics Gel Fuji Trabuco 8
Asics is known for its versatile selection of footwear. Whether you’re looking for a pair of kicks that stand out among the crowd, or you’re looking for shoes that will take all the terrain punishment you throw at them, you’re looking for a pair of Asics Gel Fuji Trabuco 8.
These shoes are gorgeous, and their features complement their aesthetics. They have a great ergonomic fit, feature ASICSGRIP gripping technology, which clings to any terrain, and have one of the most comfortable midsoles out there.
If you’re looking to run on your favorite trail and turn some heads while you’re at it, you’re probably looking for a pair of shoes like these.
Saucony Xodus ISO 3
Saucony is a company that deals mostly in trail running footwear, and that shows with their Xodus ISO 3. While not the most elaborate or intricate-looking model on this list, it features all the things a good trail running shoe should have.
Universal lugs for every terrain, breathable mesh design, so your feet don’t cook, a puncture-proof rubber sole, and an incredibly comfortable design. The whole shoe is reinforced for maximum protection, so you’ll feel as safe as possible when you’re wearing them.
All of the cushioning, rubber, and features might make you think that these shoes are a bit heavy-duty, and you’d be correct, but they’re also extremely light. The Xodus ISO 3 is one of the most supportive shoes on this list, and it’s bound to help you conquer any trail you’re running on.
Brooks Cascadia 14 GTX
Yet another Brooks addition on our list and this one is far more special than the previous edition. While all of the same features are present, this pair is made of Gore-Tex, which is lightweight, breathable, and notorious for its durability.
Think of the Cascadia 14 GTX as the slightly more expensive but far more bulletproof version of the standard Cascadia 14. While it does come with a far smaller selection of colors for you to choose from, it’s an outstanding, comfortable, durable, and performance-aware shoe, which is a crucial tool in your running arsenal that will lead you to optimal athletic perfection.
La Sportiva Bushido II
With a name like La Sportiva, you’d expect something quite majestic from the Bushido II, and you’d be correct to assume this. That’s by far the most flamboyant shoe on our list, and it’s one of the best trail running shoes that have ever reached the market.
While not the most affordable option on our list, far from it, it’s an outstanding pair of footwear for trail running. It’s purpose-built for endurance, comfort, and reliability, and it’s designed to near-perfection.
Judging by our tests, this shoe will grip to the slipperiest of terrains and handle hard surfaces like a rock with utmost poise and ease. The slip-on shoes offer outstanding support and comfort, and they fit like a glove, which is atypical of these types of shoes.
Superb traction, fantastic comfort, and unbeatable performance are all key features of the Bushido II.
Hoka One One Evo Mafate 2
The Evo Mafate 2 are some of the best shoes that Hoka One One has to offer for trail running. They’re durable, comfortable, and look fantastic. These particular shoes are built for endurance and handling extremely long journeys on most terrains, so if you’re running on a trail for endurance, this is one of the best options for you.
They’re incredibly protective shoes that are prepared to soar through even the roughest of terrains, but they’re not the lightest shoes on this list. That makes them less than ideal for fast runs, but their weight surprisingly doesn’t impact their comfort at all.
Even with a little added weight, these shoes are responsive, offer fantastic performance, and strike a perfect balance between agility and sturdiness.
Brooks Caldera 3
If you couldn’t tell by now, we’ve got a thing for Brooks shoes. The Cladera line is one of the best lines that trail running has ever seen, and much like the Cascadia, it makes you feel like you’re running on a cloud rather than a rocky mountain terrain.
The Caldera 3s come with a breathable mesh design, removable foam insole, an outstandingly low weight, and superb balance and stability.
One of the more exciting features that the Caldera 3’s bring to the table is their dynamic cushioning, which adapts to your unique foot anatomy making for a smooth, remarkable, and agile run.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5
The dodge challenger is to the car world; the Hoka One One Challenger ATR5 is to the trail running shoe world. Both are rebels, offer seamless performance, and are an absolute dream to behold and handle. The Challenger ATR 5 has incredible cushioning, making for a comfortable ride, outstanding shock-absorption for a smooth ride, and has 4mm lugs that can conquer any terrain.
One of the things that make this rebel unique is that they’re useful for all kinds of running. Their unique ergonomic design makes them suitable for road and track running alike, but their features come to light when you’re conquering a little slice of nature.
Saucony Peregrine ISO
The Saucony Peregrine ISO is an advanced piece of trail running equipment. It’s not merely a piece of footwear, as it’s equipped with so many features that only add to its performance, prestige, and appeal. It has a heavy-duty rubber sole with a specific lug pattern, which makes it ideal for softer terrain and is also suitable for more challenging trails such as rock.
The top, middle, and outsoles are specially designed to be as comfortable but as responsive as possible, making the Peregrine ISO an ideal option for more experienced runners.
Topo Athletic Ultraventure
The Ultraventure by Topo Athletic is one of their most notable trail running shoes, as it’s the culmination of years of design and research. As of writing this article, this is by far the best trail running shoe made by Topo.
The Athletic Ultraventure comes with a three-piece tongue, which ensures maximum possible comfort and proper fitment, as well as a padded, anatomical toe box. The Vibram XS Trek ensures that the shoes are ideal for all types of technical trails, all while providing the maximum traction and grip, superb comfort, and outstanding durability.
It’s a durable, lightweight, and feature-filled shoe that, while not the cheapest, is one of the best trail running shoes currently in production.
361 Degrees 361-Taroko
361 Degrees is a relatively unpopular manufacturer in the trail running community, but that’s going to change after you’ve tried the Taroko. The Taroko men’s running shoes are a performance-orientated, affordable trail running shoe which comes with all of the features you need for trail running.
The lugs are mid-sized and grip the terrain like they’re made of glue, the whole design is extremely light, and the shoe itself is very breathable. It also comes in a very flamboyant design, so it’s a real head-turner.
It comes with a QU!KFOAM insole adapts to your foot, providing the optimal cushioning you need for long trails. One of the most exciting features this shoe has is the MORPHIT Heel Lock, a unique pull-cord heel design that allows you to modify how your shoe fits your foot, allowing for maximum possible adjustment.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL
We’ve reached the end of our list, and we can proudly say that we’ve saved the best for last. Arc’teryx is known for their great trail running shoes, but they’ve outdone themselves with the Norvan SL. We’re not too keen on numbers, as they can be skewed, but this shoe only weighs 185 grams, which is about 6.5 ounces, making these of the lightest trail running shoes available.
It comes with a Vibram MegaGrip system, which ensures that this shoe sticks on virtually anything you put it on, and it has a 7mm heel drop, which is insane for such a light shoe.
It’s created out of a mesh-like material that isn’t only breathable; it’s sturdy enough to protect your feet when you’re conquering any trail. While not the most durable shoe on the market, this is by far the most agile option on our list and in the world as of writing this article.
Finding the perfect pair of trail running shoes is never an easy task. You need to take so many things into account, but after reading this article, we hope that we’ve helped you get the necessary information you need to pick the best out of the best.
All our picks have outstanding grip, maximum possible balance, and stability, making them the ideal candidates for your next favorite trail running shoe. Any one of our top twelve picks makes for an outstanding trail running shoe, and since they’re all priced differently, you’ll find a choice that fits your specific budget as well as all of your needs without having to compromise.