Trail Shoe Guide

How to Choose the Best Trail Running Shoes: The Ultimate Guide

What brand has the best trail running shoes? Whether you’re new to the trail running scene or not, you’ve probably asked yourself this question.

Looking at the amount of shoe and gear offerings can be a bit overwhelming. You have the usual brands that you’re used to seeing — Nike, Adidas, Salomon, etc.

But, there are many brands you may never have heard of — Inov-8, La Sportiva, Altra.

The dizzying amount of information will leave you unsure if you’re buying the right shoe for you, or even may make it hard to know what shoe is right for you.

So, this guide is here to help break down some information by sorting out the different brands that dominate the trail running world.

In each section, I will detail the brand and some of its background. I will explain what area the brand’s shoes typically specialize in, and what type of runners they may be good for.

Lastly, I will cover the most well-known running shoe lines that each brand has — detailing what each shoe line is good for and what runners seem to prefer. With these, I will attach the latest offering from that line of shoes, along with reviews — video, and writing — that will allow you to dive deeper and find more information about the shoe.

My aim here is to provide a comprehensive resource to new and experienced trail runners alike.

By providing a variety of reviews for each shoe, it will allow readers to get an unbiased opinion of the shoe.

All the reviews will be 3rd party and will have no affiliation with me other than I’ve watched/read them. They will often come from the top reviewers in the trail running shoe scene.

As well, I will continue to update this with the latest shoes and reviews, so I encourage you to check back if you’re curious about the latest offerings.

However, I’m only one person, so please be patient with me. If you know of a new shoe model, or a change made, please let me know in the comments!

Updated Content:

  • Added Altra Timp 4 and reviews
  • Added Altra Mont Blanc and reviews
  • Added Brooks Caldera 6 and reviews
  • Added La Sportiva Akasha II and reviews
  • Added Saucony Peregrine 12 and video reviews
  • Added Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro and reviews

Adidas Best Trail Running Shoes

Adidas

Adidas Terrex Agravic

Adidas Terrex Agravic

Pros

  • Excellent grip
  • Durable outsole
  • Protective
  • Good ride

Cons

  • Narrow

Variations

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They are all versions of the same shoe, they will provide different features based on their names and endings.

  • Flow
    • Designed to be faster and to be used on hard-packed, typically flatter, trails. Due to the lower-profile lugs, the grip in muddy/loose conditions may be shaky. Best if you’re looking for a fast shoe that will be used mostly on flat, unobstructed trails.
  • Gore-Tex
    • Whenever there is a GTX label in the name, it is going to be associated with Gore-Tex. A Gore-Tex shoe is going to be the same as the original, only it will include a waterproof upper that is designed to keep water out. These shoes are great for muddier/wetter/snowier conditions and excel in this area.
  • TR
    • The TR version is going to be an all-around trail shoe that doesn’t excel in any one area, but performs adequately in all. A little on the cheaper side, this shoe is mainly aimed at appealing to the masses and getting a daily trainer onto as many people’s feet as possible.

Reviews

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Since there are so many variations of this shoe, it’d be impossible to cover them all. Below, you will find an excellent resource that analyzes the shoes mentioned above.

Adidas Terrex Two

Adidas Terrex Two

Pros

  • Stylish
  • Light
  • Breathable
  • Durable

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Slip occasionally

But, wait, Terrex? The other ones were named Terrex too! Yes, you’re correct and welcome to the wonderful world of naming trail shoes. It’s a bit ridiculous.

The Adidas Terrex Two serves as Adidas’ shoe built for long runs and all-terrains. The thicker midsole provides a soft ride that keeps your feet and legs fresh throughout your runs. Despite the extra cushion, Adidas doesn’t sacrifice speed. As with all Adidas shoes, this is a top priority.

Variations

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The differences between these shoes are less than the Agravic, they are as follows:

  • Adidas Terrex Two Flow
    • This is the base version of the shoe, which will make it slightly cheaper than the other versions. As a result, this is a great daily trainer if you prefer Adidas.
  • Adidas Terrex Two Ultra
    • As you may have guessed, the Ultra series is going to be designed for running really far. Having one of the higher stack heights and plenty of Boost midsole cushioning, this shoe is designed specifically for your long run day in your training. However, this would best be used on flatter terrain due to the high stack height. Personally, I (or my ankles) have found high stack heights and technical terrains to be a no-go.

Reviews

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Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra

The Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra are Adidas' best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Quick ride
  • Grippy outsole
  • Breathable
  • Good fit

Cons

  • Too much minimalism
  • No heel pull

Enter Adidas’ prize-winning goat (I need to come up with better metaphors).

The Terrex Speed Ultra is the ultra-advanced, but ultra-expensive edition of their trail series.

Mainly meant as a racing shoe, and being touted by some great athletes, the Terrex Speed Ultra is going to be the shoe you choose when you have a race that you’re trying to shred the competition in.

Or, at least, when you want to finish slightly above the middle-of-the-pack.

Either way and either athlete, this shoe is going to give you a great ride that is light but also gives a good amount of cushion.

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Reviews

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Adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra

Pros

  • Grippy outsole
  • Stable ride
  • Durability
  • Carbon Plate

Cons

  • Stiff at times

This shoe is Adidas’s latest release. Created in tandem with Ekaterina Mityaeva, this shoe was built to go fast over all terrains and for the long haul. Whereas the Speed Ultra was built to be light and fast, this shoe packs on a bit more weight, but adds some durability in exchange.

The lugs on the Agravic Ultra are a bit deeper than on the Speed Ultra, coming in at 4mm compared to 2.5mm on the Speed Ultra. In addition, the Agravic Ultra is the first shoe to contain a TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) carbon plate for rock protection. This plate is made out of 90% renewable carbon, furthering Adidas’s efforts to incorporate more sustainable features into their shoes.

Buy here:


Reviews

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Since the shoe is still new, there are not many video reviews for this shoe yet. I will update this post once more become available.

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Other noteworthy gear

Adidas Terrex Agravic Rain Jacket

Adidas Rain Jacket

Apparently, they can even get creative with their rain jacket names, too. Obvious sarcasm aside, this jacket is great if you’re in an area where it tends to get a little wet. Easy to pack down and store in your pack, the jacket will be a helpful tool to stay dry out on your runs.

You can find it here:

Altra Best Trail Running Shoes

Altra

Altra Lone Peak

The Altra Lone Peak are Altra's best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Excellent grip
  • Durable
  • Stable ride
  • Great for wide feet
  • Easy to clean
  • Drain easily

Cons

  • No ground feel
  • Too cold for winter runs

The Lone Peak is going to be the staple of the Altra series for many runners.

A versatile option that will suit many terrains, the Lone Peak serves as a great daily trainer.

If you’re someone who runs on more technical trails, then the Lone Peak will be a great option with its lower stack height, especially compared to the Olympus or Timp.

When I check Lone Peak reviews, it’s consistently rated as one of the best trail running shoes.

Buy the latest version here:


Reviews

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Altra Superior

Altra Superior

Pros

  • Very light
  • Fast
  • Great traction
  • Great for wide feet

Cons

  • Not for long-distance
  • Not for technical terrain

The Superior line is fast. It’s the lightest shoe Altra offer, and it excels on a variety of terrains.

This shoe is going to provide slightly less cushioning as well, which will give you a better feeling of the ground but also give you less protection.

In addition, it has a lower stack height, which will give you a little more control over your foot placement and stability.

However, be wary to protect your feet with the detachable StoneGuard rock plate when necessary.

Buy the latest version here:


Reviews

At the time of writing, this shoe is still relatively new. I will update the material as more reviews become available.

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Altra Olympus

Altra Olympus

Pros

  • Wide toebox
  • Great for long-distance
  • Durable outsole
  • Light for a max shoe
  • Breathable

Cons

  • Not responsive
  • Expensive

The Olympus is going to be your choice if you’re looking for an Altra shoe built for going the distance.

The Olympus line has the highest amount of cushioning, ready to deliver cushioning for your legs.

The shoe also sports a wider platform, which increases stability on certain terrain.

However, if you’re hitting technical terrain, you may want to look elsewhere as the higher stack height can lead to more instability.

Buy the latest version here:


Reviews

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Altra Timp

Altra Timp 4

Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Great traction
  • Durable

Cons

  • Slippery around turns
  • Mud and dirt get in easily
  • Not very responsive

Another shoe that is going to provide a good amount of cushioning to help on your long runs.

While similar to the Olympus in this aspect, it will come in a slightly lighter package and with a lower stack height.

Made for getting those faster speeds on your long run, this shoe is going to be a good mix between the Olympus and Lone Peak.

Buy the latest version here:


Reviews

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Altra Mont Blanc

The Altra Mont Blanc aims to be one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Great cushion
  • Energetic ride
  • Good traction
  • Locks down foot

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Not for technical trails

The best way to compare the Altra Mont Blanc is to the Olympus; only, that would be too simplistic. Because that would gloss over the areas where the Mont Blanc excels.

With slightly less cushion than the Olympus, the Altra Mont Blanc provides a faster and smoother ride. It’s also a bit nimbler, which leads to you darting around on the trails more easily.

Plus, with the famed Vibram outsole, you know the shoe will grip anything in its path. Uneasy footing makes us uneasy; the Altra Mont Blanc solves this worry.

Buy the latest version here:


Reviews

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Other noteworthy gear

Altra LP Alpine

Altra LP Alpine

This one, shockingly from a shoe company, is another shoe!

The LP Alpine is more of an everyday shoe, especially if you frequent trails for walks, work, etc.

Sporting a similar style to the shoes, if you run in Altra shoes, you’ll feel right at home.

Buy the latest version here:

Brooks Best Trail Running Shoes

Brooks

Brooks Cascadia

Everyone knows the Brooks Cascadia series is one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Grippy outsole
  • Great for wide feet
  • Good lockdown
  • Durable

Cons

  • A bit heavy
  • Too much stiffness
  • Can get hot during run

Ahh, the Cascadia line. Arguably Brooks’s most well-known, and most-tried, trail shoe, the Cascadia line is a favorite for trail runners. Rated one of the best trail running shoes year in and year out, the Cascadia line is a bestseller that flies off the shelves.

Over the years, the Cascadia series has won many awards and is one of the best-selling shoes of all time, so it’s always a good consideration for a trail shoe.

The Cascadia’s are known to offer great protection for your foot, excellent grip thanks to the deep lugs, and, of course, the comfort that comes with a Brooks shoe.

Capable of running in almost all conditions, the Cascadia is also prepared to tackle almost any terrain.

The Cascadia is great at performing well on flat terrain or more mountainous terrain.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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Brooks Caldera

Pros

  • Excellent cushion
  • Fantastic grip
  • Durable

Cons

  • Not breathable
  • Stiff
  • Narrow

The Brooks Caldera will be the option you go to if you’re looking for a soft, well-cushioned ride for your long runs.

The thick padding will soften the impact of repeated leg strikes during your long efforts. While you will have that cushion, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be lacking in the energy return.

Brooks does an impressive job with this long-run shoe of giving the comfort necessary, but also the speed you want as well.

Not as well-known as the Cascadia, this doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.

If you’re running in colder or more wintry conditions, then look no further. The grip on this shoe makes it a go-to for those winter runs.

It will perform a bit better on less technical terrain due to that added stack height, but don’t be afraid to tack some technicality.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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Brooks Catamount

Brooks Catamount is considered one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Excellent midsole
  • Good speed/grip balance
  • Light
  • Breathable
  • Great ride

Cons

  • Sizing issues
  • Not very reflective

The Brooks Catamount is a beautiful shoe line. Let’s get that out of the way.

Of all the Brooks shoes, it’s the best-looking, in my opinion.

But, as we trail runners know, looks don’t matter when it comes to performance.

The Catamount is Brooks’s fast shoe. It provides a very responsive ride, in a lightweight package that is meant to push you along on your run, doing its best to not get in the way.

You will notice that it has slightly less padding than other options, especially compared to the Caldera.

However, it still provides a good amount of comfort to keep your legs and feet fresh on those speedy runs.

It can perform well on a variety of terrains, but be wary of this shoe when the weather begins to get worse.

The shallow lugs on the bottom of the shoe will not provide as nice of a grip in these conditions compared to other models, like the Cascadia.

Buy them here:


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Other noteworthy gear

Dare Bras

Brooks Dare Bra

This one is going to be ladies only.

Brooks recently dropped an entire line of sports bras geared to help women stay supported while they run.

Coming in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and designs, there appears to be a choice to support all women — no matter the body type.

Be sure to check these out if you’re looking for a bra specifically geared towards runners.

Buy them here:

Review

Hoka Best Trail Running Shoes

Hoka One One

Hoka One One Speedgoat

Hoka Speedgoat 5

Pros

  • Grip
  • Stability
  • Durability
  • Light

Cons

  • Narrow

The Speedgoat line is arguably is one of the, if not the, best trail running shoes in the world.

There are not many lists I have read while searching for trail shoes that don’t include at least one version of the Speedgoat.

Some may include more.

It’s that popular of a shoe.

Named after Karl Meltzer (a famous American trail runner), the shoe line was designed to provide stability on more technical terrain, and also the protection needed from rocks, roots, other natural items that are out to end your run early.

Thanks to the Vibram outsole, the Speedgoat series has always been known for its excellent grip as well.

If you’re someone who enjoys a higher stack height and a responsive shoe, the Speedgoat series may be your choice.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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Hoka One One Tecton X

Pros

  • Stable
  • Grippy
  • Very protective
  • Breathable
  • Quick ride

Cons

  • Not for technical trails
  • Doesn’t clean well
  • Expensive

Welcome Hoka’s first-ever carbon-plated trail shoe to the scene.

Built for the trail racing scene, the Hoka Tecton X is a lightweight shoe with the right amount of cushioning to strike the perfect balance between speed and softness.

Where the Hoka Tecton X differs from other carbon-plated trail shoes in how many carbon plates it has.

Snuggled inside the shoe are two carbon plates, spread parallel to each other. Hoka says this provides a more natural push from the plates, whereas carbon plates provide more stiffness.

Coupled with the carbon plates is a new outsole, Vibram’s Litebase outsole. Vibram built this with the idea to reduce weight while increasing durability. And reports show they succeeded in this area.

Hoka threw everything they had into this shoe, and it’s ready to hit the trails in a big way.

Buy them here:

  • Hoka One One Tecton X (TBA)

Reviews

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Hoka One One Zinal

The Sierre Zinal is one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Quick ride
  • Excellent grip
  • Breathable
  • Great ground feel

Cons

  • Can run big
  • Tough to lockdown
  • Heel slips

The Hoka One One Zinal is Hoka’s low-profile and low-drop shoe.

This shoe is meant to go fast and typically shorter distances, at least when it comes to ultra distances.

Think around 50K and below.

It is named after Zinal, the town where the “New York Marathon of mountain races” is held each year.

The legendary Sierre-Zinal is a 31-kilometer (19 miles) race with over 2,200 (7,200 feet) meters of elevation gain.

And runners there go fast. That type of race is exactly what Hoka was trying to design a shoe for when they created the Zinal.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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Hoka One One Challenger

Hoka Challenger

Pros

  • Great traction
  • Protective
  • Excellent cushion
  • Great fit
  • Breathable

Cons

  • Slips on wet terrain
  • Not responsive
  • Tight toe box

The Challenger series is another well-cushioned shoe that will perform well in most conditions and on most terrains.

It does have smaller lugs compared to the Speedgoat, so it won’t perform as well in bad conditions or on technical trails, but it can still hold its own.

If you’re mixing up the surfaces and terrain you’re running on, the Challenger may be a better fit than the Speedgoat.

If you’re sticking to more technical terrain, though, then the Speedgoat or another brand may be a better option.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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Hoka One One Mafate

Hoka Evo Mafata 2

Pros

  • Wide toe box
  • Breathability
  • Durable
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • May be too roomy
  • Expensive

The Mafate series is going to be Hoka’s trail shoe with the most cushion.

Looking to deliver that signature plushness that Hoka is known for without sacrificing its ability on technical trails, the Mafate is a great choice for a long-run shoe.

In addition, it still retains the same elements that make the Speedgoat and Challenger great.

The Vibram outsole provides a fantastic grip on shaky footing and keeps your feet, ankles, and legs safe.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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Hoka One One Eva Mafate Speed 3

Hoka Mafate Speed 3

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Reviews

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Other noteworthy gear

Hoka Ora Recovery Sandal

Hoka Ora Recovery Sandal

There are a few different types of these — Slide, Flip, and Shoe.

Ultimately, the recovery series of the Hoka line is a great complement to those hard trail runs. I had a pair of the Slides and I loved them.

When I left the US to travel, I regretfully had to leave these behind just because I couldn’t make room. Otherwise, I’d probably have them on my feet now.

There’s not much that feels better than taking off your running shoes and sliding your weary feet into the softness of the recovery sandals.

Buy them here:

Inov-8 Best Trail Running Shoes

Inov-8

Inov-8 TerraUltra G

Inov-8 Terraultra G270 are the best trail running shoes from Inov-8

Pros

  • Flexible upper
  • Comfortable ride
  • Secure fit
  • Excellent grip

Cons

  • Narrow

The TerraUltra G series is going to be a great pick for your long-distance runs and is one of the best trail running shoes Inov-8 makes.

The shoe comes with a thicker midsole than some other offerings from Inov-8, giving you the cushioning you need to go the distance.

It performs impressively in most conditions, but it’s going to perform best on harder-packed trails.

This is where the responsiveness pairs with the cushioning to keep your legs churning and the miles passing by easily.

Buy them here:


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Inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G

Pros

  • Max cushion
  • Protective underfoot
  • Excellent grip
  • Stable ride
  • Locks down well

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Not a fast shoe

The TrailFly Ultra G series is going to be similar to the TerraUltra in some ways.

It’s built to support you on your long runs, keeping your legs fresh.

However, this shoe sports a larger stack height, which is the highest for the brand.

Focusing on comfort and grip, the shoe is going to ride similar to other Inov-8 shoes, only with a little extra padding.

This shoe is strongly recommended for hard-packed trails or technical terrain but doesn’t seem to perform as well in terrain that is muddy or looser.

You can find the latest version, the TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max, here:


Reviews

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Inov-8 TrailRoc G

Inov-8 Trailroc G 280

Pros

  • Reliable traction
  • Durable
  • Supportive midsole
  • Responsive

Cons

  • Tight toe box
  • Inner sleeve may rub

The TrailRoc series is the option for those that are looking for a fast Inov-8 shoe.

With a lower stack height than the shoes above, it is designed to be light and provide a strong grip. In addition, it’s meant for shorter distances than the TerraUltra or the TrailFly.

Like the shoes above as well, the TrailRoc series is great for a variety of terrains and weather conditions.

Although, due to the smaller lug size, runners may want to be wary of muddy conditions. The G-Grip outsole is great for conditions when you need sure footing, however.

You can find the latest version, the TrailRoc G 280, here:


Reviews

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Inov-8 Roclite

Inov-8 Roclite G 275 is a great choice for the best trail running shoes on technical terrain

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Great traction
  • Durable
  • Roomy toe box
  • Well-cushioned

Cons

  • Footing becomes loose at times
  • Could use better laces

The Roclite, if you couldn’t infer from its name, is built to excel on technical terrain.

Sporting a grippy outsole, along with deeper lugs, the Roclite series is meant for the runner that’s going to live on uneven terrain where good footing is a must.

In addition, there is added protection to keep a runner safe on technical, rocky terrain.

It has a narrower fit to keep the foot snug and balanced, as well as a full-length rock plate to protect the underside of the runner’s feet.

Pair all of this with a lower stack height, and you’ve got yourself an excellent mountain shoe.

Buy them here:


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Other noteworthy gear

Boomerang Footbed

Boomerang Footbed

Maybe an odd recommendation, but when it’s touting 40% energy rebound, it doesn’t seem so odd.

The footbed is going to be a great combination of the cushion along with rebound, helping your runs go longer and easier.

You can find them here.

La Sportiva Best Trail Running

La Sportiva

La Sportiva Bushido

La Sportiva Bushido is a great choice for the best trail running shoes, especially in muddier conditions

Pros

  • Rock plate
  • Responsive
  • Feels light
  • Superb traction

Cons

  • Narrow
  • Take awhile to break-in

The Bushido series has to have one of the most interesting designs I’ve seen in a shoe.

In addition to the looks, the Bushido line offers great cushioning, traction, and ample protection for your feet too.

The shoe does have a lower drop, so that will take some getting used to if you’ve never run in a low-drop shoe before.

It also sports the FriXion Red rubber and has medium-sized lugs — striking a nice balance between getting a good grip, but also has the durability to last.

Buy them here:


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La Sportiva Mutant

La Sportiva Mutant

Pros

  • Excellent grip
  • Sturdy
  • Protective
  • Stable
  • Great lockdown

Cons

  • Narrow
  • Stiff
  • Expensive

A trail shoe that is built for technical terrain and sloppy conditions.

This shoe is lightweight and performs well in a variety of conditions.

Meant to go fast, this shoe line will be great for those who like to tackle technical terrain at faster speeds.

Another shoe that won’t have a ton of cushioning, this shoe is going to focus more on being responsive and your feet moving faster.

So don’t consider this shoe if you’re looking for a shoe that has a thicker midsole and stack height.

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La Sportiva Jackal

La Sportiva Jackal

Pros

  • Excellent Traction
  • Cushioned ride
  • Breathable
  • Roomy forefoot

Cons

  • Restrictive
  • Slightly stiff

The Jackal line is going to be a great choice if you’re looking for a shoe that can go longer distances, and still provide the grip and quickness you want out of a La Sportiva shoe.

Built to tackle ultras, this shoe will provide excellent protection as well.

Thanks to an EVA midsole, the shoe provides excellent responsiveness for a shoe that’s built for longer distances.

Also, medium-sized lugs help give you a sure grip on uneven surfaces.

Buy them here:


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La Sportiva Cyklon

La Sportiva Cyklon is the latest addition to the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Great traction
  • Fits well
  • Locks down well
  • Comfortable ride
  • Light

Cons

  • Stiff
  • Not breathable

The Cyklon is La Sportiva’s newest shoe and it quickly became one of the best trail running shoes.

Mainly designed with sky running in mind, the shoe provides a great ride when in this terrain. With the BOA lacing system, you can get a dialed-in fit to help keep your foot snug, reducing the risk of injuries from a bad fit.

The traction on this shoe is where it really shines. The shoe will grip in most conditions and will take the worry out of any slippage.

Buy them here:


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La Sportiva Akasha II

Pros

  • Durable
  • Protective
  • Great grip
  • Great for technical terrain

Cons

  • Weight

La Sportiva builds the Akasha series for technical, mountainous terrain where foot placement is crucial.

Luckily, they do a fantastic job of delivering on those requirements. A moderate heel-to-toe offset provides a fantastic ride as you traverse over and between rocky or rooty terrain.

In addition, the Akasha sports one of the best outsoles you can find in a shoe. You know that each step is going to land and hold when you need it. No slipping and sliding — just pure stability.

If you’re searching for a mountain running shoe, the Akasha is a solid choice.

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Other noteworthy gear

La Sportiva Kubo

La Sportiva Kubos

La Sportiva is also known for its climbing shoes.

So, if you climb for cross-training, or you do it for fun, then consider La Sportiva for your climbing shoes.

The traction that they use in some of their shoes they also use in their climbing shoes.

A good pair to consider are the Kubos.

Buy them here:

Reviews

Merrell Best Trail Running Shoes

Merrell

Merrell Trail Glove

Merrell Trail Glove series are consistent choices for the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Snug fit
  • Grippy outsole
  • Stable ride
  • Sustainable

Cons

  • Less ground feel

The Merrell Trail Glove is going to give you a near-barefoot feel.

It has a very small drop and very little padding underfoot. However, wearers report that the cushioning is great for the minimal amount it has.

The Trail Glove is great for people who would love to run on the trails barefoot if it weren’t for all the things that would badly damage your feet.

It provides a lightweight feel but gives the protection and traction that you need to keep yourself injury-free.

Buy them here:


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Merrell Nova (Antora)

Merrell Nova 2/Antora 2 are great choices for the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Superb grip
  • Protective
  • Stable ride
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Stiff
  • Not for narrow feet

The Merrell Nova (Antora) series is going to provide you with a bit more cushioning than the Trail Glove 6.

The reason I am writing Nova and Antora is that they are basically the same shoe, the only difference is the Nova is the men’s version and the Antora is the women’s version.

With that confusion out of the way, let’s get back to the shoes.

It retains most of the elements of the Trail Glove, though. The traction is one of its strong points and has been described as performing well in all conditions.

In addition, the Merrell Nova (Antora) is going to give you cushioning that is a middle ground between firm and plush.

With this design, the Merrell Nova (Antora) is going to protect your feet from rocks and roots, while also providing some cushioning.

Buy them here:


Reviews

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There are not many reviews available online for the Merrell Nova 2. As these become available, I will update the post.

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Merrell Nova 2

Merrell Antora 2

Merrell Moab Flight

Merrell Moab Flight

Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Great price

Cons

  • Okay performance
  • Not durable
  • Poor grip

The Merrell Moab Flight is a new addition to Merrell’s trail collection.

It is a crossover from one of their most popular hiking shoes, the Moab. In this shoe, you’re getting a Merrell shoe that has significantly more padding than many of its other shoes.

With that, however, you’re getting great foot protection in a lightweight package.

The Merrell Moab Flight contains Merrell’s FloatPro cushioning, which will give a light, plush ride. As with all Merrell shoes, you’re getting excellent traction thanks to the Vibram outsole.

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Merrell Agility Peak

Pros

  • Rock plate
  • Great ride
  • Excellent fit
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Not responsive
  • Run hot
  • Heel slippage

The Merrell Agility Peak is built to tackle the tough terrain that no other shoe wants to.

Mud? Dive in.

Snow? We’ll just clear the way for other runners.

Built with a grippy outsole and a thicker midsole, the Agility Peak will keep you stable, and your feet protected from any lurking roots or rocks.

We all know we don’t kick them, they just jump in front of where we were running.

If you’re looking to tackle terrain that is known for eating shoes, reach for the Agility Peak as your main choice.

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Merrell Moab hiking boot

Merrell Moab Hiking Boot

As mentioned above, Merrell is also known for making excellent hiking boots.

One pair that people consistently rave about is the Moab line.

The protection, combined with the traction, make it a great choice if you’re looking to slow down and do some hiking where you’ll need more protection than a trail shoe can offer.

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New Balance Best Trail Running Shoes

New Balance

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V6

Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Good protection underfoot
  • Great lockdown
  • Great value

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Run hot
  • Lack grip

Probably New Balance’s most famous trail shoe line, at least as of late. The shoe is going to give great cushioning, protection, and traction. A shoe that is mostly built for less technical trails, the Fresh Foam Hierro can handle some technicality thanks to its Vibram outsole.

However, the cushion this shoe provides is going to be great for medium- to long-distance runs. As well, if the trails do get technical, the extra cushion will protect your feet from any obstacles.

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New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail

New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail v2

Pros

  • Great cushioning
  • Wide toe box
  • Excellent traction
  • Durable
  • Good support

Cons

  • Not protective
  • Not for narrow feet
  • Tongue can be finnicky

The Fresh Foam More Trail line is New Balance’s long-distance option. Packed with a lot of Fresh Foam, this shoe line is going to be your option if you’re running on flat to moderate trails. While it provides plenty of support to keep your foot from rolling, the thick midsole is not an ideal match for technical terrain.

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Other noteworthy gear

Accelerate Colorblock Tights

New Balance Accelerate Colorblock Tights

Another one for the female readers out there. The New Balance Accelerate Colorblock Tight has New Balance’s Dry technology, designed to keep you dry.

In addition, they’re made from 50% or more recycled or organic content. So you’re treating the planet while treating yourself.

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Nike Best Trail Running Shoes

Nike

Nike Pegasus Trail

The Nike Pegasus Trail 3 is well-known as one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Soft, bouncy ride
  • Good for wide feet
  • Durable
  • Excellent on dry trails

Cons

  • Terrible on wet trails
  • Run hot

Probably the most popular of the Nike trail shoes due to its affiliation with the Pegasus line — which is a favorite of many road runners. Largely, the Nike Pegasus Trail series is going to be great on harder-packed trails that are not very technical. Due to the significant stack height, technical terrain can increase the likelihood of an injury. However, get on flat terrain and these babies are going to shine while they propel you forward at faster paces.

You can find the latest Nike Pegasus Trail, the Nike Pegasus Trail 3, here:


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Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger

Nike Terra Kiger 7 is a solid choice for the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Excellent grip
  • Moderately cushioned
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Durable

Cons

  • Only for short distances

The Terra Kiger line is going to be the most well-rounded Nike trail shoe. Built to run in a variety of conditions and terrain, the Terra Kiger is going to be lightweight and provide a responsive ride. If you’re looking for a Nike shoe to run in more technical terrain, the Terra Kiger is going to be a better option than the Nike Pegasus or the Nike Wildhorse. The traction in wetter conditions will also give sure-footing while scrambling on rocks or dirt.

In addition, the Terra Kiger series uses a mix of React foam and Air Zoom to create a great ride. You are getting less protection than in the Nike Pegasus Trail line.

You can find the latest Nike Terra Kiger, the Nike Terra Kiger 7, here:


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Nike Wildhorse

Nike Wildhorse 7

Pros

  • Great on dry trails
  • Rock plate
  • Great at keeping debris out
  • Can double as hiking shoes

Cons

  • Run hot
  • Heel slips occasionally
  • Narrow in forefoot

The Nike Wildhorse has always been a shoe that’s confused me. I’m not really sure of its place within the Nike line, as it shares qualities with both the Kiger and the Pegasus, while not really doing much better than either of them. Another shoe that is built as a do-it-all type of shoe, the Wildhorse will also provide a bit more stack height than the Terra Kiger series, but slightly less than the Pegasus Trail series. As I said, sort of confusing.

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Nike Dri-FIT Flex Stride

Nike Dri-FIT Flex Stride Shorts

Although they’re a bit pricey, Nike offers a great pair of trail shorts. Very breathable, and offering a lot of storage options, these combine to create a pair of trail shorts that will have you going back to them repeatedly (after washing, of course).

In addition, they are made from 75% recycled fibers, so Nike is helping out the Earth a little…it just costs your dollar.

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North Face Best Trail Running Shoes

The North Face

North Face Flight Vectiv

North Face Flight Vectiv

Pros

  • Durable
  • Energetic ride
  • Great Traction

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Runs hot

The North Face Flight Vectiv is going to be North Face’s flagship shoe line.

This shoe was designed to provide maximum comfort while also driving your foot forward with the carbon-fiber plate underneath your foot.

In addition, it has a rocker midsole which is going to aid in the transition of your foot from landing to pushing off.

North Face pulled out all the stops on this shoe and took direct aim at their competitors in the trail running industry.

The upper comes complete with the Matryx panel, which gives you the durability you need up top. Meanwhile, below, it sports the SurfaceCTRL outsole, providing traction and durability on the bottom.

Overall, a great shoe line with a lot of resources behind it.

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North Face Vectiv Infinite

North Face Vectiv Infinite

Pros

  • Great for flat trails
  • Good ride
  • Light

Cons

  • Run hot
  • Okay energy return

The North Face Vectiv Infinite line is going to be the “middle child” of the Vectiv line.

Built with less cushion than the Enduris (read about this shoe line below) and not built to go as fast as the Flight, the Infinite has a mixture of both in it.

The Vectiv Infinite will differ from the Vectiv Flight by way of the plate that sits underfoot.

While the Flight uses a carbon plate, the Infinite uses a Pebax plate, which is similar to TPU but is lighter and more durable.

You won’t get the same propulsion as with the carbon plate, but there is some propulsion there.

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North Face Vectiv Enduris

The North Face Vectiv Enduris

Pros

  • Great for dry trails
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Not much energy return

The North Face Vectiv Enduris is the budget option from the Vectiv line. Looks-wise, it looks very similar to the Vectiv Flight and Vectiv Infinite.

However, it will have more budget-friendly materials.

Instead of the carbon-fiber plate, the Enduris will have a TPU plate. While this does not provide the propulsion you get with the carbon plate or the Pebax plate, it is more flexible than its alternatives.

The Enduris retains the rocker which helps keep pushing you forward and encouraging leg movement.

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North Face Stormbreak 2

The North Face Stormbreak 2 Tent

If you’re a trail runner that also enjoys camping, then consider North Face’s tent option. The Stormbreak 2 is going to give you plenty of space for two people to fit. In addition, the durable material and waterproof aspect of this tent have built trust among campers.

You can find it here.

Salomon Best Trail Running Shoes

Salomon

Salomon Sense Ride

The Salomon Sense Ride 4 is a consistent choice for the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Great for a variety of trails
  • Good grip
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • Narrow fit

The Sense Ride line of Salomon shoes is a staple daily trainer in many runners training.

The combination of good grip, tight fit, and durability has runners choosing it for a variety of runs.

The Sense Ride is a fairly versatile shoe, performing well at short and long distances — in addition to mixed terrains.

If you’re looking for a daily trainer, and you’re mixing up the trails you’re running on, then the Sense Ride line will be a great option.

If you have never tried on a pair of Salomon shoes before, be sure to try on a pair to get a good fit before buying, as the sizes can be off for some.

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Salomon S/Lab Ultra

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra series is a favorite of mine. It currently holds my title for the best trail running shoes.

Pros

  • Great for ultras
  • Durable
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • Narrow
  • Can get slippery on wet concrete

The Salomon Sense ultra line is another fantastic line that is built for super-long distances.

Another Salomon shoe that is going to provide you with comfort to last you through longer efforts, as well as the traction to help you scramble around when trails get messy or technical.

This shoe is great for race day as well, especially if you’re looking at distances of 50K or beyond. The comfort, protection, and traction will keep you going.

You can find the latest Salmon S/Lab Ultra shoe here:


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Salomon Ultra Glide

The Salomon Ultra Glide is the newest addition to Salomon's best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Good energy return
  • Great fit

Cons

  • Not good on muddy trails

The Salomon Ultra Glide is Salomon’s latest model. Sporting a bit more cushioning than other Salomon’s, this shoe is built to provide comfort for long distances.

With similar-sized lugs to the Ultra line, the shoe is built for moderately technical trails. If mud is on your route, this isn’t going to be the shoe for you.

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Salomon Speedcross

The Salomon Speedcross 5 is one of the best trail running shoes for muddier trails

Pros

  • Built for sloppy conditions
  • Great grip
  • Great ride

Cons

  • Narrow
  • Not great for flat trails or concrete

The Salomon Speedcross line is going to be the shoe you want if you’re hitting muddy trails or looser terrain. Their deep lugs are going to grip the ground extremely well and keep you from sliding.

The deep lugs will make it a bad experience if you have to run on the road at any point. If you’re going to choose these shoes, you should be sure that you’re going to be running on the right terrain.

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Salomon S/Lab Pulsar

The Salomon Pulsar quickly became one of the best trail running shoes. You can see many professional runners wearing these in races.

Pros

  • Excellent energy return
  • Comfortable and plush
  • Excellent fit

Cons

  • Can get hot
  • Drainage issues in wet conditions

Whenever you see that S/Lab attached to a shoe, you know you’re getting the top-end products from Salomon.

This remains true for the Salomon S/Lab Pulsar.

Designed to be light and fast, and with a lot of input from the great Kilian Jornet, the Pulsar aims to keep runners moving quickly over a variety of terrain.

The Pulsar is going to excel at medium distance races, and its plush ride is going to keep your feet and legs fresh for miles.

Mainly geared toward drier conditions, the Pulsar isn’t made for muddy or slippery conditions.

So, if you’re looking for a fast racer for half marathon to marathon distances, then the Pulsar will be an (expensive) option to take a look at.

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Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro

Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro

Pros

  • Excellent energy return
  • Comfortable ride
  • Excellent grip

Cons

  • Can get hot
  • Drainage issues

Salomon continues to push out top-tier shoes and technology. This time in a nimble and agile package.

The Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro features Salomon’s Energy Blade — a mix between its Energy Surge midsole and Energy Blade TPU plate.

What does this mean exactly?

You’re getting a highly responsive and energetic ride. The mixture of the midsole gives you the cushion you’re looking for on the trails; without sacrificing the responsiveness.

Coupled with the Contagrip outsole, the Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro checks every box of what’s required in a top trail shoe.

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  • Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro — Unisex

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Salomon ADV Skin

The Salomon ADV Skin is a great companion for your trail runs

Ahh, that Salomon ADV Skin series. Another series that you will see top trail runners consistently wearing. People like this pack for a variety of reasons, but mostly its storage space and comfort have runners coming back to it.

The ability to store a lot of gear, whether it’s gels, snacks, water, clothing, etc., is a key component in having a successful long run or race. The Salomon ADV Skin provides many kangaroo pouches for storage. If you’re unsure what a kangaroo pouch is, it’s the areas where you see the stretchy mesh that act as pockets. This makes it easy to get things in and out, while also keeping them in place while running to avoid any bouncing around.

Here is the latest Salomon ADV Skin, the Salomon ADV Skin 12:

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Saucony Best Trail Running Shoes

Saucony makes a pair of the best trail running shoes

Saucony Peregrine

Saucony Peregrine 12

Pros

  • Great fit
  • Excellent grip
  • Good cushioning
  • Light

Cons

  • Cushioning could be better
  • Uncomfortable overlays

The Saucony Peregrine line is going to be Saucony’s most famous trail line. The Peregrine is a shoe that, year-in and year-out, runners are constantly raving about.

It seems to fly a little below the radar compared to other brands’ trail shoes, but the Peregrine is consistently ranked as one of the top trail shoes.

The series usually sports deeper-sized lugs, which make it a great option for when the trails get muddy or slippery and you need that extra bit of traction.

In addition, it’s also going to provide the protection you’re looking for to keep your feet safe from rocks and roots.

Overall, the Peregrine is a solid option for a daily trainer.

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Saucony Endorphin Trail

The Saucony Endorphin Trails remain one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Fantastic grip
  • Great fit
  • Energetic ride

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Poor drainage

The Saucony Endorphin Trail is Saucony’s latest addition to their trail line. Following the success of the Endorphin line on the road, they decided to bring that success to the trail.

With the Endorphin Trail line, you’re getting their latest PWRRUN midsole, in addition to their PWRTRAC outsole.

This shoe line is going to be built for long runs, especially if you’re running in looser terrain where the outsole will shine.

As the miles (or kilometers) tick by, the shoe will begin to perform better and better as the PWRRUN midsole provides the comfort and spring you need.

You can find the latest version, the Saucony Endorphin Trail, here:


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Saucony Switchback

The Saucony Switchback 2 is one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Secure fit
  • Excellent protection
  • Light
  • Durable

Cons

  • Not breathable
  • Poor drainage

The Saucony Switchback line is immediately going to catch the eye of anyone looking for a shoe that is more on the minimalist side and is looking for something that’s going to dial in a tight fit.

With its combination of materials and BOA lacing system, the Switchback is going to have your foot feeling like it’s wrapped up like a newborn baby.

Better for shorter distances due to the lack of cushioning (unless you’re a bit of a masochist), this shoe will be great on mild trails without solid grounding.

These shoes aren’t the best choice for loose or muddy trails due to their shallow lugs.

If you meet these qualifications, then you’ve found your match!

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Other noteworthy gear

Overhaul Backpack

The Saucony Overhaul Backpack is a solid choice

A great addition for runners who also enjoy traveling. This backpack, at 30L, is big enough to pack for a weekend trip. The padded sleeve inside is big enough to handle 17” laptops if you’re someone who needs access to a computer.

In addition, it provides decent-sized pockets to store a drink, and other things you may need on a plane, or if you’re out on the trails. I use a bag that is similar to this for all of my short trips.

You can find the Saucony Overhaul Backpack here:

Topo Athletic Best Trail Running Shoes

Topo Athletic

Topo Athletic Terraventure

The Terraventure 3 are a solid trail running shoe

Pros

  • Grippy
  • Roomy toe box
  • Durable
  • Light

Cons

  • Low amount of cushion
  • Uncomfortable overlays

The Topo Athletic Terraventure line is going to be a great shoe for those who like the feel of the ground underneath.

With a smaller stack height, the Terraventure provides the quickness and lightness that runners look for in a minimal shoe.

It does not sacrifice protection for minimalism, however.

The upper is built to be durable and has a rock plate to protect the underside of your foot.

Pair this with a Vibram outsole and you got yourself a well-rounded trail shoe that is built to handle technical trails.

You can find the latest version, the Topo Athletic Terraventure 3, here:


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This shoe was released recently and, as a result, there are not many reviews available yet. This guide will be updated as reviews become available.

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Topo Athletic Ultraventure

The Ultraventures are underrated in the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Stable
  • Great cushioning
  • Light
  • Excellent traction

Cons

  • Has heel issues
  • Upper lets water in easily

The Topo Athletic Ultraventure series is going to be geared toward (surprise!) ultras!

More cushioned than most Topo shoes due to its specialty being long runs, the Ultraventure provides a nice ride throughout your long runs.

The combination of the midsole and fit gives you a lot of comfort in the shoe that eases your mind.

In addition, it sports a Vibram outsole, which is always going to give you that Spiderman-like grip on all surfaces.

Overall, a great shoe for long efforts – although it could make do with some styling.

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Topo Athletic MTN Racer

The MTN Racer 2 is one of the best trail running shoes

Pros

  • Light
  • Great for a variety of surfaces
  • Nimble ride
  • Quick-drying

Cons

  • Shrinks in water
  • Needs better protection

Another shoe that is going to tell you its purpose in its name, the Topo Athletic MTN Racer is built to go fast across technical terrain or muddy trails, but it doesn’t sacrifice comfort to do it.

One of Topo’s more highly-rated shoes, the MTN Racer is going to be a great choice for those that want a lightweight shoe that’s great on technical trails.

In addition, it has the Vibram outsole like the others, so it’s going to have that tacky grip to keep sure footing.

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Other noteworthy gear

Topo Athletics Vibe

The Topo Athletic Vibe complement the best trail running shoes

The Topo Vibe is a slip-on shoe designed to be worn on active recovery days. Sporting an Ortholite footbed, the slip-on provides the perfect amount of comfort for your rest days. The shoe also features an antimicrobial mesh upper, designed to be breathable to allow air to get to your feet easily.

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Conclusion

Not all of each brand’s shoes were listed here. There are many shoes that are great shoes, and past versions of the shoes are sometimes better and cheaper.

However, I aimed to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the different brands and their offerings.

I will continue to update this guide as new shoes become available, and as reviews for existing shoes are released. So I encourage you to check back for the latest.

If this guide is helpful to you, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear any thoughts, opinions, and any other commentary anyone may have.

I hope you enjoyed this guide. Thanks for reading!


6 thoughts on “How to Choose the Best Trail Running Shoes: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Pretty extensive list of shoes! I am missing one of my favorites though: HOKA ONE ONE Torrent 2, one of their lightest and fastest trail shoes. It doesn’t have the high stack that most of their other shoes have, and little drop too. Really good shoe for shorter, fast trail runs!

    1. Oh, don’t worry! I planned on continuing to add to the list. I just got it to a point where I was covering most of the big brands and series that I could put it up haha.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Pingback: Six lessons I’ve learned as a trail runner – The Travel Runner

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