Looking to conquer the rugged trails and unleash your inner adventurer? Look no further, as we present to you the best trail running shoes that will elevate your off-road running game to new heights! Whether you're seeking traction in muddy terrains, cushioning for long distances, or an edge in vertical kilometer races, we have got you covered. Join us as we unveil the top-performing contenders, such as the Saucony Peregrine 12, Altra Lone Peak 6, and the Salomon Speedcross 6. Get ready to lace up and set out on your exhilarating trail-running journey with the finest footwear companions!
Saucony Peregrine 12
- The 5mm lugs make it easy to shed mud
- There is also a "Soft Terrain" version available
- Some testers wished for softer cushioning
Saucony's Peregrine 12 is a trail shoe that offers speed and versatility for a variety of runners and conditions. Whether you're a beginner tackling a muddy trail or an experienced runner navigating rocky singletrack, the Peregrine 12 has you covered. It has received multiple awards for its ability to perform across different terrains, foot shapes, and distances, all at an affordable price. While maintaining its impressive performance, the Peregrine 12 has undergone some changes. Saucony has reduced the weight of the shoe by over an ounce compared to last year's model. This weight reduction primarily comes from the upper and topsole. The new sleek mesh upper maintains the same level of protection without the need for additional overlays. The TPU bead-based topsole has been replaced with a rock plate embedded in the less responsive Pwrrun foam midsole, providing a slightly more flexible ride.
Saucony Xodus Ultra
- The 4.5mm lugs and rock plate provide excellent traction
- The shoe has a roomy toebox
- It is gaiter compatible
- Some testers found the stretchy laces impaired midfoot lockdown
The Xodus Ultra by Saucony is a rugged trail shoe that excels in challenging terrain. Previous versions of the Xodus were known for their capability and protection in deep mud and muck, but they lacked a comfortable ride for long runs. The Xodus Ultra addresses this issue by introducing a cushioning overhaul. It features Saucony's premium Pwrrun PB foam in the midsole and entire sockliner, providing a softer and more responsive feel. While the lugs are slightly shorter than previous versions, the outsole still offers excellent grip on both wet and dry surfaces. Testers praised the shoe's durability, traction, and fit. The wider platform of the Xodus Ultra also adds stability, making it a versatile option for trail runners.
Topo Athletic MT-4
BEST ROAD-TO-TRAIL HYBRID
BEST ROAD-TO-TRAIL HYBRID
- The shoe offers a snug and secure midfoot fit
- It has a spacious toebox
- The Vibram rubber outsole provides excellent grip and durability
- The cushioning feels less responsive
The Topo Athletic MT-4 is a trail shoe designed for runners who transition between road and trail running. It provides a comfortable and protective experience for off-road excursions. The shoe features a dual-density midsole with a softer top layer, offering a balance of cushioning and ground feel. Instead of a rock plate, the denser foam in the midsole serves as a buffer against hard surfaces. While the MT-4 lacks sufficient cushioning for longer runs, it performs well on shorter distances and offers protection from rocks and roots. Testers praised the shoe's fit, traction, and durability. With its road-to-trail hybrid design, the MT-4 is a great option for runners looking to explore different terrains.
Hoka Speedgoat 5
BEST FOR LONG RUNS ON WET TERRAIN
BEST FOR LONG RUNS ON WET TERRAIN
- The 5mm lugs provide versatile traction
- The shoe is lighter than the Speedgoat 4
The Hoka Speedgoat 5 is the latest iteration of a popular trail shoe known for its speed and performance on wet terrain. Building upon the legacy of its predecessor, the Speedgoat 5 features upgrades such as Vibram's MegaGrip Traction Lug outsole, which offers improved grip on loose dirt and gravel. The mesh upper has been ventilated for increased airflow. Testers praised the shoe's cushioning, which feels lighter and more responsive thanks to a new midsole compound. The redesigned upper provides a soft and secure fit, enhancing overall comfort. The Speedgoat 5 strikes a balance between protection, lightweight feel, and durability, making it an excellent choice for long runs in wet conditions.
La Sportiva Bushido II
- The shoe offers a rubber toe cap and forefoot rock plate for added protection
- It provides a firm and stable ride
The La Sportiva Bushido II is a reliable and supportive trail shoe that combines structure with a responsive platform. Its standout feature is the sticky and aggressive lugs on the outsole, which ensure excellent traction on uneven terrain. The shoe also features a durable upper with a toe cap for added foot protection. The midsole provides just the right amount of cushioning without sacrificing ground feel. The Bushido II is versatile enough to handle long, slow mileage as well as speed workouts, making it a popular choice among trail runners.
Merrell Moab Flight
- The Vibram rubber outsole with 3mm lugs provides excellent traction
- The shoe offers excellent upper durability
- It may not be ideal for racing or faster efforts
The Merrell Moab Flight is a versatile shoe that combines the popularity and success of the Moab series with a lower-drop design. It provides a taste of the Moab experience for trail runners who are new to the brand. The shoe maintains the fast hiker feel of the Moab line while accommodating runners transitioning from high-offset road trainers. The Moab Flight features Merrell's FloatPro midsole, which offers a lighter and softer feel than the original Moab's dense EVA foam. The shoe lacks a rock plate but still provides ample protection on rugged trails. Testers praised the shoe's durability, fit, and ability to handle various terrains.
VJ Ultra 2
Now 29% Off
- The shoe offers excellent traction on both wet and dry trails
- It now features a rock plate for added protection
- The upper provides good durability and a secure fit
- There is less energy return in the shoe
- The laces feel cheap for a $170 shoe
The VJ Ultra 2 is a trail shoe designed specifically for ultra-distance running. It provides lightweight cushioning and ample protection for long hours on the trail. The shoe's standout feature is its exceptional traction, thanks to the butyl-rubber outsole with 4mm chevron-shaped lugs. This traction allows for a secure grip on wet and jagged surfaces. The Ultra 2 also features a rock plate for added underfoot protection. Testers praised the shoe's durability, fit, and overall grip. While the shoe offers less energy return compared to other models, its cushioning and traction make it an excellent choice for ultra-distance runners.
Salomon Pulsar Trail
- Provides excellent traction on both wet and dry trails
- The midsole plate offers stability and responsiveness
Salomon's popular shoe, the Sense Ride, has gained a dedicated following among beginners and experienced trail racers. With its firm and durable cushioning, it provides comfort for daily jogs and long runs, appealing to both low-drop and high-drop runners. The Pulsar Trail, a new addition to Salomon's lineup, shares similar characteristics but comes with an added perk—an energy-boosting TPU plate called "Energy Blade," available at a slightly higher price. Testers have praised the Pulsar for its softer and more responsive feel compared to the Sense Ride, as well as its reliable traction and secure fit. According to one tester who regularly runs road-to-trail distances of about 50 miles per week, the cushioning of the Pulsar is protective and bouncy without feeling overly plush. The shoe inspires confidence on challenging terrain and provides a smooth experience on descents.
Buy Men's Pulsar Trail Buy Women's Pulsar Trail
Salomon Ultra Glide
BEST FOR LONG RUNS ON DRY TERRAIN
- Offers a softer feel compared to previous Salomon trail shoes
- Excels on easy trails and technical singletrack
- Quick-lacing system allows for fast adjustments
- May slip slightly on flat, wet rocks
The Salomon Ultra Glide is one of Salomon's most cushioned trail shoes, providing a plush and forgiving ride without sacrificing performance. Its lightweight midsole, made from a blend of EVA and Olefin, offers springiness and predictability underfoot. Unlike many tall-stack shoes, the Ultra Glide feels stable on technical terrain. The only area where some testers found it lacking was in wet surface grip, as it didn't inspire confidence on slick, flat slabs of rock.
Buy Men's Ultra Glide Buy Women's Ultra Glide Full Review
Altra Lone Peak 6
- Features a wide and comfortable toebox
- Extra eyelets allow for customized lacing
- Includes a forefoot rock plate for added protection
- Some testers experienced a loose fit around the ankle
- May require a gradual transition to the zero-drop platform for some runners
The Altra Lone Peak 6 has gained popularity for its balanced blend of minimalism and cushioned comfort. It combines a MaxTrac outsole with angled chevron-shaped TrailClaw lugs, offering excellent traction on a variety of trails. The lightweight midsole, made from a blend of EVA and Olefin, provides a stable and moderately cushioned ride, while the updated upper improves flexibility and fit. With its wide toebox, the Lone Peak 6 offers ample room for toe splay, making it exceptionally comfortable. However, some testers noted a potential for a loose fit around the ankle, and runners new to zero-drop shoes may need to gradually adjust to the platform.
Buy Men's Lone Peak 6 Buy Women's Lone Peak 6 Full Review
Altra Lone Peak 6 ($140)
The Altra Lone Peak 6 is a versatile shoe that caters to a wide range of people. It is a popular choice among trail runners, providing exceptional performance on various terrains, from roads to rugged trails spanning up to 100 miles. It also serves as a reliable option for everyday wear, helping improve lower leg strength and mobility beyond running.
The Lone Peak's success lies in its moderate cushioning and grippy outsole, combined with a spacious toebox for optimal comfort. The Altra Lone Peak 6 continues to uphold these qualities, with updates focused on improving the upper. The shoe features reduced stitching and overlays, resulting in a lighter version. The upper provides a secure fit while enhancing breathability and drainage.
The midsole retains its cushioned feel, now utilizing the resilient AltraEGO foam. The Lone Peak 6 offers solid traction on most trail conditions. Overall, it delivers a nimble and responsive ride without compromising on comfort.
Note that Altra's zero-drop platform may be a positive feature for some runners but a challenge for others. If you're new to low- or no-drop shoes, it's recommended to gradually increase your mileage in Altras to allow for proper recovery of calves and Achilles tendons.
Read the full review of the Altra Lone Peak 6.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 9.4 ounces (267 grams)
- Drop: 0 millimeters
- Pros: Exceptionally roomy toebox with good lockdown; excellent mud traction
- Cons: Less traction on wet rocks and logs
- Other Lone Peak Versions: All weather (men's & women's); LP Alpine (men's and women's)
Shop the Men's Altra Lone Peak 6Shop the Women's Altra Lone Peak 6
Best Trail Running Shoes for Mud
While most trail shoes can handle a moderate amount of mud, for the muddiest runs, dedicated shoes with enhanced traction are recommended. Check out our guide on the best trail running shoes for mud to find some great options.
Brooks Cascadia 16 ($130)
The Brooks Cascadia is a tried and true trail shoe that has stood the test of time since its introduction in the early 2000s. If I had to recommend a pair of trail shoes to a new trail runner without any additional details, I would point them towards the Brooks Cascadia 16.
Why? The Cascadia is a versatile shoe that performs well on various trail conditions and can also be used for road-to-trail running on pavement. The 8-millimeter heel-to-toe drop makes it accessible to most runners, even those who are not accustomed to low-drop shoes.
With the Cascadia 16, Brooks made some updates, moving away from the long-running Pivot Post system and increasing the midsole height. However, it still delivers the stable and moderately cushioned ride that the Cascadia is known for. The Ballistic Rock Shield provides ample protection on rocky terrain.
The Cascadia 16's upper offers simple performance, featuring a gusseted tongue and gaiter attachment points. Our primary tester noted that the shoe provides "total comfort" and compares it to a reliable commuter car that can tackle various terrains without breaking the bank.
Read the full review of the Brooks Cascadia 16 and Cascadia 16 GTX.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.9 ounces (308 grams)
- Drop: 8 millimeters
- Pros: An effective everyday road-to-trail shoe
- Cons: Versatile outsole not optimal for mud
- Other Cascadia Versions: Wide (men's & women's); Gore-Tex (men's & women's)
Shop the Men's Brooks Cascadia 16Shop the Women's Brooks Cascadia 16
Salomon Speedcross 6 ($140)
The Salomon Speedcross line has withstood the test of time, remaining a top-performing and top-selling product since its launch in 2006. It's now on its sixth major iteration in over 15 years. What sets the Speedcross line apart is its combination of a well-lugged outsole and a durable upper. No matter the terrain or conditions, you can rely on the Salomon Speedcross 6 to get you where you need to go. The Speedcross 6 has further improved on this winning formula by enhancing comfort through simplified toebox construction and an improved midsole. Not only is it well-suited for longer runs, but it's also incredibly durable. We are currently working on a comprehensive review of the Salomon Speedcross 6.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.4 ounces (295 grams)
- Drop: 10 millimeters
- Pros: Excellent traction and fit for sloppy conditions, improved comfort
- Cons: May retain heat and moisture
- Other Speedcross Versions: Wide (men's & women's), Gore-Tex (men's & women's)
Shop the Men's Salomon Speedcross 6Shop the Women's Salomon Speedcross 6
Brooks Catamount ($160)
The Brooks Catamount is a highly anticipated shoe that has finally arrived. It offers a lightweight and breathable design, along with comfortable cushioning and solid construction. At iRunFar, it has quickly become a favorite. The Catamount is suitable for both long-distance races and everyday runs. It provides a comfortable fit out of the box and improves even more after a few miles of wear. You'll likely fall in love with the shoe within the first week of owning it.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.2 ounces (289 grams)
- Drop: 6 millimeters
- Pros: Perfect balance of lightweight and comfort for any distance
- Cons: Takes some time to break in
Shop the Men's Brooks CatamountShop the Women's Brooks Catamount
Altra Olympus 5 ($180)
The Altra Olympus 5 offers the most cushioning out of all the shoes on this list. It combines Altra's signature zero-drop platform and wide toebox with a significant amount of midsole and a structured upper. This unique combination has garnered a dedicated following among trail runners. The shoe provides a spacious toebox without compromising on cushioning and support. The Olympus 5 is lighter than its previous version and offers a more accommodating fit, while still delivering excellent responsiveness and grip. However, it is the most expensive shoe on our list.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 11.0 ounces (313 grams)
- Drop: 0 millimeters
- Pros: Plush comfort in a trail-ready package
- Cons: Can feel bulky on rocky terrain, higher price point
Shop the Men's Altra Olympus 5Shop the Women's Altra Olympus 5
Salomon Sense Ride 4 ($120)
Salomon's Sense Ride line is known for its road-to-trail versatility and focus on reducing vibrations and improving comfort. The Sense Ride 4 combines a stable midsole with a moderate structure, offering support without sacrificing the overall ride quality. It's a great option for those new to trail running or seeking a bit of extra support. The minimally lugged Contagrip outsole performs well on various terrains, providing ample protection on rocky surfaces. The Sense Ride 4 also offers a more accommodating fit compared to other Salomon models.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.3 ounces (292 grams)
- Drop: 8 millimeters
- Pros: Versatile performance on both road and trail
- Cons: Takes a few miles to reach optimal performance
- Other Sense Ride Models: Gore-Tex (men's & women's)
Shop the Men's Salomon Sense Ride 4Shop the Women's Salomon Sense Ride 4
Hoka Torrent 2 ($125)
The Hoka Torrent 2 is a highly capable racing shoe suitable for a variety of distances. Unlike most Hoka trail shoes that prioritize cushioning, the Torrent 2 combines a grippy outsole and a responsive yet moderately cushioned midsole in a lightweight and agile package. It offers a generous upper, allowing toes to splay comfortably without sacrificing precision on steep descents. With its excellent traction and cushioning, it's a versatile option for most runners. Despite its trail prowess, it still delivers a solid performance on roads. The Torrent 2 represents great value for its price.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 9.1 ounces (259 grams)
- Drop: 5 millimeters
- Pros: Surprisingly comfortable for fast-paced runs
- Cons: May lack sufficient protection on rugged terrain, lugs can wear down on such terrain
Shop the Men's Hoka Torrent 2Shop the Women's Hoka Torrent 2
Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 ($140)
The Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 is an ideal choice for runners tackling longer trail runs or a mix of trail and road surfaces. Its standout features include the responsive and comfortable React midfoam and Nike's expertise in creating high-quality footwear. The shoe is well-constructed and durable, thanks to the brand's meticulous design process. The Pegasus Trail 4 addresses the previous version's weight concerns by shedding 1.4 ounces (40 grams) in a U.S. men's 9. The new lightweight engineered mesh upper excels in hot weather. While not the best option for extremely muddy trails or shorter trail races, the Pegasus Trail 4 suits a wide range of running conditions. It's been highly regarded as a versatile shoe, perfect for any vacation running adventures.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 9.5 ounces (270 grams)
- Drop: 9.5 millimeters (men's 10), 8.5 millimeters (women's 8)
- Pros: Well-designed upper, responsive midsole, lightweight compared to its predecessor
- Cons: None to speak of
- Other Pegasus Trail Models: Gore-Tex (men's & women's)
Shop the Men's Nike React Pegasus Trail 4Shop the Women's Nike React Pegasus Trail 4
Topo Ultraventure Pro ($150)
The Topo Ultraventure Pro is an excellent option for those who want a well-structured and protective shoe without opting for fully maximal cushioning like the Hoka Speedgoat 5 or Hoka Olympus 4 reviewed above. With a generous midsole, a rock plate, and a protective upper, this shoe provides ample structure and protection. It also features a well-lugged Vibram Megagrip outsole, offering plenty of traction even in wet or rocky conditions.
Find more information in our comprehensive Topo Ultraventure Pro review.
Hoka Torrent 2 ($125)
The Topo Ultraventure Pro also competes with the Hoka Torrent 2 as a great all-day shoe that is not overly built. Our primary tester highly recommends this shoe to anyone, stating that "with Topo's generous toebox and dialed-in fit, this is a shoe that I would recommend to just about anyone." The Ultraventure Pro's ZipFoam provides a softer and more resilient ride compared to previous Topo shoes, even lasting through an entire 100-mile run.
Check out our full Hoka Torrent 2 review.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men's 9): 10.4 ounces (283 grams)
- Drop: 5 millimeters
- Pros: Suitable for ultra-distance runs throughout the day; straightforward shoe
- Cons: Availability may be limited at local running stores
Best Trail Racing Shoes
If you're in search of faster, speedier options for workouts, races, or just pure fun, take a look at our dedicated best trail racing shoes guide. It showcases some of the top models specially designed for fast and furious trail running.
Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
While this guide already highlights some cushioned trail shoes, we also have a separate best cushioned trail running shoes guide that delves deeper into a wider range of highly cushioned and moderately cushioned options.
Best For Vertical Kilometer (VK) Races (Uphill Trail Running)
A Vertical Kilometer (VK) trail race involves ascending approximately 1000 meters (3,300ft) while covering a distance of no more than 5km (3.3 miles). VK races, also known as VKMs, are a popular category of mountain running races in Europe but are open to anyone interested in uphill trail running as a niche pursuit.
1. La Sportiva VK Boa
The La Sportiva VK is a specialized mountain running shoe designed specifically for Vertical Kilometer endeavors and other uphill running challenges. Developed in collaboration with Urban Zemmer, the VK world record holder and a La Sportiva Mountain Running athlete, this lightweight shoe excels on short, steep trails—making it our top choice for Vertical Kilometer-style running.
Featuring a snug fit with seamless uppers that embrace your feet, the VK offers toe protection with a rock guard at the forefoot. Its lightweight rubber sole ensures surefootedness on steep trails. The versatile tread performs well on rocks and mud, common terrains encountered during VK races.
Before purchasing trail runners, it's important to learn about the key features of trail shoes, their differences from road running shoes, and which features are most important to you.
As trail and ultra runners, we at Trail & Kale have extensively tested various brands and styles of running shoes. We've worn everything from wide zero-drop trail shoes like Altras to rugged and cushioned trail shoes like Brooks Cascadia. Our experience includes Nike Trail and Salomon trail running shoes, ranging from lightweight minimalist options to waterproof gore-tex shoes designed for wet and slippery trails. Drawing from this experience, we've created a buyer's guide to help you find the perfect pair of trail running shoes. If you have any questions beyond what our guide covers, feel free to ask us in the comments section!
One key difference between trail running shoes and road running shoes is their ruggedness and durability. Trail shoes are specifically designed to keep you stable and secure on uneven, slippery, and loose terrains, including steep inclines and descents.
Trail shoes possess textured grip and knobby lugs that provide traction when running off-road. The type and amount of grip vary depending on the intended terrain. The best trail shoes, such as the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3 and the La Sportiva Bushido 2s, have versatility on various terrains, with some exceptions for the most extreme conditions. If you frequently run on slippery, muddy surfaces, a trail shoe with an aggressive and sticky outsole like the Salomon Speedcross would be a better choice.
Keep in mind that trail shoes may experience faster wear on their outsoles, especially if used on roads or on trails with specific terrain preferences. However, most styles are comfortable for short periods of road running. "Door-to-trail," "hybrid," or "road-to-trail" running shoes are well-suited for mixed terrains.
Trail running shoes should be breathable, allowing your feet to breathe and moisture to escape. While road running shoes are typically made from lighter and more open-knit fabrics, trail shoes prioritize durability in the upper to protect your feet from trail debris and obstacles. The toe area and rock plate provide additional protection. The outsoles of trail shoes are made of softer, grippier rubber compared to road shoes.
Waterproof trail running shoes, such as the On Cloudventure Waterproof or the Salomon Speedcross GTX version, are recommended if you anticipate wet feet from water crossings. However, these waterproof styles tend to be heavier, less breathable, and slower to drain water compared to non-Gore-Tex alternatives. Regular off-road running shoes that are breathable and drain quickly are a better choice in warmer conditions.
Trail running shoes are also popular for hiking, offering lightweight and breathable options for faster hikes. However, they may wear down faster than bulkier hiking shoes or boots. For hiking, it's important to prioritize cushioning, stability support, durability, rock plates, and toe protection. Minimal running shoes may not be suitable for hiking.
Ready to find your perfect trail running shoes? Scroll back up to our list to see our recommendations.
If you're new to trail running or prefer running on roads, be sure to check out our Trail Running Guide for Beginners. If you also enjoy road running, our Best Road Running Shoes Buyer's Guide is perfect for you.
In conclusion, whether you're tackling muddy terrains, embarking on a trail racing adventure, or simply searching for the best cushioned trail running shoes, this list has got you covered. From the reliable Saucony Peregrine 12 to the top-notch Salomon Speedcross 6, these trail running shoes offer the perfect combination of comfort, support, and durability. So lace up your shoes, hit the trails, and let these exceptional footwear options take you to new heights in your running journey. Happy trails!