When you’re hitting the trail for a run, you need your shoes to provide the optimum amount of support, grip, and durability to keep you moving and reduce the chances of injury. Trail running shoes are built to be sturdier than regular running shoes, making them quite a bit heavier—but that extra weight translates into more confidence on the trail. These four trail shoes are some of the best available right now, and 2013’s choices, which you can see below, are still great options as well.
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor GTX
La Sportiva’s Ultra Raptor Gore-Tex trail shoe packs breathable waterproof materials throughout the shoe to keep water, snow, and ice from getting your feet wet; the low top makes it best for wet runs in the spring, summer, and fall, but the Raptor will still keep your feet warmer and drier than a non-Gore-Tex shoe in the winter. The 12mm heel drop protects your Achilles tendon and provides plenty of support for stopping rolled ankles.
Being a trail shoe, it’s going to be heavier than your standard road-running shoes, but the lack of a rock plate does keep the shoe from becoming really heavy and ungainly. If you’re considering these shoes, you may want to consider going with a slightly larger size, as they’re known to be very snug.
Brooks’ BioMoGo midsoles provide cushion without adding a ton of weight or giving the shoe a “floaty” feel. Because of its mesh upper and lack of a Gore-Tex lining, it’s quite a bit lighter than the Ultra Raptor, and will have a more sprightly feel. That being said, it’s still a “rugged trail” shoe, so it’ll give you the grip you need to stay stable on any terrain.
Directional lugs give you grip when you’re going both uphill and downhill, and the decoupled midfoot allows for independent motion from the heel and forefoot of the shoe, optimizing grip and improving push-off. The inclusion of a rock plate provides additional protection from trail hazards, too.
Hoka One One Speedgoat
In contrast to the recent spate of minimalist shoes, Hoka One One has stuck to its roots with big, cushy soles that provide a lot of support and impact damping. The Speedgoat is no exception; it contains their “meta-rocker” sole just like the Hoka One One road shoes, so if you’ve used those, you’ll be getting a familiar feel with the off-road option.
With only 5mm of heel-toe drop, this is a remarkably flat shoe for a non-minimalist trail runner, and even manages to come in at a pretty light weight. The Speedgoat doesn’t have a rock plate, but with its generous mid- and outsoles, it probably doesn’t need one, either. And the Vibram rubber included in the outsole and lugs will keep you stuck to the trail when the terrain gets rough.
Brooks Adrenaline ASR 12 GTX
The Adrenaline makes the list again this year because it’s just a phenomenal shoe. Equally at home on the road and on the trail, the addition of Gore-Tex makes this a runner that just can’t be stopped. The outsole lugs aren’t as aggressive as most of the other trail shoes out there, so it’s not going to be the best shoe for really technical trails, but if you’re looking for a shoe that’ll let you run just about anywhere, it’s a good compromise.
With the same BioMoGo sole as the Mazama and other higher-end Brooks shoes, and progressive diagonal rollbars for pronation control, the Adrenaline is likely to appeal to intermediate or beginning trail runners who need a shoe that provides a bit more support than lighter options.
Although not a running shoe we really dig the Puma Eco Ortholite shoe for a great all around trainer.
2013’s Trail Shoe Picks
The new Brooks Cascadia won editor’s choice in a 2013 Runner’s World, so it has a lot of credibility standing behind it. The well-lugged sole and wraparound toe protection make this a very protective shoe, which is nice when you’re running in rocky places. The BioMoGo DNA midsole adds a significant amount of cushioning and comfort, making this a good introductory or long-distance trail shoe (you can always make the change to something more aggressive to race). Cascadia also added extra security to the Brooks throughout the upper to make sure that the shoe stays snug on your foot, eliminating the possibility of slippage that could be dangerous on a tough trail. A definite contender for all-around best trail shoe out there right now.
The Saucony Xodus was my first trail shoe, so I have some really fond memories of this one. I actually used it for snow running before I started running trails, and it worked great. Once I made the transition to the trails, though, the shoe really began to shine. It’s built very strong, and provides a lot of protection for your foot, both from underfoot obstacles and things in front of you that pose a risk of serious toe impact. The new Vibram outsole has some solid lugs around the perimeter, with a negative tread through the middle, providing traction without a lot of extra weight. The latest model has a 4mm toe drop, which is pretty small, making this good for people who like the feel of being close to the ground, though if you have tight calves or Achilles problems, you should use it with caution. This is a neutral shoe, but I found it to be on the more stable side, so you could probably get away with it if you overpronate a bit. Because of the smaller tread throughout a portion of the outsole, this may not be good for serious mountain runners who need a lot of extra grip on a lot of varied and unstable terrain.
Salomon XT Wings
The Salmon XT Wings is labeled as a shoe for ‘moderate to rugged mountain trails’, but I think I would feel pretty safe with it on even very nasty, technical terrain. It’s aggressive tread helps give grip on a wide range of surfaces, and its lightweight construction helps keep from making you work harder when you’re gaining a lot of elevation. The quick-lacing system makes it easy to get on and off, though this could be a polarizing feature—some people are a big fan of elastic lacing systems, and others would rather go with a traditional system. Finally, the shoe is well-ventilated, making it good for hot trail runs, and allowing water to drain out quickly, which helps lighten up the shoe when it’s wet outside. This might make it unsuitable for winter running, however, especially if you’re likely to get wet (in which case you should probably invest in a Gore-Tex shoe).
Brooks Adrenaline ASR
The Adrenaline ASR by Brooks is only partially a trail shoe, but it warrants a spot on this list because it’s so versatile. The Brooks Adrenaline has been a standard in the stability shoe scene for quite a while, and the ASR updates it with a tougher, water-resistant upper and some increased tread. While it won’t give you the toughness and grip you need for a serious mountain run, it will definitely work in a wide variety of terrain, and is a great option when you have to run for a while on the road or sidewalk to get to your favorite trail. Brooks kept the stability post and moderate cushioning of this popular road shoe and adapted it for the trail. A perfect shoe if you only want to buy a single pair and need a go-just-about-anywhere, do-just-about-anything kind of trail / road hybrid.
Another solid option from Brooks Running is the GTS 12 Adrenaline.
We hope you enjoyed our picks for the best trail running shoes of the year!