The Best Trail Running Shoes for Women Review

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The Bridge of Heaven in the San Juans was quite a journey! Our Top Pick for Wide Feet, the Altra Lone Peak 2.0, was a great choice for this 15 mile journey with 5000 ft of elevation gain.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer
Are you the kind of woman who loves to veer off the roads, get on the trails, and explore the beauty of your own backyard by foot? Our updated 2015 review compares 12 of the best women's trail running shoes side-by-side. We ran steep rocky trails in the high alpine, wet, pine laden trails in a temperate rainforest, and hot sandy desert trails with a different shoe on each foot. We submerged and compared each shoe to see which ones held the most water. We even trudged through heavy mud, soggy snowfields, over wet slippery rocks, and other nasty surfaces to figure out which had the best traction. Then, we rated each based on its foot protection, stability, traction, comfort, sensitivity, and weight. The categories that we cover include low profile (including the exciting new zero drop category!), traditional, and maximalist trail running shoes.

For the guys out there, check out The Best Trail Running Shoes for Men Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Trail Running Shoes - Women's

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Saucony Peregrine 5 - Women's
Saucony Peregrine 5 - Women's
Read the Review
La Sportiva Bushido - Women's
La Sportiva Bushido - Women's
Read the Review
Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's
Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's
Read the Review
Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's
Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's
Read the Review
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR - Women's
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR - Women's
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award   
Street Price Varies $100 - $110
Compare at 4 sellers
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Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $106 - $140
Compare at 5 sellers
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Lightweight, breathable, rockplate, low profile, wide toe box, extremely versatileGreat stability and comfort, fun colors, low profile, fantastic traction, lightweight, quick to dryAwesome traction, precise fit, quick fit lacing system, great foot protection, winter-ready, sheds mud, fantastic colorsWide toe box, best stability and sensitivity, zero drop technology, low profile designVery comfortable, more stable and less expensive than other maximalist shoes tested, super lightweight, holds little water, cute look
Cons Outsole is slippery on wet rocks, lack of flexibility, mesh lets small particles inBest for those with narrow feet, a little more expensiveFits narrow foot best, less breathable uppers, quick fit lacing system gets gummed upNot for heel strikers, rocks enter easily, poor lug durability, slow-drying uppers, no arch supportEarly signs of poor durability, not the best for wide feet
Best Uses EVERYTHING! racing, short to ultra distances, mellow to technical trail terrain, crossover shoe, around townEverything! trail running, road running, hiking, wear around townSloppy surfaces, high mountain trails, mellow and less technical trails, winter runningMinimalist running, any distance trail runs - short to ultra!, wide feetUltra distances, trail marathons, walking, recreational running, trail running
Date Reviewed Jul 09, 2015Jul 09, 2015Jul 09, 2015Jul 09, 2015Jul 09, 2015
Weighted Scores Saucony Peregrine 5 - Women's La Sportiva Bushido - Women's Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR - Women's
Foot Protection - 25%
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Traction - 20%
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Stability - 20%
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Comfort - 15%
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Weight - 10%
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Sensitivity - 10%
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Product Specs Saucony Peregrine 5 - Women's La Sportiva Bushido - Women's Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR - Women's
Upper FlexFilm Synthetic, No Sew Technology Airmesh w/ structural microfiber outer wrap Water and Abrasian Resistant Textile Synthetic Breathable Mesh, no sew technology Lighweight Synthetic Breathable Mesh, no sew technology
Midsole Powergrid foam cushioning with GRID technology Compression molded MEMlex & Dual Density (1.5mm) Compressed EVA Molded EVA Moderate cushioning, A-Bound Technology Maximal cushioning, Full EVA Midsole
Outsole High Traction Hard Rubber High traction medium/hard rubber Non-marking ContraGrip Rubber Trail Claw, Medium Rubber 4mm lugs, medium-hard rubber pods, early stage meta-rocker technology
Weight (per pair for size 9) 18.8 oz 21.3 oz 21.0 oz 19.8 oz 17.4 oz
Water Held (per pair for size 9) 7.45 oz 7.7 oz 9.3 oz 9.8 oz 5.25 oz
Shoe Type Low profile Low profile Traditional Minimalist/Zero Drop Maximalist
Heel-to-Toe Drop (mm) 4 6 9 0 5
Stack Height (mm) 22 19 29 26 29
Rock Plate and/or Gaiter Adaptation Forefoot rock plate, and gaiter adaptation on lacing system Rock guard in forefoot w/ TPU Shank, no gaiter adaptation None StoneGuard in midsole, gaitertrap on back None
Lacing System Traditional - Flat Traditional - Round One - Pull Quick Fit Lacing System with Lace Pocket Traditional - Round Traditional - Flat
Sizes Available 5 - 12 6 - 10 (La Sportiva uses European sizing) 5 - 12 5 - 12 5 - 11
Colors Available Grey/Mint/Purple & Purple/Red/Green Blue/Red, Blue/Grey, Grey/Yellow Orange/Red/White, Black/Gray/Blue, Blue/Yellow/Teal, Magenta/Yellow/Black, Magenta/Green/Blue, Pink/Black, White/Pink Grey/Yellow/Purple & Brown/Grey/Black Grey, Pink, Light Blue, Bright Blue, Pink, Blue-Purple

  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product


A trail running shoe is designed to take you off the pavement and get you reconnected with nature. In this pilgrimage, there are a variety of surfaces you may encounter, ranging from nice and easy hard packed single track to steep talus fields. You may encounter unplanned obstacles like river crossings and deep, squishy mud. So, what do these conditions demand from a shoe, and what do you need to consider to make sure you're prepared for anything?

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The Saucony Peregrine 5 is perfect for desert trail runs. During our tests, it took us through creeks, zoomy single track, over slickrock, and to hidden arches. What trails do you run on? What do you require from a trail shoe?
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

As any consumer would observe, the shoe market is massive! You have everything from walking shoes to running shoes to barefoot shoes, each with their own unique subcategories. In the world of trail running, this is no different. There are many types of shoes built for a variety of different purposes. If you're like most trail runners, you'll want to look for something that offers a good balance of foot protection, stability, and sensitivity. Trail running involves running on uneven terrain that might include sharp rocks, wet roots, deep sand, tall grass, and more. You want to protect your feet from these potential hazards and feel comfortable to run any distance that suits your ambition. More importantly, you want to feel the trail and not worry about a heavy shoe weighing you down.

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This is the typical trail shoe selection your will encounter at the local REI. Even though the options are vast, we will help you narrow down what to look for. Read on to learn more!
Credit: Amber King

Trail running shoes tend to come with additional features that your typical road running shoes do not have. The biggest difference between these two sports are the surfaces that you encounter. Road runners are designed for flat pavement surfaces as opposed to uneven, technical terrain. As a result, they prioritize efficiency, breathability, and speed. The complex tread patterns, stability features (like rock plates and shanks), and additional foot protection are not common in regular road running shoes. Some road shoes do cross over into trail running, integrating some stability features and additional foot protection. You will also notice a more breathable upper and smaller, more durable lugs.

Have you heard of Altra or HOKA ONE ONE trail running shoes? These brands sport the latest in trail running technology. Read on to learn more about these great trail trotters and which are best for your individual needs.

As a consumer, it's important to recognize the different types of shoe out there and identity what surfaces you will be running on, the conditions you'll be running in, and the distances you plan on conquering. Knowing these three things will help you decide which product will best meet your needs in the backcountry. Since every person's foot and body is different, there is no right shoe for everybody. In fact, when you embark on this trail running shoe review, take things with a grain of salt. We discuss the technical features of the shoe and comment on the fit. However, what worked for our testers, may not work for you. It's really important that you take the time to try on different shoes and see which provides the technical features you will need for where you run.

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Admiring the Cascade Mountains. Our testing took place here and in the San Juan mountains of Colorado.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

As we study our running in association with stride, cadence, and foot striking patterns, lots of trail running movements have emerged. If you were to attend a local trail running race, we bet you would see a wide diversity of shoes out there. Everything from little flimsy pieces of rubber, like the minimalist barefoot shoes offered by Vibram, to enormous soled maximalist shoes like the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR - Women's. As an overview, we have outlined the primary trail running shoe types that you may encounter in the buying market. We also touched on the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you decide what shoe category you fit into based on your trail running demands. Breaking it down, we have designated four different shoe categories; barefoot/minimalist, low profile, traditional, and maximalist. Each category has been determined by a combination of the cushioning, heel to toe drop, and overall shoe profile.

For advice on buying trail runner in an inundated market, we welcome you to check out our more detailed buying advice article. This includes information on shoe anatomy, types, fit, and the most important things to consider before buying. Before we start on trail running shoe categories, let's go over a few important concepts:

Defining Heel-to-Toe Drop & Introducing Zero Drop Technology


Heel-to-toe drop, also known as "heel-toe drop," "heel-to-toe offset," or "heel-to-toe differential" is the difference between the heel (midsole + outsole) and forefoot (midsole + outsole) height.

Why is heel-to-toe drop important?
There are some theories suggesting that an elevated heel puts the body out of alignment, causing increased strain and pain on the knee joints, hips, and back. AltraRunning.com claims that bringing the heel-to-toe drop to zero reduces initial impact by 3-5 times, encourages better running technique, and aligns feet, back, and body position.

Altra currently dominates the market when it comes to a wide toe box and zero drop technology. There is no other shoe out there that offers these two things in one neat package. Just recently, the company entered the maximalist shoe market, manufacturing the Altra Olympus 1.5 that fits into the niche of zero drop technology with a wide toe box AND awesome cushioning.

If you believe that zero drop technology will work for you, take a look at the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's. Keep in mind that if you have run with traditional shoes all your life, you should consider a low profile shoe like the La Sportiva Bushido before jumping right into a zero drop model. This shoe has a 6mm heel-to-toe drop that will allow your muscles and running stride to adapt.

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Pictured on the left is the La Sportiva Bushido (4mm drop). On the right is the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 (0mm drop). Both are built for forefoot and midfoot strikers, but since the Bushidos have a little extra cushion, they are great for transitioning into minimalist running style.
Credit: Amber King

The Heel Strike versus the Midfoot Strike
Your foot strike refers to the pattern that your foot falls into when naturally running. The two most common types of striking patterns include heel and midfoot strike.

Heel Strike: When running, your heel makes the initial contact with the surface and you roll up onto your midfoot and toes to push off.

Midfoot Strike: When running, your midfoot makes the initial contact with the surface and you roll up onto your toes to push off.

Types of Women's Trail Running Shoes


Take a look at the four different categories of trail running shoes covered in this article.

We recommend determining which category of shoe you prefer since this will help you narrow down which models will be best for you. Next consider your personal running priorities; these will be characteristics like foot protection, traction, stability, weight, and sensitivity.

Traditional


Traditional shoes are the classic shoe design that we all grew up with. Using cushioning and support materials, they are designed to make every step the same while moving over uneven terrain. These trail running shoes are designed to accommodate the impact of heel striking and feature cushioning in both the heel and the midfoot. Traditional shoes typically have a more narrow toe box and a heel-to-toe drop of 6 mm or more. Traditional shoes in this review include: Brooks Cascadia 10, ASICS Kahana 7, ASICS Venture 4, Saucony Excursion TR8, and the Salomon Speedcross 3.

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The ASICS Venture 4, a traditional style shoe featuring 10 mm drop, cushioning gel pods in the heel and midfoot, and a more narrow fit in comparison to other shoe types.
Credit: Amber King

The traditional shoe technology has been challenged by theories made famous by the book Born to Run. In this book, McDougall questions whether heel striking really is a healthier way to run and whether or not it leads to long-term injury. According to this philosophy, traditional shoes have been looked at as "enablers" of the heel striker, and thus aid in potential injury. Many minimalist and barefoot enthusiasts will side with the notion that traditional models are not good for the joints and do lead to long term injury. However, it is important to note that there is no notable or conclusive research showing the direct effects. This is where you as a consumer need to decide if the traditional style is right for you. If you run in traditional shoes and deal with regular aches and pains in your joints, you may want to consider trying a different type of shoe or changing your running stride.

Maximalist


HOKA ONE ONE has dominated the maximalist market over the last several years with leading with new innovations in technology every year. Over just the last few years we have seen these shoes transform from ugly and unwearable to cute and stylish with performance innovations to match.

This is a new category of trail running shoes that has developed over the last few years. Unlike other types of shoes, they are not defined by heel-to-drop, but instead are set apart by the amount of cushioning offered through the midsole. In fact, different maximalist models have zero heel-toe drop, like the Altra Olympus 1.5 and others have up to 6mm drop like the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR. The cushioning in these types of shoes protects the foot, provides a flat and consistent ride on the trail, and maximizes comfort.

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Pictured in front is the maximalist HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR. The most comfortable, stable, and best fitting in its category. Notice the extra cushioned heel and its sleek design.
Credit: Amber King

In our tests we have noticed maximalist shoes to be less stable with a lower sensitivity, so it's best that ankle rollers be wary. They work for both midfoot and heel strikers, but provide the most benefits for heel strikers. As with other types of shoes, there is no definitive research showing the long-term benefits or detriments of these shoes. However, if you are dealing with chronic running pain or injury, consider looking into this technology.
Shoes featured in this review in the maximalist category includes the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR, HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR, and Altra Olympus 1.5.

Low Profile


A low profile trail running shoe is a little harder to define. Typically these shoes are light with little to moderate cushioning in the heel, forcing your body to move from a heel to midfoot strike.

If you're a heel striker and you're not interested in switching your running style, look for a traditional or maximalist shoe (with a heel-toe drop) instead of a low profile or zero drop shoe.

Generally they have a heel-to-toe drop of 0-6mm and some feature a wider toe box. The intended benefit is that you train your body to move in a "more natural way" while training stabilizing muscles that don't normally see action while wearing traditional or maximalist shoes. If you do decide to try one of these low profile shoes out, make sure you break yourself into them slowly. For some people, it takes a week or two, for others it can take months. Listen to your body, and don't push it too hard. If it hurts, ease up. Examples of low profile shoes include the Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2, Saucony Peregrine 5, La Sportiva Bushido, and Altra Lone Peak 2.0.

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The Saucony Peregrine 5 is a low profile shoe that keeps you low to the ground. It has great sensitivity and stability.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

Some shoes like the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 (featuring zero drop) require a break-in period to get your muscles used to having no additional support in the heel and arch. Moving into a zero drop shoe quickly can cause problems in the feet and joints - especially if you're a heel striker - unless you spend time getting used to them.

Barefoot/Minimalist


Barefoot running shoes are intended to completely conform to your foot and imitate a barefoot running experience. These shoes are lightweight, have no cushion, and have wider toe boxes to allow the toes to splay out. Below is the Vibram KSO, a barefoot running shoe example.

After the release of Christopher McDougall's book, "Born to Run" (that discussed the advantages of running barefoot), there has been a movement towards forefoot and midfoot striking, taking shorter stride lengths, and increasing cadence to prevent long-term injury. Though it is still very much a debate, it is important to point out that the barefoot running community strongly believes in this philosophy. You can learn more about this style of trail running shoe by visiting The Best Barefoot Shoes for Women Review.

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A top view of the KSO - a barefoot shoe.
Credit: Sarah Hegg

Once you have decided what kind of trail running shoe is right for you, you can take steps in the right direction to see what other features you should consider. Read through how we evaluated each shoe to help you decide what to buy!

Criteria for Evaluation


When deciding what was important for a trail running shoe, we determined that a fine balance between foot protection, traction, stability, comfort, weight, and sensitivity was absolutely necessary. When on technical terrain, it's important your feet are protected from sharp rocks and other hazards. At the same time, you want a shoe that has good traction to avoid slippage. Without stability, you might find yourself rolling ankles. A light shoe may help you feel faster and run for longer periods of time, while good sensitivity allows you to become intimate with the trail. All the shoes we tested had each of these things, and performed a little bit differently. In the end, the Saucony Peregrine 5 embodied and balanced these metrics the best, winning our Editors' Choice award.

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Ahhh! Taking a soak in a melt water river is the best way to recover from a loooong and steep run in the mountains.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

Foot Protection


Foot protection is imperative when exposing your feet to the constant pounding of rough trail surfaces. When evaluating each contender for foot protection, we considered a few micro-metrics. We ran all 12 trail running shoes over technical terrain that would normally beat up any runner's feet. We paid specific attention to the rigidity of the shoe's midfoot, protection from impact (i.e. cushioning in the midfoot and heel), and whether debris was able to get past the uppers on longer runs. Taking each of these micro-metrics into consideration while comparing each shoe side-by-side, we were able to decipher which shoes had the best foot protection.

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Different uppers and toe caps provide different levels of foot protection. Some of these models - especially the low profile ones - also integrated rockplates to help distribute impact and protect the bottom of the foot.
Credit: Amber King

The HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR, HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR - Women's, and Salomon Speedcross 3 scored the highest in this category. All three shoes offer ample foot protection, but in different ways. Both HOKAs have an incredibly thick midfoot that completely protected our feet from all hazards encountered on the trail. While running over rocks and other debris, the midsole was soft enough to wrap around obstacles and maintain a flat plain making us feel like we were running on pavement at times. The breathable mesh also did a great job keeping sand and debris out. As a trade-off for this protection, we realized that sensitivity was lost. While most of the trail running shoes tested, including the the Altra Olympus 1.5 - Women's did a great job at keeping out sand and debris, but we weren't too excited with its boxy fit or the flipper on the back that flicked rocks into our shoe.

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HOKA Stinson showcasing its uber-sized midsole that provides impeccable cushioning and protection on the trail.
Credit: Amber King

The Salomon Speedcross 3 offered protection in the way of a rigid midfoot, a hard toe cap, and an impenetrable outer. The cushioning in the uppers and midfoot helped alleviate impact, while the pull-string lacing system kept the shoe snug for little movement and added protection. Meanwhile, the Saucony Peregrine 5 and La Sportiva Bushido - Women's performed the best in foot protection among the low profile shoes, thanks to midfoot rock plates and a rigidity that helps dissipate shock. Others that scored well included the Brooks Cascadia 10 - Women's, which offers a nice rock plate and great cushion. The products that scored the lowest for foot protection were the Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2 - Women's and the ASICS GEL-Venture 4 - Women's. Both have designs that don't boast any additional protective features.

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The hard toe cap on the Speedcross 3 provides extra protection on the trail.
Credit: Amber King

Traction


When you're treading over technical terrain, a trail running shoe with good traction is a necessity that will keep you from slipping on the ups and downs. Your traction requirement will vary dramatically depending on what types of trails you conquer and the conditions you normally run in. For example, if you're living on the West coast and see a lot of rain, you're going to want a burly shoe - like the Salomon Speedcross 3 - that can combat the mud and shed it quickly . On the other hand, if you prefer to run roads and occasionally veer off the trail, then a crossover shoe like the the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR or ASICS Venture 4 may be a better option. Whatever your preference, it is important to identify the surfaces that you encounter on your runs to figure out the traction that you need for your trails and lifestyle. In general, the gnarlier the trail surfaces (i.e. sticky mud, river crossings, etc), the deeper the lugs should be.

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Amber King using the Speedcross 3s as a means of traversing a wet, slippery snow slope in the Northern Cascades.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

As the world of trail running evolves, the types of surfaces that runners encounter are becoming a little more hardcore. Steeper, slippier, and more exposed. Among both elite and recreational runners, different sports like hiking, mountaineering, and even rock climbing are sometimes integrated into trail running. As a result, we considered these mega adventures and tested our contenders over everything from easy hard-pack single track to high alpine mountain ridge lines. With this in mind, we tested traction not only on trails, but on rock surfaces as well. We rated traction with the following micro-metrics: performance on heavy mud, wet boulders, sloggy steep snowfields, gravel over slabs, slab scrambling, edging on cliffs, steep broken scree slopes, steep trails, hot desert sand, dirt-packed single track, pavement, and even a little racing around the ol' high school rubber running track.

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The lugs on the Altra Lone Peak unfortunately wore down quickly. Choosing this shoe for sloppy terrain was not the best decision. Steep and wet slopes require good traction so you're not moving back every time you take a step up.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

For all you technical trail runners
If you are looking for a trail running shoe with awesome traction for the technical and slippery trail - so good that it tests poorly on pavement - we recommend taking a look at the deep and widely spaced tri-tipped lug system offered by the Salomon Speedcross 3, our Top Pick for Sloppy Terrain. This system provided the most trusted traction on both steep and flat terrain, as well as all the other backcountry surfaces tested in this review. We were surprised how well the soft non-marking contra-grip rubber performed through mud and snow. The deep sticky lugs even clung to granite slabs and did pretty well edging on rock climbs.

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The tread pattern on the Speedcross is multi-directional, featuring deep lugs that will literally stick to anything. Deep nasty mud? No problem. Slippery rocks? No worries. This traction earned this model our Top Pick for Sloppy Terrain.
Credit: Amber King

The La Sportiva Bushido, a daring contender for our Editors' Choice winner, was a very close runner up in our traction metric. The complex and multi-directional tread design binds to most surfaces for trusted traction when rounding corners or bounding over boulders. We noticed that during approaches to the rock climbing crag they stuck to boulders overlaid with small pebbles, which was a huge relief with a heavy pack. The rubber was on par with the Salomon Speedcross, but the lugs weren't as deep. This actually made the La Sportiva more versatile than the Speedcross, but it did not shed med as well. The Saucony Peregrine also performed similar to the Bushido except the lugs were designed with a rubber that is a little harder that didn't quite grip wet surfaces as well.

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A look at the traction pattern of the Bushido. The softer rubber is a little less durable, but does an amazing job sticking to the worst stuff out there.
Credit: Amber King

Crossover Traction
If you're a road runner looking to get on the trails - or if you are a trail runner that likes to get on the roads every now and then, deep lugs and super complex tread patterns aren't necessary.

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Girls just wanna have fun! Amy Kerker (left), Amber King, and Sarah Buman (right) showing off the best crossover shoes for each category. On the left is the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR (Maximalist). The middle is the ASICS Kahana 7 (traditional), and the right is the Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2 (low profile).
Credit: Mike Hughes

Instead, consider a crossover shoe that boasts great traction on the trail, but not so much that it hinders your performance on the road. The best crossover road and trail running shoes that we tested include: the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR, ASICS Kahana 7 (Our Best Buy Award Winner), and the ASICS GEL-Venture 4. All four performed well for traction on all surfaces except for steep snowy slopes.

Of these four models, the maximalist shoe, the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR performed the best on both the pavement and trails. Boasting deeper lugs, this shoe still felt fast on flats, but provided the traction we needed on the steeps. The added breathable uppers and lightweight design are what set it apart from other traditional crossover shoes. Among the other three traditional crossover shoes, the ASICS GEL-Kahana 7 performed the best on trails and roads.

The ASICS Venture 4 performed the best on the track and roads because it hoested the smallest and least aggressive lugs of all the shoes tested. If you're looking for a low profile shoe that does well as a crossover, check out the La Sportiva Bushido and the Saucony Peregrine 5. They both offer great grip on flat and less technical trails, and have exactly what you need for road running.

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A closer look at the less aggressive, multi-directional lugs that make the ASICS Venture 4 great crossover shoe.
Credit: Amber King

Stability


It is important to feel stable on the trail. Constantly encountering uneven surfaces and obstacles means that a stable trail running shoe will keep your foot safe and happy. If you're an ankle roller, like our main tester, stability can mean the difference between running or limping out of the woods. A lot of other metrics contribute to stability, including foot protection, sensitivity, and traction. For this metric we took into account lug design, lacing system, shoe height, and frame system. We also talked to our testers to see if they felt "safe" wearing the shoe on the trail and if ankle rolling occurred.

This year, the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 really stood out with its zero drop technology, wide toe box, and low profile design. Our testers felt comfortable, close to the ground, and no ankle rolling was reported. As a result, it earned a perfect 10/10 in this metric. The Salomon Speedcross 3 also did well, offering great sensitivity, traction, and a precise moldable fit. A close third was the Saucony Peregrine 5, which has a tight - yet relaxed - fit and a nice wide toe box. This allows your toes to wiggle freely while providing fantastic sensitivity. Other products that performed well in this category included the ASICS Kahana 7 and Brooks Cascadia 10.

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The Altra Olympus 1.5 was not the most stable shoe because of its bulky fit and tall stack height. Alternatively, look at the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 (with a much lower stack height and zero drop) if you want something close to the ground.
Credit: Amber King

On the other side of the coin, it's not surprising that our maximalist contenders didn't score too high in this category. With a tall stack height, maximalist shoes are bound to feel unstable, especially to maximalist newcomers who aren't used to the shoe. Of the maximalist shoes, the Altra Olympus 1.5 scored the lowest as a result of its super boxy and floppy fit, in combination with its tall stack height. The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR provided the most stability of all the maximalist shoes. It sports thin uppers that wrap the foot nicely and a lower stack height than both the Olympus 1.5 and the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR.

Even if you are an ankle roller, you can still wear maximalist trail running shoes, just be sure to get used to them on the easy stuff before taking them on technical terrain.

Comfort


Everybody wants to be comfortable on the trail - whether you are running an ultra-marathon, marathon, or just getting out after work. When considering comfort, we looked the shoe's breathability, amount of cushion, versatility for orthotics, and break-in period.

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Three shoe categories. Left - low profile with minimal midsole height. Middle - maximalist shoe with HUGE amount of cushioning. Right - traditional shoe with a good amount of cushioning. The maximalist shoes offer the highest level of comfort, while low profile shoes tend to lose points in this category.
Credit: Amber King

We were really impressed with all of our maximalist shoes in this category, but the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR really stood out. Last year, the HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR won a Top Pick for Comfort, and if we could, we would give this award to the Challenger this year.

Fitting those with a narrow foot best, the Challenger ATR is like running on a cloud. Its lower stack height and lighter weight design will have you flying down the trail. We couldn't feel sharp objects on the trail as we careened through technical terrain and our joints and feet were left happier - especially on longer runs. The uppers are the most breathable tested and dry quickly after going through puddles. They also performed very well in hotter weather. The Saucony Peregrine 5 was also a top contender for comfort. Even though it sports a rigid midsole, the Powergrid foam provides an excellent ride that is more cushioned than the Bushido.

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The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger has a lower profile than most maximalist shoes. Though the stack height isn't as great, they are just as comfortable with a better fit than the Olympus 1.5.
Credit: Amber King

In comparison, we awarded the Salomon model two points less as a result of the less breathable uppers and a sensitive forefoot that left our feet hurting after 18 miles. The trade-off for good sensitivity normally lives in the cushioned comfort. The Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2, a low profile trail running shoe, scored the lowest in comfort as it does not boast any sort of extra cushion or comfort components. However, this was how the shoe was designed. A trade-off for being lightweight and minimalist.

When measuring breathability, we started off by simply wearing all of the review contenders out in hot weather to determine which offered the most airflow. We found that the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR and Stinson ATR along with the Saucony Peregrine 5 and La Sportiva Bushido performed the best. All have breathable uppers that, when you hold them up to the light, you can actually see through. We would recommend all for hot summer days, but not cold winter nights. The ASICS Kahana 7 performed the worst for breathability, making it a good option for cold weather running.

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The upper air-flow mesh is so breathable you can see through it! As the most breathable mesh of all the shoes tested, we urge you to take the Stinsons for a spin on hot days.
Credit: Amber King

Sensitivity


Being able to feel the trail under your foot is really important for a lot of trail runners. Sensitivity allows you to feel the uneven surfaces and readjust your body to ensure a healthy foot strike and position. Typically, a shoe closer to the barefoot or transitional category scored the best in this category. While rating sensitivity, we specifically looked at whether we could feel the trail underfoot and whether we could feel small rocks and/or roots, or if there was no connection to the trail.

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Can you feel the trail when you run? With the Altra Lone Peak 2.0s, we had no problems comfortably going cross country! An important shoe component that helps to protect your feet, ankle, knees, and body.
Credit: Jared Vilhauer

The Nike Zoom Wildhorse and Altra Lone Peak 2.0 scored the highest in this category. Both had a very thin midfoot with a moderate amount of cushion, allowing you to feel the trail as you move along. Following closely behind was the Saucony Peregrine 5 . It offers exceptional sensitivity but has a little bit more cushion and sole between the ground and foot. On the other end of the spectrum were all the maximalist shoes. Of these three, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger had the best sensitivity as the stack height (and therefore level of cushion) was not as high as the Olympus 1.5 or Stinson ATR.

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Designed without sensitivity in mind, running on terrain like this makes everything feel flat with the Stinson ATR.
Credit: Amber King

Weight


Having a lightweight shoe on the trail can make a world of difference if you're on a long run. If you're an ultra-runner, a couple of ounces feels like additional ankle weights after 50 miles. If you're a recreational runner, the lighter weight may give you more speed and help you feel liberated on the trail. But, this again is a personal preference matter. You need to ask yourself, how important is weight to you? To evaluate weight, we did two things. We weighed each model while it was dry (per pair of size 9 women's). Then we dunked each pair in water for 30 seconds to compare how much water the shoes held when wet. The shoes that scored the highest had a low dry weight and also held the least water.

Water Held = Wet Weight-Dry Weight

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The drench test showed that the ASICS Kahana 7 held the most amount of water in comparison to the other shoes tested.
Credit: Amber King

We felt that wet weight and water held was important for folks who run through streams and rivers, or who live and train in areas of the world that get a lot of rain - like the Pacific Northwest. We averaged the dry weight and the water held to formulate our weight scores. A good trail shoe should weigh between 16 and 21 ounces and we think it shouldn't hold more than 9.5 ounces of water.

The products that earned the best scores in our weight metric were the Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2 (dry: 16 oz/pair), HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR (17.4 oz), and the HOKA Stinson ATR (20.1 oz). The Nike Zoom Wildhorse, HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR, and the Peregrine 5 had the lightest dry weights, which made us feel fast on the flats. In our dunk tests, we were surprised to learn that both HOKA ONE ONE models held the least amount of water (and dried out the quickest).

On the other end of the spectrum, the heaviest shoes tested were both ASICS models. They were already on the heavier end while dry, but when we dunked the shoes in water for 30 seconds, we found that they also held the most water of all their competitors. The Kahanas 7s and Venture 4s held 12.5 and 11.6 oz of water respectively. They also took a long time to dry out, which is expected for shoes with a lot of upper material.

Editors' Choice Award: Saucony Peregrine 5 - Women's


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Run anywhere in our Editors' Choice Award winner. In a nutshell the Peregrines are affordable, durable, light, quick to dry, with a precise fit and a low profile. Not only that, but the traction makes it ultra versatile.
Credit: Amber King
The Saucony Peregrine 5 - Women's is a low profile shoe (4 mm heel-toe drop) with exemplary versatility. This design balances great foot protection and sensitivity and can easily cross over from roads to trails. With its lightweight design, you feel fast on roads and dirt flats. If you feel like getting into more technical terrain, don't hesitate! As our most breathable shoe, it will keep your feet cool and well protected. The superior foot protection comes in the form of a rock plate in the midsole that protects from extended impacts on the trails. The Saucony Peregrine 5's logo "Run Anywhere" is true to the shoe…you really can go anywhere, and it performs well. That is why we awarded it with our 2015 Editors' Choice award (again!).

Best Buy Award: ASICS GEL-Kahana 7 - Women's


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With superior comfort and stability, the ASICS Kahana 7 is a traditional shoe that earned our Best Buy Award. We wouldn't recommend these for extremely technical trails, but they are great for getting out on mellow to moderately technical terrain and back to the roads again for a low price of just $85.
Credit: Amber King
If you are looking for something that gives you great quality without breaking the bank, we highly recommend the ASICS GEL-Kahana 7 - Women's, which rings up at just $85. In a tight race with the Saucony Excursion TR8 - Women's, the Kahana performed well in all categories. We really liked the thin, rigid uppers in combination with the Duo-max gel pods, which added extra comfort in the midsole. This women's trail running shoe wicks water well and still performed well as a crossover from the trail to the pavement. It provides good traction on nasty surfaces and it's lightweight enough to be race ready, as long as it's not wet. Furthermore, its construction is high quality and did not exhibit any wear and tear throughout the duration of testing. As a result, we are proud to announce the ASICS GEL-Kahana 7 as our Best Buy award winner.

Top Pick Award for Sloppy Terrain: Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's


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The Salomon Speedcross 3 is a high performance surface slayer! Here, they are posed in the North Cascades after bringing us up a steep snow slope to the base of Early Winter Spire.
Credit: Amber King
We loved how the Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's performed on technical and casual terrain. This was our go-to trail running shoe for all sorts of adventures, including long high alpine ridge runs and quick and short single track. The deep, multi-directional lugs stand apart from any of the other shoes tested. In fact, this was one shoe that could really handle super wet, slippery, and rocky surfaces. Wearing a shoe like this on the trail will have you comfortably trusting the technical terrain, and plowing through the gnarly elements you are bound to meet with as a trail runner in the mountains. This is why we couldn't help but give the Salomon Speedcross our Top Pick for Sloppy Terrain.

Top Pick Award for Wide Feet: Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's


The Lone Peak 2.0 is a great low profile shoe! It's the only one that features zero drop technology with a wide toe box and moderate cushioning. Out of the box, they are perfect for long and technical missions. Though be wary of the tread, it seems to break down quickly.
Credit: Amber King
The Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's is a low profile trail running shoe with zero drop and a HUGE toe box. When you run, your toes can splay out. If you're blister prone or have trouble finding shoes that are wide enough to accommodate your feet, this shoe may be a great choice! It fits comfortably from heel to toe, with a bit of a thick upper. It features a trail claw stone guard and moderate cushioning to protect your feet from impact. We also learned that it is one of the most sensitive and stable shoes we tested. That said, because it is zero drop, it takes a little getting used to and is best suited for a person who is a midfoot striker (or wants to be!). Take it on any trail, for any distance! You will feel comfortable, safe, and your toes will thank you.

Best for Specific Applications


Even though many of the trail running shoes tested didn't earn an award, we thought there were a special few that should not be overlooked, and deserved a shout out.
Best for Mountain Running - La Sportiva Bushido
Best for Versatility - Brooks Cascadia 10
Best Crossover - HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR
Most Stable Maximalist - HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR

Ask an Expert


Before buying trail running shoes, it's always good to consult with an expert. We talked to professional trail runner and shoe tester, Gina Lucrezi, who gave us a little insight into her personal preferences when it comes to trail shoes.

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We interviewed professional trail runner Gina Lucrezi to get her advice on how to buy a trail running shoe.
Credit: Gina Lucrezi

Gina Lucrezi: Professional Trail Runner, Marketing/Ad Manager for irunfar.com, Professional Shoe Tester



What are the most important qualities of a trail running shoe that you consider before deciding whether you love or hate it?

I would have to go with the overall fit. Is the toe box big enough? Is your heel secure or sliding? Is your arch supported and comfortable? If the shoe doesn't feel good when you slip it on, you can forget falling in love with the sport! The better you and your feet feel, the more fun you will have on the trail.

Do you wear different shoes for different types of trails?
I definitely wear different styles to match corresponding terrain. For trails that have super loose scree or sloppy mud, I go with an aggressive tread - the chunkier the better! Lugs need to be big and long to dig deep into loose debris to grant purchase - otherwise you will most likely end up on your butt. For smooth, packed-out trails, I use a very mellow almost road-style tread. There is no need to run with the extra bulk of an aggressive sole if the trail resembles a "dirt sidewalk."

What do you look for in tread design, outsole rubber, and lug depth?
I love tread!! It's one of my favorite parts of the shoe. I prefer a more aggressive sole vs. a smooth sole. I run on terrain that generally requires a more secure purchase with each step, so bring on long lugs and Vibram rubber! I'll wear a heavier shoe over a lightweight shoe any day if it provides me with the confidence of security and safety. To break down tread patterns, I prefer a design that allows the lugs to dig in on the climbs to prevent slippage and are then reversed to help prevent the runner from sliding on a steep down.

What sort of features do you like when doing stream crossings?
In general, I prefer a shoe that isn't super heavy with excessive material. I like a breathable upper regardless if it is summer or winter (some people will buy waterproof shoes for winter). Therefore, when crossing streams the water is able to exit my shoes a lot easier and quicker since the upper is constructed with minimal layers of mesh. The waterlogged feeling disappears after a quarter mile. The thing to worry about is how your wet socks will affect your feet.

What are your thoughts on fit for runners?
No two people are alike, so same goes for their feet. Some people require more support, some less. Same goes for width and toe box room. My recommendation would be to visit your local speciality shoe retailer and have them analyze your foot and running gait. They will suggest a few different models that can accommodate you. Be sure to try on more than one type when you are at the store.

When you are training for these long races, do you train in your racing shoes, or a different pair?
Leading up to a big race I definitely train in the same style shoe I expect to race in. I want to be familiar with how that shoe will handle and how it feels after getting beat up over lots of miles. I think this is good practice and will help eliminate any possible shoe surprises on race day.

What lacing system do you prefer for your trail running shoes
Lacing! I'm a traditional fan. I always double knot my laces for peace of mind though. The good thing about using laces is that you have the ability to tighten and loosen certain areas of your shoe. Also, if your heel is slipping you can perform a lace-lock technique which will force your heel to stay put.

Are there are special tips for cleaning your running shoes?
If they are caked in mud, I'll bang the soles together in hopes to fling the slop off. It usually ends up sticking to me instead! If my shoes are soaking wet, I remove the foot beds and stuff the shoe with newspaper. It speeds up the drying time by hours! If I want my shoes to look pretty again, I break out the toothbrush and soapy water…I take pride in a thorough scrubbing!

Gina is a professional trail runner with 14 years of racing experience. In 2009, she began trail running and was quickly picked up by such sponsors as New Balance, Julbo, Pro-Tec Athletics, Ultimate Direction, and PepsiCo. She has raced distances from 10K to 100 miles in France, Switzerland, Iceland, Mexico, Spain, and all over the USA. Her greatest accomplishment was a recent USA 1st female place podium at the world renowned North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in France. This was her first 100K, and her first time running in the dark! In addition, she has placed 1st and 2nd in nationally recognized trail races, like the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile, with distances ranging from 10K to 100K.

She currently she has 19 pairs of trail runners sitting in her closet, and has owned over 500 pairs since her running career began.

Amber King
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