The Best Women's Trail Running Shoes for 2017

Heather enjoys the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 in the desert.
Finding the best trail running shoe (for women) can be quite an endeavor. After considering over 100 different models, we chose 13 top contenders and put them through 200 hours of side-by-side testing on all trails ranging from the High Peruvian Andes to the deep sand of the desert. Have no fear, OutdoorGearLab is here! We scoured the internet and athletic stores to determine which trail running shoes are considered the best on the market, pouring over reviews. We have thoroughly tested each shoe and have the best recommendations - whether you're looking for a shoe that provides the optimal level of traction or if you're looking for the ultimate in comfort. This review for women's trail running shoes will help you determine the best trail runner for you. Ready, set, go!

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Amber King
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday
May 26, 2017

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Best Overall Women's Trail Runner


inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX


innov-8 Roclite 305 Editors' Choice Award

$138.95
at Amazon
See It

Boy, were we happy to finally review the inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX, our new Editors' Choice award winner! When we took it to the trails, we noticed this trail shoe was unique. Equipped with a waterproof overlay and numerous protective features, it does well in everything from inclement weather to blue bird days. The water-resistant overlays make it a perfect compadre for stream crossings and wet days. The well spaced Tri-C sticky lugs utilize three different kinds of rubber to ensure traction on everything from muddy trails to deep sand. Our biggest caveat was its stiff upper and status quo stability. This shoe also provides amazing traction and protection. Ladies, take a gander at this year's Editors' Choice award winner!
Water resistant
Great traction over all surfaces
Dries quickly
Lightweight
Comfortable and responsive midsole
Stiff fit
Tough to break-in
Less stable on technical terrain

Read Full Review: inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX- Women's

Best Bang for your Buck


Saucony Peregrine 7 - Women's


http://www.saucony.com/ Best Buy Award

$119.95
at Backcountry
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Super comfy midsole
Durable and aggressive outsole
Great for wide to narrow feet
Wonderful stability and sensitivity
Runs a half size small
Doesn't shed mud easily
The Saucony Peregrine 7 - Women's is the perfect pick for those looking for a great deal and an amazing shoe. As our Editors' Choice for a few years in a row, this low profile option sports exemplary versatility for a decent price of just $120. Its design balances great foot protection and sensitivity that can easily cross over from roads to trails. The outsole is incredibly bitey - providing great performance on both technical terrain and dirt roads. As one of the most breathable shoes tested, it's perfectly suited for hot days and super comfortable! The superior foot protection comes in the form of a rock plate and extra cushion in the midsole that protects from extended impacts on the trails. The Saucony Peregrine 7's logo "Run Anywhere" is true to the shoe…you really can truly go anywhere and expect exceptional performance. Since this shoe sports such great versatility for a decent price of $120, this is our Best Buy award winner.

Read Full Review: Saucony Peregrine 7 - Women's

Top Pick Award for Sloppy Surfaces


Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$84.47
at CampSaver
See It

Great traction on soft surfaces
Wonderful stability
One pull lacing system
Precise fit
Best only for narrow feet
Lugs wear down on hard surfaces
Not great for cross-over terrain
Slow to dry
If you're looking the best in traction out there, the Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's is the best option! We slogged this shoe through all the nastiest stuff we could think of; snow, slush, rocks, kitty litter, mud, and sand. The deep 5mm multi-directional chevron lugs are composed of a sticky rubber that grips to almost anything (except super slippery surfaces), giving any runner the confidence to charge up and down switchbacks. Not only that, the construction is durable and seamless, providing great protection from stubs and trail debris. Because of its extraordinary performance in the 'nasty', we have given it our Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces.

Read Full Review: Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's

Top Pick for Comfort


HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 - Women's


HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 Top Pick Award

$116.22
at Amazon
See It

Incredibly plush and comfortable
Good traction
Lightweight
Dries quickly
Narrow forefoot
Less stable than other shoes tested
Is comfort your top priority? Have you ever dreamed of running for hours and feeling less achy? Then it's about time you considered the uber comfy HOKA ONE ONE ATR 3 - Women's! This maximalist neutral trail shoe balances a nicely cushioned design with a lightweight framework. It features 28mm of cushion in the heel, with 23mm of cushion in the forefoot. With that kind of cush underfoot, you'll feel as if you're running on cloud nine. This year, HOKA ONE ONE made the toe box wider which - in our eyes - is a great change. However, the toe box still feels comparatively narrow to other trail shoes tested, making it perfect for those with narrow feet. The lacing system provides a precise fit, while the 4mm lugs grip well on most trails including deep sand and zoomy single track. It also sports a lightweight design that, when wet, dries quickly. The biggest selling point is that we felt less sore after long runs when wearing this trail running shoe. However, most of our testers also mentioned that this shoe felt less stable than other competitors due to its higher stack height. Overall, if you're in the market for the ultimate in comfort, you must check out this Top Pick.

Read Full Review: HOKA ONE ONE ATR 3 - Women's

Top Pick Award for Wide Feet


Altra Lone Peak 3 - Women's


Altra Lone Peak 3.5 Top Pick Award

$72.08
at Amazon
See It

Wide, foot-shaped toe box forefoot to accommodate toe splay and foot swelling
Super comfy and responsive midsole
More durable upper
Trail claw stone guard enhances sensitive without losing protection
Aggressive upper is somewhat uncomfortable
Sloppier, less precise fit
Less breathable than previous versions
New Lone Peak 3.5 Release!
Altra let loose a minor update to this model in July 2017. The Lone Peak 3.5 version features a new gaiter attachment system, drainage holes, and changes to the mesh and stitching in the upper. We're currently on trail with these shoes right now, but for a breakdown right now of how the 3.0 and 3.5 differ, head to the individual review.
If you're looking to free your toes from the confines of a narrow toe box, the Altra Lone Peak 3 comes with our highest recommendation. As a personal favorite of the main editor, this foot-shaped trail shoe features an extra large toe box. It allows your toes to spread out and wiggle free while logging miles on the trail. It fits comfortably from heel to toe with a thick upper, while the trail claw stone guard and moderate cushioning underfoot protects feet from rocky trails and painful surfaces. The Lone Peak 3 is suited for all lengths of runs, with the Ultra distances in mind. In addition, it moves well over all terrain, integrating 'zero-drop' technology that is best for midfoot to forefoot strikers. If you're looking for a shoe designed to let your toes splay out while on the run (or if you have really wide feet) then this Top Pick for Wide Feet is our top recommendation.

Read Full Review: Altra Lone Peak 3 - Women's

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
79
$140
Editors' Choice Award
This Editors' Choice winner is best for adventures in varied and unpredictable terrain.
78
$120
Best Buy Award
This high value, low profile trail runner provides awesome performance everywhere - from the roads to the mountains.
76
$130
Top Pick Award
A specialized mountain shoe designed to tear up the most technical of trails.
75
$120
Top Pick Award
The best choice for those who like to spread their toes (and their trail wings).
74
$125
This lightweight trail shoe will have you tackling miles at turbo speed.
73
$130
This burly mountain shoe features a fine balance of traction, stability, and sensitivity - all wrapped into a nice low profile package.
72
$130
Top Pick Award
Run 20 miles and make it feel like 10; this Top Pick for Comfort is comfortable and plush with a stable design.
70
$130
With an amazing fit and great arch support, this highly flexible trail shoe will have you dancing around trail obstacles all day long.
69
$135
The lightest and most intimate trail experience you'll ever have.
69
$130
This classic traditional trail runner provides unbeatable comfort and protection on the trails all day long.
68
$130
This low profile trail shoe is super protective, doing well on less technical terrains through all types of weather.
68
$125
This traditional trail runner does best on groomed surfaces and less technical terrain.
52
$85
The perfect cross-over for recreational runners looking for an inexpensive trail shoe option.

Analysis and Test Results


Over the last few years, we've literally run our legs off to determine which is the best trail running shoe out there. While shoe testing can be a subjective process (as the fit is pretty personal) we have been able to objectively test many performance features of best shoes out there. As a result, we have generated a variety of recommendations based on what any runner may be looking for in a trail running shoe. We have vigorously tested each women's trail running shoe with objective tests to determine which did the best over six different testing metrics. With these tests we were able to determine each shoe's strengths - and it's pitfalls.

Traveling from Canada to the USA to Peru, we were able to test each shoe in a variety of environmental conditions. This includes high alpine summits to sandy deserts. We topped out at 16,800 feet on high, technical passes in the Peruvian Andes and slogged through deep sand. We tackled rocked out and rooted forest trails and made it down the pavement river walk at least three times a week. With hundreds of miles logged (in addition to our objective test in the lab), we were able to determine how each shoe scored comparatively in each metric. With these scores, we determined which trail running shoe deserved awards and shout-outs.

The San Juans proved to be a great testing ground for trail running shoes. In this photo  we run above tree line to tag three 12 000 ft mountain peak summits in a day. The Altra Lone Peak 3 proved to be a great compahgre on this mission in the Red Mountains.
The San Juans proved to be a great testing ground for trail running shoes. In this photo, we run above tree line to tag three 12,000 ft mountain peak summits in a day. The Altra Lone Peak 3 proved to be a great compahgre on this mission in the Red Mountains.

To choose our metrics, we not only racked our brains to determine which metrics were the most important, but we also polled numerous trail runners on popular Facebook pages, talked to professionals, and spoke with friends. In these conversations, we learned (and agreed) that foot protection (25%), traction (25%), stability (15%), comfort & fit (15%), weight (10%), and sensitivity (10%) were the most important factors to consider. In the end, we gave each trail running shoe a score out of ten in each category for a total out of 100 points overall.

We used the following scoring rubric for each metric:
  • 0 - 1: Failure in performance
  • 2 - 4: Poor performance
  • 5 - 7: Average performance
  • 8 - 9: Amazing performance
  • 10: The BEST!

Very few shoes scored a ten in any one metric, and no shoe in this review earned a "failure in performance" in any of these categories.

Foot Protection


Foot protection is imperative when exposing feet to rough trail surfaces. Ruts, rocks, mud, snow, dust, and sand can cause discomfort if your feet aren't properly protected. For this metric, we looked specifically at the shoe's ability to protect the underside of the foot. Through our testing, we learned that thicker cushioning with an integrated rock plate did better than those without. Hard toe caps that completely covered the toes helped to prevent stubs and promote all day protection. Water-resistant uppers provide better protection while crossing rivers and streams or facing adverse weather. Finally, we looked at the porosity of the upper mesh, that keeps out fine particulates. Shoes with a tightly knit mesh did better than shoes with a more porous design. Taking each of these micro-metrics into consideration we were able to decipher which shoes had the best foot protection.


Best All-Around Protection
The inov-8 Roclite provides the best protection of all the contenders, making it our Editors' Choice. The Salomon Speedcross 4 scores high marks for its seamless mesh that doesn't allow any pesky trail debris to penetrate. In addition, we loved its wonderfully responsive cushion underfoot that didn't only protect feet on the trail, but kept it comfortable during long days. We only wished that it had a rock plate for an even more protective experience.

The inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX does well for its unique water-resistant shell, making it the best option for stream and river crossings. The upper is seamless, not allowing even the finest particles to penetrate through, while the meta-shank rock plate and reinforced toe cap provide the ultimate in protection on the trail. Both shoes are a great option if what you're looking for is the best in foot protection, however, the Roclite 305 is superior in the area of water resistance, whereas the Speedcross 4 provides a better debris-resistant mesh.

The water-resistant overlays of our New Editor's Choice winner of the inov-8 305 Roclite GTX makes it a perfect piece of equipment for early Spring running sessions.
The water-resistant overlays of our New Editor's Choice winner of the inov-8 305 Roclite GTX makes it a perfect piece of equipment for early Spring running sessions.

Of the traditional and maximalist shoes, the classic Brooks Cascadia 12 and HOKA ONE ONE model earned high points. The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 utilizes uber amounts of cushion that keeps feet protected from any and all trail hazards. Its design also protects from debris while providing good breathability.

The toe cap is hard and durable  preventing painful stubs on the trail.
The toe cap is hard and durable, preventing painful stubs on the trail.

The New Balance Leadville Trail v3 allows you to take to the trail all day long. The Leadville (on the other hand) does not have a rock plate and is better suited towards shorter runs on less technical terrain. The Brooks Cascadia 12 - Women's offers similar cushioning to the Trail N2 in additional to a forefoot rock plate.

Less Protective Options
If you're looking for a shoe that offers less in the way of protection, turn your attention to the ASICS GEL-Kahana 8 and Salming Elements. Neither of these shoes features a rock plate or a particularly tough toe cap. That said, they all do a great job at keeping particulate matter out and have a place on less technical trails. The ASICS shoe provides some foot protection in the way of gel pods underfoot, giving it a higher score. However, we found that it wasn't stable enough for technical terrain and it was quite sloppy overall. The Salmings scored the worst in this category overall due to the fact that this shoe has little to no cushion and it lacks a rock plate. The trade-off for these protective elements is one heck of a sensitive and nimble shoe. So, if you're looking for a less protective shoe, take a look at these options.

Traction


When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. Based on where you run, your personal traction requirements may change. For example, if you find yourself in with lots of snow and rain, a shoe with longer lugs that can grip that slippery slope will be a much better option than a shoe with tiny lugs. But, if you run on groomed trails, a shoe with smaller lugs will provide better performance (and make you feel like you can go fast). If you like to cross over from groomed trails to the pavement, a shoe that has lugs large enough to grip the trail but not be a hindrance (or wear down) on the pavement is key.


When considering traction, we tested our contenders in all sorts of conditions. We ran over scree, mud, snow, slush, and pavement surfaces. We also tested each shoe during river crossings to see which were the least (and the most) slipperiest. We also measured the length, density, and shape of the lugs. In the end, we were able to determine which shoe had the best traction over a variety of surfaces and which were more specialized to either soft or hard trails. A note to make is that none of the shoes performed perfectly in wet, rocky conditions. As we've continued to test shoes over the years, we still haven't found the perfect trail running shoe that can really, truly stick to super slimy surfaces.

Muddy trails might prove to be an issue for some contenders  but the Peregrine 7 held up!
Muddy trails might prove to be an issue for some contenders, but the Peregrine 7 held up!

Most Versatile
If you're in the market for a shoe that can successful tread over most surfaces, ranging from mellow to technical, you should consider a shoe that is versatile. Not only are these trail runners great for running pretty much anywhere, but they can also double quite well as hikers. Contenders like the Saucony Peregrine 7 - Women's, inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX, and the Brooks Cascadia 12 are the most versatile shoes we tested because they did well over a slew of different types of terrain.

A look at the outsole that literally sticks to everything!
A look at the outsole that literally sticks to everything!

All have similar outsole features that include; 4 - 5mm lugs, sticky rubber, and aggressively shaped lugs. All three have proven themselves over most surfaces, except for the super sloppy ones. The biggest differences are in the lug shape and design. For example, the inov-8 features widely spaced 'claw-like' lugs that are composed of three different densities of rubbers (to stick to a variety of surfaces). The Peregrine 7 features more lugs that are a little deeper and aggressive with an elongated multi-directional octagon shape that grips better to steeper surfaces. The Brooks have a plethora of shapes and sizes that grip the trail well but it doesn't do so well on wet rocks. All tested well as hiking shoes, providing great underfoot support and protection.

Best for Soft Surfaces
If you're in the market for a shoe that will do well in mud or snow, consider an outsole that features widely spaced and long lugs. For example, our Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces - the Salomon Speed 4 features 5mm chevron-shaped lugs that do a great job grabbing mud and snow.

Similar to the Salomon Speedcross 4 (top)  the Elements (below) have widely spaced deep lugs for great traction on trail.
Similar to the Salomon Speedcross 4 (top), the Elements (below) have widely spaced deep lugs for great traction on trail.

The Salming Elements also scored high in the traction category because of its unique square-shaped 8mm lugs. We found that both did well in super sloppy mud, but the Speedcross performed a little better. It was able to shed mud more quickly than the Salmings which is why it was awarded our Top Pick in this category.

The Salomon Speedcross 4 in action on soft to hard terrain in the San Juan mountains.
The Salomon Speedcross 4 in action on soft to hard terrain in the San Juan mountains.

Best for River Crossings
Any shoe that features some kind of Gore-tex insert or water resistant barrier proves to be better when it comes to water. Of all the shoes tested, the inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX proved to be the best of all contenders. Even when the shoe was almost fully immersed in a local stream, no water penetrated through the water resistant layer. Every other shoe proved to absorb some water. In addition, we noticed that even after fully immersing the shoe (so water poured over from the top), the shoe itself dried within 15 minutes of continued running on the trail. No other shoe compared in this way. That said, many of the shoes we review have water-resistant cousins, such as the Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's options. That said, when going to individual reviews, make sure to scroll down to the bottom to see if water-resistant options are available.

Looking to cross rivers? The New Balance Leadville v3 is another perfect option because it dries quickly and doesn't absorb much water.
Looking to cross rivers? The New Balance Leadville v3 is another perfect option because it dries quickly and doesn't absorb much water.

Crossover Traction
If you're a road runner looking to get on the trails - or if you are a trail runner that loves the roads, deep lugs and super complex tread patterns aren't necessary. Instead, consider a crossover shoe that features shorter lugs that still provide a great bite trail. The best crossover road and trail specific runners that we tested include the New Balance Leadville v3, Brooks Cascadia 12, ASICS GEL Kahana 8, and HOKA ONE ONE ATR Challenger 3.

Heather enjoys the cross-over capabilities of the Brooks Cascadia 12.
Heather enjoys the cross-over capabilities of the Brooks Cascadia 12.

Of all models tested, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3, Saucony Exodus ISO 2, and Brooks Cascadia 12 performed the best on and off trail. All shoes feature a sticky outsole that does well on all trail terrain and works well for some sloppy surfaces. When getting off the trail all do well on both pavement and dirt roads. Other shoes with longer lugs provide a less comfortable ride on pavement, and the lugs wear down more easily. The ASICS GEL-Kahana 8 is the best on-road options of all the trail shoes tested due to its less aggressive outsole. It performed best on stable, groomed surfaces with excellent performance on pavement and dirt roads.

The various traction patterns of the shoes tested in this review.
The various traction patterns of the shoes tested in this review.

Stability


While constantly encountering uneven surfaces and obstacles on the trail, stability in a shoe is of utmost importance. Good stability could mean the difference between running or limping out of the woods. In our testing, we determined that the most stable shoes have a lower stack height with a wider shoe platform and toe box. Some stable shoes have a rigid platform, while others have a flexible midsole that conforms to the contours of the trail. The most unstable shoes have a tall stack height with poor lateral and medial support. To test this metric, we simply ran technical trails with each shoe and observed how stable and confident we felt on the trail. We also looked at the stack height-width ratios to determine if our in-field observations were true to the metric data. In all cases - we found this indeed was the case.


The Best in Stability
This year the most stable shoe tested was the Salming Elements. The lack of cushion and rock plate makes it ultra sensitive with a very low stack height. Even though the forefoot is narrow, it still has the lowest ratio stack height: width ratio of all the shoes tested. We were able to feel every contour of the trail without turning an ankle and this shoe features a flexible midsole that conforms to the trail. As a result, it earned a perfect ten in this metric - a hard score to achieve.

Even on unstable or rutted trails  the Salming Elements keep you nimble and quick!
Even on unstable or rutted trails, the Salming Elements keep you nimble and quick!

The shoes that earned a nine in this category include the La Sportiva Bushido, and Saucony Peregrine 7. All these exhibited a similar level of stability that wasn't quite as stable as the Salming Elements. The Bushidos stand out for integrating stability shanks into the midsole, as well as having a low-profile design that keeps one close to the trail. Other products that performed well in this category included the ASICS Kahana 8, Brooks Cascadia 12 and the Nike Terra Kiger 4 - Women's.

More stable contenders feature a lower stack height and wider forefoot. Here we compare the stack height of our Top Pick for Comfort the HOKA Challenger ATR 3 (left) and our Best Buy winner the Saucony Peregrine 7. The Peregrine is more stable  but not nearly as cushioned.
More stable contenders feature a lower stack height and wider forefoot. Here we compare the stack height of our Top Pick for Comfort the HOKA Challenger ATR 3 (left) and our Best Buy winner the Saucony Peregrine 7. The Peregrine is more stable, but not nearly as cushioned.

The Least Stable
On the other side of the coin, it's not surprising that our maximalist contender from HOKA ONE ONE didn't score high in this category. With a tall stack height and a fairly narrow toe box, these maximalist shoes feel less stable than the rest - especially to maximalist newcomers. They also earned the highest stack height: width ratio, providing less lateral stability. That said, even though these maximalist options are comparatively the least stable, we were surprised that they still did well on uneven and even technical terrain - exactly what they're built for.

Comfort & Fit


Fit
Of all the metrics, fit is probably the most important consideration for any runner. Even though we have delegated awards to shoes with great performance features - fit trumps all. If you get a trail running shoe that doesn't fit, it's going to be the worst shoe for you. That said, we have divided this section up so you can clearly get a feel for which shoes are best for either narrow or wider feet. When testing, we gave each shoe to a variety of women with different foot shapes to determine how the fit is different. We also went online and read over one hundred reviews looking at the fit of the shoe, and whether it is true to fit or not.


In this section, we provide a short list of trail running shoe recommendations with a specific fit. We describe our top three picks for each category and list other options as well.

Wide Feet
Do you have wide feet? Check out our top trail running shoe recommendations.

Altra Lone Peak 3: Fitting a wide foot best, this shoe feels less snug than most other contenders. It does not feature additional arch support and is best for a forefoot to midfoot striker. It lacks much cushioning in the heel and the zero drop technology needs to be broken into.

Saucony Peregrine 7: This low profile shoe features moderate cushioning in the heel with a very versatile fit. The toe box is wide while the feel fits snuggly. There is no additional arch support, but the ample cushioning throughout provides a comfortable ride on the trail.

The trails surrounding the Peruvian Andes is where most of our testing took place. Here we encountered all sorts of terrain...what kind of shoe do you need for your adventures? Here we choose the Altra Lone Peak 3.
The trails surrounding the Peruvian Andes is where most of our testing took place. Here we encountered all sorts of terrain...what kind of shoe do you need for your adventures? Here we choose the Altra Lone Peak 3.

Narrow Feet
Do you have narrow feet? Take a look at our top recommendations for you!

Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's: This traditional trail runner offers plush cushioning throughout the midsole with a small amount of arch support. The shoe jives best with a narrow fit, fitting snuggly throughout the heel, arch, and toe box. The fit is true and works well for heel and midfoot strikers alike over short to long distances.

Merrell Agility Peak Flex: Many of our testers loved this low-profile shoe that offers ample responsive cushioning throughout the midsole. The lack of rock plate makes this shoe incredibly flexible and it stands out for its great arch support that was the best of any shoe tested in this review. The fit is true that is best for shorter, daily runs.

La Sportiva Bushido: This low-profile shoe offers minimal cushioning throughout the midsole and provides more stability and sensitivity. The toe box fits a narrow foot best with a small amount of arch support. The heel cup is tight with a precise fit throughout the body of the shoe. The fit is about a half size smaller than most American shoe sizes, so make sure to order a half size up.

Other options for narrow feet: inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX, Salming Elements

If you're looking for a shoe that performs on the most technical terrain - this "Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces" is your best bet!
If you're looking for a shoe that performs on the most technical terrain - this "Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces" is your best bet!

Medium Feet
If you're just looking for a great shoe that fits a foot with a medium width, here are some options below.
Saucony Xodus ISO 2: This low profile shoe offers moderate cushioning and a responsive platform. In addition, the toe box is a bit narrow, but not as narrow as the recommendations above. The shoe has a neutral fit with a smidgen of arch support. The fit is about a size smaller than most shoes, so make sure you size up!

New Balance Leadville Trail v3: This traditional shoe also offers moderate cushioning and a neutral fit. The toe box is a little wider while the heel fits like a glove. The width around the arch is a little wider than normal so the fit is not as precise as contenders like the Salomon Speedcross 4. The shoe is neutral with no arch support. The sizing is true to fit and comfortable!

HOKA ONE ONE ATR 3: The new version of this maximalist shoe used to fit a narrow foot best, but this iteration is now a little wider through the midfoot. As a result, it fits those with a medium width best. In addition to the maximal cushioning, it is also has a 5mm heel-to-toe drop, which makes it a comfortable ride on any short or long trail run. The size is also true to fit.

Other options: ASICS GEL Kahana 8, Nike Terra Kiger 4, Brooks Cascadia 12

Heather enjoys the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 in the desert.
Heather enjoys the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 in the desert.

Comfort
While fit is important for comfort, so are other features like a responsive, protective, and comfortable midsole especially if you plan on running long distances. Whether you're running an ultra-marathon or just getting out after work, comfort is key to ensure that you're not going to be hurting more than you need to the next day. To test comfort, we looked at the stack height and thickness of the midsole along with the quality of the foam used. In addition, we noted any weird areas of constriction or if blisters developed in any places. We also looked at the rigidity of the shoe and breathability. In the end, we learned that a thicker midsole stacked with plush, squishy, yet responsive foam is more comfortable than those without on the trail. In addition, we learned that shoes that were less flexible and had more breathability typically scored lower than those with a bit of flex (but not too much) or a lack of breathability.

The Plushest
We were not surprised to learn that the most comfortable and plush was the maximalist contender. The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 stands out for its wide fit and 28 mm of cushioning. Incredibly comfortable on the trail, our testers proclaimed that they felt less sore and tired after long days when wearing this model.

Amy enjoys miles of trail with her ultra-comfy HOKA maximalist shoes that fit narrow feet best.
Amy enjoys miles of trail with her ultra-comfy HOKA maximalist shoes that fit narrow feet best.

Aside from our perfect ten winners, the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 and Saucony Peregrine 7 scored the next highest in this category. The Altra Lone Peak features 25 mm of comfortable midsole material that is comfortable and protective. While the foam is protective and cushioned, we noticed that it broke down after roughly 150 miles. In addition, some of our testers thought the uppers were a bit too thick and didn't offer the best in breathability. The Saucony Peregrine 7 on the other hand, features a more breathable upper, and 25mm of cushioning. We also noticed that the midsole did not break down as easily. Other shoes that were pretty comfortable overall included the Brooks Cascadia 12, Merrell Agility Peak Flex, New Balance Leadville Trail v3.

The Least Cushioned
While some runners love plush comfort, there are many that prefer the intimate experience of the trail instead. If this is your priority, be sure to check out the Salming Elements. This trail running shoe offers little to no comfort in the form of cushion, nor does it have a rock plate. It has 18mm of cushion in the heel with 14 mm in the forefoot. This shoe has a very narrow toe box with a fairly precise fit throughout. This shoe is recommended for less technical and softer trails (in regard to its level of comfort) because of its level of protection but has the capabilities to really go anywhere (with some getting used to).

The La Sportiva is has the lowest stack height of all shoes tested with great protective features!
The La Sportiva is has the lowest stack height of all shoes tested with great protective features!

If you prefer a trail running shoe with a rock plate (and more protection) and little cushioning be sure to check out the La Sportiva Bushido. It features less cushion than the Salming Elements with 14.5mm in the heel and 8.5 mm in the forefoot. This is a shoe better suited for longer distances and more technical trails due to its higher level of protection.

Weight


Having a lightweight shoe on the trail can make a world of difference if you're out for the day. If you're an ultra-runner, a couple of ounces may feel like ankle weights after 50 miles. If you're a recreational runner, a lighter construct may allow you to increase your turnover and have you feeling liberated on the trail. In addition, it's important that when a shoe gets wet, it doesn't weigh you down.

When we evaluated weight, we performed three tests. First, we weighed each model while it was dry (dry weight = DW). Then we dunked each shoe in water for 30 seconds and squashed the shoe around to mimic movement while running through streams. Then we reweighed each shoe to determine how much water it held (wet weight = WW). Then we determined the amount of water held (WH). In addition, we tested to see which shoe dried the fastest, and which took the longest. The shoes that scored the highest in this category weighed the least when dry. They also held the least water when wet, and dried out the fastest. In general, all the shoes tested were lightweight and great for trail running. No shoe showed sub-optimal performance. However, some are better for going faster than others.


The Lightest Shoes
If you're looking for a trail shoe that is light, holds little water, and dries quickly - the Nike Terra Kiger 4 - Women's is where it's at! Featuring a super lightweight and breathable construct, it weighs in only at 8.55 oz. After our dunk tests, it only held 3.9 oz (one of the most water resistant) and dried within three hours of being placed outside. This was one of the fastest drying shoes tested. This is largely attributed to the outer fly mesh and inner liner that is breathable and water resistant.

The Nike Terra Kiger 4 is the lightest shoe we tested in this review!
The Nike Terra Kiger 4 is the lightest shoe we tested in this review!

The Salming Elements also feature a low dry weight (8.65 oz). This shoe has very little cushioning and feature few comfort elements which attribute to its lighter construct. Unlike the Nike Terra Kiger 4, this shoe is much more absorbent and takes longer to dry. In our dunk tests, it held 4.9 oz of water (second most absorbent)! In addition, it also took the longest to air dry (almost two days). As a result, we recommend this shoe for drier weather and wouldn't recommend it for environments with numerous stream crossings or a consistent downpour.

The third lightest shoe is the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 weighing only 8.80 oz. The light construct of this shoe is surprising for its level of cushioning. Our testers felt light and breezy over all types of terrain. The lightweight nature also makes the shoe nimble and fast. Similar to the Salming Element this shoe held a lot of water in our water tests (4.45), but dried out much quicker than the Elements making it a better option for wet weather (4-5 hours). Another great lightweight contender: Saucony Peregrine 7 (DW= 9.3 oz, WH=4.4 oz)

Lightest when Wet
If you plan on crossing many streams or prefer a shoe that doesn't absorb a lot of water, the New Balance Leadville Trail v3 - Women's is one of the best options out there. With an average dry weight sitting around 9.90 oz, this shoe was the least absorbent of all tested. After our dunk test, it absorbed only 3.1 oz of water. In addition, it only took 3-4 hours to air dry. On the trail during stream crossing tests, we observed that this shoe is great at wicking water and, when wet, it dries quickly when in motion. Overall, this is shoe provided to be lightweight through both dry and wet environments.

The Heaviest
The heaviest shoes tested include the ASICS Kahana 7 (11.1 oz) and the Brooks Cascadia 12 (11.2 oz). The Cascadias have actually gotten lighter in their new design this year, but in comparison to the other contenders, these are still the heaviest shoes tested. The weight comes from the additional protective features. Not only is the dry weight heavier than others, but when wet, the Cascadias absorbed a whopping 5.5 oz of water (more than previous versions). They also took the second longest to dry (~1.5 days). The ASICS, on the other hand, hold only 3.2 oz of water when wet. That said, both of these shoes are better cold weather options because they insulate and protect better than those that don't have the thicker uppers and overlays.

The Brooks Cascadia 12 is the heaviest shoe tested in this review. Both when dry and wet.
The Brooks Cascadia 12 is the heaviest shoe tested in this review. Both when dry and wet.

Sensitivity


Feeling the trail underfoot is important for most trail runners. Enhanced sensitivity allows you to be nimble and quick, re-adjusting your body on the fly to ensure healthy foot strike position. To test sensitivity, we ran hundreds of miles over all types of terrain to see how easily we could feel the trail underfoot. We even wore two different shoes on each foot for a direct comparison. In our tests, we learned that shoes with less cushioning and more flexibility did better than others.


The Most Sensitive
The Salming Elements scored a perfect ten in this category because of its super sensitive design. It lacks a rock plate and features minimal cushioning which allows the runner to feel every inch of the trail. This shoe is a perfect option for those who aren't concerned about protective features and are looking for a fast, sensitive race shoe.

Looking for the best sensitivity out there? The Salming Elements allows you to feel every part of the trail.
Looking for the best sensitivity out there? The Salming Elements allows you to feel every part of the trail.

The La Sportiva Bushido also scored high in this category as it features less cushioning than the Salming Elements but it uses a rock plate to enhance protection while increasing sensitivity. This show is best suited for the runner looking for a sensitive yet protected running experience.

Other Sensitive Yet Protective Options: Saucony Peregrine 7, inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX, Salomon Speedcross 4 (in the forefoot).

The Least Sensitive
If you are in the market for a shoe that isn't sensitive at all and completely protects you from the trail, the HOKA ONE ONE contenders are by far and wide the best options. The ample cushioning absorbs the trail allowing you to feel very little in the way of rocks and trail debris.

Conclusion


Enjoying the clay-mud trails of Bryce Canyon.
Enjoying the clay-mud trails of Bryce Canyon.

Finding the perfect pair of trail shoes can be a long process of trial and error. Start by finding the shoe that fits you best, then look for the features that you need. We hope that our exhaustive and in-depth review helps with your mission in finding the perfect trail runner for you.
Amber King

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