Looking for a new trail running shoe? Over the past 11 years, we've tested 134 unique models, with 20 of the market's best in this review. Our team of experts run trails year-round, from dreamy desert singletrack to muddy winter slogs. We test these shoes side-by-side to bring you the most comprehensive review of trail running shoes available. Our in-depth analysis focuses on protection, traction, comfort, stability, weight, and value and is backed up by hundreds of hours of real-world testing. Whether you like short lunch runs in nearby parks or adventures deep into the mountains, we can help you find the best pair of trail running shoes for your needs and budget.
Weight (per shoe): 10.64 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 9mm
REASONS TO BUY
Amazing comfort due to snug and responsive fit
Great underfoot protection that holds up over time
V2 with Matryx mesh reduces weight
Excellent traction on all types of terrain
REASONS TO AVOID
Must be worn with above-the-ankle height socks
Lace garage takes a bit of work
Salomon recently updated their S/Lab Ultra 3 to version 2, which includes an updated upper containing Matryx fiber. This change is claimed to reduce the weight by 10%, and while our tests didn't show quite 10%, we still think this is the best running shoe on the market. The S/Lab Ultra 3 has long been a favorite for ultra-athletes who desire predictability and speed. While this is a minor update, we are thankful Salomon is being particular about the changes and really only adjusting what is necessary.
Since the inception of the Ultra lineup, Salomon has refined its ability to provide snug comfort. If we had to pick one pair of trail runners, this would be it. Some users may find the platform a bit harsh at times, but we think after easing in, you'll be pleased, especially if you find yourself on a technical trail. Some users may find this model overly aggressive for easier running and should opt for something a bit softer. But if you desire ultimate performance and comfort, then don't look further than the Ultra 3
The Ultra 3 is a unisex shoe, and we've also reviewed it in our best women's trail running shoe review. It is important to note that our reviews are comparative, so the scores you see are determined based on how each shoe stacks up against everything else in the test suite. Because of this, the same shoe won't always score the same from one gendered review to another. Besides that, shoes are very personal, and while our testers attempt to be as unbiased and purely informative as possible, the individual anatomy and running style of each person can't help but factor in. That said, both our male and female testers love the Ultra 3 and have for many years, all unique differences and preferences aside.
Weight (per shoe): 10.82 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 9mm
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable and consistent ride
Versatile between road and easy trail
REASONS TO AVOID
Dull midsole lacks rebound
Smaller lugs lack traction on technical terrain
The Brooks Divide 4 is a bargain, and we recommend it for beginners or those looking for a more stable ride. Durability and value keep us recommending it year after year through multiple iterations. With version 4, the same great upper remains, but it's now more breathable thanks to thinner, stiff mesh. While not particularly light at 10.82 ounces per 10.5 shoe, Brooks delivers a dependable ride. That ride is dense, and the Divide prefers smooth to moderate trails. This is also a great option for around town, where you'll likely be moving between a variety of surfaces.
More advanced runners may find this shoe overly rigid. This rigidity reduces flexibility, which is needed to tackle technical terrain, especially at speed. While smaller lugs are fine on lighter shoes, something this stiff would benefit from a bit more outsole give to feel confident. But for those looking to blend hiking and running, this could be a great option. At this price point, you are receiving durability and comfort above all, and the substantial upper and outsole rubber should last for many miles.
Weight (per shoe): 8.05 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Fatiguing at times
It's no surprise that Kilian Jornet would create an ultralight model as his first shoe after departing Salomon. The Nnormal Kjerag is the lightest trail shoe we've ever tested, and we are impressed with its comfort and performance. Nnormal has stripped back the excess, creating cushioning that follows today's trend without sacrificing the stiffness that is crucial for precision running. The midsole of the Kjerag transfers more energy than the competition, but this can also beat you up faster than plush designs. A leading concept at Nnormal is durability, and the craftsmanship is clear in this design. While it's expensive, we feel good knowing this shoe should last for a long time.
The Kjerag will be most appealing to advanced runners, and we'd recommend adding it to your quiver. That said, we wouldn't recommend this as your only trainer. As we mentioned, the firm cushioning can and will beat you up over time. This is especially noticeable when you are running with tired or dead legs. The Kjerag requires a lot of input and concentration to drive, so as soon as you relax, the shoe will lack traction and comfort. For those looking to tackle the most technical terrain, we'd opt for something more substantial. But for runners wanting to set a PR or simply feel fast, this is our favorite model.
Weight (per shoe): 10.76 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 6mm
REASONS TO BUY
Best descending comfort
Ample protection for any terrain
REASONS TO AVOID
High stack height
Shallow heel pocket
Odds are you know about the Hoka Speedgoat 5. It's an iconic modern trail shoe that changed the way we think about cushioning. If you are new to the series, this model excellently blends cushioning and performance. This is our go-to model for days with lots of ascending and descending. 4mm of drop and ample cushioning allow you to crush downhills with fatigue-free legs. There is a time and place for stiffness, but comfort can win the day too. Hoka does a great job providing feedback from the midsole and doesn't let the cushioning overtake the stability. This shoe is all about performance comfort for the long haul and does it all from easy recovery days to all-day ultra racing.
It is hard to ignore the cushioning, however, and sometimes there is too much give, especially on technical terrain. The wider platform and high stack height can make this model feel clunky. If you are going for the FKT on your local descent, your footwork needs to be laser-sharp, and ground feedback is critical. The more substantial cushioning of the Speedgoat 5 reduces valuable sensitivity, so we don't pick this for ridge scrambling days. Energy transfer also takes a knock from the cushioning, so we'd find something firmer if you plan on racing flatter events. These things aside, finding things negative about this model is hard; it's a favorite of ours and we highly recommend it.
Weight (per shoe): 11.08 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 12mm
REASONS TO BUY
Tacky outsole with aggressive lugs
Ample protection for any terrain
REASONS TO AVOID
High heel-toe drop decreases stability
If it ain't broke, don't fix it is the mantra Salomon lives by regarding the legendary Speedcross line. The newest iteration, the Salomon Speedcross 6, includes minor design tweaks that improve upon the already great platform without reinventing the wheel. Long known for its aggressive outsole and unrivaled traction, designers modified the rubber compound to improve performance in muddy conditions. They fine-tuned the sagittate lug pattern for an even better grip on mud, rock, and everything in between. This new version is slightly lighter than the previous model, updating the upper to include more mesh for improved breathability. But don't worry, the Speedcross 6 still offers a glove-like fit straight out of the box. We're fast approaching a decade of running in these shoes, and our heart only grows fonder for this beloved trail runner.
Despite our gushing, we still have a few criticisms of this specialty shoe. Our biggest carry-over complaint between the previous version and the Speedcross 6 is the overly assertive and outdated drop design. With a thick heel counter and a large heel-to-toe drop, this shoe is particularly unstable when running downhill. Although the breathability has improved by tweaking the type of mesh over the instep and forefoot, the Speedcross is better deployed during the cold weather months or high-altitude runs through the mountains. On the flip side, with other, less supportive, and less comfortable shoes pushing into its weight class, we no longer complain about the heft of the Speedcross 6. There is no better option for those who like to run off-trail, over snowy mountains, through muddy river bottoms, and up steep, rocky crags.
Weight (per shoe): 9.60 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 6mm
REASONS TO BUY
Wider platform under the heel increases stability when landing
Tapered profile makes these surprisingly agile
Great energy transfer with cushioning
REASONS TO AVOID
Slightly loose-fitting heel pocket
Potential durability issues with the outsole
Low sensitivity on technical trails
Dropping the stack height to 23mm for a Hoka shoe caught our attention when the Torrent lineup came along. It's been a favorite of ours for its incredible energy transfer that doesn't beat you up or leave you feeling fatigued. The Hoka Torrent 3 is a beautiful combination of the cushioning we love from Hoka with the power of an ultra-lightweight shoe. This iteration has an improved outer compound that increases both traction and durability. The same slimmer design gives a more performance-focused wrap to your foot to really minimize movement. There is substantial stiffness too, so we recommend this on anything from roads to moderate technical terrain.
This stiffness lends itself to a harsher ride when side-hilling or tackling very technical terrain. Sensitivity is important to provide feedback to the brain, allowing for more instantaneous adjustments of the foot. We find this stiffness less precise when running fast down technical terrain. The lateral stiffness of this model is high, so it likes to be kept in its lane, not jumping around from talus block to talus block. We particularly like using this shoe for long runs. There is a quickness to it but enough cushioning to get you home once the fatigue starts to set in.
Weight (per shoe): 9.64 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 7mm
REASONS TO BUY
Superior energy transfer
REASONS TO AVOID
Less stable in technical terrain
TheHoka Tecton X 2 is an outstanding performer within our test group, specifically designed to conquer diverse terrains with remarkable speed. With its newly updated upper, this model ensures optimal foot security, effectively minimizing any undesired foot movements. While the unique carbon plates may require some adjustment, the spring mechanics deliver unparalleled energy rebound. Our extensive testing consistently favored this model for intense speed workouts and competitive races. While its true potential shines on mixed surfaces like gravel and easy trails, experienced runners can also tackle challenging terrains with confidence. Urban athletes who frequently transition between natural pathways and roads will appreciate the thoughtfully designed lug pattern, ensuring minimal drag.
However, those less inclined towards performance-oriented footwear may find this shoe more than they require. The carbon plates, although beneficial, demand a certain level of impact to function optimally. For casual runners, this model may feel imprecise and unfamiliar, lacking a natural feel. Additionally, the carbon plates restrict adaptability on rugged trails, necessitating precise footwork to avoid potential strain on the ankles. As a result, we suggest that beginners consider other options before attempting this as their initial trail shoe. However, if you currently feel underwhelmed by your footwear's responsiveness during high-intensity runs, the Tecton X 2 warrants serious consideration.
Weight (per shoe): 11.33 oz | Measured Heel-to-Toe Drop: 1mm
REASONS TO BUY
Wide neutral platform
REASONS TO AVOID
Upper less secure in technical terrain
On the heavy side
The Altra Lone Peak 7 receives the highest praise from the thru-hiking community for its all-day comfort. The roomier toe-box and wide upper allow for feet swelling accommodation after long days on the trail. This shoe feels the least constricting out of our test lineup and forces you to adapt your muscles to the zero-drop design (though we did actually measure a scant 1mm drop on our test pair). Far from minimal, the Lone Peak still provides ample cushioning and outsole durability for the toughest of trails and multi-day adventures. This is a shoe for those who want a blend of hiking and running performance without sacrificing any comfort.
We prefer a snug upper for running fast in technical terrain. This is hard to accomplish in the Lone Peak 7, given its wide platform and lace design. If you desire minimal movement in an upper, we'd suggest a different model. For extended runs, this could also feel quite heavy compared to the competition, but keep in mind Altra is providing substantial durability. If you're looking for zero drops and a neutral, comfortable shoe, we'd recommend the Lone Peak 7, which was a favorite during our testing.
Trail running shoe testing never ends, as companies release new models throughout the calendar year. We continue our tests in all seasons, all over the country, and often have the opportunity to compare the most current models against previous versions of the same shoe. Although our testers don't always log their distances with a GPS watch, they know they have collectively run thousands of miles while testing over 130 different pairs of trail running shoes in the past decade. Our testing process combines thorough research, detailed scrutiny at our testing facility in Lake Tahoe, industry knowledge, and many hours spent out on the trail. Testing these shoes side-by-side gives us well-informed data anchored in real-world experience, and we've used that knowledge to put together this review to help you find your perfect trail sidekicks.
Stack Height Measurement Variability
You might notice that our reported stack height measurements often differ from what the various manufacturers claim. This is due to the fact that there is no industry standard for these kinds of specs. Because of that, companies can report anything, and there's no way to know where on the shoe they measured or if they included insoles or lugs in their measurements. To have data that's actually comparable across all our tested shoes, we split every shoe we test in half on a band saw and measure in the exact same place on each one. Our method for this is based on the requirements set by World Athletics, the governing body for running competitions. Following their requirements, we start by measuring the internal length of the shoe before wearing it. The heel is designated as 12% of this length, and the forefoot is 75%. From there, we measure the height of the entire sole, anything between where your foot would be and the ground. This includes the tread, all the cushioning, and the insole.
Our in-depth testing process of trail running shoes is spread across six rating metrics:
Foot Protection (25% of overall score weighting)
Traction (20% weighting)
Sensitivity (15% weighting)
Stability (15% weighting)
Comfort and Fit (15% weighting)
Weight (10% weighting)
Over the years, we've had a pretty epic group of athletes test these trail running shoes. Currently leading that charge is Matthew Richardson, a resident of SW Colorado who has years of experience moving through the mountains. Progressing through the region's wide range of activities, running remains his biggest passion. Some of his achievements include a day trip to the Chicago Basin 14ers and a top-ten finish at the Telluride Mountain Run, which had over 14k of vertical in 38 miles. A lover of maps, Matthew enjoys creating and exploring new routes and is always in search of the next great loop.
Chiming in from the Sierra foothills of Nevada is longtime reviewer Matt Bento, a lifelong runner since high school. Matt discovered his enthusiasm for trail running one summer while working in Yosemite Valley when temperatures hovered in the 90s, and he decided it was too hot to go climbing. He methodically logged miles and built up his endurance until he could run the Yosemite high camps loop, a 40-mile adventure through the Sierra high country. Ever since he's found many ridge runs and link-ups throughout Sierra and believes the best runs start in the dark and end with a cheeseburger.
Adding his expert opinion to this already stacked lineup of reviewers is Aaron Rice. A New Englander whose heart was called to the mountains instead of the sea, Aaron has lived (and run) up and down the Rocky Mountains for the past 15 years: from the Flatirons of Boulder, CO, to the Tetons outside of Jackson, WY, and now in the high desert of Santa Fe, NM. As a professional ski patroller and avalanche educator, his favorite time is spent in the high alpine.
Analysis and Test Results
During our discussion of testing metrics and shoe performance, please keep in mind that all ratings and comparisons are made in relation to the other tested products. We carefully select and purchase only the most highly rated products, so the competition is fierce. A shoe with a low score can still be a great option, depending on your personal needs and budget. Within our in-depth reviews, we break down each metric individually so that you can more easily tune into the pros and cons of each specific trail running shoe. If you are new to trail running and unsure of what you should look for in a shoe, it is always good to take a moment to consider your foot shape, running style, and any athletic goals you may have.
A significant consideration when selecting a pair of trail running shoes is the value of the purchase. While one could simply assume that you get what you pay for, years of testing have proven that this isn't always true. When considering the value of a trail running shoe, three aspects are essential: price, performance, and longevity (i.e., durability). Two of these, price and performance, are easily quantifiable and can be compared directly. The Brooks Divide 4 is a particularly valuable option, as it scores nearly as high as some of the top competitors in key metrics yet costs significantly less. While this particular shoe may not appeal to seasoned trail runners, it is a fantastic entry-level option for those interested in trying out trail running for the first time.
The third aspect of value for a trail running shoe, longevity, is not nearly as easy to quantify. Since all shoes eventually wear out and need to be replaced, finding those that can withstand more miles of abuse before disintegrating helps determine that shoe's value. Unfortunately, every runner puts a different amount of strain on their shoes, so their lifetime varies widely. We certainly put each batch of test shoes through the wringer, and durability issues often present themselves early on. But time restraints on our testing period mean that we don't have the time to thrash every pair of shoes before publishing our findings. That said, we have been particularly impressed thus far with the craftsmanship of the Nnormal Kjerag — though it doesn't come cheap.
Trail running is a demanding sport, both on your feet and shoes. We've determined that the most important criteria for evaluating a trail running shoe is how well it protects your foot, and we weight this crucial metric at 25% of each product's overall score. The soles of the feet are among the most sensitive areas of your body, so if you intend to traverse rocky and uneven terrain, then your shoe will need adequate underfoot protection.
While almost all modern running shoes have an outsole and midsole, underfoot protection comes in one of two forms: a rock plate made of a plastic or composite material that adds rigidity to the shoe and absorbs impacts, or in place of that, thick foam cushioning. The most common type of foam used is EVA, which protects the foot from protrusions and absorbs a significant amount of the impact inherent to running before it travels upward into the body. Advancements in carbon fiber technology have allowed shoes like the Saucony Endorphin Edge and Hoka Tecton X 2 to incorporate this material into their midsoles, offering a new level of underfoot protection and power output. Perhaps unsurprisingly, foot protection often comes at the expense of sensitivity, and vice versa, which is why we grade for both.
A lesser component of foot protection is how well the upper protects the top and sides of your feet from protrusions like sticks or abrasion by rocks. The ends of the toes are a common point of abuse, as we have all accidentally kicked a rock while bombing down a trail. Rigid toe bumpers go a long way in helping to alleviate this pain, and the Brooks Cascadia 17 offers some of the best toe box protection available. Many manufacturers skimp on upper materials to save weight and offer more breathability and water drainage, while some have uppers as mighty as a bulletproof vest. But if you end up with a beloved shoe whose one downfall is a more delicate upper, you can always wear gaiters to supplement.
A handful of shoes offer superior foot protection compared to the rest of the field. The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 does a great job of protecting the undersides of the feet with its PU foam and utilizes a lightweight, breathable, and impressively durable upper. Hoka shoes are known for their thickly stacked shoes, with a midsole foam that is dense and highly absorbent. Although shoes like the Hoka Tecton X 2 and the Hoka Challenger 7 have higher stack heights, the slightly more stripped-down Hoka Torrent 3 still provides superb underfoot protection.
We measured the rigidity of the outsole on each shoe using a Type A or Shore A durometer. This device measures the relative hardness of soft materials along a scale that uses a standardized piece of rubber as a benchmark. A higher number on the scale (which ranges from 0 to 100) indicates a harder material. We used our durometer to measure various areas on the outsole of every shoe and report these findings in our spec table above.
The Nike Wildhorse 8 also offers an outstanding amount of foot protection relative to its stack height. Both the La Sportiva Bushido II and La Sportiva Karacal provide tank-like protection with padded tongues, toe bumpers, and rock plates that make them perfect options for demanding runs in the mountains. For gravel road runners looking for maximum energy transfer and protection for long days, we'd recommend the Salomon Sense Ride 5.
If it weren't for the drastically increased performance when it comes to traction, there would not be much incentive to purchase trail shoes over a pair of running shoes for pavement. Based on this assessment, one can understand the argument that traction is one of the most important aspects of a trail running shoe, and we give it a hefty weighting of 20% of the overall score.
Three main factors contribute to a shoe's ability to grip a variety of surfaces well: the type of lugs, the spacing of the lugs, and the density of the rubber used. Deeper, more aggressive lugs grip most surfaces better, especially steep dirt, grass, mud, and snow. More and more trail running shoes reflect this, with lugs becoming increasingly more aggressive across the board. Lugs that are close together do a better job of gripping well on rock and hard dirt surfaces, while lugs that are further apart shed mud faster. Shoes like the Saucony Peregrine 13, La Sportiva Bushido II, and Salomon Speedcross 6 have 4.5-5.5mm lugs — some of the deepest of any shoes we tested.
The hardness of the rubber also plays a large part in the traction performance of a shoe. Softer rubber, like that on the La Sportiva Karacal or Hoka Torrent 3, tends to be stickier and does a far better job gripping rock, both wet and dry. The downside of soft rubber is that it wears out or, in some cases, rips off, often shortening the shoe's lifespan. In contrast, firmer rubber tends to be more durable and lasts longer but doesn't stick to uneven surfaces as easily. If you run out on snowy and icy trails, you can always add a pair of the best snow grip for an extra kick of traction.
All of the shoes we test offer pretty solid traction, especially on your standard dirt trail, but a few are noteworthy for their excellent grip. The Salomon Speedcross 6 has gigantic protruding rubber lugs spaced far apart for the best grip on mud, grass, and snow. It is also the stickiest of any we tested on rock and wet rock, although the lugs tend to wear down quickly if used too often on hard surfaces. The Brooks Cascadia 17 hits a sweet spot with lug depth, spacing, grip, and durability, proving that a shoe can have an outsole that is both tacky and sturdy.
We define sensitivity by how easy it is to feel the trail beneath your feet as you run. Trail running shoes are designed to protect your feet from abrasion, direct blows from the pointy sides of rocks, or repeated impacts on your body inherent in the motion of running itself. However, they also need to balance this protection with the foot-to-brain feedback — known as proprioception — that is necessary to run effectively. The shoes that allow for more accurate feedback are awarded more points for sensitivity, and we weight this metric at 15% of the overall scores.
Before humans started wearing shoes, the feet provided a critical link with the world via their sense of touch. Honoring this evolutionary history, many runners have found that they are better runners when the sensitive link between the feet and the ground is maintained, and, even more, satisfied runners. Perhaps the primal activity of running itself touches the heart a bit deeper when our ancestral connections to the earth are maintained. If this connection is more important to you than protection, you may be happier with a barefoot style shoe.
Some shoes, like two of Altra's offerings, the Superior 6 and Lone Peak 7, are stylized after these barefoot-style shoes. They maintain a similar low- or zero-drop profile, wide-toe box, and lightweight design without sacrificing the type of underfoot protection we expect from a trail runner.
Burlier mountain runners, like the La Sportiva Bushido II, don't sacrifice support or grip for the sake of sensitivity. But their lower stack height brings your foot closer to the ground, increasing that necessary sense of connection. Several other lightweight options, such as the Topo Athletic MT-4, Nnormal Kjerag, and Saucony Peregrine 13, offer a lower stack height and increased flexibility to improve ground feel and your overall sense of movement.
Trail running takes place over uneven ground, and being able to land and push off from a stable platform is a critical feature of how well a shoe performs. Failure to maintain stability through the running stride will lead to either losing traction and slipping or, even worse, rolling an ankle. Through extensive testing over many years, we have found that stability is impacted mainly by the following four factors: stack height, heel-toe drop, landing platform, and the fit of the upper. We weight this metric at 15% of each product's overall score.
The stack height represents how much material rests between the ground and your foot. In most cases, the larger the stack height, the greater the chance for a rolled ankle — although this threat can be mitigated by having a broader landing platform, as determined by the shape of the bottom of the shoe. A wider platform typically ensures better stability, while a narrower platform is less stable. Heel-toe drop measures the difference in stack height between the heel and the toes. The upper is the third basic component of a shoe, aside from the outsole and midsole, and is what we look at as the "body" of a shoe. A shoe with an upper that firmly holds your foot allows you to land squarely on top of the footbed, minimizing movement within the shoe.
Over the last many years, shoe companies, mainly in response to customer demand, have been slowly lowering the average heel-toe drop, which today rests around 4-8mm. Shoes with a substantial drop, like the Salomon Speedcross 6 or Dynafit Ultra 50, are considerably less stable on uneven terrain, especially on the downhill. Shoes with 0mm of drop, like the Altra Superior 6 or Lone Peak 7, are known as zero-drop shoes and are usually the most stable but may require a period of adjustment if you're switching from a less neutral shoe.
Another critical factor for stability is the firmness of the midsole. Very stiff shoes tend to be more stable than soft and pliable ones. A flexible shoe that can easily bend in any direction allows your foot to take the shape of what it lands upon, but this is not generally the most stable design. We have accustomed ourselves to walking on flat surfaces, and a shoe that provides this feels more stable, especially if you are stepping on a very uneven surface like rocks and roots. The platform of the versatile Salomon Pulsar Trail ticks all of these boxes, thanks to the innovative design of Salomon's proprietary Energy Blade midsole insert.
Most of our testing for stability happens out on the trail, but we also compare shoes in a more controlled setting by running in each of them one after the other across a steep hillside and straight down a similarly steep slope. Thanks to a wide platform and stiff midsole design, the Brooks Cascadia 17 and Brooks Divide 4 are some of the most stable shoes for consistent terrain — one of the reasons why they have remained fan-favorites among runners for so many years. The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 and Nnormal Kjerag scored similarly well in our head-to-head stability testing, and the Topo Athletic MT-4 also shines for its wide, neutral platform.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort is a challenging criterion to rate because it is so subjective. Everyone's foot is different, and a shoe that feels amazing to one person could be unwearable by another. Some products are wide in the toe box while narrow in the heel, and some are just really narrow (or wide) throughout. Some fit perfectly "to size," while others run slightly long or short.
Try Before You Buy
Comfort is probably the single most important criterion when it comes to selecting a running shoe, or any footwear for that matter, and we recommend you take time to find the right fit above all other factors when selecting a pair of shoes.
While it's hard to generalize, many brands are known for serving particular feet better than others. La Sportiva shoes often run small and narrow, while shoes from Salomon tend to run slightly large. Since the comfort level of each shoe will be different for each person, we only weight this metric at 15% of the final score and attempt to focus more on definable traits that make a shoe more comfortable.
Craftsmanship plays a prominent role in how comfortable a given model is. The most comfortable pairs use a seamless construction that makes them easy to wear sockless if you want to. Poorly sewn seams or material overlaps inside a shoe can rub and wear against the foot over long distances, creating significant comfort issues. Likewise, shoes that don't do an excellent job of naturally holding the foot in place require you to crank down the laces to provide a secure fit, often leading to discomfort along the top of the foot or front of the ankle joint.
Most of our findings for comfort come from anecdotal evidence from long runs on a variety of terrain. We also made sure to run through streams and rivers to gauge how much water each pair absorbs and how quickly it can shed that water afterward. While some people don't mind taking the time to sit down and remove their shoes and socks before fording a stream, nobody will do this during a mountain race or if they have to cross a river many times in a day. We prefer to simply let our shoes get wet, cross the creek quickly, and hope the shoes dry quickly as well.
It is no surprise that the shoes with the plushest padding, like the Hoka Speedgoat 5, often feel the most comfortable right out of the box. The Salomon Speedcross 6 and Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 are other top contenders for comfort, particularly for those who often run in rugged, mountainous terrain. The Brooks Divide 4 is plush and padded, and the Altra Superior 6 is so comfy we found ourselves wearing them for all sorts of non-running activities. For users wanting maximum comfort while blending running and hiking, we'd recommend the Altra Lone Peak 7 and Nike Wildhorse 8. Many other shoes featured in this review are also exceedingly comfortable, but we acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to eliminate user bias when assessing comfort.
We love to use weight as a grading metric. It is easily quantifiable and provides a straightforward mathematical tool for comparison. But more importantly, we consider weight because all of life, and virtually every outdoor sport, is a battle against gravity –--the less weight burdening you, the freer you are to move around and push the limits of your sport. When running, you repeatedly pick your feet up to move them forward, so the weight on your feet does matter. However, trail running shoes throw a wrench in this equation when you consider that the features added onto a shoe to improve performance may also contribute to a higher weight, so we give this metric a slightly reduced weighting of only 10% of a product's overall score.
For instance, thicker and burlier midsoles with rock plates are heavier, but they protect the feet more. Cut out too much of this protection, and you will surely end up with a super-light shoe, but you will also have to moderate your speed significantly to avoid damaging your feet. The takeaway is that lighter is better, but only if it doesn't compromise functionality. The shoes described here naturally fall within a spectrum when considering these two factors, and which end of the spectrum you fall on is entirely a personal choice.
The Nnormal Kjerag, weighing in at only 8.05 ounces for a men's size 10.5 US, is the lightest shoe in our review by far. Despite this featherweight, it still manages to feel durable and substantial. That said, as alluded to above, it's likely not ideal for every single day or beginners. The Kjerag is best for race and tempo days, and we recommend having something more cushioned for recovery days. With a carbon fiber insert and ultralight foam, the Hoka Tecton X 2 is one of our favorites for tempo and race efforts as well. Turnover feels effortless when running uphill, and its blend of cushioning and support is impressive given its weight.
Running on trails is an excellent way to stay fit and healthy and has just as many benefits for the mind as it does for the body. We love it for the incredible variety, the connection to nature, and most of all, we love the potential for adventure. There are many different styles and types of trail running shoes, many of which are designed for specific purposes. We hope this article has helped you with your decision-making process and that you end up with a pair of shoes that you are happy with and can be a partner on the memorable adventures to come. Happy Trails!