Where We Test
A good trail running shoe is characterized by its performance on the trail. As a result, we tested all contenders over a wide range of surfaces and environments over multiple years. We've literally run thousands of miles over varied terrain in South America, Canada, Europe, and throughout the United States. We've visited the summits of mountains, trained on the beach, ran through the valleys, and sweated it out in the desert.
We evaluate each shoe on its ability to perform across different categories. We also ensure that each model is tested fairly across a wide range of foot shapes and preferences by giving shoes to friends and local runners to test on the trails. We also did our research, cross-checking hundreds of other online reviews to make sure we weren't missing anything, and to identify potential issues to look for.
In this metric, we perform a variety of objective tests. While in the field, we observe which shoe provides the best protection underfoot. We notice if any trail debris penetrates the mesh uppers and which provides the best water resistance while crossing streams. We compare the protection of the uppers, tongue, and outsole. We also look at the responsiveness of the cushioning and other protective elements such as the hardness of the toe cap and how the fit effects protection.
In this metric, we look at a variety of surfaces and take note for each shoe. We test on surfaces that included zoomy single track, sticky mud, snow, pavement, rocks and roots, wet rocks, and sand. We also look at the comparative lug length and type of rubber used in each trail shoe. We also look at the lug shape to determine how the shape correlates to its best use. In addition, we simply note which shoes we feel safer and less slippery in.
This test is relatively simple. The shoe that provides the least protection underfoot from the trail provides the best sensitivity. The more we could feel the trail, the better the sensitivity. As a result, in addition to field tests, we compared the relative stack height to provide a measurement of each shoe in this metric.
For stability, we observe which shoes provide the most lateral support and which feel downright tippy. We measure the width of each shoe and compare its stack height to create a ratio. We also run over seriously unstable surfaces to see which tip and bend more.
Comfort and Fit
When looking at comfort, we run with each shoe to see which one feels most comfortable. We look at the type of cushioning, its responsiveness, and its relative thickness. We also look at the upper and how breathable and comfortable it feels on our toes.
For fit, we didn't award any points simply because this is such a subjective category. Instead, we identified which shoes fit best for wide, narrow, and medium feet and where the relative support exists or doesn't exist.
We simply measured each on the scale to see which are the most lightweight. We also note if they feel trail dynamic or bulky.