Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Our trail nerds have reviewed nearly 100 of the best trail running shoes for women over the last 9 years. This update features 20 of the most popular options on the market, tested head-to-head to determine the best. We log at least 60 miles in each pair, running day in and day out to bring you the most reliable information possible. From ultra-distance marathons to fast-packing adventures in Iceland, long mountain trails in Peru, alpine jaunts in Lake Tahoe, and coastal climbs across California's beaches, we've embarked upon many running adventures over the years. And our testing doesn't stop with the trails; we also weigh, compare, and mull over each detail, no matter how tiny, to provide you with solid recommendations that you can trust.
Trail shoes are made specifically for rough and rugged terrain. To keep you prepared for these conditions, it is also wise to have an excellent pair of socks, comfortable running shorts, and a breezy top. If you plan to explore sandy or snowy trails, gaiters may also be a good accessory to have. If you're not sure that you need a trail-specific shoe, there are other shoe styles to consider before making a final decision. For all other gadgets and accessories, check out our favorite running gear to get you out on the trail.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on October 14, 2022, to add reviews for new offerings from Hoka One One, Salomon, and Brooks, as well as updated versions of old favorites.
Weight (per shoe): 8.68 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8.6mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent protection and traction
Fit molds to the foot
Stable and sensitive
REASONS TO AVOID
Collar is tight
Lace pocket is ineffective
Yet again, the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is a favorite that absolutely crushes the competition. Though we painstakingly test the best of the best, this pair is our legitimate and unanimous favorite. A go-to for all types of running missions, this is the shoe to buy if you want one that'll do it all. We used it for everything — from technical ridge missions to fast road runs, and it performs. We love the responsive midsole, super sticky outsole, and breathable upper that seems to protect from every type of particulate. We've been running in it for well over 400 miles, and it's still going strong. This unisex shoe seems to do it all and is one we recommend to all our friends, including you.
While this shoe, performance-wise, is absolutely amazing, the price is a hard one to swallow. The fit also feels large, so we recommend sizing down if you like a tighter feel. Lastly, the collar can be tight around the ankle depending on your anatomy, so be sure to wear taller socks and exercise a little patience getting into them if they don't feel perfect out of the box. This fantastic trail shoe is one you've got to try and earns our highest accolades for its balanced performance, protection, and sensitivity on all types of terrain.
Weight (per shoe): 9.45 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 9mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent mud shed
REASONS TO AVOID
Runs small and narrow
Takes time to break-in
The Dynafit Feline SL is a light and nimble shoe that is fantastic for tearing up techy, fast terrain. Initially, we found the fit to feel like a narrow and rigid cleat, but once we laid down a few break-in miles, it became perfect for taking on flowy and potentially slippery trails. The claw-like lugs are spaced perfectly for security on steep inclines and provide excellent mud shedding. These were our go-to shoes for steep, rocky trails. The toe bumper is super protective, and despite the narrow platform, these 9mm drop shoes are surprisingly stable. The outsole is rugged but provides a perfect balance of strength and sensitivity.
The fit of the Feline won't be for everyone since it is pretty narrow and tough. Additionally, these shoes run a bit small, so you might need to size up, especially if you like running in thick, protective socks. The break-in period takes a bit longer than other trail running shoes, but since they break into a shape that perfectly molded to our unique feet, we didn't find this problematic. The tough sensitivity of the outsole might not be right for heel strikers as the Feline tends to ride a bit less luxuriously than plusher options. But if you are looking for a shoe that inspires confidence and agility on technical terrain, look no further.
Weight (per shoe): 7.41 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5mm
REASONS TO BUY
Great for all distances
REASONS TO AVOID
Narrow lace bed
Stack height takes some getting used to
The Hoka Torrent 2 is a favorite for its wear-all-day comfort. In fact, this is the shoe we recommend to all long distances runners because of its almost universal comfort. Loaded with a responsive and cushioned midsole, we ran 20+ mile distances with ease. The traction is superior with sticky rubber and multidirectional lugs, built to bite down on any surface. It transitions nicely from the trail to the road, and the lugs stay strong and beefy even when worn on abrasive surfaces. The Torrent 2 is an excellent choice if you're looking for a shoe that'll carry you into the ultra distances, though it is equally great for shorter distances.
While this is one of the most stable Hoka shoes we've tested (a brand known for having a high stack height), the Torrent 2 still requires a little getting used to. Once you get comfortable with the 31mm stack and the 5mm drop, you'll love the molded-to-you comfort and responsivity of this shoe. If you're looking to have a bit more impact absorption and comfort for miles on end, this model comes with our highest universal recommendations.
The Brooks Divide 2 is one of the best crossover shoes in our lineup. Because of its less rugged outsole and traditional road running shoe shape, it is a great shoe for trail running beginners. The fit feels familiar, with an 8mm drop and a 20mm heel stack, and it is comfortable with enough cushion to make for a smooth ride. The longer we run in this shoe, the more impressive it becomes. While our initial thoughts haven't changed, it is worth mentioning that its durability is quite impressive. All of the elements of the Divide come together to create a solid and affordable light-to-medium trail shoe.
The Divide 2 is made for light trails, which is truly what it is perfect for. The lugs are less deep and powerful when compared to burlier shoes, and it definitely isn't as protective, even though it does contain a rock plate. The outsole design provides far less sensitivity than we have grown to prefer. That said, if you are a newbie looking for a crossover shoe to tackle fire roads and gentle trails, the Divide is a great value.
Weight (per shoe): 7.13 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4mm
REASONS TO BUY
Great energy return
Plush and comfortable
Novel technology will appeal to gearheads
REASONS TO AVOID
Needs a short break-in period
Heel cup won't be universally beloved
The Hoka Tecton X is unlike any shoe we have ever tested and, until recently, unlike most shoes on the market. It has a carbon plate embedded between the midsole and the outsole for incredible energy return and efficiency. When it comes to combined long-distance comfort and responsiveness, we found that the Tecton exceeded our lofty expectations. With a tall 33mm stack height and a 4mm drop, this stable trail runner provides plenty of underfoot cushion and enough protection to go the distance. The multidirectional lug pattern helps you stay confident and stuck to the terrain underfoot. Overall, this impressively lightweight shoe is a great sidekick for long and short distances alike.
We found that a short break-in period was necessary to fully settle into running in the Tecton X. Once we were accustomed to the sensation, the Tecton became our go-to long-distance racing shoe. The heel cup sits high and stiff around the Achilles, and this is a sensation that some runners might find insufferable. For us, after a few runs, we didn't find this to be problematic. Our main gripe with the Tecton is simply the price. It is a novel shoe that is long-lasting and durable, based on the demands we imposed upon it, but it is still pricier than most. We fell in love with the Tecton and think you will too, but only if your wallet allows it. If you are in the market for a shoe that will help you push paces with extreme comfort, this is the trail running shoe for you.
Weight (per shoe): 7.76 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4mm
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
The new and improved Saucony Peregrine 12 is a well-tractioned and svelte-fitting trail running shoe that offers above-average protection. It provides a breathable and comfortable Airmesh upper that molds to the outer edges of your feet as it breaks in. The lugs are sturdy, stable, and well-patterned for exceptional traction. We love that the Peregrine is a rugged shoe that rides and looks more like a road shoe. It isn't quite as protective as other shoes that we tested, but it provides just enough to make it versatile. Because its rugged outsole and rock plate combine perfectly with its lightweight and responsiveness, we love wearing this shoe for all different types of trail runs.
The list is pretty short when it comes to our list of grievances with the Peregrine 12. The narrow fit, much like a lot of Saucony's road running shoes, won't appeal to wide-footed runners. The base of support is pretty streamlined and might feel unstable if your feet are wider than the platform. The Peregrine also isn't the toughest shoe we tested, but it holds up to demands pretty well. Most of the protective elements are simply a bit more forgiving than those of shoes that are made for tougher, more technical trails. If you are looking for a well-tractioned and responsive trail shoe with enough comfort to get you through long runs, the Peregrine might be the perfect choice.
Weight (per shoe): 7.62 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent trail intimacy
Fitted and streamlined performance
Very sticky and confidence-inspiring outsole
REASONS TO AVOID
Zero-drop isn't for everyone
Less arch support
The Altra Lone Peak 6 is a staple shoe in the ultra-distance and hiking community for a good reason. It is packed with 25mm of cushioning throughout the length of the midsole, with an extra-wide toe box that allows for a natural splay of the forefoot. This type of toebox space is great for helping to build the musculature in the sole of the foot and toes, which can aid in the healing of foot and toe issues. The upper offers breathability for hot days and dries quickly after a good dunk in a cool stream. This new iteration has an updated eyelet pattern, which allows this naturally wide shoe to be cinched to fit narrower feet. It hosts a 0mm drop, meaning this doesn't have additional support or cushioning in the heel. It is best for those that intend to strike the ground with the forefoot and not the heel. Altra has increased the durability of these shoes in the recent past, and it shows. It's our favorite for longer distances and the one we choose when there's a long fast pack or training day ahead.
While we love this shoe, it's not for everybody. The zero-drop design takes some training to get used to. Since there is no extra cushioning in the heel to lift it, the rear chain of muscles in your body will have to work quite a bit harder, and you may feel a bit of strain on the Achilles tendon. With proper training, this can wane, but if you are new to the zero-drop game, this might not be the shoe you can buy and start running long distances in immediately. But for those seeking a cushioned, well-protected, and wide trail running shoe that gives you room to spread your toes, here it is.
Weight (per shoe): 9.07 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent traction on soft surfaces
REASONS TO AVOID
Lugs wear on pavement
Heel stack makes it slightly less stable
Unique shape won't fit all feet
The Salomon Speedcross 6 stands out for its crampon-inspired grip that tackles muddy, messy trails with ease. The 5mm chevron-shaped lugs are well-spaced and shed mud effectively, keeping you going even when the rain pours. This shoe offers cushion and a sensitive forefoot that allows you to feel the trail while retaining just the right amount of needed protection. The heel is extra cushioned, which makes it a great match for heel strikers. We appreciate the specific fit and updated upper that hugs the foot, so you most likely won't experience toe bumps when charging on the downhills. The same fit profile helps stabilize you as you take on sloppy trails. The Speedcross is durable, so expect a long lifecycle with this contender.
There are only a few notable caveats regarding the Speedcross 6. It is not the ideal crossover shoe as the soft rubber that sticks well when scrambling over rocks will wear down quickly on a classic road run. Some of our testers also felt that the steeper sidewall and elevated heel made for a less stable ride on super tricky terrain. The heel height, which stands at 32mm, and the narrow architecture prevent this from being a shoe that all uniquely-shaped runners will love. But if you seek a shoe that'll do well on typical technical, steep, and sloppy terrain, this is the one to buy.
We have traveled all over testing women's trail running shoes for over 9 years, getting our hands on close to 100 pairs. We've hiked up towering passes in Peru, run over summits in the Rocky Mountains, jogged over dry singletrack in the desert, raced across the beaches of California, and explored the most remote parts of the Pacific Northwest. Our main testing location is recent years is Montaña de Oro State Park, on the rugged coast of California, south of Big Sur. It offers sweeping vistas, scenic peaks, hundreds of miles of trail, and enough slippery scree to test an army of running shoes. Each pair of shoes has logged at least 60 miles — some with over 1,000 miles, if they last that long. Our review compiles this data to give you recommendations for your best trail sidekick — or two.
Our testing of trail running shoes is divided 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)
Our main tester is a trail runner, exercise specialist, and cancer survivor. Ally Arcuri has been deep in the world of running for over a decade and truly found her feet on the trails. She has taken on ultra marathons in the Rocky Mountains and is currently training for shorter, speedier trail races. Ally has a degree in kinesiology from Cal State Fullerton and utilizes her knowledge of biomechanics heavily while assessing each pair of shoes. She currently lives next door to Montaña de Oro State Park in San Luis Obispo County, California, though she attributes her love of trails to her upbringing in South Lake Tahoe.
Ally is joined by Amber King, who has been reviewing trail running shoes for women since 2014. She's an avid trail runner taking on ultra-distance marathons and has raced in several trail ultramarathons, including the Bryce Canyon 50 miler and the Telluride Mountain Run. When she's not climbing rocks around the Southwestern part of Colorado, you can find her taking on fast-packing missions worldwide.
Analysis and Test Results
Our trail running shoe review covers a wide range of products to reflect the best options on the market. Each shoe is subjected to the same tests to determine even tiny differences in performance with objectivity. After rating each across our metrics, we assign a comparative score to determine which has the best performance. We offer an in-depth comparison to help you find exactly what you're looking for.
When buying a pair of shoes, you want to ensure that they will perform well for the money you invest. This is especially true as manufacturers add feature after feature, causing the price of each pair of shoes to creep up. A good shoe with great value will last and won't break down after a hundred miles. In the world of trail shoes, we tend to associate value with the burliness of the lugs and protective features, which is part of why foot protection is such a heavily weighted metric. Many shoes will either lose responsiveness in the foam or have a deteriorated upper after this time. However, many folks opt to buy those that are not as durable simply because they are light and flexible with good performance when they are in top shape.
There are plenty of durable options within the shoes we tested that offer outstanding performance for a reasonable price. The Saucony Peregrine 12 stands out for its versatile design with an aggressive outsole that'll stick to steep trails and mud. Other durable options in our lineup include the Hoka Torrent 2 and the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max. The Torrent 2 offers a superiorly cushioned ride and is built to take on long trail runs — all for a very approachable price. The Trailfly is a bit more rigid and offers less cushion but is built tougher than most of the other shoes we've tested — but it's also more expensive. All three of these options provide a durable construction that has lasted 300+ miles so far for our testers.
One of our newer additions, the Hoka Tecton X, gave us a lot to think about in terms of value. It is a newer shoe that is chocked with features to provide comfort and powerful energy return. It held up well during the course of our testing, with the most notable signs of use being just dust accumulation. It is the most expensive shoe we've tested, and while it certainly isn't a budget buy, there is added value in shelling out the cash for features that will serve you and your trail running goals.
An excellent trail running shoe provides the right combination of foot protection to sensitivity, allowing a runner to feel the path underfoot without suffering hard blows from unsuspected hazards. It is really easy for a shoe to be too protective, which can cut down on its sensitivity; we love when we get to run in shoes that have a perfect balance of protection and sensitivity.
For this metric, we consider factors such as cushioning and the presence or absence of a rock plate. There are plenty of protective shoes that do not include a rock plate, but we have found that we prefer trail running shoes that include this feature. We explore the upper architecture to see if it is breathable and keeps out smaller particles from entering the shoe. Finally, we look at the toe cap's rigidity and protection from unsuspected stubbed toes. All the shoes tested offer enough protection to be worn on trails, with some providing more than others.
The most protective shoes have lots of underfoot cushioning, a strong toe bumper, a rock plate, and a well-constructed upper. Of our selection, the most protective shoes with a thicker outsole include the Salomon Speedcross 6 and the Hoka Challenger ATR 6. The Challenger doesn't have a rock plate but instead has loads of underfoot cushioning. Hoka is known for creating stacked shoes, which makes the Torrent 2, Tecton X, and Speedgoat 5 great for underfoot protection as well.
The Salomon Speedcross 6 has a well-cushioned midsole, especially in the heel, ensuring a flexible and sensitive ride. The Speedcross is protective underfoot, offering 35mm of rigid EVA cushioning in the heel and 25mm in the forefoot. It has a continuous upper with excellent wicking capabilities that keep out trail matter and small sprays of water. This is a great choice if you're seeking a protective and truly rugged shoe.
While these shoes have beefier outsoles with a more significant heel-to-toe drop, there are also protective options with a medium amount of cushioning underfoot. The integration of a rock plate aids a little extra protection. The Altra Lone Peak 6 is a notable shoe in this category, sporting a softer but thick midsole (25mm in the heel and forefoot) that is incredibly protective and well-cushioned, with the addition of a rock plate to counter the softness of the materials. The latest iteration is leagues more durable than prior versions, making it that much more protective over a lot of miles.
Other shoes sport minimal cushion but have protective elements that make them a good choice for technical terrain. The Dynafit Feline SL features an ultra-hard toe cap and a lower stack height. The Feline SL also has a burlier upper with a single-pull lacing system and isn't as flexible, thus earning a higher score in this category. This is one of our favorite shoes for speedy, technical runs that require strong foot protection.
The Brooks Catamount provides many of the same benefits as the Feline SL, but in a less svelte package. If you like the feeling or the idea of the Feline but want a slightly larger toe box, the Catamount might be a better fit. It lacks a bit of the traction and comfort of the Feline, but its protective elements are nearly as rugged.
Best for Water Crossings
Seeking the best trail running shoe for crossing the odd stream? The best option is a shoe with a waterproof upper that doesn't absorb moisture and dries quickly. None of the shoes we tested are entirely waterproof, nor are they fully intended for water use, but some dry out faster than others. For example, the Hoka Challenger ATR 6 has a mesh overlay that isn't water-resistant or waterproof but does dry quickly while on the run. We also appreciate the Altra Lone Peak 6, which has a dedicated drainage system for quick-drying performance. Unfortunately, the new drainage holes are on top of the toebox, which doesn't exactly work with gravity.
The redesigned upper of the Salomon Speedcross 6 became a fast favorite of ours for submersion. Not only does the Speedcross dry quickly, even in damp conditions, but its trustworthy traction allowed us to more confidently hop from rock to rock when crossing water. Additionally, we love the Salmon S/Lab Ultra 3 as the upper dries quickly and resists water from penetrating around the outsole if the puddles aren't too deep.
Many of the shoes we tested have a "GTX" version, meaning Gore-Tex is used to add water protection. If you know you'll be tackling a lot of water, look for this option - just realize it's likely to be far less breathable and more expensive.
Your traction needs depend on what type of terrain you find yourself on most frequently. If you stick to smooth dirt paths and gravel roads, you may be able to get away with less aggressive shoes more akin to our top-ranked women's running shoes for pavement. However, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls when treading over slippery and soft terrain. We made sure to pay attention to each shoe's ability to bite down on the trail. When testing, we subjected each trail running shoe to different types of surfaces in various conditions; this included mud, snow, pavement, scree, sand, sandstone, granite slabs, and more. The slope we test on ranges from steep and unstable to flat. We also dunk them in rivers, the ocean, and run in the snow to see how each performs when wet.
None of the outsoles performed perfectly on slippery and wet rocks through our testing. Perfect performance is a big ask, and we know it. Some rubbers are stickier than others, but none can completely ensure a slip-free experience when crossing rivers or jumping across boulder fields in the rain. Trust your body and your abilities over what each company says their shoes can do.
Three shoes stand out for superior traction: the Dynafit Feline SL, Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max, and Salomon Speedcross 6. All have longer lugs that stick well to rocky surfaces. The Speedcross and Feline both have more rigid and durable lugs, holding better on steep surfaces that are quite sloppy. Both shed mud well too. The Trailfly has unique, double-decker lugs and a Graphene-enhanced rubber outsole, which makes it one of the grippiest shoes we have ever had the pleasure of testing.
We appreciate the stickiness of the Torrent 2 and S/Lab Ultra 3 with more extended lugs that are a little less rigid but seem to stick to anything we tried. On steep downhills, all shoes kept us in place, making them excellent technical terrain choices.
If you plan on tackling trails less littered with grass, mud, and other soft surfaces, you'd be better off looking at shoes with lugs that aren't as long but feature stickier rubber and a nice pattern. The stickiest rubber out there comes on the Salmon S/Lab Ultra 3, Brooks Cascadia 16, and the Salomon Sense Ride 4. All have a rubber compound that grips well to rocks.
One of our favorites for mixed or less technical terrain is the Salomon Pulsar Trail. It features understated lugs that are placed strategically to keep you stable on slippery surfaces. This is a great option if you want a comfortable shoe that offers great traction for less intense terrain.
The Saucony Peregrine 12 is less sticky with more aggressive outsoles for better purchase on steeper trails. This high-value and versatile shoe feature longer lugs that did well across most tests, only falling short when it came to holding up on road runs. The only shoes that impressed us in the mud shed tests were those with lugs that are a little further apart, like the Salomon varieties. The Topo Ultraventure 2 sports a Vibram sole which is also more durable.
Shoes that offer excellent sensitivity have less cushioning underfoot, typically. Sensitivity is essential because it allows a runner to feel underfoot hazards, which gives them time to re-adjust body positioning. By this logic, sensitivity and stability go hand-in-hand, and sensitivity must be balanced with foot protection to make an excellent shoe. To test this, we noted which shoes were the thinnest and which ones allowed us to feel underfoot hazards.
The most sensitive options come with just a tiny bit of cushioning underfoot, so you can feel the trail as you run. The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is among the most sensitive, with just 18.2mm of dense cushioning in the midfoot. The sole is flexible, which had us feeling most objects underfoot, with a balanced level of protection. The shoe structure allowed us to feel trail hazards but also dampened their impact as we ran across them.
The Altra Superior 5 also scores relatively high in this metric, with a thicker outsole (21mm, heel to toe) and a very thin rock plate. While the stack height is taller, the midsole material is incredibly soft, which translates to a similar level of sensitivity on the trail.
We remain impressed by the Altra Lone Peak 6 and its sensitivity. For being such a well-cushioned shoe with a rock plate, it is amazing how well you can feel the trail beneath your feet even though the entire shoe has a 25mm stack height. The Hoka Speedgoat 5 hosts a thick 31mm stack height, which cuts down on its sensitivity. However, the sole of the Speedgoat is a bit more flexible than most super-stacked shoes, making it a good choice if you're looking for a balance between a plush underfoot feel and adequate sensitivity.
The Tecton X is another shoe with a thick stack height of 33mm, but the materials are flexible enough to provide good trail information. Does the sole of this shoe truly compare to the sensitivity of the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3? No, it doesn't. But for runners looking to combine comfort and ground-level info, the Tecton does just that.
Finally, our obsession with the La Sportiva Bushido II and its incredible sensitivity has grown. With only a 19mm stack height, this is the shoe for you if you want rigid support and a super intimate trail experience. You can feel everything, but not in the dampened way you can when running in shoes with higher stack heights (like Hoka's).
A stable trail running shoe will keep you on your feet when picking through rough rocks and uneven terrain. A shoe's stability comes as a proportional value of the height and width of the shoe itself. Those lower to the ground, with a more flexible nature and wider outsole, tend to do better here. This is very much a result of the shoe's design, but we also consider how your stabilizing muscles react when held in each shoe. That said, some shoes are built to be rigid and to essentially flatten uneven terrain underneath them. While some stable shoes are flexible, others can be rigid. Overall, we look for a shoe that doesn't feel tippy and keeps us upright while tearing down the trails. We also survey the space each shoe offers for our feet to do their natural biomechanical stabilization.
A few shoes stand out as the most stable in our review for completely different reasons: The Scarpa Spin Ultra is a beefy shoe with a rigid platform and an integrated rock plate. The shoe's body is stiff, with a wide forefoot and heel that offers an excellent landing pad. It is similar to the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 and Altra Superior 5. These kicks are stable because of their incredible flexibility that allows for agile and full movement. The Superior 5 stands out because it has a wider forefoot and a low level of cushioning, which always feels close to the ground.
Another option with a little less cushioning is the Dynafit Feline SL. We aren't sure why the Feline feels so stable on the trail, but the fit makes it feel like you aren't sitting very high. The Feline has an 8mm drop, which is why we are unsure about its above-average stability feeling. The platform width is narrow, but the shoe feels close to the ground without tipping over on technical terrain. It also has a nice fit with admirable agility.
Other options with a wider toe box feel a little more stable than those that are more narrow. This is because the wide toe box gives your toes room to splay to build strength in your tiny foot muscles. Zero-drop shoes tend to be more stable because your heel and toe ride on the same plane. The Altra Lone Peak 6 is a queen of comfort, with exceptional stability due to its zero-drop profile. The Brooks Cascadia 16 is another stable contender with a new flexible design (over past iterations) that offers better stability than ever.
Comfort and Fit
In this metric, we award points based on the anatomy of collar materials, lacing systems, and how the cushioning feels during lift-off and landing. We comment on relative fit but don't score on this aspect of the metric simply because it's so subjective. We are veteran testers, so we have a lot of opinions about standard versus unique fits, but we assess this knowing that each runner has unique anatomy. You'll notice that we describe a few shoes as "universally comfortable," which is how we have chosen to describe shoes that we believe will cater to a wide variety of foot shapes and preferences. Ultimately, it's essential to know that the most comfortable shoe is the one that fits you best.
With exceptional cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the Hoka Torrent 2 is one of the most comfortable shoe we have tested. This is the main shoe that we recommend for trail runners of all shapes and sizes due to its comfortable features and perfectly-placed cushion. It stands out for its wider fit and stable ride, making it easy to log miles on the trail. The Hoka Challenger ATR 6 is another comfortable shoe with more arch support and a narrower fit. Between the two, we prefer the Torrent 2 because of its better stability which ultimately adds more comfort for the long haul.
The Tecton X fits similarly to the Torrent 2, which also makes it a widely comfortable shoe. It has a stiffer overall feel and less emphasis on plush comfort, but it hits higher marks regarding stability ratings, making it an even more desirable trail runner. If you want a responsive and comfortable, albeit slightly narrow, trail running shoe, we also stand behind the Saucony Peregrine 12, as it offers more responsiveness than most trail shoes.
The Topo Ultraventure 2 and Altra Lone Peak 6 have wide toe boxes that let your toes wiggle. On longer runs, this is an advantage as feet tend to swell as you put down the miles. Between the two, the Lone Peak 6 has a standard Altra-wide toebox, while the Ultraventure 2 has a wide toe box at the broadest part of the foot, with a more significant taper towards the toes. Those that appreciate toe-wiggling freedom should consider either of these. They both have medium amounts of cushion, too, with the Lone Peak having a softer insole that tends to pack out a little faster than the Ultraventure 2.
One of the more interesting shoes that we tested when it comes to comfort and fit is the Hoka Speedgoat 5. It sits atop a beefy stack but has a reinforced mesh sockliner upper. At first, this can feel really strange, unstable, and even uncomfortable to run in. We found that once the upper molded to our feet a bit, we loved the trail feel of these kicks. Most of the shoes with softer mesh uppers provided prime comfort. This includes the Salomon Pulsar Trail, one of our other favorite shoes for luxurious comfort.
In this section, we provide recommendations for relative sizing. Here we focus on the foot width to provide you with a jump-off point for where you need to start looking. We indicate if the shoe you want comes in either a wide or regular fit option.
If you have a narrow foot, look for shoes with a tight-fitting heel cup and a slim profile around the arch. The forefoot can still be wide, but it's essential that you can lock your foot into the shoe to avoid slippage. We recommend the Dynafit Feline SL, Saucony Peregrine 12, and Salomon Speedcross 6. With the release of the Lone Peak 6, Altra added an updated eyelet pattern, which makes these shoes much more appropriate, comfortable, and well-fitting for narrow-footed runners looking for a spacious, zero-drop shoe. The added eyelets allow you to cinch the upper a bit tighter than was comfortable in previous versions, which one of our narrow-footed testers loves.
A regular fit is one that most people can wear. The Brooks Divide 2, Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3, and Merrell Antora 2 are three of our favorites. Many of the shoes we tested have a regular fit and fall under this category, and many of these shoes have standard and wide-size options too.
Wide Toe Box
Are you looking for a shoe that offers a wider toe box? The shoes by Topo and Altra dominate this market, but there are many other options out there. Our favorites include the Topo Ultraventure 2 and Altra Lone Peak 6. The Ultraventure has superior durability and a little extra cushion in the heel compared to the Lone Peak. We cannot get enough of the softer cushioning housed in the Altra's midsole.
The Salomon Sense Ride 4 and the Salomon Pulsar Trail are also great options for wider-footed runners in the market for a new pair of shoes. Neither is specifically marketed as a shoe for wide feet, but both toe boxes provide more than enough space for our average-footed testing team.
Although not a make-or-break feature, having a lightweight trail running shoe can make a world of difference if you're out for the day (or multiple days). 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 leave you feeling liberated on the trail. When evaluating the weight, we look at which shoes are the lightest on both the foot and the scale. Technically, yes, the shoes that are the lightest on the scale will still be the lightest on our feet. But we also consider how the weight is distributed throughout the shoe because it greatly influences gait patterns.
All shoes tested in this review are considered "lightweight"; we provide a comparison of the heaviest to lightest options. None felt too heavy for wear on the trail, especially when compared with the weight of a standard hiking boot.
Not only did we assess the actual weight of each shoe, but we took copious notes while running to determine which shoes felt the heaviest while we were in motion. The Hoka Speedgoat 5, for example, is built in such a way that the weight of it rides underfoot, which can be tricky to get used to. One women's size 7 US Speedgoat weighs 8.57 ounces per shoe, which is notably lighter than many others, even though it feels a bit heavier underfoot. Conversely, the Dynafit Feline SL weight is more evenly distributed, making them feel light and agility-encouraging on the trail even though each size 7 US women's shoe weighs a hearty 9.45 ounces.
One of the lightest shoes we tested this time is the Hoka Tecton X, which weighs 7.13 ounces per women's size 7 shoe. If a lightweight and comfortable shoe is what you're after, we recommend giving the Tecton, Altra Lone Peak 6, or Hoka Torrent 2 a try. On the other end of the spectrum is the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max, which weighs in at a solid 9.84 ounces per shoe. The Trailfly is loaded to the gills with protective features, which tend to lead to heavier weights.
We've come a long way from running barefoot. While some still prefer this wild form of running, a great trail running shoe will offer you more comfort and protection from underfoot hazards. The quest for the perfect shoe is always challenging, so be sure to identify what you care about most, try on potential options, then buy the one that fits best. Happy shoe hunting!
Looking for the perfect GPS watch? Our experts spent hours...
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.