Home > Running Gear

The 2015 Trail Shoe Guide

Trail Shoe Guide

From minimal to maximal, we’ve got the perfect shoe for your trail adventure

More and more brands are taking their A-game off road. It’s not surprising that this is easily our biggest trail shoe guide ever. Just as with road offerings, brands are finding their sweet spot, focusing on everything from minimalism to jack-of-all-trades neutral trainers to the new maximalist shoe. It’s an exciting time to be a trail runner.

2015 Trail Shoe Guide

Treksta Alter Ego Star

Treksta Alter Ego Star

Men’s: 320 g (11.2 oz.),
Women’s: 250 g (8.8 oz.)
Drop 10 mm, $115

Built with an almost all-glued upper that’s the result of scanning and measuring 20,000 runners’ feet, Treksta have always approached their shoe design with a fit-first mentality. The Alter Ego’s lightweight EVA midsole provides some arch support without being a true stability shoe, while the relatively aggressive outsole excels on loose gravel, mud and scree. Treksta shows their understanding of the nuances of trail running by adding little support items, such as a subtle heel counter, secure lacing system and sewn-in tongue. A narrow fit.

Merrell All Out Charge

Merrell All Out Charge

ADVERTISEMENT

Men’s: 283 g (10 oz.),
Women’s: 241 g (8.5 oz.)
Drop 6 mm, $150

The All Out series is aimed at those that like Merrell’s zero drop, minimal Bare Access offerings, but need a little more substance underfoot. Merrell’s cicular 5 mm lugs are very grippy on even the muddiest of trails. The Vibram outsole is, of course, extremely durable. Our testers found the All Out Charge to be very firm, perhaps more so than expected, as this is billed as a softer ride than the trail-focused brand’s more minimal models. Merrell shoes are known for their wide toe box, allowing a nice amount of splay, which is particularly important for a trail shoe. The All Out Charge is a more conventionally cut variation, but still feels roomy enough for the long haul.

Reebok All Terrain Super

Reebok All Terrain Super

Men’s: 244 g (8.6 oz.),
Women’s: 204 g (7.2 oz.)
Drop 5 mm, $130

In the last few years, Reebok have gotten into the OCR scene in a big way, so it’s not surprising that they’re now producing thoughtful trail-oriented footwear. The All Terrain Super fits and feels like a cross-country spike. It’s upper is very light, breathable and porous, which is totally fine, as it’s pointless during many short or mid-distance trail events to try to keep your feet dry. The flexible midsole leads to a luggy outsole that is ferocious under even the muddiest conditions. The one drawback of this shoe is that it tends to allow some debris in through the lacing area when the foot is torqued, but that’s a minor drawback for this otherwise very racer-friendly beast.

Brooks Cascadia 10

Brooks Cascadia 10

Men’s: 329 g (11.6 oz.),
Women’s: 272 g (9.6 oz.)
Drop 10 mm, $160

Now in its 10th iteration, this Brooks workhorse gets both an outsole and upper retooling. Down low, the lugs have been reduced for a more versatile and responsive experience. This model has always promoted the float, doing a lot of work for you, but the more carefully considered design makes the Cascadia a little more nimble. Up top, the upper now features a slightly asymmetrical design in order to hug the foot better, continuing with the move to a more self-assured ride.

Montrail FluidFlex II

Montrail FluidFlex II

Men’s: 228 g (8 oz.),
Women’s: 192 g (6.7 oz.)
Drop 4 mm, $100

The FluidFlex could be considered a hybrid road/trail shoe because it really doesn’t slow you down on the tarmac. The feel and fit could be considered minimal and lightweight, but the foamy midsole adds a surprising amount of cushioning. Fans of a firmer ride will find it  very soft, but our wear testers enjoyed how smooth it felt on the trails. One of the reasons it feels so pillowy is because it lacks the total outsole that many trail shoes sport in order to handle rough terrain. Nevertheless, we found the FluidFlex II to handle nicely on rocky and slippery terrain.

Asics Gel-Fuji Pro

Asics Gel-Fuji Pro

Men’s: 298 g (10.5 oz.),
Women’s: 247 g (8.7 oz.)
Drop 10 mm, $150

A lightweight trail shoe best suited for racing or fast training. Fans of Asics’s popular line of racing flats will appreciate the responsiveness of the Fuji Pro. This shoe also did really well during long hauls. It has has enough support and cushioning to do the job over the course of a few hours of running on gnarly terrain. A great addition to the Fuji line.

Skechers GoRun Ultra 2

Skechers GoRun Ultra 2

Men’s: 264 g (9.3 oz.),
Women’s: 207 g (7.3 oz.)
Drop 4 mm, $120

The Ultra model is Skechers’ foray into maximalism. Their signature plush, almost squishy approach to sole technologies fit nicely with the maximalist idea: that more is better so long as it’s light and doesn’t inhibit the stride. The Ultra 2 is a very subtle update, and Skechers were wise not to mess with a good thing here. Our wear testers enjoyed how flexible and lightweight the Ultra 2 felt underfoot, which is a must when deciding to go big. Skechers also offer a very desirable price point.

New Balance Leadville 1210v2

New Balance Leadville 1210v2

Men’s: 310 g (10.9 oz.),
Women’s: 248 g (8.7 oz.)
Drop 8 mm, $160

New Balance decided to get a bit arrogant with the naming of this shoe, suggesting that it is the ideal companion for one of the toughest ultras in the world. The 1210v2 is a mild update, fixing a few of the mild hot spots and improving the overall build of the shoe, so that, yes, it can withstand a 100-miler. The firm RevLite midsole provides enough support for a mild overpronator, but a neutral runner could also do well in this structured but nimble trainer. We really liked the comfortable fit of the upper. There’s a lot of room in the toe box and the minimal use of stitching means that the 1210 won’t become a problem deep into a long day in the forest.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR

Hoka One One Challenger ATR

Men’s: 244 g (8.6 oz.),
Women’s: 210 g (7.4 oz.)
Drop 5 mm, $150

Hoka is making some of the most interesting shoes on the market today, and the Challenger throws down the gauntlet in the trail segment. The reason why Hoka shoes work is because they feel like a lightweight trainer, but provide the cushioning of a much bulkier shoe. Of course, there’s a trade-off in terms of durability, but with the Challenger it’s well worth it. The chunky midsole is great for most trails, although you wouldn’t want to twist an ankle with the Hoka’s stack height. Much like the Clifton, Hoka’s road shoe, the Challenger is surprisingly speedy, with just enough outsole lugs to help it hug the trail.

Saucony Peregrine 5

Saucony Peregrine 5

Men’s: 272 g (9.2 oz.),
Women’s: 241 g (8.2 oz.)
Drop 4 mm, $130

The Peregrine is Saucony’s more responsive, leaner trail offering. The shoe is very firm, with an aggressive outsole tread that is among the more stable rides, as reported by our wear testers. Saucony have managed to trim a slight amount of weight in this version by lightening the rock plate in the forefoot and keeping their patented PowerGrid midsole technology in the heel only. The shoe looks great and is tough enough for any mountain or trail.

Inov-8 Race Ultra 270

Inov-8 Race Ultra 270

Men’s: 270 g (9.5 oz.),
Women’s: 270 g (9.5 oz.)
Drop 4 mm, $160

The 270 is a lighter, you guessed it, more race-oriented version of Inov-8s popular line of trail shoes. The brand have made a big commitment to the trail and the 270 is a great option for a narrower foot looking for a fast, neutral ride. The mid- and outsole construction are where this shoe really shines. The lug pattern is toothy and very effective but also quite flexible, giving it that assertive response time that faster trail racers look for in a flat. There’s just enough in the heel to make the 270 a functional trail trainer as well. For those that love the Inov-8 fit, this will be a sure hit.

Salomon S-LAB XT 6 Softground

Salomon S-LAB XT 6 Softground

Men’s: 330 g (11.6 oz.),
Women’s: 310 g (10.9 oz.)
Drop 10.5 mm, $180

The S-LAB series is Salomon’s premium performance line-up of trail shoes. The Softground is robust and toothy, designed for grinding out lots of grimy Ks in the mud or snow. Salomon’s lug system powered our wear testers through the sludge with ease, and the firm, stable ride gives this shoe a racer-like feel, but with lots of support for pronators and tired feet. The premium design also means that this is no minimalist shoe in terms of weight. But even the heaviest of Salomon’s shoes seem designed for aggressive trail and mountain running.

Altra Superior 2.0

Altra Superior 2.0

Men’s: 247 g (8.7 oz.),
Women’s: 213 g (7.5 oz.)
Drop ratio: 0 mm, $125

This update of this nimble mountain shoe sees the Superior shed some weight and improve traction. The Altra lineup has carved out its niche on the trail scene with its zero-drop philosophy and wide toe box. The Superior is one of the brand’s more aggressive models, designed for slippery, rocky or wet conditions. They even throw in a removal rock plate for really rough terrain. The shoe is responsive and minimal underfoot. Our wear testers liked the Superior 2.0 going up and down shale and snowcovered peaks. A good choice for fans of a zero-drop ride.

 

Helly Hansen Terrak

Helly Hansen Terrak

Men’s: 255 g (9 oz.),
Women’s: 198 g (7 oz.)
Drop 5 mm, $110

The Terrak is Helly Hansen’s best running shoe offering to date. It’s a low-to-the-ground lightweight trail shoe that almost has a minimalist feel to it. The firm, thin midsole means you’re going to feel the ground without much protection from roots and rocks, but the trade-off is that this shoe flies. The forefoot is highly flexible, but the ride is very firm and there isn’t much in the way of cushioning. For lighter, faster runners that like to scoot through the forest, the Terrak is an ideal choice.

Pearl Izumi Trail N1

Pearl Izumi Trail N1

Men’s: 272 g (9.6 oz.),
Women’s: 252 g (8.9 oz.)
Drop 4.5 mm, $140

Pearl Izumi have honed their very specific craft over the last few years. The end result is a line of road, tri and trail shoes that have a distinctive feel and fit, but all share the same design principles. Our testers enjoyed the responsive, firm midsole and seamless, highly breathable upper of the N1. The Pearl Izumi line has a minimalist feel without losing sturdiness and support. It’s also nice to be able to reliably go from one shoe to another within a brand line-up without any worry. Fans of the other Pearl offerings will love this trail version.

The North Face Ultra Cardiac

The North Face Ultra Cardiac

Men’s: 274 g (9.7 oz.),
Women’s: 218 g (7.7 oz.)
Drop 8 mm, $130

This new offering from the iconic outdoor brand was inspired by one of their athlete’s battle with the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. After Tim Olson suffered through the 100-Miler in the French Alps, the company decided to design a neutral shoe that could withstand both the ups and downs of a long, hard trail run. The full Vibram outsole has ferocious tread pattern for gripping mud and dirt. The Cardiac also offers a little bit of support if you pronate when tired, which is sure to be welcomed for big mileage trail runners.

Columbia Ventrailia

Columbia Ventrailia

Men’s: 286 g (10 oz.),
Women’s: 236 g (8.3 oz.)
Drop 3 mm, $120

The Ventrailia comes by its name honestly. This versatile shoe, a couple of years in the making, is designed to keep your feet dry at all times. Columbia incorporates all sorts of drain holes in the midsole and a super ventilated upper so that you can literally stand in a foot of water and then go for a run without being waterlogged. It wasn’t surprising then that our wear testers reported that it was easily the best performer in extremely wet conditions. The Ventrailia has a firmer, neutral ride with a snug upper that holds to the foot. At just above 10 oz., it’s a midweight longer distance option that can also fill the void as an aggressive warm-season hiking shoe.

Mizuno Wave Kazan

Mizuno Wave Kazan

Men’s: 269 g (9.5 oz.),
Women’s: 227 g (8 oz.)
Drop ratio: 12 mm, $155

A year ago, Mizuno ditched its hybrid shoe and introduced the Kazan and its more minimal sibling, the Hayate. The Kazan offers more support and cushioning for the trails, but still feels like what you would expect from a Mizuno neutral trainer. In fact, the Kazan is perhaps the most roadoriented trail shoe in this review, which many readers will find appealing. The wide toe box and blown out forefoot outsole make the Kazan a comfortable, stable option for hitting the trail. The upper is very light and breathable. This is mostly a good thing, but it does mean that your feet will take on water during a muddy run.