We review the 15 best options for every type of off-road terrain.
Photos by Hiep Vu.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4
Women’s 224 g (7.9 oz.) Men’s 275 g (9.7 oz.)
Drop ratio: 4 mm
Along with the more robust Wildhorse, the Kiger works as Nike’s one-two punch on the trails. This shoe, now mature in its design and only making subtle changes from the previous version, is Nike’s lighter, more race-friendly model. The Flymesh upper doesn’t just look slick, but also performs quite well and can take a significant beating. Nike’s Flywire lacing system works well enough in the Kiger, but isn’t quite as snug and specific a fit as Flywire can be in their other models. Regardless, our testers had no complaints about the fit or hold of the shoe on the foot. It’s also got a nice, wide toe box for toe splay, and a comfy sock-like inner lining, which makes the Kiger a really well rounded trail shoe for neutral runners.
Brooks Caldera 2
Women’s 225 g (7.9 oz.) Men’s 255 g (9 oz.)
Drop ratio: 4 mm
The Caldera is Brooks’ lighter, more flexible take on a trail running shoe, albeit with max cushioning and a toothy outsole for muddy footing. Version two leaves the outsole and midsole pretty much as it was in its initial incarnation. The BioMoGo DNA midsole is still there (and super soft for long, easy runs in the woods), as is the hexagonal outsole pattern, which our testers felt worked well. Where you see the big changes in version two is in the totally redesigned upper. The Caldera 2 now features a much lighter mesh construction with laminate strips to create the proper fit around the metatarsals of the foot. This new upper vastly improves the overall fit and responsiveness of the Caldera, making it a near perfect, full-cushioning trail ride.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4
Women’s 210 g (7.4 oz.) Men’s 255 g (9 oz.)
Drop ratio: 5 mm
The Challenger is one of Hoka’s most successful and core trail shoes. Many an ultrarunner has relied on the Challenger to get them through a long day (and night) on the trails. It provides ample cushioning, reliable traction in an overall lightweight and durable package. The last version of this shoe got away from why trail runners loved the Challenger. And it appears that Hoka has been listening to runner feedback. There are many positive changes to version four. There’s a whole new upper, which includes surprisingly durable mesh and a new lacing system. The upper is also mercifully wider, which was a big criticism of the last Challenger. It feels roomy enough for your foot to swell safely over the course of several kilometres out on the trail without that ride starting off too sloppy. It’s also a touch lighter, and a slightly firmer, stiffer shoe, making this the most responsive, wisely updated Challenger ATR yet.
The North Face Endurus TR
Women’s 273 g (9.6 oz.) Men’s 317 g (11.2 oz.)
Drop ratio: 6 mm
The Endurus is a whole new type of shoe for The North Face. The outdoor giant previously tended to make more minimal, firmer shoes for the trail. By contrast, the Endurus features a big, chunky midsole, designed for long hauls and hours of pounding on a variety of terrain. This shoe is all about facilitating a soft landing, and feeling just as plush after 50 (or more) gruelling kilometres. The key to the Endurus is that it’s much more flexible than previous shoes by The North Face, even though its got a rather tall stack height. The upper isn’t over engineered, reliant on brazed-on material instead of lots of stitching and layering. This also makes it quite breathable, and ideal for summer ultras. The Vibram outsole features mid-tier 3 mm lugs, which aren’t super aggressive, but do provide enough traction for most surfaces. The Endurus is easily The North Face’s most comfortable and mileage-friendly trail shoe.
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v3
Women’s 269 g (9.5 oz.) Men’s 329 g (11.6 oz.)
Drop ratio: 8 mm
The Hierro began as essentially a road shoe with some tweaks for the trail. Now in version three, it has morphed into a very focused design. The first obvious change is with the booty construction. The heel collar keeps debris out and the shoe locked snug around the entire foot. This version also gets a bigger heel-to-toe offset, going from a 4 mm to 8 mm drop by adding more cushioning in the heel. The outsole is still built upon Vibram’s Megagrip outsole, which spans the entire bottom of the shoe. The upper has a protective Hyposkin covering, with dozens of tiny, micro laser slices for breathability. The firm toe protector around the front of the shoe keeps you from cracking a toe on a stone. A due to the added cushioning and ankle collar, the Hierro 3 is slightly heavier than the last version. If you like New Balance’s 1080 or Boracay Fresh Foam models, you’ll be very happy with the cushioning profile of the Hierro 3.
Asics Gecko XT
Women’s 244 g (8.6 oz.) Men’s 295 g (10.4 oz.)
Drop ratio: 6 mm
The Gecko is an all-new model from Asics. The Japanese company has always offered a strong, lightweight option for the trails, and the Gecko is perhaps their best effort yet. It also features some newer technologies by Asics, starting with their Geckotrac outsole, which provides the most grip of any Asics trail shoe. It’s built upon their wonderful Flytefoam midsole, which is soft and even more gel-like than their legendary Gel cushioning, as one of our tester’s put it. The Gecko XT also features a rock plate in the forefoot to protect from rough terrain, as well as a smooth and light mesh upper to finish off a rather refined design. For a first-generation shoe, the Gecko XT is surprisingly well resolved, and will be pleasing for those looking to get after it on some fast yet gritty singletrack.
Under Armour Horizon RTT
Women’s 281 g (9.9 oz.) Men’s 329 g (12 oz.)
Drop ratio: 7 mm
The Horizon is now in its second generation and has found a following as a straightforward neutral trail shoe for grimy conditions. There are two notable features that describe what this shoe does best. First, the upper is made entirely of a two distinct pieces: a polyureathane piece with perforated segments for breathability, and a padded yet structured heel collar. The combination makes for a secure, comfy fit, with a great deal of resistance to the elements. All the structural overlays around the arch are welded to cut down on excess weight and to keep the look clean and minimal. The second defining feature is in the aggressive outsole. It’s very aggressive, using a bilateral grip pattern for digging into sloppy terrain both up and down hills. Coupled with the Charged cushioning – essentially a big foam puck of softer material inserted below the heel for added comfort during hard landings – it’s a nice, trustworthy package for the trails.
Topo Athletic Hydroventure
Women’s 230 g (8.1 oz.) Men’s 255 g (9.7 oz.)
Drop ratio: 3 mm
Topo Athletic calls the Hydroventure the lightest waterproof trail shoe available today. What it calls “eVent” technology, a waterproof material sandwiched between the breathable outer and inner mesh layers on the upper, doesn’t work quite as well as the latest version of Gore-Tex, but it does a decent job keeping your feet dry. The Hydroventure is very much a hybrid of two of Topo’s other shoes, using the same outsole as the MT-2 and other design features of the Runventure. Like these two shoes, the Hydroventure is a competent trail shoe for those who are looking for lots of grip (by way of sizeable 4.5 mm lugs) during foul conditions and a minimal drop. The nicest feature of all is the full heelto-toe rock plate. It’s embedded within the midsole itself, but has flex grooves at the arch and toes to allow for full movement. Coupled with a subtle 4 mm drop, the Hydroventure provides a minimalist experience with maximal protection.
Columbia Montrail Fluidflex FKT II
Women’s 215 g (7.6 oz.) Men’s 270 g (9.5 oz.)
Drop ratio: 4 mm
A few years ago, venerable outdoor brand Columbia picked up Montrail, a respected player on the trail circuit. Together, the Montrail DNA – lighter, flexible shoes focused on the trail – lives on. The Fluidflex FKT II is aptly named (FKT standing for “fastest known time”). It’s a light and responsive ride for faster running on the singletrack. The midsole is regimented into a series of EVA zones that move nicely in unison, even on rooty and rocky terrain. The three flex grooves cut into the mid- and forefoot allowing the foot to react to ground contact naturally, creating a nimble ride. The upper is mostly a layer of breathable mesh, held together with glued-on overlays, finishing off this lightweight and highly flexible package. If you’re looking for a shoe that will respond to aggressive movement, the Fluidflex FKT II is a great option.
Merrell MQM Flex
272 g (9.6 oz.)
Drop ratio: 4 mm
The MQM Flex is a sturdy hybrid: excellent for fast mountain approaches or quick daylong hikes, but also suitable for trail running up and down lots of elevation. The 4.5 mm lugs eat up mud and loose dirt with ease. It’s a firmer, stiffer ride, in order to give stability in a variety of conditions. The MQM Flex is built like a tank, with waterproofing properties to repel water and debris from the upper, as well as a smooth and ample rubber toe guard to keep your feet safe. Our testers felt a level of confidence in the MQM Flex ascending and descending scree and steep dry surfaces, as well as pivoting on mud and even wet rocks. It’s a solid shoe for taking a heavy, prolonged beating in the moutains.
Arc’teryx Norvan LD
Women’s 260 g (9.2 oz.) Men’s: 310 g (10.9 oz.)
Drop ratio: 9 mm
Last year, Canadian outdoor company Arc’teryx released its first trail shoe, the Norvan VT, focused primarily on tricky mountainous ascents. The Norvan LD stands for, you guessed it, “long distance.” It provides a firm, responsive ride quality, but the LD has more midsole foam in order to take the load off for a demanding endurance effort. Arc’teryx is a master at styling, and the Norvan LD looks a little different than the vast majority of trail shoes on the market – it’s refined and minimal, similar to some of the Salomon (its sibling company) designs, but even more pared down. In terms of performance, the Norvan LD is a touch firmer than most shoes touted to be designed for the long haul, but our testers liked how responsive it is, and felt it never developed into feeling “dull,” as can be the case after hours on the trail with a firmer shoe.
Saucony Peregrine 8
The latest version of Saucony’s do-all trail companion gets a total retooling, although some of the tweaks are minor. Saucony added a nice soft topsole of Everun in the previous version, and that remains. But the designers have switched up the EVA underneath with a more premium material called PWRFOAM. It’s more responsive and durable. The other big change with the ride of the Peregrine is that it’s now much more flexible. The rock plate is gone, and toothier 6 mm lugs are put in its place to add traction and protection. Flex grooves are also added to make the Peregrine 8 a much more dynamic running experience. The upper also gets a similarly thorough yet non-invasive reworking. Now, Flexfilm overlays add an overall better fit. After all this tweaking, the Peregrine 8 is a touch heavier than the previous version, but it’s also a better, more widely appealing shoe.
Salomon Sense Ride
Women’s 250 g (8.8 oz.) Men’s 275 g (9.7 oz.)
Drop ratio: 8 mm
The Sense Ride is one of the true staples of trail running. It’s a neutral, everyday trainer for moderate-to-challenging conditions, and can be used for a variety of distances, including ultras. The most distinctive aspect of Salomon’s trail shoe roster is right up top, with their patented Quicklace design. It’s a brilliant way to get that perfect fit, and the lace garage built into the tongue keeps the laces from getting caught on a branch mid-run. The Sense Ride uses Salomon’s Vibe cushioning midsole for a solid amount of support. It also employs a material called Opal in the midsole, which disperses shock evenly. The Contragrip outsole finishes off this exceptionally capable trail shoe with a sticky rubber component that has no trouble on rocks or cutting through slick mud. The Sense Ride has earned its position as one of the most reliable neutral stalwarts on the scene.
Altra Superior 3.5
Women’s 232 g (8.2 oz.) Men’s 292 g (10.3 oz.)
Drop ratio: 0 mm
The Superior 3.5 is a fairly low-stack height shoe, more akin to the minimalist shoes that were all the rage a few years back. That said, there is enough midsole cushioning that your feet won’t feel too worn out after a sizeable trail run. The primary improvement from version 3.0 is to the upper, which is now much more durable. The Superior also has other nice little trail touches, such as a tab to hold down gaiters and a removable rock plate. The Superior handles loose terrain quite well, and is a well-rounded shoe for hitting some loose, dry singletrack. The super-wide toe box is Altra’s signature, and the Superior provides all kinds of room to splay your toes out. Of course, this, like all other Altra shoes, is zero drop, meaning the forefoot and the heel are resting at the same level above the ground. It’s a very specific style of shoe that has a strong cult following. If you enjoy putting your feet to work a bit when you run, the Superior 3.4 is a solid update by Altra.
Inov-8 Trailtalon 290
290 g (10.1 oz.)
Drop ratio: 8 mm
Inov-8 have developed a reputation in the trail community for being one of the most trustworthy and discipline-focused shoe brands on the market. Think of the Trailtalon 290 as their Swiss Army Knife model. It’s very good in a variety of circumstances. It excels at being an everyday trainer for the trails, with a comfy yet slighting firm Powerflow midsole and midsized lugging underfoot. The Trailtalon 290 is ideal for crushing mega miles because of its fantastic fit that starts with its great upper design. The highly effective lacing system plays into a cage, which hugs the top of the foot in place, making for a great fit and feel. Other added touches, such as the rubber toe protector to ward off loose rocks and debris guard built into to the tongue make the Trailtalon 290 a no-brainer for everyday trail running.