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9 best shoes for hitting the trails this spring

These shoes will help you navigate uneven terrain with ease and speed

With the weather starting to warm up and the leaves beginning to return to the trees, now is the time of year when many of us are thinking about getting back onto our favourite trails. Trail running shoes offer more traction and stability when you’re navigating rugged terrain, helping to prevent slips and falls on the trails. If you’re planning on spending a lot of your miles out in nature this season, a good pair of trail shoes is a must. Check out our top picks for the best trail shoes on the market this spring, and find even more reviews in the 2021 Canadian Running Trail Special, which is still available on newsstands.

RELATED: 5 reasons it’s time to give trail running a try

Photo: Matt Stetson

Saucony Peregrine 11

Men’s: 310 g (10.9 oz.)
Women’s: 270 g (9.5 oz.)
Stack height: 27 mm
Lug height: 5 mm
Drop: 4 mm
Price: $150 

The best thing about the new Peregrine may be how it handles terrain: the 5 mm rubber lugs in the PWRTRAC outsole kept our tester steady and secure in wet, dry and icy conditions, and the shoe has a rock plate, which adds to the feeling of security it delivers. (And the shoe is remarkably light, considering.) The fit is true to size, and the shoe is comfortable from the get-go – no breaking-in period required. The low drop makes it best for well-trained, competitive runners, and those who want to move swiftly on the trails will be impressed with the energy return from the PWRRUN midsole. The mesh upper hugs the foot, adding to the overall comfort, and stands up well to debris. We also love the Future/Black colourway, which is bright and colourful without being too much.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Salomon Sense Ride 4 

Men’s: 290 g (10.2 oz.)
Women’s: 235 g (8.3 oz.)
Stack height: 26 mm
Lug height: 3 mm
Drop: 8 mm
Price: $150 

The new Sense Ride is an excellent all-purpose trail shoe. This latest update retains the brand’s Optivibe midsole cushioning material shared with its road-shoe lineup. Enhancements to the upper include a redesign of the padding in the heel collar, to enhance comfort and for added security in the heel, plus the look is sleeker overall and the upper is more durable than in the past. The Sense Ride 4 retains the excellent traction the shoe is known for, thanks to the Contagrip outsole’s multidirectional lugs. As of last winter, Salomon has committed to finding more environmentally-friendly alternatives to PFCs (per fluorinated chemicals), which are commonly used in the process of making shoe membranes waterproof, in all of its footwear. (A Gore-Tex version of the shoe is also available at $180.)

Photo: Matt Stetson

ASICS Gel-Fujitrabuco 8 G-TX 

Men’s: 375 g (13.2 oz.)
Women’s: 305 g (10.8 oz.)
Stack height: 20 mm
Lug height: 4 mm
Drop: 8 mm
Price: $180.00 

This all-weather trail shoe is particularly suitable for cooler conditions, thanks to the Gore-Tex lining, which keeps your feet warm as well as dry. The outsole’s substantial, 5 mm lugs offer impressive traction in any and all conditions from rooty/rocky to muddy, wet or icy. 

Other features of this shoe include Asics’ patented, shock-absorbing Gel-Technology in the heel for added cushioning, a protective rock plate embedded in the outsole, a well padded collar and tongue, a lace pocket in the tongue and abrasion-resistant overlays on the upper for durability. The DUOMAX and FLYTEFOAM midsole provides ample cushioning and decent responsiveness on the trails, and the shoe’s distinct toe rocker help propel you smoothly through transitions. A good choice for an all-purpose, all-weather trail shoe, if a little on the heavy side for faster trail running.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2

Men’s: 170 g (6 oz.)
Women’s: 145 g (5.2 oz.)
Stack height: 19 mm
Lug height: 3 mm
Drop: 7 mm
Price: $180 

The original vision for the Norvan SL was as a shoe for running between climbs, so it had to be extremely light, flexible and packable or clippable – which is why the Norvan SL 2 looks like a road shoe. But whether you’re climbing or not, it’s perfect for any type of trail runs of a modest distance. The first version was pretty light, but the 2 is as light as air. The upper is breathable, highly durable and water-repellent TPU mesh, and the heel collar is wrapped in a new suede-like material for reduced friction and to keep debris out. The forefoot is even more flexible than before (which may not seem to suggest speed, but certainly promotes comfort through transitions) for a natural, minimalist and unencumbered running experience. The brand has also made the EVA midsole more durable. At a modest 19 mm at the heel, this is a shoe for the runner who likes to feel the ground under their feet. The Vibram Litebase tech in the outsole is 30 per cent lighter than before, but the Megagrip outsole still offers decent traction. The slit on the inside of the heel collar allows it to be clipped to a harness or pack, saving the few extra grams that would be added by a more obvious webbing loop.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Brooks Caldera 5

Men’s: 301 g (10.6 oz.)
Women’s: 266 g (9.4 oz.)
Stack height: 27 mm
Lug height: 4 mm
Drop: 4 mm
Price: $160 

The latest iteration of the Caldera has a chunky midsole made of Brooks’s BioMoGo DNA cushioning material, and low drop (both reminiscent of the Hoka Speedgoat) for a smooth, comfortable ride on the trails. The deeply grooved outsole and substantial L-shaped lugs give a surefooted grip on all types of terrain and in all conditions. The shoe doesn’t have a rock plate (but it’s hard to imagine anything getting through that thick midsole stack). The upper has been modified with “ghillies” (inspired by Irish dance shoes) for a more locked-in fit. A great choice for an all-purpose trail runner.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Tecnica Magma S GTX (low-rise)

Men’s: 310 g (10.9 oz.)
Women’s: 270 g (9.5 oz.)
Stack height: 25 mm
Lug height: 5 mm
Drop: 8 mm
Price: $190 

The Magma, designed for fast mountain running, comes in low- or mid-rise options, and a non-Gore-Tex version of the low-rise shoe is available. The Magma shines on descents through shifting, unstable terrain such as shale rock or scree, thanks to the stabilizing rubber fins on each side of the back of the shoe. On flatter terrain, the midsole toe rocker makes for fast transitions. The pre-molded EVA footbed, together with the TPU-laminated upper, is designed for step-in comfort and a customized fit. The upper is flexible and breathable, but durable, and sheds water. The outsole, made of Vibram’s Megagrip rubber and inspired by mountain bike tires, provides excellent traction and durability, wrapping protectively around the upper at strategic points. There’s a rock plate embedded in the forefoot. The shoe is remarkably light, considering the heavy-duty outsole and built-in rock plate. It also comes in a mid-rise height and in a low-rise, non-Gore-Tex version.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Merrell Moab Flight

Men’s: 270 g (9.5 oz.)
Women’s: 230 g (8.5 oz.)
Stack height: 29 mm
Lug height: 3 mm
Drop: 10 mm
Price: $150 

Merrell is a pioneer in the trail space, and the Moab Flight is just the latest in a long line of superior footwear. The Moab Flight an excellent trail running shoe in terms of cushioning and protection: the generous FloatPro foam midsole provides a well-cushioned ride, and the shoe is comfortably light, and you’re sure to find a comfortable fit thanks to the shoe’s breathable mesh lining and removable PU foam insole. And that years-long record of reliability by the brand is what makes this shoe great for racing in the mountains. But it’s also a good choice for runners who are concerned about the environment. The upper is made of 70 per cent recycled mesh, the laces are 100 per cent recycled, and the Vibram EcoDura outsole (which provides excellent traction on any type of terrain) is 30 per cent recycled rubber. Also, no animal products or by-products are used in the construction of this vegan-friendly shoe.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Inov-8 TerraUltra G270

Men’s: 273 g (9.6 oz.)
Women’s: 231 g (8.1 oz.)
Stack height: 17.5 mm
Lug height: 4 mm
Drop: 0 mm
Price: $210

The TerraUltra G270 follows from the G260 with Graphene-Grip introduced for running on hard-packed trails in 2018. Inov-8 pioneered the use of graphene in its outsoles, which is purported to be 50 per cent more durable but softer and more elastic than the rubber found on competing models. The enhancements in this update are several: the new Powerflow Max midsole is significantly thicker than before, giving the shoe enough cushioning, energy return and durability to satisfy the most ambitious trail runner. The toebox has also been made bigger to allow for the swelling that typically happens after a few hours on the trails. The upper has been made lighter and more durable, and there are more flex grooves in the lugged graphene outsole, which should improve maneuverability on rocky terrain. 

Like the Altra Lone Peak 5, this is a zero-drop shoe, meaning there is no extra cushioning under the heel, which is at the same height as the toe, and which the brand claims “promotes the best natural form for the athlete, with the largest range of motion in the ankle joint.” (Runners not accustomed to wearing a zero-drop shoe should ease into them gradually to avoid overly stressing their Achilles tendons.)

Photo: Matt Stetson

The North Face Flight Vectiv 

Men’s: 285 g (10 oz.)
Women’s: 244 g (8.6 oz.)
Stack height: 25 mm
Lug height: 3.5 mm
Drop: 6 mm
Price: $270

With the Flight Vectiv, TNF has jumped aboard the carbon-fibre-plate train, creating a performance trail-running shoe designed for fast and efficient running and racing on reasonably predictable (i.e. firm) terrain. A Jan. 26 story in Wired reported that the brand developed the shoe with input from U.S. elites like Dylan Bowman, Kaytlyn Gerbin and Coree Woltering, and that 14 TNF athletes have set FKTs wearing prototypes of the Flight Vectiv. The shoe is light, and the stiffness of the plate is offset by the pronounced rocker that runs the length of the sole, so transitions are smooth and feel natural, and, after all, why shouldn’t trail runners benefit from the kind of energy return available to road runners? The upper is a thickly knit but highly breathable Kevlar blend, and the integrated tongue and molded heel cup ensure a snug lockdown.

RELATED: 6 key differences between road and trail running