Running on varied and challenging trails is a welcome break from the monotony of pounding pavement (or even worse, the belt of a treadmill). Better yet, trail running is an immensely easy sport to get into and requires only minimal gear. Below are our top trail runners of 2023, which cover everything from flexible and lightweight shoes for smooth trails to tough and stable designs for tackling technical or mountainous terrain. For more information, check out our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Trail Running Shoe Picks
- Best Overall Trail Running Shoe: Salomon Sense Ride 5
- Best Max-Cushioned Trail Running Shoe: Hoka Speedgoat 5
- Best Trail Runner for Wide and/or Finicky Feet: Altra Lone Peak 7
- Best Running Shoe for Mud and Soft Terrain: Salomon Speedcross 6
- Best Mountain Running Shoe: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II
- Best Light and Responsive Trail Runner: Brooks Catamount 2
Best Overall Trail Running Shoe
1. Salomon Sense Ride 5 ($140)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.2 oz.
What we like: A versatile shoe for everything from daily training to mountain running.
What we don’t: Not a top performer in any one category.
For a trail runner that can do it all, we love the Salomon Sense Ride 5. This shoe is equally at home on quick door-to-trail runs as it is during ultra-distance pursuits, and can even handle technical cross-country terrain with ease. The all-around performance isn’t surprising given the Salomon’s versatile design, which features a moderate amount of cushioning (29.6mm in the heel), generously sized toe box, fairly standard 8-millimeter drop, and full Contragrip rubber outsole. We’ve put over 700 miles on various iterations of the Sense Ride, and the “5”—which features a softer midsole and more durable outsole compared to the outgoing model—is a consistently comfortable and high performance shoe for a wide variety of terrain.
But while the Sense Ride 5 is good at everything, it’s not necessarily a top performer in any specific category. Held up against specialists like the Speedcross and Ultra Raptor II below, you give up a bit of grip and ground feel for challenging terrain, and the Sense Ride is not as soft and lightweight as a max-cushioned shoe like the Speedgoat. Further, runners focused on speed will want a more precise and responsive runner like the Catamount or Zinal below. But for a versatile trainer and adventure shoe that can handle most trails with aplomb, the Sense Ride 5 is one of the most well-rounded designs we’ve tried. And in an era when many trail runners are creeping close to $200, it’s also a solid value at $140.
See the Men's Salomon Sense Ride 5 See the Women's Salomon Sense Ride 5
Best Max-Cushioned Trail Running Shoe
2. Hoka Speedgoat 5 ($155)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
What we like: Standout comfort and traction in a lightweight package.
What we don’t: Thick midsole minimizes trail feel in technical sections.
Hoka has built their reputation around plush, heavily cushioned running shoes, and the freshly updated Speedgoat 5 is a nice upgrade to the popular design. With a thick midsole (33mm at the heel), the shoe offers maximum long-distance comfort and underfoot protection, absorbing a nice amount of impact with each stride. But there’s a lot more to love about the design: In our opinion, the Speedgoat hits a near-ideal balance of comfort, weight, protection, and responsiveness whether you’re running short or far, fast or slow. The aggressive outsole is light but sticky with substantial lugs (improved in the most recent version), blown rubber, and a Vibram Megagrip compound that holds well on everything from dry dirt and mud to steep rock. Tack on a medium-width toe box that fits a broad range of foot shapes, and it’s no secret why Speedgoat is one of the most well-loved running shoes of 2023.
The fifth version of the Speedgoat is a pretty serious overhaul from the previous model, but the new shoe retains all the performance characteristics we love. The biggest changes were to the upper, which features stretchy engineered mesh without the overlays of the outgoing 4, translating to a closer fit with slightly less weight and bulk. The midsole is also a bit softer and lighter, which is good news for most runners. But while the Speedgoat has converted many skeptics to the max-cushioned world, it’s not for everyone: The tall stack height lacks the precision of a low-slung build like Hoka’s Zinal (below), and those taking on shorter distances at speed will likely want a less cushioned, more responsive design. But for a surprisingly good all-rounder that offers exceptional comfort for ultra distances, the Hoka is a top performer. We’re also huge fans of their Mafate Speed 4, which features a narrower base, Hoka’s dual-density PROFLY+ foam, and gripper, trail-biting lugs.
See the Men's Hoka Speedgoat 5 See the Women's Hoka Speedgoat 5
Best Trail Runner for Wide and/or Finicky Feet
3. Altra Lone Peak 7 ($150)
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
What we like: A very comfortable shoe that allows the foot to lie in its natural position.
What we don’t: Sluggish, slipper-like feel; too roomy for some.
If you’re among the myriad trail runners who suffer from the pressure points, hot spots, and blisters resulting from ill-fitting shoes, this one’s for you. Popularized by the barefoot running movement, Altra’s zero-drop Lone Peak is arguably the most ergonomic and comfortable trail runner on the market. With a flat footbed and extra roomy toe box, the Lone Peak allows the foot to stay in its naturally prone and splayed position, which is great news for wide-footed runners or those with particularly finicky feet. We’ve recommended this shoe to dozens of friends and acquaintances who’ve struck out with more traditional shoes (including wide versions of models like the Hoka Speedgoat), and have yet to lead anyone astray.
The new Lone Peak 7 features a fairly sizable revamp, with a seamless upper and wrap-around plastic at the heel for added stability. The result is a more locked-in, planted feel, which many users will welcome—previous versions of the Lone Peak have been critiqued for being too roomy and squirrely, especially on off-camber terrain. True to its trail-worthy intentions, the Lone Peak also features a rock plate and gaiter attachments (Altra notably removed the drain ports on the 7, but the engineered mesh upper should do the trick). But all praise aside, it is important to keep in mind that the zero-drop design is not for everyone, and those accustomed to a more typical trail runner might find the Lone Peak rather sluggish, under-cushioned (you get just 25mm in the midsole), and lacking in arch support. Finally, we haven't had great luck with the Lone Peak's durability, although the 7’s seamless upper and burly toe cap should address many of the previous versions’ delamination issues.
See the Men's Altra Lone Peak 7 See the Women's Altra Lone Peak 7
Best Running Shoe for Mud and Soft Terrain
4. Salomon Speedcross 6 ($140)
Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
What we like: Truly excellent traction on soft ground.
What we don’t: Not versatile for easy trails or most mountain running.
The Speedgoat above is a nicely cushioned go-to for well-established trail networks, but it suffers on particularly soft terrain like mud and snow. In these conditions, you’ll want a full rubber outsole (the Speedgoat uses a combination of rubber and foam) with relatively long and widely spaced lugs that bite into the ground with each step. Salomon’s trail-eating Speedcross 6 sets the standard for this category, combining massive 5-millimeter arrow-shaped lugs and a supportive and snug-fitting upper for impressive control at speed. Tack on a thick midsole, single-pull lace system, and sturdy yet still reasonably light chassis, and you get one of the most capable trail designs, whether your run takes you over snow, sand, or wet leaves and thick mud.
The Speedcross was recently updated to the 6, and the latest version features a lightly revamped upper and outsole at slightly lower weight. In our opinion, the newest design is the most well rounded yet: You don’t get that tippy feeling we’ve found with previous versions, and the shoe even holds its own on short stretches of pavement during our door-to-trail runs. That said, the Speedcross is by no means a generalist, and most runners will find its tooth-like lugs and aggressive build to be overkill on easy trails and gravel roads. But for wet and rugged forest paths, the Speedcross 6 is incredibly purpose-built—even down to details like the anti-debris mesh upper and gusseted tongue.
See the Men's Salomon Speedcross 6 See the Women's Salomon Speedcross 6
Best Mountain Running Shoe
5. La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II ($165)
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
What we like: A highly protective and supportive shoe with great traction on rock.
What we don’t: Too stiff and heavy to serve as a dedicated trail runner.
Mountain running can mean different things to different people, so let’s first clarify our definition: We’re referencing speedy travel on off-trail terrain, such as scrambling 14ers in Colorado, traversing glaciers in the PNW, or ridge-running in the Wasatch. For this style of “running,” you’ll want a robust shoe that prioritizes solid traction, features wraparound protection, and is decently firm and supportive for confidence on technical terrain. Racking up high points in all of these metrics is the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II, one of the longest-standing models in the brand’s mountain running lineup. Key highlights include incredibly sticky FriXion XF 2.0 rubber (aka FriXion White), a full-length rock guard and generous toe and heel bumpers, and a snug-fitting, sock-like upper that promotes a close, locked-in feel.
The Ultra Raptor is the first shoe we’d reach for when scrambling California’s Evolution Traverse or “running” the Grand Teton, but it’s too heavy and clunky to serve as a dedicated trail runner. In fact, one of our testers developed an achilles issue after logging too many training miles in the Ultra Raptor last spring. If your version of mountain running includes more singletrack than cross-country terrain, you’ll likely want a lighter and more flexible shoe like the Sense Ride 5 above or Scarpa’s Ribelle Run (a personal favorite of ours). And for shorter efforts like technical VK races or mountain FKTs, La Sportiva’s streamlined Cyklon (which features the same FriXion XF rubber) is a much better option. But for fast-and-light missions on terrain that might otherwise require an approach shoe or lightweight mountain boot, the Ultra Raptor II is hard to beat.
See the Men's La Sportiva Ultra Raptor See the Women's La Sportiva Ultra Raptor
Best Light and Responsive Trail Runner
6. Brooks Catamount 2 ($170)
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz.
What we like: A lightweight shoe that can tackle both easy and technical trails at speed.
What we don't: Most ultra-distance runners will want a bit more cushion.
Brooks is most known in the trail running world for their Cascadia (below), a beloved shoe among both runners and thru-hikers that is now in its 16th generation. But the modern Catamount 2 here offers a whole different take on a trail runner, with a nimble design built to take on moderate distances at speed. Imported from Brooks’ Hyperion Tempo road shoe, the carbon-like DNA Flash midsole is lightweight and responsive, offering a snappy underfoot feel ideal for pushing the pace and precision on tricky sections of trail. And the “2” adds an all-new SkyVault propulsion plate, which both protects your feet from rocks and boosts efficiency on the uphill. Whether you’re cruising gravel roads or going to battle on technical terrain, the Catamount is one speedy shoe to have on your team.
The “2” is a significant improvement over the first-gen Catamount, featuring a more flexible and energetic feel, better fit via the new engineered mesh upper and soft liner, and revamped lug pattern for increased traction in soft terrain. It all adds up to one of our favorite shoes of the year for distances of about 50K or less (you could push the Catamount 2 on longer runs, but most runners will want a plusher feel for ultras). In terms of the competition, the Brooks is a versatile middle ground between speed-oriented shoes like the Hoka Zinal and Saucony Peregrine 12: You get a more substantial outsole than the former (better performance on technical trails), but a zippier, more agile feel than the latter (increased speed on runnable terrain). For a high-performance race-day-oriented shoe that can do it all, look no further than the Brooks Catamount 2.
See the Men's Brooks Catamount 2 See the Women's Brooks Catamount 2
Best of the Rest
7. Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 ($145)
Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
What we like: Quite simply, we love wearing this shoe.
What we don't: Some might find the toe box to be a touch wide.
Topo Athletic might not be a household name like Salomon or La Sportiva, but their lineup of trail and road running shoes speaks for itself (not to mention, they’re founded by the former CEO of Vibram). The MTN Racer 2 is a standout trail-specific model in their quiver: like the Lone Peak above, it features a wide toe box and locked-in waist and heel, lending all-day comfort for swollen and hard-working feet. But the MTN Racer tacks on some technical chops, with a 5-millimeter drop (compared to the Altra’s 0mm), slightly firmer cushioning, a sticky Vibram Megagrip sole (a blend often used in climbing approach shoes), and a small decrease in weight. Overall, it’s a really easy shoe to get along with—we recommend the MTN Racer to friends more than any other model here, and have yet to know anyone who’s been less than thrilled.
Compared to the first iteration, the MTN Racer 2 features a more breathable upper, revamped heel, and a refined fit (we had to go a half size up with the first iteration but dropped down to our normal size with the “2”). We think it’s a great update to an already excellent shoe, and with a solid build the MTN Racer should last you upwards of 500 miles. Where it does fall short is on truly off-camber terrain—mountain runners will want to opt for a stiffer and protective ride like the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II below. But for those who stick to the trail (even fairly technical trails), the MTN Racer is a trustworthy and capable companion. For a max-cushioned daily driver from Topo Athletic, check out their popular Ultraventure 3.
See the Men's Topo MTN Racer 2 See the Women's Topo MTN Racer 2
8. Hoka Zinal ($160)
Weight: 1 lb. 1 oz.
What we like: A Hoka shoe for Hoka skeptics; lightweight and fast.
What we don’t: Poor traction on rock.
Running-shoe giant Hoka has built a name around their max-cushioned designs (as seen in the Speedgoat above), but the Zinal bucks this trend with a lower profile that provides ample ground feel. The result is a Hoka that’s responsive and fast, making it great for race day and tempo workouts alike. But it’s not all speed—with durable cushioning, highly breathable mesh, and a fit that leaves nothing to be desired, the Zinal is incredibly fun to wear, too. We’ve put over 400 miles into our pair of Zinals while training for (and racing) a 50K, and have been impressed with their nimble, speedy, and supportive feel on a variety of terrain.
In a world flush with rock guards, carbon plates, and maximum cushion, the Zinal’s minimalist weight and close-to-the-ground feel is a breath of fresh air. Much of this weight-savings is achieved through streamlining the outsole, which contains a hefty dose of blown rubber alongside patches of Megagrip Litebase on the heel and forefoot. We’ve found this combination to provide ample traction for most hardpacked trail and gravel roads, but the Zinal definitely struggles on boulders and steep slab. The sole nevertheless does an admirable job isolating the foot from sharp roots and rocks, and it’s really all most trail runners need. All told, for a speedy shoe that can tackle anything from a 5K to a 50K (and all your training in between), the Zinal is one of our favorite models—ever.
See the Men's Hoka Zinal See the Women's Hoka Zinal
9. The North Face Vectiv Enduris III ($149)
Weight: 1 lb. 5.7 oz.
What we like: An affordable and comfortable daily training shoe.
What we don’t: Not particularly fast, especially compared to the more high-end Vectiv offerings.
The North Face hasn’t always been much of a player in trail running, but that all changed with the release of their Vectiv lineup. Freshly revamped for 2023, the Vectiv collection now includes a gaggle of hiking and trail running offerings with a signature rockered sole and moderate-to-maximum midsole cushioning. The Enduris III here is the daily trainer, providing runners a plush underfoot feel (you get 31mm of cushion in the heel) and responsive ride that’s forgiving enough to go all day. Tack on an airy mesh upper, full rubber outsole, accommodating fit, and increased stability via the new Vectiv 2.0 midsole, and the updated Enduris is one of our favorite all-rounder trail shoes this year.
We don’t blame you if the top-shelf Vectiv Pro or Sky grab your attention over the Enduris, with flashy selling points like carbon-fiber plates, sky-high price tags, and a number of notable podiums to their names. For experienced runners, these are great race-day shoes that offer an excellent combination of speed and stability. But the affordable Enduris is the indisputable daily driver, with a much more forgiving feel and fit for most feet. What’s more, you can even push it off-trail thanks to the tacky SurfaceCTRL rubber—the Enduris was the only shoe that fit our swollen feet during the latter half of the North Cascades High Route, and it got the job done on snowy, rocky, and loose terrain. All told, for a more cushioned alternative to an everyday shoe like the Sense Ride 5, the Enduris III is well-deserving of a closer look.
See the Men's TNF Vectiv Enduris III See the Women's TNF Vectiv Enduris III
10. Saucony Peregrine 12 ($130)
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz.
What we like: A lightweight and speedy shoe that still offers significant performance on difficult trails.
What we don’t: Overbuilt for easy trails; some might want plusher cushioning.
Saucony’s Peregrine has been an all-around favorite of ours over multiple generations, excelling in most of the categories that matter: traction, fit, protection, and weight. We love the Peregrine’s signature trail-eating, teeth-like tread that grips anything from wet rocks to hardpack dirt, along with the added underfoot protection of the forefoot rockplate. Moving up the shoe, the well-balanced PWRUN midsole is stable yet responsive on off-camber terrain, with enough cushioning to keep you comfortable for a few hours on the trail. To top it off, the Saucony has a sock-like liner, easy-to-secure lacing system, and checks in at a surprisingly low weight. If you’re drawn to speedy, race-oriented shoes like the Catamount 2 or Zinal above but want more bite and protection for technical terrain, put the Peregrine at the top of your list.
But with only a modest level of cushioning and a fairly firm midsole, you do give up some comfort on hard surfaces or during long efforts on the trail. If you log high-mileage days or run on the road from time to time, we’d opt for a plusher shoe like the Hoka Speedgoat above. On the other hand, the aforementioned Catamount and Zinal will offer more speed for those who stick to gravel roads and easy singletrack. Notably, Saucony also released the Peregrine 13 this year: With 1.5 millimeters of additional cushioning and a lighter build, the 13 is the more well-rounded and versatile Peregrine for easy-to-technical terrain. But the 12 remains a standout shoe for difficult trails, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s now available at a significant discount.
See the Men's Saucony Peregrine 12 See the Women's Saucony Peregrine 12
11. NNormal Tomir ($165)
Weight: 1 lb. 2.4 oz.
What we like: Designed by Killian Jornet—need we say more?
What we don’t: For NNormal’s high-performance offering, look instead to the Kjerag.
If you haven’t yet heard of NNormal, let us introduce you. The trail-focused company was founded in the fall of 2022 as a joint venture between Camper (a family-run shoe-making business based in Mallorca, Spain) and one of the greatest mountain athletes of all time, Killian Jornet. At the time of publishing, NNormal offers a small lineup of shoes and apparel, all designed with a focus on longevity and sustainability. Killain himself raced in NNormal prototypes for the 2022 race season, allegedly wearing the same shoe for his wins at both Hardrock and UTMB. If that’s not a glowing endorsement for performance and durability, we don’t know what is.
The Tomir here is NNormal’s flagship all-rounder, marketed for everything from easy trails to speed workouts and peak bagging (for a more performance-oriented option, check out the Kjerag). A few key design features help the Tomir live a long life: The upper is stitched into the midsole, asymmetrical lacing reduces pressure and wear points, and the Vibram Megagrip Lightbase sole has a strong track record of durability. And to streamline the design process, the unisex fit is accommodating to most foot sizes without stepping into truly wide toe box terrain (referencing players like Altra and Topo Athletic). We haven’t yet tested the Tomir—that’s about to change—but all signs point to it being an excellent daily driver from one of the most intriguing new collabs in trail running.
See the NNormal Tomir
12. Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra ($160)
Weight: 1 lb. 1.2 oz.
What we like: Incredibly versatile for such a lightweight shoe.
What we don’t: Thin materials give up some durability; some runners will want more cushioning.
For Adidas, gone are the days of slapping a rubber outsole on a road running shoe and deeming it ready for the trail: Their Terrex lineup is now home to a number of high-performance offerings developed specifically for off-road terrain. We quizzed our friend Corrine Malcom—host of the Trail Society podcast and member of the Adidas Terrex team—about her favorite Terrex shoe, and her answer was convincing: “I definitely run 90% of my miles in the Speed Ultra!” Designed with input from pro runner Tom Evans, the Speed Ultra is Adidas’ lightweight, fast, and responsive shoe that’s most at home on gravel roads, easy trails, and the odd section of pavement.
The Speed Ultra bucks the rockered, max-cushioned trend with a relatively streamlined midsole (26mm at the heel) and decently flat outsole. Its upper is similarly minimalist, including a thin tongue, sleek engineered mesh, and very little structure in the heel. As a result, durability certainly isn’t the Speed Ultra’s greatest strength. But despite its race-flat appearance and weight, the Terrex has a lot to offer most trail runners: The fit is snug and secure, the Continental rubber sole offers great grip on a variety of terrain, and Adidas really nailed the midsole with a combination of responsive Boost and feather-light LightStrike foams. For experienced runners who love a close-to-the-ground feel—and for everything from speed workouts to ultra-distance racing—the Speed Ultra is an excellent shoe to add to your quiver.
See the Men's Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra See the Women's Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra
13. Scarpa Golden Gate ATR ($159)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.4 oz.
What we like: A road-to-trail shoe that doesn’t compromise on trail performance.
What we don’t: Not everyone will love the firm cushioning.
Unless you’re one of the chosen few who lives just steps away from singletrack, a road-to-trail shoe can be a great pairing for training runs that start out your front door. With all-terrain (ATR) in its name, Scarpa’s relatively new Golden Gate ATR is our current go-to when our route involves a mix of pavement, gravel, and trail. We love this shoe’s attention to detail, which includes a snug, sock-like liner, sleek padding at the ankle, and a breathable yet thoughtfully reinforced upper. And in terms of cushioning, the Golden Gate ATR is Scarpa’s plushest design yet, with a thick, dual-density midsole that’s softer at the heel (ideal for impact absorption) and firmer at the front for great spring and propulsion.
We’ve tested the Golden Gate ATR on everything from 6-mile pavement loops to longer on-trail jaunts and appreciate the shoe’s high-end fit, stable feel, and subtle rocker. But while the Scarpa is designed as a road-to-trail shoe, we certainly favor it for the latter: Its cushioning is surprisingly firm (much more so than the Speedgoat above, for example), and the outsole’s 4-millimeter lugs and sticky rubber are most at home on mud, dirt, rock, and snow. Of course, it’s hard to find the best of both worlds—those who prefer a plusher road feel might opt for the Nike React Pegasus Trail below, but you’ll give up performance on the trail. For us, the Golden Gate ATR is a fairly ideal compromise, and we expect the quality construction to hold up well over time.
See the Men's Scarpa Golden Gate ATR See the Women's Scarpa Golden Gate ATR
14. Brooks Cascadia 16 ($130)
Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
What we like: A big update gives an old classic a lighter and livelier feel.
What we don't: Still stiffer and heavier than most shoes here.
Now in its 16th iteration, the Brooks Cascadia is one of the longest standing trail runners on the market, and for good reason. This is a shoe that can do it all, with the traction and protection you need for rugged trails alongside a hefty dose of cushioning for long days out. Add to that an emphasis on stability, and the Cascadia is an easy-wearing shoe and deservingly popular with a wide audience, from ultrarunners and daily joggers to mile-crunching thru-hikers. It’s true that recent iterations had started to feel really dated (read: heavy and slow compared to the more modern competition), but the updates to the “16” are significant and give it a brand new lease on life.
Perhaps the biggest improvement to the Cascadia 16 is its lighter and sprightlier build, thanks to a couple millimeters of extra (and softer) cushioning, a flexible rock plate, and an updated outsole. The result is a workhorse shoe that will put a bounce in your step, which is never a bad combination. Of course, the Cascadia still can’t match the speed or light weight of some of the top models here, and despite the updated cushion it’s still stiffer than most. But for a trail shoe that will provide reliable stability and protection mile after mile—and double as a wonderful hiking design—Brooks’ Cascadia is back on our radar as one of the best all-rounders in the game.
See the Men's Brooks Cascadia 16 See the Women's Brooks Cascadia 16
15. Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 ($140)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
What we like: A comfortable and responsive road-to-trail shoe.
What we don’t: Unstable on technical terrain and poor traction on wet surfaces.
Nike puts most of their efforts into road running gear, but their React Pegasus Trail 4 is a quality, max-cushioned option for trail work. Modeled after the road-specific Pegasus but infused with trail features (including a mostly rubber tread and reinforcements in the upper), this is one of the best road-to-trail shoes in the business. The main event here is the large dose of Nike’s soft yet responsive React midsole, which offers great energy return as well as long-distance comfort. You don’t get that low-slung feel that many runners love for particularly technical trails, but the Pegasus Trail 4 offers a great fit for most (with a roomier toe box than most Nike models), and the recently updated version is a lot lighter than its max-cushioned frame would suggest.
Looking at Nike’s trail lineup, the Pegasus Trail is the clear all-rounder, sliding in next to the durable Wildhorse and light and speedy Terra Kiger. Among the trio, the Pegasus Trail gets the edge in terms of comfort and high-mileage use, but it’s not particularly performance-oriented. The shoe’s max cushioning will feel unstable on rugged trails, and traction—although improved in the latest version—is among the worst here, especially on wet surfaces. But for max-cushioned comfort and undeniable style, Nike’s Pegasus Trail 4 is a great option for recreational trail runners, long-distance training, and road-to-trail routes.
See the Men's Nike Pegasus Trail 4 See the Women's Nike Pegasus Trail 4
16. La Sportiva Jackal II ($165)
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz.
What we like: Comfortable and cushioned yet still very capable in technical terrain.
What we don’t: Sizing is tricky; short lugs aren’t great on soft ground.
La Sportiva’s mountain running shoes are known for being fairly narrow and firm, but they’ve expanded their offerings with the Jackal. Like the Salomon Sense Ride above, the Jackal is a solid all-rounder, combining ultra-distance levels of cushioning and a roomy toe box with mountain-ready features like a rock plate and sticky Vibram FriXion rubber. It all adds up to a really comfortable yet high-performance shoe for everything from packed dirt and gravel to cross-country terrain. Finally, we’ve been really impressed with the Jackal’s durability—it held up remarkably well during a season of trail running in Kauai, despite frequent run-ins with sharp rocks and plants, wet conditions, and over 200 trail miles.
The Jackal was updated this year, dropping almost 2 ounces (for the pair) with a lightweight mesh upper and softer heel. We’re glad to see that Sportiva did away with the rigid heel, but the II unfortunately fails to achieve the same locked-in feel of the first-gen version (we have to tie a “racer’s lock” at the collar to keep it from splaying outwards). And with the relatively short 3.5-millimeter lugs, traction is a mixed-bag: The Jackal isn’t ideal on soft mud and snow, but offers best-in-class grip on rocky terrain. All told, for mountain runners who tackle ultra distances on cross-country routes, the Sportiva is an ideal mix of cushion and performance. Finally, it’s worth noting that the shoe runs small—we like to bump up a half size.
See the Men's La Sportiva Jackal II See the Women's La Sportiva Jackal II
17. Brooks Divide 3 ($100)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.2 oz.
What we like: Affordable shoe that can hold its own on dirt and rock.
What we don’t: Not intended for technical trails.
If you plan to stick mostly to smooth trails or want to mix in some road miles, the Brooks Divide 3 makes a lot of sense. Designed for runners transitioning from pavement to dirt, the Divide pulls features from both styles of footwear. Road runners will be familiar with the airy mesh upper, which lends a good dose of breathability and comfort and doesn’t have a difficult break-in period (like you might get with a burlier trail shoe), and the newest Divide forgoes a rock plate, which is great for ground feel on easy hardpack. On the other hand, the Brooks is trail-ready, with reinforcements on the upper, a full rubber sole, and enough cushion (31mm at the heel, 23mm at the toe) to protect from roots and rocks. For the right person, it’s the best of both worlds.
It’s important to note that with its hybrid, entry-level intentions, the Divide 3 shouldn’t really be cross-shopped with the options above. If you’ll be running steep terrain or over rocks, roots, or other rough ground, the stability, grip, and underfoot feel will be a disappointment, even for new runners. For $40 more, you can bump up to the Salomon Sense Ride, which is a high-quality shoe built for experienced runners; better yet—and at the time of publishing, the crowd-favorite Peregrine 12 is on sale for just $78. But for light trail use and runs that feature a mix of terrain (even gravel roads), the Divide is a solid choice and a nice value.
See the Men's Brooks Divide 3 See the Women's Brooks Divide 3
18. On Cloudultra ($180)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.8 oz.
What we like: Well made and great looking.
What we don't: Expensive and rocks get stuck in the outsole grooves.
Based in Switzerland, On is known for their innovative collection of road and trail shoes. It’s easy to tell an On design apart from the rest—each model includes their trademark CloudTec outsole, a series of hollow cells that absorb impact and propel you forward, no matter what your stride. In theory, it makes a lot of sense, and it’s for good reason that On shoes have become increasingly popular in the U.S. market. The Cloudultra is their most cushioned design for long-distance efforts, built to swallow ground impact and keep your feet happy, mile after mile.
The Cloudultra stood out to us as a unique shoe, but ironically it wasn’t a cloud-like feel that set it apart. In fact, it actually felt rather firm underfoot, and in a blind test we’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the CloudTec technology and any other shoe. The biggest differences came from the sock-like upper, which felt sleek and close-fitting (and is undeniably good-looking) but was hard to get into and resulted in some pressure points on the top of our foot. In the end, it’s worth considering sizing up a half size, and be sure to give yourself ample time for break-in (read: don’t tackle 17 miles right away like we did). On shoes are expensive and known for one major and inherent downfall—rocks get stuck in the large grooves of their soles—but they exude quality and are well worth a look.
See the Men's On Cloudultra See the Women's On Cloudultra
Trail Running Shoe Comparison Table
|Salomon Sense Ride 5||$140||1 lb. 4.2 oz.||Moderate||8mm||No|
|Hoka Speedgoat 5||$155||1 lb. 4.6 oz.||Maximum||4mm||No|
|Altra Lone Peak 7||$150||1 lb. 6 oz.||Moderate||0mm||Yes|
|Salomon Speedcross 6||$140||1 lb. 5 oz.||Moderate||10mm||No|
|La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II||$165||1 lb. 9 oz.||Moderate||9mm||Yes|
|Brooks Catamount 2||$170||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||Moderate||6mm||Yes|
|Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2||$145||1 lb. 4 oz.||Moderate||5mm||No|
|Hoka Zinal||$160||1 lb. 1 oz.||Moderate||4mm||No|
|The North Face VECTIV Enduris III||$149||1 lb. 5.7 oz.||Maximum||6mm||No|
|Saucony Peregrine 12||$130||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||Moderate||4mm||Yes|
|NNormal Tomir||$165||1 lb. 2.4 oz.||Maximum||8mm||No|
|Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra||$160||1 lb. 1.2 oz.||Moderate||8mm||No|
|Scarpa Golden Gate ATR||$159||1 lb. 4.4 oz.||Maximum||4mm||No|
|Brooks Cascadia 16||$130||1 lb. 5 oz.||Moderate/maximum||8mm||Yes|
|Nike React Pegasus Trail 4||$140||1 lb. 4.6 oz.||Maximum||10mm||No|
|La Sportiva Jackal II||$165||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||Moderate||7mm||Yes|
|Brooks Divide 3||$100||1 lb. 4.2 oz.||Moderate||8mm||Yes|
|On Cloudultra||$180||1 lb. 4.8 oz.||Maximum||8mm||No|
Trail Running Shoe Buying Advice
- How to Choose a Trail Running Shoe
- Cushioning (Stack Height)
- Heel-to-Toe Drop
- Toe Protection
- Rock Plates
- Mountain Running Shoes
- Road-to-Trail Shoe Recommendations
- Other Expert Takes on Trail Running Shoes
How to Choose a Trail Running Shoe
Selecting the best trail running shoe is no small task, and will come down to a variety of factors, including the style of running (terrain, distance, and speed) and your own preferences (desired feel and fit). We used to think it would be helpful to our readers to have our picks above divided into categories—a sort of “you tell us what type of trails you run, we’ll tell you what to wear.” But then we took a deeper look at our own shoe choices. We were consistently opting for an “easy trails” shoe for cross-country mountain runs (the Salomon Sense Ride) and cursing our “rugged trails” La Sportiva Jackal on muddy singletrack (the 3.5mm lugs are great on rock, awful on wet ground). In the end, we realized that most running shoes defy categories, and are far more about the synergy between the shoes, the terrain, and the runner. However, there are still a good number of clues that can help you narrow down your choice, which we dive into in greater detail below.
The good news is that most of the shoes here are great all-rounders, sufficient for most runners on most trails. Where you’ll really need to start thinking is if you have specific demands for a shoe, including if you want to go really far, really fast, or really remote. Here is where the specialists come in, which we detail in the write-ups above. In general, max-cushioned shoes are great for ultra distances (such as the Nike Pegasus Trail 4 or Hoka Speedgoat), streamlined and firm shoes are ideal for race day (the Hoka Tecton X, Brooks Catamount 2, and Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra, for example), and those who venture into off-trail terrain will want to prioritize protection, stability, and sticky tread above all else (check out the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II). And take heart: this is a big decision but hopefully one you won’t have to make often. Most runners find a shoe (or shoes) that they love and just stick with it, year after year.
We put a high priority on weight when considering a trail running shoe. For 2023, our picks range from 1 pound 1 ounce for the Hoka Zinal to 1 pound 9 ounces for the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II. Shoes like the Zinal feel extremely light on your feet (great for speed) while heavier shoes feature maximum cushioning or are super tough and built for off-trail exploring. Not surprisingly, each design has compromises: the lighter options lack overall protection and support, while designs like the Ultra Raptor II can be fairly cumbersome on easy trail. In general, we find the sweet spot to often be right in the middle: This typically gets you enough protection and support for long distances without feeling sluggish.
Not all trail running shoes are created equal, and traction is one of the places we see the most variation. In general, the level of grip provided will closely follow the categories above. Shoes for easy trails feature a combination of outsole rubber and exposed midsole, which lends a lightweight, springy feel but suffers particularly on slippery rocks, roots, and mud. On the other hand, those built for rugged trails often have a full rubber outsole for approach-shoe-like traction in mountainous terrain (think snow, boulder hopping, and scree). All-rounders fall somewhere in between and are a great middle-ground option for most trail running objectives.
Looking closer at the nitty gritty of traction, an outsole’s rubber compound, tread depth, and tread pattern all play a role in maximizing grip. Starting with rubber compound, shoes that have sticky, approach shoe-like rubber like the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II or Jackal II excel on rock, while others that have a softer and more pliable feel often do better in mud. Secondly, tread depth (or lug depth as defined by the height of the lugs in millimeters) isn’t listed by many manufacturers, but you can get a good idea of the size by looking at an image of the sole. Tall lugs like you’ll find on the Salomon Speedcross provide excellent bite in loose ground, but the raised profile has a negative impact on stability. Finally, the tread design should be considered: widely spaced, tall lugs with a soft compound will outperform tightly spaced, short lugs, and sticky rubber in mud, and the reverse is typically true over rock or hardpack.
Cushioning (Stack Height)
An area where manufacturers have tried to differentiate themselves is the amount of cushioning provided by their shoes. Known as the “stack height,” which is the measured height from where the foot sits inside the shoe to the ground, trail running models range from very thin to heavily cushioned. Minimalist designs only have a small amount of EVA foam in the midsole, which makes them extremely nimble and provides a close feel of the terrain. But the downside is the potential for some really sore feet as the miles pound on. On the other end of the spectrum are maximum-cushioned shoes from brands like Hoka and Nike (the Hoka Speedgoat 5 has 33mm of cushioning at the heel). These remind us a lot of a fat bike: the ride is smooth and you barely notice the ground underneath, but there is more of a disconnect between you and the trail (and their tall heights can make them prone to rolling over).
Both minimalist and max-cushioned styles have their merits—and loyal fans—but in the end, most runners are happiest somewhere in the middle. Shoes like the Salomon Sense Ride and Topo Athletic MTN Racer are springy and have enough squish to keep your feet happy on rough terrain and for long distances, but don’t sit too tall to compromise stability and confidence. It’s no accident most of the shoes we have listed above offer a moderate amount of cushioning.
As the name indicates, the heel-to-toe drop is the difference in shoe height, where your foot sits, from the heel to toe. This spec was barely on the radar of folks outside the hardcore running community until the zero-drop fad hit a few years ago. Many all-rounder shoes have a drop in the range of 4 to 8 millimeters, which can work well for both heel and midfoot strikers. True zero-drop shoes have a 0-millimeter difference (Altra is a leader in this department), encouraging a mid- or forefoot landing point. And many models for rugged trails have the most dramatic drops, often 8 to 10 millimeters.
Our take is that drop is a matter of comfort and personal preference more than anything else. Many people like a moderate drop in their trail running shoes, while others prefer a zero-drop design (the Altra Lone Peak being the most popular example). The trend is toward lower drops for running shoes in general, although the performance and injury prevention science are hotly debated. The key is that you don't make a major change to an extreme end of the spectrum and then head straight out for a long run. Instead, if you're interested in a zero-drop design, try it out by easing in and developing confidence on the trail. This will reduce the chance of injury and ensure that it's the right choice for you.
Trying to move fast over rough terrain in a pair of lightweight low-top shoes may seem like asking for an injury (and it can happen), but today’s trail running shoes do offer a stable ride that is resistant to ankle rolls. It starts with a solid platform, which is wide and rigid enough to sustain hard impacts on uneven ground (this platform is pronounced on a highly stable shoe like the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 or Altra Lone Peak). The chassis, which is the perimeter of the base of the shoe, is beefed up with trail runners to create that solid base. In addition, some shoes include a shank, which is a semi-rigid piece of plastic or nylon that’s been slid in-between the midsole and outsole for added stiffness. Finally, some manufacturers create what amounts to a partial plastic exoskeleton around the heel cup for added structure and rollover protection. The relative stiffness and stability of a shoe will most often correlate with its intended us: A mountain-oriented shoe like the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II is stiffer and has more of a structure, while easy trail options are more flexible and comfortable out of the box.
Rain and wet conditions don’t stop most trail runners from getting out, but wet feet can be a big reason for going home early. For this reason, many of the shoes above are offered in waterproof versions, which feature a waterproof and breathable membrane (usually Gore-Tex) in between the outer fabric and the shoe’s inner lining. These shoes are generally a few ounces heavier per pair and $15-$40 more, but the waterproofing is very effective and especially makes sense in cold weather, when wet feet become cold feet in a hurry.
That said, we’re not huge fans of waterproof trail running shoes, for a number of reasons. Our main gripe is that waterproof membranes have a significant impact on breathability, creating a ripe situation for clammy feet. What’s more, drying time suffers, with no way for water (or sweat) to leave once it's inside. Further, while they guard against low-lying puddles and streams, waterproof shoes do nothing to prevent water entering at the ankle. In the end, we can see the appeal for shoulder seasons or winter, but for most runners the tradeoffs simply aren’t worth it. And if you want to add waterproof protection without a brand new shoe, we highly recommend waterproof socks (like these from Rocky), which are easy to take off and stow in your pack during long stretches of dry trail. For more on this topic, check out our article: Do You Need Waterproof Hiking Shoes?
A sweaty foot is an uncomfortable foot, which is the last thing you want to be thinking about while wheezing your way up a steep climb. As such, the ventilating ability of a shoe is one of the most important factors for runners. Nylon mesh is a common material used in trail running shoes for the obvious benefit of increased breathability. To retain durability, many manufacturers use a combination of a tight weave and thin fabric to both resist tears and keep air flowing. And as we’ve found, some are more accomplished than others. In comparing a couple popular shoes, the Altra Lone Peak and Hoka Speedgoat, we’ve found the mesh-heavy design of the Speedgoat to be better for long runs in the heat of summer, while the Altra's more substantial synthetic upper material can get warm.
Trail running naturally puts you in terrain far more challenging and potentially hazardous than what you’ll find around town. As such, you’ll want some added protection from your shoe’s construction. Almost without exception, trail running shoes have some type of toe protection, usually in the form of a rubber toe guard or cap that is capable of absorbing direct hits pretty well. Because of the lightweight intent of a trail runner, the toe protection isn’t as substantial as a hiking shoe, but it should prevent your toes from turning black and blue should you accidentally kick a rock or root on the trail.
Much in the same way that a protective toe cap isolates you from a sharp rock or other trail debris, lightweight rock plates are inserted between the midsole and outsole on many trail shoes. These plates vary in thickness, coverage, and materials, ranging from thin and flexible ESS foam under the ball of the foot to a stiff TPU shank. How much protection is needed depends on personal preference and the terrain you'll be running over (more miles on rough trails will merit burlier protection), but overall, we find rock plates to be a great feature. They’re unobtrusive, keep foot soreness to a minimum, and only add a small amount of weight.
Laces are easy to overlook but play a fundamental role in shoe comfort. Most shoes use a standard lace-up method, but brands like Salomon are doing things a little differently with a single pull “Quicklace” system on their trail running shoes. We love this design on the Salomon Speedcross 6 and Sense Ride for its ease of use and speed. It only requires a single pull, and then you can tuck away the excess laces and forget about them. We’ve found that the laces hold extremely well—better than some traditional sets in fact. There is a potential downside, however. For those with finicky feet that need to customize the fit around certain parts of your feet, there isn’t really a solution with the quick lace design. The laces will fit equally tight around the entirety of your foot. Accordingly, we recommend avoiding quick laces if you often fiddle with your laces to get the fit just right.
Mountain Running Shoes
Mountain running is experiencing a huge growth spurt, with more and more enthusiasts ditching heavy overnight gear for a pair of running shoes and a light pack. By our definition, this style of running takes you off trail and into cross-country zones, where you might encounter anything from technical rock climbing and talus or boulder fields to glacier travel and steep snow—think ridge scrambling in the Rockies or peak bagging in the North Cascades. And you’ll need just the right footwear to tackle this complex terrain: a shoe that combines the light weight and comfort of a trail runner with the stability, grip, and durability of an approach or hiking shoe.
Fortunately, a whole new class of mountain running-specific shoes has emerged recently, engineered especially for off-trail trickery. La Sportiva leads the field here, but designs from brands like Arc’teryx, Dynafit, Salomon, and Scarpa come in close behind (our favorites above include the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II, La Sportiva Cyklon, and Scarpa Ribelle Run). Within this category, look for sticky rubber outsoles (Megagrip and FriXion are common compounds) with shallow lugs and even a smooth patch near the toe for climbing performance. Many will feature a lower, more planted feel for stability on off-camber terrain, aided by moderate to light cushioning in the midsole. Finally, they’re relatively stiff (compared to a standard trail running shoe) and have highly durable and protective uppers (we often strap crampons or microspikes to our mountain running shoes). In our picks above, we make sure to call out the shoes that are specially designed for off-trail mountain travel. For more, check out our editor's picks for the best mountain running gear.
Road-to Trail Shoe Recommendations
If you’re anything like us, your daily runs leave from your front door and include a combination of pavement and trail. That’s all well and good, until you consider that the trail running shoes here are not designed to run on pavement. With full rubber soles, firm midsoles, and more protective uppers, they’ll feel overbuilt and heavy. What’s more, they often use softer rubber compounds that will wear out prematurely if subjected to a lot of road running.
A few hybrid designs toe the line between the two worlds, including the Hoka Challenger ATR 6, Topo Athletic MT-4, and Altra Outroad, but their trail performance is so middling that we don’t include them on the list above. However, looking at our picks, there are a few trail-ready models that stand out as being able to handle the road better than most, including the Nike Pegasus Trail 4, Brooks Catamount 2, and Scarpa Golden Gate ATR. Some of these shoes even have ties to the road world: The Catamount’s DNA Flash midsole was adapted from Brooks’ popular Hyperion Tempo, while the Pegasus Trail took design hints from road running models. Don’t expect them to be particularly great performers on pavement, but they’ll get you from your doorstep to the trail—and back—better than most.
Hiking and Backpacking in Trail Running Shoes
In recent years, trail running shoes have taken off as a go-to choice for day hikers, fastpackers, and thru-hikers alike. And it makes a lot of sense: with a lightweight and flexible feel but solid traction, you can cover more ground with less effort. Further, most day hikers and thru-hikers keep pack weight to a minimum, so there’s less need for the stability and ankle support of a sturdy shoe or boot. In fact, we’ve spoken to some PCT thru-hikers who made the switch from boots to trail runners mid-trip, and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about their levels of comfort and nimble feel—provided they kept their pack weight down.
But there are a number of obvious issues. One is durability. It’s unlikely you’ll get as many miles out of your trail runners as you would a lightweight hiking shoe or full-on hiking boot, which are designed to handle more use and abuse. Second, with minimal materials and bulk, a trail runner simply does not offer the same amount of protection as beefier hiking footwear, especially those with generous rubber rands and leather uppers. Finally, we don’t recommend trail running shoes for heavy loads or particularly rugged terrain, when you’ll want a more supportive option. But despite these potential downsides, trail runners seem to be here to stay as a popular hiking and backpacking option.
Other Expert Takes on Trail Running Shoes
The picks above were compiled through market research and the combined decades of experience of Switchback Travel’s gear testing team. For additional expert opinions on trail running shoes, check out iRunFar’s Best Trail Running Shoes of 2023 and GearJunkie’s The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2023.
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