5 Of The Best... Trail Shoes reviewed (2019)

A good alternative to boots when hillwalking and trekking on easier paths, trail shoes are also ideal for post-hike activities around the campsite and bar!

Mercantour-Alps-278.jpg

What to look for

Upper

A leather upper made with minimal stitching will last for many years if cared for well, and will probably outlast the grip on the sole. Conversely, an upper that is made from lots of layers of synthetic fabric, mesh and thin strips of suede leather is unlikely to be as durable and can be slow-drying. But mesh and synthetic uppers are lighter and lower in price than leather and may be more comfortable straight from the box. Some newer synthetic uppers also allow bonding and welding techniques that improve durability and flexibility while reducing weight. Rubber rands may be used to increase durability at the toe or all around the upper.

Weight

Trail shoes are often chosen in preference to boots because they are lighter. However, the lighter the shoe the less support it may provide and the less durable it may be. Equally a lighter shoe may lack cushioning or support, making it more tiring to wear on more uneven ground.

Toe Box

To protect the foot from stray boulders a stiffened toe box is important. You can test this by pressing the top of the area where your toes will be in the boot with your thumb, and then judging if it is stiff enough to provide protection.

Heel counter

Pinch the heel of the shoe between thumb and fingers to test how supportive it will be for your foot. Support in this area is important for moving over uneven ground to help stabilise the foot.

Midsole Flex

Grab the shoe by the toe and heel, and bend them together to test longitudinal stiffness then twist the sole to test lateral stiffness. It is a matter of personal choice but generally a more flexible sole is better for comfort on level ground and for moving fast, while a stiffer sole is more comfortable on rockier ground and also allows a more precise use of small footholds when scrambling over rockier ground.

Outsole

Look for lugs that are well-spaced and deep so they can provide a good grip without easily clogging with mud and without wearing away too rapidly. A deep heel breast (the step between the heel and midfoot area of the sole unit) is vital for providing braking power in descents.


Oboz Firebrand II Low Waterproof £125

Oboz.jpg
  • Men’s 7-13

  • Women’s n/a

  • Weight 1150g (size 11 pair)

It’s good

Oboz has rapidly clawed a foothold into the trail shoe market and the Firebrand, like many of its other shoes, has a very aggressive outsole lug pattern for grip in soft terrain. But importantly it also has great stiffness to resist pressure from jagged rocks underfoot. There is a heel breast for more grip, and good toe-to-heel and lateral stiffness to make scrambling over rocks secure. The upper is a durable design with a stiffened toe box and stiffened heel cup, plus an additional rubber rand for more durability. A BDry waterproof lining keeps feet dry, while the nubuck leather and synthetic textile upper keeps grit at bay. This shoe has a precise and neat fit.

However

There is no direct equivalent of this shoe for women but the Sawtooth (£100) and Bridger Low (£130) both offer ideal female-fit alternatives. The Bridger Low also has less synthetic material on the upper and even deeper sole lugs for better grip. The Firebrand is quite a robust and supportive shoe, so if you want something more flexible then others are better. Also for dedicated scrambling a shoe with a more precise toe design and stiffer sole at the toe would be better. You can get lighter shoes too, of course, and pay less if needed. But this is a great choice for general moorland, fell and hill path walking, and it’s hard to find drawbacks for that type of use.

Verdict

A robust, supportive shoe with a great sole for a wide variety of general path, hill and mountain terrain, but others are still better for specific needs.

  • Features 5/5

  • Fit 4/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

Best-value.gif
 

Inov-8 Roclite 275 £130

Inov8.jpg
  • Men’s 6-14

  • Women’s 3-10

  • Weight 672g (size 11)

It’s good

Yes, the weight is correct! These are around half the weight of some other shoes, which means less effort to lift them with every step. They also have a unique sole unit for grip, with not only a set of well-spaced, deep lugs but also the rubber is impregnated with graphene, a superbly hard and therefore durable material that should mean these maintain better grip than other rubbers for longer. The upper has mesh for more breathability, and as bonding techniques are used rather than stitched overlays of materials in many areas there is more durability here than some mesh shoes offer. The toe box and heel are also reinforced. The sole and upper are both very flexible, making them ideal for fast movement and very comfortable on grass or level terrain.

However

While there is lots of flexibility your foot has to work harder when crossing more uneven terrain. Some people will like this flexible design, while others will want a more supportive shoe to limit foot stress. Also this won’t be as durable as other shoes if you do take it onto really rough ground, as the mesh won’t withstand abrasion as well as a non-mesh synthetic or leather material. There is no waterproof lining either, although that does mean once water enters it can quickly be squeezed out and the shoe is faster to dry. The similar Roclite 315 GTX (£145) is a good waterproof version.

Verdict

Lightweight shoe with a studded sole that’s ideal for those wanting to travel super-light, but heavier shoes have benefits.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX £130

Salomon.jpg
  • Men’s 6.5-13.5

  • Women’s 3.5-10.5

  • Weight 882g (size 11)

It’s good

This is a well-proven, relatively lightweight all-rounder for general use on the hills. It has a sole unit with deep, well-spaced lugs for grip on mud and grass. There is some good toe-to-heel and lateral stiffness in the sole, so walking on paths of jagged rocks is not too uncomfortable but you also get a good toe flex to allow easier walking. The upper has a stiffened heel cup and stiffened toe box to protect the feet and a rubber toe cap for durability. The main part of the upper is a synthetic ‘Anti Debris’ tight mesh with synthetic textile overlays for durability. Gore-Tex keeps the water out. This shoe offers a good general fit, and feels great for paths and easier rough terrain.

However

As you would expect with any good all-rounder, a more dedicated shoe for some activities will be better in some areas. And yes, this is lightweight, but there are lighter shoes. Also, the sole unit does have great lugs and great stiffness but for lots of rocky ground use others are better still, as they have even stiffer soles and the feel of the rock under the foot is more precise to allow easier scrambling on smaller holds. Then there is the upper, as while it is great for general use on mountain terrain, something with a rubber rand would add even more durability. You can also, of course, spend less money.

Verdict

A great all-round trail shoe for hillgoers with a little bit of everything but without being overly dedicated to rock or fast action.

  • Features 5/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%


Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX £160

Salewa.jpg
  • Men’s  6-13

  • Women’s 5-11

  • Weight 1270g (size 11)

It’s good

This is an extremely robust shoe for the roughest of terrain for those who really crave performance on rockier ground. It is built around an exceptionally stiff Vibram Alpine Approach sole unit with a very deep set of lugs and a deep heel breast, so grip on soft or loose ground is great. But also the toe is well-profiled, so you get a very precise feel to make finding and using small footholds easy when scrambling over rock. Use this on rocky paths, scree or via ferrata-style scrambles and it feels great, while its sole lugs are also ideal for mud and grass. The upper is a durable 1.6mm suede leather with a rubber rand and minimal stitching for durability, lots of support and a Gore-Tex waterproof lining.

However

All that support comes at a cost. Firstly this is quite a heavy shoe and all that stiffness means it is just not as comfortable when walking over easy, level paths as a bendy, lighter shoe. Also if you want to move fast, it feels too ‘clumpy’. The fit is quite neat and precise, which is ideal for those with narrow feet and those who need such a fit for scrambling; but you may want a baggier, broader fit for more comfort when walking or backpacking over level paths. Then there is the price tag, as you could buy a pair of boots for this sort of cash and here you are getting a shoe without an ankle cuff – albeit a superb shoe for rockier ground.

Verdict

If you want footwear with the performance of a mountain boot but in a shoe style, then this is it. But for easier terrain, others are better.

  • Features 5/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


AKU Tengu Low GTX £170

AKU.jpg
  • Men’s 3-13

  • Women’s 3-9

  • Weight 1266g (size 11)

It’s good

This is a superb all-round walking shoe that manages to provide a range of benefits for a range of terrain. Firstly the outsole has deep, widely spaced lugs and a proper heel breast, so grip on mud or loose paths is assured. There is also lots of stiffness toe-to-heel and laterally in the sole, which makes this great for rockier ground. The upper is made from synthetic Air8000 and suede without too much stitching. The upper is stiff to provide foot support on uneven ground and also it’s well-protected with a rubber rand for more durability. On the foot the fit is close but not restrictive at the toe, as there is a little more space in this area to allow for a natural walking action. On most terrain this feels ideal.

However

It is slightly more ‘clumpy’ on the foot than lighter, more flexible shoes, so on a level, smooth forest path it may feel more than you need. And if you want to move fast, it is just not flexible or springy enough underfoot. The toe is not quite as precise as more dedicated climbing or via ferrata shoes, so using this for smaller footholds is not quite the best. The weight is relatively high and the price is more than many shoes. You really need to decide if you need all that performance from the sole on rocky ground, as that is what you are paying for here, and while it’s ideal for rough terrain that may be more than you need for paths.

Verdict

Ideal for muddy paths, rocky walks and easy scrambles, but for fast and light action, easier terrain or technical scrambles, others have benefits.

  • Features 5/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 4/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 98%

Best-in-test.gif
 

For the latest reviews - including extra photos and products that won't appear online - 
pick up a copy of the current issue of Trail magazine!