This category is all about everyday workhorses going about their job unnoticed. You’ll need cushioning, stability, rock protection, all in addition to excellent levels of comfort. After all, a general trail shoe is about running long, running fast, running short in the wet, or the dry. Uphill and downhill. You’re going to mix off-road with a touch of pavement as, let’s face it, we don’t all live in the Lake District.
What to look for in a trail running shoe
Carbon: For many of us, the summer is all about running that bit quicker and there’s no argument carbon provides runners with more response on the harder, more uniform trails this season provides. Some will run faster, while some will benefit from the reduction in impact carbon provides. Yes, there’s a cost but it’s well worth the investment.
Breathability: In the same way you’d look for fabrics that breathe in t-shirts, go for materials that allow air and water vapour to escape from inside the shoe, while also allowing cooler air from outside to enter.
Weight: Of course, there’s no definitive weight in a running shoe as more than any other product, it’s very much individual. But, as a general rule, summer shoes are lighter and swifter feeling, so you’ll be thinking of shoes that weigh less than 300g for that rip roaring 10km PB. If you’re thinking long distance though, think about additional cushioning and therefore in some, but not all, additional weight, bringing the shoes into the mid-300s.
Toe box: The rocks will be there year round, so look for protection in that department.
Drop: There’s almost a generational gap here. Older shoe models work off an 8mm-12mm drop for a higher, more cushioned ride while many of today’s shoes come in at around 4mm-6mm for a closer to the ground, faster feel. As with any shoe advice, it’s always about what feels good personally. In theory, it’s worth progression to lower drop shoes as they do feel quicker (half the job), but it can be at a cost for your calf muscles. There are lower drops as well with 0mm replicating barefoot. The jury is out at the moment as to what is best!
Midsole: EVA, PU, TPU or Pebax are the foams of choice for most brands. All offer softness and flexibility to different degrees.
Fit: There’s the traditional lacing system of course, but the Salomon system and the Boa fit in a variety of brands including La Sportiva and Adidas do offer superb stability on rough, steep terrain. Consider the surfaces you’ll be running. Tough descents and contouring lend themselves to this new fit system.
Lug length: Summer shoes will offer less in the grip department, so lugs around 3mm at the most, while winter shoes go all the way up to 6mm and even beyond on occasion. Rubber, of course, wears quicker so longer lug length shoes need to stay strictly off-road!
The best trail running shoes
Adidas Terrex Two Boa
Verdict: A wonderful fit, stable, grippy, agile, good value - it's very hard to fault this shoe.
Pros: The fit and stability thanks Boa’s lacing system is nothing short of superb
Cons: For some runners, Adidas can feel a little harder in terms of cushioning
This shoe is all about the fit. The Boa lacing system really does have your stability, safety, and comfort in mind, so if you have technical trails on the agenda, this is a shoe well worth consideration. Let’s start with the basics. There’s a 6mm drop while the outsole uses 4mm lugs made of Continental rubber – all good in that department. In terms of stability, cushioning, and response it’s all pretty standard. Consequently, this shoe a prime candidate for long days in the hills when kicking rocks and tackling contours will be on the agenda.
Possibly, the fit is a little rigid for some but like any shoe, they loosen up over time. In terms of pricing, this shoe is mightily competitive in that department, and you’ll be investing in some great tech.
Weight 354g (men’s 10) | Lugs 4mm | Midsole EVA | Outsole Continental rubber | Men’s sizes 5.5-12.5 | Women’s sizes 5.5-13.5
Hoka Speedgoat 5
Verdict: Excellent shoes for long-distance runs, but they can feel a little awkward upon first fit.
Pros: A lightweight performance type shoe that is more than at home on your longest run
Cons: They can feel a little cumbersome straight out of the box
It looks a bit bulky and sort of slow, but one run later and you’ll be stunned by the response, light weight, and general zippiness this shoe provides. Very much a wolf in sheep's clothing, and on rough ground at that.
The zonal rubber placement ensures traction and grip where you need it the most and the 5mm lugs (and 4mm drop) provide flexible and sticky multi-directional traction as you tackle awkward ascents and daring descents. The lugs ensure additional support and stability. Sum it all up like this: “I don't think I have been this impressed with a shoe right out of the box, ever.”
Weight 326g (men’s 11) | Lugs 5mm | Midsole CMEVA, late stage Meta-Rocker | Outsole Vibram Megagrip | Men’s sizes 6.5-12 | Women’s sizes 3.5-9.5
New Balance Hierro V7
Verdict: Stable, capable, and improved sustainability. However, the styling won't suit everyone's tastes.
Pros: A really, really durable shoe that is packed with all the right elements including sustainability
Cons: Come on, what is that flap at the back for?
Expect a wider, stable shoe when you slip on a pair of Hierros and one that’s a touch lighter than previous models. Look forward to a plush ride as well thanks to NB’s Fresh Foam X cushioning. When it comes to technical paths the Vibram Megagrip outsole does what you’d hope when it comes to protection, durability, and traction, not least because the lugs are up 1mm to 4.5mm. There’s an 8mm drop.
Also, let’s not forget New Balance has embraced sustainability in a big way so it’s good to read this shoe meets the company’s green leaf standard: 50% or more materials are sourced as environmentally preferred.
Weight 301g (men’s 11) | Lugs 4.5mm | Midsole Fresh Foam X | Outsole Vibram Megagrip | Men’s sizes 6.5-14.5 | Women’s sizes 3-8.5
Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GORE-TEX
Verdict: Great for lighter trail workouts. Not particularly aggressive lugs but feel like road shoes to wear.
Pros: This shoe has really seen the benefits of research and development. You know what you’re buying into
Cons: Owes a lot to the road. Is that bad? Your call
Secure, neutral, cushioned, grippy, and even waterproof, the Pegasus Trail 3 Gore-Tex even has an adequate toe bumper and reinforced heel counter to add to its off-road credentials. Working off a 9.5mm drop, they feel like platforms when you pull them on, but boy they promote an easy roll through the gait cycle.
The lightweight React foam in the midsole is so effective that, for the first few miles of our initial testing, we could have sworn we were in road shoes. Although the shallow lugs aren't overly aggressive (even Nike calls them 'nubs'), these will do whatever you ask of them for everyday trail sorties.
Weight 318g (men’s 8) | Lugs 3-4mm | Midsole Nike React Foam | Outsole Rubber outsole with a generative traction pattern | Men’s sizes 6-14 | Women’s sizes 2.5-9.5
Inov8 Parkclaw 280
Verdict: Impressively versatile shoes on a range of surfaces, but support could be better.
Pros: Light, grippy, enduring; as happy on really testing trails as they are on the road
Cons: A touch light on out and out support
Inov-8 aims to solve the riddle of trail runs when the countryside isn't on your doorstep with the new lightweight, graphene-enhanced Parkclaw. Working off an 8mm drop, they're instantly familiar, and – while the cushioning could be better for tarmac use – they make a great case for being a do-it-all shoe.
Wet pavements are gripped as efficiently as rocks are by the 98 lugs, each 4mm in depth. A durable upper will ensure these last, while G-Fly midsole foam does perform well; we'd say better off-road than on. The key is there's very little compromise; whatever the surface, they're a solid choice.
Weight 280g (men’s 8) | Lugs 4mm | Midsole Midsole Graphene-enhanced G-FLY cushioned foam midsole | Outsole Graphene-enhanced rubber | Men’s sizes 6-14 | Women’s sizes 3-7.5
Caring for your trail running shoes
Outdoor footwear gets a hard life. If you want to keep yours performing as well as they can for as long as possible, a little TLC is needed. Keep fabrics clean to maintain breathability, and waterproof fabrics need reproofing every so often to maintain water repellency.
To find out more and which footwear care products are best, head to our dedicated footwear care guide.