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Best trail running shoes 2022: speed along technical terrain

Collage of the best trail running shoes
(Image credit: Future)

The best trail running shoes equip you to fly across a range of terrain types. With fall and winter runs on the agenda, the ground we pound is likely to be wetter, more slippery and more fun – at least, that's what we think. There's undoubtedly something liberating about splashing through muddy puddles and returning home smiling, looking like you've just done battle with a swamp monster, and won.

One of the principal differences between the best trail running shoes and standard road running shoes is their ability to grip challenging terrain. For standard runners, the flat, paved surfaces of sidewalks and roads don't pose much of a problem for manufacturers, who are more concerned with cushioning and providing spring from the repetitive, relentless pounding of tarmac.

Manufacturers of the best trail running shoes have a whole different challenge altogether. Trail runners take on anything from boggy moorlands, rocky ridgelines, rooty forest trails, gravel paths and – occasionally – a little tarmac too. Just as when choosing between the best hiking boots, hiking shoes or approach shoes, you need to think about whether you want a jack of all trades or a specialised pair for specific surface types.

Our roundup features the crème de la crème, the very best trail running shoes in 2022. When making your selection, carefully consider the compatibility of each shoe and how they equate with where and how you want to run. Got yourself a couple of female feet? Check out our guide to the best women's trail running shoes.

Shoes for technical terrain

inov-8 Trail Fly Ultra G 300 Max trail running shoe in green and black

Tough and hardwearing, the inov-8 Trail Fly Ultra G 300 Max is the best trail running shoe you can buy today (Image credit: inov-8)
Long-lasting, hard-wearing, the best trail running shoe you can buy

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 300g / 10.6oz
Materials: Synthetic upper; G-fly mid sole; Graphene outsole
Drop: 6mm
Colors: Green and black
Compatibility: Ultra running, all-distance trail running on hard and rocky terrain, and some road running

Reasons to buy

+
Very durable outsole
+
Excellent grip
+
Comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Very little trail feel
-
Relatively expensive

In April 2021, inov-8 unveiled the TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max, featuring the world’s first graphene-enhanced midsole compound (called G-fly foam). Combined with the extreme durability of the graphene-enhanced rubber outsole the brand introduced in 2018, this shoe is taking trail running footwear into a whole new realm. Graphene has been reported to be the world’s strongest material, but as a nanotechnology it is also one of the thinnest. When inov-8 included the two-dimensional honeycomb lattice carbon allotrope (say that 10 times fast while running over rocks!) into a proprietary foam compound with help of scientists at the University of Manchester, it resulted in 25% more energy return and vastly enhance durability compared to other midsole

As trail runners, we want long-haul comfort from soft cushioning, rugged durability, grippy traction and energy propulsion that puts a spring in our steps, and the TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max offers all of that and more. Also, it doesn’t have the unyieldingly firm sensation as many new trail shoes do, with carbon-fiber propulsion plates embedded in their midsoles – instead, with these there’s a soft, flexible and resilient sensation that will pay dividends deep into a long training run or a 50K or 100-mile trail running race. On the downside, if you’re a tactile runner and you like a bit of trail feel, you’re not going to get any of that with these shoes, which have a chunky, almost maximalist midsole with a rocker, which performs well in terms of transference of energy, but completely cuts out any feedback from the terrain below your feet.

Read our full inov-8 Trail Fly Ultra G 300 Max review

best trail running shoes: Saucony Endorphin Edge

(Image credit: Saucony)
A supremely comfortable trail running shoe with excellent traction in tough conditions

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 255g / 9oz
Materials: textile upper, EVA foam midsole, carbon fiber plate, rubber outsole (includes some recycled materials)
Drop: 6mm
Best for: Trail running, mixed terrain routes

Reasons to buy

+
Springy full length carbon plate
+
Ideal amount of cushioning
+
Roomy toebox
+
Secure fit with no slipping

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

The first thing you'll notice when you pull a pair of Saucony's Endorphin Edges out of their box is their light weight and stiff build. Both of these can be attributed to a full-length carbon plate embedded in the midsole, which is springy and fun even on difficult terrain, offering plenty of control. This is reinforced by a full-length rockplate to protect the midsole EVA foam from stones and roots.

The upper is closely woven with a thinly cushioned, gusseted tongue to prevent ingress of dirt, grit, and water. The toe is reinforced with a generously sized rubberized area, and there's a firm plastic heel counter round the back. Saucony has also built in a heel loop to make the Edge easier to pull on swiftly when it's time to hit the trails. The outsole is equipped with chevron-shaped lugs, which are quite widely spaced to prevent accumulation of excess mud.

The Saucony Endorphin Edge is built for speed on tricky terrain, and gives a fast, fun ride thanks to its full-length carbon plate. The foam midsole strikes the perfect balance, offering enough cushioning to absorb shock (particularly on downhills) without compromising stability. If your wallet can take the hit, it's easily one of the best trail running shoes you can buy today.

Read our full Saucony Endorphin Edge review

best trail running shoes: Merrell MTL Long Sky 2

(Image credit: Merrell)
Lightweight, versatile and breathable trail runners featuring a locked-in fit and mega grip soles

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 280g / 9.9oz
Materials: 5mm Vibram MegaGrip soles, EVA foam insole with 100% recycled top sheet, FloatPro Foam midsole
Drop: 4mm
Best for: Technical trail running

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Roomy toe box with reinforcements
+
Breathable and quick drying upper
+
Internal bootie for locked-in fit
+
5mm lugs handle slick terrain nicely
+
Good cushion and decent trail feel
+
Gaiter attachments
+
Vegan-friendly and some recycled materials

Reasons to avoid

-
Not waterproof
-
Midsole may not be thick enough for long distance runs
-
Low drop may not work for heel strikers

These trail runners are lightweight for when you want to go fast and far and with an internal bootie that pulls on like a sock, you get an instant locked-in fit without having to retie your laces. Easy to pull on, the snug fit around the cuff is balanced with a roominess around the toe box which adds to the light, airy feel of these shoes.

Breathable mesh uppers with a TPU overlay manage to be durable and keep your feet cool when you’re out in hot weather, plus they’re quick drying for when you’re splashing through puddles. Once you hit uneven, rocky terrain, you’ll really appreciate the stability provided by the low 4mm drop combined with 5mm lugs on the MegaGrip soles, which hold up even in slick conditions. They’re not waterproof, but with gaiter attachments you can easily protect your feet in a deluge.

The FloatPro Foam midsole strikes a nice balance between cushioning and a decent trail feel. These aren’t big and bouncy for super long runs, nor are they barefoot and minimal – they’re great for handling technical terrain and mixed conditions with confidence.

Read our full Merrell MTL Long Sky 2 trail running shoes review

La Sportiva Bushido II trail running shoe in black and yellow

The La Sportiva Bushido II is built for seriously technical trails, with a big focus on stability (Image credit: La Sportiva)
A full-on mountain-fit trail running shoe, ideal for skyracing

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 305g/10.75oz
Materials: TPU skeleton and synthetic mesh upper, compressed EVA midsole, Frixion Red rubber compound sole
Drop: 6mm
Best for: mountain paths and technical singletrack trails

Reasons to buy

+
Superb grip on a highly technical sole 
+
Very stable ride
+
Robust but lightweight upper

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly stiff collar
-
Not waterproof

The Bushido II means business as soon as it bounces out of the box. These shoes are intended for running technical trails on pointy shaped hills. The design and fit is aggressive, with a big emphasis on stability in the lateral way the upper connects to the sole, so you can really drop the hammer and go for it on technical trails, while the style and layout of the lugs helps you stay comfortably in control during descents, putting faith in the ‘impact brake system’. 

There’s a lot going on in the dual-compound ‘FriXion Red’ sole: the outer lugs rise up and wrap around the midsole, which inspires confidence when cornering and provides extra protection against sharp sticks and stones on the paths, while the studs on the central section supply extra traction and support. There’s a reasonable amount of cushioning in the midsole, and the upper is constructed from a tough TPU skeleton combined with mesh, to keep the weight down. 

The lace loops are strongly stitched to the chassis, and there are two higher eyelets so you can lace them up good and tight, for a better connection and less chance of losing a shoe in deep mud. It’s not waterproof, but the mesh means water quickly exits the shoe, and it has an integrated tongue, to prevent grit getting in. 

There’s a modest 6mm drop between heel and toe, which is a compromise height, meaning the shoe will be comfortable for the majority of people, regardless of whether their forefoot, midfoot or heel hits the ground first. If you’re a purist barefoot runner, however, this drop might be a tad too much for your liking. You don’t have to be an elite skyrunner to get a lot of enjoyment out of using the Bushidos, but their competitive design and technical capability will push you to take on more technical trails, and you’ll feel more comfortable doing so while shod in such a trusty pair of hooves.

Read our full La Sportiva Bushido II review

Saucony Peregrine 12 trail running shoes in orange and black

The Saucony Peregrine 12 are lightweight trail running shoes with a minimalist upper (Image credit: Saucony)
Fast and nimble, the best lightweight trail running shoes

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): men’s: 275g/9.7oz; women’s: 235g/8.3oz
Drop: 4mm
Materials: lightweight synthetic upper, PWRRUN midsole, EVA sockliner, PWRTRAC outsole
Best for: trail running across a wide variety of terrain, up to ultra distance

Reasons to buy

+
Super light
+
Good grip
+
Breathable uppers
+
Some recycled material

Reasons to avoid

-
Minimal toe protection

The fact that we’re running in the 12th iteration of the Peregrines is testimony to the enduring quality and popularity of this trail-running shoe. For the latest version, Saucony have shaved several grams off the weight of the shoe, making an already speed orientated trail hoof even more nifty. The size of the lugs has also been reduced slightly (by 1mm), and the PWRTRAC outsole has been redesigned with a densely concentrated tread and smartly placed chevrons providing traction and braking control where it’s needed. 

The minimalist 4mm heel-to-toe drop remains, which facilitates low centre of gravity and good balance on technical trails. There is a new sockliner, which entirely envelopes your foot, prevents the ingress of grit and adds to comfort levels. Despite its lightweight construction, there is a new rockplate beneath the cushioned PWRRUN midsole of the Peregrine 12, which offers good underfoot protection from sharp stones and sticks, and yet we feel the trail feedback is also better on this new shoe. Saucony have also use some recycled material in the construction of the lightweight, minimalist upper (available in three super bright colors for men and women), although they don’t specify how much.

Read our full Saucony Peregrine 12 review

Topo Mtn Racer 2 trail running shoe in green

(Image credit: Topo)
A trail running shoe with a specially designed wide-fit toe box and low profile to promote a natural footstrike

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 249g / 8.8oz
Materials: TPU heel counter, ZipFoam midsole, Vibram rubber outsole
Drop: 5mm
Best for: Wide-foot runners on soft terrain and muddy trails

Reasons to buy

+
Debris gaiter attachments
+
Lightweight
+
Super wide toe box
+
Comfy fit straight from box
+
Great Vibram grip
+
Promotes a natural, responsive ride

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one colour
-
Only compatible with Topo gaiter (£30)
-
Lacks cushioning & protection

The exciting thing about the Topo Mtn Racer 2 is its extra wide toe box. For any runners constantly in pain from squashed toes, you must give these a try. The toe box is fantastically wide and it really provides a much more natural shape for the toes to splay out. If you Google natural toe splay you’ll see plenty of images coming up showing feet that look kind of triangular with the toes spread out, and then other images showing how traditionally shaped shoes cause the big toe and little toes in particular to bend worryingly inwards. 

If you feel like regular shoes are doing this to you, the Topo Mtn Racers may well be a breath of fresh air for you. Having said that, these may not be the best shoe for every runner at every distance. The ZipFoam padding is fairly minimal, making it fantastic if you’re an experienced barefoot-style runner with strong feet – you can really feel and respond quickly to the terrain underfoot, however that does mean that your foot feels all the harder parts of the trails, like rocks, roots, the odd road section or gravel path. There’s not as much protection here as in the more padded trail running shoes.

The Vibram Megagrip outsole with widely spaced 4mm lugs is great for mud. This shoe is definitely best for soft, muddy and grassy trails rather than a lot of rock and road.

Read our full Topo MTN Racer 2 trail running shoe review

Adidas Terrex Agravic Pro trail running shoe in black and blue

(Image credit: Adidas)
Grippy trail running shoe that boast an innovative dial lacing system and a propulsive, cushioned sole

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 308g / 10.9oz
Materials: Rubber outsole; upper: 50% Parley Ocean Plastic and 50% recycled polyester
Drop: 4mm
Best for: High-volume feet on any trail terrain

Reasons to buy

+
Looks cool
+
Very easy to lace up quickly
+
Great Continental grip
+
Comfy cushioning
+
Propulsive ride

Reasons to avoid

-
Large - suits a high volume foot
-
Heavier than most trail shoes
-
Slightly stiff-feeling

The Adidas Terrex Agravic Pro trail running shoe wins the prize for the longest name! And also it scores highly for the courage to innovate with the unique BOA L6 lace system down each side. This dial does mean the shoe is incredibly easy and quick to lace up and unlace, plus there are no laces over the midfoot area to catch on brambles and it feels very comfortable across this area. 

The fit is on the large size, you may want to go down a half size to see if it fits better, but it’s actually the volume of the shoe that’s big rather than the length. The ankle part also comes up higher than most other trail running shoes so it suits a higher volume foot. Both of these features mean the weight is on the heavier side, the pair is about 100g more than most other trail shoes, but if they fit your feet well this isn’t a deal breaker, and hopefully this means they will be very durable too - for this price you’d hope so! 

The 4mm drop will need gradually easing into if you’re used to a shoe with a higher heel stack, while the Lightstrike cushioning protects the foot from trail buzz. The ride feels bouncy and propulsive so if these fit your feet, you’re in for a treat.

Read our full Adidas Terrex Agravic Pro review

On Cloudventure Peak trail running shoe in white and black

The On Cloudventure Peak provides stability and traction on inclines, and cushioned your hell on descents (Image credit: On)
The best trail running shoe for fast, furious, technical trail or fell racing

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 260g/9.1oz
Materials: Missiongrip rubber, Zero gravity heel clouds, ripstop upper
Drop: 4mm
Best for: technical trails, mountains, steep terrain, racing

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight and fast
+
Uber-grippy
+
Great trail feel 

Reasons to avoid

-
Thin last 
-
Harsher ride 
-
Fiddly laces

Where the aim is to move light and ridiculously fast through mountains, and where grip and confident footing are the preferred currency, On Cloudventure Peaks are pinnacle performers. These shoes are for intense, shorter-format racing on technical mountain trails where nimble footedness is key. 

These are no door-to-trail shoe: they want the good dirt from the get-go. An initially stiff ride transforms as soon as you get off the buff and onto the rough. The more technical the better. A lowered drop of 4mm means they favour good running mechanics and a natural footfall. The sock-like inner and good tensioning through laces and welded skeleton gives a sublime fit with zero hotspots. 

At the rear, a rigid heel holds your foot in place and reduces lateral roll, translating to more confidence and running fast over technical, rocky terrain. On’s signature cloud pods do feature, although to a diminished degree compared to some of their other shoes, with the front pods closed-in, while the ones on the rear grip zone do all the hard work, providing cushioning during downhill landings. Ground bite is as vice-like as you can get. Running up hill, it’s like you have teeth on the front; while downhill is like cloudsurfing. 

Fast, lightweight, comfortable out of the box, and made for speedy missions in the mountains or racing on gnarly technical singletrack, we really do like these shoes, but that white duco colour scheme… well, let’s say the sooner you dirty them up the better.

Read our full On Cloudventure Peak review

Shoes for heel-striking runners

best trail running shoes: Hoka Tecton X

(Image credit: Hoka)
A newly designed vegan trail running shoe with plenty of cushioning for a smooth, extra bouncy run

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 240g/8.5oz
Materials: Vibram Megagrip with Litebase outsoles, recycled polyester laces, EVA sockliner, carbon fiber plates
Drop: 5mm
Best for: Trails and tarmac

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Comfortable
+
Cushioned
+
Vegan

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey
-
One color

Hoka Tecton X trail running shoes are designed for speed on the trails, while also offering plenty of comfort.

The upper is single-layer jacquard engineered mesh that hugs the foot. Hoka has added a non-molded EVA sockliner to aid support inside the shoe. Polyester laces with (undefined) recycled content fit into a ghillie lacing system to make it easy to lace them up to the required tension. Underfoot there is a a ProFlyX midsole, which combines a lightweight and responsive foam base with an ultra-soft foam in-sole lining.

The outsole is Hoka’s own design of Vibram Megagrip with Litebase construction. The lugs are 4mm depth and with “zonal rubber placement” to offer grip where needed. This is a shoe for running on forest tracks and lower level trails, as well as some tarmac, rather than technical, muddy and rocky hill paths and mountain slopes. 

Read our full Hoka Texton X review

Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 trail running shoe in blue

The Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 is a versatile hybrid trail running shoe that you can wear from your front door to the trails (Image credit: inov-8)
A versatile trail running shoe, for people who want to run from their front door into the wilds and back again

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 280g / 9.8oz
Drop: 8mm
Materials: Synthetic mesh upper, G-FLY foam midsole, Graphene outsole
Best for: Road and trail, up to ultra distance

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile design
+
Quick drying

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively expensive
-
Synthetic feel

Brand new from inov-8, these multi-terrain tackling shoes are designed so you can literally run out of your front door and hit the streets, woods, beach or park, without skipping a beat. As with almost all inov-8 shoes, the soles feature Graphene – the much-lauded hard-as-diamond-headed-nails substance reckoned to be the planet’s toughest material (which is included in both the outsole and the midsole in the Parkclaw). 

The secret to the all-terrain capability of this shoe is in the design of the G-GRIP rubber outsole. There are 98 cleats per shoe, but these lugs are only 4mm in length and are so densely distributed they deliver good grip without pushing through the sole of the shoe and making it feel like you’re running in football boots when you’re on the tarmac or road (as can be the case with more aggressive treads, such as on the Mudclaw). Instead, you experience a pretty smooth ride, no matter what the conditions underfoot. There’s an 8mm drop on this model, as there is on the Parkclaw 260, but the difference with this model is in the Graphene-enhanced G-FLY foam midsole, which despite having a lower stack, provides more propulsion and energy return on each stride (inov-8 says 25% more), while supplying a comfortable and cushioned ride. 

The metaflex feature in the sole means the shoes responds well to technical terrain, the Boomerang footbed cushions footfall and supplies some bounce, and trail feedback remains pretty good when you do go off road. The mostly mesh upper allows your feet to breath easily, reduces the weight of the shoe and means the material allows water to escape after river and stream crossings, and dries quickly. The fit is wide, for extra comfort over long distances, and these shoes felt comfy straight out of the box.

Read our full Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review

Salomon Wildcross trail running shoe in brown and black

(Image credit: Salomon)
A howling, growling shoe, raring to go and ready for anything, no matter how horrendous the conditions underfoot are

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 290g/10.2oz
Materials: Full rubber Contagrip outsole, synthetic upper with Gore-tex SensiFit wings and water-repellent TUP mesh
Drop: 8mm
Best for: Technical trails and tough terrain in all conditions

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent grip and extremely stable 
+
Intelligent lacing system
+
Comfortable wide fit
+
Water repellant but breathable

Reasons to avoid

-
Tongue not integrated, which can allow ingress of grit
-
No rockplate

The Wildcross is a fit-for-anything shoe armed with an aggressive fang-filled full-rubber Contagrip outsole, with multi-dimensional 6mm lugs designed to grip the path like a wild dog no matter how bad conditions get. Born to battle elements head on and cope with sodden, sludgy trails, the Wildcross are effectively water repellant to the top of the tongue, and quick to dry when breached. They allow feet to breath fairly well, too, although they might run hot in mid summer. The Contagrip outsoles bite down on technical terrain and cling to surfaces superbly, but shed mud quickly. This level of traction is excellent during slippery climbs, and it provides superlative confidence-giving control on steep descents.

There’s no protective rockplate, but the generous ‘EnergyCell’ high-rebound midsole absorbs plenty of impact and recycles the energy by putting a big bounce in your upward step. There’s a plush amount of cushioning where the cuff meets the ankle, and Salomon have left more room in the inner and toe box than usual, making this a running shoe you can wear with thicker socks in colder months, and ideal for those with wider feet, or bunions. A rugged upper chassis features water-repellent TPU mesh, cloaked by Gore-Tex–armed ‘Sensifit Wings’ that provide protection, stability and security, all secured snuggly to the foot by a quicklace system (pull tight, lock the toggle  and tuck it into the pocket provided in the tongue, and you’re good to hit the trails, with zero chance of your laces coming undone and tripping you up).

Read our full Salomon Wildcross review

Barefoot style shoe

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail running shoe in gray and black

The Xero Shoes Mesa Trail is a barefoot-style trail running shoe with zero drop that allows you to feel the ground beneat your feet (Image credit: Xero Shoes)
Trail running shoes that allow you to truly feel the ground beneath you

Specifications

Weight (per shoe): 215g/7.6oz
Materials: durable rubber outsole, engineered mesh upper, moisture-wicking interior lining
Drop: 0mm
Best for: Various terrain types where agility matters

Reasons to buy

+
Superior traction
+
Featherweight design
+
Exceptional feel for the trail

Reasons to avoid

-
Minimal protection
-
Only for experienced barefoot-style runners

The hyper-agile Mesa Trail is the most footloose and fancy free trail-running shoe ever made by this American brand, who continue to evolve the category of minimally designed products with zero drop for dedicated barefoot enthusiasts. Xero Shoes bases all its products on the principles of natural running, allowing a runner’s feet to uninhibitedly interact with the ground. 

The Mesa Trail has been designed for light, fast and agile running on a variety of trail surfaces, from smooth dirt to technical, rocky routes. It has a low-to-the-ground construction that is essentially a 5mm flexible rubber outsole, an interior 3mm foam layer and a 2mm insole that’s cushy, breathable and removable. The interior feel is bolstered by a thin breathable, moisture-wicking lining. The chassis is decidedly thin but, still offers ‘just enough’ protection from rocks, roots, gravel and other obstacles on the trail, while the outsole is made from durable rubber with 3.5mm lugs that serves up great traction and a tad more protection, and the reinforced toe bumper provides security against stubbed toes. 

The Mesa Trail is exquisitely comfortable for such a sparsely cushioned shoe, but it still provides exceptional feel for the trail, which, depending on your experience with barefoot shoes and the surface you’re running on, could be a good thing or a bit of a challenge. Remember, running in minimally designed shoes takes know-how and experience, and initially you’re bound to endure some awkward landings and get some ‘stingers’ from pointed rocks and roots. (And avoid hard and sealed surfaces, otherwise your calves will be screaming.) But, if you’re a barefoot fan and like the concept of feeling the ground beneath your feet, you’ll love the comfort and agility of this shoe.

Read our full Xero Shoes Mesa Trail review

Best trail running shoes comparison table
Trail running shoeRRPWeightDropBest use
inov-8 Trail Fly Ultra G 300 Max$190 (US) / £170 (UK)300g / 10.6oz6mmUltra running, all-distance trail running on hard and rocky terrain, and some road running
Saucony Endorphin Edge£200 (UK)255g / 9oz6mmTrail running, mixed terrain routes
Merrell MTL Long Sky 2$140 (US) / £115 (UK)280g / 9.9oz4mmTechnical trail running
La Sportiva Bushido II$130 (US) / £130 (UK) / €170.50 (EU)305g / 10.75oz6mmmountain paths and technical singletrack trails
Saucony Peregrine 12$130 (US) / £130 (UK) / €150 (EU)Men’s: 275g / 9.7oz; Women’s: 235g / 8.3oz4mmTrail running across a wide variety of terrain, up to ultra distance
Topo MTN Racer 2$140 (US) / £140 (UK)498g / 17.6oz5mmWide-foot runners on soft terrain and muddy trails
adidas Terrex Agravic Pro review$220 (US) / £170 (UK) 308g / 10.9 oz4mmHigh-volume feet on any trail terrain
On Cloudventure Peak$150 (US) / £135 (UK)260g / 9.1oz4mmtechnical trails, mountains, steep terrain, racing
Hoka Texton X$200 / £175240g/8.5oz5mmTrails and tarmac
inov-8 Parkclaw G 280$180 (US) / £160 (UK)280g / 9.8oz8mmRoad and trail, up to ultra distance
Salomon Wildcross$130 (US) /£120 (UK)290g/10.2oz8mmSuperb for technical trails and tough terrain in all conditions
Xero Shoes Mesa Trail$120 (US) / £105 (UK)215g / 7.6oz0mmA 3-season minimally designed barefoot-style trail running shoe ideal for a variety of types of terrain

Testing

How we test the best trail running shoes

Our reviewers test trail-running shoes on varied terrain, including technical singletrack and mud, in a range of conditions, on training outings and during competitive events. Specific features (including grip, foot support, toe and heel protection, cushioning, waterproofing, breathability, materials used and general comfort) are tested against claims made by the brand, and we assess factors such as durability, environmental impact and value for money.

Choosing the best trail running shoes for you

Working out which of the best trail running shoes are right for you is a fairly involved process, but only because the range is so rich. Of course, it all depends on when and where you intend to run, and your personal preferences in terms of how much or little you like to ‘feel’ the trail.

If you're just working out how to start trail running, it's important to invest in quality footwear, first and foremost. From there, all you need to do is start to find good trails to run, kit yourself out with things like running gloves and trail running sunglasses, and you're good to go. 

The only thing that will stop you now is a trail running injury. You can significantly reduce the risk by matching your ambitions with the best trail running shoe for you. If your local trails are steep, rocky and often wet, then prioritise a shoe with good lugs offering great grip. If you’re going to be doing a bit of road running en route to your nearest trails, perhaps choose a shoe with a less aggressive outsole that can cope well with both sealed and unsealed surfaces.

So, before you buy, consider the following...

Comfort and fit

Striking a balance between weight and comfort is always an important consideration when choosing the best trail running shoes. You need footwear that will remain comfortable (and light, ideally) when wet, because trail running often involves legging it through mud, puddles, bogs, wet undergrowth and foliage, and tackling stream crossings. Try before you buy – make sure you have enough room in the toe box, and that the collar, tongue and lacing system won’t rub or cause you discomfort or hotspots.

If you’re doing any technical running at all, especially on tight twisty singletrack, it’s important to get your shoe as tightly cinched to your foot as possible, to avoid internal slippage. People’s feet vary enormously – if you have a wide foot or suffer from bunions, some brands (Salomon, for example) might be a bit tight. Other brands allow too much room in the toe box for runners with narrow feet. Often people have subtle differences between their left and right feet – try both shoes on (with running socks on) to make sure they’re comfortable and don’t have immediate rubbing concerns.

best trail running shoes

Salomons can be tight, so always check the next size up for the best fit (Image credit: Getty)

Protection

Unlike names, sticks and stones definitely can hurt you, and you will encounter plenty of both while trail running – and lots more besides. The wilderness is ungroomed – that’s why we love it. Inevitably, a trail running shoe won’t offer you as much protection from trippy roots, knobbly rocks and other natural obstacles as the best hiking boot or best hiking shoe, but look carefully at how substantial the outersole is, and check to see is there is a rockplate in the midsole, which will prevent the worst foot injuries (punctures) should you run over something seriously sharp. An integrated tongue will help keep grit out. 

Man running wearing inov-8 Trail Fly Ultra G 300 Max

inov-8's award winning Trail Fly Ultra G 300 Max trail running shoes offer excellent grip on rugged terrain (Image credit: inov-8)

Grip

Arguably the most important job the best trail running shoes need to perform is to keep you the right way up. Check out the configuration of the lugs on the outersole of the shoe you’re looking at, to see how aggressive they are. Think about it like the tread on the tyre of your car or mountain bike – simplistically put, the chunkier the tread the better grip and traction you will have on rough terrain, but the slower you’ll be in smoother conditions. 

Very aggressive lugs can make it feel like you’re walking around in football boots when you’re on sealed surfaces or rockhard ground. Rear-facing lugs on the heel can help you stay in control during steep descents. Materials are important too, softer rubbers provide a better, more bitey grip, but they’re not as hardwearing and will rub away relatively quickly.

Waterproofing and breathability

There is a tendency for outdoorsy types to automatically gravitate towards footwear with Gore-Tex (or equivalent) membranes in the uppers, but often this is overkill in a trail running shoe, making them run unnecessarily hot and pushing the price up. Trail running shoes tend to have a low cut cuff, well below the ankle, so it doesn’t take much for water to get in over the top – and if that happens then no amount of waterproofing will keep your socks dry. It’s often better to go with a shoe that incorporates lightweight mesh or materials that will drain and dry quicker, and allow your foot to breathe much better.

best trail running shoes

More often than not, you're going to come across water on a trail run (Image credit: Getty)

Durability

While you can’t expect to get the same lifespan out of a pair of trail running shoes as you would hiking boots or walking shoes (because they’re made from lighter materials and get subjected to more sustained and intense treatment), a degree of robustness should be sought. Check out materials, stitching and seam sealing, and look carefully at lacing systems for any signs that they might be vulnerable to failure. Harder outsoles are more longlasting, but softer rubbers supply better grip. Inov8’s graphene outersoles claim – with a fair amount of justification – to offer both.

best trail running shoes

The best trail running shoes should last you long enough to justify the price tag (Image credit: Getty)

Performance

While we often spend a lot of time inspecting the design of the upper or analyzing how well an outersole will perform, much of the magic in the best trail running shoes happens in the typically hidden midsole. Do your research or inspect the shoe to see how much cushioning it offers, and what the rebound is like. Pick a pair of shoes with a high lace eyelet – most do have at least one on either side of the shoe, higher up than the standard  lacing system goes – which is useful for preventing shoe loss during bog crossings.

best trail running shoes

With a variety of terrain in store, you want trail running shoes that will perform no matter what's beneath them (Image credit: Getty)

Drop, cushioning and rockers

Traditionally, running shoes were typically made with a ‘drop’ (which refers to the difference between the height of the heel and the toe) of around 12mm. In more recent years, the best trail running shoes have trended towards reducing that drop to 8mm or less, to better tune into the human bodies inherent, natural running style and because trails are much more forgiving on joints than roads are. 

Minimalist shoes have a very small drop, and true ‘barefoot’ shoes have none at all – taking a very tactile approach to the trail, where you fully engage with and can feel the terrain you’re running over, and have to think carefully about foot placement. Confusingly, you can get shoes with loads of cushioning in the sole, often called ‘maximalist’, that also claim to be minimalist because of their small drop. It’s better to think about the two things separately: how much drop do you prefer, and how much cushioning do you like? 

Some maximalist shoes have a ‘rocker’, which means instead of being flat to the floor, the bottom of the sole curves like the legs of a rocking chair, helping (it’s claimed) with forward propulsion from foot strike to lift off. Whether you love or hate these options is very subjective, and often comes down to your running style (whether you’re a heel, midfoot of forefoot striker). Try them on the trails and see what suits you best. 

best trail running shoes

Saucony's Peregrine 11s boast a savage grip for technical trails (Image credit: Saucony)

Value

We’ve all got budgets limits we need to stay within, and trail running shoes aren’t cheap, but if you find a hardwearing trail running shoe that’s suitable for all your off-road running needs, then it’s worth shelling out a bit more for it. Better to buy a shoe made with robust materials, than to go cheap and end up needing to replace more often.