The year is nearly half over and that means I’ve tested a lot of running shoes. I’ve tested trail running shoes built for rugged adventures and big, bouncy road running shoes meant for springing off the tarmac with each step. At one point, the pile of boxes in my bedroom filled with shoes waiting to be unleashed towered almost as tall as me. I’ve tested a few pairs that I really didn’t like and a lot that were good enough to recommend to others for various reasons, while just three stand out as contenders for best of 2023 so far.
For reference when deciding whether any of these shoes is the right pick for you, I will run on tarmac but prefer not to. I love running on trails, be it gravel, dirt, mud or grass. I do a little mountain running, but prefer to hike on the steep stuff and find rolling hills to pick up the pace on. I tend to run for around 10k at a time, though I’m not averse to adding a couple of kilometers if there’s a lovely loch or viewpoint worth seeing. I’m a heel striker and I take my time, running roughly three times a week.
With all that in mind, these three pairs of trail running shoes have taken top spot next to my front door. I rotate through these shoes each week to help reduce my chance of injury, and also because I love them all so much.
Without further ado, here are the three best trail running shoes I’ve tested this year:
Best for: Unparalleled all-day comfort on long runs
Not so great for: Protecting your toes against sharp rocks
These great-looking shoes are built for long days on the trail, when you need to prioritize comfort. The plush feeling you get the moment you pull them on is all thanks to a React Foam midsole and roomy toe box, while a rock plate adds protection and responsive stability when the trail gets a little rough.
Not only are these shoes lightweight and high performing on the trail as well as tarmac, they are also outstandingly stylish. Even though I live in Glasgow, the Trainer Capital of the World, I don’t love wearing trainers as everyday shoes; even so, I keep finding myself slinging these on to head to the airport or out the door for a yoga class. The uppers don’t provide too much protection for your feet against sharp rocks, so if you’re going technical mountain running, you will want a more technical shoe, but for most trails, you’ll love the all day comfort of these shoes.
Best for: Picking up the pace
Not so great for: Your wallet
Whereas the Wildhorse 8s stand out for their comfort, these trail running shoes tell everyone on the trail that you don’t want to slow down just because you’re crossing rough ground. They’re bold-looking and aren’t for the demure runner who wants to blend in, but their flashy vibe holds up on the trail.
A thick, but light foam rocker sole is enhanced by the addition of a carbon plate, which ensures you stay in control when the going gets rough and helps to propel you forward with every step. The cushioning offers plenty of protection from the ground underfoot, a sock-like fit and secure lacing system means you can really lock your heel down and braided laces stay put over long runs.
The mesh uppers of these shoes are more like a plastic netting covering your forefoot, providing excellent breathability and quick drying technology if you hit some puddles or stream crossings. Both the heel and toes are well-reinforced to prevent painful toe stubbings when it’s rocky underfoot. The price tag definitely gave me a little sticker shock, but if you want to spend the money for a light and fast ride over gravel and dirt paths, you’ll like the way these shoes handle.
Best for: Stability on varied terrain
Not so great for: Super technical trails
While I loved the other two pairs of shoes right out of the box, these ones snuck up on me. I wasn’t expecting to like them due to the shallow walls and high stack sole which struck me as a little unstable, but after a few runs I had to admit that I quite like them.
Asics have gone for comfort and stability here, developing a shoe that’s well-suited for varied terrain. A well-cushioned midsole and 8mm drop makes these ideal for those looking for a bouncy ride with lots of protection against rocks underfoot.
The uppers of these shoes are constructed using at least 50% recycled materials, meaning they’re lighter on the planet while you’re bounding along mud, grass and gravel trails in these and enjoying some great toe-off. If you live in a rainy local, you’ll find good grip in rainy and muddy conditions and while the high stack and shallow walls might not be best for uber technical trails, these are great for off-road medium-length runs where you want to ensure comfort till the end.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.