If you love to sweat it out on the trail, and go on excursions then you’ll need a solid trail runner. But the market is flooded with hundreds of pairs, and you are on this page because of want to which is the best pair out there.
So we went on hike of our own, to test out the best of the best. On this page you will find recommendations, comparison charts and reviews of the top trail runners. We also have prepared the ultimate guide on trail running shoes.
So let’s talk about recommendations first –
The best Trail Runner for All Terrains – Salomon SpeedCross 4
The SpeedCross 4 has the best traction among trail runners and pairs that up with a snug fit. It gave us a pretty consistent perforamance on all terrains and countinues to carry forward the legendary trail running tradition of the Speedcross series.
(Link to Men’ and Women’s)
Best Budget Trail Running Shoe – Asics Gel Kahana 8
If you are into occasional trail running and need something on a budget, the Kahana 8 is what we recommend. It ranks on high on comfort thanks to the Gel cushioning system and is one of the most durable trail runners out there.
Most Comfortable Trail Runner (Men’s) – Hoka One One Men’s Challenger ATR 2 Trail Running Shoe
Most Comfortable Trail Runner (Women’s) – Saucony Womens’ Peregrine 6 Trail Running Shoe
Best Barefoot/Minimalist Shoe (Men’s) – Tesla Men’s Trail Running Barefoot Shoe BK30
Best Barefoot/Minimalist Shoe (Women’s) – Merell Women’s Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Trail Running Shoe
In the next section, we review each of our recommendations in detail.
Salomon Speedcross 4 Trail Runner
The successor of the acclaimed Speedcross 3, the latest variant has improved in comfort, and still dominates the trail running industry with regard to traction. Here’s more –
- The shoe feels snug and is pretty comfortable all around.
- Traction is unparalleled and it is able to provide excellent grip on all terrains.
- The outsole with the aggressive lug design is durable and continues to give the same grip even after multiple runs.
- With its loud and rugged design, you make a loud style statement when you step on the trail wearing these.
- With a narrow toe, your feet feel tired after longer runs.
- Water draining is not the best, and it takes time for the Speedcross 4 to dry up.
If you have been using the Speedcross 3, you will instantly feel that this is a bit more comfortable because of increased padding near the ankles and better heel stability.
However, the most noticeable difference is seen in the lace design. The upper no longer pinches your feet and overall the fit is sung.
And yes, the impact on the heels is minimal thanks to the EVA foam cushioning.
Stability and Traction
The Speedcross 4 makes easy work of trails. Wearing these, you just cruise along across the trail. It firmly grips mud, doesn’t slip on water (and even snow) and crushes the tiny rocks that come in its way.
On the flipside, with a considerable heel to toe drop (10mm), the shoe feels less stable, especially while going downhill. Having said that, you get used to the this and after 3-4 runs and the overall performance improves.
The Speedcross 4 isn’t perfect and comes with issues of its own. First up, with a narrow toe design, your feet get tired easily. As we run for extended periods, our feet tend to stretch and that is somewhat restricted in this. And secondly, the shoe is not that breathable and your feet feel warm after long runs.
It doesn’t handle water that well either, and if you step on a patch of water, you won’t slip but it will take time for the shoe to dry up.
The Speedcross 4 is a true all rounder. Comfort is not an issue, your feet are protected and traction is unbeatable.
If you go on longer runs, however, then be prepared for sweaty and tired feet.
- Call to Action to Men’s And Womens’
Hoka One One Men’s Challenger ATR 2 Trail Running Shoe
After a lot of failed attempts at trail running shoes, Hoka finally figured it out with the Challenger ATR 2. For all the comfort seekers out this the best pair you can get –
Comfort – 10/10
Protection – 9.5/10
Stability – 8.5/10
Traction – 6.5/10
Durability – 6/10
- With the 29 mm EVA foam midsole, it is comfortable from the get go. Provides enough cushioning for any impact you might encounter on the trail).
- The Meta-tracker design leads to a best-in-class stability and you’ll have no problems going uphill or downhill.
- With a weight of just 20 ounces for a size 11 shoe, this is extremely light. Longer runs feel less tiresome and you can reach faster speeds with ease.
- The outsole starts to crack up with regular use.
- Due to extra cushioning, the shoe lacks any trail sensitivity.
The ATR 2 gets the best score in comfort among trail running shoes. It manages to do that with the 29 mm midsole. The ankle padding guards you against the rough edges of the trail and finally, the heel cup feels supportive.
This will help you in two ways –
- Your feet feel less tired even after a long run.
- Your feet are completely protected from the impact which you encounter on the trail.
Stability & Traction
Because of such a large layer of foam, the midsole is also exposed to the ground. Because of this, traction takes a hit. When the train was muddy, we had to encounter occasional slip issues. Put on a straight trail, we had no issues.
The stability in the ATR 2 has improved leaps and bounds compared to other Hoka shoes. This is done because of the improved meta-tracker design. So when you land your heel, you are easily able to roll the toe forward. Even while going downhill, the landing is stable.
Overall, the ATR 2 does a good job on the rocky and hilly terrain. On muddier trails, you have to be a bit careful with your footing.
The biggest problem with the ATR2 is the durability. The outsole seems flimsy and users started to see cracks after their 10th run. Again, in our tests, the ATR 2 was put under extreme conditions, but still, this shoe (or at least the outsole) isn’t designed to last long.
We will recommend the ATR 2 for all of you who run on the trail for long hours. Also if you are coming out of an injury or have some knee conditions, the added cushioning in the ATR 2 will be of big help.
But if you hit the trails, every weekend going for something more durable (like the The North Face Ultra Endurance) will make a lot more sense.
Asics Men’s Gel-Kahana 8 Trail Runner
If you are looking for something in a budget, then the Kahana 8 is what we’ll recommend. Here’s why –
Comfort – 7/10
Stability – 7.5/10
Traction – 6/10
Durability – 8.5/10
- The Gel technology adapts to your feet and provides better protection all around.
- With a wider toe box you, long runs feel less tiring and stability is also top-notch.
- The Kahana 8 (like any other Asics shoe) is well built and is one of the most durable shoes we tested.
- The traction and grip are average and we had to encounter multiple slip issues.
- It is also on the heavier side, and running fast requires considerable effort.
We were surprised with the comfort of the Kahana 8. The gel pods conform to your feet, and the break in period was the lowest.
Next, with a wider toe box, your toes have enough room to stretch after a long run. And yes, your toe is also protected with a hard toe cap. (A rare feature in trail running shoes).
The mesh handles the trail pretty well, and the wear and tear after a long run was minimal.
Stability and Traction
The wider toe box, apart from being super comfortable, improves the stability too. To add to that, the patented ASICS DuoMax system (dual density midsole) adds to the support of the shoe. So if you are planning to take this on mountain trails, you have nothing to worry about.
Traction, however, is not that impressive. The sole is particularly slippery in wetter conditions, and you really have to be firm with your landing.
The Kahana 8 has a lot of things going for it. It is comfortable (even on long runs), has one of the most durable built and is the most stable shoe at its price.
If you go occasional hikes, then getting the Kahana 8 proves to the best bang for your buck.
Saucony Womens’ Peregrine 6 Trail Running Shoe
Looking for that ‘extra comfort’ in your trail runner? The Peregrine 6 is one of the most comfortable trail runners and performs reasonably well in other metrics too.
Comfort – 8.5/10
Protection – 8/10
Stability – 9/10
Traction – 9/10
Durability – 6.5/10
- This has the best all rounded cushioning which results in a snug fit.
- The added heel pad shields your feet from the high impact of the trail.
- It Peregrine 6 nails traction and is the stability is first-class irrespective of the trail.
- Finally, with a lighter weight and wider toe box, it is excellent for longer runs too.
- It will take you time to get used to this and because of sewn seams lead to heel blisters.
- The upper provides average protection.
The Peregrine 6 scores high scores in comfort. There is an added layer of cushioning just beneath your feet and this guards you against the impact you feel while running on an uneven trail.
Secondly, with the wider toe box, the shoe feels quite comfortable on longer runs too. The ankle padding and a rounded heel cup give you ample support.
But, Saucony did a terrible job with seams (near the heels). This caused heel blisters and comfort takes a big hit because of this. But after 3-4 runs, our feet get adjusted to that, and the following runs are a lot smoother.
Stability & Traction
The Peregrine 6 has the most aggressive lug design we have seen in a trail runner. This obviously leads to solid traction on all terrains. The multidirectional lugs stomp through the tiny rocks and overall performance stays fairly consistent after multiple runs.
The story remains the same with stability and a wider toe area makes running downhill safer. The 4mm heel to toe drop is what you find in most shoes, so no adjustment required.
Apart from the heel blisters discussed earlier, the quality of the upper is also average. While running on rockier trails, it started to tear up. However, on flatter trails, no such issue was encountered.
The Saucony Peregrine 6 came close to winning the best all-rounder pick. But, the longer break in period and average upper durability is what tilted the odd in the favor of Speedcross 4.
But still, this is one of the most comfortable women’s’ trail running shoe out there, and other than rocky conditions, it stomps through the trails.
The Barefoot Experience – Best Minimalist trail running shoes
Women’s’ Recommendation – Merell Women’s Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Trail Running Shoe
If you are a seasoned runner and want to soak in the the experience of the trail, then the Merell Vapor Glove 2 is the best barefoot shoe women can buy. Here is everything about it –
A good barefoot trail runner has zero heel to toe drop and minimal cushioning. This is exactly what we find in the Glove 2. The footbed is also connected with the outsole so there is little separation between the ground and your feet.
We could feel the rocks, the mud and grass, basically everything that came in our path.
The shoe also takes care of long runs. The mesh is breathable and drains out water fairly quickly. And yes, Vibam outsole was the most durable we could find among barefoot trail runners.
The upper mesh is the least durable part of the whole shoe. In rockier terrain it starts to tear apart. But then again barefoot shoes are not known to perform on rockier terrains.
If you put rocky terrain aside, our minimalist experts absolutely loved this. The fit is snug, the outsole is durable and the shoe has excellent breathability.
Men’s Recommendation – Tesla Men’s Trail Running Barefoot Shoe BK30
Our recommendation for the best barefoot experience comes from a relatively unknown brand. It has been getting rave reviews and we decided to test it out. Here is what we found –
Right off the bat, it has everything that you expect from a barefoot shoe. There is minimal cushioning and zero heel to toe drop. If you are a heel striker it will take some time for you to get used to the shoe.
The only cushioning you get is with the insole (which btw is removable) and we recommend removing it for the ultimate experience.
The mesh on the top is also quite breathable and with a wider toe box, we had no problems on long runs.
The sole is made of rubber. In terms of traction you can’t expect much but still, this has the best traction among barefoot trail running shoes as of now.
Now coming to the main talking point, the experience! You really feel the trail wearing these. It can get a bit uncomfortable in rockier conditions, but for the most part, we loved running wearing the BK40.
The durability of the BK40 can be compared with likes of SpeedCross 4, but for about 30 bucks, it gives many high-end shoes a run for their money.
The weakest part has to be the upper and there are chances that the mesh starts to tear up. The rubber sole will begin to crack up in trails with rocks.
With the Tesla BK30, you get what you are paying for. More importantly, it provides the minimalist experience, you get used to it after 3-4 miles of running and the traction is also quite impressive.
For the price, the BK30 is of incredible value and we are pretty darn sure you are going to love it too.
So that ends our recommendations, in the next section we talk about the process we followed while making our recommendations and how you can buy the best trail running pair.
Ultimate Guide to Buying the Best Trail Running Shoe
“It’s not where you take the trail… it’s where the trail takes you.”
If you go by this mantra, you’ll need a badass shoe that carry you around. But a simple search on Amazon will render a gazillion results. Ok not quite, but still searching for a good pair, can be gruesome.
We tested and tested and you can find all our recommendations above. In this section, we will tell you how we went about our search. This guide will help you choose the perfect pair.
But why not a regular regular shoe?
Folks still like to have the good’ol running shoe vs trail shoe debate. ‘Why can’t I use my regular shoes”. Well, you can but you are gonna tear them up, and most probably injure your foot.
Normal (Running) shoes are designed for paved paths. Made of lightweight materials, they are designed for speed. Trail running shoes provide greater cushioning to the user to protect your feet and also have aggressive treads for better traction.
Better protection and better comfort help you to focus on your run instead of wondering what you might step on.
What kind of runner are you?
When it comes to trail running its’ all about experience. There are two broad categories in which the runners fall into –
95% of the trail running shoes are made to fall into this category. They have a heel to toe drop, have a rich layer of cushioning, and treads are designed for better traction.
This is the kind of shoe you should get if you are just getting into trail running. Even experienced runners going on challenging trails, go for traditional shoes.
If you want comfort and support, these are the one’s you should buy.
If you are one of those who people who are known for quotes like “Life is meant to be lived” and go on and on about ‘experiences’, then you will dig the barefoot trail running shoes.
Don’t worry we are not judging you, infact we believe we need more people like you.
Talking about bare foot shoes, they have zero heel to toe drop and outsole is the only cushioning you get.
This is done to mimic the way humans ran for centuries, and for all the thrill seekers out there, you must get a pair of barefoot trail running shoes.
What the Shoe should have?
Now that you have identified what kind of shoe you want, lets’ focus on what all things make a ‘good trail running shoe’.
- Comfort and Protection
Your trail run will probably stretch for hours and you don’t want your feet to get tired that easily. Comfort is more or less subjective, and while testing out multiple pairs we came to this conclusion –
- Normal cushioning will work for most runners. (however if you prone to injuries go for greater cushioning.)
- More cushioning is required at the heel.
- The mesh needs to be super breathable and repel water. (You don’t want sweaty or wet feet)
Next, protection should be taken care of. This is done by a rigid outsole, that is able to shove of all the tiny stones that come in your way.
- Traction and Stability
You don’t want to slip on the trail right? A good trail running shoe should nail traction. Most do so by an aggressive tread design, that helps to grip the muddy surface.
Our recommendations also offer the best traction even in wet conditions, so if you encounter a wet patch on the trail, you have nothing to worry about.
- How they Look
Everyone loves a good looking pair and shoe manufacturers have finally realized that. We are not trying to say that good looking shoes were not made earlier, but they generally lacked quality.
The shoes we have recommended rank pretty high in style but don’t compromise on quality. (Now that’s a combination you need)
So that’s about it, go back to our recommendations, take a pick and hit the trail. And if there is something that you want to ask, drop a comment below.