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Best Trail Running Shoes for Men and Women

Best Trail Running Shoes
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Updated May 26, 2024

It’s not even fair to compare the freedom and beauty that comes with running on trails to that of road running. The two sports are entirely different, which is why the footwear required for road running should never be put to the test on trails.

Trail-specific running shoes often come with extra features, like enhanced traction and protection from rocks or debris. There are trail shoes designed for running through muddy terrain and trail shoes that handle long distances better than the rest, and we found the best trail running shoes for whatever terrain you may find beneath your feet.

Below are our top trail running shoes, from the best shoe for steep climbs to the best shoe for running in mud and soft terrain.

How to choose trail running shoes

Not only will you need to take your foot shape into consideration (i.e., size, width, arch height, etc.) when selecting this type of running shoe, you’ll also need to consider the type of running you plan to do while out on the trails. Many trail runners will end up owning multiple pairs, each for a different type of trail run, but these three factors can help you narrow down which shoe you need to buy for your next trail run.

Distance

The longer the distance you plan to run, the more cushioning you’ll likely want in your trail shoe. Shorter distances (anything less than 15km) require the least cushioning, and either a barefoot (no padding) or minimal shoe would work well. Moderate distances (anything between 25-50 kilometers) pair best with moderate shoes, which are designed with enough padding to cushion the path over rocky trails. Longer distances (anything more than 50 kilometers) do best with maximum cushioning, and come in a range of drops (i.e., the difference between the height of the shoe at the toe versus the height of the shoe at the heel). A zero-drop shoe offers no heel cushioning (typically found in a barefoot shoe), while 6-10 millimeter drop shoes offer a bit more heel support. It’s always a good idea to size up at least a half size if you plan to run longer distances; this small difference allots for swelling and could end up saving you a toenail. The best places to buy shoes for trail running will have size and measurement guides to help you determine the best fit.

Terrain

Knowing what types of trails you plan to run on will help narrow down which type of trail shoe you’re looking to buy. Often, your choices will be between light trail (made for relatively uniform terrain, like gravel roads, packed-dirt paths, fire roads, etc.), rugged trail (made for versatility on trails with more varied terrain, like hiking trails), or off trail (made for truly remote running, like forests, mesas, etc.).

Goals

Hitting the trails a few times a month versus a few times a week makes a big difference in the features you should look for in your trail running shoe. Lightweight and hybrid (i.e., road and trail) shoes are a great place to begin for anyone just starting out, while features like having durable upper materials matter more for runners looking to take their running to the next level. Planning to do a lot of scrambling on uneven terrain on your trail runs? You’ll want to look for a shoe with enhanced traction. Winter runners, on the other hand, may want something with a built-in gaiter or a solid waterproof membrane.

Our top picks for the best trail running shoes

Best lightweight trail running shoe: HOKA Tecton X 2 (men’s), HOKA Tecton X 2 (women’s)

Made from Matryx, a light and durable material, these trail shoes somehow manage to have generous cushioning while only weighing 9.1 ounces for a men’s size 9. They’re incredibly comfortable and come with cool features like integrated carbon plating that help keep things firm while you’re busy shaving seconds off your race times. Shopping tip: Hoka also made our lists for the best running shoes for men, best running shoes for women, the best walking shoes, and the best shoes for plantar fasciitis.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Cushioning: Moderate
  • Drop: 5 millimeters

What we like:

  • HOKA’s ProFly X technology boosts responsiveness
  • The high-contrast uppers are some of the best out there and keep out virtually all trail debris

What we don’t like:

  • While the Vibram Litebase is great on hard and dry surfaces, these shoes don’t handle quite as well in wet conditions or on uneven trails

The bottom line:

A responsive, carbon-plated shoe that shaves seconds off race times.

Best lightweight for men
HOKA Tecton X 2

HOKA Tecton X 2

Best lightweight for women
HOKA Tecton X 2 (women’s)

HOKA Tecton X 2 (women’s)

Best waterproof trail running shoes: Nike Pegasus Trail 4 Gore-Tex (men’s), Nike Pegasus Trail 4 Gore-Tex (women’s)

Count on Nike, where you can buy everything from running shorts to workout shirts, sweatpants to hoodies, and every type of sneaker for nearly every type of sport, to offer a great pair of trail running shoes. Nothing’s getting through the Gore-Tex invisible fit outer shell of this water impermeable trail shoe. Built-in gaiters grip to runners’ ankles to provide an extra layer of protection from wet conditions, while a generative traction pattern offers increased traction on wet surfaces.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 9.8 ounces
  • Cushioning: Maximum
  • Drop: 9.5mm

What we like:

  • No one does a color combination quite like Nike, and this pair is one of their best creations to-date.
  • Not only do we love this traction on wet trails, but it’s quickly become one of our top trail shoes for dry climbs as well.

What we don’t like:

  • The breathability suffers a bit in the name of waterproofing, but more often than not we don’t mind the extra warmth while running through cold creeks

The bottom line:

An impermeable trail shoe with built-in gaiters that performs well on both dry and wet terrain.

Best waterproof for men
Nike Men's Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX Waterproof Trail Running Shoes in Black, Size: 6 | DJ7926-001

Nike Men's Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX Waterproof Trail Running Shoes in Black, Size: 6 | DJ7926-001

Best waterproof for women
Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX Women's Waterproof Trail Running Shoes

Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX Women's Waterproof Trail Running Shoes

Best cushioned trail running shoes: Cloudultra 2 (men’s), Cloudultra 2 (women’s)

Leave it to On (a high-performance sports shoe and clothing company that also made our list of the best running shoes) to create one of our favorite max-cushioned trail shoes. These all-terrain shoes were made for long-distance running, with a patented superfoam that, yes, feels like running on a cloud even over jagged terrain.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Cushioning: Maximum
  • Drop: 6 millimeters

What we like:

  • The knitted sock upper slips on easily and hugs like a glove; bonus: It’s made from 100% recycled materials
  • There’s no sacrificing grip for the sake of comfort, as the new Missiongrip™ outsole sticks to even the trickiest terrain

What we don’t like:

  • Rocks can get stuck in the deep grooves

The bottom line:

The most comfortable trail running shoe; it even has the name to prove it.

Best cushioned for men
Cloudultra 2 (men’s)

Cloudultra 2 (men’s)

Best cushioned for women
Cloudultra 2 (women’s)

Cloudultra 2 (women’s)

Best stability trail running shoes: ASICS Gel-Trabuco 11 (men’s), ASICS Gel-Trabuco 11 (women’s)

This shoe is a favorite for runners with overpronation, but it also does wonders for stability while on the trails by transferring weight inward to absorb shock and support posture. Asics also incorporated a dual density midsole system with this shoe that, when paired with the gel cushioning, created a hyper responsive shoe with superior stability.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 10.8 ounces
  • Cushioning: Moderate
  • Drop: 8 millimeters

What we like:

  • The durable rock plate is a solid barrier for anything you’ll encounter on the trails, from sharp branches to jagged rocks
  • Multi-directional lugs make for some truly sticky traction on long, slow runs

What we don’t like:

  • Lugs are spacious enough for rocks to get stuck in between them frequently, which could affect traction

The bottom line:

This shoe’s superior stability comes with bonus posture support and shock absorption.

Best stability for men
ASICS Gel-Trabuco 11 (men’s)

ASICS Gel-Trabuco 11 (men’s)

Best stability for women
ASICS Gel-Trabuco 11 (women’s)

ASICS Gel-Trabuco 11 (women’s)

Best trail running shoes for wide feet: Altra Lone Peak 7 (men’s), Altra Lone Peak 7 (women’s)

Although Altra’s Lone Peak 7 comes in wide sizing, the original version is often roomy enough on its own with the brand’s signature Footshape™ design. The shape of these shoes mimics the natural shape of a foot, which provides more room and a more natural (and comfortable) gait.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 11 ounces
  • Cushioning: Moderate
  • Drop: 0mm

What we like:

  • The quick dry air mesh improves breathability and is perfect for long runs
  • The cushion is an ideal blend of comfort and responsiveness, where you’ll feel the trail without any foot fatigue

What we don’t like:

  • The tread wears just a bit quicker than the Altra tread we’re used to

The bottom line:

Even the original version offers a roomy run.

Best for wide feet - men
Altra Lone Peak 7 (men’s)

Altra Lone Peak 7 (men’s)

Best for wide feet - women
Altra Lone Peak 7 (women’s)

Altra Lone Peak 7 (women’s)

Best winter trail running shoes: La Sportiva Blizzard GTX (Unisex)

The 4WD of trail running shoes, La Sportiva’s Blizzard can handle snowy trails, icy inclines, and even frozen ponds with relative ease. The shoe’s Gore-Tex upper and built-in gaiter protect and insulate feet while the aggressive outsole fitted with durable hobnails keeps traction in the slipperiest of conditions. Note: La Sportiva’s sizing is unisex, and goes by European numbered sizing, so please consult their size chart before purchasing.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 13.3 ounces
  • Cushioning: moderate
  • Drop: 6 millimeters

What we like:

  • Three words: Tungsten. Alloy. Spikes.
  • Everything is waterproof, even the 4-way stretch screen guard

What we don’t like:

  • Takes a bit of breaking in to find peak comfort in these shoes
  • The toe box is on the stiffer side, which takes some getting used to

The bottom line:

The 4WD of trail running shoes.

Best winter trail running shoes (Unisex)
La Sportiva Blizzard GTX

La Sportiva Blizzard GTX

Best trail and road running shoes: Brooks Divide 4 (men’s), Brooks Divide 4 (women’s)

It’s not easy to make a shoe that blends the best of a road shoe with the best of a trail shoe—but leave it to Brooks to nail the combo. These shoes are perfect for a trail run that starts off on the road since they feature an adaptable outsole and a durable upper.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Cushioning: minimal
  • Drop: 8 millimeters

What we like:

  • The traction holds up on wet and dry terrain
  • Very lightweight for being such a technical shoe

What we don’t like:

  • Slightly wider toe box than most other Brooks sneakers

The bottom line:

Brooks nailed the road-to-trail transition with this combo shoe.

Best trail and road - men’s
Brooks Divide 4 (men’s)

Brooks Divide 4 (men’s)

Best trail and road - women’s
Brooks Running, Women's Brooks Divide 4 Trail Running Shoes, Purple/Navy/Oyster

Brooks Running, Women's Brooks Divide 4 Trail Running Shoes, Purple/Navy/Oyster

Best trail running shoe for long runs: Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 (men’s), Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 (women’s)

There’s a distinct “cloud-like” feel to these trail shoes, which makes the biggest difference after pounding the dirt with them for more than five miles. This is Topo’s third edition of their Ultraventure shoe, and it’s their best yet with a more responsive ZipFoam compound that cushions deeper and lifts higher. These shoes are durable and lightweight, making them ideal for long runs.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Cushioning: Maximum
  • Drop: 5 millimeters

What we like:

  • The Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole allows for safe movement, where flexibility and stability merge almost seamlessly

What we don’t like:

  • These are best suited for mild to moderate terrain

The bottom line:

Deep cushioning and superior durability make this the ultimate long-distance contender.

Best trail running shoe for long runs (men’s)
Topo Athletic Men's Lightweight Comfortable 5MM Drop Ultraventure 3 Trail Running Shoes, Athletic Shoes for Trail Running, Green/Forest, Size 10

Topo Athletic Men's Lightweight Comfortable 5MM Drop Ultraventure 3 Trail Running Shoes, Athletic Shoes for Trail Running, Green/Forest, Size 10

Best trail running shoe for long runs (women’s)
Topo Athletic Women's Lightweight Comfortable 5MM Drop Ultraventure 3 Trail Running Shoes, Athletic Shoes for Trail Running, Navy/Blue, Size 8

Topo Athletic Women's Lightweight Comfortable 5MM Drop Ultraventure 3 Trail Running Shoes, Athletic Shoes for Trail Running, Navy/Blue, Size 8

Best trail running shoes for steep climbs: VJ Spark Quick Attack OCR

This lightweight shoe grips like a gecko, even in wet conditions, making it ideal for trekking uphill. Aggressive lugs meet with fitlock lacing to lock your foot in the shoe and your shoe to your trail. It’s also a unisex shoe, so make sure to double-check the size chart when purchasing.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 8.95 ounces
  • Cushioning: Minimal
  • Drop: 5 millimeters

What we like:

  • Few shoes can compete with this grip. You’ll find yourself with confident stability, even on wet, leafy trails
  • The fitlock lacing around the collar prevents stray rocks or debris from entering the shoe mid-run and locks it in place in sticky situations

What we don’t like:

  • There is very low cushioning, which limits this shoe’s versatility. Although short-distance runners who love to feel the trail beneath their feet may view that as a benefit
  • Anyone not used to a snug fit may feel uncomfortable at first in this aggressively laced shoe; but seasoned trail runners love the responsiveness this feature provides

The bottom line:

This shoe grips to anything the trail may throw at you.

Best trail running shoes for steep climbs (Unisex)
VJ Spark Lightweight, Quick Attack OCR & Trail Running Shoes Voted as a Runner's World Best New Shoe of 2022

VJ Spark Lightweight, Quick Attack OCR & Trail Running Shoes Voted as a Runner's World Best New Shoe of 2022

Best trail running shoe for mud and soft terrain: Salomon Speedcross 6 (men’s), Salomon Speedcross 6 (women’s)

These shoes shed mud quicker and let you run quicker through wet conditions. This updated version of the beloved Salomon Speedcross comes with better breathability (enhanced mesh uppers) and a fine-tuned lug-depth to truly perfect the mud running experience. The Speedcross 6 propels you through mushy terrain without any hiccups.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 10.5 ounces
  • Cushioning: moderate
  • Drop: 10 millimeters

What we like:

  • There’s no other shoe we’d want to run a Tough Mudder in
  • The traction performs equally well—if not better—in dry conditions

What we don’t like:

  • It makes up for in traction what it lacks in stability. We’re hoping the Speedcross 7 delivers the stability we’re seeking to make this the ultimate trail running shoe

The bottom line:

The Speedcross 6 propels you through mushy terrain without any hiccups.

Best trail running shoe for mud and soft terrain (men’s)
Salomon Speedcross 6 (men’s)

Salomon Speedcross 6 (men’s)

Best trail running shoe for mud and soft terrain (women’s)
Salomon Speedcross 6 (women’s)

Salomon Speedcross 6 (women’s)

Best trail running shoe for mountain terrain: Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 (men’s), Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 (women’s)

Aside from being one of the lightest elite trail running shoes on the market, Merrell’s MTL Skyfire 2 is also one of the most agile. Merrell’s FlexPlate sits beneath double layers of FloatPro foam that puts performance first while traversing rocky terrain. The grip is incredible as well, offering confidence for downhill slopes and grip for uphill climbs equally as well.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 6.88 ounces
  • Cushioning: Minimal
  • Drop: 6 millimeters

What we like:

  • The weight and functionality of this shoe knock seconds off trail times
  • The mountain goat-like grip is borderline exhilarating

What we don’t like:

  • Protection has room for improvement

The bottom line:

The mountain goat-like grip is borderline exhilarating.

Best trail running shoe for mountain terrain (men's)
Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 (men’s)

Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 (men’s)

Best trail running shoe for mountain terrain (women's)
Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 (women’s)

Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 (women’s)

How we chose the best trail running shoes

We selected the best trail running shoes based on personal experience, as well as numerous online reviews. I’m an avid runner and professional gear reviewer, and I have spent countless hours on the trails testing, rating, and enjoying my favorite trail shoes. I have learned first-hand—sometimes the hard way—which shoe pairs with which terrain best, and, chances are very good that, if you run into me on the trail, I’m going to ask you about your shoes and what you like best about them.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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