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Trail running shoes are for people who run off-road on uneven surfaces. This type of running shoe comes with features that include protection against sharp objects and soles with extra grip.
A quick look at 5 of the best trail running shoes
- Best for zero-drop shoes: Altra Men’s Lone Peak 5
- Best for racing at different elevations: Brooks Catamount
- Best for extra cushioning: Hoka One One Kaha 2 Low GTX
- Best for easy on and off: Salomon Speedcross 6
- Best for keeping feet dry: Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX
Trail running shoes are for running on rocky or muddy surfaces. A person may find that trail running shoes offer more stability than road running shoes when running on uneven ground.
A person may also benefit from rock plates in some trail running shoes. These are plates between the midsoles and outsoles that protect the feet from sharp objects.
This article explores what trail running shoes are, what to look for in this type of running shoe, and some products that are available for purchase online.
People should consider what to look for and what to avoid before committing to a purchase.
Do look for shoes with:
- minimal heel-to-toe drop
- no features that can interfere with the natural motion of the foot
- a lightweight design
- neutral cushioning
Avoid shoes with:
- a heel-to-toe drop of 7 mm or more
- a heavyweight design
- thick cushioning
- extra arch supports or orthotics, unless necessary
Medical News Today chooses trail running shoes that meet the following criteria:
- Price: Shoes that fit a range of budgets.
- Heel-to-toe drop: Shoes that feature a range of heel-to-toe drops, from zero drops to 10 mm.
- Cushioning: Shoes that feature a range of cushioning, making them suitable for most terrains.
- Weight: Shoes that are lightweight in design, which may increase running performance.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.
Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.
Best for zero-drop shoes: Altra Men’s Lone Peak 5
- Price: around $105–215
- Heel-to-toe drop: 0 millimeters (mm)
- Cushioning: neutral
- Weight: 11.01 ounces (oz)
- Pro: zero heel-toe drop is similar to barefoot running and may help performance
- Con: customers state there is not enough cushioning for heavier body weights
The Altra Men’s Lone Peak 5 trail running shoes have a rubber sole and a stack height of 22 mm.
The company claims its MaxTrac outsole provides traction and makes the shoe ideal for any terrain. There is also a StoneGuard rock plate for protection against stones and sharp terrain.
The 0 mm drop, or zero-drop, may provide similar benefits to barefoot running, customers report.
The shoes also feature a balanced cushioning platform that supports form and alignment, Altra EGO foam for added energy return and a more comfortable feel, and quick-dry air mesh uppers.
The quick-dry uppers may make this shoe beneficial for people who trail run in wet and dry conditions.
This product comes in different sizes and color combinations, such as dark slate and red, khaki, and gray and orange.
Best for racing at different elevations: Brooks Catamount
- Price: $160
- Heel-to-toe drop: 6 mm
- Cushioning: light
- Weight: 9.3 oz
- Pro: features sticky traction for a variety of elevations and terrains
- Con: not available in any widths apart from medium
According to the company, the Catamount men’s trail running shoes are suitable for people who enjoy trail running and racing.
These shoes feature ultralight cushioning, flexible protection, and sticky traction for traveling uphill or downhill.
The sticky traction may make these shoes a good choice for people who race off-road at different elevations.
The Catamount men’s trail running shoes are available in different colors and sizes. It is only available in a medium (1D) width.
The company offers free shipping and returns.
Best for extra cushioning: Hoka One One Kaha 2 Low GTX
- Price: $220
- Heel-to-toe drop: 6 mm
- Cushioning: plush
- Weight: 16.80 oz
- Pro: extra cushioning may be beneficial for harder surfaces
- Con: the most heavyweight shoe in this article
Hoka One One describes these shoes as gender-neutral. The company states the shoe is durable and has a good weight-to-cushion ratio.
This shoe is reportedly eco-friendly. The footwear fabric contains recycled textiles, and the sockliner contains 50% soybean oil.
Other features include dual-density compressed molded foam in the midsole, abrasion-resistant toecap and heel, and plush cushioning.
This shoe may be a good option for people who prefer shoes with extra cushioning and who want to reduce their environmental impact. It is available in three colors: shifting sand and eggnog, cork and cappuccino, and Oxford tan and dune.
Hoka One One offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, free delivery, and free shipping.
Best for easy on and off: Salomon Speedcross 6
- Price: around $140–182
- Heel-to-toe drop: 10 mm
- Cushioning: regular
- Weight: 10.5 oz
- Pro: it may be more suitable for muddy terrain due to the higher grip
- Con: the shoe is not waterproof
This shoe features a one-pull tightening lacing system for easy on and easy off. This may be useful for people who find their shoelaces become looser over time.
The shoe has neutral foot support, and the company states it is suitable for any frequency of trail running, from once a week to four or more times a week.
Salomon states this running shoe is lighter than its predecessor but still offers the same traction power and grip on muddy terrain. It is not waterproof but does contain sustainable recycled materials.
Salomon offers a 45-day return money-back guarantee and offers free shipping for Saloman Plus members.
Best for keeping feet dry: Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX
- Price: $160
- Heel-to-toe drop: 10 mm
- Cushioning: soft
- Weight: 8.9 oz
- Pro: suitable for on- and off-road running
- Con: features a higher heel-to-toe drop
This running shoe is reportedly light, waterproof, offers a stable run, and is suitable for both on- and off-road exercise.
The shoe features a high ankle gaiter which helps keep debris and water from entering the shoe. This may appeal to people who tend to run in wetter conditions or through puddles, as this shoe may help keep feet dry.
The Pegasus Trail also has rubber numbs on the sole that increases grip when people run uphill or downhill.
This shoe is available in a variety of multicolor options. However, the company warns that the fit of the shoe is small, and recommends people purchase half a size up.
Nike offers free standard shipping and a 60-day returns policy for Nike members.
Below is a comparison chart of the trail running shoes in this article.
A person can consider the following factors before buying a pair of trail running shoes:
- Lug length: People can choose trail running shoes with a short lug pattern on the sole if they plan to run on stones and hard dirt. A deep lug pattern can be helpful for muddy or soft surfaces.
- Shoe width: People with wide feet or those who wish to run long distances can choose shoes with a wide forefoot. However, these may not be the best option for individuals who have narrow feet.
- Shoe weight: Companies sometimes display the shoe weight on their product pages. People may find this helpful, as they can make sure the shoe will not be too heavy or uncomfortable after long periods.
- Price: Trail running shoes often come with a one-time purchase price, but some brands also accept monthly payments.
- Padding: A person can look for shoes that come with a padded collar and tongue. These provide support and can prevent the collar and tongue from rubbing on the feet. This can be beneficial if a person plans on running for long periods.
According to research, people should avoid the following shoe characteristics:
- High heel-to-toe drop: People should aim to purchase shoes with no drop or a drop of
6 mm or less.
- Motion control or stability components: Extra components
can interferewith natural foot motion.
- Heavy shoes: Shoes should be lightweight to reduce injury and increase running performance
- High and thick cushioning: Running in highly cushioned shoes
may increaseleg stiffness and impact when hitting surfaces.
- Extra arch support or orthotics: Unless a healthcare professional recommends using extra arch support or orthotics, people should avoid shoes with these components as they can change the way muscles in the leg function.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about these shoes.
How do I train for trail running?
Running affects more than just the legs and feet, as the force of hitting the ground while running has an impact all the way up to the neck. Good mobility and stability in the ankles, knees, and hips are essential for staying safe while running on varied and uneven trails.
Is it okay to use trail running shoes on the road?
People should try to avoid wearing trail running shoes on roads. The abrasive material of the road can wear down the rubber lugs on the shoe, which can compromise grip when people run off-road.
However, some companies design shoes that are suitable for on- and off-road running. People who believe they will be running on a mix of surfaces may wish to choose shoes that factor the various terrains into their design.
What is the difference between a running shoe and a trail running shoe?
The soles on trail running shoes have deeper lugs and more adhesive rubber, which offers greater traction on various terrains.
The heel-to-toe drop tends to be lower on these shoes as a lower drop leads to more stability on uneven terrain. Some shoes may also have a sturdier upper to protect the feet from hazards such as stones and roots.
Running shoes, on the other hand, are more suitable for harder and smoother surfaces such as tarmac. These shoes have shallower lugs and smoother soles. Running shoes often have higher cushioning as the road surface is harder than natural terrain.
What is the best brand for trail running shoes?
With so many trail running shoes available, it may be difficult for a person to choose the best one. Companies offer differing features, such as cushioning level, heel-to-toe drop, and fit.
People may wish to consider factors such as their budget, the surfaces they intend to run on, and the width of their feet when shopping for shoes.
If a person is unsure of which shoe to purchase, they can visit a running shop. Running shops have various shoes that people can try on and may have staff who can offer advice and recommendations depending on a person’s running gait.
Trail running shoes are for people who run on uneven surfaces. They can offer extra grip and provide stability and toe support. Some designs include additional protection against sharp objects, such as rocks, sticks, or roots.
A person may wish to consider their overall fitness before choosing a trail, to make sure it will suit their fitness level and be safe for them. They can also consider their foot shape and any health considerations before buying trail running shoes.
A person can research and purchase trail running shoes online and explore features that will be suitable for them before buying a pair.