From curvy single-tracks to rugged off-road terrain, trail running has a unique meaning for every person. However, there’s one thing all types of trail runners need: the best trail running shoes to cushion and protect their feet. We considered many shoes and tested the best eight in this guide. We found the Salomon Sense Ride 4 trail running shoes to be the best in terms of traction, advanced features, and comfort.
When looking for the best trail running shoes of 2021, we scoured the market for shoes with the best cushioning, flexibility, weight, and waterproofing. We’ve found the top runners for different categories: most affordable, best for winter running, most cushioned, and more. No matter your style of trail running or preference for features, this guide has you covered.
Best Overall Trail Running Shoes
The ever so versatile Sense Ride 4 is our top choice for this year's best of the best list of trail runners. This updated version of the all-round Sense Ride is just as comfy and responsive with the Optivibe foam cushioning we've come to love. Salomon's trusty Contagrip outsole is built with the widest variety of surfaces in mind, and the Profeel film protect your feet from sharp corners.
The upper effortlessly optimizes your foothold, especially around the heel, and features really resistant, anti-debris mesh. You’ll be ready to take off on new adventures, near and far.Whether you’re going for a run along a muddy trail or walking down slick roads, these shoes are a great choice. These trail running shoes are our top choice because of their high traction and comfort.
- Precise fit
- Great cushioning
- High traction grip
- Fits large
Best Affordable Trail Running Shoes
No surprise here, Salomon makes its second entry on our list of best trail running shoes. But rest assured; the more budget minded Alphacross 3 doesn't cut any corners when it comes to traction, comfort and quality. Salomon's gear, especially their shoes, is known for having a great price-to-quality ratio.
This shoe has strong grips that make it easy to speed up the mountain. Lightweight and breathable, it comes with a foam midsole for maximum comfort on long runs. Of course, the price tag makes this a slightly less durable model, but if you're a casual runner or hiker, you definitely don't need anything more.
- Sticky grip
- Ultra Flexible
- For general, not specific use
Best Waterproof Trail Running Shoes
When running through wet conditions, you'll want to keep your feet dry on snowy, rainy, or icy roads. The Cascadia 16 GTX are designed to protect your feet in a variety of terrain. Unlike the stuffy GORE-TEX of the past, the new Invisible Fit membrane is directly sealed into the upper.
The four-point Pivot Post System gives excellent stability on uneven surfaces by matching the position of your foot to keep you stable as you run. For runners with a knack for adventure, the built-in rock plate protects your foot from sharp objects and the BioMoGo DNA makes every step feel smooth.
- GORE-TEX waterproof technology
- Rugged protection
- Shock absorbent
- Slender fit
Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
For a third straight year, Hoka's Speedgoat series top our choice for those looking for great cushioned kicks to hit the trail. The Vibram Megagrip outsole is perfect for gripping onto wet or dry surfaces. The fifth edition of the Speedgoats have better traction, higher durability, and a more precise fit than the last iteration.
The midsole foam provides extra cushioning for your run, and the wide toe-box provides a more comfortable fit. The 3D printed overlays increase support in the midfoot without adding bulk. Cushioning is Hoka One One’s area of expertise, and these runners do not disappoint.
- Breathable mesh
- Raised 3D soles
- Highly cushioned
- Slightly bulky for flat trails
Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoes
The trusted brand Arc'teryx offers trail runners a barefoot feel with the Konseal LT. The minimalist shoe is square-shaped at the toes for a more natural fit. The lightweight (LT) design with the 3D molded midsole provides comfortable support.
Thanks to the Vibram MegaGrip, the Konseal LT's have a solid grip on unpredictable surfaces. Another advantage is the heel folds flat for extra versatility: you can wear it as a clog while belaying or around the campsite.
- Minimalist design
- Vibram® MegaGrip™ outsole
- Runs large
Best Hiking Trail Running Shoes
Check out the Alta Lone Peak 6 if you’re searching for comfortable shoes to run the hiking trails. Super light with a AltraEGO midsole offering an extra level of response to every step you take while conquering all types of terrain with the MaxTrac outsole.
The updated StoneGuard offers more coverage while using less substance, and the laser-cut drainage holes allow you to get drenched with added drainage. Its double compound sole creates a gradual support angle with the ground, and the shoe is designed to ensure perfect stability on all types of off-road terrain.
- Great midsole support
- Excellent impact absorption
- Extra grip with FriXion Red double compound sole
Best Road to Trail Running Shoes
Emphasizing packability and being lightweight, the Norvan SL 2's are the ideal road to trail shoes. The top mesh layer of hydrophobic TPU is paper-thin but rugged enough for the trails. The updated collar keeps dirt out, the midsole compound is more resilient, and the upper is designed to reduce friction.
Since these shoes are so light, they make great travel companions as well: the men's weighs just 12 oz and the women's is 10.4 oz. These trail runners also provide excellent grip thanks to the LITEBASE Vibram outsole with crampons.
- Ultralight model
- Suitable for trail running and races
- TPU upper provides protection
- Vibram outsole gives extra grip
- Not built for durability
Best Winter Trail Running Shoes
Surpass icy weather with the Peregrine 12 GTX trail running shoes. The aggressive lugs built with PWRTRAC tacky rubber confidently grip onto ice, mud, and slush. If you’re running through snow or even hit some icy patches, the GORE-TEX Invisible Fit keeps your feet warm and dry.
The PWRRUN midsole gives you a responsive feel, and the rock plate provides superior protection and support. It's an excellent choice for those looking for versatile trail runners to wear year-round.
- Great for icy weather
- Extra cushioning for rough downhills
- Gore-Tex upper blocks moisture
- Narrow toebox
What to look for when buying trail running shoes
Keep in mind that sizing will differ with each style (or even brand) of shoe. For example, shoes with a larger toe box will often require going up a size. On the other hand, some shoes run small.
The best thing is to order multiple shoe sizes to see which one fits best. Altitude Sports offers quick and easy returns to accommodate you, and the no-hassle returns make buying shoes online easier than ever.
The weight of the shoe will be relevant based on your intended use. If you’re planning on using the shoe for some road racing as you work your way to the trails, it’s better to have a more lightweight shoe. Alternatively, if you’re going to use the shoe in the winter, you want a more sturdy, cushioned shoe.
Weight also depends on your personal preferences. Some might prefer the barefoot feel, while others might like a thicker and sturdier shoe.
Soles & Traction
When you’re running on different terrains, traction is an integral part of the shoes. You might also consider deeper, self-cleaning, multi-directional lugs if tearing through the mud is your idea of fun.
Innovative Vibram grip makes for a sturdy base on both wet or dry surfaces.
GORE-TEX technology ensures your feet stay dry no matter the weather. However, there are different types of water-resistant and waterproof technologies. If you’re going to be running in a wet climate, it may be worthwhile to invest in something with either GORE-TEX technology or another waterproof system.
The foam of the midsole and footbed greatly determine the amount of cushioning. Thinner soles can also provide comfort, but it depends on how much support you need. Maximalist midsole cushion is increasingly popular—with a noted shift in the other direction for those who prefer a more grounded feeling in their stride.
Drop is essentially how much higher the heel is than the forefoot on the shoe. Some shoes have higher or flatter heels. This is important, depending on the intended use of the shoes. Most running shoes have a 10 mm drop, but you can also use a higher or lower drop. Neutral drop (or zero-drop) shoes are also available, like the entire Altra line of running shoes.
A high-tech lacing system can provide superior fit and comfort. Unlike traditional laces, these lacing systems consist of shorter straps that connect at more points. This way, they are more precise in how they tighten, loosen, conform to your foot shape, and, ultimately, fit.
FAQs for Trail Running Shoes
Why trail running shoes?
Your road running shoes may be able to take on relaxed, hard-packed gravel trails. However, trail running shoes are useful when the terrain gets wilder. Think mountains, backcountry, and forests. Think obstacles, uneven terrain, shifting surfaces. Think trail running shoes.
How are trail running shoes different?
Trail running shoes have better grip and traction than road running shoes. You can also find waterproof technology like GORE-TEX. This comes in handy for when the weather gets nasty. In icy, muddy, or rainy weather, you won’t slip and fall like you would in road running shoes. They also add protection like toe caps in case of debris.
How should trail running shoes fit?
Trail running shoes should fit very snug. This is because you might hit rocky terrain where debris could get lodged in your shoes. They should feel tight but still breathable.
Can you use trail running shoes on the road?
Yes, there isn’t a rule that says you can’t use trail running shoes as road running shoes. However, keep in mind using shoes for their intended purpose can be safer. What gives you more stability on the trails – deeper lugs, toe caps – might be unnecessary, or even mess with stability on flat, paved surfaces.
Can you use trail running shoes for hiking?
If you want to maximize ankle support, it’s better to get hiking boots. But if you have strong ankles or are on a short hike, trail running shoes are usually a safe choice.
Can I wear trail running shoes on a treadmill?
Yes, as long as your trail running shoes don’t have crampons, lugs or studs that might damage the equipment. However, if you’re planning on using your trail running shoes mostly on the road or treadmill, it may be better to buy road running shoes.
We hope this comprehensive guide to the best trail running shoes helps to inform your purchase. For its waterproofing, traction, and durability, we found the Salomon Sense Ride 4 trail running shoes to be the top choice.
Many factors go into buying trail running shoes, but we hope this guide helps you find ones that suit you in comfort, price, and durability.