Trail running when done right is one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable forms of running around. Surrounded by nature, enjoyable and exciting routes, and birdsong filling your ears, what is better than that? But to truly enjoy trail running you are going to need the best trail running shoes. In this article, we are going to take a look at eight of the best trail running shoes that are currently available to buy.
Check our trail running shoe comparison table below for a quick answer on which trail running shoe you should buy. Continue reading for more useful information.
What is Trail Running?
Trail running (also known as cross-country) is incredibly popular these days. It involves running outdoors in nature as opposed to running on the road or on a track. Trail running can involve hills, valleys, dirt paths, fields, streams. You name it. That’s why it is so popular. The variety, the views, the photo opportunities, the ability to explore the green lands around your home.
Because of the differing terrains, trail running requires runners to have shoes that are highly durable, provide excellent support and comfort, and ones that have amazing traction. These are all things that we look at in the next section.
What Makes a Good Trail Running Shoe?
There are many things that are important when searching for the perfect trail running shoe. But we have picked five of the most important (in our opinion) factors to analyse all eight of our trail running shoes. These are: comfort, durability, value for money, traction, and fashion. Here’s a rundown of why we picked each category.
- Comfort – Trail running involves a lot of irregular terrain, this means that wearing regular running shoes can be incredibly uncomfortable. That’s why we have looked at how comfortable the trail running shoes are on this list. We look at cushioning, how well the shoe fits, and the materials used to give you a good idea of how comfortable they are.
- Durability – Obviously, trail running shoes are going to have to put up with a lot more damage than regular running shoes. Otherwise, they wouldn’t last five minutes! You also want shoes that will last you many miles, as trail running shoes often represent a big investment.
- Value for Money – Just because you’re spending a lot of money on a shoe, it doesn’t mean that the shoe is necessarily good value. The same argument can be said for a shoe that represents a “bargain”. Your shoe needs to be of good enough quality that it more than justifies its price tag. We often compare the price to the durability as this is a crucial factor in value.
- Traction – Trail running involves running through slippery terrain. Water, mud, ice, snow, grass, uneven surfaces. You will want your trail running shoes to have really good grip to keep you upright in even the most challenging terrain.
- Fashion – This last factor is a little controversial. There are many people who won’t care what their shoes look like so long as they perform. On the other hand, there are many people who do care about how their shoes look. Neither group is right or wrong. If you aren’t interested, then just remove our score from the total and see which shoe suits your needs best.
We have scored each factor out of five, with a total score that is out of 25. If you aren’t interested in fashion, then remove the score from the total (20) and use that instead.
Best Trail Running Shoes
Here are our top eight trail running shoes, in no particular order.
|Best Trail Running Shoes||Comfor||Durability||Value||Traction||Fashion||Total|
|Inov-8 Roclite 290||4||5||4||5||4||22/25|
|Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail||4||5||4||5||4||22/25|
|Nike Trail Running Shoe||4||4||5||4||5||22/25|
|Saucony Peregrine 11||3||5||4||5||4||21/25|
|Hoka One One Challenger||5||4||3||4||4||20/25|
|Saucony Endorphin Trail||4||5||4||5||3||21/25|
|ALTRA Lone Peak 5||4||5||4||4||3||20/25|
|Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX||5||5||4||5||4||23/25|
As you can see, the highest scoring trail running shoe on our list is the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX. Scoring highly in every category (particularly comfort, durability, and traction). Even if you disregard the fashion scores, it still comes out on top, with an incredible 19 out of 20.
If you are looking for comfort, then the Hoka One One Challenger finished top alongside the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX. All but two of the shoes scored top marks for durability, while the Nike trail running shoe scored top for value for money. Incidentally, the Nike shoe also top scored for fashion.
Now that you’ve seen our scores, we will go into detail for all eight of the trail running shoes on our list. This will help you to decide which trail running shoe is the perfect fit.
Best Trail Running Shoe #1: Inov-8 Roclite 290
The Inov-8 Roclite 290 trail running shoe is perhaps the shoe on this list with the best traction. It uses a next generation roclite outsole which has multi-directional cleats, this enables the shoe to grip the surface better and makes slipping much less likely.
The cushioning is superb, with power flow cushioning in the midsole that Inov-8 claims delivers 10% better shock absorption than standard midsoles. One of the best things about these shoes is that despite the large cushioning, they actually have a lot of flexibility and are surprisingly light. This makes them excellent for racing.
Despite the shoes representing a significant investment for many runners, we’ve still scored them highly in value for money. That’s down to their amazing quality and durability. These shoes should survive any condition and allow you to run in confidence for hundreds of miles. Making the total price of the shoes worth it.
The shoes are also pretty decent looking, the red and black combination is particularly nice. Many good trail running shoes can look pretty ugly, but the Inov-8 Roclite 290s actually look good.
Overall, these running shoes are perfect for trail runners who value performance and comfort and are prepared to pay for that. They look great, feel great, and will really help you run fast during trail runs. What more could you ask for?
Best Trail Running Shoe #2: Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail
The Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail running shoes are absolutely superb in wet conditions, in fact, they may be the best on this list for muddy conditions. The grip (traction) is unparalleled, using multi-directional cleats (similar to the Inov-8 Roclite 290s), and Salomon describes them as “aggressive”. They may not be quite as effective on less muddy runs, yet they still beat most of the competition.
The shoes have excellent stability, with a nice and strong upper, this is perfect for running fast in slippery conditions and also helps with improving comfort as the shoes fit really well. The shoes are very close to traditional walking boots in their traction and stability, yet they are light enough to allow you to run fast in them.
If you are looking for longer distance runs, or even just regular hiking, then you will struggle to find a better shoe for the conditions than the Salomon Speedcross 5 trail. If your running track involves a lot of rocks, streams, mud, or even just an uneven dirt path, then the traction on these shoes will surpass your expectations. Overall, these are the mountain runners’ dream!
Best Trail Running Shoe #3: Nike Trail Running Shoe
Want a good trail running shoe that won’t break the bank? Then the Nike trail running shoe may be the perfect shoe for you. No, they are not as effective in wet conditions as the previous two running shoes on this list. But they are more versatile, and can also be used in the gym, on the track, or on roads. Something that many trail running shoes can’t.
These shoes are better suited to beginners or more casual trail runners. They are excellent in dry and hard conditions and will work really well on dirt tracks or paths. The shoes are very durable in terms of longevity and should last you at least 300 miles.
However, they are not as durable as others on this list when it comes to their ability to handle adverse conditions. That is to be expected considering their price tag and the market they are targeting (beginners).
If your trail run is on hard terrain and you want to run fast, then these shoes are an excellent choice. They are light, comfortable, and will allow you to accelerate well. In wet and slippery conditions though, they will struggle compared to some on this list. If you are a beginner, and don’t have a huge budget, then the Nike Trail Running Shoe is a great starter shoe for you.
Best Trail Running Shoe #4: Saucony Peregrine 11
Saucony have an incredible reputation for making fast, durable, and high performing running shoes. It should come as no surprise that their trail running shoes are also superb. The Saucony Peregrine 11 has amazing traction, is very comfortable (though not as comfortable as the other shoes on this list) and offers amazing durability.
One thing that we really like about the Saucony Peregrine 11s is how they combine superb breathability without compromising on their ability to repel water. The PWRRUN cushioning keeps the shoes pretty comfortable, though compared to other shoes on this list it’s a little lacking.
The traction is absolutely superb, with PWRTRAC technology allowing you excellent grip as you run in any terrain. The shoes are very light and are therefore perfect for fast runs. They are perhaps best suited to runs that have a lot of hills in them, the rock plate keeping your toes in place as you travel downhill, and the PWRTRAC technology helping you travel uphill.
These shoes are ideal for experienced runners who want a fast shoe with excellent traction and are prepared to sacrifice a little comfort to that end.
Best Trail Running Shoe #5: Hoka One One Challenger
Hoka One One have a well-deserved reputation for incredible comfort. Every shoe they make feels like running on clouds. The Challenger is their attempt at a trail running shoe, and they really have knocked it out of the park.
As you would expect, the cushioning is top of the range, durability is very high, traction is excellent, and the shoes look really good too (an excellent bonus in our opinion). The only let-down is the price tag, which is a little on the high end (as are almost all Hoka One One shoes).
If you are prepared to invest in your shoes, then they are a great choice and will last you a long time. They may not be as well suited to trail running as the Salomon shoes, and they may not be as fast as the Saucony, but for comfort they are very tough to beat. If you love running long distance trail runs and want your feet to feel fresh afterwards then these are the shoes for you.
Best Trail Running Shoe #6: Saucony Endorphin Trail
The Saucony Endorphin Trail running shoe is the second Saucony shoe on this list, but it feels more like a Hoka One One running shoe than it does a Saucony! The cushioning is immense, and a lot of effort has been but into making this shoe as comfortable as possible. This will slightly detract from its performance, but if you are more interested in enjoying the run than getting a new personal best, these shoes are ideal.
The Endorphin Trail shoes are immensely durable, have excellent traction, and they perform like a dream in race conditions, due to their incredible lightweight feel and the Speedroll technology that will help propel you forward.
They are let down slightly by their price tag (they are one of the most expensive shoes on this list) but honestly the value for money is still high. The shoes should last you hundreds of miles, each mile as pleasurable as it can be thanks to the cushioning.
Best Trail Running Shoe #7: ALTRA Lone Peak 5
The ALTRA Lone Peak 5 is a superb trail running shoe, with great traction, a quick dry air mesh upper and decent cushioning. They are decently priced, but the price can fluctuate wildly depending on what size shoe you are. Which is always a shame!
The biggest issue is their aesthetics, there’s no two ways about it. The shoes are ugly! But they work well in all conditions, and if you are running through a muddy field, it probably doesn’t matter too much how the shoes look. They perform well and that’s the important part.
Best Trail Running Shoe #8: Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
The final trail running shoe on this list is the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX, and we’ve definitely saved the best till last. Let’s just say straight off the bat, these shoes are perfect for challenging terrain. Muddy, mountainous, boggy, wet. Whatever condition, these shoes will perform well. But they are also excellent in dry conditions with firm underfoot terrain.
The shoes are closer to hiking boots than a normal running shoe and you should keep that in mind when purchasing. If your trail run is designed to be a mad sprint then the shoes will be too heavy and bulky for that. But for very long runs such as a Tough Mudder or a big cross-country race, these shoes will outperform the competition.
Traction is superb, comfort is high, durability is unparalleled. They are well priced, and they even score highly in fashion, something that very few walking boots could ever manage! These really are excellent trail running shoes.
All of the trail running shoes in this article are great, that’s why they made our list. Sure, the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX has topped our list, but many of the factors that go into marking these shoes are subjective. Many new trail runners may prefer the Hoka One One Challenger as they have the most incredible cushioning. While others may balk at the high price that Hoka One One has placed on their shoes.
The Nike Trail Running Shoe has to be the most versatile shoe on our list. Not only is it the most reasonably priced, but it is also the most aesthetically pleasing, and one of the few shoes on this list that could be worn in a non-running capacity.
Whichever shoe you decide to go with, we know that you will enjoy many runs with. We’re proud to recommend all eight running shoes, and hope you find the right one for your specific wants and needs.