Whenever possible, runners are getting out on trails rather than staying indoors on treadmills or looping around tracks in schoolyards or stadiums. Runners love the challenge of trails, the changes in elevation and terrain, and being out in nature to commune with it even when they are struggling to breathe. That’s part of the compensation—looking at the beautiful views and feeling the peace that comes with running through a forest.
Many more races are taking runners on trails, and the popularity of ultra-marathons continues to grow, most of which guide athletes on trails during at least a part of the course.
Running on trails calls for a specific type of shoe. Trails have all sorts of rocks, pebbles, branches, ditches and other challenges. Any footwear that a runner would think to use needs to be very durable and of assistance when the ankle is turned slightly or the foot hits an uneven patch of dirt.
Thus, we present the top five trail running shoes, according to numerous reviews and customer comments:
1. Brooks Men’s Cascadia 8
Brooks has long been an under-hyped but trusted name in the shoe field. This model is the manufacturer’s bestseller. Runners love its performance and modest price tag (about $120).
It looks and feels what you think a boot would look like if it morphed into a running shoe. Made of synthetic material, the Cascadia 8 has a BioMoGo DNA midsole that gives excellent protection against the hazards underfoot, and the Caterpillar Crash Pad smoothes the heel-to-toe movement. The geometric pattern on the upper actually wraps around the foot for a great fit.
Runner’s World gave these its “editor’s choice” for trail shoe, high praise indeed. Runners rave about its traction and ability to absorb the impact of rocks off the beaten track. It is available in models with colors such as Brilliant Blue, High Risk Red and Shocking Orange.
2. Saucony ProGrid Outlaw
If you care about ankle support (and you should if you are on a path that will turn your ankle a few times), this is the footwear for you. The price tag appeals to many ($70-$110) and Saucony’s exclusive ProGrid technology promises maximum stability and cushioning.
The three-quarter cut keeps your ankle stable, protection that many trail runners covet. Despite being constructed of synthetic and mesh materials, the Outlaw still protects against the wet with Sauc-Dry, a water-resistant membrane that makes the shoe breathable but keeps moisture out. A premium sockliner and XT-900 carbon rubber outsole complete the package, with the sole providing outstanding traction and durability.
Users report that the shoe gives great support without feeling stiff, and they also say that the sole lasts longer than on comparable models. The Outlaw comes in orange/black, citron/black and black/yellow.
3. Merrell Trail Glove Barefoot
This model has attracted a large following from people who appreciate Merrell products. It comes in a wide range of colors and some models can be had for under $60.
The textile body and synthetic sole, the fused toe rubber bumper and the room flex plate for the forefoot are the most popular features of this shoe, which also fits into the wildly popular category of barefoot shoes. The mesh upper allows the foot to breathe and enhances the barefoot feel, but the soles promise protection on tough trails.
Trail Glove lovers say it truly does fit like a glove and gives outstanding traction. This shoe might be a little more versatile than others on this list. It will look at home in the gym or on the trail, unlike other models. One comment that many wearers make is that they appreciate the amount of space their toes have in this product.
4. Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Trail
Call this shoe the Ferrari of the trail shoes. It looks fantastic and appears to be the sturdiest of the bunch, but most wearers call it a great race shoe rather than one that should be worn by the frequent trainer.
Outside named it in it’s gear of the year in 2013, reflecting its superior performance. The price tag indicates the upper class that this shoe is in ($140-$245). Salomon is open about saying that the footwear was designed with the top ultra-marathoners in the world in mind, so if you are a racer or just want to train like one, this could be the best choice for you.
It features a seamless construction with open mesh fabric lined with synthetic materials. Wearers love the quick lacing system and the famed Endofit (interior) and Sensifit (exterior) designs. The OS tendon system also draws raves; it acts like a real tendon, flexing as the heel-to-toe transition is made. The Ultra Trail comes in one color: racing red/black/white.
When you are called “the ultimate racing shoe” you don’t need to be offered in multiple colors!
5. The North Face Men’s Ultra Guide
Yes, The North Face makes more than jackets and backpacks. Its shoes are gaining a strong following as runners turn to a trusted name in outdoor apparel. This shoe has gained praise for being especially resistant to abrasions and intrusions due to its tight weave mesh.
It comes in cosmic blue and koi orange and costs between $75 and $110. The North Face has developed what it calls Cradle Guide technology to enhance the foot strike and minimize the impact of that strike. Runners who favor the Ultra Guide call them the most comfortable shoe that they have ever worn.
If you are putting in big miles on trails, that could be a real plus. If you simply love The North Face products and do trail running, then this should be your choice.
As the popularity of ultra-marathons and trail running continue to grow, the competition among shoe manufacturers for those runners will grow more intense. To this point, these five shoes stand out from the crowd. Each offers a different top quality that will appeal to different athletes. One has ankle support, one boasts of incredible comfort, one is fantastic on race day, the others are hailed for their traction and protection against the elements.
What you are looking for most from the best trail running shoes will determine which of the above models you favor. You will want trusted footwear when you are sloshing around in the mud during a heavy rain, when one misstep could send you down a hill. All of the models above will prevent that from happening!