If you enjoy trail running, you can’t just use any old running shoe. This is because shoes designed for regular daily wear do not have the same traction or flexibility needed for a more rugged terrain, or for proper foot movement and comfort. That’s why it is essential to find the best trail running shoes for your particular needs, all of which depend on where you prefer to run.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use your trail shoes for daily use, but all shoes are not interchangeable, are should always be chosen carefully.
The Difference Between Road Shoes and Trail Shoes
When choosing which shoes to wear for your run, it is best to determine where you’ll be doing so, in order to choose the proper footwear.
- Road Shoes: These are usually made of lighter materials, to keep you moving fast on smoother surfaces. The treads are a bit thinner than on trail shoes, because heavy traction is not a necessity. Of course, if the road is slippery or wet, there is always the possibility of sliding, so it is best to be careful when running.
- Trail Shoes: Because they are used on more rugged terrain, these shoes are generally thicker, with more support and cushioning to keep your feet protected when you run. The treads are more aggressive and provide more traction, perfect for running over rocky surfaces. Even on slick areas these shoes will not send you sprawling, so running in wet or snowy weather is of no consequence.
The soles of trail shoes are also wider, with protective bumpers over the toes and heels. Wider toe boxes are also included in the design, so your toes can spread out as needed for more support when running on uneven surfaces.
Three Types of Trail Running Shoes to Choose From
There are three types of running shoes to choose from for off-road types.
Each of them offer different features, and which one you pick depends on how rugged of a terrain you prefer to run on, as well as your own particular running style.
- Conventional: This type of trail shoe is best used by experts on the most challenging of terrains. They have extremely durable outer soles with wider treads, for maximum traction.
Toe guards are usually included, to combat the rocks and branches you may need to deal with. Waterproofing is also a must for this type, because of the possibility of the occasional stream or river to cross.
- Hybrid: Suited to those who prefer less challenging trails, or for beginners. Hybrids offer the lighter weight of regular road shoes mixed with the wider treads and the thicker soles of a conventional trail shoe.
They can be used on trails that are uneven, but free of the obstacles more challenging runs contain. They can also be used as a replacement for road shoes, especially if on slippery or snow-packed surfaces.
- Minimalist: Where to use these shoes all depends on the amount of protection on the individual pair purchased. Some have more protection for the heels and toes, so could be used on more rugged runs.
The biggest difference between hybrids and the other styles is the thinness of the soles, which can give the impression of running barefoot. There is also less cushioning, so you can feel more of the changes in the terrain than with other types of trail shoes. Though the sole is thinner, these do not sacrifice on treads, and still provide the traction needed for more challenging trails.
What to Look for in A Trail Running Shoe
When choosing your trail shoe, there are a few features to consider, including the materials used to make them, how they are going to fit and move when you wear them, and what kind of terrain you’ll be running on.
Once you have those factors in place, you’ll be able to choose the trail shoe suited to your specific needs.
- Terrain: If you prefer to run on smoother terrain, you don’t need as much support or protection from obstacles in your way. Lightweight, flexible shoes are the best choice for these types of runners. More rugged terrain, where you may encounter boulders, branches, or slippery waterways, require a sturdy running shoe that offers more protection in the heels, toes, and should include cushioning to help absorb impact.
- Traction: Because the terrain on trails is usually a bit looser than on roads, even if you’re running on packed dirt. There are still rocks, gravel, leaves, and sticks to contend with.
That’s why trail shoes have deeper lugs, to give you more traction, as well as the ability to brake when on steeper slopes. There are different types of rubber, some that are softer and stickier, giving you better grip when on smooth or wet surfaces, but these can wear down too quickly. Compound rubber grips well, but are more durable and will last much longer. There is even rubber that is designed to remain flexible during the winter, so you can still run even when it is slippery from snow.
- Fit: You may not realize it, but when you run, your toes need more room to spread out. That’s why trail shoes include a wider toe box. This not only adds to your stability when running down a hill, it can also give you the room you need if your toes and feet begin to swell after a long run.
The rest of the shoe should be snug, yet comfortable, to reduce blisters and the possibility of slipping inside the shoe. This means minimal risk of injury.
- Style: Running down trails can be messy, which is why trail shoes are usually darker colored, so the stains won’t show. But don’t think this means black, and only black. There are a variety of colors for both men and women, so you will always be able to choose the ones that fit your particular style, whether on the trail or wearing them as every day shoes.
Now that you know what you should be looking for in a pair of trail shoes, here are some of the top rated pairs on the market.
Top Products of 2018
Adidas Performance Men’s Thrasher Trail Running Shoe
- Weight: 11 oz
- Dimensions: Sizes 6.5 to 15, all with D width (medium)
- Specific Features: Breathable mesh, synthetic polyester material, Adiwear rubber sole
- Best Use: Trail running, hiking, walking, working out
Description: The Adidas’ Thrasher is a high-quality, durable running shoe that provides the traction needed for rugged terrain, without sacrificing the comfort needed for longer runs. The breathable material keeps your feet cool even when running for miles, so there is no stinky odor to deal with when the shoe comes off.
Thick cushioning at the ankles and the back of the shoe keep it tight, to limit any shifting that could cause blisters, while the shoe’s interior is roomy, giving your toes plenty of space.
The thick rubber sole provides excellent traction, to the point of being sticky, so there are no worries when running over rough terrain or jumping from rock to rock to avoid watery areas.
The only issue with this shoe is that they seem to fit smaller than other brands, so you may need to purchase a size bigger than you normally would for a comfortable fit.
New Balance Men’s MT610V4 Trail-Running Shoe
- Weight: 5 oz
- Dimensions: Sizes 7 to 10, varying widths
- Specific Features: Synthetic/mesh upper material, IMEVA foam midsole, AT outer sole
- Best Use: All-terrain running, hiking, walking, bicycling, working out
Description: New Balance Men’s MT610V4 Trail-Running Shoe come in 4 different colors, and are great for leisurely walks to high-intensity runs over rugged terrain. The mesh material is perfect for breathability, and will not only keep your feet cool, but will help the shoes to dry out faster if used in wetter areas. No-sew application of these materials helps to keep them intact with strenuous use, and keep the irritation to a minimum.
The foam midsole offers extra comfort, reducing soreness even after long days on your feet. AT tread on the outer soles means more traction regardless of where you’re running, and makes it easier to go from pavement to loose gravel to hard packed trails without slowing you down.
There have been some complaints about the sizes of these shoes, so it is always best to try before you buy, or at least purchase a ½ to a full size larger if shopping online.
Related: New Balance has a MT610V5 model that is similar to this shoe in make and appearance.
Salomon Men’s Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoe
- Weight:2 to 10.9 oz, depending on size
- Dimensions: Sizes 7 to 13, all with D width (medium)
- Specific Features: Anti-debris mesh upper material, dual-density EVA midsole, Contagrip rubber outsole
- Best Use: Trail running, hiking, playing football (replacing the need for cleats), walking
Description: Salomon Men’s Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoe are excellent for rugged trails or Tough Mudder obstacle courses, though not recommended for daily use on smoother surfaces. The anti-debris mesh is also water-resistant, keeping your feet cool and dry, and the shoe’s interior free of the dirt and mud other shoes will pick up.
There is a protective rubber toe cap to keep those sensitive parts safe. A raised heel and lower forefoot mean better grip when running, as well as more comfort from the natural positioning.
Contragrip soles are perfect for traction on muddy or snowy surfaces, though they can slide on wet, slippery, smooth ones like concrete, so be wary of where you’re running with these shoes. Though a bit confusing for new users, the Quicklace system is easy to use, and speeds up your lacing time so you have more to spend on those trails.
Patagonia Men’s Evermore Trail Running Shoe
- Weight:7 oz
- Dimensions: Sizes 9 to 13, all with D width (medium)
- Specific Features: Polyester mesh upper material, high-rebound EVA midsole, EverTough traction rubber outsole
- Best Use: Running, hiking, walking, working out
Description: Patagonia’s Evermore trail shoes are a lightweight, minimalistic option for those who prefer long-distance performance over all-terrain surfaces. The breathable mesh features overlays of polyurethane-coated microfiber that keep the shoe intact and performing at optimal levels.
The Dri-Lex lining sucks in the moisture, keeping your feet dry and comfortable, and are great for those who prefer to go sockless. The EVA rock plates in the front of the shoe keep your feet safe, yet still maintain the flexibility needed for comfortable running.
Since traction is always important when running, regardless of the surface, the outsoles of these shoes has both forward and rear-facing lugs, so there is no threat of slipping and risking an injury. This is yet another running shoe that some have had issues with in sizing, and it is recommended to buy these a ½ size larger than you normally wear.
Related: Patagonia’s Forerunner and Everlong are both similar to the Evermore model.
Merrell Men’s Vapor Glove 2 Trail Running Shoe
- Weight: 6 oz
- Dimensions: Sizes 7 to 15, all with D width (medium)
- Specific Features: Mesh and Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) upper materials, Vibram outsole
- Best Use: Trail running, hiking, walking, working out, all-day wear
Description: Merrell Men’s Vapor Glove 2 Trail Running Shoe is lightweight, durable, and molds so perfectly to your foot that it feels like you’re barefoot, without having to suffer the damage from rocks and rough trails on the bottom of your feet.
The breathable mesh material keeps your feet cool, even when running for miles on hot day, and will drain and dry out quickly if worn in wetter weather. The M Select Fresh insoles keep these shoes smelling fresh, thanks to the antimicrobial agents keeping those stinky odors from ruining your shoes.
The sticky outsole provides excellent traction, with strategically patterned lugs that keep you stable on all surfaces, with zero-drop technology for additional comfort when running. Vegan friendly, with no animal products used in any materials in these shoes. There are four color options as well, to meet your particular style.
Related: This style of shoe also comes in Women’s, and there is an upgraded Men’s Trail Glove 3 available as well.
Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 Trail Running Shoe
- Weight: 5 ounces
- Dimensions: Sizes 7 to 14, all with D width (medium)
- Specific Features: Mesh and nylon upper material, dual-density EVA midsole, Contragrip outer soles
- Best Use: Hiking on all types of terrains, running, walking, all-day wear
Description: Salomon’s XA Pro 3D gives you the traction needed for running over rocky mountain trails, while keeping your feet cushioned and comfortable all day long. The mesh outer layer is breathable, keeping your feet cool, while keeping large chunks of dirt from slipping inside.
Sensifit and Endofit inner sleeves keep your foot snug in the shoes, so there is no sliding around that could cause blisters and discomfort. There are toe and heel caps for added protection when running over rougher surfaces. The midsoles cushion your feet, reducing soreness even when on them all day, and the Contragrip rubber soles keep you from sliding on even wet or smooth surfaces.
Lacing these up is quick and easy, using the Quicklace feature, which is friction free and ties your shoes up evenly without tugging at each eyelet. Because these are only available in medium width, those with wider feet may not find them comfortable, though these shoes will stretch a bit as you break them in.
Related: This shoe is also available for Women, and there is a XA Pro 3D GTX that is a similar model for both genders.
Salomon Women’s XR Mission Running Shoe
- Weight: 5 ounces
- Dimensions: Sizes 5 to 12, all with B width (medium)
- Specific Features: Nylon and mesh upper material, molded EVA midsole, Contragrip outer sole
- Best Use: Running on all surfaces, walking, hiking
Description: Take Salomon Women’s XR Mission Running Shoe from concrete to gravel to rocky mountain paths without missing a step. The mesh material keeps your feet from sweating, and helps to dry your shoes out fast after taking them through damp areas.
The unique Sensifit technology keeps your shoe where it belongs, while the Sensiflex construction offers freedom of movement while you run. The Contragrip sole provides excellent traction on rough terrain or slippery floors, with soft cushioning inside to keep your feet comfortable.
Easy lacing with the Quicklace feature, with just one pull to tighten them evenly, and then tuck laces away in their handy little pocket. These shoes come in eight attractive colors, though some have said they fit larger than their regular size, and have needed to go ½ to 1 size smaller than their usual shoe.
Merrell Women’s Bare Access Arc 3 Trail Shoe
- Weight: 11 ounces
- Dimensions: Sizes 5 to 10, all with B width (medium)
- Specific Features: Mesh and TPU upper material, EVA midsoles, Vibram rubber outsoles
- Best Use: Running, hiking, bicycling, working out, walking, good for all surfaces
Description: With zero-drop technology included in Merrell Women’s Bare Access Arc 3 Trail Running Shoe, you can run in the most natural position without fear of injury to your feet or ankles. The breathable mesh keeps your feet at a comfortable temperature, with antimicrobial linings to keep your shoes smelling great, even after a long, sweaty run.
The EVA midsoles cushion your feet from your toe to your heel. Vibram outsoles give you the traction you need when running on rough terrain, while still keeping you on your feet when you switch over to smoother surfaces.
These shoes are made from Vegan-friendly products, and come in 5 stylish colors, all reflectorized for those who like to run after dark. The Arc 3’s are even machine washable, so there are no worries about running on muddy trails and destroying you great-looking shoes.
Related: Merrell has an upgraded version of this shoe, the Bare Access Arc 4.
New Balance Women’s WT10GG3 Minimus Trail Shoe
- Weight:5 oz
- Dimensions: Sizes 8.5 to 10, all with B width (medium)
- Specific Features: Mesh and TPU upper material, Vibram outer sole
- Best Use: Running, hiking, walking, working out, good on all types of terrain
Description: Those who hate wearing socks are going to love New Balance Women’s WT10GG3 Minimus Trail Shoe. The mix of no-sew and sewed overlays create a durable shoe that will last through any kind of punishment, without irritating the foot inside. The interior of the shoe is soft and cushioned, while still giving you the support you need.
Vibram outer soles grip any surface, with multi-directional traction points to keep you heading in the right direction, no matter where you are. The 4mm drop is so minimal you will not even notice the slight difference in height from heel to toe, and will be able to run as naturally as possible.
Those who are not used to minimalist shoes may find it uncomfortable when walking over rougher surfaces, because you can feel the rocks and unevenness through the soles, but it just takes some getting used to. There have also been some issues with sizing, and it may be best to try out a pair a ½ size larger than you usually wear.
Related: New Balance’s WT10V4 is similar to this model.
Saucony Women’s Excursion TR8 Trail Running Shoe
- Weight: 2 oz
- Dimensions: Sizes 5 to 11.5, varying widths
- Specific Features: Mesh upper material, IMEVA midsole, XT-600 carbon rubber outer sole
- Best Use: Running, hiking, walking, working out, all day wear, good for all types of terrain
Description: Saucony Women’s Excursion TR8 Trail Running Shoe are perfect for all types of wear, from rugged trails to walking through the mall. The mesh material repels dirt and other messy objects from slipping into your shoe, but still keeps your feet comfortable, regardless of the temperature.
The removable insole cushions your foot, and when coupled with the foam of the midsole, creates pillowy softness that will keep your feet from aching even after hours of hiking, or long days of work. The multi-directional lugs provide substantial traction on any surface.
There are pull loops on both the tongue and the heel, so slipping these on is a breeze. This shoe comes in three different colors, and offers amazing support and comfort for anyone suffering from foot issues, such as plantar fascia. There is only a slight difference in height from heel to toe, so you will feel like you’re running in an ultra-natural, barefoot-like state.
Related: The Excursion TR8 GTX is the waterproof version of this shoe.
The End of The Trail
This concludes our in-depth guide on how to choose your new trail running shoes. Whether you prefer rocky inclines or smooth, stable paths, there is a supportive, comfortable running shoe to meet your needs.
Of course, there are many other types of trail shoes out there, so if you feel there is one that should have been included on our list, please, feel free to leave a message in our comments section.