After a long day stuck in the office or boardroom, sometimes pounding pavement just doesn’t cut it. Maybe you’ve been craving a change in scenery — have you seen the backcountry in the spring and fall? Regardless of your motivation to trade pavement for dirt, the right shoes make the difference between enjoying the boulder field at 10,000 feet and calling it a day at the first stream crossing. Whether you’re training for the Sky Running Race of Champions or just looking to trade your tried and true 5k evening run in for some time on gravel and dirt, GP’s testers have a shoe for every off-road run.
Best for Training
Brooks Caldera 6
Best Minimal Design
Arc’teryx Norvan LD 3 Shoe
Hoka Speedgoat 5
Best Upgrade Pick
Salomon S/LAB ULTRA 3
Best For Narrow Ankles
Adidas Terrex Agravic Flow 2 Trail Running Shoes
What Are Trail Running Shoes?
Trail running shoes are shoes that have been engineered to perform on rugged and obstacle-filled trails. Your typical trail runner will feature a stiffer midsole than its road-oriented counterparts, and rugged outsoles with grippy lug patterns that help maintain stability, and braking, on the dirt and gravel alike. Common features on trail running shoes include reinforced toe caps to protect against rocks and roots, waterproofing to combat variable weather and rock plates between the midsole and outsole for enhanced protection.
How Do I Pick Trail Running Shoes?
The first thing you’ll want to consider is feel — do you want something light and flexible, or could you stand a few extra ounces in exchange for extra cushioning? There are varied opinions on what’s best on the trail for an obvious reason: there are varied gaits, level of experience and foot shape. What you ultimately choose should depend on what’s best for you and you alone.
With that said, there are some pretty standard features on a trail runner you’ll want to make sure your next pair has before clicking “Purchase.” You’ll want a protective toe box since you’re inevitably going to encounter rocks and tree roots on your path. A grippy outsole is a must and weatherized, waterproof uppers never hurt either. Make sure lugs are at least 3mm, so you can really dig into the trail. And finally, read up on the midsole: some shoes will prioritize responsiveness, while others will lead with cushioning. Depending on where you’re running and what you’re used to, it pays to read up on these features.
Are Trail Runners Good for Hiking?
Like all specialized footwear, trail runners and hiking shoes and boots are purpose-specific designs, and while you can certainly get away with inter-changing them, for the best performance and feel, you’ll want to stick with trail runners for running and vice versa.