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2015 Running Gear Guide: Trail Shoes

We tested a wide assortment of 2015 trail running shoes.

$130

Our wear-test team loved this shoe. Why? It’s all of the things you want in a running shoe with enough trail-specific features to keep your feet protected. The Challenger ATR is light, nimble and stable for such a well-cushioned trail shoe, especially compared to other Hoka models. It has a very similar (but not identical) makeup to Hoka’s award-winning Clifton road running shoe, and our wear-testers raved about the Challenger’s lightweight, well-cushioned ride with a similar game-changing vibe as the Clifton. But our test crew also appreciated that the midsole foam felt slightly firmer, was slightly wider in the forefoot and was considerably more durable than its road-shoe cousin. Wear-testers who were comfortable with maximally cushioned shoes and were able to dial in a good fit raved about this shoe as a smooth-riding, high-mileage trainer and long-distance racer.
Highlight: a lightweight, maximally cushioned, high-mileage trainer for smooth to moderate trails.
weights: 8.6 oz (men’s), 7.4 oz (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 5mm; 29mm (heel), 24mm (forefoot) for men; 28mm (heel), 23mm (forefoot) for women

$110

This upstart brand has expanded its previously minimalist line of shoes with this moderately cushioned model. Although it’s not a “barely there” shoe, it still allows for uninhibited natural foot movement. Our wear-testers appreciated the blend of proprioception and cushioning, having more “feel for the trail” than most shoes without sacrificing underfoot protection (thanks, in part, to a full-length, flexible rock plate). There is modest sidewall and toe box protection, but our wear-testers thought the agility of this shoe also helped keep their feet out of harm’s way.
Highlight: Natural foot movement, thanks to a minimal design.
weights: 8.9 oz. (men’s), 7.4 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 2mm; 19mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)

$110

Wear-testers liked this shoe for two primary reasons: It serves up an energetic vibe on all types of terrain while also providing just enough protection for rocky, rooty, unstable terrain. This popular go-fast trail shoe returns with minimal changes and the same chassis that includes an amply cushioned midsole and an aggressively lugged outsole. The biggest changes from the previous model are a more protective rubber toe bumper, lighter, fit-enhancing TPU film overlays and a more secure heel thanks to the addition of a new exterior heel support band.
Highlight: Agile and energetic with just enough protection.
weights: 9.6 oz. (men’s), 8.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 21mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)

$120

Although our wear-testers thought this maximally cushion cruiser was average on smooth terrain, several said it excelled on more rugged routes. The shoe’s key feature is its array of deep, flat-sided outsole lugs that offer traction on loose, muddy and wet terrain, but still allow the shoe to run comfortably on pavement. Our testers liked the cushioning a lot, but a few complained that the fit was a tad too snug.
Highlight: Snug fit and maximal cushioning.
weights: 9.8 oz. (men’s), 8.4 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 7mm; 27mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)

$90

New Balance is reintroducing this model after a four-year hiatus. The reincarnated version is a super agile, lightweight and low-to-the-ground trail fiend like its predecessor, only with new protective features. A stretch-mesh upper, more durably wrapped sidewalls, padded collar and protective toe bumper shield the feet while ripping through rugged terrain. A forefoot rock plate and sticky rubber outsole over the front half of the shoe—combined with a modest amount of cushioning—give this shoe the tools to run well on smooth, soft trails, rocky routes and everything in between.
Highlight: Modern minimalism suited to fast trails and technical routes.
weights: 7.5 oz. (men’s), 6.3 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 10mm; 18mm (heel), 8mm (forefoot)

$110

Altra gave this versatile, mid-range trail machine a complete overhaul and the risk was worth the reward. Most noticeably, it’s much more cushioned but also considerably lighter than the previous version. A more breathable mesh upper, improved traction from a new outsole lug configuration and a unique, removable rock plate make this a one-shoe quiver for all types of terrain. Like all Altra shoes, it features a zero-drop profile (which means it is flat from heel to toe) and a roomy foot-shaped toe box—both of which a few wear-testers said took time to get used to.
Highlight: Versatility and robust cushioning with a zero-drop profile.
weights: 8.7 oz. (men’s), 7.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 0mm; 21mm (heel), 21mm (forefoot)

$120

This well-cushioned and very protective shoe has a new seamless mesh upper featuring a free-floating mid-foot webbing and a TPU-reinforced saddle that offer a more locked-down fit than previous versions. The other big change is the smaller lug pattern around the perimeter of the outsole and the decoupled design of the shoe’s four pivot points—a feature that allows this shoe to be much more agile on technical terrain. A forefoot rock shield alleviates underfoot “stingers” and allows this shoe to chew up gnarly terrain without hesitation.
Highlight: Ample cushioning and protection suited to gnarly terrain.
weights: 11.6 oz. (men’s), 9.6 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 10mm; 27mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)

$90

The maximally cushioned GoRun Ultra has been revamped with a tad more structure and support in its second incarnation. The undercarriage construction is identical to last year’s version—extremely soft, very flexible and infinitely pliable—but that’s the prime reason many wear-testers raved about it. As with all max-cushioned models, the oversize midsole/outsole tends to muffle the proprioceptive feel for the trail. There’s no protection plate, but the squishy, thick foam and outsole lugs keep most (but not all) sharp objects at bay.
Highlight: Super-soft, maximally cushioned ride that performs up to semi-technical trails.
weights: 7.3 oz. (men’s), 6.4 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 27mm (heel), 23mm (forefoot)

$160

A hybrid shoe built for fast running on smooth, non-technical terrain (dirt paths, gravel roads, pavement), this lightweight, low-volume speedster has the snugged-down feel of a racing flat. With just enough cushioning and protection, it can handle terrain ranging from roads to moderate trails. Our wear-testers loved this shoe for its amazing agility and responsive, semi-firm cushioning, but a few complained that it lacks optimal traction on loose terrain and more technical trails. The one-pull lacing system was a big hit, both for its ease of use and its ability to cinch down the entire foot with little effort.
Highlight: A fast, race-oriented shoe for road-to-trail applications
weights: 8.3 oz. (men’s); 7.4 (women’s) (unisex sizing)
heel-toe offset: 8mm; 19mm (heel), 11mm (forefoot)

$110

This mountain mauler combines loads of protection with a modestly flexible chassis for long-wearing comfort on technical terrain. The hardworking guts of this shoe—namely the moderately thick layer of semi-soft cushioning, the full-length rock plate and the grippy constellation of low-profile rubber outsole lugs—offer the same great combination of protection and cushioning as the original version. It’s been updated with an almost seamless upper that syncs with the lacing system to enhance the fit while also offering rubber saddle support bands that double as sidewall protection pads.
Highlight: Protection and cushioning for rugged mountain trails.
weights: 11.4 oz. (men’s), 9.6 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 10mm; 20mm (heel), 10mm (forefoot)

$170

This Swedish brand is mostly known for its carbide-spiked shoes built for grip when running over snow and ice. The RB9X model is more like an all-season radial tire secured to your foot, enhanced with 14 rubber studs that help fine-tune traction on rocky trails, wet, muddy terrain and even some snowy surfaces. The genius of this shoe is a sculpted midsole unit that wraps under and cradles around the heel and arch—wear-testers almost unanimously remarked on its stability. The upper is made from a seemingly impermeable nylon material that keeps moisture out, but it isn’t as breathable as other trail running shoes.
Highlight: Great traction, especially over wet and muddy surfaces.
weights: 8.8 oz. (men’s), 7.4 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 6mm; 16mm (heel), 10mm (forefoot)

$125

This lightweight, agile speedster lives up to its name. It’s built for scooting up and down steep, tricky terrain and galloping at full speed on flat and rolling trails too. Our wear-testers loved the way it handled at faster speeds. It has a moderate amount of super-light and very responsive cushioning. Its sneaky-fast demeanor is aided by a new outsole that combines small sticky rubber lugs for grip and directional lugs made of a softer compound for maneuverability. It’s a snug-fitting shoe that offers a touch of support through the upper but just a twinge of wiggle room in the toe box.
Best for: Racing or as a lightweight everyday trainer.
weights: 8.5 oz. (men’s), 7.7 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 5mm; 22.5mm (heel), 17.5mm (forefoot)

$130

This aptly named speedster is a mountain running shoe with a snug, bedroom slipper fit. With a well-cushioned, stability-oriented midsole and a sticky rubber outsole with an array of aggressive knobby lugs, this shoe offers a supportive ride as it chews up the most treacherous trail terrain. A unique, two-piece tongue and lacing system wraps the foot burrito-style. Our wear-testers raved about the fit—even if decidedly snug in the toe box—and this shoe’s ability to conquer steep climbs and descents. It seems to run lighter than it is and it’s very protective for such a nimble shoe.
Highlight: Agility and cushioning for moderate to very technical mountain routes.
weights: 11.3 oz. (men’s), 9.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 10mm; 26mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot)

$110

This versatile, ground-gripping trail fiend has been updated with a new lighter, rip-stop upper inspired from the fit, feel and look of cross-country running spikes. It’s helped make the shoe lighter while also adding to the more connective fit in conjunction with a revised heel cradle. Its multi-lugged Vibram rubber outsole offers reliable traction and smooth ground conveyance on all types of terrain, from flat dirt paths to extremely rocky routes. Our testers liked this shoe for its versatility and traction. A few complained about the high-volume interior left too much wiggle room, but our wear-testers with wider feet had no complaints.
Highlight: Lightweight upper with good traction and versatility.
weights: 8.1 oz. (men’s), 6.6 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 8mm; 22mm (heel), 14mm (forefoot)

$95

Built off the lightweight, flexible frame of Montrail’s low-to-the-ground FluidFlex, this new edition offers a bit more support and protection than the original über-pliable version. That support comes by way of a midsole that’s slightly firmer on the medial side and an upper reinforced with overlays to snug down the fit and prevent the foot from sloshing around. A two-layer toe bumper and a forefoot rock plate make this shoe much more apt for rugged terrain without sacrificing what our wear-testers loved most—a supple and energetic ride, ample but not overwhelming cushioning and a distinct feel for the trail. Although slightly heavier than its predecessor, the reward is greater versatility and increased responsiveness, making it a more technically oriented trail cruiser.
Highlight: A fast and nimble feel in a lightweight trail flat.
weights: 8.8 oz. (men’s), 7.2oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 15mm (heel), 11mm (forefoot)