2016 Running Gear Guide: Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes are as different from one another as runners.
If you want a trail shoe that tackles most types of terrain pretty well, this is the shoe for you. you can run on technical routes with sharp, jagged rocks in the Cascadia (it has a forefoot rock plate) or you can run smooth dirt trails to your heart’s content, and anything in between. The slight tweaks to the latest edition of this tried-and-true trail fiend make it the best all-around version yet. It still offers a supportive ride, thanks to four pivot point posts throughout the midsole—they work like a medial post on a stability-oriented road shoe, but are less rigid and controlling. The posts do a good job at providing support over changing terrain without overcorrecting stride. Ample cushioning and a comfortable upper make this shoe feel good from the get-go, and the array of small knobby outsole lugs underfoot grips even slick dirt and rock. The updated, more rugged toe box is durable and protective, while a new saddle configuration and more sensibly placed overlays offer a better fit with less material. Some of our wear-testers found this shoe a little bit stiff, but we loved that it’s versatile enough to run on all types of trails (and even roads when necessary). rare is the trail shoe that can conquer so much ground, which is why we like this one so darn much.
weights: 11.8 oz. (men’s), 10.1 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 10mm; 27mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
From the low-profile, neutral platform to the thin, airy upper and lack of cushioning in the tongue as well as the narrow fit, the GEL- FujiLyte feels like a short-distance trail racing flat. It runs like one, too, inspiring speed and, according to one tester, allowing “great trail feel without the trail ever hurting,” the protection coming from a thin and flexible rock plate and a touch of GEL cushioning in the heel. Traction ranked high on this shoe, especially in sticky situations, and the perforated sockliner and water drainage system make this both a good off-road triathlon shoe and a speedy trail racer. The lace garage that conceals tucked laces is a great feature. The narrow fit encourages fast running, but it might be too snug for some. (This shoe fits about a half-size small.)
weights: 8.0 oz. (men’s), 6.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 22mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot) for men; 10mm; 26mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot) for women
The All-Out Crush is a shoe that gives you a tactile running experience—its slight cushioning and low-to-the-ground profile forces you (in a good way) to feel your way along the trail, picking your way through rocks and roots like a ninja. Its featherweight construction, major flexibility in the forefoot and minimal feel overall is speed-inspiring, as is the grippy traction underfoot. The mesh upper breathes well, and drain holes at the bottom of the arch make this a good choice for wet climbs. We also liked that the insole is connected to the shoe, which seemed to add to the proprioceptive feet-to-trail feel of this shoe. Although a few testers thought this shoe had too spacious of an interior, we liked how the thermoplastic polyurethane overlays add a bit of structure to the upper without adding weight.
weights: 8.0 oz. (men’s), 7.0 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 7mm; 21mm (heel), 14mm (forefoot)
With the second edition of this shoe, the crew at La Sportiva took a pretty good shoe and made it infinitely better. It retains the lightweight, well-cushioned midsole chassis
that allows the shoe to be agile and responsive enough for fast racing but padded enough for multi-hour runs. Otherwise, the shoe is chock-full of revamped features—a sticky rubber compound in the rear part of the outsole; a new quick-pull lacing system that snugs the foot equally all at once; a lighter, more breathable upper that offers support and sidewall protection; and a new flexible EVA rock plate in the forefoot. our testers praised it for its technical details and smart upgrades, but loved it for its completely uninhibited, smooth-rolling ride. (We found this shoe fits about a half-size small.)
weights: 8.4 oz. (men’s), 6.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 19mm (heel), 15mm (forefoot)
We love the runability and stealth durability of this shoe. It has a fairly low profile overall, with a modest amount of cushioning that dampens impacts without taking away from the amazing “feel” for the trail. A gusseted tongue help create a locked-down fit and feel, while the reinforced toe cap and welded overlays offer abrasion resistance. The knobby-lugged Vibram outsole offers superior traction and durability while an embedded rock plate keeps sharp rocks and “stingers” at bay. The result is a shoe that feels freeing but makes you mindful of foot placement—a good exercise in being nimble. Our testers noted that the closed-mesh upper doesn’t let any kind of debris through. It’s a versatile shoe that excels on moderate trails but can hold its own on rugged terrain or cruisey dirt roads too.
weights: 11.4 oz. (men’s), 9.2 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 8mm; 26mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)
Montrail, one of the original trail running shoe brands, is back in a big way this year, starting with the Caldorado. For a firm, noticeably supportive shoe that can handle burly mountain terrain, it feels lightweight and comfortable, and flexes well at the forefoot for a smooth ride. The mid-foot stability was appreciated by those who tend to pronate on smooth terrain, and helped neutral runners fight foot fatigue on long runs. The midsole/outsole blends responsive cushioning with solid traction and a jab-blocking, hard plastic protective rock plate under the forefoot. The seamless upper is comfortable and breathable, while overlays and a toe bumper provide structure and abrasion protection. The insole wraps high around the sides of the foot, adding to the seamless feel of the interior.
weights: 11 oz. (men’s), 9.1 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 8mm; 19mm (heel), 11mm (forefoot)
With a wide toe box, medial post and asymmetrical heel counter combating pronation, and lightweight cushioning easing pounding steps, this shoe is built for long, burly mountain runs. Testers noted that they felt “stable and protected,” although “not particularly agile” in this shoe. The Leadville v3 runs a tad stiff, likely due to the sticky Vibram outsole and composition of the midsole material that both cushions and protects. Our wear-testers found this shoe to be “hearty” and “a solid, sturdy platform.” We liked how the Leadville v3 felt lighter on the foot than it initially did out of the box, and appreciated the gusseted tongue keeping out trail gunk. We also liked the way the lacing system adapts to narrow feet despite the slightly wider platform. It’s ideal for rugged routes in the mountains.
weights: 10.4 oz. (men’s), 8.7 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 8mm; 25.5mm (heel), 17.5mm (forefoot)
This shoe seems a bit firm and stiff out of the box, but testers were pleasantly surprised by the responsive cushioning underfoot and smooth ride. The Vibram outsole and widely spaced lugs do a great job at grabbing everything from dirt trails to slick rocks. The traction, along with the protective upper wrapping feet securely, inspired confidence going both uphill and down. Overall, the Neutron made testers feel notably nimble. It’s a full-volume shoe that might feel too roomy to some, but many of our testers appreciated the breathing room. The smartly designed “lace pocket” lets you tuck in laces to avoid getting tripped up by a snagging branch. If your aim is to run fast or maintain the same consistent gait you might on the roads, the Neutron will be right up your alley.
weights: 9.7 oz. (men’s), 8.2 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 6mm; 25mm (heel), 19mm (forefoot)
This is a classic, supportive Salomon shoe, ready for technical terrain. Also true to Salomon are the one-pull Kevlar laces, which uniformly pull snug around the foot and tuck away in the lace garage. We liked how the Wings Pro 2 feels rugged and protective—with a burly toe bumper, solid heel counter and ample overlays on the sidewalls—while still allowing good feel-the-ground agility. And the traction— and updated Contagrip outsole—does a great job on all terrain, especially wet ground. Some wear-testers complained of the upper buckling awkwardly across the forefoot when the fit length wasn’t perfect. Overall, it’s a good shoe that received high marks from our wear-test team for durability, stability and versatility to ramble on all sorts of trails.
weights: 11.9 oz. (men’s), 10.1 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 10mm; 27mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
The Peregrine 6 is noticeably comfortable the moment it’s slipped on, the cushioning underfoot and around the heel and ankle collar welcoming feet. On the trail, the cush proved “just right.” It’s comfortable but not so soft that you lose connection with the ground. Our wear-testers said this shoe has “aggressive bite” and said it runs well in sloppy terrain: “The worse the conditions, the better,” one tester gushed. For such a rugged shoe, the Peregrine is fairly light and flexes easily for smooth running. The upper is reinforced with heat-molded overlays for a minimalist-yet-supportive feeling. We appreciated how the slightly wider forefoot platform contributes to a stable ride, and we loved the toothy outsole on more rugged terrain, even if it was overkill on smooth trails and dirt roads.
weights: 9.4 oz. (men’s), 8.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 21.5mm (heel), 17.5mm (forefoot)
Although the first version of the high-off-the-ground Olympus felt a bit bulky
and heavy, the new version of this long-wearing, maximally cushioned cruiser is very stable—and relatively light and lithe for the copious amount of midsole material underfoot. (It’s one of the most thickly cushioned shoes available, but also one of the most stable.) With a new upper and outsole, the second edition is an ounce lighter, more breathable and offers better traction than the original. The Olympus 2.0 now has a Vibram MegaGrip outsole, giving it superior traction on just about any wet or dry surface you’ll encounter out on the trails. of course, as with all Altra shoes, it has a zero-drop (or flat) platform and a wide, foot-shaped toe box that leaves room for splaying during a stride.
weights: 10.8 oz. (men’s), 9.5 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 0mm; 36mm (heel), 36mm (forefoot)
The updated Challenger ATR has a more secure upper for less foot movement within the shoe on technical terrain. And the 4mm lugs on the outsole grab the trail, but aren’t too pronounced; this shoe runs fairly smooth on pavement. The Challenger ATR is a more firm-feeling Hoka than many in the line, and has a lower-to-the-ground ride while still serving up plush Hoka cush. The result is a forgiving yet somewhat agile shoe. One tester likened its capabilities to “a monster truck,” rolling over terrain while protecting the driver; yet on off-camber trails, the ATR 2 can still feel a bit wobbly. The toe box is a tad narrow and shallow; some complained of pressure on toes after many miles. The first edition of this shoe was our top pick last year and this updated version was one of our favorites this year.
weights: 9.5 oz. (men’s), 7.8 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 5mm; 31mm (heel), 26mm (forefoot)
Like its maximalist contemporaries in this review, the GoTrail Ultra 3 also rides high off the ground with a major midsole. The cushioning is extremely soft and squishy, which results in joint-saving comfort, noticeably on hard-packed terrain. The shoe has a distinctive “rockered” shape in the midsole/outsole, creating a unique rolling sensation from heel strike to toe-off. (Several of our testers found it a touch
too squishy for full control on technical trails and downhill sections, but loved it on smooth trails and semi-technical routes at moderate paces.) The outsole grips well, and drain holes allow water to escape. The rocker made us mindful of striking mid-foot instead of on our heels. And
the super-pliable upper conforms around narrow feet to create a comfortable, locked-down feeling.
weights: 10.8 oz. (men’s), 8.8 oz. (women’s)
heel-toe offset: 4mm; 36mm (heel), 32mm (forefoot)