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2015 Summer Trail Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide

We tested 12 of the summer's best new trail shoes on all types of terrain to help you find your perfect match.

We tested 12 of the summer’s best new trail shoes on all types of terrain to help you find your perfect match.

All trail running shoes are built to handle off-road running. But, like finding the perfect partner, knowing yourself (and your running) will help you hone in on the right match. To find your sole mate, consider the type of trail running you’ll do this summer, the routes you plan to run, and the size, shape and unique characteristics of your feet.

RELATED: 2015 Late Summer/Early Fall Road Shoe Buyer’s Guide 

RELATED: 4 Tips for Buying Trail Running Shoes

Asics Gel-FujiAttack 4, $110

Weights: 11.4 oz. (men), 9.5 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 10mm; 20mm (heel), 10mm (forefoot) for men; 19mm (heel) 9mm (forefoot) for women

This shoe is for you if … You have a narrow foot and crave a nimble shoe.

Fit-feel-ride: Despite being billed as a neutral shoe, the Gel-FujiAttack 4 feels stable and supportive. We chalk that up to its torsional rigidity and somewhat firm ride—the first coming from its plastic Trusstic System sandwiched in the midsole, and the latter due to the cushioning that runs more responsive (and a tad hard) than squishy (and thinner in the forefoot). The support is far from overbearing. In fact, combined with the multidirectional lugs on the outsole and secure-fitting upper, this shoe feels fast and nimble even on the wildest terrain.

Plus: A lace “garage” on the tongue lets you tuck away loose ends.

Minus: Lacing system takes some futzing to dial in.

Altra Lone Peak 2.5, $125

Weights: 10.6 oz. (men), 9.2 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 0mm; 25mm (heel), 25mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You mostly run semi-technical and rugged mountain trails and seek a zero-drop shoe.

Fit-feel-ride: Our testers agreed that the Lone Peak 2.5 feels energetic. Its EVA midsole with a proprietary A-Bound layer seems to add an inspiring spring in every step. Like all Altras, the forefoot is plenty wide for full toe-splaying and comfort even when feet swell. We liked how the heel cradle secured the narrowest of feet, and although lacing took a bit of cinching to secure around the forefoot, the fit proved snug once dialed in. With lugs that seem to grip and conform to a range of surfaces, the tread-like outsole extending past the heel works like an additional braking system on loose and dicey terrain. Another bonus includes a rockplate sandwiched inside the midsole, which stops underfoot jabs without feeling hard.

Plus: A Velcro tab on the heel works seamlessly with a gaiter.

Minus: The zero-drop profile takes some getting used to.

Brooks PureGrit 4, $120

Weights: 9.9 oz. (men), 8.1 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 4mm; 21mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You crave a springy step in an agile shoe.

Fit-feel-ride: Right out of the box testers loved the foot-hugging fit of the PureGrit 4. This is a neutral shoe, but a secure, arch-wrapping band of fabric made even pronators feel adequately supported. Our favorite thing about this shoe? The combination of confidence-inspiring traction, super-responsive cushioning, and the secure fit all wrapped up in a lightweight package made us feel extremely agile on everything from buffed-out singletrack to rocky climbs. The lack of overlays, the general structure in the upper, and the fact that the laces don’t extend as far down the toe as on some others, however, seemed to allow a bit too much lateral play on more technical terrain. Also, because this shoe aims for a natural feel, there’s no rock plate underfoot.

Plus: All-day comfort.

Minus: Can feel a tad sloshy on technical trails.

Hoka One One Speedgoat, $130

Weights: 9.7 oz. (men), 8.6 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 5mm; 33mm (heel), 28mm (forefoot) for men; 31mm (heel) 26mm (forefoot) for women

This shoe is for you if … You’re a Hoka devotee (or want to be) and run technical terrain of any sort.

Fit-feel-ride: The new Speedgoat is the most aggressively lugged Hoka to date. The traction does a great job of gripping onto everything from steep and rocky to loose dirt. The hard rubber tooth-like outsole means this isn’t the best choice for runs on partial road or all-mellow trails, but for mountainous adventures, we appreciated the sure-footedness. This is a smooth-running shoe—the massive midsole provides ample cushioning that’s forgiving on joints without compromising control. The upper feels burly and has a solid toe bumper for added protection, hence this shoe’s ability to charge in rugged terrain.

Plus: Testers noted some arch support adding a touch of stability.

Minus: Feels a bit stiff at first; takes some breaking in before the upper feels soft and conforming.

Inov-8 Race Ultra 270, $120

Weights: 9.5 oz. (men), 8.8 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 4mm; 11mm (heel), 7mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You have good mechanics and want to feel fast.

Fit-feel-ride: Testers thought this shoe ran extremely light and had a firm ride, which allowed good ground contact and proprioception on the trail. Runners needing arch support noted that the Race Ultra 270 didn’t provide much, if any, but truly neutral runners felt stable and supported. Everyone appreciated the lightweight, racy feel of this shoe and its trail-grabbing, “chewy” traction. It’s also among the most flexible in the toe that we tested, making it a great choice for long climbs. A couple testers noted heel slippage when running uphill, but we enjoyed the width in the forefoot that allowed toe splaying for more control on downhills.

Plus: Low-to-the ground feel inspires mountain-goat-like agility.

Minus: This shoe offers absolutely no arch support.

New Balance 910v2 Trail, $110

Weights: 10.8 oz. (men), 8.9 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 8mm; 20mm (heel), 12mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if…You have a wide foot and seek a daily trainer.

Fit-feel-ride: The beauty of the 910v2 Trail is that it has the bones of a road running shoe—comfortable upper, wide platform underfoot, simple good looks—but features trail-oriented elements too. A thin, protective rock plate under the forefoot, durable material all the way from the mid-foot around the toe, and decent traction give the 910v2 Trail its off-road chops. Wide-footed testers thought this shoe was nimble, while those with narrow feet felt their foot slopping around a bit. Both agreed that the cushioning was adequate in absorbing impact and protecting the underfoot from jabs. Our wear-testers liked it the most on more rugged terrain.

Plus: Gusseted tongue keeps out trail gunk.

Minus: A little too much shoe on smooth, flat trails.

Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3, $110

Weights: 10.8 oz. (men), 8.8 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 8mm 26mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You run a variety of trail types at a range of speeds. 

Fit-feel-ride: The Wildhorse 3 has a notably comfortable upper that pulls securely around the foot via lightweight cables. Minimal seams throughout mean zero irritation on feet. Aggressive tread underfoot—a mix of beefy lugs around the perimeter, including lug placement on the rounded heel and sticky rubber traction down the center of the outsole—makes for solid grip on a range of surfaces. Protection comes from a rock plate under the forefoot, and TPU overlays across the toes and around the heel, keeping rocks and other trail debris from jabbing feet. Testers noted the smooth ride of the Wildhorse 3, which likely comes from a combination of the anatomical rounded heel and springy cushioning compounds.

Plus: Has a wider toe box for toe splaying (and foot swelling) but a more snug fit.

Minus: We wish it was a tad lighter.

Pearl Izumi EM Trail M2, $125

Weights: 9.9 oz. (men), 8.9 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 9mm; 27mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)

Despite having a quasi-maximal midsole, the M2 is a dynamic and versatile shoe that excels on many different types of terrain. Like its road shoe cousin, it has a snug, athletic fit, copious amounts of cushioning and a smooth, soft ride. Although Pearl Izumi says the foam configuration is the same as its road shoe equivalent, our wear-testers thought the ride of the trail shoe was considerably softer. It’s likely due to the semi-softness of the aggressive outsole lugs, which enhance the plushness of the ride. Our wear-testers liked the stable, protective feel of the shoe and the snugged-down fit of the seamless upper.

Plus: This shoe’s wide profile and mid-foot support posts help create a feeling of stability on smooth and rugged terrain.

Minus: A few testers thought the toe box was a little too compact.

Salming Trail T1, $140

Weights: 10.2 oz. (men), 8.6 oz. (women)
Heel-toe Offset: 5mm; 24 (heel), 19mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You want a nimble, agile shoe to run technical trails.

Fit-feel-ride: Swedish company Salming hit U.S. shelves last year and its 2015 trail shoe impressed testers with its ground connection—giving runners solid control and an agile feel for the trails. Cushioning that’s more firm and energetic than mushy and overly dampening, as well as rugged traction that grips the slickest and messiest of trails, add to the proprioceptive feel. The shoe runs lighter than it feels due to the layer of PU that encircles the outer perimeter of the upper, balancing out the weight of the rubber outsole. And while the Trail 1 is a stable ride with the most protective upper of the bunch, it lacks a rock plate underfoot. This is a wide-fitting shoe, with a low arch that’s ready to charge.

Plus: The upper is super durable and dries quickly.

Minus: Not the most breathable shoe of our wear test.

Saucony Nomad, $110

Weights: 9.2 oz. (men), 8.1 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 4mm; 22mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You seek a versatile, rugged daily trainer.

Fit-feel-ride: With a closed mesh upper and beefy outsole, this is a rugged-looking shoe that lives up to its looks. Testers felt stable and supported when running at faster speeds on rockier terrain, but raved about the comfort when running slowly or cruising on smooth ribbons of dirt. Comfort ranks high too, as the soft, padded tongue and heel collar envelopes feet and the almost-seamless interior feels sock-like. The Nomad’s fit is boxy with plenty of room in the toe box, but it kept feet plenty secure without letting heels slip (though the laces require some fiddling). A sticky rubber outsole grabbed wet trails and didn’t feel overkill on smooth trails or even pavement.

Plus: Some support underneath the arch adds to a stable ride.

Minus: Not much protection for technical terrain with jagged rocks.

The North Face Ultra Cardiac, $110

Weights: 9.7 oz. (men); 7.7 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 8mm; 20mm (heel), 12mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You run roads to get to trails.

Fit-feel-ride: The Ultra Cardiac is a versatile shoe, able to tackle trails from gravel paths to more technical scrambles, and not feel clunky or sticky on sections of pavement. A substantial heel cradle helped even overpronators feel supported, while neutral testers didn’t mind the added guidance. Testers of all foot and gait types noted the smooth ride of the Ultra Cardiac, likely due in part to the slightly rounded shape of the heel’s outsole and midsole, allowing a smooth landing, especially on descents. The upper breathes well, and a FlashDry interior liner works to wick sweat and water from summer rain or stream crossings.

Plus: Forefoot flexibility adds to this shoe’s ability to climb well, and makes it all-day comfy.

Minus: Despite being lightweight, this isn’t the raciest shoe in the bunch.

Under Armour Fat Tire, $150

Weights: 13.0 oz. (men), 11.2 oz. (women)

Heel-toe Offset: 10mm, 27mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … You typically run on wet, sloppy trails.

Fit-feel-ride: By far one of the most intriguing shoe designs we’ve ever tested, the Fat Tire is designed to mimic a mountain bike tire rolling over terrain. The shoe serves up a super cushy and very lively ride thanks to two layers of soft foam that give it a high-off-the-ground feeling. It has a water-resistant upper and a new Michelin rubber compound, plus a slightly rockered profile from heel to toe as well as side to side. Our wear-testers found it to be amazing on wet, muddy terrain or even snowy, slushy trails. The shoe feels heavy underfoot, but less so in sloppy terrain or in snow.

Plus: An energetic ride unlike any other trail shoe we tested.

Minus: Not as ideal of a choice for hard-packed trails and dirt roads