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Fall 2015 Trail Running Shoe Guide

Find the perfect pair that's right for you.

Some of this season’s trail shoes aim to keep you running despite rain, snow, sleet and other fall/winter hazards; others are set to become your year-round chargers.

Our roundup of trail running shoes runs the gamut from low-to-the-ground, minimal-feeling shoes that fit like socks with teeth underfoot, to beefy cushioning that absorbs trail impact of all sorts. Read on to find the pair that’s right for you.

RELATED: 4 Tips for Buying the Right Pair of Trail Running Shoes

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Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3, $125

Weights: 8.9 oz. (men’s); 7.2 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 4mm; 24mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you want a fast-feeling, low-profile shoe with some pop for mild terrain.

Fit-feel-ride: This low-to-the-ground shoe with a pliable upper feels like a racing flat, but has the cushioning to make it comfortable on smooth terrain (even roads) and the traction to feel surefooted on mildly technical terrain. On more rocky, rooty, steep trails, we longed for more protection overall and better grip underfoot. But this is a light, fast-feeling shoe, and for that we’re grateful. The pliable, breathable mesh upper wraps nicely around the foot via Nike’s Flywire for a sock-like fit. And the midsole’s Zoom Air cushioning units give this shoe some bounce without adding a thick disconnect from the trail.

Plus: The molded sockliner and all-over feel of this shoe mean all-day comfort whether running or not.

Minus: It’s a bit too close to the ground (and not protective enough) for some of our wear-testers.

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro, $115 — Best Cushioning

Weights: 11.4 oz. (men’s); 8.7 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 4mm offset; 21.5mm (heel), 17.5mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you need a versatile shoe for smooth to rugged terrain that’s still fairly smooth on road.

Fit-feel-ride: Chalk it up to the FreshFoam midsole (constructed out of a single piece of foam), the Ortholite insert (more cush) and the Ortholite insole (even more cush): For a trail running shoe, the Hierro serves up a superbly posh ride. It’s not plush in a maximally cushioned sort of way; the Hierro doesn’t ride like a fat ski or 29er bike. It’s more like a pleasant spring in your step on the paved sections leading to the trail, and on hard dirt, and gravelly paths. Once on gnarlier terrain, the multidirectional lugs on the outsole kick in to grab the ground and keep you surefooted. It’s a comfortable shoe, with soft materials on the upper and nice padding around the heel and tongue—one you could wear all day. However, although the fit is a bit snug in the heel and slightly wider in the forefoot, some felt it too snug all over for running on technical trails. (Our wear-testers who were able to run in the Hierro a half size larger than their normal size reported an improved experience.)

Plus: Thanks to the cushioning and flexibility, this is a smooth-running shoe.

Minus: Due to the softness of the mesh on the upper, some testers noted their feet felt “exposed” to lateral jabs from roots and rocks.

Altra Lone Peak NeoShell, $150 — Best Weather Protection

Weights: 11.9 oz. (men’s); 10.4 oz. (women’s)

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

The shoe is for you if … you’re an Altra and/or zero-drop devotee, and want to stay on the trails in winter weather.

Fit-feel-ride: This shoe is built off Altra’s popular Lone Peak 2.5, a cushy shoe with a zero-drop profile that seems to put a little spring in your step. The Neoshell version has the same roomy toe box fit of the regular 2.5, allowing toes to splay naturally, especially on long descents. The Neoshell adds a durable, waterproof exterior that kept testers’ feet dry even when dunking in a shallow creek. It differs from other weather-protecting shoes in this roundup by putting the waterproofing in the exterior of the shoe, eschewing a heavy, wet upper and abating an overly hot foot. The bottom line is that this shoe will keep you charging trails in snow and cold.

Plus: Underfoot traction grips a range of surfaces with aplomb.

Minus: If the fit isn’t perfect (they run a tad large on foot), there can be some awkward buckling at the toe crease.

Hoka One One Stinson 3 ATR, $160

Weights: 12.0 oz. (men); 10.2 oz. (women)

Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm; 36mm (heel), 30mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you crave monster cushioning and you have a high arch.

Fit-feel-ride: The Stinson 3 ATR has a crazy amount of cushioning underfoot, creating quite a bit of distance between you and the trail. That can be a plus if you’re looking for a floating, impact-absorbing ride on smoother trails or mildly technical routes. If you’re looking for a nimble shoe that connects you to the trail, the Stinson 3 ATR isn’t for you. The traction proved suitable on a range of surfaces, but our wear-testers agreed that this shoe can feel cumbersome on extremely rocky terrain. However, it excelled on mild terrain and runs equally as smooth on roads. Our more flat-footed testers reported the high arch felt intrusive (even rubbing), while others didn’t notice it at all

Plus: This Hoka, like others in the line, seemed to alleviate some pain for chronically injured runners.

Minus: The toe box runs narrow—too narrow for some.

Saucony Xodus 6.0, $120 ($140 for GoreTex version) — Best Traction

Weights: 11.4 oz. (men’s); 9.9 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 4mm offset; 23.5mm (heel), 19.5mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you crave a burly yet agile shoe to charge technical terrain.

Fit-feel-ride: This is a confidence-inspiring shoe for running on rugged terrain. The Vibram outsole is about as aggressive as anything out there, grabbing hold of loose dirt and wet rocks, both uphill and down. A solid amount of overlays protects the tops and sides of feet from rocks and roots, while not bogging down the shoe. Despite the protection and grip of the Xodus, it still runs fairly light and allows notable agility. We didn’t love this shoe on moderate, non-technical terrain. It’s major toothiness felt like overkill, and may contribute to it not feeling smooth-riding. But since this shoe is built to charge on rugged terrain, we think it does its intended job well.

Plus: There’s a Gore-Tex version of the Xodus 6.0 if you seek a full-on winter charger for running in snow.

Minus: If you run part mellow trail, and even part road, you’ll likely find it overkill.

Vasque Pendulum II, $120

Weights: 10.2 oz. (men’s); 8.9 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm drop; 19mm (heel), 13mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you appreciate ground contact and like picking your way through obstacles.

Fit-feel-ride: Stepping into this shoe feels like slipping on a super light, very agile and firm light hiker—it feels very protective underfoot thanks to a segmented TPU rock plate that stops rocks and roots from irritating soles. The surprise is that the Pendulum shoe runs smoothly. It’s flexible in the right places, and just cushy enough to cruise smooth trails comfortably. Testers noted how this shoe inspired them to rock-hop and “dance,” albeit precisely, up and down rocky, technical trails. The ground contact allowed by quasi-minimal (but lively feeling) cushioning created great feel for the terrain. The seamless upper proved instantly comfortable, too, and very breathable—so if you’re looking for a winter shoe in cold climates, consider the Gore-Tex version of the Pendulum II.

Plus: The multi-directional, aggressive tread underfoot feels surefooted on all sorts of trails.

Minus: The seamless upper doesn’t offer a ton of protection—the sidewalls in particular feel a bit exposed on gnarly terrain.

Montrail Bajada II Outdry, $135

Weights: 13.1 oz. (men’s); 10.9 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 10mm offset; 20mm (heel), 10mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you tackle gnarly trail in foul weather and demand maximum protection for your feet.

Fit-feel-ride: This shoe is a burly workhorse that manages to run lighter than it weighs. Its Gryptonite outsole grabs the trail, wet or dry, but it’s the upper that made us feel like we could charge anything. The screened rubber overlays kept rocks and roots from poking through the sides of the shoes; we felt like our feet were enclosed in a guarded little case. The waterproof Outdry treatment on the upper only ups the protection; this shoe blocks rain and snow. Bottom line: It’s a rugged, durable shoe that still flexes and doesn’t weigh you down. The Bajada II Outdry isn’t as nimble- or agile-feeling as some others in this review, and it runs a little stiff, but for technical trails (especially in foul weather), it’s a hit.

Pros: Outdry waterproofing does the job and still breathes well.

Cons: Feels a little clunky on smooth, non-technical trails.

Mizuno Wave Hayate 2, $110

Weights: 8.7 oz. (men’s); 7.2 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 9mm offset; 22mm (heel), 13mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you want road-shoe flexibility with trail chops.

Fit-feel-ride: The Hayate 2 is among the most flexible trail shoes we’ve tested, making it feel fast and natural on flat and hilly terrain alike. It’s also one of the lightest in this roundup (along with the Inov-8 TerraClaw 250), adding to its racy feel. We like how, despite the shoe’s lithe demeanor, the sole is grippy and feels protective. The soft and very pliable upper material pulls nice and snug around the foot, but left us feeling a tad exposed on rocky trails and jagged terrain. The hard plastic wave sandwiched within the midsole, along with a wide platform under the forefoot, makes this shoe feel stable. One tester noted that she was able to up her mileage without injury in the Hayate 2 more so than when training in other shoes.

Plus: This is a very breathable shoe—a plus, unless it’s cold and wet.

Minus: The snug fit, especially in the heel and Achilles, might be too snug for some.

Inov-8 Terra Claw 250, $130

Weights: 8.8 oz. (men’s); 7.2 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm; 24 (heel), 16mm (forefoot)

The shoe is for you if … you like a flexible and minimal shoe with traction underfoot.

Fit-feel-ride: The lightweight upper of this shoe pulls sung and secures around even the narrowest feet, wrapping high- to low-arched runners in comfortable support. While this shoe was built for higher mileage than other Inov-8 TerraClaw shoes—with extra protection and more cushioning—make no mistake: the 250 still feels minimalistic on-foot. It’s a firm ride in comparison to other shoes in this roundup, providing major ground feel and connection to the trail for agile, nimble running. What testers wished this shoe had more of is lateral stability, finding that their feet slipped side-to-side on off-camber trails and scrambles.

Plus: It feels both lightweight and race-ready, with a touch of cushion and protection.

Minus: The minimalism means there’s not a lot of structure keeping feet in place in the upper.

Brooks Adrenaline ASR 12 GTX, $150

Weights: 11.8 oz. (men’s); 9.9 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 12mm drop; 32mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you need stability in a versatile shoe that’s treated for winter weather.

Fit-feel-ride: This foul-weather-ready shoe has a road-shoe feel. Its midfoot stability, ample cushioning and smooth ride make it a pleasure to run in on smooth dirt and less-than-technical terrain. Updated from the previous version of this popular shoe is a segmented crash pad (all that toothy red and black rubber near the back of the shoe), which allows a more fluid ride than in past iterations of the Adrenaline ASR. The outsole has also been updated to handle sloppy trails better. Testers didn’t find it the most “dynamic” or “agile” shoe on technical trails, likely due to its road-shoe profile and plentiful cushioning. The Gore-Tex weather-proofing adds to the versatility of this winter shoe—wear it on sloppy road runs as well as off-road.

Plus: This shoe is cut low around the ankle collar, which some testers found enhanced comfort.

Minus: The stability for pronators will be overkill for some (but a plus to those who need it.)

The North Face Ultra MT, $130 — Best Debut

Weights: 9.7 oz. (men’s); 8.2 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm; 23mm (heel), 15mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you don’t want to hold back on mountain runs.

Fit-feel-ride: With its Vibram “Megagrip” outsole, its durable ripstop mesh upper that wraps around the midsole and the semi-firm ride of the cushioning, The North Face Ultra MT is a hard-charging mountain shoe. It actually feels strong and solid on the foot, and holds up to sharp, rocky terrain. The traction of this shoe is what stands out the most. It gripped everything from slick to dry rock, soggy ground, dusty trails and more. Some testers craved more cushioning around the heel collar near the tongue, and others noted how the narrow fit of these won’t work for everyone. The thin yet nicely padded tongue lays comfortably on the foot, and the “FlashDry” lining wicks sweat and moisture in a jiff. This shoe also comes in a Gore-Tex version.

Plus: For how durable and burly this shoe is, it’s still fairly lightweight.

 Minus: The non-stretchy laces (which need double knotting) could be felt by some across the top of the foot.

Salomon Speedcross Pro, $150

Weights: 11.5 oz. (men’s); 9.7 oz. (women’s)

Heel-Toe Offset: 10mm offset; 20mm (heel), 10mm (forefoot)

This shoe is for you if … you have a narrow foot and seek an agile mountain climber.

Fit-feel-ride: This toothy trail shoe (with its 6mm, hard-rubber lugs made from Salomon’s revamped Contragrip outsole rubber compounds) was built to grab mud, wet surfaces and other muck found on fall trails. We found the traction did the job, and liked the secure, snug, wrapping of the upper—no doubt aided by Salomon’s one-pull Quicklaces and slightly stretchy fabric on the upper. Lateral stability comes from TPU-welded overlays, allowing this shoe to feel stable and secure on rocky, technical trails. Testers craved a touch more room in the toe box on long runs, but noted the snug fit helped this shoe feel agile. The cushioning rides a bit hard, and feels almost orthotic-like (firm, secure and corrective) around the arch.

Plus: The durable upper is also water-resistant, and the mesh across the tongue helps keep out debris.

Minus: Felt excessive—and a little too stiff—on flat, smooth terrain.