Few runners stick only to trails or roads all the time. Even many runs combine multiple surfaces: getting to the trail on roads or sidewalks, traversing from single-track to jeep road, connecting trails via a concrete bridge, slogging through snow in a deep, shaded canyon before climbing to a slippery rock shelf on a high ridge… The shoes reviewed here can handle that variety with rides smooth enough for roads combined with traction and protection adequate for all but the roughest trails.
Review: Altra Lone Peak 4.5
Weight: 10.5 oz (M); 8.7 oz (W)
At a glance: A well-balanced, versatile trail shoe with foot-shaped comfort and zero-drop midsole—now with a better fit and firmer ride.
The Lone Peak serves as Altra’s middle-of-the-line trail shoe, providing more cushioning and support than the lightweight Superior, but more agility than the trail-swallowing Olympus. As such, the shoe tends to be versatile, allowing you to run a few miles on roads to a trail, where the aggressive lugs and rock plate provide plenty of protection. This half-step update (.5) doesn’t change how the Lone Peak fits into the line, but does alter the feel and ride, pushing it farther toward the nimble, close-to-the-ground end of the spectrum.
The visible aspect of the update comes in the upper, where overlays have been reduced, the tongue’s tie-in improved, and the lacing system simplified—dropping the complex looped eyelets of the 4.0. The result is a simpler, snugger wrap of the heel and midfoot, plus a slight savings in weight. Testers appreciated the update, one noting, “The snug feel on the heel with the wider toe box make for a great fit.”
Underfoot, Altra says that the “midsole foam has been tweaked just enough to give you a more resilient feel.” On the run, however, the tweaking gave the midsole a firmer feel, making the ride feel closer and more connected to the ground, even if the stack height remained 25mm. The Lone Peak has always been deceptively responsive—this version feels faster, with little squish and no slop underfoot. The change didn’t affect how testers reacted to the shoe much—they appreciated the moderate cushioning, the comfort of the foot-shaped last, and exceptional traction. One noted, “Ran on icy, slushy conditions without issues,” and said that the shoe made him feel, “in control and confident.”
Review: INOV-8 TRAILROC G 280
Weight: 9.9 oz (M)
At a glance: A snappy, versatile, durable ride, best suited for narrow-toed runners.
The “G” in the name of INOV-8’s TRAILROC G 280 refers to graphene, a material made from graphite that is touted to be “200 times stronger than steel.” Graphene is incorporated in the outsole rubber of this trail shoe, so you don’t have to worry about your soles wearing out.
You probably won’t notice the graphene on the run, but you will quickly notice the snappy ride of the TRAILROC G 280. If you flex the toe, you’ll see that it bends easily, then pops back quickly like a track spike. This is due to the imbedded META-PLATE, a shank that doubles as a rock-plate and gives INOV-8s their distinctive, quick-footed feel.
While many of the brand’s shoes are deeply studded, designed for navigating the muddy hills of their English lake-district origins, the TRAILROC G 280 has a relatively flat sole with multiple 4mm lugs. Combined with the moderate layer of responsive cushioning, the shoe can carry you versatilely from paved surfaces to packed trails.
Testers universally appreciated the “agile and protective” ride, but several had beefs with the fit. The upper is both well-padded and flexible, but narrows significantly in the toe. One tester was unable to run in them after a few tries due to rubbing on the sides of the reinforced toe cap. Another narrow-footed runner, however, said, “It was a secure, snug fit that allowed for confidence on technical terrain.” Best to try them before buying, and perhaps size up a half step.
Review: La Sportiva Kaptiva
Weight: 9 oz (M); 7.9 oz (W)
At a glance: Foot-hugging and ground-gripping security, with just the right amount of protection.
Slipping into the Kaptiva feels like pulling on a compression sock—you think it is too tight, then your foot falls into place and it feels remarkably supportive but not constrictive, completely held in place yet flexing easily where you need to. The Italian brand La Sportiva is known for their climbing shoes, and you feel like you could scramble up the side of a mountain given the security of the stretchy knit upper, sock-like tongue wrap and molded support underfoot. Yet you can also comfortably run to the mountain in these versatile, smooth-running shoes.
It’s high praise to say the sole attracts little attention—it just works. The stack height is low but not minimal, with a moderate 6mm drop. The midsole is neither soft nor firm, and flexes nicely in the forefoot, despite a thin imbedded rock plate. Gripping the trail is a proprietary sticky-rubber compound (remember, this is a climbing company) with low, versatile lugs that worked well on slick, sloppy or snowy conditions.
Testers were universally positive, with comments like, “Great feel for the trail without forfeiting protection.” “Very capable on technical trails.” “Enough support that I didn’t feel every rock and surface underfoot and felt like I was in control of my footing through some tricky areas.”
Review: Topo MT-3
Weight: 9.9 oz (M); 8 oz (W)
At a glance: Simple, comfortable, versatile and capable shoe for those who like their shoes to get out of the way and disappear.
Some shoes shout at you, demanding attention with their flashy features. Others disappear and just do their job. The Topo MT-3 is the latter: A simple shoe that you rarely notice but find yourself wearing most days.
The comfort starts with the fit, which stems from Topo’s accommodating shape. “The toe box is roomy and gives the toes plenty of space to wiggle and move,” said one tester. A well-padded heel collar and tongue gives way to a simple rip-stop upper with a few strategic overlays. One tester said they had “a very minimalist fit and feel,” yet another assured that, “Nothing was too flimsy or too tight.”
The sole is flexible and unobtrusive; moderately-cushioned, moderately-firm. “It hits a good middle ground,” one tester said, while another called the cushioning, “just enough.” But the ride and 3mm drop was too close to the ground for one who found she started to hurt on longer runs. All, however, liked the traction. “Fantastic grip that made me feel invincible on rocky and gravelly terrain,” said the same tester. Another raved, “I think these are my new go-to’s for single track. Fit is great, traction is great, toe protection is great.”
As well as they perform on the trail, the shoes shone for their versatility on any surface or in any context. “Made me feel capable,” one tester summed up. “I like the idea of wearing these shoes on a short trail run, then going to lunch afterwards without changing out of them.”