Trail running saw tremendous participation growth during the pandemic, when runners wanted to get away – far away – from other people, and sought out the healing space of Nature. That wave may have spawned the following seven shoes, a wide variety of trail footwear that promises to help keep the off-road momentum afloat.
Altra Superior 5
Weight: 8.8oz M, 7.5oz W
$120 (Shoe not yet available.)
10 years ago, Altra launched with the close-to-the-ground Instinct (men’s) and Intuition (women’s). Today, the Superior instills the brand’s minimalist approach to trails. The Superior 5, clean and rather mod looking, strips away everything that’s unnecessary, paring down to only enough to remain comfortable and responsive, and provide plenty of traction. The “burrito” style wrap-around tongue held our tester’s securely and helped to keep out trail debris — although one tester found it made it harder to dial-in a secure fit than with the ultra-flexible upper on the Superior 4. The long, skinny fit with wide toe box felt a little clownlike, but was offset by the upper’s fine craftwork. The shoe represents Altra’s neutral lightweight and nimble trail speedster, a sleek blend of resilience and feel for the ground without subjecting the foot or body to the drubbing that was often the bane of the “barefoot” shoe movement. The MaxTrac outsole, with its multidirectional lug pattern, makes for sure-footed traction and the updated, removable StoneGuard is lighter and more flexible than Altra’s previous guards.
Asics Trabuco Max
10.7oz M 9.3oz W
Asics hadn’t made much of a splash in the trail running space for a while but re-emerges in force with the Trabuco Max. The brand jumps off-road with the application of Guide Sole technology, a rockered sole geometry that reduces ankle flexion, along with Flytfoam midsole cushioning. The combination makes for a unique, firm-yet-cushioned, stable, and efficient roll-through. The Flytfoam is both protective and shock absorptive while also providing energy-returning rebound that makes the Trabuco Max well suited for ultras. The thick-lugged outsole provides impressive traction and the engineered upper is breathable and durable. Unfortunately, the speed lace system was somewhat cumbersome because the too-short laces made it hard to get into and to find the right level of tension. Fortunately, that lack of congruity didn’t detract from superb upper fit and security for most testers.
Brooks Caldera 5
Weight: 10.6oz M, 9.4oz W
Brooks’ version of maximalism comes by way of the Caldera 5. With BioMoGo DNA cushioning aplenty — a stack height of 33mm/29mm! — the plush midsole is protective enough that you don’t feel the trail underfoot, and won’t suffer impact discomfort or bone bruises. The grippy TrailTack Sticky Rubber outsole provides traction on a wide variety of surfaces, wet or dry, and the Caldera’s protective toe bumper provides bountiful stub-proofness. Testers embraced the rugged dependability of the Caldera 5, along with its low drop, knobby sole and upper reinforcements. There were also callouts for the updated lacing system and its improved lockdown on technical terrain and use of midfoot lace loops for adaptive, locked-in security.
La Sportiva Jackal GTX
Weight: M11.1oz, W9.3oz
Not only will these new La Sportivas help runners with wider feet, runners for whom the brand had previously been too narrow, but they’ll also keep those high-volume feet dry with the Jackal GTX’s use of Gore-Tex Invisible Fit waterproofing, which doesn’t change the fit because the moisture barrier is integrated almost seamlessly into the original. The Jackal GTX has outstanding underfoot protection and cushioning from the compression-molded EVA with PU inserts in the midsole for push-through shielding. And testers enjoyed the stability and performance as well as the 3mm lugged-outsole traction. The Jackal is well suited for long runs or races on sloppy terrain or inclement weather, providing a firm yet flexible mountain-friendly shoe. Note: the sizing may run short in the length, if not volume, so try them on before purchase.
Salomon Sense Ride 4
Weight: 11oz M, 8.3oz W
If variety is life’s spice, the Salomon Sense Ride 4 is zesty, with its ability to sample a wide range of flavorful terrains. The changes of this popular model were kept minimal: some cosmetic updates and additional padding in the heel counter, but the shoe is also lighter and has a slightly different — improved — fit. The all-surfaces shoe, while comfortable on the road, is more at home on trail, where the Contragrip MA outsole works well even if in wet conditions. The Optivibe midsole combines foams to absorb impact and vibration and add liveliness to the ride while helping to fight off fatigue. Testers remarked that the underfoot protection didn’t do a complete job of warding off protrusions on sharp, rocky terrain but was fine on road and smooth trails, where the Sense Ride 4’s flexibility was welcome. The upper retained the Ride’s internal sleeve and speed lacing for comfort, security and the impression of a customized fit.
The North Face Flight VECTIV
Weight: M10.1, W8.6
The Flight VECTIV brings the combination of carbon fiber technology and a rockered midsole to the trails. Designed to reduce impact and maximize energy on all surfaces, although best suited for less technical trails, the Flight is not overly cushioned and initially feels stiff, but provides a smooth roll-through to toe-off, akin to carbon-plated road shoes, but with more toe flex. Designed to maximize energy efficiency with added stability from the 3D plate and dual-density midsole of lightweight and rebounding foams, the shoe is purported to convert downhill force into forward momentum. TNF claims it will also help reduce leg muscle fatigue. The upper offers a secure hold, thanks in part to a Kevlar and polyamid-woven saddle integrated into the midfoot and the TPU-infused and engineered knits for durability and breathability.
Topo Ultraventure 2
Weight: 10.4z M, 8.0oz W
Fans of the original Ultraventure won’t be disappointed, because this update includes only minimal changes to the upper that improved its breathability and comfort. Otherwise the shoe retains its burly status as a podiatrist-pleasing and ballistically-shielding ride for rugged back country treks. Boasting Topo’s signature wide toe box and a low 5mm heel-toe offset, the Ultraventure 2’s fit and comfort is enhanced by a well-placed arch and cushioned insole. The updated upper features engineered mesh, a molded foam collar, midfoot internal microfiber wrap and an external TPU heel counter for a comfortable, secure fit — one that our testers confirmed as true to size. The 30mm/25mm-high platform, 3-piece injected EVA midsole and Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole combine for a grippy, firm, shielded and slightly guided underfoot experience. For those wanting an even burlier model with ZipFoam, a rock plate and a ruggeder upper, check out Topo’s Ultraventure Pro.