There's nothing quite like lacing up a pair of shoes and heading out into the wilderness for some scenery and solitude. But when you're hitting the trails you need to know you've got the best trail running shoes for the job.
Picking up a pair of road shoes can be tricky – you need to get the right pair for the type of runner you are and how you're going to be training. With trail shoes, the range of choices becomes increasingly trickier as you need to understand the type of terrain you're going to be running on as well as the weather conditions you might stumble across.
Essential reading: How to choose the perfect running shoes
In general, trail shoes need to be hard-wearing and protective against terrain and the elements. Not only do you want something durable that won't rip or wear down easily, but you need to make sure that the outsole can sufficiently grip the terrain you're running on so you don't slip and fall over.
Lug length is key
What is definitely important is grip. For muddy trails and fell running you need shoes with deep lugs or studs of around 6-8mm in length on the bottom to avoid slipping over.
However, this kind of lug isn’t ideal on hard ground, where they will feel uncomfortable, wear down quickly, and give you less traction than shallower options.
If you’re sticking to hard trails then you want 2-4mm lugs, a little extra cushioning and a rock plate on the shoe that protects your feet from the impact of sharp rocks. In between those options, you’ll find all-rounder trail shoes that have 4-6mm deep lugs that work on a variety of terrains.
The best road-to-trail running shoes
Inov-8 TrailFly G 270 V2
Although we've added the TrailFly G 270 V2 as one of the best road-to-trail shoes out there, that doesn't really do it justice. Like its predecessor, it's a trail option that can pretty much handle anything you throw at it, from speedy parkruns to ultra-distance sessions.
The latest version sees updates to improve the fit, comfort and durability of the shoe. There's a redesigned lightweight mesh upper for increased breathability, extra heel padding and a more cushioned tongue. Other than that the performance features of the shoe remain the same, which is a good thing if you've ever tried the V!.
The shoe combines the lightweight build with Powerflow Max foam cushioning to deliver a fast experience that's feels comfortable over many miles of running. It's an impressively balance midsole that offers plenty of cushioning on harder surfaces but doesn't become sluggish or dull when you hit softer ground.
As with all Inov-8 shoes, a lot of the magic comes from the Graphene-enhanced G-GRIP rubber lugs – by far one of the best outsoles we've ever tested on a trail shoe. Although the lugs are just 4mm, the design and grip of the outsole means that the TrailFly G 270 V2 can tackle any surface, from wet rocks to muddy fields.
Saucony Endorphin Edge
Saucony's range of road shoes has seen some impressive additions over the past year, with options like the Endorphin Pro 3 and Tempus making many a road runner step away from competitors. Luckily the brand hasn't forgotten the trail world either, with the Endorphin Edge offering a great balance of speed and performance across varied terrain.
On harder, compacted trails the Endorphin Edge rides like its road equivalent, the Endorphin Speed 3, combining a Carbitex carbon fiber plate with a responsive PWRRUN PB foam midsole foam. The result is a speedy cruiser that helps runners maintain a consistent pace thanks to Saucony's Speedroll design.
On rocky ground, the shoe has no issues, protecting the feet comfortably while still having a good level of stability to keep you feeling confident. The PWRTRAC outsole grips incredibly well and can even handle softer surfaces – although due to the thick foam midsole you do lose many of the benefits that you get on harder ground.
It's a great choice if your trail running includes speedier efforts and we've pulled it out of the cupboard for many a trail race over the past year. The only downside is the price, which is possibly too high if you're only buying it for enjoyable weekend sessions.
New Balance FuelCell Summit Unknown v3
New Balance's FuelCell midsole foam has been one of the most successful additions across its range of road shoes in recent years. However, despite its popularity, it isn't until now that we see it appear in a trail option.
The reason for that is likely due to the softer feel of the foam in comparison to the firmer Fresh Foam X – for trails, a harder midsole tends to be more beneficial, especially when it comes to stability on uneven terrain, so it's not surprising it's taken a while to see FuelCell appear.
The FuelCell Summit Unknown v3 shows that the midsole foam can do more than tarmac though, combining the bouncier material with a number of features that make it a good option for lighter trails. It's not the most versatile trail option out there, but for harder surfaces and road-to-trail sessions, it's an impressively comfortable shoe, delivering the same cushioning and bounce that we've come to expect in road equivalents like the FuelCell Rebel v2 and the FuelCell TC.
There's a roomy, comfortable upper that makes longer distance effort a joy, along with a Hydrohesion outsole for grip in wet conditions. You'll also find a rock plate to improve protection and a gusseted tongue to help keep debris out.
Merrell MTL Long Sky 2
If you want a great all-round trail shoe that ticks a lot of boxes without breaking the bank then look no further than the MTL Long Sky 2. Packing all of Merrell's best tech for hitting the trails, it's a great shout for anyone, from those looking to head off-road for the first time to seasoned athletes that want a balance of speed and comfort.
The FloatPro Foam midsole is at the heart of the ride, offering just enough cushioning to handle long-distance efforts but with enough propulsion to pick up the pace when you need to. That midsole works alongside the Vibram MegaGrip outsole to ensure your feet are protected on varied terrain, with plenty of grip to tackle wet or slippy surfaces.
The upper offers a good level of padding and support for a relatively lightweight shoe, with ample cushioning around the ankle collar and tongue to keep the foot secure and comfortable over longer sessions, and the breathable mesh lining does a good job of keeping the foot cool when things start to heat up.
For the price, there are few shoes that compare, especially considering that Merrell makes some of the most durable options out there.
Saucony Peregrine 12
The Peregrine 12 is an all-rounder shoe that makes hay when the sun doesn’t shine and the ground beneath your feet gets boggy. The ample 4mm lugs on the sole mean you can take it to the most treacherous of muddy trails and expect to come through unscathed, but the PWRTRAC outsole is also durable and grips well when subjected to long stretches of running on firm ground.
The balance of the tough outsole and rock plate, combined with the soft and responsive PWRRUN midsole cushioning makes for a versatile shoe that delivers across varied terrain. As well as being tough and hardwearing when you need it, the comfortable design makes high mileage efforts a joy, deadening the impact and protecting the legs so you can enjoy the trails.
The lightweight upper is also one of the most comfortable we've tested in a trail shoe and manages to feel secure whilst still offering a supportive and plush feel.
The North Face Vectiv Enduris II
The Enduris II is a long-distance trail shoe with a focus on comfort when it comes to clocking up the miles. The thick stack of dual-density midsole foam is a joy over lighter trails, easily taking the continued impact and making sure you can tackle endurance runs with an enjoyably cushioned ride.
That focus on comfort isn't just in the midsole though. The breathable mesh upper has padding aplenty, especially around the ankle collar and tongue, giving the shoe a supportive, soft feel that offers great step-in comfort from the first time you put it on.
There's also an internal heel counter for extra support and fit, TPU overlays to protect the feet from pointy things and a rocker midsole that means the shoe produces a smooth heel to toe transition to propel you forward over longer efforts.
The 3.5mm lugs on the rubber outsole may not be designed for technical terrain, but over lighter trails, they're more than enough and mean that shoe also works well on road and harder ground.
One shoe to rule both the road and the trail, for those who have to run along the former to reach the latter, or just don’t have the space or inclination to buy a pair of shoes for each. The signature On pods on the base of the Cloudventure might not have the grip of lugged or studded shoes, but they do make it very comfortable on hard surfaces and are capable of handling extended stretches of road running without suffering from extensive wear and tear.
That’s also not to say the Cloudventure is out of its depth on the trails though. The grip from the outsole comes from the patterns on the base of the pods, which run in multiple directions to provide sure footing on slippery rocks in particular. The outsole is also well designed to find grip in the forefoot when running downhill at speed, when an untimely tumble can prove disastrous.
The holes in the pods do have a slightly annoying habit of collecting mud and small pebbles, the latter of which need to be removed post haste to avoid discomfort while running. But aside from that, the Cloudventure is a great shoe that manages the rare feat of being as at home on the road as it is on the trail.
New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7
The Hierro range is a staple for runners that want a solid all-rounder that can tackle everything from road to rocky terrain where you want a good level of protection. The v7 makes some adjustments to its predecessors but doesn't veer away from the design elements that have made it so popular.
The Fresh Foam X midsole is the same material found in many of the brand's road shoes and delivers a balanced ride that mixes stability with just enough cushioning to be used on harder surfaces. For some, it may be a little bit too firm for longer road sections, but for anything on softer ground, it really comes into its own.
One of our favourite aspects of the Hierro v7 is the upper, combining a breathable mesh upper for breathability with plenty of padding around the ankle cooler to feel plush and welcoming.
The Vibram Megagrip outsole is one of the most durable we've tested in a road to trail shoe, easily able to handle wet surfaces with a competent grip as well as a good level of protection from pointy rocks and debris.
The best trail-running shoes for muddy ground
Salomon Speedcross 6
The Speedcross line has always been designed to provide exceptional grip on slippery surfaces, so when Salomon promised even more grip in the sixth edition of the shoe, along with a lighter build, we were desperate to put that to the test on the boggiest ground we could find. The Speedcross 6 passed that test with flying colours, finding grip even when charging through a mini swamp in a forest.
Key to the Speedcross’s success is the deep lugs on the sole, which have been spaced slightly wider apart than in its predecessors and positioned to be especially good at finding grip when pushing off or trying to slow down on a slippery hill or at a sharp turn. The outsole in the 6 has also been updated to improve mud evacuation when running, so you don't end up with heavy shoes when you're trying to pick up the pace.
The upper of the shoe has also been updated and fits snugly to the foot but doesn’t rub, while the plastic heel counter provides stability on uneven terrain while also protecting the back of your foot from stray rocks.
While the outsole of the Speedcross is durable enough to handle short sections on the road, the lugs will wear down if repeatedly subjected to hard surfaces, so save this shoe for softer ground.
Inov-8 X-Talon G 235
Inov-8's range of off-road running shoes has something for everyone when it comes to the trails. The X-Talon G 235 is the one you're looking for when hitting the toughest, wettest terrain where you want a high level of protection but don't want to skimp on speed.
Coming in at 235 grams per shoe (men), it's an impressively lightweight piece of kit that doesn't lack when it comes to durability or technical ground handling. The Graphene enhanced rubber soles – Inov-8's incredibly tough and grippy rubber material – mixed with the 'talon'-like 8mm studs make for one of the best options you'll find when hitting the fells in touch conditions.
When it comes to water, the hard-wearing upper is designed to protect from moisture without adding additional weight. When used with the Inov-8 Debri-Gaiter, you'll struggle to find something the offers the same level of protection from the wettest, muddiest races.
By far one of our favorite options when you're focussed on speed over long mileage but you want a shoe that can tackle rocks and mud without losing speed.
The best lightweight trail shoes
Asics Fuji Lite 3
As you may have guessed from the name, the Fuji Lite 3 is a shoe that veers towards the leaner side of trail running. As a result, its best used for training sessions on paths and off-road sections as opposed to more regressive terrain like rocks or wet mud.
The Flytefoam midsole foam delivers a similar experience to road shoes, offering a nice level of cushioning without feeling bulky like trail options built for tougher landscapes. That's not to say it can't handle a challenge and it does a fine job across moderate trails, forest paths and canals.
The upper is enjoyably soft and has a good level of breathability for running on warmer days. The Asicsgrip outsole also does an impressive job on most surfaces, sticking nicely to wet paths and roads without feeling too hard or uncomfortable.
Hoka Tecton X
The Tecton X is Hoka's first trail shoe to incorporate a full-length carbon plate. Combined with the lightweight ProFlyX midsole and early-stage Meta-Rocker, it's a great option if you're focus is speed when heading off-road.
Like in Hoka's road equivalent the Carbon X3, the full-length plate is a subtle addition to the shoe, designed for efficiency gains over longer distance sessions instead of noticeable propulsion. On road, those benefits are negligible but transfer well to tackling varied terrain on the trails where you need greater stability and control.
The ProFlyX midsole is one of the best tools in Hoka's armoury and delivers a well-balanced ride that can easily switch from hard surfaces like road or mountain paths to softer ground. Thanks to the Vibram Megagrip outsole, it also has no issues gripping wet or slippy paths when you're upping the pace.
The lugs are ample for most surfaces but limited when it comes to wet mud or boggy ground, so if you're looking for a shoe that can handle cross country in the winter you may want to pick up something more aggressive.
We also found that the lightweight upper is perfect for warmer conditions, offering a good level of breathability and ventilation that locks the foot down securely.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv
The North Face turned heads when it released its carbon plate trail shoe, raising questions as to the benefits runners would get with a plate when used on varied terrain. And although comparisons with road shoe equivalents were inevitable, the Flight Series Vectiv highlighted a future where carbon plate technology wasn't solely for road runners.
The Flight Series Vectiv is an impressive shoe when used for its intended purpose – speed over harder trails. It's not a versatile shoe by any stretch of the imagination and when used on soft or muddy ground the addition of the carbon plate adds little to no value.
However, on hard surfaces, whether that's dry trails or technical terrain like mountain paths, the shoe works very much like its road counterparts. The carbon plate offers a noticeably responsive bounce that propels the runner forward and the subtle level of cushioning helps to promote a supportive toe-off.
Aside from the carbon plate the Flight Series Vectiv includes additional features to add durability and protection on the trails, that includes Kevlar and polyamide materials to increase strength and structure, a reinforced toe cap and a SurfacecCTRL rubber outsole.
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 8
The Terra Kiger 8 is a stripped-down trail shoe that's made to go off-road without unnecessary bulk. The React foam midsole is just enough to deaden the impact of running over hard ground but it's a long way from a cushioned shoe.
The upper of the shoe is made from a thin mesh material that keeps the feet cool over warmer runs, and dotted around the ankle collar is a modest level of padding for comfort, but minimised to keep the shoe lean. There's also a lightly padded tongue which helps to add additional comfort to the shoe.
Nike has included Zoom Air cushioning to promote additional toe-off and responsiveness, which helps to improve the overall bounce of the shoe without adding additional midsole foam. There's also a competent, albeit light covering of lugs dotted across the outsole which grips well on wet, soft ground but doesn't impede efforts on hard surfaces.
We've found that the Terra Kiger 8 delivers best over shorter distance trail runs where you want the versatility to pick up the pace. The lean design and stripped-back cushioning means the shoe has some similarities to minimal trail options, but there's just enough midsole to make it a good lighter option for general trail runners.
The best trail-running shoes for ultra marathons
The On Cloudultra is an incredibly versatile trail shoe that combines a host of features into a shoe that delivers across a wide range of terrains. As well as offering a tough, hardwearing exterior it also incorporates a healthy level of cushioning to keep the legs protected over endurance efforts.
The outsole solves one of the biggest issues we've seen in On shoes over the years, replacing the wide central gap found across many of it's shoes with an updated closed channel design. Covering the outsole is an effective Missiongrip rubber that offers a high level of grip and traction across wet and dry trail surfaces.
The cushioning in the shoe comes from a double layer of Helion superfoam that delivers a subtle level of softness without losing the responsiveness needed on the trails.
Perhaps our favourite aspect of the On Cloudultra is the upper design. The TPU reinforced mesh material gives a secure and firm fit but still feels comfortable and socklike, thanks to a plush gusseted tongue that extends from the main upper material.
Arc'Teryx Norvan LD 3
Arc'Teryx's ability to blend sleek design with impressive performance doesn't get more evident than in the Norvan LD3. It's a shoe that's primary focus is long-distance trails where you want maximum comfort and cushioning to keep your legs fresh until the end.
That's largely due to the chunky wedge of midsole foam that balances a cushioned feel on impact without feeling too soft, but also includes some additional features to make endurance efforts as enjoyable as possible. The first of those is the padded upper that manages to feel plush without being bulky, incorporating thinner sections across the forefoot and midfoot to improve airflow and keep the foot feeling cool.
There's a wide space in the forefoot of the shoe to allow wiggle room for the toes – not something you find in many trail shoes, and the outsole is covered with Vibram Megagrip for an impressive level of traction on varied surfaces.
We've found the Norvan LD3 delivers best on harder trail surfaces, whether that's winter paths or rocky mountain routes. It may not be the most versatile shoe out there – losing some of its benefits when you hit soft ground and mud, but for longer sessions on lighter trails, it's hard to beat.
Inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 270
We’ve already talked about how important comfortable cushioning is in an ultramarathon shoe, but another key feature to look out for is durability. If you’re taking part in races of 30 miles and above you’re also going to be logging some serious distance in your training, so you need a shoe that can stand up to that constant pounding.
The Inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 270 is that shoe. Its star feature is a graphene-enhanced rubber outsole that’s lightweight, provides excellent traction, and is so durable that it should last you 1,000 miles of running.
That durability in the sole is matched by the Kevlar used in the distinctive bright green upper. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard the word Kevlar before, it’s the stuff used to make bulletproof vests, so this is made to last.
The 4mm lugs provide grip on a range of surfaces and excel on softer ground despite not being as deep as on a shoe built for bogs. If your ultra is set to take place purely on hard ground you might be better served by the maximal cushioning of a HOKA shoe, but the TERRAULTRA does have enough support in the sole that you can rely on it to keep you in good shape over extreme distances. As good a shape as you can expect to be in when running an ultramarathon, at any rate.
Nike Pegasus Trail 3
The trail version of Nike’s popular Pegasus running shoe is a great option for those who split their time between light trails and the road, with the wide, relatively shallow lugs providing grip without being uncomfortable on hard ground.
The midsole is made from Nike React foam from heel to toe which offers a good balance between stability and responsiveness, whilst still feeling cushioned and comfortable when hitting hard terrain.
We’re also going to go ahead and toss Nike some credit for making one of the better-looking trail shoes out there, with the range of colourways of the Pegasus Trail 3 offering both understated and slightly more out-there options to suit all-comers.
Although the Pegasus Trail 3 is best suited to hard dry trails, we found the lugs have gripped pretty well in muddy conditions too, though if your run is going to be exclusively on boggy ground it’s wise to opt for something with longer studs on the bottom. There are also better options out there if you're planning on hitting wet or slippy terrain.
The best trail-running shoes for rocky ground
Brooks Cascadia 16
The Cascadia has long been a popular pick with runners heading for rocky ground for many years, and Brooks has continued to develop the shoe across its iterations to ensure it's a winner for the trails.
That starts with knocking additional weight off the shoe, which now tips the scales at 298g/ 10.5oz (men’s). In the past, the Cascadia line has worn its heft with pride, but the latest versions of the shoe are just as stable and comfortable to wear as their predecessors thanks to the internal saddle your foot sits in, while also being a little more nimble and lightweight when you fancy upping the pace.
The shoe also provides plenty in the way of protection when it comes to rocky tracks. There is an updated rock plate underfoot to protect you from landings on jagged edges, plus a toe bumper to keep your tootsies safe.
Brooks has also upgraded the outsole of the shoe to provide more traction on wet ground and although the Cascadia 16 shouldn’t be your first choice for runs in deep mud, it can handle pretty much whatever conditions you throw at it.
The Cascadia 16 also features additional cushioning in the midsole, release grooves to promote greater flexibility and a TrailTack rubber outsole to provide better traction.
HOKA Speedgoat 5
As you'd expect from HOKA ONE ONE, the Speedgoat 5 offers some of the chunkiest cushioning you'll find in a trail shoe. But don't let the comfort factor lure you into the idea that it's not up to the task when it comes to technical terrain.
As well as feeling lightweight for its size, the Speedgoat 5 has a host of features designed to tackle the tougher aspects of trail running. The deep lugs, made from Vibram rubber, offer a high level of traction and grip on wet and gravelly ground, and the GORE-TEX membrane means that they'll stand up to whatever the weather can throw at you.
If you prefer a minimal shoe where you can feel the ground below, the Speedgoat 5 is going to be a long way from your usual trainers. However, if you want comfort and durability over long distances along with a high level of protection against impact and whatever pointy objects are underfoot, it's a great option at an affordable price.
It's also a shoe that works very well for road to trail sessions due to the thicker midsole stack, meaning it delivers the goods whether you're on hard asphalt or soft, muddy terrain.