Hitting a trail with standard running shoes isn’t as fun as you might imagine. The cushion can feel a bit unstable and the soles can slide off dirt and rocks. But put on a new pair of trail running shoes and it’s a whole different (wonderful) experience.
With so many brands and options, it’s not easy to find a shoe that will take you on your favorite off-road trails while keeping your ankles and feet safe. But look no further. With advice from two running experts, we’ve refined your research to ensure you find the best trail running shoes for men and women.
1. Best overall: Saucony Peregrine 11 trail running shoe
- Tear resistant mesh
- Rubber traction on the bottom
- Breathable fabric
Saucony’s best-selling shoe, the Peregrine can help you conquer any trail run – rocky trails, dirt roads and unexpected debris don’t stand a chance. This shoe has large rubber ridges on the bottom to provide traction and prevent slipping or slipping.
And the durable mesh upper can withstand muddy runs, keeping your foot in place when the ground becomes unstable, according to Melissa Garcia, DPT, CSCS, a Washington-based physiotherapist who herself treats trail runners and recreational trails.
Buy it:Saucony.com (men); Saucony.com (women);Price:$ 120
2. Ideal for speed: the La Sportiva Bushido II running shoe
- Supportive heel padding
- Slip-on design
Garcia highly recommends this seemingly light, minimal cushion trail running shoe for speed. There’s just enough pull on the bottom to keep you safe too. The slip-on design also means you won’t have to worry about stopping halfway to bend over and tie your shoes.
The cushion on the inside of the back of these shoes keeps your heel in place, making them the best trail running shoes for hiking as well.
Buy it:Amazon.com (men); Amazon.com (women);Price:$ 130
3. Best top pillow: Hoka Evo Mafate 2
- High cushion level
- Breathable mesh fabric
- Secure tongue that does not move
Hoka running shoes are best known for their comfortable cushion, and the company’s trail running shoes are no exception. The Evo Mafate offers plenty of cushioning, and it still has great flexibility in the forefoot to help you climb the trails.
This shoe also sits quite high above the ground, which is a plus for trail running, according to Jason Fitzgerald, USA Track & Field certified trainer and host of the Strength Running podcast. The higher the shoe, the more protection you get from sharp rocks or roots digging into the sole or mesh of the shoe.
Buy it:HokaOneOne.com (men); HokaOneOne.com (women);Price:$ 170
4. Best for stability: Salomon Speedcross 5
- High traction lugs
- Good for all terrains
- Narrow cut
With Salomon’s stable trail running shoes, trips and falls are no longer a problem when you go hiking. This shoe offers great foot protection, thanks to the high grip bottom and ankle stabilizer pad in the heel.
“It’s a stable and durable shoe designed for muddy and softer environments,” she says.
Buy it:Salomon.com (men); Salomon.com (women);Price:$ 130
5. Better waterproofing: Adidas Terrex Agravic TR GORE-TEX trail running shoes
- Waterproof upper
- Protective hood to prevent toe jamming
- Durable midsole
Rainy trails are nothing like the Terrex Agravic trail running shoes from Adidas. With their waterproof and tear-resistant GORE-TEX fabric, you don’t have to worry about puddles slowing you down as you work out.
Garcia likes them for their lightweight yet stable design, and considers them one of the best trail running shoes for women in particular.
Buy it: Adidas.com (men); Adidas.com (women);Price:$ 100
6. Best high-tech: Under Armor HOVR Machina Off Road CH1 Running Shoes
- App connectivity
- Shock absorbing cushion
- Ideal for all surfaces
The Under Armor Off Road shoes are as high-tech as an off-road sneaker can be. These can connect to the Under Armor MAPMYRUN app to track and analyze your running metrics, like your pace and total distance, according to Garcia.
And if you love the hills, the shoe’s HOVR cushion technology helps absorb shock, giving your knees extra protection. Since men are often heavier than women, the shock absorption makes this pair one of the best trail running shoes for men.
Buy it:Underarmour.com (men); Underarmour.com (women);Price:$ 180
Manufacturers usually market shoes based on gender, so we’ve listed the choices for women and men. However, the main difference between most men’s and women’s shoes is the width and size of the shoe. In some cases, men’s shoes are designed to support heavier weights. So, people with a bigger body may want to go for the men’s versions, while people with a smaller body may prefer the female versions.
4 factors to consider when buying your best trail running shoes
When you run on a trail, your shoes need traction to prevent slips and falls, according to Fitzgerald. So you need to find a pair of shoes with rubber ridges (i.e. cleats) on the bottom.
The studs dig into the dirt and provide resistance, helping you move over uneven ground and climb elevations with more confidence, he says. “Just like if you had to drive off-road in your car, running off-road means you need more traction and support.”
For dirt roads or trails, you can opt for shoes that have less tread, says Fitzgerald. But always look at trail shoes with a rubber bottom to get a lot of traction.
The type of pods at the bottom of the shoe also matters, according to Garcia. As a rule of thumb, a wider leg (about half an inch wide) is best for wet, loose terrain. Side-by-side studs are best suited for harder, rocky surfaces.
Hiking a trail means you’re sure to come into contact with rocks and twigs galore. Typically, any shoe labeled as a trail running shoe will have the durability to withstand off-road racing, Fitzgerald explains.
But if you want more security, look for a shoe that says it’s abrasion or snag resistant. Shoes advertised as water resistant (or waterproof) are also a plus, especially if you live in all kinds of weather conditions.
Also make sure that the upper of the shoe is mesh. This keeps things from breathing and your feet from overheating.
More or less cushion is definitely a personal preference, Garcia says. While some people like the bounce of high cushioned steps, others prefer to feel the ground under their feet.
But you also want to consider your terrain, she says. If most of your outdoor runs are on steep inclines and descents, you may need a shoe with a little more cushion to protect your knees. Extra cushion helps absorb the impact of repeated pounding of your feet on the floor
For those who tend to run on flatter trails and want a bit more speed, a lighter, lighter shoe is probably ideal.
Also keep the overall height of the shoe in mind, recommends Fitzgerald. Shoes with more cushioning always sit higher above the ground and protect your feet from debris, making them a good choice for less crisp paths and trails.
Most running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop. This means that the heel has more cushion than the toes, so your foot literally drops toward the ground as you move from your heel to your toes. You can find drops from 0 millimeters (a totally minimal shoe) to 8 millimeters.
A larger drop helps push your foot forward slightly, so people who strike with their heels first may want a higher drop to propel themselves forward, according to Garcia. Those who strike with the forefoot won’t need as much heel pad to keep moving.