7 Best Cross Country Shoes in 2022

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7 Best Cross Country Shoes in 2022

Cross country can be wild. Lasting from October to February, it poses plenty of challenges for athletes and their footwear. Muddy areas, knee-deep puddles, obstacles to jump over, steep hills, twisty trails — all in one course. But what helps you get through the race with a higher chance of having fun is the right pair of cross country (XC) shoes.

We have field-tested over 10 spikes and flats to help you choose the best pair. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced runner, we’ve got a top pick for you.

How we test track & Field shoes

Although it’s a rather small category and only a few brands produce models specifically for cross country, we still want to get the cream of that crop. Here is our method:

  • include all available brands and models (Nike, New Balance, Saucony, Adidas, Altra, Hoka, Brooks, etc.)
  • transform hundreds of user reviews into a simple Good/Bad/Bottom line format
  • give each shoe a CoreScore from 0 to 100 for faster comparison

Quite often, a higher price does NOT translate to a higher CoreScore.

Best cross Country shoes overall

Nike Spike-Flat
Nike Spike-Flat

Corescore

90
Superb!
5.0 / 5 from 5 users
100 / 100 from 1 experts

Pros

  • Light and fast
  • Cushioned
  • Good support
  • Very comfortable
  • Amazing traction
  • Breathable
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Rough upper material
See our full review and facts

Best cross Country shoes for beginners

Nike Zoom Rival XC
Nike Zoom Rival XC

Corescore

83
Great!
4.4 / 5 from 116 users
80 / 100 from 1 experts

Pros

  • Effective for various terrain
  • Comfort from the box
  • Featherlight
  • Laces stay tied throughout the run
  • Easy to put on and take off

Cons

  • Too few reviews
See our full review and facts

Best Nike cross country track & Field shoes

Nike Zoom Victory Waffle 5
Nike Zoom Victory Waffle 5

Corescore

77
Good!
4.5 / 5 from 6 users
N/A

Pros

  • Excellent materials
  • Excellent build
  • Lightweight
  • Performs well on softer terrain
  • Responsive forefoot
  • Snappy ride
  • Moisture-wicking

Cons

  • Tight midfoot to the toebox,
  • Requires break-in period 
  • Heel counter irritates the Achilles

Verdict

The Nike Zoom Victory XC 5 made us zoom through brutal races! It's everything performance-oriented, and it's here to make you win your next cross-country competition. It's featherlight, fast, and grippy, it's everything we wanted to run with speed! Even better, it's durable and will surely go through gnarly terrain with ease.
See our full review and facts

Best running cross country track & Field shoes

Saucony Kilkenny XC8
Saucony Kilkenny XC8

Corescore

84
Great!
4.4 / 5 from 256 users
N/A

Pros

  • Grippy spikes
  • Performs well on mud
  • Comfortable
  • No break-in period
  • Budget-friendly spike
  • Holds up excellently
  • Feels light

Cons

  • Tight fit
  • Too long laces

Verdict

The Altra Vanish XC is an odd shoe. It has a zero-mm heel-toe drop. It has a wide, duck-like toe box. It has a firm, responsive, minimalist midsole and an old-school Nike-waffle-esque rubber outsole. It doesn’t last much more than about 50 miles. But if you’re looking for absolute freedom for running fast on the trails, then it really is a dream. Just don’t expect the dream to last long.
See our full review and facts

Best cross Country shoes for racing

Nike Zoom Victory XC 5
Nike Zoom Victory XC 5

Corescore

88
Superb!
4.5 / 5 from 106 users
95 / 100 from 1 experts

Pros

  • True to size
  • Super snappy
  • Stable
  • Anti-clog outsole
  • Flexible
  • Durable
  • Superb traction
  • Breathable
  • Lightweight
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Very narrow
See our full review and facts

Best value cross Country shoes

Nike Zoom Rival Waffle 5
Nike Zoom Rival Waffle 5

Corescore

80
Good!
4.7 / 5 from 7 users
N/A

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Grippy
  • Snappy ride
  • Rebounding 
  • Supportive fit
  • Comfortable cushion
  • Breathable

Cons

  • Not for wide feet

Verdict

If you want to ace your next cross-country competition with utmost speed, there's no better option than the Nike Zoom Rival 5. It's loaded with so much grip, you'll bolt through unfriendly terrains with sheer confidence. Even more, it can up your speed. With its highly responsive midsole, bolting through the race is an easy feat.
See our full review and facts

What makes a good cross country shoe

Even at first glance, you will notice that XC models differ from typical running shoes. Here are the four key design components that make cross country shoes a better fit for their intended sport:

What makes a good cross country shoe.png

  • Snug fit. Sleek, streamlined upper feels like an extension of the foot. It’s needed for speedy runs, rapid turns, and uneven terrain.
  • Super lightweight. Around 4.5 oz (130 g) lighter than an average running shoe to keep you feeling fast and agile.
  • Grip. Rubber nubs or metal spikes bite into mud, grass, and other soft surfaces.
  • Minimal cushioning. A thin, low-profile midsole is just enough for the cross country race distance. It offers a better ground feel and control. This setup also forces you to land on the forefoot, which is more optimal for speed.

If you are a cross country beginner - start easy!

Putting on your first pair of XC shoes can feel weird or even uncomfortable. Allow your body to adapt to the new sensation that differs from the accustomed plush feel of cushioned running shoes.

Try 100-500 meter runs on softer ground like grass. Also, limit your meet distances to 3 to 5K (2-3 miles) in the first few weeks.

It is possible to have slight soreness in the feet, shins, calves, or Achilles in the beginning, but if the pain aggravates, we strongly advise consulting a doctor.

Best cross country shoes for beginners

XC shoes priced at $70 and below are typically meant for those who are just starting out. Apart from being easy on the wallet, they are also made more friendly for an entry-level runner:

  • there is a bit more cushioning
  • the fit is slightly more forgiving
  • feel more like trainers

Cross country spikes at $100+ are targeted at competitive, varsity, or even elite runners. They have the lightest weight (4-4.5 oz / 115-130 g) and come with some additional technologies that boost performance, like a carbon plate or unique spike designs.

Most beginners might think that spikes are necessary for cross country, but it’s not always the case. Find out whether spikes are right for you in the section below.

Spikes vs. flats

Quick answer: If in doubt, choose flats.

XC spikes

XC flats (aka spikeless, waffles)

XC spikes.png

XC flats.png

Pros

  • better grip for muddy, sloppy, slippery conditions, grass, loose dirt, steep hills 
  • extra traction helps maintain speed during turns
  • better for courses that include harder surfaces (hard-packed trails, pavement, etc.)
  • allowed everywhere

Cons

  • not allowed by some meets and state federations
  • uncomfortable on hard surfaces
  • not as much grip as in spikes

A few more points to remember about spikes:

  • Beginner XC shoes have 4 spikes, while competitive models have 5-8
  • More spikes = more traction
  • Longer spikes = more traction
Spikes are NOT allowed in California! No spikes in california.png
California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) prohibits cross country spikes in California high school competitions. So, athletes in this area must only wear flats during meets.

Aren’t cross country shoes the same as track and field shoes?

Not really.

True, XC shoes look very similar to track & field shoes, especially the spiked models. But there are a few principal differences:

Cross country shoes Track & field shoes
Cross country.png Track and field.png
  • more cushioning and rubber for longer distances
  • thicker upper to withstand debris, rocks, dirt, etc.
  • less cushioning and stiffer because of the spike plate
  • thinner upper
  • come in three styles depending on the event (sprint, mid-, and long-distance)

Can I use track shoes for cross country? Yes, BUT go with models for long-distance runs and try them out on a practice run before the competition.

Can I use XC shoes for the track? Yes, BUT they work better for longer distances as they are heavier than sprint shoes. They also lack the propulsive stiffness of dedicated T&F shoes.

Getting the right fit in XC shoes

There are a few things you’ll notice when trying out a pair of cross country trainers:

  • there is less room around the toes than in running shoes/sneakers
  • perfect size could be half-a-size smaller than most of your footwear
  • most XC models are unisex, so ladies will have 1-1.5 size smaller than the usual

Shoe fit.png

A few more tips on fitting a XC shoe

  • fit should be snug but not cramped
  • there is half a thumb space between your longest toe and the front of the shoe
  • when in doubt, try going with the same brand that you have for running shoes, as sizing could be familiar
  • if you have wide feet, try Altra Vanish XC, as it has the widest toe box

Other types of shoes for cross country

For practice sessions, especially when you are new to the sport, other types of running shoes could work as an alternative. However, for competitions, it is still recommended to get a proper cross country shoe.

Here are some of the categories that could or must not be used:

Suitable cross country shoes.png

See road race shoes

See lightweight trail shoes

If you opt for trail shoes, avoid the overly rugged models that are meant for technical terrain, as they are too heavy and cumbersome for the nimble nature of XC.

And if your course includes particularly muddy areas, look for deeper-lugged trail shoes (8mm+). But beware that they are more likely to get clogged than spikes. So, for soft ground, we recommend sticking to XC spikes for the best experience. Thin and deep, they bite into the terrain and let go just as easily.

What are the cheapest cross Country shoes in 2022?

  1. New Balance XC5K v5 - from $30
  2. Saucony Kilkenny XC8 - from $40
  3. Nike Spike-Flat - from $45
  4. Nike Zoom Rival XC 5 - from $45
  5. Nike Zoom Rival Waffle 5 - from $45
  6. Saucony Carrera XC4 - from $49
  7. Saucony Havok XC 3 - from $52
  8. Nike Zoom Victory Waffle 5 - from $75
  9. Nike Zoom Victory XC 5 - from $110

See all cross Country shoes sorted by lowest price