10 Best Trail Running Shoes in 2021
We’ve tested more than 100 pairs of trail running shoes to help you find the best of the best.
Some trail shoes are created for the harshest off-road challenges like rocks, mud, snow, and branches. They keep you protected and surefooted. Others are made for the more urban-ready conditions and are comfortable enough to switch from roads to trails.
Whichever your purpose is, we have listed our top recommendations in several categories.
And if you want to dive into the nitty-gritties of selecting the best pair for your needs, skip right to our guide on trail shoes below the shoe descriptions.
Overview of this guide
- 1. How we review trail running shoes
- 2. Best overall
- 3. Best budget shoe
- 4. Best off-trail
- 5. Best for ultra
- 6. Best road-to-trail
- 7. Consider terrain: light trail vs. rugged trail
- 8. Trail shoe design: basic or sturdy?
- 9. Level of cushioning in trail shoes
- 10. Outsole rubber and lugs
- 11. Protective elements in trail shoes
How we review trail running shoes
To save your time, we spend hours scrutinizing every single shoe release. As an independent shoe testing lab, we purchase all trail shoes with our own money to stay unbiased.
- We cut shoes into pieces
- Take them on long runs
- Measure over 30 different parameters far beyond weight and stack
Instead of “durable” or “comfortable” you get concrete data that puts each trail shoe up against hundreds of others.
To make it as comprehensive as it can be, we have also gone over 200,000 of real user and expert reviews for 500+ trail running shoes. All opinions are reflected in the CoreScore, a number from 1 to 100 which is assigned to each model.
The best trail shoes make it here.
After making it to our list of best running shoes, it’s a no-brainer that the Salomon Sense Ride 4 is here to take its throne again. We just can’t get enough of this shoe!
It’s a trail bruiser, and it darn good one. From the bottom up, it’s got what it takes to conquer the trails.
It’s easily our choice for high-mileage efforts and steep climbs. This shoe just smashes everything underfoot, owing it all to its 3.57mm lugs.
And the real showstopper here is its fun and energetic ride. Honestly, we didn’t really expect much in this department because it’s one crazy sturdy shoe. In our lab tests, we’ve found that it’s 31.7% stiffer than the average midsole, and the outsole is 6.4HC more rigid than the average.
Combine that all together, and you get an INCREDIBLY solid shoe! And it’s not a tank that’s going to punish the feet either.
At 10.5 oz, it tips our scales, alright. But when we took it out for a spin, it did NOT feel heavy at all! It’s nimble, and it didn’t drag our feet down.
Even more, the upper stunned us! It’s a 10/10 in the comfort arena. It’s plush and soft, we never experienced any rubbing nor hot spots.
Generally, if you want a trail shoe that’s going to last and excels at its job, the Salomon Sense Ride 4 will not disappoint!
Saucony Peregrine is a real tank for smashing the trails! We have tested it on the most demanding terrain to confirm that this shoe embodies confidence.
The grip is outstanding! The Peregrine has the deepest lugs in our trail shoe collection (4.35 mm compared to the average 3.2 mm) and bites just about anything: rocks, mud, snow, and slush. It even kept us surefooted on wet steep hills. This is essential if you live in a rainy area.
The outsole teams up with a highly secure lockdown. We were able to successfully maneuver some winding paths with ZERO foot movement inside the shoe.
This beast is going to last! There’s not even a scratch or signs of wear after miles of testing. The outsole is 50% thicker than most other running shoes, promising you at least 500 miles of dependable service.
Expect the Peregrine to feel a little stiff at first. But once broken in, this shoe will be your guardian on the toughest trails.
Not recommended for warmer days, it will best serve you in normal to colder temperatures.
The Peregrine makes you feel so confident, you forget about what’s underneath your feet!
Best budget shoe
For a less than average price of trail shoes, we find the Brooks Divide 2 an excellent value for $100!
Having tested it from paved roads to the slightly more challenging terrain, we are impressed with the shoe’s versatility! It is a perfect option if you are just starting to mix in some trails into your runs.
It even feels like a road shoe. The upper is so comfortable you want to take the shoe on the run straight from the box. A gusseted tongue was also a nice surprise found in such a budget-friendly shoe. It was especially helpful in keeping our feet securely locked.
And if you have wider feet, the shoe has got some serious wiggle room in the toebox to keep your toes happy!
Although it is not meant for technical trails, it still packs a rock plate. So if you happen to step on a rock or a sharp object, your foot is sure to be guarded.
All in all, we highly recommend the Brooks Divide 2 as a door-to-trail commuter that equally feels at home on the road and on moderate trails.
An even more affordable option, Asics Gel Venture 8 really surprised us with its durability and grip for $70!
Visually, it makes an impression of a simple shoe but once you have it on, the perception changes. It feels unbelievably comfortable around the foot! There is a very minimal break-in period and after a couple of miles, the shoe reveals its true comfort.
The upper scored high in lockdown on our wear tests too! It did a great job keeping our feet in place even on the sharpest corners.
Traction-wise, we were astonished by how well this budget-friendly shoe grips! Gravel, loose ground, mud - it performed very close to the more expensive options.
And if you think a $70 shoe won’t last long, the Venture 8 can prove you wrong. With how minimal the outsole wear is after miles of wear tests, we expect this workhorse to outlast 450 miles!
So, if you are looking for a cheap trail shoe that performs like a $100+ pair and planning to run shorter distances (up to 10K), there is no better option than the Asics Gel Venture 8!
Salomon Speedcross 5 is off the charts!
Out of 500+ trail shoes that we have reviewed, we still consider it the GOAT when it comes to the roughest off-trail running.
This traction monster sports some of the most aggressive 4-mm lugs (compared to the average 3.2 mm). Be it snow, slush, wet rocks, or mud - we never slipped once on our multiple wear tests.
If you decide to go over 10 miles at a time, the shoe’s lockdown stays as sturdy as it was the moment you tied them up. By the way, Salomon’s proprietary toggle laces take seconds to adjust or let loose. You will not want to go back to regular laces after these!
With the amount of protection this Salomon shoe offers on sharp, pokey rocks, we couldn’t believe there is no rock plate inside! No matter what obstacles you hit along the way, this shoe protects you 360 degrees.
We also felt safe on the landings thanks to the wide base of the shoe. No ankle twists or awkward wobbles. The ride is nice and steady.
Durability-wise, this thing was created for abuse. It takes a couple of hundred miles to get the first scratch on the shoe. Expect it to last you well over 500 miles!
In a word, Salomon Speedcross 5 is a no-brainer if you need a tough shoe for the most technical terrain. You can even make your own trails with this machine.
The shoe also comes in a GTX version in case you run in wet, rainy conditions.
And if you don’t mind exchanging a few extra oz for maximum possible protection on the trails, there is no burlier shoe than the Salomon XA Pro 3D.
It is so heavy-duty that you can use it as a dedicated hiking shoe. Our wear tests included both running and hiking sessions and this titan nailed them all.
Impossible to destroy, this Salomon can do way beyond the average 500 miles across trail shoes. There is not even a hint of wear on the upper or the outsole after 100+ miles of our wear testing.
It is also the most supportive trail shoe for runners with conditions like flat feet, overpronation, or plantar fasciitis. The shoe clutches all-around your foot and ankle, plunging them into the world of comfort. At the same time, it stays so secure throughout the run that you will not think about making any adjustments to the fit.
Just like the Speedcross 5, the XA Pro uses a miraculous speed lacing. Regular laces never come close to how effortless it is to tighten and loosen the Salomon toggles on the go.
There is no rock plate here but there is even no need for one thanks to the robust outsole. We stepped on all sorts of rocks, branches, and debris without any worries or discomfort!
The shoe also sports some of the largest and hard-wearing toe bumpers we’ve ever seen. Try kicking a rock intentionally and your toes won’t even feel it!
Overall, this is a tank. If you want maximum possible protection and support for running and hiking some challenging trails, Salomon XA Pro 3D is the one.
Best for ultra
If you are going on a 100-mile race, there is no better shoe that we can recommend more than the Olympus 4.0.
From over 110+ ultra-ready models that we have reviewed, this Altra behemoth scores the highest in every essential aspect.
First of all, cushioning. Beast of a shoe, it offers an extremely generous amount of cushioning (33 mm) that keeps you running all day long. And even if you’re not going the distance, it is so plush that it makes a perfect easy-day/recovery shoe.
Secondly, it wouldn’t be an Altra without the widest toebox in the history of running shoes! There is so much space to accommodate long-distance foot swelling that frees you from the pressure and blisters.
Third, the Vibram sole has lived up to all our expectations. It is a truly premium material used on top-tier trail running and hiking shoes, and the Olympus is no exception. We were able to tackle everything in it: rocks, mud, loose trails, and more.
And we just couldn’t get enough of this shoe’s overall comfort. You don’t even feel like taking it off after the run! Even more, it breathes well enough to prevent your feet from getting toasted.
This is THE shoe for your longest hauls.
It was a neck-to-neck competition between the Speedgoat and the Olympus for the top pick. However, the Olympus scored slightly higher due to the overall comfort.
But still, our choice doesn’t minimize all the admirable qualities of the Speedgoat. With just as much cushioning (32 mm in the heel), it is a runner-up to the best ultra-distance shoe.
Even with the absence of a rock plate, all the amount of firm foam and rubber keeps you protected. Having tested it on some gnarly and rocky trails, we never felt pain stepping on the obstacles.
But most of all, we enjoyed the steady, consistent ride of this trail shoe. Its platform is significantly wider than average (even some other Hokas), which makes you feel so surefooted at all times.
Another brilliant Vibram sole application, the outsole on this shoe bites! We climbed steep hills and crushed it downhill in the Speedgoat. Tacky and grippy, it won’t let you slip and slide even on some muddy areas. As for durability, we equate it to that of the Olympus. 10 out of 10 here!
This Hoka shoe may not offer the same amount of wiggle room as the Altra BUT it is available in a Wide option in case you need some extra space. Overall, it creates a highly secure midfoot cage that never let our feet slide around on the wear tests.
A slightly more affordable option among the premium ultra shoes, the Speedgoat receives all praises from us.
Not to mention the sexy looks!
Brooks just nails it in the Caldera 5! It’s everything we need for the trails and the road.
First off, it’s got a really good grip. As in, it bites latches onto everything and anything underfoot. On the trails, it crushed every rock and root beneath it, and on the road, it bit into the pavement superbly!
If you want one hell of a commuter, this is THE shoe.
After pacing it, we’ve found that it takes the spotlight in long-distance stretches. It’s very cushioned and bouncy, it just pampered our feet from mile 1 to the last.
Even better, it’s a trail shoe that's solid. We love to (ab)use our shoes in the roughest terrain, and this is no exception. And 30 miles later, it’s still flawless! It not only looks tough, it’s REAL tough.
What’s also great about this shoe is that it’s got a gusseted tongue, which hands down, gave our feet all the security and lockdown sensation they needed. Add in the very supportive overlays, wobbling is not even in this shoe’s vocabulary!
At 10.9 oz, the Brooks Caldera 5 is a heavy shoe. But it’s all in the name of protection and comfort, which are exactly what this trail shoe delivered.
If you’re not traversing the rockiest of terrains but want to go from trail to the city streets without changing gears, the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 is the shoe.
We cannot stop praising this shoe for having some of the softest and comfiest cushioning across trail shoes. Nearly 38%(!) softer than the average across running shoes, “walking on clouds” just got a new meaning for us.
For those who worry about feeling unstable, we have measured the platform width in our lab. Surprisingly, this Nike is wider than most of its siblings and is even wider than the average: by 3.2 mm in the forefoot and 3.3 mm in the heel!
Rubber durability is another above-average parameter in this trail shoe. Being 20% stiffer than most outsoles, we also expect it to outlast 500 miles.
As expected for a hybrid shoe, the lugs are only 3.3 mm deep. They don’t get in the way when you are on the road but reveal their grippy nature once you hit the trail. But moderate trail only. It’s not the first choice for mud or wet rocks.
And just how sexy it looks! If you want to come out of the trails to the city looking your best, this is the shoe.