7 Best Trail Running Shoes in 2024

Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen on
7 Best Trail Running Shoes in 2024
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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.

After rigorously testing the shoes on the trails and in our lab, we have listed our top recommendations in several categories.

And if you want to dive into the nitty-gritty of selecting the best pair for your needs, skip right to our guide on trail shoes.

How we test trail running shoes

To save you 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 so we can observe and test the shoes and their components in a more in-depth manner
  • We take these shoes on trails and gravel roads and we overcome uphills and obstacles while using them
  • We measure over 30 different parameters far beyond weight and stack

Instead of “durable” or “comfortable,” we give you concrete data that puts each trail shoe up against hundreds of others. The best trail shoes make it here.

Best trail running shoes overall

Hoka Speedgoat 5
88
Great!

What makes it the best?

We ran through beaten paths effortlessly in the Speedgoat 5. It ticks all the boxes of a supportive trail shoe with its reliable traction, flexible and light nature, and cushiony platform. This shoe gives us the confidence to conquer the wilderness — cementing its position as the best trail shoe.

Speedgoat 5 aced its Vibram outsole with 3.0-mm deep lugs that bite through dirt, mud and icy pavements. It’s sticky and hard enough to protect our feet from sharp rocks and protruding roots. Our durometer validated this with an 84.5 HC measurement (85.1 HC average), confirming it's strong enough to handle abrasions.

Its flexible midsole and airy build enhance agility, making us quicker. Upon counterchecking with our flex test, its result is 17.9% more bendable than average — promoting smooth toe-offs in the forefoot. Its light 9.8 oz (277g) weight feels easier on our legs vs. the average trail shoe (10.4 oz / 296g).

We can go fast and far in this shoe with its velvety foam that makes the ride more enjoyable. Our durometer measurement shows it’s 59.9% softer than the average trail shoe.

We warn caution to heel-strikers about its 3.8-mm low drop. We recommend checking other options for a more comfortable experience.

Pros

  • Super grippy
  • Springy ride
  • Stable platform
  • Extra durable
  • High impact protection
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Secure fit
  • Excellent heel hold

Cons

  • Not for wide feet
  • Flared collar is not for everyone (style-wise)
Full review of Hoka Speedgoat 5

Trail running shoes with the best versatility

What makes it the best?

The Saucony Peregrine 14 is an all-rounder that handles any workout, terrain, and season with ease. Its flexible and light build is convenient for leisure hikes and technical trails, while its reliable traction allows us to explore diverse paths. Both in our lab assessments and actual wear tests, it stands out as our most versatile trail running shoe.

This pair is our top choice for all-day wear, offering remarkable flexibility for unrestricted movement. It keeps us agile and in control, effortlessly flowing with our feet instead of resisting. With a flex test result of 28.5N force to bend to 90 degrees, it remains just slightly below average. Additionally, its minimal 2.2 mm heel drop enhances ground feel for a more natural sensation.

Peregrine 14 feels effortless on foot with its light weight of 9.4 oz (266g) vs. the 10.4 oz (294g) average, riding more like a road running shoe but with the grippy power of its trail counterparts. 

Speaking of grip, the shoe has a tough PWRTRAC outsole with 4.7-mm deep, chevron-shaped lugs. These withstand any trail conditions—from loose dirt, mud, and icy pavements—and are cleverly patterned to shed off the dirt.

With its focus on flexibility and minimal cushioning, Peregrine 14 is not the most explosive shoe on the trail. We recommend checking other pairs if speed is a priority.

Pros

  • Natural running feel
  • Superb value at just $140
  • Flexible and comfortable
  • Heel security
  • Plusher tongue
  • Cushioned insole
  • Rock plate
  • Highly versatile

Cons

  • Limited energy return
  • Somewhat firm
Full review of Saucony Peregrine 14

Best trail running shoes for racing

Nike Ultrafly
89
Great!

What makes it the best?

After extensive testing both in the lab and on the trails, we've determined that Nike’s Ultrafly reigns as the top racer among trail running shoes. It not only satisfies the speedster's thirst for adrenaline but also guarantees a stable and cushioned ride. Offering a Vaporfly-like experience tailored for trails, its world-class energy return and leg-saving platform ensure comfort and speed over any distance.

Ultrafly’s driving force comes from its high level of stiffness. It includes a full-length carbon plate, a rare feature for trail shoes, which our bend test reveals is 38.7% stiffer than average. This translates to energetic toe-offs and insane responsiveness.

What makes Ultrafly a go-to option even for endurance runs is its towering 36.6 mm heel and plush feel. Pressing our durometer against the Pebax foam reveals one of the lowest lab readings we’ve seen—at 9.8 HA, it’s 62.7% softer than average!

Despite its stack, Ultrafly offers a stable ride through its rigidity, wide base, and solid traction. This combination allows for adept navigation of easy to moderate trails, ensuring safety and sure-footedness. Our caliper reveals 10.3/3.8 mm extra width in the forefoot and heel, while the sticky lugs are 3.0 mm deep. We tackled various terrains with balance and control. 

This racer’s steep $260 price tag isn’t so appealing given that the average trail runner costs only $137.

Pros

  • Optimized for trail races
  • Accommodates wide feet with ease
  • Full-length, responsive Pebax midsole
  • Equipped with a Vibram Megagrip outsole
  • Ideal for long-distance training
  • Offers outstanding comfort
  • Remarkably stable
  • Suitable for 100-mile races

Cons

  • The Vaporweave upper could be more durable and breathable
  • Heavier than expected even for a trail racing shoe
  • The $260 price tag might be steep for some
Full review of Nike Ultrafly

Best trail running shoes with a wide toebox

What makes it the best?

The Altra Lone Peak 8 has everything we’re looking for in an accommodating mixed-terrain shoe—a ground-sensitive yet protective cushion, a flexible midsole that enhances agility, and all-day comfort with its unrestricted fit. In the lab, it stood out as the trail running shoe with the best wide toebox.

Though Lone Peak 8 is technically not the widest shoe in our roster, its unique square shape provides generous wiggle room for our natural toe splaying. Our caliper reveals it tapers to the big toe by a minimal 5.9% vs. the 20.5% average, providing ample space for swollen feet in longer runs.

Its 1.4 mm heel drop feels almost non-existent and keeps the ride fluid. Together with the 22.7/21.3 mm low-to-the-ground cushion, our strides felt protected and controlled, crucial for maneuvering unpredictable grounds. While the midsole feels firm, as confirmed by our durometer with a 29.3 HA measurement, it has a nice rebound and springy toe-off.

The outsole includes 3.0-mm lugs that grip well on loose ground and dry surfaces. The pattern strategically has cuts to enhance flexibility since the shoe must move freely to maintain agility and speed. We have no complaints! The lab confirmed it’s 27.1% more bendable than average.

Unfortunately, we didn’t feel as surefooted on our encounters with mud and wet surfaces. Those who require more traction should look elsewhere.

Pros

  • Responsive midsole
  • Natural barefoot feeling ride
  • Low to the ground and stable
  • Doubles as a reliable hiking shoe
  • Breathable and durable ripstop upper mesh
  • Secure midfoot lockdown
  • Accommodating toebox
  • Generously padded and comfy
  • Dries quickly
  • Gaiter attachment ready

Cons

  • Not so grippy in wet conditions
  • Subpar outsole durability
Full review of Altra Lone Peak 8

Best trail running shoes for ultras

What makes it the best?

Already claiming the title in its name, Salomon Ultra Glide 2 is our top pick for ultras among trail running shoes. UG2 keeps our legs fresh with its light, breathable nature and velvet foam and keeps us steady on mixed terrains with its traction. It gives us the comfort and security needed to conquer long miles on trails.

A breath of fresh air, UG2 weighs 10.1 oz (286g) vs. the 10.4 oz (296g) median of lab-tested trail shoes. This reduces leg strain and improves speed in endurance runs. Its well-ventilated upper makes it an accommodating environment to be in for long hours. With a score of 4/5 on our breathability test, it exceeds the average trail shoe (3.4/5).

The energyFOAM feels cushioned, bouncy, and stable — making long miles more enjoyable. Our durometer confirms its velvet touch, emerging 34.3% softer than average. It’s an effective impact dampener that doesn’t sacrifice stability with its below-average stack heights.

Further enhancing stability and control are its 2.8 mm lugs that cling to the ground to improve traction.

With UG2's 1.6 mm outsole that’s 1.1 mm thinner than average, it isn't protective enough for hard and rocky terrains. The rubber may wear out quickly too.

Pros

  • Breathable upper
  • One heck of a lockdown
  • Soft and protective cushioning
  • Good energy return
  • Very smooth, fun ride
  • Comfy for roads, good traction on moderately technical trails
  • Outstanding for daily miles and (very) long runs
  • Also works for faster efforts

Cons

  • Poor outsole durability
  • Using lace garage can get frustrating
  • Long tongue has a tendency to cause some rubbing
  • Maybe too narrow for some
Full review of Salomon Ultra Glide 2

Best road-to-trail running shoes

What makes it the best?

We can't all live near a nice trail, and lugging two pairs of shoes for a run is never fun. The solution? A shoe that can comfortably take us from our door to the trails and back of course! After extensive testing, we can safely say that the Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 is our top choice when it comes to road-to-trail shoes. 

The first thing we noticed when putting on the Pegasus Trail 40 is just how light it feels on the foot. Weighing in at 9.59 oz/272g, it's more on par with the average road shoe (9.45 oz/268g) than the average trail shoe (10.44 oz/296g). This lightweight nature makes the shoe feel just as comfortable and unburdensome on the foot whether we were picking up the pace on the asphalt, or more cautiously traversing the beaten paths. 

The Pegasus Trail 4 features 3.4 mm lugs, which fall right around the average range for trail shoes. It's the low-key configuration of these lugs, however, that makes the shoe a great hybrid. The three separate tread patterns lining the outsole provided us with excellent traction on the road, as well as on tightly compact trails and even some mildly technical ones. 

The biggest downfall we faced when testing the Pegasus Trail 4 was the shoe's lackluster grip on muddy trails and wet surfaces. The shoe's traction takes a serious dive when contending with soggy conditions, leaving us feeling as surefooted as a foal on a frozen lake. As such we don't recommend this shoe to runners living areas prone to rain. 

Pros

  • Efficient road-to-trail
  • Well-cushioned
  • Stable ride
  • Excellent, secure fit
  • Very breathable
  • Great traction
  • Unexpectedly light
  • Reasonably priced

Cons

  • Not for muddy areas
  • Not for wide feet
  • Could be more stylish
Full review of Nike Pegasus Trail 4

Best comfortable trail running shoes

Altra Olympus 5
79
Decent!

What makes it the best?

Altra flips the script with the Olympus 5 and proves that a zero-drop shoe can be a maximalist creature of comfort. From the generous padding found throughout the shoe to the high stack of luxurious foam, the Olympus 5 easily climbs the ranks as the comfiest trail running shoe. 

The Olympus 5’s midsole is softer than average, giving us a durometer reading of 23.0 HA. However, the shoe's high stack means that it feels even softer than that. Apart from great impact dampening, the Olympus 5’s midsole also has a peppy rebound that isn’t overly bouncy and had us melting away the mile markers steadily and comfortably. 

The Olympus 5’s toebox is also extremely accommodating. Using our caliper, we measured it to be 103.4 mm at its widest point, making it roomier than average by 4.7 mm. What’s more, the Olympus 5 doesn’t taper very much towards the big toe, lending the shoe a more foot-shaped silhouette. This gives us plenty of room to splay out naturally during landings and toe-offs without the faintest hint of hotspots, even at the end of long haul efforts with significantly swollen feet. 

Typically renowned for its tough and grippy compounds, the Vibram outsole found on the Olympus 5 really let us down this time when it comes to durability. After only a handful of test runs, we noticed significant signs of wear on the lugs and tread. This is despite giving us a much harder-than-average durometer reading of 93.0 HC. While a harder outsole usually indicates better durability, in this case, we find that it’s actually quite brittle. 

Pros

  • Grippy on wet and dry trails
  • Protective muscles
  • Comfort is a 10/10
  • Toe box welcomes wide feet
  • Gives out energy
  • Breathable
  • Stable ride
  • Heel lockdown is terrific!
  • Easy on and off

Cons

  • Durability couldn't be worse
  • Annoying lace bites
  • It's a splurge
Full review of Altra Olympus 5

How to choose trail running shoes

There is no one BEST trail running shoe for everybody. To find the one that’s fine-tuned to your specific needs, you should consider:

  • how rugged/technical your typical running terrain is?
  • how light, stable, or protective do you want your trail shoe to feel?
  • how much cushioning do you need and how soft it should be?
  • do you need waterproofing?

We will help you answer these and more questions in this detailed guide on trail running shoes.

nike-pegasus-trail-4-outdoor_002.JPG

Types of terrains and trail shoes

Trail shoes vary in protection, cushioning, and grip depending on the type of terrain they are meant for.

light-trail-vs-rugged-trail-shoe.jpg

Shoe for light terrain vs. shoe with technical terrain

Imagine the terrain you plan to run on most of the time. What does it look like?

  • mostly hard-packed and includes pavements
  • moderately rugged with some rocks and roots
  • highly technical (rocky/rooty), hilly, or soft (muddy) terrain

Example of a light, hard-packed trail

Example of a moderately-rugged trail

Example of a technical trail

Now you can narrow down your footwear options based on the type of terrain:

Light terrain

Moderate terrain

Technical terrain

shallow lugs (<3 mm)

lighter weight

less reinforced upper

more like road shoes*

average lugs (3-4 mm)

larger toe bumpers

thicker uppers

some have rock plates

deep lugs (>4 mm)

most reinforced

highly durable and protective

often with rock plates

*You can actually use your road shoes for running on hard-packed and well-maintained trails, as long as they have a thick and durable outsole.

trail-shoe-lug-types.jpg

Variations of trail shoe lugs from the lightest to the grippiest

TIP: If you often encounter muddy stretches on the trail, you will need deeper lugs. These lugs should also be placed further apart than usual to shed the mud and not let it cake underfoot.

Salomon Speedcross 6 Lug depth

We use a caliper to measure lugs on every tested trail shoe.

Cushioning in trail shoes: minimalist or max-cushioned

The amount of foam underfoot varies greatly in trail running shoes. The heel stack height can be anywhere from 16 mm to 40 mm, averaging 32 mm.

Trail shoes with less cushioning are lighter and offer better ground contact while more cushioning means better impact protection and more comfortable running.

How much cushioning do you need in trail shoes?

I want to feel barefoot!

Heel stack: <25 mm

Minimalist and barefoot trail shoes offer the most sensitive ground feel but you must be careful on rugged terrain as there is very little foot protection. These shoes are also the lightest but require an adaptation period.

Merrell Trail Glove 7

Enough cushion to feel comfortable and protected

Heel stack: 25 - 35 mm

Shoes in this range are considered the best for beginners and most trail runners. Even if there is no rock plate inside, thicker midsoles will protect your feet from impact just fine. Depending on your preference, you can choose between softer and firmer types of foams (read more on that in a section below).

Brooks Cascadia 17

See our full catalog of cushioned trail shoes here.

Tons of foam underfoot!

Heel stack: >35 mm

These trail shoes offer the best impact protection out there but can feel clunky on the foot. Most often, you will find elite running shoes for ultra marathons in this category. As well as avid trail runners who enjoy a super comfortable shoe for easy miles and recovery runs.

Hoka Stinson 7 primary 2

How soft do you want your trail shoes?

Softer cushioning is better for road-to-trail shoes where more impact protection is vital.

Example of super soft cushioning (185% softer than average).

Firmer trail shoes are better at providing stability on technical terrain. They also do a better job protecting the foot from rocks, roots, and other sharp debris.

Example of extra firm cushioning (22% harder than average).

From our extensive experience and research, we found that softer shoes are better at reducing the load on the body (think jumping on a mattress). However, they do force legs to use more muscle energy for propulsion.

That’s why, for most runners, we recommend a balanced type of cushioning. Soft enough to provide comfortable landings yet firm enough to create propulsion.

Nike Ultrafly Midsole softness

Here is a list of trail running shoes that strike a good balance between soft and firm, based on our run tests and durometer measurements:

Heel-to-toe drop is important to consider

Drop is the difference in height between the heel and forefoot stack. In trail shoes, it can range from 0 to 15 mm, averaging at 8 mm.

altra-lone-peak-7-inside.JPG

Example of a 0.2 mm drop.

Salomon Speedcross 6 Drop

Example of a 14.1 mm drop.

Here are some general recommendations on choosing the right drop for you:

  • beginner runners should choose between 8 and 10 mm
  • heel strikers (about 90% of runners) should get at least 8 mm of drop
  • forefoot/midfoot strikers are better off with 4 to 8 mm
  • more advanced forefoot/midfoot strikers prefer 0 to 4 mm for the extra muscle activation and more natural running gait

Avoid drastic changes in your running shoes’ drop as your feet and body need some time to adjust. To learn more about the effects of different drops on running performance, see our in-depth research.

altra-lone-peak-7-heel-stack.JPG

We take our own stack measurements that comply with the rules set by World Athletics.

Stability in trail shoes

Runners with flat feet and pronation issues must never ignore this aspect of trail shoes.

Not only does it feel uncomfortable when your feet spill over the edge of the shoe but it is also dangerous and is fraught in injury.

Let’s compare two shoes. Can you feel the difference in stability between them?

These are extreme cases of stability level in trail shoes.

Unlike road shoes, trail footwear has no categorization based on arch support (neutral or stability). But there are a few parameters that can help determine a trail shoe’s stability level:

  • torsional rigidity (how stiff the shoe is when you try to twist it)
  • heel counter stiffness (how firm the shoe’s heel hold is)
  • midsole width (how broad are the widest areas of the shoe’s midsole)

In our lab, we measure each of these parameters for every trail shoe. Our measurements and conclusions are all listed in the Stability section of the lab reviews.

As a rule, more stable shoes have higher scores for torsional and heel counter stiffness as well as wider platform widths.

Salomon Speedcross 6 Midsole width in the heel

Not sure if you need stable running shoes? Check in our guide on pronation.

Lightweight trail running shoes: pros and cons

The average weight of trail running shoes comes in at 10.4 oz (295g). And over 70% of trail shoes tip the scale at 10 oz (282g) or more. That way, any shoe that weighs less than 10 oz in a men’s US size 9 can be considered lightweight.

Hoka Zinal 2

Example of a lightweight trail running shoe

Lighter shoes help you feel more nimble on the trail and more maneuverable with your steps. They also don’t hold you back from picking up the pace. Here is the list of top-rated lightweight trail shoes as of today:

But lighter doesn’t always mean better. These shoes save weight by cutting corners on some other important aspects. They could be less wear-resistant, offer less underfoot protection, or feel less stable.

In the photo below, we compare the upper durability of a 7.5 oz (213g) shoe (top) with that of a 10.5 oz (296g) shoe (bottom).

Hoka Zinal 2 Toebox durability

Salomon Speedcross 6 Toebox durability

The difference in upper damage after our 12-second Dremel durability test.

As you can see, the shoe on the left, sacrificed upper durability to save weight. However, this is not necessarily the case for all lightweight trail shoes.

You can find out more about the drawbacks of each shoe in our detailed lab reviews.

Waterproofing in trail shoes

In most cases, waterproofing is NOT necessary in trail running shoes. You should only consider it if you run in rainy, snowy, and soggy conditions regularly.

Otherwise, it is going to feel like overkill. And that’s all because a waterproofing membrane makes shoes:

  • less airy or not breathable at all
  • overly warm and stuffy
  • a bit heavier than average
  • wet inside! (if the water spills over the shoe’s collar edges)

Our smoke-pumping machine test shows the difference in ventilation between a waterproof and a non-waterproof shoe

But if you are convinced of the need for waterproofing after all, here is our selection of the best waterproof trail shoes.

salomon-xa-pro-3d-gtx-waterproofing.JPG

If, on the other hand, you mostly run in warm temperatures, you will appreciate a highly breathable running shoe. Here is the list of the most breathable trail running shoes based on our smoke-pumping lab test:

Trail shoes for cold conditions

Runners who don’t know what “running season” is will surely enjoy warm and waterproof footwear as they transition into the colder months.

salomon-xa-pro-3d-gtx-review.JPG

For these brave folks, we keep a special category of winter running shoes. Trail shoes that make it here meet most or all of the following criteria:

  • warm upper: low score on our smoke-pumping breathability test (1 or 2 out of 5)
  • waterproofing membrane (most of the time, it’s Gore-Tex)
  • deep lugs (at least 4 mm) and excellent grip on slick and wet terrain
  • they don’t get too stiff and firm in low temperatures

Hoka Tecton X 2 Midsole softness in cold

To test the latter, we perform our favorite challenge - the freezer test. We keep each trail shoe in the freezer for 20 minutes and then repeat our flexibility and softness measurements for them.

On average, trail running shoes get 40% stiffer and 30% firmer. But the ranges are vast and each individual shoe can change anywhere from 5% to 100%!

You can check how each trail shoe performs in cold in our detailed lab reviews. You certainly don’t want to end up running on an ice cube in winter!

Finding the best fit and sizing in trail shoes

A poor-fitting shoe is not only painful but it can even lead to foot deformities like bunions, calluses, and more. But luckily, there is a wide range of toebox shapes and widths to choose from.

hoka-speedgoat-5-fit

To provide more accurate dimensions of a shoe’s toebox, we measure it in both the widest part of the forefoot and also at the big-to mark.

Brooks Caldera 6 Toebox width at the widest part

That way we can call the shoe out for having a tapered and narrow fit.

Brooks Caldera 6 Toebox width at the big toe

A wide toebox is good if:

  • you have wide feet
  • you have bunions
  • your feet tend to swell

altra-lone-peak-7-fit.JPG

Altra shoes are known for their most accommodating toeboxes.

But too wide of a toebox is not good either. Here is why:

  • an extra-wide fit will cause slipping if you're running on mountain hills
  • a snug fit is better for races and speed training runs

nike-wildhorse-8-logo.JPG

Here are a few tips to help you get the right fit in trail shoes:

  • Make sure your toes are not cramped. Your feet swell as you run, make sure to have enough space to prevent blisters or black toenails. 
  • Sock thickness can affect shoe fit; try the trail shoes with the socks you plan to wear.
  • Shoe size changes over time, so it is recommended to measure your feet when you shop for new shoes.

Your regular shoe size in one brand may not be the same in another. Do check with size charts before ordering.

Price

The average price of trail running shoes hovers around $150. Not a cheap buy!

Stretching in Tecton X

But here are a few tips that could help you save money:

  • no need to be loyal to an expensive brand just because it’s “cool”
  • no need to get a waterproof (GTX) shoe if you don’t run in wet conditions regularly
  • check out the shoe’s previous versions (sometimes changes are minor)
  • check current deals and discounts on RunRepeat

Author
Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob is a fan of short distances with a 5K PR at 15:58 minutes. Based on 35 million race results, he's among the fastest 0.2% runners. Jens Jakob previously owned a running store, when he was also a competitive runner. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and the likes as well as peer-reviewed journals. Finally, he has been a guest on +30 podcasts on running.