7 Best Trail Running Shoes, 100+ Shoes Tested in 2022

Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen on
7 Best Trail Running Shoes, 100+ Shoes Tested in 2022

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.

How we test 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.

Best trail running shoes overall

Salomon Sense Ride 4
Salomon Sense Ride 4

CoreScore

87
Great!
4.4 / 5 from 2,330 users
87 / 100 from 7 experts

Pros

  • Fits wider feet
  • Energy-efficient ride
  • Great lacing system
  • Doesn’t weigh you down
  • No heel slip
  • Insane grip
  • Really durable

Cons

  • Runs ½ size longer
  • Needs breaking in

Verdict

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! 

Salomon Sense Ride 4 full review

Best Nike trail running shoes

Nike Pegasus Trail 2 GTX
Nike Pegasus Trail 2 GTX

CoreScore

90
Superb!
4.5 / 5 from 306 users
89 / 100 from 8 experts

Pros

  • Outstanding waterproofness
  • Great for road-to-trail transitions
  • Lively ride
  • Feels lighter than it is
  • Good grip
  • Perfect for autumn and winter
  • Runs true to size
  • Undeniably durable

Cons

  • Not breathable
  • Semi-gaiter lets snow in
  • Bulky

Verdict

The Nike Pegasus Trail 2 GTX is a trail shoe that REALLY impressed us. It kept our feet dry all throughout the wet conditions we ran! It's made for training runs so don't expect anything fast. Instead, expect a superbly bouncy and comfortable shoe that will mute out all the rocks and roots underfoot. Even better, in areas of grip and durability, this shoe will wow you!
Nike Pegasus Trail 2 GTX full review

Best off-trail trail running shoes

Salomon Speedcross 5
Salomon Speedcross 5

CoreScore

91
Superb!
4.6 / 5 from 65,561 users
90 / 100 from 28 experts

Pros

  • A beast for difficult rugged trails
  • Perfect for mud
  • True to size
  • Responsive
  • Spot-on cushioning
  • Fits like a glove
  • Superior traction
  • No break-in
  • Foot protection

Cons

  • Limited for specific use
  • Thick tongue holds water

Verdict

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.

Salomon Speedcross 5 full review

Best trail running shoes for ultra

Altra Olympus 4.0
Altra Olympus 4.0

CoreScore

89
Great!
4.5 / 5 from 2,823 users
89 / 100 from 22 experts

Pros

  • True to size
  • Wide toebox
  • Built for long runs
  • Superb cushion
  • Excellent traction
  • Durable Vibram sole
  • Light for a maximal shoe
  • Gusseted tongue
  • Very comfortable
  • Breathable

Cons

  • Not very responsive
  • Expensive

Verdict

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.

Altra Olympus 4.0 full review

Best road-to-trail trail running shoes

Brooks Caldera 5
Brooks Caldera 5

CoreScore

88
Great!
4.5 / 5 from 1,592 users
85 / 100 from 9 experts

Pros

  • Cushioned
  • Welded overlays
  • Superb grip
  • Very durable
  • Gusseted tongue

Cons

  • Not so breathable
  • Stiff, heavily padded heel

Verdict

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.

Brooks Caldera 5 full review

Best value trail running shoes

Brooks Divide 2
Brooks Divide 2

CoreScore

84
Good!
4.3 / 5 from 838 users
88 / 100 from 4 experts

Pros

  • Breathable
  • Nice tongue design
  • Laces stay in place
  • Secure lockdown
  • Protective
  • Comfortable cushioning
  • Light
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Dull ride
  • Lacks plushness
  • Some durability issues

Verdict

For less than the 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.

Brooks Divide 2 full review

Consider terrain: light trail vs. rugged trail

Depending on the type of terrain they are intended for, trail running shoes are roughly divided into two categories: light and rugged trail.

Light trail: hard-packed, maintained surfaces

Rugged trail: uneven terrain with rocks, roots, debris, and other obstacles

Given the kind of challenges you may or may not face on these surfaces, trail running shoes offer different levels of protection, cushioning, and traction.

Trail shoe design: basic or sturdy?

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

Light trail shoe (left) vs. rugged trail shoe (right)

 

Light trail shoes

Rugged trail shoes

Shoes for light trails are more similar to road running shoes. They are lighter, more streamlined, and are less reinforced. Some of them can even transition from road to trail and are called hybrid.

Rugged trail shoed feature a sturdier design and materials, added overlays on the upper, and more hard-wearing sole components.

The most robust ones make it to a separate off-trail category.

Level of cushioning in trail shoes

Pick the right trail shoe by determining the amount of cushioning you need. Trail shoes with less cushioning are lighter and offer better ground contact while more cushioning means lesser impact and more comfortable running.

Barefoot-like shoes

Barefoot.png
  • Lightweight
  • With 3 to 4mm thin layer padding between the foot and the ground
  • Enhanced feel for the trail
  • Less pressure on hips
  • No arch support or stability features

See barefoot running shoes for trails

Minimal cushioning

saucony-switchback-minimalist.jpg

Minimal cushioning.png
  • Lightweight and flexible
  • Minimal cushioning for comfort without sacrificing ground contact
  • Little to no arch support
  • Typically with 0 to 4mm heel drop

See all minimalist trail shoes

Moderate cushioning

saucony-peregrine-11-profile-photo.jpg

Moderate cushioning.png
  • Characterized as traditional trail shoes
  • Enough cushioning for comfort
  • Most often features an 8-12mm drop

See our full list of cushioned trail shoes

Maximum cushioning

brooks-divide-2-hybrid-running-shoes.jpg

Maximum cushioning.png
  • Thickly cushioned for maximum comfort and plush feel
  • Helpful in reducing fatigue on high-mile runs
  • Heel height above 30mm; forefoot height above 25mm
  • Drop vary from 0mm to 12mm

See maximalist trail shoes

Disclaimer: Stack heights and heel-to-toe drop are generally following each other, but there are plenty of shoes with high stack heights and a lot of cushioning that maintains a low drop. The guidelines above are general. 

Outsole rubber and lugs

trail-shoe-lug-types.jpg

Variations of trail shoe lugs from the lightest to the grippiest

Light trail shoes Rugged trail shoes

Light trail shoes have a moderate level of outsole traction and durability.

The lugs are shallower.

Rugged trail shoes feature aggressive, durable outsoles with deep, multi-directional lugs.

Trail shoes for mud and snow tend to have the deepest lugs to keep you surefooted on soft terrain.

Protective elements in trail shoes

Most trail running shoes have external and internal features to protect the feet from rocks and sharp elements. Protective elements are important but they have their own advantages and disadvantages.

 

Pros 

Cons

Rock plate.png

Suited for technical terrains

Protects feet from sharp rocks and stone bruises

Adds weight

See trail shoes with a rock plate

Toe cap.png

Ideal for technical, rocky surfaces

Protects the toes from rocks and trail debris

Adds durability to the upper of the shoe

Depending on the materials used, the toe bumper may not be as protective as expected

All trail running shoes come with a toe cap but have varying degrees of protection

Waterproof coverage.png

Keeps feet dry in wet running conditions

Keeps feet warm in cold weather

More durable than non-waterproof shoes

Not as breathable as non-waterproof running shoes

Once water gets in the shoe, it’s not getting out

Heavier than non-waterproof trail shoes

Cost $15-$20 more than non-waterproof trail shoes

See waterproof trail shoes

Water repellent element.png

Effective against light drizzle or dampness

More breathable than waterproof trail shoes

Offers less water protection than waterproof shoes

See water-repellent trail shoes

4. Size and fit

Shoes with a poor fit can be painful and cause foot conditions like bunions, calluses, and more. A few things to remember when it comes to shoe fit in trail running shoes:

  • A wide toe-box can help with bunion pain but it is not for everyone. 
  • For competition, a snug fit is better; for everyday training, a more natural fit is preferred.
  • An extra-wide fit will cause slipping if you're running on mountain hills but many prefer the wide toe box as it’s more comfortable.
  • Different lacing techniques can also improve the overall fit.

salomon-sense-ride-4-on-feet.jpg

Buying tips

  • 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, it is recommended to measure your feet when you buy new shoes.

See our guide on shoe sizing to learn more and find out the right size for you.

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.