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Obstacles come especially when running on trails. One usual kind of obstacle is mud. With that being the case, we created this guide to highlight the features that differentiate mud running shoes from all other shoes. This way, we can ensure safety over accidents when running.
The best advice is to look for shoes with deep, sticky, and rubbery lugs. We have acquired them all in our lab and performed a series of tests on them. We also wore them in our actual runs on muddy tracks. After that, we examined which ones are the most terrific. Now, you’ve got your top picks in different categories depending on what you need the most on the trail.
For more in-depth information on the peculiarities of mud shoes, check out our guide.
Armed with a grippy outsole, great lockdown and a flexible midsole, the Lone Peak 7 kept our feet safe in muddy encounters. We had no worries about slipping and we just focused on running — easily making it our top trail shoe for mud.
We felt its sticky, rubbery lugs cling to the dirt trails, keeping our rides smooth and controlled. We measured them to be 3.4 mm deep. The deeper the lugs, the more they help us move through muddy tracks and wet rock — and therefore, improve traction. Its tread pattern acts as brakes when descending steep slopes. What we also like about the design is that it doesn't take the mud home, making it easier to clean.
No need to worry about mud getting inside the shoes. This pair offers reliable lockdown with its gusseted tongue on both sides. Its tongue measures 10.1 mm, 65.6% thicker than average, protecting us from lacebite and debris.
We felt nimble enough to sprint across slippery tracks with its flexible midsole. Measuring 20.8% more bendable in our flex test, it moved naturally with our feet. We remained in control, adding a boost of confidence in our runs.
Scoring below average on our breathability test, we recommend exploring other shoes if a well-ventilated upper is a priority.
We conquered muddy tracks with confidence in the Peregrine 13. It seamlessly combines reliable traction and a compromising midsole, all in a lightweight package. We felt like we could run all day on any pavement with this pair. No doubt, it's our top long-distance trail runner for mud.
The key to ensuring safety on the trail is having deep, sticky rubber lugs. Peregrine 13 goes beyond the 3.5 mm average with lugs measuring 4.8 mm deep. This didn’t go unnoticed in our runs since the outsole bit through slippery trails, preventing mishaps. What’s awesome about the lug pattern is that it prevents the mud from getting stuck in the outsole.
Helping us lift our feet off the soil easily is the shoe’s light weight. It came up at 9.6 oz (271g) in our scale, 8% lighter than the average trail shoe.
We felt nimble with the resilient midsole that easily adapted to uneven terrains. We stayed in control since the shoe didn’t give much resistance. In our flex test, our observation was confirmed when it emerged 33% more flexible than average.
The 29.1 HA firm cushion sits right above average, which may feel harsh for some runners on longer miles. We recommend checking other options if plush cushioning is a priority.
Cushioned and protective midsole
Better for longer efforts than the v12
A good trail racing option
Great traction whether on ice, snow, gravel, and dirt
The Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 is a trail running shoe that easily doubles as a hiking companion. It is a great option for outdoorsies looking for a hybrid of a running/hiking shoe that would keep them comfortable and supported no matter what the adventure brings. This Salomon shoe offers reliable protection and grip that help you stay in control on any type of trail.
The minimal drop trail shoe is a versatile all-rounder for someone who wants that go-anywhere, do-anything shoe. With nice features like a solid outsole and rock plate, the Peregrine 12 is a comfortable, reliable option for tempo work as well as long runs on the trails.
Fits true to size
Grip is great in good conditions
Need to keep the same insoles for proper cushioning
We ran with ease through muddy tracks and dirt trails with the eighth version of Wildhorse. It’s the perfect companion in the wild with its exceptional traction, easy-to-control midsole and plush cushioning — making it our best Nike shoe for mud running.
Keeping us steady and secure is the grippy outsole that bites into the mud and any slippery surface. With lugs 3.5 mm deep, it clings to the ground and is patterned to shed off the dirt. We love how the outsole is easier to clean after a tiring run!
Tackling technical terrains is a breeze with the flexible midsole. In the lab, it emerged 29.5% more flexible than average - validating the sense of nimbleness in our runs. To enhance stability, this is complemented by a midsole saddle that serves as a guide for our feet.
Even after miles and miles of running, we could keep going with its plush cushioning’s luxurious feel. We enjoyed basking in nature without our legs feeling tired because of the soft foam dampening the landing impact. Validating what we felt with our durometer, we measured the cushion to be an incredible 41.6% softer than the average trail shoe.
Beware of bumping into rocks and roots because this shoe lacks toe bumper protection.
These are the features you want in a mud shoe. Maybe not all of them (amplified to the max), but the more the merrier.
You might have gone through your trail-running life so far without knowing the difference between traction and grip, but that ends here. In mud shoes, you need both.
1. Sticky outsole (grip)
To look for grip in running shoes means to look for the outsole that will cling onto the running surface. Grip essentially depends on the material. Stickier rubber has a better grip but, since it’s softer, it suffers more abuse in traction.
A good grip will get you from snow to puddles to muddy trails.
A perfect example of this is using trail running shoes with soft rubber lugs on harsh technical trails - you will see signs of wear immediately after your run. Or, this is why you change from winter car tires to summer car tires. To make your winter tires last longer.
Brands tend to have their own technologies, but mainly it’s all sticky rubber:
Salomon calls it Contagrip® TA,
ASICS has AsicsGrip™ which is a sticky and flexible rubber,
Inov-8 comes with Endurance Rubber Compound or Sticky Rubber with high adherence to the ground,
Saucony uses PWRTRAC which is a durable and abrasion-resistant outsole material, etc.
2. Multi-directional deep lugs (traction)
To look for traction in running shoes means to look for the outsole that resists sliding. Or mudslides. In mud shoes, this is accomplished by multi-directional lugs (cleats on the outsole).
They are usually 6-8 mm deep. This opposite-facing design means the shoes allow for both uphill and downhill sections. That’s why they can be odd-shaped like pentagons, triangles, diamonds, chevron-shaped stripes, etc.
regular trail shoe lugs (top) vs. mud-ready shoe lugs (bottom)
Why do they need to be multi-directional? Because running through mud means unpredictable terrain and varying inclination. That’s why one-directional lugs wouldn’t be of help here - they are good for downhills only, or forward motion only. Running in mud asks for multi-directional traction.
3. Snug fit
Mud is sticky. You don’t want your shoes stuck in mud or your feet sliding in the shoes. The better (snugger) the fit, the better control you’ll have.
This isn’t only about the tightness of the shoe. Sock-liner material matters a lot. It should not be slick, so make sure to try the shoes out with your running socks. You need friction happening there, not slippery slopes.
4. Quick-drying shoes
Look for a mesh upper. It dries rapidly.
Where there’s mud, there’s water. Your feet will get wet and, in order to keep running and not get weighed down by your shoes, they need to dry out quickly. And, if you know you’ll be running through puddles (or even larger bodies of water), you should look for a really breathable upper and maybe even drainage holes.
The diamond-shaped drainage ports help to push the water out of the shoe.
If you dive into shoe specs, you’ll probably find these materials as “nylon mesh”, “mesh fabric”, “no-sew mesh”, “anti-debris mesh”, “3D mesh”, “air mash”, etc. The overall idea for this material is to be breathable, keep the foot as dry as possible, prevent trail debris from entering the foot chamber, accommodate for natural swelling, resist wear and tear.
Robust material that still allows for some ventilation.
Drainage holes work wonders when washing the shoe too, stick a hose in it and watch the water flow through them.
5. Light weight
The average weight of mud running shoes is 10.6oz or 300.25g. The lightest one weighs 7.2oz or 204g.
Weight matters because, along the run, your shoes will get heavier. It doesn’t matter whether they are water-resistant or draining really well. The heavier the shoes, the more difficult the run. If there’s any way to shake off a few grams, do it.
6. Anti-debris design
This depends on your run - is it mud only or is there a possibility of anything else getting into your shoes? If you want no tiny rocks, pieces of branches, ground pieces, etc. in your shoes - look for shoes designed to keep the intruders on the outside.
Examples of anti-debris design elements in mud and trail running shoes
Sock-liner: Shallow or deep. Prevents the debris from entering the shoe around your ankle.
Gaiter attachments on the shoes and gaiters themselves: These are protective covers that can be attached to your shoes. In winter conditions, they are great for keeping the snow on the outer side of the shoe.
Make sure to pay attention to the design - it should not allow for mud to clog your gaiter attachments and weigh you down. Shoes should have attachments for gaiters. If not and the gaiters go underneath the middle of your shoe, the shoe outsole must not be flat. It should be arch-shaped so the gaiter attachment can fit under the arch. Otherwise, it will clog mud.
Unexposed laces: Accomplished with lace garages or lace covers. Let’s face it: it’s easier to wash the cover than the laces. Plus, the debris and mud have fewer chances of entering the shoe around the laces. And the laces won’t flap around and annoy you.
Bonus things to think about (if you’re feeling nerdy about your mud runs)
In case you’re up for running not just through mud, but rocks (technical sections) and mud, a rock plate will save your feet. It will prevent them from feeling all beaten up. It offers additional protection from roots and rocks.
Do you wear socks on your mud runs? Reviews are filled with remarks saying “but you need to wear socks with these shoes”. This is up to you. But if you don’t want to wear socks, make sure that the shoe is perfectly comfortable and that it creates no hot spots.
You can find waterproof mud shoes. While they have a membrane that keeps the water outside of your shoes (up to a point), this doesn’t mean water won’t cascade down your leg and find its way inside your shoe surreptitiously. They are less breathable than non-waterproof mud shoes and water won’t get out of them easily. Read more about the pros and cons of watery features in mud shoes at the end of this guide.
Want to wash your shoes in a washing machine? Some mud shoes were made with that in mind. Brands usually promote this, so you won’t miss it.
The trouble of lacing up! So far we’ve seen Salomon mud shoes and Saucony mud shoes equipped with laces that don’t need to be tied in a knot but tightened only using their special designs. Rather than obvious pros - quicker lacing up time and no possibility of loose laces, these are also easier to clean.
When you’re done with the mud run, try resisting taking the shoes off before loosening up the laces. This will, in time, destroy your heel collar and heel counter and cause heel slipping. Then, you’ll have to get new shoes sooner than planned.
Mud running shoes vs. other running shoes
Sure, there are trail running shoes that might work, but if they try to cater for a bit of everything, they fail at being mud proficient. Worst case scenario: you use road running shoes.
Mud run shoes vs. other running shoes
What might happen if you stick to your regular trail or, god forbid, road running shoes?
Why did this happen?
Losing a shoe (in mud).
The shoe was too loose-fitting.
Constantly slipping and/or falling.
Traction and grip failing you.
Shoes become too heavy and might even cause muscle aches due to weight you aren’t accustomed to.
Drainage and drying out issues. Mud-shedding issues.
Being too cold and soaking wet.
Drainage and drying out issues.
Destroying your shoes.
They weren’t durable enough.
Feeling every little bump and hurting your feet.
The shoe is too soft and doesn’t offer enough protection.
Having to stop every now and then to empty your shoes.
No anti-debris protection.
How to clean mud off running shoes
Here are a few tips on what to do after a mud run. These 3 rules always apply:
Do not put your shoes in the washing machine unless you know they can take it (based on the brand’s specifications).
Also, air-drying is your friend. Don’t put your shoes next to a radiator, in the dryer, or in direct sunlight.
Baking soda will keep weird smells away from your shoes. You can sprinkle small amounts of it inside your shoes, but don’t overdo it if your shoes have fancy membranes (like Goretex) - these are too fine and need to keep breathing.
Option A: your shoes are still fresh from the run (you just finished your mud run or an obstacle course race).
The more mud you have in and on your shoes, the less time you want to spend not cleaning them. Take out the insole, stick the hose into your shoes and let the water flow.
Then clean the outside of the shoe and your insoles as well. The same applies to your sink in case you don’t have a hose, but make sure not to clog your pipes. If needed, use a soft brush.
If there’s a lot of mud, you might need to wash the laces separately.
Usually, water is enough because it’s only mud and mud shoes were made of materials that are easy (or easier) to clean and dry.
Option B: mud on your shoes dried out and is stuck.
Beat your shoes against each other or any hard surface to get as much mud as possible off the shoes.
Remove laces and insoles (if needed based on the amount of mud and where it got stuck) and wash them separately.
Using an old toothbrush or a sponge (softer side), remove as much mud as you can. Don’t rub the shoe too hard and damage it.
If mud isn’t gone yet, rinse the shoe and keep brushing with a toothbrush. You can use lukewarm water.
If water got inside your shoes, let them dry at room temperature. To speed up the process, put crumpled newspaper in the shoes. Change it every few hours.
How to dry mud running shoes
Follow these instructions:
Let the shoes dry out naturally. Air-drying is the best way to go.
If it’s too cold/moist, use a hairdryer on low heat.
Don’t put your shoes directly on the radiator or next to a strong heat source.
Putting a crumpled newspaper in the shoes will help a lot. Especially if you change it a few times - putting new, dry newspaper inside.
Mud-related health risks you should be aware of
Wash your hands, take a shower. After each muddy run or a race.
As pointed out in this study, an outbreak of Escherichia Coli was linked to a mud obstacle race in England. It’s up to organizers to inform participants about the chances of contracting a gastrointestinal disease. It’s also up to them to ensure that livestock is removed from the course 28 days before the event.
While runners and competitors are usually healthy and strong, fit individuals, extreme efforts suppress the immune system and make the organism more susceptible to infection. If you’re passionate about mud runs and obstacle course races, this study offers an in-depth insight into possible risks and is worth reading.
Can you use mud running shoes for obstacle course races?
Just by looking at the top mud shoes and obstacle course race shoes - they are the same or really similar. What mud shoes won’t offer you is obstacle-specific protection, e.g. for rope climbing.
Do you need waterproof mud running shoes?
To make this decision easier for you, we will list possible scenarios and whether the waterproof mud shoes would do you good or harm.
Keep in mind that there are different levels of waterproofness. The upper can be made of, in order of low-to-high water protection, water-resistant, water-repellent, or waterproof materials.
When (not) to use waterproof mud running shoes and why
Light trails with some mud and a few puddles
They will keep the water and mud on the outside and your feet will stay dry.
Running through a lot of mud and possibly large bodies of water.
No membrane can withstand this amount of water, plus water and mud will enter your shoes around your ankles. Powering through large puddles asks for nonwaterproof mud shoes.
Running through high wet grass
Without gaiters, the water will cascade down your legs and enter the shoe anyway. The waterproof membrane isn’t as breathable as the mesh upper and the water will be stuck inside.
Obstacle course races
There are mud and water all over the course. Nothing will save you from them. Better find the most breathable mud shoes out there.
Light rain during the run or a race.
The waterproof membrane will keep your feet dry during light rain. The moment it gets to moderate rain or showers, it’s a matter of minutes before your feet get wet.
How we test running shoes
How do we know which trail shoes will keep you surefooted when it gets muddy? Through an extensive review process and our RunRepeat shoe lab:
First of all, every tested shoe is purchased with our own funds. We receive no free shoes from brands.
We are dedicated runners who take each pair to a rough test on wet trails for at least 30-50 miles.
Over 30+ parameters, including lug depth, are measured at our lab. This is where we translate “traction,” “durability,” and “flexibility” into comparable data. We also split the shoes into pieces so we can inspect all of their parts and sections.
Whether it's a vertical kilometre or an ultra, climbing in the Alps or exploring local mountains, Jovana uses every opportunity to trade walls and concrete for forests and trails. She logs at least 10h/week on trails, with no off-season, and 4x more on research on running and running shoes. With a background in physics and engineering management, she prefers her running spiced with data.