Off The Path: The 5 Best Trail Running Shoes

An increasing number of runners are sacrificing streets and roads for something a little more thrilling. Trail running and the rise of competitions like the popular Spartan and Tough Mudder have more pavement pounders going further afield to chase down that runner’s high and enjoy a more natural running style. This has more of them looking for a solid trail running shoe that is softer, lighter, and faster while not losing durability for those hard-scrabble trails.

The balance that needs to be struck on these type of shoes is between nimbleness for quick, off-the-line speed that also keeps the runner from damaging their feet when they encounter scree and shale that threatens to cut away the lighter shoes. Runner’s that have moved from a street shoe often underestimate how to balance fighting fatigue and keeping injuries to a minimum. Those downgrading from a hiking boot also don’t immediately recognize that there is actually a very small range of trail runners that won’t wear you down but can still give you endurance enough to take on the trails. To help you in your selection here are our 5 best trail running shoes.

Mizuno Wave Ascend 8

Mizuno Wave Ascend 8

What’s to Love: Transitions smoothly onto pavement.
What’s to Hate: BIG toe box.

Road to Trail: This will probably be your best bet if either you are moving from street running to trail running or if you need to do a little roadwork to get to your favorite path. Long-term trail runners will find that the extremely high heel along with large drop to forefoot to feel heavy and too springy. Don’t expect to try too many marathons but thanks to the X-Outsole lugs outsoles you can move from trail to asphalt and back again.

For durability this ranks very high for a street shoe and gives you the chance to take on some dirt trails. Rough riders will be happy with the tread while it’s lightweight enough for distance runners though the interesting profile might not appeal to some. The very roomy front end has been reinforced but many will find they feel like their foot just bought a condo. Those with plantar fasciitis will be thrilled with the room. [Purchase: $85+]

Weight: 11.4 oz.
Heel: 36.1 mm Forefoot: 24.2 mm

Merrell Ascend Glove

Merrell Ascend Glove

What’s to Love: Good for any weather.
What’s to Hate: Heavy for a minimalist.

Minimalist to the Max: Merrell are the folks to go to when it comes to doing minimalist right. They made their bones during the minimalist shoe craze and have made a niche for with offerings like the Glove. It’s heavy for a minimalist but the effect is a shoe that can tackle the tough trails without breaking down. Consider the All-Out Rush also from Merrell if you want a lighter weight. The Gore-Tex motion mesh on the top offers breathability and protection in one package let you go anytime of the year. Perfect for autumn.

The very low height and zero drop mean these are not for the minimalist newbie. Strike out with these without a test run and your feet will be begging you to quit. They still provide plenty of padding since they are intended for heavier use by serious trail runners, just don’t expect them to give you a lot of bounce for your buck. The vibram outsole gives you sticky traction in tough conditions while the M-Select Fresh technology means you can go without socks if that’s how you hit the trail. [Purchase: $39+]

Weight: 11 oz
Heel: 6 mm Forefoot: 6 mm

Brooks Cascadia 9

Brooks Cascadia 9

What’s to Love: Grip on ice and snow.
What’s to Hate: Heavy with large slope.

Grip Hound: This is the Big Dog on our list if you’re on your way down from a boot or are ready to see what’s over that ridge. It is also ideal if you’re getting ready for the snowy season since it offers the heaviest traction on both road and trail. They carry around a lot of weight for the money, though they can be mastered with practice, and more than a few sore-leg days.

The fit is snug the whole way around so scramblers will find that they won’t get blisters from their cliff-climbing adventures. The overall experience makes these a moderate hybrid that is stable, reasonably light, and rugged as hell. Preparing for blizzard weather? These let you get around town even on icy sidewalks. The 12 mm slope can require some adjustment. [Purchase: $118+]

Weight: 11.7 oz
Heel: 28mm Forefoot: 16 mm

Asics GEL-FujiTrainer 2

Asics GEL-FujiTrainer 2

What’s to Love: Comfortable gel soles.
What’s to Hate: Do not last as long as some.

Comfort and Control: Probably the most controversial choice, we wanted to give something to those who need total comfort on their trail run without sacrificing grip or quality. The gel-filled heels on the Fuji 2 can drive away your sense of the trail, but not noticeably enough to be troublesome and they do add extreme comfort to reduce the damage on your joints. These didn’t just add some cute little gel insoles. They’re still hard-core when it comes to trail traction thanks to Asics High Abrasion Rubber

The overall fit has a bootie quality that is snug all around, though not too snug. Your footsies will be able to breathe regular. These are the perfect shoe to get someone into trail running thanks to the low price tag and comfy, cozy body that lets you feel the trail without being overwhelmed. Incredibly good for reducing long-term injury and strain. [Purchase: $48+]

Weight: 9.7 oz
Heel: 25mm Forefoot: 19mm

Altra Lone Peak 1 5

Altra Lone Peak 1.5

What’s to Love: Great endurance.
What’s to Hate: Not meant for icy running.

Best All-Around: These are comfortable enough for everyday-wear but sturdy enough to tackle any trail for both new runners and old veterans alike. They claim to have a zero drop, but that isn’t exactly true. There is a slight slope that discerning runners of the zero-sum variety will notice. They do provide a high level of cushioning which might set you off pace if you’re used to minimalist shoes but can also be a welcome relief. They’ve got a full-length rock plate putting them ready for action.

The top layer and toe cap are both a little larger than you will find in many shoes which will give endurance runners relief from kicking rocks and pebbles along their path. You can get a grip on mud, grass, and most anything else, though these aren’t necessarily going to give you enough grip on snow and ice, nor quite enough protection from the cold. Otherwise they seem able to do it all for just about everyone. Hard to find a bad thing to say. [Purchase: $110+]

Weight: 10.7 oz.
Heel: 23.4 mm Forefoot: 21.4 mm

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