Summer is right around the corner, and with it, an entirely new season for the outdoor runner shows its shy face. Preferable temperatures, tame weather conditions, and the thrill of the trail will draw large portions of the running community to their favorite off-grid escapes, reinforcing the need for a brand new pair of dependable, dirt-ready shoes that can take on everything that the backcountry has to offer. But what is it that sets a trail running shoe apart from its urban brethren?
It’s true that the difference between the two can appear to be a bit mundane. You can take any urban running sneaker out to the trail and expect it to perform well. But while a pavement-pounding variant might provide you with a few great trips up and down the switchback, a tailor-made outdoor sneaker will gift you an experience unlike any other, thanks to additional reinforcement, the inclusion of abrasion-resistant and protective materials, and grippy outsoles that have been built to adapt to the common surfaces you might find on the trail. Naturally, this will allow you to get the most out of your excursion, and help you train more efficiently for your next outing. Below, we’ll run through a handful of the industry’s most formidable trail offerings, and give you some insight as to why they’re so special.
Asics Gel Venture 7
Asics’ Gel-Venture sneaker is a household name among running shoes, and the outdoor-focused “7” seeks to take the companies renowned construction principles to the next level for adventurous trail-farers. Calling upon a proprietary GEL technology and EVA midsole, the 7 boasts an impressive suite of shock-absorbing, cushioned properties to keep your precious feet protected throughout each run, while an ORTHOLITE sock-liner provides an additional layer of softness that conforms to your foot over time.
Saucony Peregrine ISO
Saucony’s Peregrine ISO might not be the most aesthetically pleasing shoe on the market, but for those outdoor runners who are looking for a function over fashionable wear, it’s one of the most profound offerings on our list. Built as an uphill runner’s comfortable companion, the Peregrine ISO boasts a versatile construction packed with grippy PWRTRAC rubber for tractable influence over any surface, Everun top soles for additional comfort and support, and a trail-specific upper that’s been formulated to protect from debris and uneven terrain. Pair that with Saucony’s inherently-comfortable PWRFOAM midsole, and you’ve got a versatile running shoe that can ferry you to the peak without question.
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail
Nike’s Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail is an outdoorsy take on the company’s renowned urban sneaker, and as such, it places a heavy emphasis on durability, reliability, and ruggedized construction. It retains the same perforated mesh upper as its pavement-proven counterpart, while integrating a lightweight and breathable synthetic upper, Zoom Air units on the heel and forefoot, and outsole lugs to take on a variety of different surfaces with ease. Inside, the shoe’s comfortable cushioning system and widened forefoot allow for a roomier feel that’s oddly supportive, thanks, in large part, to the addition of overlay forms alongside the Pegasus’ traditional lacing structure, ensuring that your feet are locked down, regardless of the situation.
Salomon Sense Ride 3
Salomon trades in the industry’s finest outdoor gear, so when they decide to apply their specialized knowledge of hiking/trail construction to a running shoe, it’s an obvious winner. The brand’s Sense Ride 3 incorporates a handful of the refined qualities of its hiking and boot variants while slimming down a bit to keep weight in check. It’s constructed using a unique anti-debris mesh for adequate foot protection, a ground filter for dismissal of on-trail inhibitors, and a grippy Contagrip outsole that rivals Vibram when it comes to stability and traction. But don’t worry, the key components of a trail running sneaker are still present, including improved cushioning throughout, a comfort-focused lacing structure, and ergonomics that have been seamlessly transitioned from road-running variants for additional influence on the trail.
Arc’teryx Norvan VT 2
Arc’teryx’s Norvan VT 2 sneaker is a minimalist masterpiece, much like their other offerings. Aesthetically, they take on a sleek, slimline architecture catered toward the domination of any off-grid trail, thanks to a breathable mesh upper, quick-drying features, enhanced TPU protection, and an abrasion-resistant upper to keep you headed in the right direction. They even boast a unique forward eyelet placement for additional security, toe caps for protection from rocks, and OrthoLite 3D-molded inserts to keep your feet from fatiguing over long periods of time. Below, a Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole ensures that you’ll be able to confidently navigate any type of terrain that stands in your way.
Brooks Cascadia 14
When it comes to running, Brooks is second to none. The company knows what it takes to create the world’s finest tailor-made footwear, and with the Cascadia 14, they’ve struck trail-faring gold. A grippy and formidable TrailTack rubber outsole provides exceptional traction on both wet and dry surfaces, while a Cordura Mud Guard helps to protect from debris. An interesting internal saddle system keeps the shoe closely-acquainted with your foot, providing a near-seamless feel that makes it seem more like an extension of your own body than anything else.
La Sportiva Bushido II
La Sportiva’s Bushido II is a slip-on shoe that can help you take your trail running to the next level, especially if you’re looking for a no-frills silhouette that’s focused on accurate traversal, and not much else. The unique shoe features a sock-like construction that’s devoid of overcompression or pressure point agitation like many other close-fitting models, calling upon an updated heel design and ergonomic tongue to provide additional padding and comfort throughout. At its bottom, a FriXion XT V-Groove2 outsole has been implemented, utilizing a dual-compound rubber to take on dry, wet, or moist terrain worrying about its camber or angle. Naturally, this is a godsend for runners who are looking to take on their favorite trails, regardless of the conditions.
The North Face Ultra Swift FUTURELIGHT
The North Face has spent the better part of its years innovating on the industry’s most popular fabrics and textiles, and in 2019, the company introduced FUTURELIGHT, its most advanced and lightweight technology to-date. It began as an additive for the brand’s outerwear, but eventually, it would be incorporated into The North Face’s footwear, including the genre-bending Ultra Swift FUTURELIGHT sneaker. This technical wonder was crafted for rainy day runners who aren’t keen on being held back by the weather, calling upon a breathable-but-waterproof membrane, internal arch sleeve, a gusseted tongue, and an eco-friendly Ortholite hybrid footbed for unparalleled support and comfort. It even boasts a dual-density XtraFoam midsole and FastFoam forefoot to provide adaptability depending on the terrain you decide to tackle, as well as a unique heel shelf that optimizes heel-to-toe transition for a more optimal stride.
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro Boa
New Balance’s Fresh Foam Hierro Boa sneaker is a function-focused trail shoe that’s been imbued with the company’s profound expertise. It features a breathable textile upper, a dual Boa dial closure for adequate security and support, and an adaptable upper that allows for a full range of motion, while also remaining adaptable over various terrain types. Runners who are partial to a comfortable, form-fitting silhouette will thrive atop the Hierro, calling upon a Vibram MegaGrip outsole and Fresh Foam cushioning to provide inherent traction and support capabilities, no matter what type of terrain you decide to navigate.
Hoka One One EVO Mafate 2
Hoka One One’s EVO Mafate 2 is a technical wonder, and quite possibly one of the most advanced pieces of footwear in the outdoor market. This athletically-primed variant was built to adorn the feet of the world’s elite trail runners and boasts a lightweight MATRYX construction, a breathable vamp/gusseted tongue, and an early-stage Meta-Rocker to optimize heel-to-toe transition before and after your stride. A rubberized foam midsole/outsole place an emphasis on responsiveness and adequate foot compression, while a sculpted arch pod and aggressive lugs prolong the life of your feet through increased medial control, instep correction, and traction.
On Cloudventure Waterproof
On’s Cloudventure Waterproof sneaker is an exercise in outdoor performance, but it’ll work equally as well in an urban environment as it will on the dirt-covered trail. The shoe’s primary membrane is completely waterproof, while still allowing complete breathability for your foot to shed moisture and sweat as you make your way through miles of unrelenting terrain. On the exterior, the sneaker’s dependable Missiongrip outsole has been outfitted with a high-grip rubber and zero-gravity foam, providing adequate cushioning, comfort, and traction throughout your run.
Adidas Terrex Two Parley Trail
Adidas rounds out our list wit the Terex Two Parley Trail — a transcendental variant that might as well be the king of the trail, both aesthetically and constitutionally. While we realize that’s a bit subjective, the fact that the shoe has been crafted using the company’s upcycled Parley Ocean Plastic, Primeknit knitted upper, and BOOST cushioning technology should speak volumes of its capability, providing responsiveness and energy return that’s been tried and tested by the world’s top athletes. It even boasts a Continental Rubber outsole that’s 32-percent more grippy than its counterparts, a sock-like fit that promotes precise movement and traversal, and an upper that adapts to your foot’s natural expansion/compression over the course of your run, providing a quintessential experience for any avid trail warrior.
The 20 Best Running Gadgets
Becoming a great trail runner doesn’t end once you’ve procured a great piece of footwear. Head over to our guide on the best running gadgets for an in-depth overview of some additional items to take your athleticism to the next level.