Improve your outdoor runs.

By Rena Behar and Madeline Diamond
September 28, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

One of the much-touted joys of running is that you get to enjoy both sightseeing and sweating simultaneously. So why not take a run all the way into the great outdoors on some trail runs? Your street sneakers may not quite cut it cliffside, though, so if you’re going to be taking to the trails, you should invest in a pair of trail running shoes.

These shoes are generally grippier than standard running shoes and include specific features designed to protect your feet from outdoor hazards like rocks and roots and accidental foot rotation. In our research, we found that most experts didn’t just recommend one pair of shoes, but had different favorites depending on the trail conditions. No two runs will be exactly alike, even if it’s the same trail on different days, but consider the usual conditions of your favorite spots or most-visited terrain. Desert runs will demand very different shoes than river fording or potentially icy mountains.

Courtesy of Retailer

REI has a handy Intro to Trail Running series that includes an article on shoe selection. They suggest first noting the shoe type you’re looking for, which depends on what type of trail you’ll be running, cushioning level, heel drop or level change between heel and toe, and the all-important fit.

After scouring some of our favorite tester and specialist sources, these were some of the most-awarded contenders. As with all things footwear, the most important consideration is how it feels on your individual foot; if none of these appeal, other lines from these brands are worth further exploration.

Saucony Xodus ISO³

Courtesy of Zappos

The Xodus ISO³ is a longtime classic and one of the most decorated shoes in this category, with rave reviews from customers on Zappos' site. Excellent traction, deep lugs (the bumpy bits on the sole), and high energy cushioning all make this a solid shoe for trail running. Plus, the reinforced, textile ISOFIT system molds to your foot for a custom feel.

To buy: (men), $150; (women), $150

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 GTX

Courtesy of Zappos

This shoe from Hoka One One features a lightweight, breathable GORE-TEX waterproof bootie that will keep your feet dry in a variety of weather conditions. Excellent cushioning, traction, and low weight round out the pros of this trail shoe.

To buy: (men), $160; (women), $160

Salomon Speedcross 5

Courtesy of Eastern Mountain Sports

Salomon’s extensive selection of hiking and trail running shoes excels in nearly every category, with the Speedcross winning particular praise for its traction on the “insanely aggressive outsole” from Outdoor Gear Lab.

To buy: (men), $98 (originally $130); (women), $98 (originally $130)

Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5

Courtesy of Zappos

The Kiger 4 won both Outdoor Gear Lab’s and Running Shoes Guru’s best overall pick awards, particularly for extreme comfort described as basically cradling your foot. Expect the same from the Kiger 5 in addition to its ability to balance protection with enough sensitivity that you can still pick up on the character of the trail, and won’t look out of place if you end up wearing it to walk around town after your run.

To buy: (men), from $88 (originally $130); (women), from $98 (originally $130)

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 5

Courtesy of Zappos

The previous iteration of the Terra Kiger’s cousin won an Outdoor Gear Lab distinction for best bang for your buck and a pick from Running Shoes Guru for all-surface versatility. This stylish, lightweight shoe has a mesh inner sleeve that wraps the foot for an impressively comfortable fit.

To buy: (men), from $83 (originally $110); (women), $83 (originally $110)

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5

Courtesy of Zappos

The Challenger’s primary claim to fame is its cushioning, winning both Outdoor Gear Lab Editor’s Choice and Gear Junkie’s pick in the category last year. Its hefty EVA foam sole cushions against impact without being bouncy.

To buy: (men), $130; (women), $130

La Sportiva Bushido II

Courtesy of Zappos

This hardcore option was tapped for its performance on uneven and rugged terrain. It's also got a solid toe cap to prevent stubbing. It’s not quite as cushioned as some other options and has a stiffer sole, which could work to your advantage depending on your preference.

To buy: (men), $130; (women), $130

Scarpa Spin Ultra

Courtesy of Zappos

Scarpa’s Spin Ultra won the coveted Outside Gear of the Year distinction and an editor’s choice from Trail Runner for its all-around performance in nearly all conditions, thanks to its protective Vibram fittings, supportive cushioning, and superlative comfort.

To buy: (men), $112 (originally $150); (women), $112 (originally $150)

Brooks Caldera 4

Courtesy of Zappos

If you’re just starting to dabble in trail running or just don’t want to have different pairs of shoes in your suitcase, the Caldera 4 is a versatile pick. It offers plenty of padding along with a quick-drying mesh upper and less-prominent lugs for an easier road transition.

To buy: (men), $140; (women), $140

Merrell Trail Glove 4

Courtesy of Zappos

Minimalist trail runners should try out the Merrell Trail Glove. The lightweight soles are just grippy enough to keep you on the trail but thin enough to keep you in touch with its quirks.

To buy: (men), $100; (women), $100

On Inc. Cloudventure

Courtesy of Zappos

We’re intrigued by the distinctive design of the Cloudventure, which puts air pockets within the lugs of the shoe for added comfort. The design doesn’t sacrifice grip factor, though, and Trail Runner mag testers found it performed well across terrain types.

To buy: (men), $150; (women), $150

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