By Rena Behar
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.
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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.

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, or just head to a nearby store to try them out in-person.

Saucony Peregrine ISO

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The Peregrine is a longtime classic and one of the most decorated shoes in this category, winning praise from both professional outlets and consumers. Excellent traction, deep lugs (the bumpy bits on the sole), and situational versatility have all helped it hold onto the top spot for years, and the recently added ISOFit upper helps make sure you can fully fit it to your foot.

To buy: (men) zappos.com, $120; (women) zappos.com, $120

Hoka One One Speedgoat 3

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The Speedgoat gives the Peregrine a run for its mountain money in the title department. It boasts Outside magazine’s all-mountain pick, a premium pick distinction from Running Shoes Guru, and a premium speed pick from Wired, among other badges, for its excellent cushioning, traction, and low weight.

To buy: (men) zappos.com, $140; (women) zappos.com, $140

Salomon Speedcross 4 & 5

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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 and performance on aggressive climbs from Gear Patrol.

To buy: (men) ems.com, $130; (women) ems.com, $130

Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5

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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) zappos.com, $130; (women) zappos.com, $130

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 5

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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 is another case of a recent upgrade potentially skewing the stats, but the new model still won a place on Trail Runner magazine’s best of spring 2019 roundup.

To buy: (men) zappos.com, $110; (women) zappos.com, $110

Altra Superior 4

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Altra is another frequent guest on best-of lists, with two shoes noted as particular standouts. The Superior 4 stood out for its comfort-to-weight ratio, with a super light weight and good performance on soft ground, and a wide toe box for those of you looking for extra wiggling space.

To buy: (men) zappos.com, $110; (women) zappos.com, $110

Altra Lone Peak 4

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The Lone Peak 4 got tapped for its wide toe box and solid performance as both a trail runner and a hiking shoe. It’s got zero heel drop to allow for ideal foot-placing form and drains well for those water hazard days.

To buy: (men) zappos.com, $120; (women) zappos.com, $120

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5

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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. Its hefty EVA foam sole cushions against impact without being bouncy.

To buy: (men) zappos.com, $130; (women) zappos.com, $130

La Sportiva Bushido II

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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) zappos.com, $130; (women) zappos.com, $130

Scarpa Spin Ultra

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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) zappos.com, $150; (women) zappos.com, $150

Brooks Caldera 3

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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 3 is Runner’s World’s hybrid 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) zappos.com, $140; (women) zappos.com, $140

Merrell Trail Glove 4

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Minimalist trail runners should try out the Merrell Trail Glove, which was Wired’s expert pick for barefoot runners and Gear Junkie’s minimalist favorite. 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) zappos.com, $100; (women) zappos.com, $100

On Inc. Cloudventure

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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) zappos.com, $150; (women) zappos.com, $150

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