TRAIL running shoes sound self-explanatory: footwear designed to withstand the grind and slips of trekking long distances across dirt, rocks and mud.
It’s not simply a matter of them being sturdy: the best trail running shoes have durable upper materials, with a rough outer sole for better grip against gravel or mud, and are ideally water-resistant.
Alongside performance, and before how pretty they look on your feet, the key consideration is protection.
Solid soles is a given, but look for pairs that come with toe protection and ankle support – if the description doesn’t include ‘cushioning’, it’s not the best idea to brave the rough terrains in them.
You should also select your pair depending on what you’re most likely to use them for.
Are you planning to run mostly along gravely paths? Hilly tracks? In the snow or icy roads?
And because trail running shoes are built specifically to need, with so much attention to their performance and protection, you won’t be surprised to learn they don’t come cheap.
Luckily, it’s not always the most expensive that are the best.
The important thing is the best ones are worth the money.
What are trail running shoes for?
If the ground you're running on is rugged and rough, you'll need trail running shoes.
Shoes that are designed for roads are usually more lightweight, as the priority is speed rather than traction.
Trail running shoes are thicker, heavier, and provide more support.
Can you use trail running shoes on the road?
Even though trail running shoes are meant for rugged grounds, they're still safe to wear on roads.
Trail shoes offer extra support and stability, which won't be a problem on roads.
If you want one pair of versatile running shoes, your safest bet is to get a hybrid.
Here are some of the best ones in the market to put you on the right track.
1. Best trail running shoes for mud
- For men: Inov-8 X-Talon 260 Ultra, £135 at Inov-8 – buy here
- For women: Inov-8 X-Talon 260 Ultra, £135 at Inov-8 – buy here
A layer of sticky grip rubber on the outsole and ballistic nylon on the upper unit of the Inov-8 X-Talon 260 Ultra protects from it abrasions and provides good traction.
The aggressive gripping lugs clamp onto soft surfaces, minimising slippages and making it easy to shed mud mid-stride instead of it clinging on in gloopy lumps.
A durable water repellent coating protects it against splashes, and the full-length foam of the midsole absorbs impact shock.
Faux leather stitched on the heel and forefoot brushes off the rough patches.
2. Best mountain trail running shoes
- For men: Hoka One One Speedgoat 3, £123.95 at Alpine Trek – buy here
- For women: Women’s Hoka One One Speedgoat 3, £112.50 at Ultramarathon Running Store – buy here
With its wide platform and overlays on the mid-foot ensuring stability and a snug fit, it’s the Vibram Megagrip outsole of the Hoka One One Speedgoat that makes it a great choice for mountain running.
The aggressive 5mm lugs and durable traction keep you stable on uneven treks, while the strategically placed flex grooves promote forefoot flexion to help you run more freely and faster.
Lightweight mesh keeps feet well-ventilated, and the padded tongue and heel collar don’t feel cumbersome.
The super durable reinforced toecap is particularly useful on rocky runs.
3. Best lightweight trail running shoes
- For men: Salomon S/Lab Sense 7, £160 at Salomon – buy here
- For women: Salomon S/Lab Sense 7, £160 at Salomon – buy here
Weighing in at just 200g, this is perfect for the runner who likes to trail long distances at speed.
The S/Lab Sense 7 has been engineered with the flight-footed in mind, and features ground filter, precise foothold, efficient lugs, integrated sockliner, and a minimal heel counter.
The fit, lightweight, and ground feel are a favourite of top Salomon athletes.
Low to the ground and flexible in its hydrophobic mesh, it delivers the optimal balance of lightweight protection – and endofit technology should ensure foothold and precision throughout your run.
4. Best trail running shoes for support
- For men: Men’s Endurus TR Running Shoes, £55 at The North Face – buy here
- For women: Women’s Endurus TR Running Shoes, £55 at The North Face – buy here
It’s cheap, unflashy but gnarly trails don’t care about style – what’s important is that your feet are cushioned against everything that road throws their way.
The XtraFoam midsole are hailed for their comfort levels, while the firm, soft foams provide the right amount of stability.
Underfoot, a high-traction Vibram outsole provides top grip on all surfaces, while the breathable foot chamber and FlashDry fabric on the collar help fend off blisters and sweat for a pain-free run.
5. Best long-distance trail running shoes
- For men: ON Cloudflyer, £140 at ON Running – buy here
- For women: ON Cloudflyer, £140 at ON Running – buy here
Made in Switzerland, where they take running very seriously indeed, the Cloudflyer is about precise engineering to maximise comfort. Offering more stability for less bulk and weight, its dual-density sockliner ensures comfort from start to finish, with an adaptive V-molded heel cap.
There's also the state-of-the-art memory foam designed to provide a snug and stable heel feel with every step.
A star lacing system (featuring the thinnest of laces) provides secure comfort in an adjustable fit, while the wide pods on the bottom of the shoes help stabilise and propel you along the long road ahead.
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