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Today’s trail runners are living in a golden age when footwear is getting lighter, more durable, and more comfortable than ever before, all without sacrificing performance in any way. Modern trail running shoes provide support, traction, and control on a wide variety of surfaces, making them popular not only with runners but ultralight hikers and long-distance backpackers, too. Whether you’re heading out for a run on a local trail, or speed-hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, these are the very best trail shoes on the market.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Altra King MT 1.5
This shoe has it all. It’s durable, quick-drying, supportive, and lightweight, tipping the scales at just 8.5 ounces. It also features Altra’s trademark foot-shaped toe box design that provides more room for natural toe-splay while running, as well as a 19mm stack height to along with zero heel drop for added speed and agility. Mix in aggressive 6mm lugs, built-in gaiter compatibility, and a specially designed velcro strap across the mid-foot for securing the shoe on descents and uneven terrain, and you have a trail runner built to handle just about anything.
If you’re a veteran trail runner, the King MT 1.5 will provide all of the features you could ask for to keep you moving quickly and safely on the trail, while beginners will love the fit, stability, and traction these shoes offer. All of those features add up to a high level of confidence, which exactly what you need when running on mountain trails in the backcountry.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Salomon Sense Ride
Salomon says that the Sense Ride is a “quiver killer,” meaning that it has been built to replace all the other trail running shoes in your closet. That should give you an indication of how versatile this shoe truly is, and thankfully, it lives up to the promise. The Sense Ride is a comfortable option for runners who just want to pull their shoes on and go. The inclusion of Salomon’s Quicklace system makes it easy to do just that, and when locked into place, lightweight laces make sure the shoe stays firmly on your foot throughout a run. The Sense Ride is a rigid, stable, and durable shoe that provides good traction on a wide variety of terrains in both wet and dry conditions. Whether you’re just out for an easy run on non-technical trails or you’re prepping for an ultramarathon, these shoes can pretty much do it all.
Best Budget: Merrell All Out Crush 2
Merrell is well known for making some of the most comfortable hiking boots and shoes on the market and with the All Out Crush 2, the company has brought that same sensibility to its running shoes. Lightweight and very comfortable, this shoe is quick drying, breathable, and offers solid traction — though more so on well-packed trails as opposed to steep, technical terrain. Thanks to its mesh upper, the All Out Crush 2 performs especially well in hot, humid conditions and is popular amongst obstacle course racers as well. Perhaps its best feature of all, however, is the shoe’s price. With its $100 price tag, the AOC2 is a highly technical and full-featured trail runner that delivers a lot of bang for your buck. Sure, there are less expensive models on the market, but none that offer so much performance at such a great price.
Best Women's: Salomon Speedcross 4
Salmon’s long heritage of creating trail running shoes built for the most technical of terrain shines through nicely in the Speedcross 4. This shoe is streamlined and offers a snug fit, which translates to better balance and stability on the trail. The Speedcross 4 is also durable, agile, and features aggressive outsoles that provide excellent grip on dirt, mud, rocks, snow, and ice. Salomon’s Quicklace system is once again front and center, allowing the wearer to adjust the fit to meet their personal needs, while also locking the shoe in place even during the most demanding workouts.
Salomon takes the women’s trail running market seriously and it shows through in the ladies’ version of the Speedcross 4. While clearly designed to comfortably fit a woman’s foot, it doesn’t compromise in performance in any way. It is a shoe that is built for serious mountain athletes, regardless of gender.
Best for Road Runners: Saucony Peregrin 8
Trail running is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while getting a good workout, but not everyone lives close enough to a trail system for a daily run. Road running is a worthy substitute, but buying two pairs of running shoes can get expensive. Enter the Saucony Peregrin 8, a trail shoe with a road running heritage.
When designing the Peregrin 8, Saucony built upon its popular EVERUN midsole, which traces its origin back to the company’s road running shoes. The result is a versatile trail shoe that can hold its own on technical terrain, while seamlessly transitioning to the road should the need arise. Light and fast, these shoes give runners the ability to dig in on the climbs and maintain control on the descents, making them a great option for those who split their time between on- and off-road runs.
Best for Hikers: Altra Lone Peak 3.5
Thanks to their light weight and excellent traction, running shoes have become increasingly popular with hikers and backpackers looking for a comfortable alternative to traditional hiking boots. Altra’s Lone Peak 3.5 is a good example of this, delivering fantastic cushioning, boot-like grip, and the company’s foot-shaped fit in a package that weighs just 10.4 ounces. As if that wasn’t enough, these shoes also come equipped with an integrated stone guard to protect the bottom of the feet on rocky terrain and feature gaiter support right of the box. This combination of features has made the Lone Peak one of the most popular shoes on the Appalachian Trail, scoring big with weekend warriors and long-distance thru-hikers alike. This shoe even comes in a high top version for added ankle support.
Best for Speedsters: Brooks Mazama 2
If you’re a runner looking to go faster on the trail, the Brooks Mazama 2 might be able to help. This is a shoe that foregoes a high level of cushioning and a tall stack height in favor of a streamlined, low to the ground approach. Add in a rigid rock-plate and you end up with a shoe that gives a stiff ride that can be a bit jarring at first. Despite that, however, the Mazama still comes off as surprisingly comfortable, while providing plenty of stability and support. A unique but sturdy outsole offers plenty of traction, while reinforced padding along the ankle and tongue make the Mazama 2 a great choice for short and medium distance trail runners, particularly those who routinely compete in trail races where speed and agility are of the essence.
Best for Long Distance: New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v3
For runners who are looking to go long, rather than fast, the New Balance Hierro v3 is a comfortable, highly-cushioned shoe designed to keep you moving on the trail for hours on end. This is a trail runner built for marathons and ultramarathons, and as such its soft, breathable upper was crafted to shed moisture and dry very quickly. Underneath, the Hierro v3 boasts a Vibram MegaGrip outsole designed to provide dependable traction in all kinds of conditions and variety of terrains. This trail shoe comes equipped with an integrated gaiter, which helps to keep dirt, rocks, and other debris from reaching the interior where they can irritate your foot. This is a welcome addition on long runs where frequent stops are not on the schedule. Fast and agile while descending and across flat sections of the trail, this is a shoe that feels just as good on mile 50 as it does at the start, making it worthy choice for long distance runners who need consistent stability and support.
Best Cushioned: Hoka One One Speedgoat 2
Runners will think they’ve stepped into a cloud when they strap on a pair of Hoka One One Speedgoat 2s, the company’s flagship trail runner designed for aggressive and technical terrain. If you’re the kind of athlete who loves trail running, but suffers a lot of aches and pains in your joints after a workout, then the Speedgoat 2 is for you. The shoe adheres to Hoka’s “maximalist” approach, providing an impressive amount of cushioning designed to protect a runner’s feet, ankles, knees, and hips from excessive impact. Named for Karl Meltzer — one of the most famous and successful ultra-runners of all time — the Speedgoat 2 trail shoes are built to take runners just about anywhere in the backcountry. And since they are so well cushioned, they can handle long distances very well, too.
Our writers spent 8 hours researching the most popular trail shoes on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 15 different shoes overall, screened options from 7 different brands and manufacturers, read over 20 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 6 of the shoes themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.