Trail runners are generally heavier than road shoes, and are designed to support and protect the foot on rugged terrain—roots, rocks, mud and other obstacles. They tend to have durable soles fortified to protect against these uneven surfaces and aggressive treads for better off-road traction. Trail shoes are going through the same back-to-basics revolution as their road- and sidewalk-bound brethren. Manufacturers are producing a more elemental product, stripped of the extraneous features trail shoes have traditionally had, like heavy plastic stability devices that tried too hard to guide runners' feet through the gauntlet of rugged trails. That means this year's shoes are significantly lighter than many past models, allowing runners a more elemental, natural-feeling gait as they navigate the wilderness.
Brooks Pure Grit 2
Providing an alternative to traditionally stiff trail options, the Pure Grit 2 does a nice job of combining cushioning and stability, while still remaining lightweight. Its asymmetric upper construction and aggressive tread insure that the shoe holds onto your foot over your favorite trail's every twist and turn.
Best For: Runners looking to transition from a more traditional shoe to a lighter-weight option, but who aren’t interested in embracing barefoot
Weight: 10 oz (M); 8.2 oz (W)
Merrell Trail Glove 2 (M) and Pace Glove 2 (W)
With a close-to-the ground fit and zero drop from heel to toe, the Trail Glove stays true to the natural running ethos. Meanwhile, a Vibram outsole and TrailProtect pad still offer good protection from rough patches and rocky spots on the trail. Merrell’s unique Omni-Fit Lacing System insures this shoe lives up to its name by giving your foot a truly sock-like fit.
Best For: Barefoot running on gravel or rocky trails
Weight: 7 oz (M); 5 oz (W)
La Sportiva Helios
Dropping just 5mm from heel to toe, the Helios marks a new iteration of trail options on the market. It offers a soft ride, proving, once and for all, that trail shoes don't need to be stiff. Even still, the midsole cushioning incorporates a rock pad to protect your feet from the sharp rocks of even the most technical trails.
Best For: New trail runners who are accustomed to the feel of traditional running shoes, but need more aggressive tread and a protective upper
Weight: 8.1 oz (M); 6.8 oz (W)
Vibram Spyridon LS
Vibram’s first trail running-specific model, this FiveFinger model has a 3.5mm Vibram rubber outsole that protects your feet and provides ample traction on rocky and rutted surfaces. The upper is both breathable and adjustable, thanks to the hook-and-loop closure that secures your foot in place.
Best For: FiveFinger fanatics who need a more durable shoe that will provide a bit of protection underfoot on unpredictable trails
Weight: 6.88 oz (M); 5.11 oz (W)
New Balance Leadville 1210
Part of New Balance’s trail running collection, this midweight shoe is built for the long haul, as its name implies. Featuring an 8mm drop, they are well-cushioned and supportive without feeling stiff. The dual-density Vibram outsole also insures adequate traction on a variety of surfaces.
Best For: Trail runners with knee or lower leg issues who are in need of a little support
Weight: 10.3 oz (M); 8.1 oz (W)
Merrell Mix Master 2 (M) and Glide (W)
Versatile options from Merrell, the Mix Master series allows you to tackle everything from roads to more technical trails. Balancing durability with lightweight features, these models allow for a more natural footstrike, while still cushioning your feet during a long haul.
Best For: Efficient runners who train on mixed terrain
Weight: 8.1 oz (M); 7 oz (W)
$110 (M); $100 (W); merrell.com
Brooks Cascadia 8
A popular trail shoe option, the updated version sticks to Brooks' signature fit, adding BioMoGo foam to the midsole to provide a softer feel. Shedding 2mm off the previous version’s heel-to-toe angle, the trimmed-down Cascadia 8 touts a 10mm drop. With an aggressive outsole for a more responsive ride, this shoe can handle just about anything the trails throw at you.
Best For: Aggressive trails in just about any weather condition
Weight: 11.9 oz (M); 9.8 oz (W)
Hoka One One Stinson EVO Tarmac
Part of the new wave of maximally cushioned shoes, the Stinson Tarmac can be worn door-to-trail on a wide variety of terrain. The supremely cushioned midsole and rocker shape gives it a soft ride, while still allowing the foot to make a natural heel-to-toe transition via a 6mm drop.
Best For: Going the distance without running into a flat feeling midsole 20 miles in
Weight: 10.4 oz (M); 9.1 oz (W)
TrekSta Edict GTX
For hardcore trails and soggy spring conditions, the Edict has you covered. Feet stay dry and blister-free, thanks to a waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex membrane in the upper. Also, a unique cradling system helps to stabilize your foot and insure comfort, while a triple-density EVA midsole supports the arch and improves heel-to-toe transition.
Best For: Trail running in wet, muddy conditions
Weight: 10.6 oz
Salomon Sense Mantra
Designed to promote forefoot striking, the Mantra is built on a racing last with a 6mm drop. Second skin seam construction and Salomon’s Quicklace system help the shoe hug your foot without being too snug. This model is ideal for trail runners looking to put in high mileage while transitioning to forefoot running. The treads are multi-directional, offering grip on both ascents and descents, and have been proven to withstand hundreds of miles of wear.
Best For: Runners looking for an alternate upper system that provides a slipper-like feel, no matter the turns and terrain underfoot
Weight: 9.2 oz (M); 8.4 oz (W)