Trail running shoes: Dare to tread

Check out this season's top five picks for trail running shoes. Comfort, style and durability all in one package.

Fall: colder, wetter, wilder. Your feet: soft, vulnerable, and distinctly not attached to the body of a Tarahumara Indian who can run unshod across Mexico's Sierra Madre in rain, muck, and early season snow. A conundrum, no doubt, but one easily solved by this season's crop of tech-infused footwear. With new comfort-savvy insoles, an arsenal of assorted weatherproofings, and fresh street styles, these shoes will have you prepped for any condition.

Trail Runners

Master of Rock - Montrail CTC, $95, The Montrail CTC aims for all-day comfort no matter where you roam, but its sticky, dual-density rubber outsole truly shines when the trail disappears at the base of the crag. Extra-wide lugs facilitate friction on angled slabs of stone, while stiff edges let you tiptoe along rocky ledges.

All-Around Athlete - The North Face Hedgehog XCR, $105, Too often "multisport hiker" is short-form for "mediocre in all regards." Not The North Face Hedgehog XCR, a rare exception that's as nimble as a mountain goat and as supportive as your grandmother. The Gore-Tex XCR membrane is sweet in the slop, but like any waterproof material, it can overheat your feet when you get running.

Heavy Lifter - Dunham Waffle Stomper Premier, $175, Hiking boots were about as sassy as a freight barge, until the arrival of the bright red, Vibram-soled Dunham Waffle Stomper Premier (women's shown). Despite its flash, the redesigned waterproof backpacker supports a 50-pound load as well as any old-school leather boot--just give the uppers a few days to break in.

Flyweight - Salomon Trail Pro SCS, $100, When support is less important than raw speed, consider the all-mesh Salomon Trail Pro SCS (women's shown). The 13-ounce shoe's EVA midsole conforms nicely to your foot and provides effortless heel-to-toe transition.

Trail Star - Scarpa ZG Low-Ego, $109, Grounded in Alpine tradition, European-made hikers tend to be stiffer than their American cousins. The Scarpa ZG Low-Ego is true to its roots, offering a sturdy platform for backpacking, not just day hiking. We like the lack of waterproofing, which keeps the cost down and feet cool.

Street Shoes

Savvy Traveler - Keen Presidio, $90, The women's Keen Presidio blends running-shoe comfort with urban styling. The upper is all leather, and Keen's signature bumper protects your toes from the insults of intercontinental journeys.

High-Tech Hippie - Organico N072, $130, The Spanish-made women's El Naturalista Organico N072 looks like a simple flat, but this slip-on is built with an impressive amount of support. The natural rubber sole features large cushioning lugs (including a half-inch heel), and the breathable foot bed is molded with extra gel at the heel, arch, ball, and toes.

Modern Roadster - Medium Motorist, $125, The Medium Motorist takes its cue from the driving shoes Cary Grant would have worn in To Catch a Thief, with a creamy full-grain leather upper that molds to your foot like butter. Its sensitivity to the accelerator is excellent, yet there's enough tread so you're not left feeling barefoot.

Continental Drifter - Born Judson, $96, A good travel shoe should be versatile, durable, stylish, and, above all, comfortable--all traits of the Born Judson. The nubuck leather semi-sneaker features a crepe rubber sole that hugs pavement as capably as it does a freshly buffed airport floor.

Weekend Warrior - Tecnica Prima Low GTX-XCR, $109, The Tecnica Prima Low GTX-XCR is stealthily tech and sneakily stylish, with a Gore-Tex armor lurking beneath its soft suede exterior. Designed for fastpacking, it has a Vibram tread, a supportive EVA heel wedge, and a durable toe rand. It'll also fly on casual Friday beneath a pair of chinos.

Shoes for Snow, Rain, and Mud

King of Slop - Aigle Parcours Iso, $235, Puddles, mud, and snow beg for tromping when you're wearing the Aigle Parcours Iso. The knee-high French imports are built from waterproof rubber and lined with two layers of ultrawarm insulating neoprene. More than just a muckproof shell, the Iso's thick tread promises near-hiking-boot comfort.

The Iceman - Icebug MR4 Dry, $140, With 32 carbide spikes protruding from its lugs, the Icebug MR4 Dry grants absolutely unbeatable traction on ice, snow, and slippery trails. More than that, the shoe is built to be comfortable and supportive, like any good trail runner. Just stay off wooden floors. And carpeting. And linoleum, while you're at it.

The Hydrophobe - Timberland Endurion with Gore-Tex XCR, $110, The women's Timberland Endurion with Gore-Tex XCR is the prototypical sleek, light, and speedy trail runner, but it's built on a female last for better fit. With a slim profile, a plastic exoskeleton to stabilize your heel, and a layer of Gore's top-shelf waterproof membrane, it's like an extension of your foot--just drier.

Mud Hog - Asolo Fugitive GTX, $170, Lined with the original Gore-Tex membrane, the extra-sturdy Asolo Fugitive GTX is a bombproof weather machine, made for backpacking through the sodden likes of Olympic National Park. Though not insulated, it has plenty of room in the forefoot to accommodate wool socks as well as wide feet.

Early Adopter - Hi-Tec V-Lite Hurricane, $110, The Hi-Tec V-Lite Hurricane is one of the few waterproof and breathable shoes that incorporate an eVent membrane, which rivals Gore-Tex in keeping feet cool and dry. The adventure racer's molded EVA midsole is vastly more supportive than most, and its notch for your Achilles tendon is comfortable too.

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