9 Must-See Shoes for Spring 2014
Don't miss the Active.com Running Shoe Guide.
All-Mountain: Best for Rugged and Steep TerrainNew Balance Minimus Trail Zero v2, $110 1 of 10
If the original version of this shoe was a dune buggy, this update is a four-door Jeep wrangler--it's an all-new shoe from the ground up. The v2 gets deep lugs and a softer midsole, though it keeps the Minimus name because its heel-to-toe offset remains near zero.
Bottom Line: A low-profile shoe that chews up rugged terrain.
All-Mountain: Best for Rugged and Steep TerrainSkechers GOrun Ultra, $85 2 of 10
Reminiscent of oversized models from Hoka One One, the GOrun Ultra is about as cushioned as it gets. "You can't find a trail shoe with a softer ride," says Andrew Izzo, a 26-year-old wear-tester from East Lansing, Michigan. The shoe's 40-millimeter heel is beefy and best suited for runners who land heel first.
Bottom Line: Max cushioning with a low price tag.
All-Mountain: Best for Rugged and Steep TerrainEDITOR'S RUNNER'S WORLD CHOICE: Brooks Cascadia 9, $120 3 of 10
The Cascadia has long appealed to off-road runners of all levels. But why is it such a standby? Perhaps it's because the shoe looks as good with jeans as it does on singletrack trails. Or because it comfortably handles any surface you throw at it--rocks, mud, and even roads.
"The Cascadia is a workhorse," says Rique Campa, a longtime Cascadia-wearer from East Lansing. "It provides a supportive yet flexible ride on diverse trail surfaces and is great for running on snowy pavement." This update gets suede-like overlays for a soft, secure wrap of your foot. That tweak didn't affect the shoe's weight: Our wear-testers reported that while the shoe is heavy--at 12 ounces for a men's size 9, it's the heaviest in this guide--they loved it anyway.
Bottom Line: Top of the line cushioning on any surface.
Racing: Best for Fast-Paced TrainingAsics Gel-FujiRacer 3, $110 4 of 10
The FujiRacer is a nimble race-day alternative to the FujiTrainer (page 88), but it doesn't sacrifice protection. A flexible plate underfoot stands up to sharp objects on the trail while still allowing the forefoot to bend freely. This update closed drainage holes in the sole; wear-testers felt that the previous model allowed moisture in underfoot.
Bottom Line: For lightweight runners who zip over trails.
Racing: Best for Fast-Paced TrainingBest Runner's World Debut: The North Face Ultra Trail, $110 5 of 10
The North Face took a stripped-down approach to this lightweight model. Its ride is firm, but that works on technical trails, which is where this shoe longs to be used. A full-length Vibram outsole features coffin-shaped lugs that cling to terra firma--even broad slabs of rock.
Bottom Line: Delivers excellent traction whenever you go back to nature.
Racing: Best for Fast-Paced TrainingEditor's Runner's World Choice: Saucony Peregrine 4, $110 6 of 10
"The Peregrine 4 is a gritty, fantastic little shoe!" says Josie Johnson, a speedy 21-year-old wear-tester from East Lansing, who has worn it while running up mountains. "Not only is it lightweight, but the tread is a monster." That tread features aggressive V-shaped lugs (another wear-tester called them "shark's teeth") running the shoe's full width under the foot. This gives you reliable grip on rough terrain, where you can spend a lot of time digging in with the edges of your shoe.
A nylon-fiber plate protects your forefoot from trail debris, which our testers appreciated, especially since the thin midsole positions your toes closer to the ground than average. This update comes in more than a half-ounce lighter than the 3, yet provides better support up top, especially at the heel.
Bottom Line: On race day, grip it and rip it.
Hybrids: Best for Both Road and TrailMerrell AllOut Fuse, $110 7 of 10
Merrell hasn't strayed from its barefoot and minimal roots, but it has added slightly more protection underfoot--mostly by way of more midsole foam--to its AllOut line of trail shoes. Even with the extra cushioning, the AllOut Fuse's ride is firm but remains soft enough for short jogs from your front door to the trailhead.
Its outsole configuration is also perfectly suited for such mixed use: Small baseball-inspired lugs run smoothly on pavement while still offering adequate grip on most natural surfaces.
Bottom Line: Puts you in touch with the road and trail.
Hybrids: Best for Both Road and TrailAsics Gel-FujiTrainer 3, $100 8 of 10
With an outsole that's not overly aggressive, the Gel-FujiTrainer 3 is well suited for fast-paced training over moderately technical terrain. Longtime Asics wearers might expect a plush ride similar to the company's road shoes, but this model runs a little firm given its low profile (i.e., how close it positions your foot to the ground). "On groomed trails they were comfortable, but rocky trails made themselves known," says Erik Leeds, a wear-tester from Reading, Pennsylvania, who, at 5'6" and 138 pounds, is light on his feet.
Bottom Line: May seem firm for Asics, but proves adequate for most trails.
Hybrids: Best for Both Road and TrailMontrail FluidFeel II, $110 9 of 10
Thanks to a tread design featuring a uniform height, the FluidFeel II rolls more smoothly across hard surfaces than other shoes with more aggressive lugs. That same design also features plenty of recessed edges and corners to bite into hard-packed ground.
Our wear-testers appreciated its stable ride on even surfaces. Lending extra support to an overpronating foot is a small plastic bow positioned directly under the arch. Expect the shoe to fit more like a road shoe, with a snug midfoot and a slightly roomier toebox.
Bottom Line: Transitions seamlessly from groomed paths to roads.