Brooks PureGrit 8
Looks can be deceiving. While at first glance the Brooks PureGrit 8 may appear more minimal than its beefed-up competitors, the returns this shoe offers are maximal. That thin material you're looking at throughout the tongue and upper of the shoe was woven in a way that hugs your foot while still allowing it to breathe, stay dry and remain free of debris.
If you find yourself questioning the ride and low traction on the bottom, rest assured this same sticky rubber outsole will not only grip the ground naturally but will also allow you to feel connected as you attack any terrain that comes your way. The array of lugs, hexagons and bumps along the bottom make even the most granular surfaces skid-proof and eliminates the guess work from your footing. And if you're doubting whether or not this lightweight and flexibly fast shoe will still be comfortable after hours on the trail, those doubts will be erased from the moment you slip it on and feel how much cushion this more minimal shoe can deliver. Even after hours of navigating and jumping through trickier terrain, the elements of the PureGrit 8 come together to spare your joints and keep you ready for your next run.
"These shoes will come along with me in my bag for every trail run I go on—they're that good!" — Abrea, 2x Boston Marathon finisher and 8x IRONMAN
Weight: 8.2 oz. (women); 9.3 oz. (men)
Drop: 4 mm
Merrell Bare Access XTR Sweeper
The Merrell Bare Access XTR Sweeper is a pleasant surprise that will remind you how much you love running in a minimal shoe in the right doses. It is super lightweight and comfortable with sufficient traction for moderately technical terrain. Also, our tester found that running uphill in them is especially satisfying; she felt quick, light and agile while climbing, as well as fast and unencumbered on the flats. It's truly a great shoe for runners who love the feeling of being connected to the trail.
The most unique aspect of the shoe is its sustainability. The BLOOM foam midsole is made from 10 percent algae biomass, which cleans and restores the environment when harvested, and the rest of the materials are all made from 30-plus percent recycled products.
"As a runner who has gone through a lot of shoes over the years, knowing that a good portion of the shoes came from recycled materials put an extra spring in my step—and makes me feel a little better about my 'footprint,' too." — Emily B., 8x Boston Marathon finisher, 2x Leadville 100 finisher and 2x IRONMAN
Weight: 6 oz. (women); 8 oz. (men)
Drop: 0 mm
Altra Superior 4
Traversing over 16 miles of technical and non-technical trails, from solid rock to soft dirt, at no point did our tester feel irritation or even a chance of blistering while wearing the Superior 4s. The Superior 4 provides solid protection on the sole and front of the shoe yet is extremely breathable and comfortable to boot. The rugged lugs allow you to sprint up steeper ascents, with ease jumping from side to side. It can even turn on a dime and launch through the dirt when deciding to pick up the pace. Our tester was actually nervous about finding the right trail shoe for an upcoming 100-miler, but after trying the Superior 4s, he now knows the pair he'll be lacing up on race morning.
"Once I put them on and took off, it was game over. I know they'll be able to handle anything the trail will throw at me. I have a new level of confidence with trail running because of these shoes." — Emmanuel, ultramarathon finisher
Weight: 6.6 oz. (women); 7.9 oz. (men)
Drop: 0 mm
La Sportiva Kaptiva GTX
The Kaptiva is the ideal shoe for serious trail runners and hikers. La Sportiva has a wide range of offerings for nearly every use imaginable, but if you want one shoe to do it all, look no further than the Kaptiva GTX. The cushioning is perfect for ultra-long runs, giving you the support you need mile after mile. Plus, the compression mesh used on the upper gives a sock-like feel, not only keeping your foot snug but keeping rocks and debris at bay as well.
Our tester's favorite element was the Gore-Tex Invisible Fit waterproofing protection, allowing her to splash through water without having to worry about soggy socks or blistered feet afterward.
"Shoes were immediately comfortable when trying on. Not too much cushion, but I still felt very comfortable wearing them." — Heeseon, half marathon finisher
Weight: 9.5 oz.
Drop: 6 mm
The Grafton certainly doesn't look like your typical trail shoe—in fact, it's Altra's approach shoe for rock climbing and sticking to rock, making it perfect for rockier trail running and multipurpose use. And our testers admit they were pleasantly surprised after trying them out. You'll appreciate the relaxed yet stable feel of the foot-shaped construction and how it feels going over rocks and roots. It has a very unique and distinct look that you may not normally consider (suede upper and climbing shoe outsole). However, our testers really found they came to enjoy the shoe for certain activities.
The rubberized toe cap gives you the confidence this shoe can handle any trail that comes your way, and the urban style makes it perfect for an all-day urban adventure. The Grafton may not end up being your go-to trail runner, but it's a great overall, adaptable adventure shoe perfect for camping trips where considerable hiking and running is on the schedule. It's comfortable, provides ample protection from rocks (including the toes) and can easily transition between light running and hiking on a whim.
"I felt confident cruising downhill on moderately technical terrain, which is a testament to the construction of the shoe compared to some other zero drop models with less cushioning." — Emily B., 8x Boston Marathon finisher, 2x Leadville 100 finisher and 2x IRONMAN
Weight: 9.2 oz. (women); 11 oz. (men)
Drop: 0 mm
HOKA ONE ONE EVA Mafate 2
The EVO Mafate 2 has one thing and one thing only on its mind: going the distance! HOKA ONE ONE spared no amount of abundance to make sure even the most committed ultrarunners choose this shoe. The EVA midsole provides a cloud-like amount of cushion, the Kevlar upper is both super durable and plenty breathable and the Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole has an impressive amount of traction, even in wet and rocky conditions. But the most unexpected highlight came from the tongue—it's low profile with hardly any padding, but it added a more customizable feel to the upper we enjoyed.
Surprisingly, in a world where shoes are competing to claim the new featherweight title, Mafate 2 actually came weighing in a little heavier than its counterparts. Rest assured, it was all for good reason. The miniscule amount of additional ounces are made up for with extra EVA cushioning throughout the midsole, which in turn will amp up the shock absorption and keep your body feeling ready to take on the next climb, fly down the next hill and tackle the terrain mile after mile—from start line to finish line.
"The amount of EVA foam in these shoes is undeniably noticeable—so much that two of my running buddies tried my shoes on, went home and immediately purchased their own pairs." — Abrea, 2x Boston Marathon finisher and 8x IRONMAN
Weight: 8.9 oz. (women); 10.3 oz. (men)
Drop: 4 mm
Brooks Cascadia 14
Brooks' Cascadia line is incredibly popular in the ultrarunning community, and our testers were excited to see how the 14th iteration compared. While it isn't going to feel like your typical cushy road recovery shoe, it does get the job done on the trails. But where it really shines is on very mixed terrain—we're talking Jeep roads and technical singletrack in the dark. One tester wore the Cascadia 14s to pace a number of runners at Leadville 100 and was thrilled with the results. The shoe felt great the entire time, and she never had to worry about it continuing to perform once the sun started to dip and visibility decreased.
The traction is great on the more technical segments while the cushioning is just right for the faster, smoother miles. If you're a little more prone to tripping, this shoe has just the right balance of protection and responsiveness to the trail. The only real downside comes on pavement, not a legitimate alarm bell for a trail shoe in our opinion, but something to take note of if you plan to wear them on a running path or paved surface before getting to the trail.
"I feel like this is a great, versatile trail shoe. It fits well, has great traction and includes just enough cushion. And I loved the colors!" — Emily B., 8x Boston Marathon finisher, 2x Leadville 100 finisher and 2x IRONMAN
Weight: 9.5 oz. (women); 10.7 oz. (men)
Drop: 8 mm
Salomon Speedcross 5
It's always nice when a shoe fits a specific niche and does its job well. With a high heel cup, 10 mm heel-toe drop and a springy midsole, it's apparent the Salomon Speedcross 5 was designed for trail runners, by trail runners. It offers all the features you can ask for and leaves nothing behind.
The welded upper and quick-lace system is a no-fuss solution that keeps trail debris out while boosting the sock-like feel, and the Contagrip rubber outsoles have lugs that provide tons of slip-free traction and protection for a wide variety of terrain. Long story short, the Speedcross 5 is a shoe that can take all the punishment you throw at it, no matter how muddy, sandy or rocky the conditions are (the more terrible, the better).
Weight: 9.88 oz. (women); 11.29 oz. (men)
Drop: 10 mm
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