As spring and summer bring nicer weather, runners have begun trading the treadmills of their air-conditioned gyms for the winding trails of the great outdoors. Trail running is growing in popularity as urban dwellers seek out the escape provided by getting outside. Are you primarily a pavement pounder? Try exchanging the asphalt streets for the shaded woodland paths — you may never go back.
Trail running is also a great way to get physical exercise while providing for adequate mental stimulation. It even helps build joint and tendon stability due to the body’s adaptation to uneven terrain. If trail running seems like your cup of tea, finding a proper pair of trail running shoes is your first obstacle. To help sift through the sea of options — and so you can spend less time shopping around and more time on the trail — we’ve compiled a list of the best trail running shoes for 2018.
La Sportiva Bushido
The best overall
La Sportiva’s Bushido is, hands down, the best option on the market because it has everything you want in a lightweight, detail-oriented package — and a pair costs just $130. The brand is known for its high-quality climbing shoes, so you can be assured the company knows how to design a product meant for the mountains. The Bushido features a thermoplastic urethane frame that encompasses the entire underfoot, providing excellent responsiveness and stability.
Its heel-to-toe drop is 6 millimeters, making for an excellent in-between model when comparing barefoot styles to traditional running shoes. The pair tips the scales at just over one pound, so you’re sure to pick up a bit of speed down those straight stretches. The outsole lugs are designed for rugged terrain featuring dual-density FriXion XT V-Groove soles with La Sportiva’s Impact Brake System, while a synthetic mesh upper ensures your feet stay cool when temperatures soar.
Arc’teryx Norvan VT
The best for rugged terrain
The Arc’teryx Norvan VT is designed for when the trail gets rough. These high-performance shoes help you swiftly navigate challenging obstacles, climb steep hills, and scramble across rocky terrain. The midsoles are an EVA/polyolefin blend, providing for both propulsion and shock absorption. Its 3.5-millimeter Vibram Megagrip lugs offer excellent traction while Idrogrip compliments the forefront to offer extra grip during climbs.
The $170 Norvan VT is highly adaptable with Arc’teryx’s Adjustable 360 Support System which alternates between climb and run modes with a simple tug on the laces. The molded inserts are 4-millimeter OrthoLite 3D, assuring your feet stay comfortable even on the longest of runs. A 9-millimeter heel-to-toe drop makes for a combination of comfort and accuracy — wherever the trail may lead you.
Altra Lone Peak 3.5
The best for wide feet
Feet come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so for those that have wider feet and need a bit more room, the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 was designed just for you. The company is renowned for its extra-wide toe box — and these shoes are no exception. The Lone Peak 3.5 is designed for the elements with drainage holes to keep your feet dry and a 4-point GaiterTrap can be paired with a strapless gaiter attachment to keep out any rocks or debris.
The zero-millimeter heel-to-toe drop encourages a natural gait and moderate cushioning ensures you get the support you need to stay comfortable. A StoneGuard rock plate adds an extra element of protection and is complemented by a grippy MaxTrac outsole, so you’re ready to take on tough terrain — and with a reasonable, $120 price tag, to boot.
Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4
The best for the budget conscious
Quality trail running shoes aren’t cheap but we found a great option — from Nike, no less — that costs just $110 and is perfect for those on a budget. The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 offer a coveted blend of comfort, traction, and stability. The Wildhorse features a forefoot rock shield and rubberized protection of the upper. The midsole is crafted of comfortable Phylon foam and includes Nike’s proprietary Zoom Air unit for added cushioning, making it one of the best sneakers for men.
Flywire cables wrap around the arch of your foot and combine with the laces to keep your foot extremely stable. The waffle-styled outsole provides plenty of traction and an 8-millimeter heel-to-toe drop ensures a smooth ride. Although this trail runner might be a bit heavier than other models, it’s hard to beat the price.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR4
The most cushioned
If comfort is your primary concern, opt for a model with maximum cushioning. Hoka One One’s $130 Challenger ATR4 offers the maximum trail running cushioning available on the market, yet remains relatively lightweight. The shoes feature an oversized EVA midsole, extended toe caps to protect against trail obstacles, and internal heel counters for added support. With extra cushioning, you lose sensitivity — so whether or not you’ll love them depends on your personal preference. These shoes are highly breathable, making for an ideal choice for summer trail running conditions.
Things to consider
Not all trails are made equal. They can vary from flat, maintained paths to rugged mountain switchbacks. Before you pick out a trail running shoe, we recommend considering the type of terrain you’ll be running on. Do you prefer slow jaunts through your local park or tagging mountain summits? Not all trail running shoes are equipped with the stability required for gnarly terrain — some are more versatile than others.
For example, La Sportiva’s Bushido is ideal for any type of trail while Hoka One One’s Challenger is designed for runners who stick to less technical excursions. If you plan on doing a variety of running, look for shoes designed to handle rugged terrain and yet are comfortable enough for easy trails. If you primarily run in one location or through one type of terrain, you can prioritize your needs and pick a more trail-specific shoe.
The outdoor industry is trending towards lighter weight products and trail running shoes are no exception. Lighter shoes typically mean you’re going to run faster and move more nimbly across the terrain. At the same time, if you frequently run in the mountains you’re going to want a more rigid, durable product — and these typically attribute to a heavier weight. Most of our picks weigh in at just over a pound, which is a solid target weight that provides for a combination of protection and support.
Trail running differs from road running because of the varying terrain. The type of traction recommended depends on your preferences and the technicality of the trails. If you’re a beginner and sticking to easier trails, you don’t need to heavily prioritize traction. The level of grip a trail running shoe provides is determined by a combination of factors, including its rubber compound, the tread depth, and its tread pattern.
Shoes meant for scrambling over boulders and easy climbing feature a sticky rubber compound to help you maintain traction on smooth rock surfaces. If you tend to run in mud, look for shoes to feature prominent, widely-spaced lugs. Analyze the type of trail you’ll typically run in order to determine the traction you need. If you’re unsure, stick with a decent, all-around type of shoe with tread built for a variety of trails.
Running on rugged terrain puts added stress on your muscles, bones, and ligaments. Cushioning plays a huge factor in how comfortable your shoes feel — and this differs from person to person. Those new to trail running will likely do better in more heavily cushioned shoes, which usually comprise a thick EVA midsole. Extremely thin trail running shoes provide you with a closer contact and feel of the ground but can make for sore feet after logging several miles.
Most runners find themselves comfortable somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, though it really comes down to personal preference. The more you trail run, the more your body adjusts to the pounding, and over time you might grow to prefer a thinner model capable of offering more contact with the ground.
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