12 Best Trail Running Shoes of 2020

by Mac Misseldine

best trail running shoes
Photo: Alessio Soggetti

Ready to spice up your running routine?

Whether you’re looking for a new way to explore hiking trails or you’re just bored of jogging around the neighborhood park, trail running is an excellent way to liven up your cardio routine. For some, it’s a way to up the challenge with uphill climbs and variable terrain. For others, it’s all about the scenery, fresh air, and peaceful solitude.

Whatever drives you to abandon the asphalt and put some dirt under your shoes, the good news is you don’t have to be an elite athlete to pick up trail running. You don’t even have to commit to hitting the trail every day — many trail runners stick to their normal routine during the week, and hit the trail for a jog on the weekends when they can get away.

Whether you’re lucky enough to hit the trail every day or only able to squeeze in a weekend session every now and then, you’ll quickly find that your basic running shoes won’t cut it on the trail. You’ll need specialized trail running shoes with better grip, increased foot protection, and a stiffer construction to prevent injuries.

Our list of the best trail running shoes is divided into three sections: light-trail shoes, rugged-trail shoes, and off-trail shoes. In a nutshell, light-trail shoes are for well-groomed paths, rugged-trail shoes are for hiking trails, and off-trail shoes are for charting your own path on the mountain. Take a minute to consider what type of trail running you’ll be doing, then check out our top picks for that category.

Light-Trail Shoes

Light-trail shoes are the closest you’ll get to traditional running shoes in terms of weight and build. These types of trail running shoes typically feature a lightweight build with basic structure and protection that’s ideal for well-groomed trails.

Light-trail shoes provide modest protection against roots and rocks, with a moderately stiff build to help you find stable footing on uneven surfaces. The lugs in the outsole are fairly shallow, perfect for traction on packed soil and light enough you could run comfortably on paved trails. The lightweight design makes it easier to keep a brisk pace, making these shoes ideal for fast runners.

Best for:

  • Fire roads
  • Gravel paths
  • Rolling hills

HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5

If you’re looking for fast and light, go with the Challenger ATR 5 from HOKA ONE ONE. The newest model in the popular series furthers the shoe’s reputation for versatility, and let’s be honest — it looks pretty damn slick.

The Challenger ATR 5 delivers a smooth ride thanks to a lightweight, oversized EVA midsole. The CMEVA foam midsole absorbs impact points and provides stable footing, while the early stage Meta-Rocker keep things nice and smooth.

The Challenger ATR 5 has a distinctive multi-lugged outsole, with the lugs arranged closer towards the heel for a smooth, consistent feel. The lugs in the forefoot have a wider spread to provide greater grip on the trail, an especially useful feature in wet conditions.

The Challenger ATR 5 uses dual-layer mesh to deliver breathability, durability, and plenty of support. The midfoot overlays provide improved lockdown, and the supportive heel counter offers lateral and medial security. The textured TPU toe reinforcement also boosts the shoe’s rugged durability.

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Topo Athletic Terraventure 2

The Topo Athletic Terraventure 2 delivers the best of both worlds with the lightweight profile of a running shoe and the rugged durability of a trail shoe. The shoes feature deeper, generously spaced lugs for better underfoot traction in slush and mud. In addition to a fully gusseted tongue, the mesh and PU-printed upper features drainage ports to release water and dry faster after splashing through a creek.

The Terraventure 2 trail running shoes feature a dual-density injected EVA midsole on a hardy Vibram® outsole. The materials are lightweight and breathable, and the Ortholite® footbed provides a comfortable anti-compression footbed that resists odor-causing microbes. There’s a flexible rock plate at the forefoot to protect your toes from rocks and roots, and the roomy toe box provides plenty of room for your toes to spread naturally and comfortably.

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Rugged-Trail Shoes

Rugged-trail shoes represent the largest category in the trail running shoes market. These shoes are designed for running on hiking trails, covering everything from well-maintained dirt paths to abandoned miners’ tracts. Given the broad spectrum of terrain you’ll find on hiking trails, rugged-trail shoes are engineered to be highly versatile with optimal underfoot protection and support.

Rugged-trail shoes are built with sturdy materials and overlays to provide protection against brush and thorns. They also tend to include toe guards up front and hidden plates underneath to protect your feet from rocks and roots.

Rugged-trail shoes have a durable midsole cushion to help absorb footfalls during steep descents and hard landings on rock slabs. They feature stiff builds and supportive uppers to stabilize your feet on switchbacks and unstable surfaces. Some rugged-trail shoes also have internal shanks to further support the midsole.

While light-trail lugs may slip and falter on rough hiking trails, rugged-trail shoes feature diverse lug patterns for increased grip and stopping power at any angle. The thick, multi-directional lugs provide the perfect amount of traction in soft soil and mud, while the wider spacing keeps debris from accumulating on the outsole.

Best for:

  • Any type of hiking trail
  • Soft soil and light mud

Salomon Speedcross 5

The Salomon Speedcross 5 is easily one of the most popular trail running shoes on the planet. Building on the well-rounded Speedcross 4, the new Speedcross 5 offers greater grip and a more dynamic upper along with all of the features you’ve come to expect from the legendary shoe.

The Speedcross 5 features Salomon’s SensiFit upper construction, consisting of a breathable mesh with supportive synthetic overlays for a secure, comfortable fit. The QuickLace system offers a faster, more secure way to get a personalized fit in a hurry, and offers a discrete lace pocket where you can stash excess drawcord.

Inside, the EnergyCell+ midsole and OrthoLite® footbed work together to provide high-rebound cushioning and comfort on long runs. On the bottom, the rugged Contagrip sole includes chevron lugs to deliver unrivaled stability and traction across any type of wet and dry terrain. The 10mm drop provides a comfortable platform for runners who heel strike, and the internal heel cradle delivers more stability for a clean foot strike.

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La Sportiva Bushido II

The Bushido II from La Sportiva represents the ideal combination of stability, responsiveness, and comfort with outstanding traction and protection. This trail running shoe truly excels in technical terrain.

The Bushido II features an updated heel design with enhanced fit and comfort. The slip-on construction mimics the feel of a sock, staying in place well without compressing or creating pressure points. The updated tongue is ultra-breathable, padded, and ergonomic, with a gusseted construction that prevents it from slipping out of place.

On the outside, the Bushido II features FriXion® XT V-Groove2™ outsoles with dual-compound rubber that provide a superior grip on wet and dry terrain. The outsole lugs wrap midsole to increase traction and boost stability on off-camber terrain.

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Saucony Peregrine ISO

The Saucony Peregrine ISO enhances the popular Peregrine platform with ISOFIT construction that adapts to your feet as you navigate the trail. It’s responsive when you’re moving uphill and forgiving when you’re heading downhill, delivering traction-packed versatility that can handle any trail.

The Peregrine ISO combines Saucony’s EVERUN topsole, PWRFOAM midsole, and PWRTRAC outsole for the ideal blend of traction, durability, and cushioning. The EVERUN topsole enhances energy return and provides consistent cushioning from starting line to finish line, while the PWRFOAM midsole delivers a smooth ride with added rebound. The PWRTRAC outsole delivers optimal traction and grip across multiple surfaces thanks to deep, flexible lugs that dig in and confidently grip the ground.

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HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3

The HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3 is engineered to attack all kinds of technical trail, delivering enhanced durability, stability, and fit for serious trail runners. Like the previous model, the Speedgoat 3 shoes offer a wider midsole and toe box. They also use the same aggressive Vibram® MegaGrip outsole with 5mm multi-directional lugs for a superior grip across all types of terrain.

The Speedgoat 3 keeps things breezy with an open engineered mesh construction. The reinforced TPU midfoot overlays ensure a secure fit, while the midfoot cage construction is specifically designed for stability and lockdown/foot capture.

The Speedgoat 3 offers greater heel support and midfoot lockdown in the upper plus a “seatbelt” support on each side to create a protective cradle. The oversize EVA midsole provides lightweight cushioning, while the CMEVA foam midsole absorbs impact points and provides stable footing.

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Altra Superior 4

The ultimate minimalist trail running shoe, the Altra Superior 4 employs a Zero Drop™ platform to encourage proper low-impact running form. The cushioning is minimal but still comfortable thanks to the Quantic™ midsole that provides a responsive yet soft feel for increased energy return. It’s designed to cushion every step and float over any surface.

The upper of the Superior 4 has been completely redesigned, featuring a seamless wraparound style for added support and security. The outsole is constructed with sticky MaxTrac™ rubber, and the rounded heel and improved lug pattern are engineered to fly down the trail with speed and ease.

The Superior 4 is full of proprietary technology, including a FootShape™ Toe Box that lets your toes relax and spread out naturally for more stability and comfort. The TrailClaw™ canted lugs are positioned strategically beneath the metatarsals to provide maximum traction at push-off, while the GaiterTrap™ prevents debris from building up beneath your shoe.

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Innov8 ROCLITE 275

The Innov8 ROCLITE 275 is perfect for trail running on diverse and unpredictable terrain. This is the lightest, fastest shoe in the popular ROCLITE line, offering increased comfort and protection that can handle any type of trail.

The ROCLITE 275 delivers outstanding traction thanks to graphene-enhanced G-GRIP outsoles. Whether you’re on a hard packed trail, wet mountain rock, or mud, you’ll never have to worry about losing your footing.

The ROCLITE 275 offers a cushioned ride with an 8mm drop and POWERFLOW midsoles. The specialized midsoles provide 10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles, and the next-generation METAPLATE provides maximum underfoot protection.

The ROCLITE 275 is ideal for long distance runs where your feet start to swell. The ADAPTERWEB upper design allows the materials to adapt to your changing foot shape and natural movements, so you’ll enjoy optimal flexibility and comfort.

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Brooks Cascadia 13

One of the most popular running shoes on the trail, the Brooks Cascadia 13 is built for long, wild miles. The latest iteration of the popular trail running shoe delivers optimal cushioning, stability, and traction with a sleek, bold design. It’s lighter than previous editions without sacrificing the rugged utility that fans of the brand have come to expect. It offers the right amount of traction to ensure you’re ready for anything on the trail.

Comfort is king with the Cascadia 13. The shoes’ protective stability provides additional control as you pass over uneven terrain while the Advanced 3D Rubber Print Mud Guard protects your foot from trail debris. The BioMeGo DNA midsole provides dynamic cushioning that adapts to your stride, and the Pivot Post system connects to create a stabilizing suspension system. The upper is nice and breathable, and the lace guard keeps bouncing laces from ruining your run.

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Off-Trail Shoes

Off-trail shoes are built for trail runners who prefer to chart their own path. These trail running shoes are engineered to handle any type of terrain, wet or dry, providing maximum stability for backcountry trailblazing.

Off-trail shoes feature aggressive outsoles and a far more solid structure, both of which you’ll need in rocky or extremely variable terrain. These shoes deliver all the premium characteristics of rugged trail shoes with a few upgrades, such as more resilient materials and waterproofing. They are often more rigid than traditional rugged trail shoes, helping you avoid getting stranded in the backcountry with a sprained ankle.

Best for:

  • Mountain running
  • Bushwhacking
  • Extremely wet and uneven terrain

Salomon XA Pro 3D CS WP

Following the wisdom of the crowds, the Salomon XA Pro 3D CS WP might be the best pair of off-trail shoes on the market. The original platform has been updated with improved comfort, performance, and stability while preserving the line’s fit, grip, durability, and waterproof protection that customers have come to expect.

The XA Pro 3D CS WP delivers full waterproof protection with ClimaShield waterproof liners. The breathable synthetic mesh uppers include synthetic overlays that cradle your insteps for lateral stability, while the SensiFit wraps over your insteps for a precise, comfortable, and snug fit.

The XA Pro 3D CS WP employs a 3D Advanced Chassis to provide maximum stability on the trail. The Contagrip® outsoles are constructed with a unique type of rubber, delivering optimal grip on wet and dry surfaces. The aggressive lug pattern is perfect for off-trail runs, offering stellar traction you can count on in any conditions.

The shoes feature Kevlar® Quicklace laces for a secure, customized fit. All you have to do is pull the laces, lock the toggle, and stash the laces in the tongue to keep them out of the way.

The XA Pro 3D CS WP ensures a smooth ride with removable, shock-absorbing OrthoLite® footbeds. The EVA molded footbeds and dual-density midsoles deliver optimal support and cushioning, and the protective toe caps protect your feet from bumps and abrasion.

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La Sportiva Ultra Raptor

The La Sportiva Ultra Raptor is a mountain running shoe built for long distance runs on brawny trails. This shoe is all about protecting your feet, featuring a full-length, highly-compressed EVA Rock Guard to protect your feet from stone bruises.

The Ultra Raptor keeps your feet cool with AirMesh uppers, and has deluxe heel pocket cushioning and reinforcement for a comfortable fit. On the bottom, the sticky FriXion® XF rubber outsole delivers superior traction and stability with excellent grip on rock and smooth surfaces.

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Altra King MT 1.5

It may seem a little presumptuous to name your product after monarchy, but in this case the Altra King MT 1.5 is truly the king of the mountain. It’s made for off-trail runners who crave burly mountain climbs, rocks, and mud, with enhanced drainage features so you can cross a dozen creeks without breaking your stride.

The King MT 1.5 features a new upper with reinforced mesh. Altra moved the FootLock™ strap medially and lower down the arch for increased comfort, and the neoprene inside the heel is softer and more secure.

Like the Altra Superior 4 that we previously highlighted, the King MT 1.5 features a Zero Drop™ platform and FootShape™ Toe Box for a minimalist, natural running experience. The Altra EGO™ dual-nature midsole compound is responsive yet soft, delivering a higher energy return for extra spring in your step.

When you’re climbing inclines and descending hills, you’ll really appreciate the Vibram® MegaGrip™ outsoles. The high-performance sticky rubber compound provides unparalleled grip on wet and dry terrain, boosts the shoes’ longevity, and offers optimal ground adaptability. The TrailClaw™ canted lugs are positioned strategically beneath the metatarsals to maximize traction when you push off the ground, and the GaiterTrap™ prevents debris from building up under your shoe.

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Gear up for trail running in any weather

Once you’ve selected the perfect shoes for your next trail run, take a look at our favorite sun protective clothing for running attire that’ll keep you from turning into a lobster. If rain is in the forecast, grab a lightweight rain jacket to stay warm and dry. For early birds who like to start their run before sunrise, be sure to grab a headlamp to light your way.

If you haven’t already settled on a trail app to guide your trail running adventures, check out our article on AllTrails vs Gaia GPS to get a feel for which service is best for you.

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