We've tested 14 of the best off-road and trail running shoes across different tracks and surfaces to pick out the fastest, grippiest most comfortable options around.
Different shoes not only fit different feet, but also suit different tyres of terrain from hard-surfaced, smooth tracks right through to rugged, rocky and muddy surfaces. In really simple terms you're looking for the right balance of cushioning, grip and trail feel to suit your preferences.
Destruction Tested In The Peak District
We've used all the shoes tested on our local trails in the Peak District taking in a variety of tracks and trails on runs ranging from 5 to 20km in all weathers.
Each of the shoes is linked to our full review with more detail and great images if you want to know more. For more buying advice see our Buyer's Guide to Trail Running Shoes, Clothing and Equipment.
Finally you can simply scroll through the article or use the links here to jump to the particular shoe you're interested in:
Hoka One One Mafate Speed 2 - £140
'The king of cushioning is brilliant for long runs on hard surfaces in particular, but remote feel makes tech descents blunt going'
Outdoors Magic: Super cushioned, decently light, deceptively grippy, great for longer outings and hard surfaces.
Outdoors Tragic: Cushioning comes at the expense of feel particularly on aggressive, technical descents.
Outdoors Grabbit? Small changes make big differences with improved grip and ankle padding upping comfort and traction and making these an impressive long-distance option though you do lose some trail feel and nimbleness to the ultra-thick mid-sole.
Mafate Speed 2: Mini Review
Massive underfoot cushioning looks odd, but works brilliantly particularly on harder surfaces, over really long outings and, often for those who've suffered niggly impact-related injuries from more conventional shoes. A modified upper with more cushioning around the tongue and ankle cuff make these far more comfortable than the original Mafate Speed too.
The downside is that the ultra-cushy ride makes it hard to know what's happening beneath your feet and while the shoes are surprisingly light, the combination of bulkiness and dulled-down trail feel counts against them on fast, technical, nadgery downhills.
Updated for autumn 2016 / CMEVA / RMAT® midsole with arch support pod / 33mm heel | 29mm forefoot cushioning / 4mm heel to toe drop / No Sew SpeedFrame upper / Monomesh debris screen / early stage Meta-Rocker / Vibram® out-sole wth 5mm Megagrip lugs.
Hoka One One Speed Instinct - £120
'Hoka One Ones for folk who don't want a full-fat Hoka, give a responsive ride that's cushioned without being marsh-mallowy'
Outdoors Magic: Comfortable, cushioned and decently quick and with reasonable trail feel too. Good stability off road. Awesome retina-burning colours.
Outdoors Tragic: Light tread struggles on softer terrain, not cheap, mad colours...
Outdoors Grabbit? Think of these as 'Hoka light' and you won't go far wrong. Still comfortable and cushioned, but more precise and responsive. They're happiest on firmer surfaces though and struggle with medium to full-on slop.
Speed Instinct: Mini Review
Hoka One Ones for those who don't want the full fat experience, but still fancy a portion of fast-rolling, cushioned goodness. Compared to the Mafate Speed, these feel more connected, sensitive and all-round quicker, but while they work well on firm to medium surfaces, the light outsole tread struggles on softer terrain. Great but expensive option if you run mainly on firmer trails.
Lightweight trail-running shoe / seamless Air Mesh upper with 3D printed overlay / 24mm rear and 20mm front EVA cushioning / multi-directional 4mm lugged outsole /
Inov-8 Trail Talon 275 - £110
'The weightier of invov-8's new Trail Talon brothers is a brilliant, long distance lightweight that'll bring out your inner sheep dog'
Outdoors Magic: Comfortable, all-round grippy, natural feeling and downright enthusiastic in its ability to roll along the trail.
Outdoors Tragic: Nothing much at all.
Outdoors Grabbit? Designed for long miles on hard-packed trails, it's a beguiling blend of comfort, just enough cushioning, deceptive grip all round and a tail-wagging enthusiasm that's hard to describe. The multi-compound rubber even feels secure and confident on wet rock. We like these a lot.
Trail Talon 275 - Mini Review
New for autumn 2016, the Trail Talon 275 is designed as a comfortable, long-distance shoe for use on harder surfaces with plenty of toe room. Despite being decently cushioned, it manages to feel light, quick and responsive on the trails in an instant, running Viagra sort of way.
The Power Flow mid-sole claims to give 10% better cushioning and 15% better energy return, which may account for some of that friskiness. And while the sole's not super aggressive, it gives great grip on everything from wet rock through to medium slop.
Brilliant choice for firm to medium surface trails.
Lightweight trail-running shoe / seamless upper with ADAPTERFIT met-cradle / PowerFlow midsole / Integrated gusseted tongue / Dynamic Fascia Band™ (DFB) / multi-directional 4mm studs / 6mm foam footbed / 8mm heel to toe drop / gusseted anti-gravel tongue.
Inov-8 Trail Talon 250 - £100
'Minimal, barefoot-style feel and drop, but with a little more cushioning make the Trail Talon a sleek, direct, sports car of a shoe'
Outdoors Magic: Light, quick with slipper-like comfort, good stability and deceptive grip plus great trail feel. Natural feel from 4mm heel / toe drop. Toe space. Breathability impressive too.
Outdoors Tragic: Reduced cushioning compared to Trail Talon 275 an acquired taste.
Outdoors Grabbit? Rat-like speed comes at the expense of some hard surface comfort and durability, but the pay-off is a light, quick shoe with minimal, barefoot-like feel, but more protection.
Trail Talon 250 - Mini Review
The Trail Talon 250 is the 275's lighter, svelter younger brother. It uses the same PowerFlow underfoot cushioning, but less of it, has a more minimal upper without the 275s external cradle and a heel-to-toe drop of just 4mm compared to big bro's 8mm.
The result is a lighter, significantly less cushioned shoe that feels quick and sensitive, but at the expense of comfort on harder surfaces when the reduced cushioning and lack of underfoot protection means you can feel both impacts and stones.
Great if you like an 'almost barefoot feel' and lovely on springier ground, like peat, but for most runners the 275 is a better all-round choice. A rocket if you're a minimalist who wants a little more than barefoot cushion though.
Lightweight trail-running shoe / seamless upper / PowerFlow midsole / Integrated gusseted tongue / Dynamic Fascia Band™ (DFB) / multi-directional 4mm studs / 6mm foam footbed / 4mm heel to toe drop / gusseted anti-gravel tongue.
Merrell All Out Charge - £100
'Get beyond the modish looks and there's a capable, compact-feeling, sticky-soled, trail running shoe lurking stealthily underneath'
Outdoors Magic: Neat comfortable fit, low and stable, good grip on firm to medium-soft surfaces and decent rock protection.
Outdoors Tragic: Less cushioned than some, outfaced by real slop on steep ups.
Outdoors Grabbit? Feels neat, comfortable and precise on firm to medium ground and has decent trail feel while sacrificing stone protection, but not as cushioned as some, so there are better choices for running on hard surfaces. Doesn't love real slop either.
All Out Charge - Mini Review
Don't let the trendy looks confuse you, there's a very competent trail running shoe lurking beneath the spangly surface.
Wrap-around HyperWrap tongue and seamless 360˚upper design give a comfortable, secure fit and while it's not the most cushioned shoe out there, the pay-off is decent trail feel and a low, stable stance.
There's plenty of grip on firm to medium surfaces, but the 4mm lugs of the M Select™ GRIP outsole struggle on softer ground and on slippery, muddy climbs in particular. We'd want more cushioning for continuous hard-paced tracks, but the All Out Charge is a good option for the happy middle ground between real slop and paved tracks.
trail running shoe / mesh upper / reflective details / UniFly midsole / M Select™ GRIP outsole / 6mm Drop / 20mm Cush / 27mm Stack Height / HyperWrap 360 Degrees Fit System / Removable footbed treated with M Select™ FRESH / vegan friendly
Pearl Izumi Trail N3
'Pearl Izumi's road-derived shoe is light, cushioned and stable, but it's happiest on smooth, firm trails rather than knobbly stuff'
Outdoors Magic: Comfortable, roomy and easy rolling wth bundles of cushioning, the shoe doesn't feel as big and clumsy as it looks.
Outdoors Tragic: Wobbly on knobbly ground, light tread struggles with slipperiness, slightly clumsy.
Outdoors Grabbit? Light, cushioned and easy rolling with loads of forefoot space, the EM Trail N3 is fine on firm, even trails, but feels tottery and clumsy on gnarlier stuff. Doesn't like softer, slippery surfaces either.
EN Trail N3 - Mini Review
At first glance the EN Trail N3 looks like a road shoe with a slightly more aggressive tread tacked on and that, basically, is how it feels too. There's loads of cushioning underfoot, but the big, wide sole feels clumsy and the shoe is wobbly on uneven ground. It struggles with softer conditions too thanks to the shallow lugs.
Overall a good call for smooth surfaces if you want plenty of underfoot protection, but less happy on anything rough.
Lightweight trail shoe / Transfer Dry mesh upper / Energy Foam cushioning / ESS forefoot rock plate / Dynamic offset outsole / seamless upper construction with lightweight reinforcement
Salewa Lite Train - £110
'Minimalist, lightweight design is super comfortable but means the soles of your feet are massaged by any trail irregularity'
Outdoors Magic: Light, comfortable, grippy on rock and super sensitive. Doubles as a hut or camp shoe.
Outdoors Tragic: Lack of underfoot protection means you feel every pebble on the trail making for a massage-like experience. Potentially tiring.
Outdoors Grabbit? Maybe if you put sensitivity over protection. These are brilliantly light and comfortable, but the thin soles mean you feel every irregularity in the trail in a 'close to barefoot' way. Great for general slipper duties though.
Lite Train - Mini Review
Named after it's bespoke Michelin rubber outsole - it echoes a mob tyre tread pattern - the Lite Train is certainly light and ultra comfortable to wear. It's grippy on hard surfaces too, wet or dry and gives great trail feel.
The pay-off is that there's not much underfoot protection, either cushioning or rock plate, so it can be hard-going on rocky terrain. It also makes a brilliant lightweight camping come hut shoe.
Minimalist trail and trail-running shoe / Michelin Lite Train outsole / 3F extended lacing system / heel and toe reinforcement / breathable mesh lining and upper.
Salomon Speed Cross 4 - £125
'Salomon's excellent all-round classic is even toothier than before with a closer fit making it arguably the best UK-friendly all-rounder out there'
Outdoors Magic: Great cushioning, snarling all-round grip, a pared-down new fit and respectable precision with it.
Outdoors Tragic: Not brilliant on wet rocks, high heel, narrower forefoot won't suit everyone. We'd do without the Gore-Tex.
Outdoors Grabbit? Yes if you want a brilliant all-round mix of near fell-shoe grip, cushioning and deceptive precision. We'd go for the non Gore-Tex version though and save £25.
Speed Cross 4 - Mini Review
Salomon's classic trail running shoe has been upgraded for winter 2016 with a closer fore-foot fit and an even more aggressive outsole using grippier rubber. It's an interesting, go anywhere mix of close to fell shoe level traction and surprising amounts of cushioning, particularly at the heel.
That does make the shoe slightly higher than some would like, but it's still decently precise and stable taking pretty much any UK terrain in its stride. If it has a weakness, it's a slight squeamishness on wet rock. Anywhere else, it's a great, no-nonsense choice.
Lightweight off-road running shoe / moulded EVA midsole / shaped Ortholite EVA footbed / Quick Fit lacing with lace pocket / Sensifit / Gore-Tex lining / mid-sole height: 23mm/13mm (10mm drop) / Contragrip outsole.
Salomon Wings Pro 2 - £115
'Solid-feeling, durable trail shoe that's great on firmer-surfaced terrain and well cushioned, but slightly slippery in the slop'
Outdoors Magic: Solid, sturdy, secure and reliable shoe with good underfoot protection and a nice rolling feel. Grip is good on harder surfaces and they feel like they should last a good while.
Outdoors Tragic: Tentative on wet rock and slippy on the sloppy stuff. Slightly heavy and a little firm generally.
Outdoors Grabbit? Maybe, if you want a super sturdy, well-made, comfortable shoe for mostly hardpack to medium terrain where cushioning and grip are both okay. There's good underfoot protection too, but compared to some, the Wings Pro 2 feels a little stiff and unresponsive though that might improve with use.
Wings Pro 2 - Mini Review
The Wings Pro 2 is a little like the XA Pro 3D before it was distracted by multi-sport temptations, which is to say, a sturdily-built, solid-feeling trail running shoe that works best on firm to medium terrain rather than the soft stuff where the Speed Cross 4 excels.
The shoe does feel a little less responsive than some lighter alternatives, a little 'wooden' if you're feeling mean, but that should translate into serious durability making a reliable long-term choice for firmer trails. Again it's a little squeamish on wet rock.
Trail running shoe / 3D Air Mesh uppers with Sensifit cradle / Quicklace with Lacepocket / moulded EVA mid-sole / 27mm/17mm (10 mm drop) / TPU toe cap and Mudguard protection all round / ACS Agile Chassis System / High Abrasion Contragrip sole with Wet Traction areas / Endofit fit sleeve / Descent Control / Tongue Cover.
Saucony Peregrine 6 - £105
'Serious grip, instant comfort and decent trail feel complete with a roomy forefoot make this a cracking UK off-road running shoe'
Outdoors Magic: Nice balance of grip, comfort and cushioning plus a roomy forefoot fit for easy toe-spread and long-run comfort. Light too.
Outdoors Tragic: Not everyone loved that generous forefoot. Not the best grip on wet rock.
Outdoors Grabbit? Cracking trail-running all-rounder with high grip levels, decent cushioning, underfoot protection and comfort plus a generous forefoot fit that people tend to either love or hate. We like it.
Peregrine 6 - Mini Review
Saucony may have a long history in road running, but the Peregrine 6's low-slung chassis and grippy shark-like outsole means that, like Salomon's Speed Cross 4, it's happy on terrain that's close to being the preserve of full-on fell shoes.
It's also surprisingly cushioned and comfortable thanks to the EVERUN foam layer directly under the removable foot-bed. The forefoot fit is wide to allow for expansion on longer runs and easy foot spread, which testers either loved or hated. Finally, the grip on wet rock isn't the greatest, so if your regular runs take in plenty of slick stonework, you may be better off with another shoe.
Other than that, it's a brilliant, balanced, grippy, all-round trail running shoe.
Lightweight trail-running shoe / EVERUN heel insert / PWRTRAC outsole / EBO rock-plate / heel-toe off-set 4mm / fabric upper with Flexfilm reinforcement / Heel Stack Height: 21.5mm / Forefoot Stack Height: 17.5mm.
Saucony Xodus ISO - £115
'Unusual mix of instant comfort, masses of cushioning and impressive underfoot grip make for a great long-distance shoe'
Outdoors Magic: Instant, foot-hugging comfort, lots of damped cushioning, deceptive grip and surprisingly stable too. Excellent on hard surfaces.
Outdoors Tragic: You lose some trail feel and nimbleness. Not the best on wet rock. Expensive.
Outdoors Grabbit? Yes if you're after a very cushioned, comfortable, off-roader that still has respectable levels of grip along with excellent comfort and stability.
Xodus ISO - Mini Review
The wrap-around SockFit upper gives uncanny instant comfort despite being a much closer fit up front than the Peregrine 6. Underfoot there's masses of cushioning from the EVERUN foam - claimed to last three times longer than standard EVA - which gives a soft but damped, non-bouncy ride that's great on hard surfaces. The wavy outsole is deceptively grippy too, though it's again a little squirmy on wet rock.
The pay-off is that you do lose some trail feel and nimbleness on more technical terrain, though it's not as isolating, say, as the Hoka One One Mafate Speed 2. Overall though it's a great choice if you're looking for a comfortable, protective, cushioned shoe that's still happy on softer ground.
Lightweight trail-running shoe / EVERUN heel insert / PWRTRAC outsole / EBO rock-plate / heel-toe off-set 4mm / fabric upper with Flexfilm reinforcement / Heel Stack Height: 21.5mm / Forefoot Stack Height: 17.5mm.
Scarpa Neutron - £99.99
'Plenty of all-round grip and protection, but slightly lacking in cushioning when running on harder surfaces'
Outdoors Magic: Great grip from the Vibram Megagrip sole, sturdy build quality and decent underfoot protection on rocky stuff. Wet grip good too. Nice fit.
Outdoors Tragic: Not as comfortable as some alternatives on harder surfaces. Slightly clumsy feel.
Outdoors Grabbit? We loved these shoes on softer terrain where fit and grip both felt great, but there are better options if you cover much pavement, slabbed trail or similar.
Neutron - Mini Review
As you'd expect with Scarpa's mountaineering background, the Neutron is a solidly-built shoe with excellent all-round grip - particularly on wet rock - from the Scarpa Megagrip outsole unit. They work really well on softer, though not super sloppy surfaces, but we found the ride a little harsh on harder stuff like pavement and stone slabs.
Sturdy and reliable rather than quick and nimble, but if most of your running is on medium soft terrain without continuous solid sections, and you value underfoot grip, particularly on rocks, they're a good option.
Alpine running shoe / Vibram Genetic outsole / dual-density, compression moulded EVA mid-sole / synthetic leather and polyester upper / H-EVA Plate insole / 6mm heel to toe drop / reflective lace surround.
Scott Kinabalu Supertrac - £105
'Lighter and more nimble than it looks with soft rubber and aggressive lugs giving crocodile-style underfoot grip'
Outdoors Magic: Grip, grip and more grip and light enough, and cushioned enough too.
Outdoors Tragic: We found them uncomfortable on long descents, though that might be fit. Soft rubber may wear fast.
Outdoors Grabbit? Scott may be better known for bikes in the UK, but this is a super grippy off-road running shoe that's nimbler anymore precise than it looks. Forefoot fit slightly narrow for us though.
Kinabalu Supertrac - Mini Review
Scott may be better known for bikes than running shoes in the UK, but the gnarly-soled Kinabalu Supertrac is a light, grippy, cushioned and stable thing that's nimbler than the bulky looks suggest.
It's comfortable on the foot and there's decent cushioning, but what really stands out is the soft rubber outsole with its super aggressive lugs that works on everything from soft, muddy terrain through to wet rock.
We suspect the pay-off will be faster than average sole wear, but if you want a shoe combining decent cushioning with tenacious grip on everything from slop to rock, give it a try.
Lightweight off-road running shoe / AeroFoam+ midsole cushioning / e-ride rocker / air-permeable insoles / 29mm heel, 21mm forefoot - 8mm drop / Mesh/No Sew upper/ Wet Traction Rubber outsole / lace bungee.
Verdict: Our Top Trail Running Shoe Picks
Shoes are very personal and different runners have varied priorities depending on personal preferences, terrain, distance and hey, even shoe colour and look. Above all, fit is crucial and we'd always suggest that you try before buying.
That said, here are our top choices from the 13-odd trail running shoes we tried.
Overall Winner: inov-8 Trail Talon 275
The new Trail Talon 275 was the shoe that brought out our fast and frisky side. It's a brilliant mix of just enough cushioning, surprising all-round underfoot grip and the hard to define 'X factor' that just makes you want to go out and run. They're fast, precise and agile, without being punishing. And while they're intended for hardpack surfaces, we found them fine on medium soft stuff too.
UK All-year, All-rounders: Salomon Speed Cross 4 / Saucony Peregrine 6
The latest version of the iconic Salomon Speed Cross features a slimmed-down, more precise last and an even grippier sole unit than before plus impressive cushioning. Its only weaknesses are a slightly high heel and a little tentativeness on wet rock. Otherwise it's a reliable, go-anywhere trail weapon.
Likewise mixing toothiness underfoot and decent cushioning, the Saucony Peregrine 6 does a similar all-terrain job as the Salomon, but with a roomier forefoot and slightly softer feel all round. The sole will take you anywhere short of full-on fell shoe territory, though again it dislikes wet rock.
Stop Press: We've just started testing the late-arriving La Sportiva Mutant and so far we're super impressed. The aggressive sole pattern gives superb all-round grip on softer stuff, but the sticky rubber also works brilliantly on wet rock that both the Salomon and Saucony soles struggle with.
The forefoot's slightly narrower than either and the uppers are less padded, but there's enough underfoot cushioning to pad over harder surfaces quite happily. We like it a lot...
Best Cushioned Shoe: Saucony Xodus ISO
The obvious choice would be the Hoka One One Mafate Speed and it's a unique shoe, but what we liked about the Xodus ISO is that it mixes high levels of cushioning with a nicely damped ride and impressive levels of grip. It's not quite the leap that Hoka offers, but we reckon it gives more trail feel particularly on nadgery descents.
Best Minimalist Shoe: inov-8 Trail Talon 250
The lighter of the two Trail Talons feels like a very different shoe from its heavier brother. It has the same grippy, multiple compound outsole, but less underfoot cushioning and reinforcement. That makes it both quicker and less forgiving, though still more forgiving than a straight barefoot-type shoe. Its not for everyone, but if you like your trail running footwear light and fast, it's both this things.
There were plenty of good shoes here as well as our top picks. Shoes that didn't quite make our top picket included the Hoka One One Speed Instinct, a sort of semi-fat take on the fat-soled concept.
The Scott Kinabalu Supertrac surprised us with its mix of outright grip and reasonable cushioning for all-round trail running in all conditions. And the Scarpa Neutron's Vibram Megagrip sole compound was a revelation when things got wet and slippy, a nice all-rounder.