Trail running shoes are all about confidence. Confidence to take that muddy corner quickly, confidence to skip down a wet, rocky path, climb scree, jump logs.
On UK terrain, many trail running shoes fall down. Often they’re not built for the incessant mud or the wet rock, the ice-smooth chalk or highland bog. There are a peculiar set of conditions across this wet northern island, and the shoes need to stand up, as do you.
So, that’s the first thing to be looking out for on a trail shoe: fantastic grip. Basically, as near to football boots you can find the better! That means well-spaced deep lugs. But to overcomplicate matters, the material is also significant.
Some trail shoes look aggressive but are quite hard, meaning they’re great on muddy paths, but they’ll be like ice skates on wet, steep roads or chalk. When running, your foot and toes are constantly making tiny adjustments to help you balance. If there’s a hard sole, and one that doesn’t twist torsionally, then the effect of your toes on your balance could be quite negligible. Somehow, the result can be a feeling of instability, making you lose that much-needed confidence. Compare, for example, your walking boots. Apart from being uncomfortable if you’d run in them, they’d also feel unstable. Good trail running shoes should allow you to feel the ground and have enough space to let your toes work. Some of the examples here will enable the foot to be very close to the ground meaning the foot can balance well, the negative is that you’ll feel more of the stones and roots.
Connected with this is the drop, this is the difference between the height of your foot at the heel and that at the ball. There has been a movement over recent years, with the ‘barefoot’ running movement, to minimise this. A 0mm drop, for example, would have the heel and the ball at the same level – as you would barefoot. The drop can be anything between 12mm and 0mm. Anything below 5mm would be considered a ‘low-drop’ shoe.
Trail Running Shoes: Waterproof or Not?
Another factor to consider is whether you want a waterproof membrane. And the answer isn’t that obvious. The waterproof membrane is basically a bootie that sits in the shoe. Yes, it will keep water out, the flaw, however, is there’s one huge hole in the top where you put your feet. But, and it’s a big but, once the water is in, it stays in. I’ve poured water out of Gore-Tex running shoes simply when there’s been a lot of dew on the ground. Perhaps, it’s better that they let water in, but also out. That said, the adidas shoes on test here have a neat and simple solution that help.
In short, there are three overriding questions to consider: 1) Where are you most likely to be using them? What kind of terrain is it? 2) Do they fit? Is there room for your toes to wriggle? Do they pull tight? And 3) What is the end use? Are they for mountain marathons or a soggy parkrun?
In this test of a surprisingly diverse rage, we’ve addressed these key areas and suggested where they are best placed. They’re all great, but in different ways and we’d recommend them for different uses.
The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2019
If you want to jump straight to a specific product review in this round-up just click the names in this list…
- Hoka One One Torrent
- Columbia Men’s Caldorado III
- VivoBarefoot Primus Trail FG
- adidas Terrex Agravic XT GTX
- Dynafit Trailbreaker
- Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX
- La Sportiva Akasha Mountain Running
Best Of The Bunch
La Sportiva Akasha Mountain Running
Weight: 748g (size 11)
La Sportiva knows the mountains. For 91 years, this brand has lived and breathed them. Their boots have powered the world’s greatest mountaineers, sped ski mountaineers off-piste and scaled some of the world’s hardest rock faces. The Mountain Running range was a natural progression.
The Akasha is a pair of shoes designed for long distances and is La Sportiva’s most heavily cushioned option. Which says more about the rest of their trail range; there is a healthy amount of spring underfoot but by no means the most on this test. Where it is most noticeable is at the ball of the foot – so for those who run more on the front (or toe-to heel) these would be ideal. The heel to toe drop is 6mm.
I’ve tested these on distances over 15 miles and found them extremely comfortable. There’s a lovely roll to them. The toe box is pretty broad, which I’ve found gives plenty of space for my feet to swell over the course of big runs. They also feel positive on rough ground. As I expected, they were strong on rock and also chalk – no mean feat – but they’re not as aggressive on mud as the Inov-8 pair that are included in this round-up.
They’re not waterproof, but the uppers offer a fair amount of general resistance against the wet. I’d say they’re more built for breathability. They seem durable too thanks to their PU exoskeleton.
These are ideally suited to long trails in the mountains and sections of harder paths rather than slippery sprints around the woods.
Well built, comfortable and excellent for rocky runs.
Not enough grip for wet forest trails.
Sizes 36-47.5 including half sizes / 6mm drop / breathable mesh upper and ‘PU leather’ at rear / EVA midsole / FriXion XT dual density sole
Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX
Salomon makes some of our favourite trail running shoes. This is a company that genuinely understands off-road running. They’re pioneers of shoes and equipment expressly designed for mountain running and races; for moving quickly across rough terrain securely and safely. Notably, the company also make shoes that can stand up to wet British soil.
Among the extensive range are shoes with soles that attack the mud more than most manufacturers (we’d rank Inov-8 alongside). The sole on the Speedcross 4 is the most aggressive in this test. The Speedcross GTX is, of course, Gore-Tex lined, so they’re waterproof, but this means that if water enters in the hole you put your feet in, it can’t escape. They also run quite warm – ones for winter running.
I found too they come out very small – consider at least a half size up, maybe a full size. But when these fit, there are few better shoes if you want a pair with Gore-Tex. The roll of the shoe especially is comfortable over long distances, and when we talk about confidence in trail running shoes, these have it in abundance. Salomon has options that fit every criterion, including those with a non-waterproof membrane.
Amazing, confidence boosting grip. Well built.
Gore-Tex lining isn’t for everyone. The run warm.
Sizes 7-13.5 / 10mm drop / synthetic upper / EVA midsole