Best Trail Running Shoes For 2021 - Outdoors Magic

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Trail and Scramble Shoes

Best Trail Running Shoes For 2021

Trail running shoes come with many variations in grip and weight to suit different types of conditions and objectives. Here's what to look for and the best options out there

For trail running, particularly in the mountains, it’s essential to have something on your feet that will help you feel confident enough to take that muddy corner quickly, to skip down a wet, rocky path, climb scree and jump logs. There are a lot of different options out there, however, and finding the right pair that can handle such a variety of conditions can be quite tricky. For this reason, we’ve compiled our selection of the best trail running shoes out there for 2021 along with a buyer’s guide to help you make the right shoe choice for your needs. So here goes…

Outsole Grip

The first thing to be looking out for on a trail shoe is the grip. In many cases, particularly in places where it’s muddy and wet, you’ll want as near to football boots as you can find. That being said, if you’re trail running on dry and dusty paths, overly aggressive lugs might be a hindrance.

Another issue can be when the lugs on an outsole are so deep and so close together that they hold onto mud and become clogged. This then affects the amount of traction you’ll get. The trail shoes in this list are made by reputable trail running brands and all of them will be designed to shed mud, though we’d argue that some will be better than others on slippery fells.

Construction

Some trail shoe outsoles look aggressive but are made of tough rubber, meaning they’re great on muddy paths, but they’ll be like ice skates on wet, steep roads or chalk.

Related: Best Trail Running Packs
Related: Best Trail Running Caps

When running, your feet and toes are constantly making tiny adjustments to help your 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 for running, 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.

What Does ‘Stack Height’ Mean On Trail Running Shoes?

It’s easy for trail running brands to throw ‘stack height’ and ‘drop’ numbers at you, without explanation of what they influence, so we’re here to put that straight.

Firstly, stack height represents the thickness of the midsole at both the toe and heel. With the modern-day polarisation between highly cushioned and barefoot running shoes, this number is becoming an increasingly important stat that’ll show how the shoe will likely behave. Put simply, shoes with high stack heights will be more cushioned, but less responsive due to little underfoot feel. Low height shoes will be less cushioned, but will have greater stability and feel underfoot.

The amount of stack height you choose is of course all down to personal preference.

What Does ‘Drop’ Mean On Trail Running Shoes?

The difference in stack height between the heel and toe is what’s known as ‘the drop’. A 0mm drop, for example, would have the heel and the ball at the same level – as you would barefoot. In recent years, ‘barefoot running’, where people run in shoes with a very low stack height, has become extremely popular. The drop can be anything between 12mm and 0mm. Anything below 5mm would be considered a ‘low-drop’ trail running shoe.

“High drop shoes promote a heel strike… while low-mid drop promote a mid-forefoot strike”

The drop of the shoe affects how your foot strikes the ground whilst running. High drop (8 mm+) shoes promote a heel strike (due to the cushioning in the heel), while low-mid drop (- 8mm) promote a mid-forefoot strike.

It’s important to remember that stack height and drop are independent of each other. Depending on your preferred gait, you could find high stack height trail shoes that still have a zero or low heel-to-toe drop.

 

The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2021

In this test of a surprisingly diverse range of off-road running footwear, we’ve addressed all of the key areas mentioned above and suggested where each pair will be best placed. They’re all great, but in different ways and we’d recommend them for different uses. There are three overriding questions to consider when you’re looking to buy a pair of trail shoes: 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?

  • Arc’teryx Norvan LD – Best Trail Running Shoe Tested
  • Altra Timp 1.5
  • Dynafit Feline Up Pro
  • CimAlp Drop Control
  • New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V6
  • Inov-8 Trailroc G280
  • Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra
  • Icebug Acceleritas7 RB9X
  • ON Cloud Ultra
  • Vibram Five Fingers
  • Saucony 11

BEST BUY: Arc’teryx Norvan LD 2

Price: £140
Weight: 260g
Best for: Long training runs, orienteering races
Key attributes: Breathable, lightweight, good traction

This is a trail shoe built for long runs, the kind of thing that’s designed for those mountain excursions where you’re taking on a mix of sustained climbs and long, loping descents, over all kinds of terrain and over the course of a few hours as well. It’s a good option for orienteering challenges or longer fell races.

The midsole provides just the right amount of cushioning. Photo: Mike Brindley

The lightweight, minimalist uppers are made from a durable polyester mesh with reinforced sections to add support, structure and a bit of protection around the toes. For comfort, there’s a subtle-ish padding around the ankle cuff and then a lovely tongue that has an elastic gusset on one side to create an almost sock-like wraparound. One final nice touch on the upper is the little stretch pocket at the top of the tongue that you can tuck your laces into to keep them out of the way.

The midsole provides just the right amount of cushioning, particularly underneath the heel, thanks to its blend of EVA foam. Arc’teryx have also included a small rock plate, and while this isn’t very noticeable, we suspect you’d realise the difference if it was taken away.

Underfoot, the outsole has been upgraded to Vibram’s new Litebase technology, which cuts weight without affecting shock absorption or grip. The lugs have a depth of 3.5mm which is about average for a trail shoe. They give good grip on muddy tracks and gravel as well as decent ability on wet rock.

Full Specifications

3.5mm lugs / 9mm drop / 27mm heel, 18mm toe stack height / Vibram LiteBase outsole / EVA/Polyolefin midsole / TPU film and synthetic toecap / Single layer mesh upper / 4mm OrthoLite 3D moulded insert.

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 –Read our full Arc’teryx Norvan LD 2 review.

SHOP NOW

 

 

Altra Timp 1.5

Price: £120
Weight: 312g
Best for: Distance trail running, fastpacking
Key attributes: Well-cushioned, good traction, zero drop

A popular shoe among long-distance hikers and runners right now, particularly over in the U.S. The Timp 1.5 is a follow on from the original Timp from Altra, one that’s more cushioned and slightly stickier in terms of grip. It sits between the ultra-cushioned Olympus and their low profile Lone Peak.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

There’s a larger toe box here compared to other running shoes, and this is deliberate. The idea is that it allows space for your feet when they start to swell as you begin to log the miles in. This wider design is also said to let your big toe sit straighter in the shoe, meaning that you’ll be able to fully apply its strength when ‘toeing-off’.

In keeping with Altra’s typical style, it’s a zero drop sole unit meaning that both the heel and toes are the same distance from the ground. This makes their shoes suited to those who prefer a more natural feel when running. Some benefits to a zero drop when compared to ramped shoes, are reduced impact on the knees and less strain on the lower back. It’s a case of each to their own with this kind of thing, but still, if you struggle with injury in those areas and haven’t tried zero drop shoes yet, particularly those by Altra, they’re worth considering.

Full Specifications

5 mm Contour Footbed / FootShape toe box / 29 mm stack height heel to toe / EVA midsole / DuraTread outsole.

Selected for the 2019/20 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 –  read our full Altra Timp 1.5 review.

Get the latest price at:
altrarunning.eu

 

Dynafit Feline Up Pro

Price: £160
Weight: 230g
Best for: Muddy trails, variable conditions
Key attributes: Lightweight, precise, grippy

This aggressively-soled, yet lightweight trail running shoe has been designed to get you up to the summit as fast as your body and lungs will allow.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

The crucial feature is the aggressive outsole. First you have the sticky rubber compound; a Vibram Megagrip optimised to give as much wet and dry off-road traction as possible. Then you have the deep, arrow-shaped lugs to help claw you up the mountainside, whilst planting you securely on the ground for the downhill. These have also been cleverly designed so that mud will shed rather than clinging on and clogging things up.

The shoe weight overall is 230g (per half pair) and as expected with a shoe of this weight, you’re getting a minimal drop (4mm) to give you that feet-to-ground feeling, but there’s still plenty of protection from roots and rocks thanks to a Carbon Shield in the midsole.

Finally, the upper features a lightweight synthetic mesh which is all pulled together by a quick lacing system which has a sort-of mini gaiter covering it to keep any unwanted dirt and rocks out. To stop the excess lacing from flapping about, all you need to do is tuck it into a little stretchy pocket at the top of the tongue.

Full Specifications

Vibram Megagrip outsole / Vibram Lite Base reduces weight / 4 mm drop / lightweight, protective upper / quick lacing system with stretch fabric lace cover to stash shoelaces.

Selected for the 2019/20 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 –  Read our full Dynafit Feline Up Pro review.

Get the latest price at:
dynafit.com

 

CimAlp 864 Drop Control

Price: £170
Weight: 325g
Best for: Injury-prone runners and hikers
Key attributes: Sturdy, protective, innovative

The clever 864 Drop Control shoe from CimAlp is a progressive, forward-thinking, trail running product that’s all about improving performance and preventing injuries. Coming with three pairs of insoles (8mm, 6mm, 4mm), the 864 Drop Control will help you to evolve your technique and run with a more natural stride. How? Well, the three insoles allow runners to gradually reduce the height of the heel (aka the drop), and work from a heel strike towards landing midfoot. Landing midfoot improves natural damping, and encourages a more efficient, natural, stride, in the long term potentially minimising the risk of stress injuries.

The shoe's stabilising heel cup will help to keep you steady. Photo: Mike Brindley
The progressive soles will help you improve your technique. Photo: Mike Brindley

If you’re new to trail running, this forensic and geeky approach to your technique might set alarm bells ringing. After all, you just want to run, right? The great thing about this shoe though is that it can fix bad habits before they’ve set, and also be of great use to people wanting to evolve and improve how they move through the hills and mountains.

Full Specifications

Vibram Megagrip outsole / Heel cup / stone guard / mesh uppers / seamless inner / Lycra tongue with storage for laces.

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 –  Read our full CimAlp 864 Drop Control trail shoe review.

Get the latest price at:
cimalp.co.uk

 

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V6

Price: £110
Weight: 324g
Best for: Long miles on defined, dusty, gravel trails
Key attributes: Comfortable, nicely padded underfoot, tough, grippy and protective

The Hierro V6 is a tough-cookie trailer that’s perfect for people who want to pound the paths for long periods of time; over long distances. Beyond that durability, the standout feature is the cloud-like feel underfoot, courtesy of a fairly high midsole stack – 28mm at the heel and 20mm at the toe – of lightweight Fresh Foam X which gives a really plush ride, even on the hardest of trails (or any road sections). A light protective plate (not a full rock plate) also blocks out sharp rocks and roots well without making the sole overly stiff.

Bootie-style synthetic mesh uppers hug your feet nicely and zonal TPU threads, woven in at key points, enhance and elevate the structure of the shoe. Traction and durability is solid, thanks to a Vibram MegaGrip outsole with multi directional lugs on the underside. They run reassuringly grippy with a decent amount of bite, though they’re more dependable on defined trails – particularly any dusty or gravelly ones. They’re not the kind of shoe you’d want to use for flying down a steep and muddy fellside.

Full Specifications

8mm drop / 28mm heel, 20mm toe stack height / Vibram MegaGrip outsole / Fresh Foam X midsole / Laser perforations for ventilation / bootie upper construction / Added toe protection

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 – Read our full New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V6 review.

Get the latest price at:
webtogs.com

Inov-8 Trailroc G 280

Price: £140
Weight: 280g (per shoe)
Best for: Fell and mountain running
Key attributes: Tough, grippy, precise

This is a shoe for trail, mountain and fell running. More specifically, it’s a shoe for runners venturing onto hard and rocky terrain. If you’re familiar with the trails around Wasdale in the Lake District, particularly the rocky, bouldery and compacted one that leads up Scafell Pike, we’d say this shoe would be right at home there.

The new and crucial ingredient is graphene, a super-strong material that has been incorporated into the sole unit for added durability.

As for the midsole, that features a full length lightweight shank to provide a little bit of rock for energy return and to block out any sharp and hard stuff underfoot.

The upper has a tough, durable and structured feel to it but without making the Trailroc feel heavy or too stiff and constricting. It’s mostly mesh and there’s a hell of a lot of PU lamination across it, along with a protective toe bumper.

Full Specifications

8mm drop / 20mm heel, 12mm toe / Graphene G-Grip outsole / Powerflow+ midsole / 5th gen Meta-Plate shank.

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 – read our full Inov-8 Trailroc G280 review.

Get the latest price at:
inov-8.com

 

Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra

Price: £160
Weight: 245g
Best for: Chasing FKTs, moving fast over light trails
Key attributes: Lightweight, responsive, comfortable

Designed with input from British ultra runner, Tom Evans – and built for speed over long distances – the Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra 240 strikes an impressive balance between weight, protection and performance. At 245 grams this speedster sits in the featherweight category of 200 – 300 gram trail running shoes but still packs a good deal of cushioning and rebound for long mileage over hard-packed ground.

The lightweight and breathable mesh upper is beefed up with abrasion resistant welding in the typically vulnerable areas (toe box and heel). The midsole fuses Adidas’ softer – and more comfortable – Boost foam at the rear and their firmer, more responsive Lightstrike foam at the front. That guarantees a great mix of responsiveness, stability and comfort over long distances. 

They come with a fairly standard 8mm drop and when it comes to grip, you get that familiar Continental rubber outsole, with 2.5mm lugs in an updated lug pattern, that delivers good traction on technical ground. Though these definitely perform better on well trodden trails and rocky sections than slippy peat bogs. 

Full Specifications

2.5mm lugs / 8mm drop / 26mm heel, 18mm toe stack height / Continental rubber outsole / Lightstrike and Boost foam midsole / Lace enclosure / Perforated tongue / Reinforced heel with anti-slip lining.

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 – Read our full Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra review.

Get the latest price at:
adidas.co.uk

Icebug Acceleritas7 RB9X

Price: £130
Weight: 190g
Best for: Trail running, swimruns, adventure racing
Key attributes: Eco-friendly, lightweight, durable

What we have here is a sustainably-made shoe from one of the world’s most eco-friendly footwear brands. In fact, Icebug were the first shoemakers to become climate-positive. That means they haven’t just offset their total carbon emissions, they’ve actually overcompensated.

 

The shoes themselves are extremely lightweight, but the uppers are durable enough to offer decent levels of protection on technical terrain. They’re not waterproof, but water pickup is minimal and drainage is excellent, so they don’t get soggy. That makes them a great option not just for trail running, but also for swimruns and adventure racing. The heel cup is soft and comfortable in order to reduce pressure on the Achilles tendon. The midsole flexes well and underfoot feel is good thanks to the low profile sole. The aggressive outsole doesn’t clog and grips well in the wet or the dry.

The shoes are narrow fitting – similar to Inov8’s precision fit – so we’d recommend sizing up one full size from your standard street shoe. Other than that, there is little to fault.

Full Specifications

4mm drop / narrow fit / removable molded EVA insole / recycled PET mesh liner / EVA midsole with ESS Rock Shield / TPU mudguard / bluesign approved.

Featured in our Green Gear Guide 2019 – Read our full Icebug Acceleritas7 review.

Get the latest price at:
icebug.com

Vibram Five Fingers

Price: £70
Weight: 136g
Best for: Trail running, light hiking
Key attributes: Innovative, good for barefoot runners, comfortable

Yes, OK, we get it. These shoes are definitely a bit marmite – you either love them, or hate them. While they might look a bit odd, there is a deliberate thought process to them. They’re designed for people who want a more natural run, offering a zero drop, tiny stack height of just 5mm, low cushioning and of course that glove-like fit, all of which combine to give your feet a sensory perception and dexterity akin to running barefoot with the added bonus of skin protection and grip.

Whilst the mid-foot landing running technique may not be for everyone, and it’ll take some time to adapt to, it’s frequently praised by people for improving their running gait, creating a more efficient stride that lowers the impact through the knees and heels compared to that of heavily-cushioned running shoes.

OM editor Will counts himself as a fan. “I’ve walked in them, worked in them, and run on roads and trails in them,” he says in his review on our site. “I even took them on holiday with me for a week as my only pair of shoes. And I’ve really, really enjoyed wearing them.”

“I know they look strange, and they’ve certainly brought a lot of amusement to my friends and colleagues, but running in these feels absolutely brilliant. On trails, that sensory perception adds a whole new dimension, you get such a feel and connection with the ground below you, and generally feel much more agile and nimble.”

Full Specifications

3.7 mm rubber outsole / 2 mm Foam insole / 50:50 wool-synthetic upper.

Selected for the 2019/20 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 – read our full Vibram Five fingers review.

Get the latest price at:
webtogs.com

 

ON Cloud Ultra

Price: £152
Weight: 295g
Best for: High mileage trail running on hard-packed defined trails
Key attributes: ‘Cloud Pod’ midsole cushioning, breathable two layer mesh, impressive propulsion

Designed for long miles on mountains and mixed terrain, On’s first ultra trail specific shoe is light, comfortable, fast and offers impressive shock absorption. A standout ultra-lightweight, breathable two layer mesh wraps and holds the foot in the right places with reassuringly snug security while TPU reinforcements in high wear areas boost protection and durability. 

Underfoot a double layer of On’s trademark Cloud pods made from On’s Helion foam work with an embedded ‘Speedboard’ to provide stability, propulsion and responsiveness. Along with a substantial rocker motion that delivers an impressive level of propulsion from each stride and a good level of protection from sharp rocks and roots too. Grip-wise, the MissionGrip rubber outsole’s ​​2mm lugs cope admirably with well worn trails and easier gradients but don’t quite cut the mustard on the UK’s typically slippy hills. If you’re looking for a road-to-trail shoe the Cloudultra is also surprisingly at home on the tarmac too. We also loved clever little touches like the FlipRelease lacing system that lets you toggle the uppers for more room to better accommodate your ultra-swollen feet. 

Full Specifications

2mm lugs / 8mm drop / 28mm heel, 20mm toe stack height / FlipRelease lacing system / MissionGrip rubber outsole / Double-stacked layers of Helion CloudTec / Engineered mesh upper / Pebax Speedboard plate.

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 – Read our full On Cloudultra review.

Get the latest price at:
onrunning.com

 

Saucony Peregrine 11

Price: £110
Weight: 310g
Best for: Any distance over mixed-terrain
Key attributes: Good versatility, hardwearing build, eye catching new look

With the outsole and the midsole pretty much unchanged, the latest Peregrine updates are all about the improved upper that now feature Saucony’s FormFit mesh construction that holds the foot nicely. There’s plenty of internal padding plus a TPU toe bumper and a sturdy heel, for a combination that adds breathability, comfort and toughness. And this trail runner is still suited to everything from hard to soft trails, short to long distance runs and anything from steep ascents and descents to plods along flat gravel tracks.

The midsole features Saucony’s PWRRUN TPU foam, fused beads similar in style to adidas Boost that’s well-cushioned and nicely responsive. A rock plate blocks out sharp rocks and roots on the trail and stiffens up the sole a touch while the 4mm offset sits slap bang in the middle of the spectrum between ultra cushioning and minimalism, and high to low drop preferences.

The PWRTRAC rubber outsole features 5mm chevron lugs that face forward at the front of the foot and backwards on the heel for good grip across different terrain. There’s the option to screw in spikes for icier days and they’re gaiter compatible. The Peregrine also comes in three versions: standard, Gore-tex and an ST (Soft Terrain) version which will suit fell running, or just running in generally sloppy or sandy conditions.

Full Specifications

5mm lugs / 4mm drop / 27mm heel, 23mm toe stack height / PWRTRAC rubber outsole / gusseted tongue / TPU toe bumper & rock plate / gaiter compatible.

Selected for the 2020/21 Outdoors Magic Outdoor 100 – Read our full Saucony Peregrine 11 review.

Get the latest price at:
saucony.com

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