HomeGearThe Best Trail Running Shoes Ultimate Guide

The Best Trail Running Shoes Ultimate Guide

Trail running, once a niche pursuit, has surged in popularity in recent years, capturing the hearts of fitness enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Unlike traditional road running, trail running ventures into the heart of nature, immersing runners in the rugged beauty of forests, mountains, and remote wilderness. This exhilarating sport not only provides a physical challenge but also offers a unique opportunity to connect with the natural world.

Training Running Shoe Top Picks

I live 750m up a mountain in Southern Spain, so trail running is pretty much what I do every time I go for a run. I’ve tried a few brands and narrowed it down to ASICS and New Balance. The trend for running shoes to have thicker foam soles has bled across to the training running world and ASICS and New Balance have created their own versions.

Best Overall Trail Running Shoes, ASICS Trabuco Max 2 Men’s and Womens

ASICS Women's Trabuco Max 2 Running Shoes, 7, MIDNIGHT/PAPAYA

Mens – $109.95 at Amazon.com
Womens – No products found. at Amazon.com

I have just upgraded my ASICS Trabuco Max shoes to the latest ASICS Trabuco Max 2 model with FF BLAST PLUS technology has been added to the midsole to create effortless impact absorption while propelling your momentum forward. The sole is very cushioned and literally puts a spring in your off-road step!

ASICS Trabuco Max 2 and New Balance X Trail More v3 Trail Running Shoes

Most Comfortable Trail Running Shoes, New Balance X Trail More v3 Men’s and Womens

New Balance Men's Fresh Foam X More Trail V3 Running Shoe, Reflection/Vintage Teal, 9.5

Mens – Price not available at Amazon.com
Womens – $124.99 at Amazon.com

If you suffer from Plantar Fasciitis then the New Balance trail running shoes are worth a look and recommended by podiatrists. My partner has just changed from this old New Balance trail running shoes to the New Balance Fresh Foam X Trail More v3 shoes and again like the ASICS Trabuco Max they feature a thicker foam sole which provides the perfect combination of comfort, cushioning and breathability to keep your feet feeling great, whether you’re hitting the trails for training or just to enjoy the view. 

How to Chose The Best Trail Running Shoes

Understanding Your Terrain

Trail running is an adventure that unfolds in a diverse range of terrains, each offering its own set of challenges and rewards. Understanding the specific terrain, you will be conquering is pivotal in selecting the right footwear.

a. Rocky Terrain

Rocky trails are characterized by uneven surfaces, strewn with stones and boulders. In such terrain, stability and protection become paramount. Look for shoes with sturdy, rock plates in the midsole and aggressive outsoles that provide excellent traction on uneven surfaces. Additionally, a snug fit around the ankle and ample toe protection will guard against stubbed toes and potential injuries.

b. Muddy Paths

Muddy trails demand shoes that can handle the slippery, unpredictable nature of wet terrain. Look for shoes with lugged outsoles designed to shed mud and provide reliable grip. Additionally, shoes with water-resistant uppers or integrated gaiters can help keep your feet dry and comfortable even in the muckiest conditions.

c. Forested Trails

Forested trails present a combination of uneven terrain, tree roots, and potentially damp conditions. Here, shoes with good traction and stability are essential. Look for shoes with a lugged outsole pattern that can navigate over roots and forest debris with ease. Additionally, a shoe with ample cushioning can provide the necessary comfort for longer runs through dense woodlands.

d. Grassy Hills and Meadows

Open meadows and grassy hills offer a softer, more forgiving surface compared to rocky or muddy trails. Shoes with a balance of cushioning and responsiveness can provide a comfortable ride on these terrains. Look for shoes with a moderate level of grip that can handle grassy surfaces without compromising on overall comfort.

e. Mixed Terrain

Many trails encompass a mix of various terrains, challenging runners with a blend of rocks, mud, and forested paths. In such cases, versatility is key. Consider shoes with a balance of features that cater to different terrains, such as a durable outsole for rocky areas, water resistance for muddy stretches, and stability for uneven surfaces.

By understanding the specific terrain you’ll be encountering, you can narrow down your options and choose shoes that are best suited to provide the support and traction you need for a successful trail running experience.

Shoe Types

Selecting the right type of shoe is a critical decision for trail runners. Different shoe types cater to distinct preferences and terrains, offering varying levels of support, protection, and flexibility. Here, we will compare and contrast three main types: trail running shoes, hiking shoes, and minimalist shoes, outlining their unique features and the scenarios in which they excel.

Trail Running Shoes


  • Aggressive Traction: Trail running shoes are designed with lugged outsoles to provide superior grip on rugged and uneven surfaces.
  • Lightweight Construction: They are typically lighter than hiking shoes, allowing for faster and more agile movement on the trail.
  • Flexible and Responsive: These shoes offer a balance of flexibility and responsiveness, allowing for quick adjustments to changing terrain.

When to Choose:

  • Ideal for dedicated trail runners seeking performance-oriented footwear.
  • Well-suited for most trail conditions, including rocky, muddy, and forested terrains.
  • Best for those looking to cover longer distances and tackle technical trails.

Minimalist Shoes


  • Minimal Cushioning: Minimalist shoes have thin soles, providing a more natural, barefoot-like feel.
  • Enhanced Ground Feel: They encourage a stronger connection between the foot and the ground, promoting better proprioception.
  • Lightweight and Flexible: These shoes prioritize agility and a natural range of motion.

When to Choose:

  • Suited for experienced runners seeking to strengthen foot and leg muscles and improve running form.
  • Best for well-maintained trails with minimal hazards or obstacles.
  • Ideal for those transitioning towards a more minimalist running style.

Selecting the right type of shoe ultimately hinges on personal preference, the specific demands of your chosen trails, and your individual running style. It’s advisable to try on different types and styles to find the one that offers the best balance of comfort, support, and performance for your unique trail running endeavors.

Fit and Sizing

Finding the perfect fit is paramount when it comes to trail running shoes. Here are some key tips to consider:

  • Try Before You Buy: Always try on shoes in-store whenever possible. This allows you to assess comfort and fit in real-time.
  • Consider Individual Foot Characteristics: Take into account factors like arch type, width, and any unique foot features. Different brands and models may cater to specific foot shapes.
  • Room for Toes: Ensure there’s enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes comfortably, but not so much that your foot slides around.
  • Heel and Ankle Support: The heel should fit snugly without excessive movement, providing ample support and preventing blisters.
  • Test with Socks: Try shoes with the same type of socks you plan to wear during your runs to get an accurate fit.
  • Walk and Test: Take a short walk or jog around the store to get a feel for how the shoes perform in action.

The right fit can make the difference between an enjoyable run and discomfort on the trail. Prioritize personal comfort over brand or style and consider seeking advice from experienced retailers for a tailored fit.

Traction and Grip

In the world of trail running, traction is your best friend. It’s the difference between confidently navigating challenging terrain and slipping and sliding. Here’s why it matters:

Significance of Traction:

  • Stability and Control: Traction ensures your feet stay firmly planted, providing stability on uneven, slippery, or loose surfaces.
  • Preventing Slips and Falls: It minimizes the risk of slips and falls, especially in wet or muddy conditions.
  • Confidence on Technical Terrain: Proper traction allows you to tackle rocky, steep, or technical sections with confidence.

Types of Outsoles:

  • Aggressive Lugs: Deep, multidirectional lugs are excellent for muddy, soft, or loose terrain. They bite into the ground, providing superb traction.
  • Sticky Rubber: Ideal for rocky or slick surfaces, sticky rubber outsoles offer exceptional grip, particularly on wet rocks.
  • Hard Rubber: Suitable for more compact and rocky trails, hard rubber outsoles provide durability and protection.
  • Multi-Terrain Tread: A versatile choice, these outsoles offer a balanced grip for a variety of terrains, making them a good all-around option.
  • Vibram® Soles: Known for their durability and versatility, Vibram® soles are popular in trail running shoes, offering excellent traction in various conditions.

Choosing the right outsole depends on the predominant type of terrain you’ll be running on. Consider the trail conditions you’ll encounter and opt for a shoe with an outsole that matches your specific needs.

Cushioning and Support

When it comes to trail running, cushioning and support play pivotal roles in your comfort and overall performance. Here’s why they matter:

Role of Cushioning and Support:

  • Cushioning: Provides impact absorption, reducing stress on your joints and muscles, especially during descents on rocky terrain.
  • Support: Ensures proper alignment of your feet and ankles, preventing excessive pronation or supination, which can lead to discomfort or injury.
  • Stability: Aids in maintaining balance and control, crucial on uneven or technical trails.

Finding the Right Balance:

  • Consider Your Running Style: If you’re a forefoot striker, you may prefer lighter cushioning. Heel strikers might lean towards more substantial cushioning for shock absorption.
  • Terrain Considerations: For rugged, rocky trails, shoes with more cushioning and support can provide added protection. On smoother trails, lighter options may suffice.
  • Personal Comfort: Ultimately, the right balance is a matter of personal preference. Try on various shoes and assess how they feel during a short jog or walk.
  • Seek Expert Advice: Knowledgeable retailers can offer insights based on your gait, running style, and individual needs.

Finding the optimal balance of cushioning and support can greatly enhance your trail running experience, contributing to both comfort and injury prevention.

In Summary

In the exhilarating world of trail running, having the right shoes and gear is the cornerstone of a successful and enjoyable experience. Let’s recap the essential points we’ve covered in this comprehensive guide:

  • Understanding Terrain: Tailoring your footwear to the specific terrain you’ll be encountering is crucial for stability and performance on the trail.
  • Choosing the Right Gear: Whether it’s moisture-wicking apparel, hydration systems, or trail running poles, the right equipment enhances comfort, safety, and performance.
  • Maintenance Matters: Regular care, cleaning, and timely replacement of gear are paramount for extending their lifespan and ensuring they perform at their best.

Investing in high-quality trail running shoes and gear isn’t just a matter of convenience; it’s a matter of safety. The right equipment empowers you to explore diverse terrains, conquer challenges, and find deeper connections with nature. So, remember, it’s not just a purchase; it’s an investment in your trail running journey.

Equip yourself with the best, lace up those shoes, and hit the trails. Your adventure awaits!

Happy trail running!

Trail Running Shoes FAQ

What’s the difference between trail running shoes and regular running shoes?

Trail running shoes are specifically designed for off-road terrains. They typically have more aggressive outsoles, added stability features, and are built to withstand rugged conditions.

How do I know if a shoe fits correctly for trail running?

Ensure there’s ample room for your toes to wiggle, a snug but not tight fit around the midfoot, and minimal heel movement. Test them with the socks you’ll wear on runs.

Can I use hiking shoes for trail running?

While some hiking shoes may be suitable for light trail running, dedicated trail running shoes are designed to provide the specific support and flexibility needed for running.

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Karen Parnell
Karen Parnellhttps://chilitri.com/one-to-one-coaching
Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon and IRONMAN Certified Coach, WOWSA Level 3 open water swimming coach,  80/20 Endurance certified coach and NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer. Need a training plan? I have plans on TrainingPeaks, FinalSurge and TrainingTilt: TrainingPeaks FinalSurge TrainingTilt I also coach a very small number of athletes one to one for all triathlon distances, open water swimming events and running races, email me for details and availability. Karen.parnell@chilitri.com


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