Trail running has made big gains in recent years, rising from 4.8 million participants in 2009 to 9.15 million in 2017, according to market data researcher Statista. What’s not to like? No cars to dodge, more nature to love, and less asphalt-induced pounding on your knees.
As the sport grows, so does the variety of tough and grippy trail running shoes — some better for mud runs, others adapted for fire roads and hiking. Here are five to consider if you’re ready to hit the dirt.
The runner-hiker-biker shoe
La Sportiva Akyra: A burly do-it-all mountain running shoe
What we like: Monster sole with massive lugs makes it great for hiking, backpacking, even mountain biking as well as running. It has a protective rubber toe cap and a breathable mesh upper and, to lock the shoe in place on the upper, a thermoplastic polyurethane exoskeleton that uses triangular forms said to be inspired by origami structures.
Info: $140, lasportiva.com
The foot-shaped shoe
Altra Lone Peak 4: A super-comfortable shoe that follows the natural shape of a foot
What we like: It’s the only shoe with these two comfy, natural features: a super-wide toe box that does not smush toes together; and a zero-drop profile, meaning heel and forefoot are the same height off the ground (instead of the more-common elevated heel). It also has a gaiter trap in the heel, a convenient Velcro tie-down to secure a gaiter or cover that protects against dusty trails, stickers, insects and heavy bushes.
The mud/obstacle racing shoe
Salomon Speedcross 5: A shoe designed for obstacle course and mud runs
What we like: It has practical features for racing in muddy, wet conditions, such as a cinch-up “quick lace” that tightens with one pull, and a lace garage/pocket to stow it in; a welded exterior instead of stitched, which sheds mud and eliminates seams that could rub against your skin; and deep 1/4-inch lugs on the bottom that grip well and shed mud (but don’t hold up great on concrete). This shoe is available in a wide size.
Info: $130. salomon.com
The fire-road shoe
Hoka One One Stinson ATR 5: A super-cushioned shoe best for wide, hard-packed roads
What we like: The puffy, high-volume midsole cushioning (over an inch thick) will reduce pounding on all surfaces and may even relieve some runners’ knee and back pain, according to reviews. Loved by heavier runners, yet only 12.1 ounces in size 9, it may be best on non-technical paths such as flat, open fire roads that don’t require the ground feel and control you need on a single-track trail with tree roots and rocks.
Info: $160, hokaoneone
The build-your-own shoe
Saucony Mad River TR: A customizable shoe that lets you create your own level of traction, with drainage ports for running through creeks and puddles.
What we like: Two rows of eyelets give you the option of wide or narrow lacing or anything in between. The sole includes circle outlines that serve as guides for drilling drainage ports, a vital feature if your trail run includes creeks and seeps. You can also insert studs for running in snow. A gaiter-compatible D ring allows for extra debris protection, and an elastic lace keeper prevents snagging on branches.
Info: $110, saucony.com