Get the inside story on the best socks for trail runners, along with support inserts ideal for you new pair of kicks.
TOP PICK: BIRD OF PLAY
Asics Gel-Eagle Trail IV
The aptly named Eagle soared through the nastiest glop we could find
WICKED SOLE: At first blush, this shoe evokes a mild-mannered street runner, but flip it over and you'll find an outsole that tears asphalt to shreds. I could feel the grooved tread—bristling with conical studs—hustle mud out from under my foot and latch on to the terra firma beneath. FLEX TIME: Some manufacturers engineer their trail runners to be stiff underfoot, to increase stability on off-trail surfaces. But Asics makes the case that more flex between heel strike and toe-off creates a more freely moving sole that allows your foot to better "feel" its way through the terrain. HOLD ME NOW: It's hard enough to run in mud; the last thing you need is a loose-feeling kick. Asics eliminated shoe slop with a memory-foam-lined heel collar that molded to my foot after only a few miles. Result? The snuggest, most secure fit of all the shoes I tested. GRAVEL GUARD: When you're hoofing it through goop, you're destined to hit a rock. Fortunately, the extra rubber on the Eagle's forefoot helps buffer your toes. And unlike some other manufacturers, Asics doesn't go overboard with the stuff and add unwanted weight.
»1. Adidas Jasten
The Jasten's substantial carbon-rubber tread rips through muck while a thin hard-plastic plate, tucked just under the outsole in the shoe's forefoot area, protects you from the sharp rocks that mud can conceal. $90; www.adidas.com
»2. La Sportiva Rajas
A buffed-up tread inspired me to tackle the gnarliest off-trail terrain I could find. The Rajas dug in and prevented slippage on muddy descents as effectively as it did on the climbs. $90; www.lasportiva.com
»3. New Balance 871
New Balance engineered excellent support into the 871 to keep me, well, balanced. Laces pass through a silver-dollar-size plastic plate; one quick tug binds the shoe tight to your instep. $90; www.newbalance.com