Picking a road shoe is all about how you run. But getting the right trail runner is about what you run. You'll see a lot of heavily engineered shoes with hard rubber toe bumpers, underfoot protection, stiffer midsoles, and powerful lateral stabilitywhich you can test by twisting the shoe from heel to toe. Those are best for steep, rocky, and rooty trails, but they're overkill for mellow everyday workouts. And watch the weight: Anything over 14 ounces (for a single men's size 9) is a hiking shoe masquerading as a trail runner. If you stick to even, dry terrain, look for a comfy, more efficient low-profile tread and road-shoe characteristics like flexibility in the toes and lots of cushioning. Technical trails or mud? You'll appreciate a really toothy tread.
Imagine a shoe that feels right whether you're running three miles around the park or all day in the mountains. Fantasy? Nope. Everyone on our teamfrom hardcore ultramarathoners to high-cadence 10K trail racers to casual runnersfell in love with The North Face Single-Track almost from the beginning. A minimalist upper keeps the weight competitiveand the comfort ranking highwithout feeling flimsy, thanks to well-placed overlays. "This shoe hugs my foot better than any others," said one tester. A form-fitting heel cradle made of firm EVA foam helps stabilize the shoe when you're barreling down technical trails. "It's extremely nimble and agile on a variety of terrain," another tester said. The thin plastic plate under the forefoot offers protection from rocky jabs, and neutral cushioning and good forefoot flexibility allow a smooth turnover, even if you run pavement to get to the trailhead.
11.5 oz; thenorthface.com
Traction: 4.8 (out of 5)