Road and Trail Running Shoes

Get in gear with these heavy-duty trail runners and barely-there road shoes.

Garmont 9.81 Bolt DL

Garmont 9.81 Bolt DL

Garmont 9.81 Bolt DL

The Gripper
The tread on Garmont's first trail runner doesn't look particularly aggressive. Looks, we soon found out, can be deceiving. The Bolt DL stuck to everything we touched--rocks, mud, and gravel--and with a low-to-the-ground design, it had a good feel for the trail on really tricky sections. Though the midsole is slimmer than most, with only a slight bit of cushioning, a dense pad of EVA foam under the forefoot and a burly toe bumper give enough protection for most trail hazards. Our one gripe: The one-pull laces provide a solid fit but are hard to fully tuck away. 12 oz; $110; garmontusa.com

Nike Free Run+

Flexible Flier

Nike Free Run+
Nike Free Run+ (Inga Hendrickson)

The Free Run gets about as close to barefoot running as most people will want to go, with an ultra-flexible, stripped-down design that strengthens your feet while inspiring an uninhibited, natural running gait. Our test team raved about the shoe's overall comfort—the minimal seams, anatomical yet roomy last, excellent breathability—and very low weight. "They feel like they're spray-painted on," said one tester. It takes time to develop the foot strength to run long distances in this shoe, but out of the box we loved it on runs under five miles. 8.2 oz; $85; nikerunning.com

Vasque Transistor FS

Low Rider

Vasque Transistor FS

Vasque Transistor FS

Close to the ground, firm, and fast--the Transistor FS is jonesing to push the pace on packed singletrack and fire roads. It has a thin, flexible sole--for smooth and fast striding--plus a built-in footbed that conforms to individual foot shapes, keeping you in touch with the trail. Just don't get too technical: It's not armored enough to be an everyday shoe on nasty trails. And our most narrow-footed testers struggled to achieve a secure fit, especially on rocky or off-camber terrain. Best for wider, full-volume feet. 11.2 oz; $100; vasque.com

The North Face Sentinel Boa

All-Terrain Machine

The North Face Sentinel Boa
The North Face Sentinel Boa (Inga Hendrickson)

Roads. Trails. Dirt paths. If you like to mix it up, the Sentinel is your shoe, striking a nice balance of cushioning—for repetitive pavement pounding—and stiffness, for stability on dirt. The dependable traction and a light overall feel inspired fast footwork on switchbacks, and the wire-ratcheting Boa lace system creates a confidence-inspiring fit with a quick twist of the knob. "You can really dial in the exact tightness you want at the start of the run," said one tester, "and make micro-adjustments easily midrun." 12.1 oz; $130; thenorthface.com

New Balance 759

Speed Trainer

New Balance 759

New Balance 759

With the 759, New Balance went back to the drawing board. Using tougher, lighter, and more pliable materials than previous neutral trainers, they've served up the sleekest, most stripped-down model we've seen from the company. Our verdict? Change is good. It's an extremely comfy, slim-fitting shoe that rides low to the ground, but with enough cushion for recovery days and long hauls. It's even light enough for speed work: "I feel like I could race in this shoe and not get heavy legs," said one tester. 11.3 oz; $95; newbalance.com

Merrell CTR Cruise

Stable at Any Speed

Merrell CTR Cruise
Merrell CTR Cruise (Inga Hendrickson)

Time for a run—or a hike? The CTR Cruise is ready for either. It's just light, flexible, and cushioned enough for trail running—with a higher-than-average ankle cuff that gives it good side-to-side stability in challenging terrain, and a secure fit that minimizes foot sliding on steep descents. But given the extra padding, hefty toe bumper, and excellent traction, it's also up for fast-and-light hikes with a pack. All that armor comes at a price, of course, and the Cruise is clunkier—but also comfier—than the less padded and cushier pure trail runners here. 12.8 oz; $110; merrell.com

Adidas Solution

Smooth Operator

Adidas Solution
Adidas Solution (Inga Hendrickson)

If you pronate, you don't want to be reminded with each step. The "light stability" Solution supports moderate ankle wobbling, but it feels more like a gentle guide than a stern correction. That's partly due to a very deep gash near the back of the heel that slows the foot's rotation at the moment of impact, lending to a smoother stride. Overall, the Solution feels firm underfoot: ideal for heavier runners and those who don't like mushy footwear. Nice perk: The airy mesh upper felt great on long runs in summer heat. 12.4 oz; $120; shopadidas.com

Asics Gel-Nimbus 12

Cushion King

Asics Gel-Nimbus 12

Asics Gel-Nimbus 12

Some runners are light on their feet; others need some cushioning. For the latter group, we recommend the new Gel-Nimbus. With its generous foam-and-gel landing pad, the Nimbus took the sting out of heavy footplants and long afternoons on tarmac, and the narrow heel and asymmetrical laces give it a snug fit without pressure points. Deep grooves in the sole help create a smooth feel that seemed right for short jaunts or distance runs, making it a good everyday workhorse for neutral runners. 12.2 oz (men's size 8.5); $125; asicsamerica.com
More Gear

Obsessed with Gear?

Thank you!

Pinterest Icon