Our three favorite kicks for the trail.
Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX
Best For: Techy ridge running.
The Test: If the Speedcross has a spirit animal, it’s the wily mountain goat. With its big, gummy lugs, moderately narrow performance last, and Gore-Tex waterproof bootie, this shoe is as nimble and surefooted as any in its class—a confident, capable performer on treacherous trails, shoulder-season muck, and packed snow. While the 23-millimeter heel feels thick and forgiving, and the low-riding forefoot precise and responsive, the steep ten-millimeter drop between them made the shoe a little awkward on low-angle descents. The quick-pull laces can be fussy, but we found them blissfully glove-friendly on cold, icy mornings.
The Verdict: All hail the king of the mountains! 11.6 oz; 10 mm drop
Merrell All Out Crush Shield
Best For: Minimalist speed days and smooth trails.
The Test: If ground feel is what you look for in a trail shoe, the Crush Shield should be high on your list. The thin midsole in the forefoot makes the ride quick, responsive, and close to the ground—a less-is-more approach when combined with the relatively svelte Vibram outsole. The fit is wide and high-volume, but the shoe felt snug and confident to our wide-footed testers. That said, Shield is a misnomer: the lack of a rock plate made high-alpine jaunts and extended stony stretches distractingly uncomfortable, especially on runs over an hour.
The Verdict: On smooth, rolling paths, this is a quick-stepping, low-riding blast. 7.5 oz; 7 mm drop
Best For: Motoring.
The Test: What we have here is a race car with stiff shocks. The high-performance silhouette, locked-in fit for steep descents, and firm, top-of-the-charts responsiveness mean the Mazama is happiest running at a suicidal pace through boulder gardens and banking hairpin turns at full tilt. The firm heel and stiff rock plate are a bit much for casual runs or flat terrain, and the long, narrow last put some testers off. But for tearing through technical terrain, the Mazama is straight ninja. The low-profile lugs grip “better than you’d expect,” one tester noted, but are a little skittery on sand and hardpack.
The Verdict: While not especially forgiving, it’s the season’s best pure trail runner rough-riding speedsters. 9.3 oz; 6 mm drop