A trail-running shoe is more than just a beefed-up road sneaker with big lugs on the outsole—and there’s no one kind that’s ideal for everything. Whether you want something protective with aggressive tread for muddy conditions and technical, rocky terrain; a light, stiff, minimally lugged road-trail crossover; or a softer ride for long days, here are six of the shoes our test experts liked the most this year.
Dynafit Feline Up Pro ($170)
Built for athletes who thrive on charging full speed up the ascent, this firm runner favors speed over cushioning. The shoe’s biggest highlight is an outsole made of Vibram Lite Base, which has a sandwiched layer of hardy fabric to make it 40 percent thinner and 25 percent lighter than traditional Vibram soles yet just as durable. Despite its vertical orientation, the Feline Up Pro performs quite well on descents and flats, too. 8.1 oz; 4 mm drop
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 ($130)
For all-around versatility, it’s hard to beat the smooth-riding Challenger ATR 5. The four-millimeter lugs are placed farther apart in the forefoot for better grip on wet and loose surfaces and closer together in the heel for smoother landings. The front of the shoe is also slightly wider than the ATR 4, providing more room for toes to splay. In true Hoka fashion, the oversize compression-molded EVA eases impact while remaining remarkably peppy. 9.4 oz (men’s) / 7.7 oz (women’s); 5 mm drop
La Sportiva Bushido 2 ($130)
Rip around on technical terrain in the Ferrari of alpine running shoes. The latest version of La Sportiva’s top-selling off-road model replaces part of the previous generation’s compression-molded midsole with four millimeters of soft EVA for a more cushioned and responsive ride. The extra-tacky proprietary outsole kept us sure-footed and confident through the rockiest fall lines. Tip: the Bushido runs small, so try a half-size up. 10.5 oz (men’s) / 8.8 oz (women’s); 6 mm drop
Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 5 ($110)
Ample padding on the tongue and around the heel collar plus a mostly seamless interior make the Wildhorse 5 comfy for hours of wear. Under the heel, a pocket filled with tensile fibers softens impact without feeling mushy, while a rock plate under the forefoot protects against sharp obstacles. The outsole—with soft sticky rubber down the center and firm high-abrasion rubber on the edges—tackled everything from slabs to mud with aplomb. 10.2 oz (men’s) / 8 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop
Altra Timp 1.5 ($130)
With a chunky 29-millimeter midsole, the Timp 1.5 felt softer, more responsive, and more resilient than its thinner predecessor. The four-millimeter lugs grip steep terrain, shed mud well, and roll smooth underfoot. The lack of a heel counter means the shoe is more comfortable, but it’s still supportive, thanks to the foot-cradling mesh upper. Altra tweaked the fit on the women’s version to accommodate lower fifth metatarsals, higher insteps, and narrower heels. 10.5 oz (men’s) / 8.7 oz (women’s); zero drop
Brooks Caldera 3 ($140)
The Caldera 3 serves up road-worthy comfort in a trail-ready package. The EVA midsole is soft yet springy, the stretchy upper has few overlays for slipper-like comfort, and widely spaced lugs make the outsole flexible. Meanwhile, the shoe gets mountain chops from a protective toe bumper and loose hydrophobic mesh that drains water and dries quickly. The shallow tread is best on well-traveled dirt. 9.3 oz (men’s) / 8.5 oz (women’s); 4 mm drop
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