(Inga Hendrickson)

The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2020

Grip and support on any dirt, at any distance


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Brooks Divide ($100)

(Courtesy Brooks)

With the all-new Divide, Brooks proves that quality running shoes don’t have to break the bank. Head-to-head against kicks with sizable reputations, this trail all-arounder triumphed. It features the same midsole as Brooks’s bestselling Ghost: a biodegradable EVA compound that’s remarkably bouncy and smooth, exceptional for leisurely runs at any distance. The sticky rubber outsole and shallow, spaced-out lugs offer excellent grip on mild, buffed-out trails without feeling knobby on concrete. The soft upper doesn’t lock down or protect feet as much as more aggressive models like Brooks’s Cascadia, so this isn’t our go-to shoe for technical descents or up-tempo days. But for those who run on both pavement and smooth singletrack, these offered the best performance-to-value ratio in our test. 10.3 oz (men’s) / 9.2 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop

Men's Women's

On Running Cloudventure Peak ($150)

running shoes
(Courtesy On Running)

Best for Going Fast

The lightest shoe in our test feels even more feathery on the foot than it measures on the scale. Chalk that up to a wispy yet ­secure ripstop-nylon upper that wraps an inner booty, holding your foot without adding bulk. Deep channels up the center of the outsole maximize flexibility and minimize weight, while a snug midfoot and textured outsole make for a nimble ride. On’s trademark rubber-coated foam pods absorb impact without compromising rebound. The Cloudventure Peak isn’t particularly supportive, but efficient runners felt fast wearing it. 9.2 oz (men’s) / 7.4 oz (women’s); 4 mm drop

Men's Women's

La Sportiva Jackal ($140)

running shoes
(Courtesy La Sportiva)

Best for Long Distances

La Sportiva is known for producing shoes with a narrow fit. The Jackal broadens the lineup, literally: it’s perhaps the brand’s most wide-foot-friendly design to date. Comfort­able and roomy, with a 25-millimeter heel and a dual-density midsole that combines soft, compression-molded EVA foam with a firm PU insert, this shoe is cushioned enough for the long haul yet equally suitable for short, fleet outings. As one tester summarized, “It’s light on the foot and easy to maneuver around in technical terrain without feeling clunky.” 10.5 oz (men’s) / 8.8 oz (women’s); 7 mm drop

Men's Women's

Dynafit Feline SL ($130)

(Courtesy Dynafit)

Best on Mountain Trails

The second iteration of Dynafit’s bestselling, performance-oriented grip master is perfectly suited to charging hard on short-to-medium-distance runs in alpine terrain. The completely redesigned Feline SL has ­top-notch wet and dry grip, courtesy of outsole rubber developed by Dynafit’s sister company, Pomoca. Our wide-footed testers found the last a bit narrow, but everyone loved the aggressive 4.5-millimeter multidirectional lugs, which kept us at ease in rocky no-fall zones. The tough ­nylon upper and TPU toe guard offer tanklike protection. 10.2 oz (men’s) / 8.8 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop

Men's Women's

Arc’teryx Norvan LD 2 ($160)

running shoes
(Courtesy Arc’teryx)

Best for Long, Technical Runs

When a shoe sheds nearly 15 percent of its weight without sacrificing performance, we take notice. In Arc’teryx’s case, credit Litebase, a Vibram outsole that’s up to 50 percent thinner than the competition, with similar grip and durability. A single-layer polyester mesh upper and microfiber heel lining led one of our testers to declare the Norvan LD “one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.” The modest 27-millimeter heel keeps you close to the ground for incredible stability over rough and uneven terrain. Also available in a Gore-Tex version. 9.2 oz (men’s) / 7.8 oz (women’s); 9 mm drop

Men's Women's

Salomon Sense Ride 3 ($120)

running shoes
(Courtesy Salomon)

Best in Variable Terrain

Like its predecessors, the Sense Ride 3 has a superb cush-to-weight ratio that supports both distance and agility. But It also has a new midsole that combines lively foam with a softer, more cushioned one. Testers found it “smooth” and “squishy.” The Sense Ride 3 also gets a new mesh upper with durable one-pull Kevlar laces, which kept our feet secure on off-camber terrain. A thin, decoupled rock plate protects from underfoot jabs while allowing flexibility. And the four-millimeter multidirectional lugs grip rugged trails and run smooth on mellow dirt. 9.9 oz (men’s) / 8.3 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop

Men's Women's

Tecnica Origin ($170)

running shoes
(Courtesy Technica)

Best Custom Trainer

The Origin is the most customizable running shoe to date. A store employee (or a website) uses metrics like weight, running mechanics, and monthly mileage to match you with a men’s or women’s version of either the less cushioned LT or the more cushioned XT. A heat-molding process then conforms the shoe to the shape of your heel and arch. The downside: custom molding is available only through select retailers. Personalization aside, the Origin handles rugged terrain with aplomb, and it runs and flexes smoothly on gentle trails, too. 10.8–11 oz (men’s) / 9.2–9.4 oz (women’s); 9 mm drop

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From Summer 2020 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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