(Inga Hendrickson)
2021 Summer Buyer’s Guide

The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2021

Make quick work of messy terrain


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The North Face Flight Vectiv ($199)

(Courtesy The North Face)

The Flight Vectiv brings high-tech speed to the dirt. Like record-setting carbon-equipped road shoes (think: Nike Vaporfly), it has a full-length carbon-fiber plate that enhances forward propulsion and makes for a more efficient stride. Uniquely, the plate sits directly under the foot, between the footbed and midsole (instead of deep within the cushioning) and also extends up around the heel. This improves lateral stability off-road (though it’s a bit tippy on very rocky trails) and generates an energetic, smooth ride that begs to go fast all day. “The rocker makes transitions at high speed on mellow terrain an effortless joy,” raved one tester. Meanwhile, the 3.5-millimeter lugs grip well on everything from rock slabs to mud while still rolling smoothly over buffed dirt. The stretchy, single-layer, TPU-infused mesh upper is sleek, yet boasts Kevlar midfoot reinforcements, which minimize weight and bulk. Testers of all foot shapes and speeds felt locked in—and fast. Trail-shoe companies, take note: the carbon-fiber bar has been set. 10 oz (men’s) / 8.6 oz (women’s); 6 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Hoka One One Mafate Speed 3 ($170)

(Courtesy Hoka One One)

Best for All-Day Comfort

A fan favorite among the ultrarunners in our test group, the Mafate Speed 3 was the best all-conditions, all-day trail shoe we tested. It’s on the firm end of Hoka’s cushioning spectrum, but according to one runner, it offers “great pop and bounciness.” It isn’t going to help you break any short-distance records (it’s among the heaviest models in our test), but it’s just the ticket for long days when comfort matters most. “This would be my 100-mile shoe,” another tester declared. If you’re looking for a durable workhorse for mega miles and find Hoka’s Speedgoat or Challenger ATR too soft, the Mafate 3 is for you. 10.7 oz (men’s) / 8.9 oz (women’s); 4 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Brooks Caldera 5 ($140)

Best for Road to Trail

Everything about the new Caldera is designed with cushion and flexibility in mind. Start with the 27 millimeters of midsole foam in the heel. Add on large grooves in the outsole, which help the shoe morph over rocks, roots, and uneven terrain. Testers loved the plush ride, which dampened hard surfaces like pavement and fire roads, and applauded the shoe’s overall comfort. Relatively shallow, four-millimeter lugs add to this shoe’s smooth feel on hardpack. The revised upper—a blend of hydrophobic and quick-drying polyester fibers—hugs the foot via stretchy bands that pull taut around the instep when you tie the laces. 10.6 oz (men’s) / 9.4 oz (women’s); 4 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Altra Lone Peak 5 ($130)

(Courtesy Altra)

Best for Zero-Drop Fans

Like a fine wine, the Lone Peak keeps improving with age. “Every update gets incrementally better,” noted one tester and longtime fan. At first glance, the changes on this iteration aren’t too apparent. It retains the same wide forefoot, zero-drop profile, and moderate 25-millimeter stack height. But underfoot, designers swapped in a softer, more durable midsole (the same that’s in the brand’s beloved Escalante). One tester described the resulting ride as comfortable, energetic, fast, and nimble—she felt like she could run forever. In a nutshell, Altra’s stalwart has cemented its legacy as the quintessential no-frills, zero-drop trail shoe. 10.5 oz (men’s) / 9.2 oz (women’s); 0 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

La Sportiva Cyklon ($160)

(Courtesy La Sportiva)

Best for Rugged Runs

Step into this bad boy, give the Boa dial a spin, and you’re ready to charge on the most rugged terrain. The bootie-style upper extends higher over the back of the Achilles, where a stretchy cuff hugs the ankle to keep out trail gunk. Meanwhile, TPU shanks in the dual-density EVA midsole add stability and protect against underfoot jabs. Durable mesh and a TPU cap armor against stubbed toes. We felt equipped to go all out on steep, rocky trails, and loved the reliable traction that the generously lugged outsole provides when the going gets messy. The Cyklon was designed for European sky races, but for mortals it’s a perfect peak-bagging shoe. 11.1 oz (men’s) / 9.2 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Saucony Peregrine 11 ($120)

(Courtesy Saucony)

Best for Versatility

The Peregrine offers great security on a range of trail conditions. Credit a wonderfully tacky rubber outsole and arrow-shaped lugs that point forwards in front for uphill traction and backwards under the heel for downhill braking. The shoe’s EVA-TPU cushioning (27 millimeters in the heel) is neither too bouncy nor too stiff, and allows good ground feel for added surefootedness. A rock plate increases protection, and a new dual-layer mesh upper is both breathable and durable. For a shoe that can handle rocky, rooty terrain, the Peregrine 11 is notably lightweight and even speed inspiring, making it an excellent quiver of one. 10.9 oz (men’s) / 9.5 oz (women’s); 4 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Topo Athletic Ultraventure 2 ($135)

(Courtesy Topo)

Best for All Terrain

The Ultraventure 2 may not be as flashy as some competitors, but it is one of the best go-anywhere, do-anything trail shoes we tested. The three-piece injected-EVA midsole is firmer in the medial arch and softer in the lateral heel and main body, yielding a supportive ride. Meanwhile, toothy six-millimeter lugs kept us feeling stable. “I plowed through just about whatever,” exclaimed one tester. Apprehensive about the nontraditional wide toe box? Don’t be. Strategic minimal midfoot overlays and a well-designed lacing system lock you in perfectly. Besides, your toes will appreciate the extra room. 10.4 oz (men’s) / 8.3 oz (women’s); 5 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

From Summer 2021 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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