The Top 7 Trail Running Shoes of 2013
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Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra
Something very right is happening at Salomon’s Wonka-like S-Lab design center in Annecy, France. For the second season in a row, the company’s bright red trail shoes have blown away the competition. The Sense Ultra is everything a front-of-the-pack trail shoe should be—extremely fast, secure, nimble, and stable in the rough. It also has cojones. Despite weighing a mere 7.6 ounces, it sports a thick enough midsole (13-millimeter heel and nine-millimeter forefoot) to take steep, rock-strewn terrain at full speed. It’s pricey, and the slim racing fit might squeeze wider feet (especially on foot-swelling marathons), but there is simply no shoe on the market built better for flying over any and all terrain. 7.6 oz; 4 mm drop
Inov-8 Roclite 243 Trail Running Shoe
BEST FOR: Racing, midfoot runners, narrow feet.
THE TEST: The Roclite 243 is like a barefoot slipper with fangs. There is very little shoe underfoot (just six millimeters up front and a nine-millimeter heel), and what’s there is a Gumby-like invertebrate—you can bend any part of the sole in any direction. That flexibility, combined with an extremely secure midfoot and reasonably secure heel (there’s no external heel counter), made it the most agile and efficient shoe here. It’s an ideal racer on flowy trails, though most testers needed to ease off the gas when the turf got more technical.
THE VERDICT: On rolling trails, they flat-out scream. But they probably don’t have enough guts to be your everyday driver on loose, rocky trails. High-volume feet, steer clear. 8 oz; 3 mm drop
The North Face Hyper-Track Guide Trail Running Shoe
BEST FOR: Going fast on flat terrain.
THE TEST: The Hyper-Track Guide is hard to pin down. It’s one of the new tweener shoes—lightweight with moderate heel drop—that both midfoot and mildly heel-striking testers liked. With lugs so flat they almost don’t exist, the shoe delivers a smooth stride on firm dirt and pavement. “A great choice for dust paths or smooth singletrack,” said one tester. On road, however, some felt it was too spartan and firm to log a lot of miles. That low-riding firmness, though, translates to a lot of speed and energy, and great agility on technical trails.
THE VERDICT: A jack-of-all-terrains, with a slightly more minimalist approach than the comparable Montrail Fluid Feel. Keep it far away from mud. 9.7 oz; 8 mm drop
La Sportiva Helios Trail Runnng Shoe
BEST FOR: Long runs in the hills.
THE TEST: Return of the champ! This shoe is so similar to Sportiva’s acclaimed Vertical K from last year that a tester wore one of each at the same time and could barely tell the difference. Sportiva took the flexy, wavy midsole of the Vertical K and paired it with a new upper—ditching the integrated gaiter and giving you access to the laces all the way down for better micromanagement of the fit. The vibe is still very low and natural, and the outsole’s fat foam ridges provide a fair bit of cushion without feeling soft or disconnected from the ground.
THE VERDICT: Our favorite shoe for guys with consistent, midfoot-striking form who want a really natural-feeling, slipper-like fit without getting all caveman about it. 8.1 oz; 4 mm drop
Ecco Krypton Trail Running Shoe
BEST FOR: Big feet, mellow trails, midfoot strikers.
THE TEST: We’ve found previous Ecco trail runners to be a bit clunky, but several testers raved about the fit of the new Krypton—a firm, low, natural-feeling shoe that remains stoutly protective on rocky trails, thanks to a thick, stiff rubber outsole. The Krypton has a noticeably roomy last—wide at both forefoot and heel—which means that this shoe will feel most secure on high-volume feet. The downside? All that extra room made the shoe a little sloshy on off-camber terrain, and the stubbornly hard-to-adjust laces didn’t help.
THE VERDICT: The roomiest shoe here. It felt best on flat trails, but some testers found it too stiff. 11.2 oz; 8 mm drop
New Balance Leadville 1210 Trail Running Shoe
BEST FOR: Comfort addicts, high-volume (and swollen) feet.
THE TEST: This shoe may be named for one of the nastiest ultra races out there, but it’s intended to be an antidote to suffering. “The most comfortable trail runner I’ve worn in years,” said one tester. With pillowy heel padding, a giant, soft midsole, a squishy foam tongue, a high-volume fit, and stretchy, weblike overlays (rather than stout bands), this shoe goes overboard to pamper the feet of those logging mega mileage. Even more amazing is that all those accommodations don’t come with a weight penalty, though this is the least agile shoe here, and most testers found it a touch sluggish.
THE VERDICT: A La-Z-Boy for hardworking feet. 10.3 oz; 8 mm drop
Montrail FluidFeel Trai Running Shoe
BEST FOR: Road and trail.
THE TEST: The FluidFeel swings both ways. With a thick mattress of firm foam and recessed lugs, it felt smooth on pavement, but the narrow, snug midfoot made it noticeably secure on real-deal trails, including the steepest, most hazard-littered ones we could find. Naturally, a shoe with this breadth requires some sacrifices—you’ll lose a little comfort on the road and a little agility on technical terrain, but far less than with most hybrid shoes. Watch your step: that plastic arch support is slippery on logs.
THE VERDICT: A true off-roader that doesn’t feel clunky on pavement and has a bit more pillow and bite than the other hybrid here, the North Face Hyper-Track. 9.7 oz; 8 mm drop