Wow! How far trail running shoes have come over the past few decades. From likely no more than one or two models in any geographic market in the early 1990s to a handful of options that all too often resembled hiking shoes in the early 2000s, and now more than 30 brands offering far more than 200 trail running shoe models at any given time. Truly, it’s a marvelous time to be a trail runner.
However, all that choice can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. With that in mind, we put our decades of experience with trail shoes and trail running brands to work in trying to simplify the trail running shoe landscape into something more manageable. Below, we provide a list of 10 trail running shoe brands you can’t go wrong with, what makes each brand stand out, and what some of their key models are. For more detailed looks, see our trail running shoe reviews.
You can also head over to our best trail running shoes guide for a can’t-miss list of top trail shoes.
Location: Annecy, France
Popular Models: Speedcross, Sense Ride, S/Lab Ultra
What We Like: High-quality construction with a huge variety of models to hit nearly everyone’s needs
What We Don’t: Almost too many models to choose from
Salomon is the 800-pound … er, 400-kilogram gorilla in the trail shoe space. In the late 2000s, Salomon was already the dominant trail shoe brand in Europe but very much a secondary offering in the U.S., outside of its top-of-the-charts trail-shoes-for-hiking models. Well, a decade later, Salomon is at the front and center of trail running … wherever you are in the world. The brand has enough of the market to offer a dizzying array of models that fit nearly everyone’s needs, from the shortest and fastest trail racers to shoes that can easily tackle your next 200-mile race.
It’d be a fool’s errand to try and spell out even a majority of Salomon’s offerings, but here are a few highlights to give you a feel. To start, there’s the Speedcross, which, while not at all flashy, has been the hallmark of the brand’s trail running offerings for a decade and a half with the line’s luggy outsoles, well-structured uppers, and Speedlace lacing system. The fact that Salomon’s only on version six with the Speedcross after so many years is a testament to just how well the shoe works. The Sense Ride series offers great comfort in what’s decidedly a road-to-trail package, while the S/Lab Ultra line has simplified over the years, leading to a great shoe for that five-mile trail run out your backdoor or your next multi-day effort in the mountains.
Even as Salomon cut its S/Lab Sense and Sense SG models after eight generations, it continues to add cutting-edge options across its line with the ultralight, highly rockered S/Lab Pulsar and S/Lab Pulsar Soft Ground, stirring things up at the racing end of the spectrum and the Ultra Glide offering what might be the brand’s most comfortable trail shoe to date in this highly cushioned offering. If there’s been one general issue with Salomon, it’s that some folks find their shoes run a bit long and narrow.
Location: Goleta, California
Popular Models: Speedgoat, Torrent, Challenger, Stinson
What We Like: Quite possibly the plushest trail shoes on the market
What We Don’t: The higher stack heights of the most cushioned models can feel unstable on rough terrain
Born in the Alps, the Hoka form was first conceived as a removable “overshoe” meant for bombing down thousands of vertical meters in one go without beating up your body. Well, that concept evolved into the highly cushioned, rockered shoe design that’s made Hoka famous for the past decade. While not the brand’s first trail model, the Hoka Speedgoat is most exemplary of the brand’s current trail shoe offerings with a thick, highly cushioned midsole built with a highly rockered design atop more than adequate lugging and an upper that locks your foot into place.
If you want to take max cushioning to the extreme, then the Stinson is for you. Plush doesn’t do the Stinson justice … and the brand’s description of the shoe as a “hovercraft” might just work. Yeah, there are 4mm lugs, a breathable upper, and a gusseted tongue, but you buy this shoe for a heaping dose of its midsole cush. The Challenger offers a similar package as the Stinson with just a tad less cushioning, while both models are great for transitioning from road to trail and back.
Of course, not everyone wants a super cushioned ride, and that’s where a shoe like Hoka’s Torrent comes into play with more moderate cushioning in what’s still a distinctly Hoka and trail-worthy shoe.
Location: Denver, Colorado
Popular Trail Models: Lone Peak, Olympus, Superior, Timp
What We Like: Roomy toeboxes and their commitment to zero-drop shoes
What We Don’t: Switching to zero-drop shoes can be a “challenging” transition, and the company’s yet to release a cheater insole to ease this process
Nike has its waffle iron origin story, while Altra has its toaster oven story in which its founders would remove running shoe outsoles, shave off the heel to remove all heel-to-toe drop, and then reattach the outsole in a toaster oven while working at a running shop near Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. While the brand officially launched with a road model, that launch was quickly followed by and the brand made its name with the original Lone Peak trail shoe, named after a peak in the Wasatch Mountains.
While the shoe’s materials and construction have improved since the model launched a decade ago, someone who hasn’t seen the Lone Peak since its launch would recognize the Lone Peak 6 nearly 10 iterations later. Indeed, Altra has stayed core to its roots, never deviating from its commitment to shoes with no drop from heel to toe and roomy, foot-shaped toeboxes across its line.
A favorite of trail runners and thru-hikers alike, the Lone Peak remains Altra’s flagship trail model, offering a moderate amount of cushioning that’s enough for most people to tackle their daily run or a 100 miler in burly mountains, although the amount of midsole crept up a bit between the Lone Peak 4 and the Lone Peak 5. The shoe also retains the moderate lugging, heel rudder, and gaiter attachments that have long been hallmarks of the Lone Peak.
Altra offers its Timp model for those who are looking for just a bit more cushion than the Lone Peak. The Timp offers a similar outsole to the Lone Peak except for removing the rudder. For those looking for the plushest of trail rides, there’s the Olympus, which offers maximal cushioning. The Olympus also has the most robust upper for a bit more structural stability than other Altra trail shoes.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Altra Superior, the lightest and lowest of the Altra trail shoes that can be made even lighter by taking out its removable StoneGuard rockplate (which does go away in the Superior 6).
Note that folks who are new to Altra or low-drop shoes will want to very gradually increase their miles in these shoes or risk significant calf tightness and Achilles pain.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Popular Models: Cascadia, Catamount, Divide
What We Like: The brand offers both legacy and cutting-edge trail models
What We Don’t: The legacy models haven’t yet incorporated the materials and manufacturing of the 2020s
It’d be wrong to begin a discussion of Brooks trail shoes with anything other than the Cascadia, of which there’ve been more generations (16 as of early 2023) than any other trail shoe we know of. Indeed, if there were a trail running shoe hall of fame, the Cascadia would be a first-ballot inductee. The Cascadia was born out of a collaboration with ultrarunner Scott Jurek when he was in the midst of winning seven straight Western States 100s. Since at least the Cascadia 4, the design has been based around a pivot system in the midsole, a well-performing moderate outsole pattern, and a simple upper that’s generally only been tweaked from generation to generation. Even with a significant overhaul with the Cascadia 16 (such as ditching the Pivot system), the shoe remains distinctly the Cascadia.
While there’s merit in the Cascadia retaining its characteristic form for so long, if you’d asked me a decade ago what the Cascadia might look like today, I’d say it might have looked an awful lot like the Brooks Catamount. The Catamount runs a couple of ounces lighter and is more breathable than the Cascadia without sacrificing any cushioning or comfort. In my mind, it’s what the Cascadia was, but with a decade of manufacturing and materials advancement baked in. In all honesty, the Catamount feels like a winner. For those just getting into trail running from the roads or those looking for a more affordable model that transitions well from road to trail, the Divide line might be right for you.
Location: Italian Alps
Popular Models: Bushido, Jackal, Akasha
What We Like: Great sticky rubber and some precise fits
What We Don’t: The smaller, lower-volume fit of many models can make choosing a size challenging
For what feels like a niche brand, it’s amazing that La Sportiva offers truly standout products for a number of outdoor pursuits. What unites these pursuits are mountains with climbing shoes, alpinism boots, and ski mountaineering equipment that’s top-notch, along with some great trail running shoes. Not surprising, given the brand’s climbing heritage, La Sportiva offers many trail shoes with a precise fit and excellent rubber compounds for its trail shoe outsoles.
If you’re looking to try a pair of La Sportiva trail shoes, the moderate weight, cushion, and heel-to-toe drop of the Bushido is a great place to start. The Jackal would be a great option for ultra-distance trail runs, given it’s got one of the more generous fits in La Sportiva’s trail running line as well as generous cushioning. Another well-loved ultra-worthy model is the Akasha, that’s been glowingly described as a lace-up slipper.
For more on what’s going on at La Sportiva, check out our full reviews of the La Sportiva Akasha II, La Sportiva Blizzard GTX, La Sportiva Bushido II, La Sportiva Cyklon, La Sportiva Jackal, and La Sportiva Karacal.
Location: Beaverton, Oregon
Popular Models: Wildhorse, Terra Kiger, Pegasus Trail
What We Like: Nike isn’t just adding lugs to road shoes and calling them trail shoes
What We Don’t: Trail running seems like an afterthought for a brand that could bring more variety and innovation to the sport (though this may be changing)
In late 2013, global sports behemoth Nike reentered the trail running world with meaningful offerings of the Kiger and Wildhorse models, which will both be on their eighth iteration in 2023. The Kiger has always had a lower drop and been aimed for speedier running, while the Wildhorse has been the more generalist trail runner of the two models, with a higher drop and a more cushioned feel. The Pegasus Trail gives runners a great road-to-trail feel with the most generous heel-to-toe drop of all of Nike’s trail models.
As you’d expect from a leader in the overall running space, all of Nike’s trail shoes provide superior fit and finish. They’ve got great midsole and outsole materials, incredibly comfortable uppers, and top-of-the-line construction. While not breaking the mold, Nike’s trail models also tend to include small elements that may or may not catch on across the industry with time, such as the low-profile ankle collar of the Kiger 8 pictured above.
Location: Lake District, England
Popular Models: X-Talon, Trailfly, Roclite
What We Like: Grip, grip, and more grip
What We Don’t: For all their models and years, there’s yet to be that one model that’s the clear knock-out, every-day workhorse from the brand
Born in England’s Lake District, the heart of the country’s fell-racing scene and a place with more than its fair share of rain, inov-8’s veritable tree of shoes springs forth from grippy roots. Indeed, we suspect most inov-8 diehards started down that path looking for something grippier than most trail shoes. Traditionally, inov-8 built that grip for climbing and descending steep, trail-less hillsides with deep, toothy lugs held firmly to the foot with tighter-fitting, well-structured uppers. A few years back, inov-8 added graphene to the outsole compound of some shoes to form its Graphene-Grip models and provide even more traction.
For a small, independent brand, inov-8 offers a dizzying array of models. While the brand still offers shoes with world-leading traction in foot-hugging packages, they now offer shoes with all levels of traction to appropriately tackle any sort of terrain. This includes a much wider array of fits, from narrow racing lasts to moderate everyday shoe fits to more accommodating uppers for ultramarathon-length outings.
Be aware that some of inov-8’s most attention-catching models, like the X-Talon G 210 v2, might pair low to no heel-to-toe drop and a minimal underfoot package that should be eased into and likely aren’t suited to everyday running in most cases. That said, inov-8 offers plenty of models that most runners could step into and find comfort and success in from day one, such as the Trailfly Ultra G 270 or Trailroc G 280.
Note that while most shoe brands state a shoe’s weight based on a U.S. men’s 9, 9.5, or 10, inov-8 states its shoe weights in grams as an average across the model’s entire gender and size run. Thus, its shoe weights, referenced by the number in a model’s name, appear lower than what they’d be if stated as the industry standard.
Location: Greater Boston, Massachusetts
Popular Models: Ultraventure, Terraventure, MTN Racer
What We Like: Trail shoes with wide toeboxes available over a variety of lower heel-to-toe drops
What We Don’t: No offerings pushing the bounds of what’s possible
In polling our readers and writers about favorite trail shoe models, Topo is a brand that got lots of mentions across a wide variety of models. That suggests that the brand has hit the mark with its formula of simple shoes with generous toeboxes and low heel-to-toe drop while offering a quiver of shoes that meets a variety of trail runners where they’re most comfortable … and with plenty of comfort.
To start things at Topo’s most comfortable, there’s the Ultraventure with plenty of cushion, some light guidance built in the upper rim of the midsole, and 5mm of heel-to-toe drop. The Terravanture line offers a more moderate amount of cushioning and a more rugged upper on a shoe with 3mm of drop. The MTN Racer adds back in 5mm of drop while being firmer and more responsive underfoot with a bit of stability built in.
As with Altras, you’ll want to ease into the lower heel-to-drop of Topo shoes, particularly shoes with 0mm of drop, if you’re not used to low-drop shoes.
Location: Western Switzerland
Popular Models: Kinabalu Ultra RC, Supertrac RC
What We Like: Finding success with and a commitment to moderately cushioned, moderately rockered midsoles
What We Don’t: Clearer naming of and differentiation between models would be helpful, limited availability
SCOTT is similar to Topo in that our staff and readers love them, but that love is widely split across SCOTT’s offerings. In fact, that diffusion makes it hard to identify what the brand’s most popular models are and what really sets the brand apart. Fortunately, it’s clear that one secret to SCOTT’s success is its decade’s-long commitment to moderately cushioned, moderately rockered midsoles. While not in the least bit flashy, it’s a subtle formula that some people absolutely adore. One model that stood slightly above the rest is the Kinabalu Ultra RC, which a few readers chose as their favorite, as did a sponsored SCOTT athlete, thanks to the model’s locked-down upper, comfortably moderate midsole, and adequate lugging. For even more traction on a speedier ride, there’s the much more heavily lugged Supertrac RC.
One thing to note about SCOTT is it can be darn hard to find any SCOTT trail shoes in the U.S., especially if you’re looking for a particular model. In part, that’s because the brand left the U.S. trail running market entirely for a couple of years — while still going full speed ahead elsewhere — having returned to the U.S. market in spring 2021. Smaller online retailers and a few specialty retailers are your best bet for finding SCOTT’s trail shoes in the States for the time being.
For more on what’s going on at SCOTT, check out our full review of the SCOTT Kinabalu Ultra RC.
Location: Greater Boston, Massachusetts
Popular Models: Peregrine, Xodus, Endorphin Edge
What We Like: Saucony built an entire quiver of shoes around its flagship Peregrine model
What We Don’t: We’d love an even more stripped-down version of the Peregrine
Saucony’s another well-established running shoe company that’s found success in the trail running world. The foundation of that success was laid more than a decade ago when Saucony ported their very popular road-racing shoe, the Kinvara, to the trails in the form of the Peregrine. Over the past decade, the Peregrine has taken on a life of its own, with its franchise model eventually evolving from a heavily lugged trail racing shoe to a more moderately lugged everyday trail running shoe.
However, taking note of that evolution, Saucony added a luggier “soft-terrain” version of the Peregrine, starting with the Peregrine 10. Aside from the standard and soft-terrain models, there are three other variants of the Peregrine at the moment, including a wide version as well as Gore-Tex versions of the standard Peregrine and the Peregrine ICE+, the latter of which features a PWRTRAC ICE outsole for traction on ice and a water-resistant upper.
While the Peregrine is clearly Saucony’s franchise trail running shoe, the brand offers other solid trail shoes, such as the Xodus, a beefier, do-anything shoe favored by those looking for more protection and comfort, and the Endorphin Edge, that mixes a carbon plate with a plush ride.
Where to Buy Trail Running Shoes
If you’re in the market for some trail shoes and you have the chance, swing by your local running store to get set up with a pair. Not only will they have the knowledge to match a pair to your needs and to properly size the shoes, but the store’s selection should also be well-suited for local trails. Many local outdoor stores also carry a selection of trail running shoes (as they often double as great hiking shoes) that would once again be suited for the local environment.
If you know what you’re looking for, online outdoor retailers like REI and Backcountry carry a huge selection of trail shoes from a multitude of manufacturers. These days, you’re likely to find just as many or more trail shoes on Amazon, with free two-day shipping if you’re a Prime member. If you’ve still not found a trail shoe that strikes your fancy, you could keep poking around Road Runner Sports, Fleet Feet, Running Warehouse, and even smaller specialty sites like Skyrun until you find your match.
Other Trail Running Shoe Brands
There are a ton of other trail running shoe brands out there. We’re truly in a golden age of both quality and variety in terms of trail running shoes. Below, we share other quality brands in the trail running shoe world at the moment. For the sole purpose of breaking up what would otherwise be far too long of a list, we’re dividing these by brands that are based in North America and ones that are based overseas.
North America-Based Brands
- Arc’teryx – Arc’teryx, a sister brand of Salomon, makes some luxurious trail shoes — with prices to match. The fit and finish are top notch with ultralight, race-worthy shoes in the Norvan SL line to the ultra comfy, all-day feel of the Norvan LD and LD GTX models. Read our full Arc’teryx SL 2 review for more.
- Atreyu – The former subscription-only shoe company now offers The Base Trail.
- Merrell – Merrell made its biggest splash in the trail running world with its decade-old Trail Glove line of minimalist, no-drop, barefoot-style trail running shoes. However, they offer plenty of well-made, affordable shoes for everyday trail running, like the Antora for women and Nova for men. Merrell’s Flight Moab includes 30% recycled rubber in its Vibram Ecostep outsole, an effort toward increasing sustainability in this market. For more, read our Merrell Antora 2 review.
- Montrail – Columbia bought Montrail in 2006 and continued to operate it as an independent brand until it was converted to the Columbia Montrail sub-brand in 2017. In the early 2020s, Columbia killed the sub-brand concept with Montrail, again, the primary mark. While it only offers one model as of early 2023, there are plans for it to expand its lineup.
- Naked – Famous for its packs and running belts, Naked now makes the Naked T/r trail racing shoe.
- New Balance – Long a leading brand in the trail running world, New Balance has reduced its lineup to three bona fide trail shoes, the Fresh Foam More Trail and Fresh Foam Hierro, both of which are heavily cushioned models, and the Summit Unknown.
- Norda – A new, very high-end shoe brand from Quebec, Canada, that offers two versions of its 001, one with carbide spikes and one without.
- Skechers – While their models frequently change, Skechers often offers a light and quick model, currently the Go Run Trail Razor 2, and a traditional model, currently the Go Run Trail Altitude.
- Speedland – The first mover in the very high-end trail shoe world with its SL:HSV and GS:TAM models.
- The North Face – The North Face relaunched its trail running shoes entirely on its Vectiv platform, ranging from its carbon-plated pinnacle product, the Flight Vecitv, to the plateless, lighter, and more reasonably priced Vectiv Enduris.
- Under Armour – Seemingly bookending the price range of trail shoes, Under Armour offers the $90 Charged Bandit and $150 HOVR Machina.
- Vimazi – A new shoe brand with “pace tuned” shoes run by a former shoe exec at Montrail, SCOTT, and Pearl Izumi that will launch two trail models in summer 2023.
- adidas Terrex – While sharing a name, adidas Terrex is a distinct entity from adidas, which has also offered trail shoe models. If adidas Terrex continues to make strides as it has with its Speed Ultra and Speed Pro models, they’ll soon warrant a marquee entry above. For more, read our adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra and adidas Terrex Speed Ultra reviews.
- ASICS – ASICS is only intermittently an active presence in U.S. trail running but is a stronger player in Europe and Japan. At the moment, ASICS offers quite a wide selection of trail shoes in the U.S. market.
- Craft – The Swedish apparel brand jumped hard into trail running shoes in 2021 with its CTM Ultra and CTM Ultra Carbon models. These high-priced, highly rockered models are only the start of a continued push from the brand into this space. Stay tuned.
- Dynafit – Dynafit started in the ski world but has made a solid move into the trail running world with strong apparel and shoe lineups. The Ultra 50 is a more than capable long-distance shoe, while the Alpine, Alpine DNA, and Sky DNA lighten things up in three fully capable trail running shoes.
- Icebug – Another Swedish brand that’s best known for its carbide-tipped shoes for running on ice or off-trail orienteering, Icebug long ago launched numerous non-spiked trail running shoes that perform admirably. For more, read our Icebug Acceleritas8 RB9X review.
- Kailas – Chinese outdoor brand Kailas expanded into trail running a few years ago and now offers a dozen models that are available even in the U.S.
- Kalenji – Kalenji offers an affordable line of trail running shoes from retailer Decathlon.
- Karhu – Finnish brand Karhu has dipped its toes back into the running market, including one trail offering, the Ikoni Trail.
- Lowa – German bootmaker Lowa will begin offering legitimate trail shoes in 2023.
- Nnormal – A collaboration between Kilian Jornet and Camper, Nnormal offers two trail running shoes, the Kjerag racing shoe and the more cushioned Tomir.
- On – Swiss running brand On now offers a few trail models, including the Cloudultra, Cloudventure, Cloudventure Peak, and Cloudvista, with the brand’s signature CloudTec midsole full of voids. For more, check out our On Cloudultra review.
- Raidlight – French pack and apparel maker Raidlight offers a handful of trail running models.
- Salewa – While Salewa labels its most relevant category “speed hiking,” models like the Dropline, Lite Train, and Ultra Train would be suitable options for the trail runner who’s looking for a ton of stability or protection.
- SCARPA – Mountain brand SCARPA offers a bunch of great trail running offerings, from the light and nimble yet totally capable Spin Infinity to burlier models with tons of protection like the Ribelle Run. For more, read our SCARPA Golden Gate ATR, SCARPA Spin Infinity, and SCARPA Spin Ultra reviews.
- Tecnica – Currently on hiatus from the trail running market. Word is they’ll be back in 2023.
- VJ Shoes – Finnish brand VJ Shoes now offers five trail running shoes, from its hyper-lugged Spark to its highly cushioned, wider toeboxed Ultra, all with VJ’s ultra-sticky 100% butyl-rubber outsoles. For more, see our VJ Ultra 2 review.
- Walsh – Walsh is a classic fell-running brand out of the U.K. with super-grippy models, a few of which you might just find online in the U.S.
Former Trail Running Shoe Brands
Before I wrap up, the history major in me can’t help but name a few more brands that have been part of trail running’s journey.
- adidas – While adidas was one of the first entrants into the trail running shoe world with the Response TR in the early 1990s, non-Terrex adidas trail shoes seem to have completely disappeared from at least the U.S. market.
- Columbia – Columbia has long offered “trail running” shoes, but those models always seemed more aimed at casual wear than frequent trail runs. It appeared as if that might change in the early 2020s, but that quickly evaporated.
- END – Far ahead of its time, END (Environmental Neutral Design) designed some amazing lightweight, flexible trail shoes with the environment in mind.
- Mammut – Swiss outdoor brand Mammut made a number of trail running shoes at least in the mid-2010s before returning to hiking and casual shoes.
- Oboz – During the trail shoe boom of the early 2010s, upstart outdoor shoe company Oboz joined the mix for a couple of years before concentrating their efforts on hiking and casual shoes.
- Patagonia – In the trail running shoe boom days of the early 2010s, there was a line of Patagonia shoes manufactured by Wolverine.
- Pearl Izumi – For half a decade, Pearl Izumi had a range of trail shoes, including their E:Motion line, a range of easily understood cushioning and stability across both road and trail lines, with gently rockered midsoles and beautifully simple uppers. *sigh*
- Teva – If I recall correctly, Teva had a handful of true trail shoes in the late naughts but hasn’t introduced a trail run-specific shoe since the TevaSphere in early 2013.
- Vasque – Over the past two decades, Vasque has had two significant runs in the trail running world, with full lineups in the late naughts into the early 2010s and another line launched in the late 2010s.
Call for Comments
- What’s your favorite trail running shoe brand or brands?
- Do you have any other brands to add to our current or former trail shoe brand lists?