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 a 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: Slow to offer a maximal cushioning offering, but that’s about to change
Salomon is the 800-pound…err, 400-kilogram gorilla in the trail shoe space. In the late naughts, 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 of 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 five 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 cuts 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, stirring things up at the racing end of the spectrum and the forthcoming 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 ATR, Stinson ATR
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 your body up. Well, that concept evolved into the highly cushioned, rockered shoe design that’s made Hoka One One famous for the past decade. While not the brand’s first trail model, the Hoka One One 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 ATR is for you. Plush doesn’t do the Stinson ATR 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 ATR offers a similar package with just a tad less cushioning, and both ATR models are great 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 a more moderate cushioning in what’s still a distinctly Hoka and trail-worthy shoe. FYI, a few Hoka models like the Torrent 2 and Challenger ATR 6 have a sustainability bent and include post-consumer recycled plastic in their uppers.
Location: Denver, Colorado
Popular Trail Models: Lone Peak, Olympus, Superior
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, it was quickly followed by and 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 instantly recognize the Lone Peak 5, some eight 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 has crept up a bit from the Lone Peak 4 to 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 trail rudder. For those looking for the plushest of trail rides, there’s the Olympus, which offers maximal cushioning as well as being Altra’s only trail shoe to use Vibram MegaGrip rubber for its outsole. 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. While the current Superior 4.5 offers great midfoot lockdown, it comes at the cost of reduced drainage and breathability.
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
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 August 2021) than any other trail shoe we know of. Indeed, if there was 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 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: Lake District, England
Popular Models: X-Talon, Trailroc, 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 of 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 every-day shoe fits to more accommodating uppers for ultramarathon-length outings.
Be aware that some of inov-8’s most attention-catching models, like the Mudclaw G 260 V2 or X-Talon G 210, 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 Roclite G 290 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 appear lower than what they’d be if stated as the industry standard.
Location: Beaverton, Oregon
Popular Models: Wildhorse, Air Zoom Terra Kiger (a/k/a 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
In late 2013, global sports behemoth Nike reentered the trail running world with meaningful offerings of the Kiger and Wildhorse models, which both launched their seventh iteration in spring 2021. 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 7 pictured above.
Location: Greater Boston, Massachusetts
Popular Models: Ultraventure, Runventure, 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, theres’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 Runventure line offers a more moderate amount of cushioning, a more neutral ride, and no heel-to-toe 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 Ultra 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
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 decades-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 similar ride, there’s the much more heavily lugged Supertrac Ultra 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 marketing entirely for a couple years — while still going full speed ahead elsewhere — with a return in spring 2021. Smaller online retailers and a few specialty retailers are your best bet for finding SCOTT’s trail shoes 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, Mad River TR
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 Vibram Arctic Grip outsole for traction on ice and a water-resistant upper. The Peregrine ICE+ continues to be built on the Peregrine 7, which was the current Peregrine when the ICE+ was introduced.
While the Peregrine is clearly Saucony’s franchise trail running shoe, the brand offers a trio of other solid trail shoes. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Xodus, a beefier, do-anything shoe favored by those looking for more protection and comfort. There’s also the Canyon TR, which is a moderately lugged, higher heel-to-toe drop, road-to-trail shoe for everyday running.
The Mad River TR is an excellent value for someone looking for a lower drop (4mm) and a bit less cushion in a shoe that’s still very capable as one’s go-to trail shoe. The Switchback has taken over the spot as the brand’s lightest trail shoe. With a sticky rubber outsole, a 4mm drop, a thinner midsole, and the BOA Fit System, the Switchback is aimed at shorter, faster runs.
For more of what’s going on at Sauncony, check out our full Saucony Peregrine 11 review.
Location: Italian Alps
Popular Models: Bushido, Jackal, Mutant
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 Mutant blends La Sportiva’s stickiest running rubber and a precise fit with a bunch of cushioning and large lugs for a comfy and aggressive ride for short and moderate trail runs. 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.
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, the store’s selection should also be well-suited for local trails. Many local outdoor stores 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, 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, and all of the ones listed below make darn good trail running shoes. 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 American-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 reviews of the Arc’teryx SL 2 and Arc’teryx VT 2 for more.
- Columbia – Columbia has long offered “trail running” shoes, but those models aways seemed more aimed at casual wear than frequent trail runs. That might be changing with the Escape Ascent launched in 2021, which appears to be worthy of daily trail running.
- Columbia 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. Since then, the line has dwindled to three models: F.K.T., F.K.T. Lite, and Trans Alps FKT. It’s unclear whether Columbia will keep Columbia Montrail as a sub-brand, relaunch an independent Montrail brand, or fold the Montrail name — which dates back to 1996 — entirely.
- 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 MTL Long Sky review.
- New Balance – Long a leading brand in the trail running world, New Balance has reduced its lineup to two bona fide trail shoes, the Fresh Foam More Trail and Fresh Foam Hierro, both of which are heavily cushioned models.
- Skechers – While their models frequently change, Skechers often offers a light and quick model, currently the GORun Razor TRL, and a more maximal model forthcoming.
- 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 $80 Charged Bandit and $150 HOVR Machina 2.
- adidas Terrex – While sharing a name, adidas Terrex is a distinct entity from adidas, which has also offered trail shoe models in the past. If adidas Terrex continues to make strides as it has with their Speed Ultra and Speed Pro models, they’ll soon warrant a marquee entry above. Models with Parley or Primeblue have a sustainability mindset and use recycled, ocean-collected plastic in their uppers.
- ASICS – ASICS is only intermittently an active presence in U.S. trail running, but is a stronger player in Europe and Japan. At least in the U.S., the brand offers a bunch of lower-priced everyday trail shoes with the higher-priced, lower-weight Gel-Fujitrabuco being its one attention-catching model.
- 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 100 is a more than capable long-distance shoe, while the newer Alpine and Alpine DNA lighten things up in two simple but fully capable trail running shoes. For more, read our Dynafit Ultra 100 review.
- 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.
- 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.
- On – Swiss running brand On now offers a trail model, the Cloudultra, with the brand’s signature CloudTec midsole full of voids.
- Raidlight – French pack and apparel maker Raidlight has offered a handful of trail running shoes for a couple years now.
- 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 2.0 to burlier models with tons of protection like the Ribelle Run. For more, read our SCARPA Spin Ultra review.
- Tecnica – Tecnica’s three-model Origin line is unique among trail running shoes in that their fit is heat and compression moldable, similar to the lining on some ski boots.
- VJ Sport – Finnish brand VJ Sport now offers four trail running shoes, from its hyper-lugged iRock to its highly cushioned, wider toeboxed Ultra, all with VJ’s ultra-sticky 100% butyl-rubber outsoles.
- 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.
- 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 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?