Diversity of Trail Shoes

Earlier this spring, I was struck by the variety in trail shoe brands that folks were wearing at the HAT run. Not only were there trail shoes from a variety of big multi-sport companies like Nike, Adidas, Asics, Brooks, and New Balance, but also many “smaller” brands like Montrail, La Sportiva, Salomon, Teva, North Face, Inov-8, Vasque, Merrell, and so on. Seeing this variety, I asked myself if there really could be so many trail shoes worth wearing out there right now. My own recent exploration of trail shoes has confirmed – there is a great selection of awesome trail shoes from a wide variety of manufactures on the market these days. While my bedroom houses only an extremely small portion of the current trail shoe offerings, I often find it difficult to pick which pair I want to wear most on a given day.

This diversity is great. Many different companies are competently designing and manufacturing trail shoes. Such competition can only help spur the development of even better shoes, whether than means improved technology, more simplicity, or the development of both!

Keep reading for more thoughts about the current diversity of trail shoes as well as a preview of future iRunFar trail shoes reviews. Please share what shoes you’ve been kicking around in and let us know if there are any shoes you’d like to hear more about.

For years there have been a large number of trail shoes on the market, but many seemed to be designed more a stylish urban wear than for blasting down the trail. The recent incredible growth in trail running has meant that more and more consumers (a.k.a. trail runners) want trail shoes that actually perform. This growth in demanding trail shoe consumers means growth at established trail shoe companies as well as a basis for establishing new companies.

For instance, sales of La Sportiva’s trail running shoes, errr… Mountain Running(tm) shoes were up 30% last quarter. While this may be due in part to company specific moves (e.g., expansion of Mountain Running team and Buzz Burrell’s efforts on the world wide web here, here, and here), I think it is indicative of both the growth of trail running and the expansion of the number of quality trail running shoes brands that have become widely available in the United States in the recent past.

The only downside to all of this is that with so many great trail shoes these days, it’s hard to learn of all the great new shoes that are out there. When I started trail running a decade and a half ago, there were few readily available options outside of the major brands like Nike or Adidas’ offerings. With so few options, chances are you knew people with most of the current trail models. Even though I know many, many times the number of trail runners these days, I’m sure that there are quality shoes that even they don’t have… even if I had time to ask them all.

There are two huge shifts taking place these days that help trail runners navigate through this sea of choices. First, online retailers such as Backcountry.com are integrating user reviews and even the opportunity for Q&A in their product pages. Second, the combination of search engines and the explosion of personal publishing (a.k.a., blogging) means that an interested runner can often find a variety of opinions from actual users who have published reviews. The next step will be for manufacturers to let consumers openly review their products on their respective websites.

iRunFar tries to do its part in helping you learn of great (or not so great) trail shoes by sharing reviews of all the shoes that come to our offices here at Red Star Farms. Over the next few months, be on the lookout for iRunFar’s reviews of the following trail shoes, among others:

What trail shoes are you wearing these days? Have you tried any trail shoes from the smaller companies? If so, which have you liked and which didn’t measure up?

Would you like iRunFar to review a particular brand or model of trail shoe, be it from one of the companies noted in the opening paragraph or some more obscure trail shoe brands like Lafuma, GoLite, Pearl Izumi, Oboz, Keen, or Ecco? No promises that iRunFar can get a pair of feet in any of these shoes, but we’ll see what we can do.

There are 30 comments

  1. Meredith

    I wear Brooks Cascadias and have pretty much only worn them. I have a larger foot and it is hard to find women's shoes that fit my foot properly. I have tried Keens, Montrails, North Face and Adidas. I kept coming back to the Cascadias. When they released the Cascadia 3's, i did have to move up a full size in the shoe, and even with my connections with Brooks, i have a hard time locating a pair in my size. The Keens rubbed my foot in a weird way, as did the Adidas. The Montrails just did not feel great and the North Face were awesome, but they do not come bigger than an 11 and i felt like their 11's were just a tad too small for 50 milers and longer. My husband has tried almost every brand out there– inov8, Salomon, Brooks, Adidas, Montrail, North Face, and some i do not remember. He liked the inov8, but they were way too light weight. The Salomons he liked as well, but lately has gone thru a few pairs of the Brooks Cascadia 3's.

  2. aerojust

    Brooks Adrenaline ASR 4's are my shoes of choice. They were my first trail shoes and I did not want to like them for some reason. I tried a ton of other shoes including La Sportiva Fireblades, Brooks Cascadias 3, and Montrail Hardrocks. The Fireblades did not have enough toe box. The Cascacias just did not feel good. I thought the Hardrocks would work be ok, but 20 miles into the Laurel Highlands Ultra my ankle hurt (I never turned it and it never hurts in the ASRs) and I had the beginning of a blister on my heel (Never had it on the Asrs). I found myself switching to the old reliable ASRs and had no issues the rest of the race. I have been running in the Brooks Adrenaline line for a few years so it is a natural for me to use the Adrenaline trail shoe. I just wish I would have realized it sooner.

  3. Holly

    I have tried Salomons, Asics, New Balance, and I am currently sporting a surprisingly awesome pair of Pumas (Trailfox). I bought them fairly recently, and I have to admit, when I left the store I felt shoe-shopping-drunk. Fortunately the guy working there actually had a very similar strike to mine, and was able to make an excellent recommendation. The only ones that I tried that were exceptionally bad (for me, anyway) were the Asics. BUT they were pretty much the only trail shoes I could find at the time…I would love to see some reviews on the North Face shoes with the "knob" adjustment in the back. I don't know anyone that has braved them yet.

  4. Trail Goat

    Meredith and Aerojust,Have either of you tried the other of the Brooks trail shoes? If so, how would you compare the Cascadia 3 to the ASR? I thought about picking them both up for comparison purposes, but no need if either of you have.Holly,I've heard bad things about the knob (a.k.a Boa) lace system. I know for the fact that another trail shoe company developed and then abandoned a never-released trail running shoe with the Boa system a year or two because of problems that The North Face had run into with it. Maybe Boa Technology has dialed things in over the past few years, maybe not. To be honest, I was always a bit skeptical about any alternative lacing systems until I recently tried the Salomon XT Wings. Different can be good.As for the Pumas, what did you like most about them? Least? Do tell! :-) This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for – I hadn't even thought about Puma making trail shoes!

  5. Holly

    I was surprised that Puma made trail specific shoes as well. Rest assured that they are extremely cool looking :)The best thing about the Pumas is the fact that they weigh nothing. Even though they're not waterproof I have no qualms getting my feet wet in them (lots of creek crossings in Canada, you know) because I know that having some water weight is not a problem. They also dry quickly when I do get them wet.As well, for me, the cushioning is in all the right places. I midfoot strike, so I don't need an extremely cushioned/rigid heel, and the Trailfoxes definitely don't have that. They fit almost like a sock.Nothing not to like so far! The break in period was short and I ran a half marathon after only having run in them 4 times. I had some toe issues from that, but I think that stemmed from me accidentally kicking a root. Ooops.

  6. Michael Valliant

    I have to say I have become an Inov-8 convert. I have very much enjoyed the Flyroc 310s and Terroc 330s (which both are also nice for fastpacking). I think my next purchase will likely be a pair of Roclite 320s to break in for Mountain Masochist and Vermont. I have been testing a pair of Adidas Supernova RIOTs for Trail Runner, which are obviously a completely different beast altogether. Seems like some of the bigger companies make lowest common denominator kicks–meaning shoes that can run on trails and road, though don't shine on either, really. I tend to not care for too much cushioning on trails, in favor of feeling the trail underfoot. A shoe I am very curious about though is the New Balance 790s, which I have read strong reviews for from Tony Krupicka (who runs for NB), Justin Angle, and a number of others. They sound like a great, light shoe, though maybe not too grippy. My two cents from the nickel seats ;)

  7. AnthonyP

    Like some of the other posters, I too have tried a bunch of trail shoes, finally settling on the Brooks Cascadias. For a long time I was using the North Face Arnuva 50 Boas, and really liked the ease of the Boa system. But the Arnuvas are a heavier trail shoe, and I found the Cascadias to be light and slipper-like.

  8. Dan Rose

    After much deliberation and testing, I chose to wear the Brooks Adrenaline ASRs in the Vermont 100 last year. They were absolutely perfect for that terrain (mostly dirt roads and smooth trails). However, when I started training on the Massanutten course in them, I quickly realized they don't have enough protection in the sole to handle all those rocks. I switched to the Cascadia 2s for the rest of my training on that course and they worked great. They're low-to-the-ground like the ASRs, but with better rock protection in the sole and toe. Once the Cascadia 3s came out, I switched to them and loved the upgrades from the 2 (most notably: quicker drying). I also tried out the Montrail Hardrock (last year's model), but found them to ride a little too high which left me rolling a few too many ankles on the small and uneven rocks of the MMT course. So for now, on rocky runs, I stick with the Cascadia 3s.When I ran the Umstead 100 this spring, I was looking for a lighter trail shoe with less emphasis on sole protection. I ended up going with the New Balance 800s. They performed great (even in the rain all day), and I ended up cruising in with a 17:05. The light treads on this shoe were perfect for the packed dirt roads on the course (similar to VT100 roads). I wouldn't recommend them for anything even remotely rocky/rooty, but for the smooth stuff, they work for sure. Just note that they run 1/2 size small if you're ordering them online though.

  9. Clara

    I bought my first pair of trail shoes (Saucony) only because they were on sale and thus the cheapest. I hadn’t read anything about them or researched them, so I was taking a risk. Luckily they worked out great for me and I didn’t even get any major blisters during my 50 mile run.The second pair of trail shoes I bought was Adidas. Again, I hadn’t researched them. I simply bought them because they looked the best. They worked out fine for short runs but they gave my feet a LOT of blisters during my 100k run- something I’m not used to. I always wore Brooks Adrenaline GTS for pavement and I loved them. I didn’t know they made trail shoes (not like I intensely searched for them or anything). Sweet- thanks for the tips.

  10. wonderboy

    Trail shoes are kind of a joke. Do we really need all of that stuff on our feet in order to run trails? What about a nice pair of cushioned road shoes? All that other stuff on most trail shoes is just extra weight. Plus, the stiffness kills the motion of running. I do wear trail shoes at times, but I wear road shoes as often and wonder why I ever bother with the trail shoes. If you have decent trail running technique, you should give it a try.

  11. aerojust

    Wonderboy, I sort of agree with you for running on terrain that is not rocky and rooty (like dirt roads / fire roads), but if you have ever kicked a rock while running or ran on a muddy slippery trail you will know why runners appreciate trail shoes. I run in a trail shoe that is a beefed up road shoe, but the extra traction and protection is worth the little extra weight.

  12. aerojust

    Brooks Cascadia 3 vs. Adrenaline ASR4: I have not logged enough miles in the Cascadias and have never raced in them to be an "authority" on the shoe. I have logged a ton of miles in ASR4s and completed at least part of 3 races in them. The differences as I see them are as follows-> Design: Cascadias are build as trail shoes (Did Scott Jureck help Brooks design them?). ASR4 are build up from the Brooks Adrenaline line of road shoes. Pronation Control: Cascadias have minimal pronation control, this is the reason I cannot run in them. They hurt my one ankle after a few hours of running. ASR4s have more pronation control, I like to think it is the same amount as the adrenaline road shoes, but have no evidence to back this up. Weight: The Cascadias are 1.2 oz. lighter. Traction I feel the cascadias have a little more traction, once again just my opinion. The Cascadias just look more like a trail shoe and I like the feel of them for a short run, but they are not for me for the long run. My ankle needs more support. The ASR4s are my shoes of choice. I have run terrain from paved road to fire road to grassy meadow to tons of rocks and roots to ankle deep mud with no issues. They just feel good. I have been running in the brooks adrenaline road line for a few years so this is a natural shoe for me. I wore the ASRs for the majority of the Laurel highlands Ultra last weekend. It rained for 12 hours straight during the race and the trail was very muddy, no traction issues with this shoe. If you run in a stability road shoe I would give the ASR4 a try. Bryon, you could have a similar post on socks. I had blister issues on the balls of my feet once they got really wet wearing smartwool. I wore Injini last weekend and had no blisters with wet feet the entire day.

  13. Dan

    I've been wearing Brooks Cascadias, Asics Gel Trail Attacks and Montrail Hardrocks. I like all three of these, but I think I like the Cascadias best. I weigh just under 200 pounds, so I'm big for a runner. I've wanted to try the La Sportivas and Inov8s, but they make me nervous due to their very light weight. I wonder if they could handle my size. I recently tried a pair of New Balances, but I didn't like them, I felt every rock, and my ankles wanted to roll.On the three I've been wearing, the Hardrocks were my shoe for about a year and a half (several pairs) and I've always found them solid, but I don't feel very fast in them. The Asics feel faster and are great for my daily training runs on tamer trails, but they have trouble in tougher conditions. I wore them on the first half of Squaw Peak this year and struggled mightily with traction in the mud. Life was much better when I changed to the Cascadias (of course the trails were a bit drier by then as well). The Cascadias seem like a good mix to me. They feel fast on fast moderate trails, but I never feel like they're inadequate in the mountains. I'm curious what other big trail runners wear. I've heard good things about the Salomon XT Wings and the new North Face shoes.

  14. wonderboy

    To respond to Dan and his inquiry as to what the "big" runners wear on there feet: At Way Too Cool this year I saw Skaggs, Jurek, Mongold, and most of the Oregon boys running in road racing flats. Krupicka wears NB 790's only because he is sponsored by them. And the 790's offer no more protection than most light trainers. I know the doubters will say "sure, those are those super smooth Cali trails, but what about the east coast rocks?" I have run the Appalachian Trail and Massanutten in road shoes. Do I stub my toe? Yes. Did I lose toenails in Cascadias from kicking rocks? Yes. Be comfortable and don't be scared. Trail shoes mostly make you sloppy and slow and give you blisters.If you must wear trail shoes, the Sportiva Raceblades are a reasonable compromise.

  15. Sara

    Wonderboy, Big beefy road shoes? Are you serious? Whatever works, I guess. On technical trails a lower profile and rock plate work well. Plus trail shoes are cheaper and last longer than road shoes – a good deal that in turn extends your road shoe lifespan.In any discussion of trail shoes, there are always those who say "but you don't neeeeed them". So what? Maybe you should strip your life of all things you don't actually *need*, and then report back. ;)

  16. flanker

    I'm awaiting your judgement on the best trail shoe, if only to save my wife killing me for trying another pair!Currently I'm running in ASRs (3s I think, the red/black ones) and love them for mixed trail/road routes, but I think they have one big flaw: the water-resistant coating is not enough to stop water getting in, but tends to stop it draining out. Running wet grassy routes has left me with blisters from having constantly soggy feet.I've also got four pairs of inov-8s and I'm a big fan. Roclite 315s and F-Lite 230s for short fast stuff, and the excellent Roclite 320s for longer trail ultras. The 320s seem to be an ideal shoe for trail, but I'm still not completely confident they will cope well with long stretches of road/hard pack, especially for me as I over-pronate. I'm wearing them this weekend for an ultra with about 15 miles of road in the middle to find out. Hopefully I'll survive with lower legs in one piece!Given the way the ASRs (and road Adrenaline GTSs) fit, I'm very tempted to try out the Cascadias as I keep hearing a lot of good things about them.I'd also love to find someone who has used the the new TNF Rucky Chuckys, to see if they are as good as they sound.

  17. Iron Mountain Trail

    I agree with Wonderboy's comments. Check out the photos of Way Too Cool – Jurek is wearing the ST Racer, Skaggs is wearing the Mizuno Ronin; Hal Koerner is wearing the Mizuno Revolver. I switched to road flats for trail runs along with NB 790's long before Krupicka picked them up as a sponser and found I can run trails better and more efficient because my foot can feel the ground. I'd even go as far as wearing the NB 790's on a course like Massanutten. My toenails are no worse than they were when I wore the Brooks Cascadia's. I wore flats for Bull Run and no problems at all, actually my feet felt better at the end of that race that they have ever felt at the end of any ultra.

  18. Dan Rose

    I think the best way to pull off wearing a shoe like the NB790 or NB800 on a rocky course like MMT is to put in an insert like the ones from SOLE. Because they have that solid plastic bottom to them (the heat-molding part), they can both serve as a custom fitted sole as well as a pretty sturdy rock plate. I'm not saying I'd run the 100 miles of MMT in that set up, but it seems to me like a nice compromise if you were hell-bent on wearing a light-weight shoe out there.

  19. Sara

    I think going down to a more minimal shoe is a different decision entirely than whether you use a trail or road shoe. That's more about the runner than the trail surface. At both ends of the light-to-clunky spectrum, I still think trail shoes offer better protection, traction and value than road shoes for technical trails.

  20. ultrastevep

    Hi Bryon….Brooks ASR's for me….and let me tell you why. While training in NM, I found that the gritty dust on the trails wore through the mesh uppers in weeks. A new pair of Asics had my toes poking through in 5 weeks…so I hunted for some shoes that didn't have a mesh upper (like the running shoes from the 70's) and found the Brooks ASR's. Now I'm back in NH and have been wearing them no all my trail training and races. I also have been trying the Asics Trail Attacks and after 20 miles at Pittsfield Peaks 54 last Saturday, I switched back into my ASR's and it was Ahhhhhh for my feet.You can read my review on my blog here. <a href="http://ultrastevep.blogspot.com/2008/04/review-of-brooks-adrenaline-asr-trail.htmlhttp://ultrastevep.blogspot.com/2008/04/review-of… />Thanks for this great writeup on shoes,Steve

  21. Meredith

    As far as why to wear trail shoes? besides extra protection from rocks and what not, better traction on the trails, i find that trail shoes are less mesh-y than road shoes (where i can see my sock thru the mesh!) which prevents excess dust and debris getting into my shoes. Last year at Umstead, which was super dusty, my friend wore his road shoes and the dust macerated his feet, i wore trail shoes and my feet were barely dusty. This year he wore trail shoes and was fine! I have also worn my Cascadias during two road 50 milers and a road marathon, haha! As far as the BOA system on the Northface? I liked it, but i would not trust it over 100 miles. I have a friend who has kicked his during a race and released the laces, i am not sure if he kicked it or knocked it on a root or rock? I would also be paranoid about it snapping. I did like the North face shoes, but they were just too small for my boats i call my feet :( I do wear them on some short trail runs.

  22. aerojust

    Here is a review of the ASR4s I wrote a while ago and just updated. Hope it is helpful to someone out there looking for versatile shoeshttp://www.justusstull.com/2008/06/16/brooks-adrenaline-asr4/

  23. Anonymous

    Great discussion. I am a big Inov8 fan and I'm addicted to lightweight shoes. FWIW I am a lightwt person too (125lbs) and rarely run much over 20 miles in a single run.Trail shoes for traction of course. If you don't need traction you might not need trail shoes. I like the Roclite series – currently using mostly the new 295, but still also the 315. Light for trail shoes, good traction, and especially because they fit my feet well – obviously that is key to shoe choice. Not all Inov8s fit the same though.I am curious about even lighter shoes, including the NB790, the Pearl Izumi XC which claims to be less than 10 oz, and the Inov230 F-lite and fell shoe they have not yet released – the Xtalon (or whatever).So somebody should review those :)- dogrunner who has forgotten his google password, so today is anonymous

  24. flanker

    dogrunner, the 230 f-lites are out in the UK, and I've worn mine a couple of times. My first thoughts are:- The fit is like the roclites, but a bit smaller volume around the toe- the sole is typical f-lite, so more like a road shoe than a trail shoe, but made with inov-8's sticky rubber and so grips well on dry and (unlike the roclites IMO) wet rock. They are not as good on wet grass though.- The cushioning/support is very minimal, and after having to do a couple of miles on a road after a navigational mishap, my feet were feeling tired from the impact.- there is next to no heel in them. They are more like a racing flat, and indeed might get used for track work and the odd 5k race I do.- they are an amazing bright blue colour!So, in summary, my initial thoughts are they might be good for short loosener/recovery trail runs but will mainly be be for short, sharp, rocky races of up to about 10 miles, but my roclites will still be my main trail shoes.The close fit, thin sole and sticky rubber almost remind me of a climbing shoe!

  25. Jim A

    I have been running in the Cascadia 3's, they are my first pair of true trail shoes and I like them to date…just feel right on the trails and i am happy with how they handle the rocky side of CO (Mesa, Chatauqua & its offshoots)…and since I'm a relative newbie here, my perception and downhills etc..isn't quite on par with the others yetwhen i'm on fireroads etc though I'll run in a lighter road shoe like a Speedstar since again it just feels right…

  26. Travis

    I just did a video review of the new Inov-8 Roclite 320's and 305's on my ultrarunning podcast(link below). Hopefully it helps someone out there interested in a lighter weight trail shoe! I'm liking the 320 the best of the 2. Its light, but not so minimal I feel "exposed" Leave me a comment and let me know what you think! Keep up the great work here!I would for sure be up for hearing about the more obscure brands out there. Oboz seem interesting.http://flatlandultra.com

  27. Trail Goat

    Thanks, everyone for all the great info about trail shoes!Aerojust,Your wish (sock post) is my command. Actually, I'd been planning on a sock post since at least the beginning of April. Regardless, it's up. :-)Wonderboy, Aerojust, IMTR, and Sara… thanks for starting the conversation re the necessity or lack thereof for trail shoes.Travis,I'd had contacting Oboz on my to do list since I first heard about them, but then I tried a pair of the Oboz Ignition on during my trip to Salt Lake City last month and didn't like them at all. They felt really clunky in the store. Maybe it was something about the Ignition in particular that didn't work for me, but I won't be blindly ordering any of their other models for the time being.

  28. Anonymous

    Bryon, the best iteration of the BOA lacing system I have seen is in the Vasque Aether Tech. The placement of the dial is on the tongue, where the top of shoe laces would be normally anyway, so that eliminates any possibility of banging the dial as you come off of rocks, which occasionally occurred to some runners on the heel-placed dial of the NF Arnuva. I have logged 300 miles on Virginia's rockiest trails in the Aether Tech Boa with no lacing breakage or dial kicking/banging. It is a light shoe with low profile that lets you feel the trail nicely. I always feel fast in them, even when I'm not. :)-VH, Ashburn, VA

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