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Best trail-running shoes 2021: Head off-road with the best all-terrain shoes for men and women

Nick Harris-Fry Joe Coombs
15 Dec 2021

Leave the pavement behind with these top trail-running shoes

Trail running is very different to road running. It takes you out of yourself and lets you explore the most beautiful places in the world – even if you will have to tackle a few more uphills to appreciate the views.

If you want to enjoy all that the trails have to offer, however, you’ll need the best trail-running shoes – because trying to run on uneven, loose or muddy ground in your normal road shoes is a surefire recipe for a pratfall. Here’s our roundup of the best trail-running shoes for every kind of surface you’re likely to run on, plus a guide to what you should look for in a pair.

How to choose the best trail-running shoes for you

When choosing a pair of trail-running shoes, it’s important to consider what sort of terrain you want to tackle. While roads all tend to have very similar characteristics, trails can be wildly different, and it’s important to choose shoes that are tailored to the surface you’ll be running on the most. The key to this is the sole, which will have lugs of different length to suit different types of surface.

If you’ll mostly be running on muddy trails then a good grip is vital; this means you’re looking for deep lugs of around 8-9mm. These are also good for fell running when you need the grip to hurtle safely down slick or loose slopes.

Really long lugs can be skiddy and uncomfortable on hard surfaces, though, so if you like to mix up your runs then look for an all-rounder with lugs around 6mm deep. If you plan to spend a good proportion of your time running on roads, or only intend to tackle very hard and rocky paths, then a lug depth of 3-4mm will be best – these are often described as road-to-trail shoes.

What other features should I look out for?

One common feature in trail-running shoes is a rock plate – a piece of plastic on the forefoot that protects the underside of your feet from jagged stones. This is a must for rocky trails, but less essential if you stick to muddy forests.

No-tie laces, which you can tighten by simply pulling a toggle, can also be useful on trail-running shoes. They’re easy to do up even when your shoes are caked in mud, and won’t get pulled loose by rogue branches.

If you’re looking for waterproofing, however, you’re in for a disappointment: most trail-running shoes aren’t waterproof, as this would make them heavy and uncomfortably sweaty to run in. Water-resistant uppers offer some protection, but if you’re heading off-road regularly you probably need to accept wet feet as all part of the fun.

How much cushioning do I want?

You normally don’t need as much cushioning for trail running as you do on the road: soft, uneven trails are less jarring for the body than tarmac, so it’s common for trail-running shoes to be relatively minimalist in this regard. However, highly cushioned trail shoes do exist and could be a good pick if you’re contemplating an ultra-marathon, where you’ll want all the support you can get.

How much do I need to spend?

While road-running shoes come at a wide range of prices, the vast majority of trail-running shoes land somewhere in the £70 to £130 bracket. There are some bargain options below £50, however, and you can often find old models of popular lines for around that price too. These are normally just as good as the latest model, so it’s definitely worth checking them out if you’re bargain-hunting.

READ NEXT: Run further and faster with the best running shoes

The best trail-running shoes to buy

1. Evadict Kiprun XT7: The best budget trail running shoes

Price: £30 to £60 | Buy men's | women's from Decathlon

Despite costing remarkably little, Decathlon rates these trainers as good for trail runs up to 80km long, and durable enough to last 1,000km of running in total. We can’t say we’ve tested those particular claims yet, but it does provide some indication of their quality and durability, which is particularly important when you’re shopping in the budget bracket.

More important, though, is how well the XT7 performs across a range of trails, with the 5mm lugs providing good grip on wet trails, and the sticky rubber keeping you grounded on rocky tracks. The Kalensole EVA cushioning isn’t the softest or most responsive on the market – midsole foams are definitely one area where you can feel the improvement when you increase your budget – but it is supportive and comfortable enough for long runs on mixed terrain.

Key specs – Best terrain: All-rounder; Weight: 340g; Heel-to-toe drop: 10mm

Buy men's from Decathlon

Buy women's from Decathlon

2. Salomon Speedcross 5: The best trail-running shoes for muddy tracks

Price: £120 | Buy men's | women's from Salomon

Runners faced with boggy conditions have long valued Salomon’s Speedcross line as an excellent ally against the mud. The latest version offers even more grip on slippery terrain owing to the larger lugs, which are more widely-spaced on the outsole than in previous editions. This extra grip is especially noticeable during hilly fell runs and when attempting to run at speed through the mud, when your foot slipping as you push off can knock you off your rhythm.

The upper of the shoe has also been updated to be more comfortable, moving with your foot to avoid sore spots while still locking it in place as you plough through the mud. The quick-lock laces can be tightened with a pull, which is always easier than trying to tie knots in mud-caked laces.

Key specs – Best terrain: Muddy; Weight: 328g; Heel height: 30mm; Heel-to-toe drop: 10mm

Buy men's from Salomon

Buy women's from Salomon

3. Inov-8 Trailroc G 280: The best trail-running shoes for rocky roads

Price: £140 | Buy men's | women's from Inov-8

You might assume that you can just use your road running shoes on hard, rocky trails, but finding grip on firm ground isn’t as easy when you’re off-road as on it. Wet rocks get slippery fast, and you’ll be landing on uneven surfaces most of the time, so your shoe needs a sticky, lugged outsole to find grip even on the narrow edge of a rock, plus some protection for your feet from those jagged edges.

The Trailroc G280 has 4mm studs on the bottom that pierce through loose shingle to find grip underneath, and the graphene material used is both sticky and incredibly durable. Underfoot is Inov-8’s META-PLATE, which protects your foot from sharp edges, and there are bumpers on the toe-box to protect the top of your foot as well.

Key specs – Best terrain: Rocky; Weight: 280g; Heel height: 20mm Heel-to-toe drop: 8mm

Buy men's from Inov-8Buy women's from Inov-8

4. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus Trail 3: The best road-to-trail running shoes

Price: £115 | Buy men’s | women’s from Nike

First off, we'd like to show some appreciation for the design team behind the Pegasus Trail 3, because it’s one of the best-looking road or trail shoes we’ve ever come across. Fortunately the Pegasus Trail 3 also backs up its looks with its performance on the run, offering a comfortable and versatile ride that’s great for road running or hitting lighter, harder trails.

The shoe has the same React cushioning in the midsole as the standard Pegasus road shoe. This is a foam that manages to be both comfortable and durable without sacrificing stability, which is important when running on uneven trails. The outsole of the Pegasus Trail 3 is not the best when it comes to very wet tracks, but it grips well on hard surfaces in dry conditions, and is both comfortable and reliable on roads, where trail shoes with longer lugs can get a little skittery.

Key specs – Best terrain: Road & light trails; Weight: 326g (UK 9); Heel-to-toe drop: 9.5mm

Buy men's from Nike Buy women's from Nike

5. Hoka One One Speedgoat 4: The best trail-running shoe for ultramarathons

Price: £125 | Buy men's | women's from Sports Shoes

It turns out that perhaps the best sporting nickname of all is found in ultramarathon running, and it belongs to Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Melzer, who holds the record for the most 100-mile trail race wins. Hoka borrowed the name from Melzer for this line of popular long-distance racing shoes, and while you might not match the Speedgoat himself when it comes to your times on ultra events, you can at least use the same footwear.

The Speedgoat 4 has 5mm lugs that offer grip on pretty much any kind of terrain and excel on technical ground. It has Hoka’s classic oversized stack of cushioning to protect your legs over ultra distances, but is still surprisingly light on the foot so you’re not slowed down by your shoes.

Key specs – Best terrain: All-rounder; Weight: 263g; Heel height: 30mm; Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm

Buy men's from Sports Shoes

Buy women's from Sports Shoes

6. Saucony Peregrine 11: The best all-terrain trail-running shoes

Price: £115 | Buy men's | women's from Saucony

Many all-terrain trail-running shoes are geared towards harder, rocky ground. That isn’t always ideal for UK off-road runners who spend a lot of time on muddy tracks for half of the year. Maybe more than half, depending on the year.

The Peregrine 11 bucks that trend, being impressively adept at finding grip on boggy ground. Even though the 5mm lugs aren’t the longest, the aggressive shape cuts through the muck to find purchase on grass and muddy tracks. It’s still a comfortable option on harder trails, too, and we’ve used the shoe for runs with long stints on the road as well as softer, slippery terrain.

There is a rock plate underfoot and the PWRRUN foam used in the midsole is the same stuff as in Saucony’s road shoes like the Kinvara and Ride 13. It makes for a cushioned and bouncy ride, and helps make the Peregrine a solid racing option over long distances in particular.

Along with the standard Peregrine 11 the range contains the Peregrine 11 ST, which has longer lugs and is directly designed for muddy runs, and the Peregrine 11 GTX, which has a waterproof Gore-Tex liner.

Key specs – Best terrain: All-rounder; Weight: 310g; Heel height: 27mm; Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm

Buy men's from Saucony

Buy women's from Saucony

7. Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra: The best trail-running racing shoe

Price: £160 | Buy men’s | women’s from Adidas

The Speed Ultra was developed in partnership with professional ultramarathoner Tom Evans, but rest assured you don’t have to be hitting distances of 50km plus to get the benefits of this shoe in your races.

The shoe has a lightweight design, and the combination of foams in the midsole makes for a comfortable and quick ride. On the top of the midsole is a layer of Adidas’s responsive Lightstrike foam, while underneath you’ll find the company’s bouncy and durable Boost foam. The combination provides a stable and springy feel that will help you speed through trail races of any distance.

That is if you stick to fairly dry races, however, because the shoe is built for harder trails. The Continental rubber outsole grips well on slick surfaces and can handle forest trails well when they’re dry, but will come unstuck in the mud owing to the shallow lugs on the shoe.

Key specs – Best terrain: All-rounder; Weight: 245g; Heel-to-toe drop: 8mm

Buy men's from Adidas

Buy women's now from Adidas

8. Inov-8 X-Talon G 210: The best shoe for cross country and obstacle course races

Price: £135 | Buy men's | women's from Inov-8

Cross country races tend to be exceptionally muddy affairs, as of course do obstacle course races. Running fast in the mud requires a special shoe (plus an iron will), and the G 210 is built specifically for the purpose. It’s very light at just 210g, with almost all of that weight found on the outsole, which features 8mm studs that can find grip on the boggiest of ground, even when you can’t see your feet because they’re so deep in the mud.

The upper is a lightweight mesh that drains quickly so you’re not sloshing around all race after going through a couple of puddles. The outsole is also made of Inov-8’s graphene material, which is very durable and grips well, even when you hit sections of harder ground. If you’re looking for a shoe to hare around muddy fields and forests, there is no better option out there.

Key specs – Best terrain: Muddy; Weight: 210g; Heel-to-toe drop: 3mm

Buy men's from Inov-8

Buy women's from Inov-8

9. The North Face Flight Vectiv: The best carbon plate trail-running shoe

Price: £180 | Buy men’s | women’s from The North Face

In 2020, pretty much every big brand released a carbon plate road running shoe, and a glut of carbon plate trail shoes is expected in 2021. Leading the charge is The North Face’s Flight Vectiv shoe, which takes several cues from road-racing shoes in its design.

There’s the carbon plate, of course, which is designed to help propel you forward with each stride. That plate is paired with a generous stack of cushioning, although the midsole on the Vectiv is firmer than on a road shoe such as the Nike Vaporfly because too soft a landing would lead to instability on the trails.

That extra stability is enhanced by the upper, which features panels made with Kevlar to hold the foot in place on tricky terrain, and the outsole is naturally designed for off-road running too, with 3.5mm lugs and a sticky rubber used to help find purchase on wet tracks. The Vectiv is not intended for boggy ground, though: it’s a shoe that excels on hard-packed trails and can also be used as a road-to-trail option.

Key specs – Best terrain: Hard/road-to-trail; Weight: 285g; Heel-to-toe drop: 3mm

Buy men's from The North Face

Buy women's from The North Face