TIME magazine

Best Trail Running Shoes for Men and Women

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It’s not even fair to compare the freedom and beauty that comes with running on trails to that of road running. The two sports are entirely different, which is why the footwear required for road running should never be put to the test on trails.

Trail-specific running shoes often come with extra features, like enhanced traction and protection from rocks or debris. There are trail shoes designed for running through muddy terrain and trail shoes that handle long distances better than the rest, and we found the best trail running shoes for whatever terrain you may find beneath your feet.

Below are our top trail running shoes, from the best shoe for steep climbs to the best shoe for running in mud and soft terrain.

How to choose trail running shoes

Not only will you need to take your foot shape into consideration (i.e., size, width, arch height, etc.) when selecting this type of running shoe, you’ll also need to consider the type of running you plan to do while out on the trails. Many trail runners will end up owning multiple pairs, each for a different type of trail run, but these three factors can help you narrow down which shoe you need to buy for your next trail run.


The longer the distance you plan to run, the more cushioning you’ll likely want in your trail shoe. Shorter distances (anything less than 15km) require the least cushioning, and either a barefoot (no padding) or minimal shoe would work well. Moderate distances (anything between 25-50 kilometers) pair best with moderate shoes, which are designed with enough padding to cushion the path over rocky trails. Longer distances (anything more than 50 kilometers) do best with maximum cushioning, and come in a range of drops (i.e., the difference between the height of the shoe at the toe versus the height of the shoe at the heel). A zero-drop shoe offers no heel cushioning (typically found in a barefoot shoe), while 6-10 millimeter drop shoes offer a bit more heel support. It’s always a good idea to size up at least a half size if you plan to run longer distances; this small difference allots for swelling and could end up saving you a toenail. The best places to buy shoes for trail running will have size and measurement guides to help you determine the best fit.


Knowing what types of trails you plan to run on will help narrow down which type of trail shoe you’re looking to buy. Often, your choices will be between light trail (made for relatively uniform terrain, like gravel roads, packed-dirt paths, fire roads, etc.), rugged trail (made for versatility on trails with more varied terrain, like hiking trails), or off trail (made for truly remote running, like forests, mesas, etc.).


Hitting the trails a few times a month versus a few times a week makes a big difference in the features you should look for in your trail running shoe. Lightweight and hybrid (i.e., road and trail) shoes are a great place to begin for anyone just starting out, while features like having durable upper materials matter more for runners looking to take their running to the next level. Planning to do a lot of scrambling on uneven terrain on your trail runs? You’ll want to look for a shoe with enhanced traction. Winter runners, on the other hand, may want something with a built-in gaiter or a solid waterproof membrane.

Our top picks for the best trail running shoes

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