If you’re doing a lot of off-road running, you’ll need a sturdy pair of trail shoes. Professional run-tester Kieran Alger has put the latest pairs through their paces to round up the best trail running shoes for any terrain…
Pair your trail shoes with the best running shorts
Whether you’re chasing a PB on a mixed terrain 5km parkrun course, charging down a technical Alpine trail or cruising along forest paths, it’s important to wear the best trail running shoes. Regular road shoes just won’t give you the grip, stability or agility to cope with the technical demands of off-road running. To help take your running further off the beaten track, we’ve put a selection of the latest trail running shoes through their paces.
Why you can trust Men’s Fitness
We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best.
Find out more about how we test
These are the best trail running shoes
- Inov-8 TrailFly G270 V2 (amazon.com)
- Hoka Tecton X2 (amazon.com)
- Merrell Agility Peak 5 (amazon.com)
- Nike Pegasus Trail 4 (amazon.com)
- New Balance SuperComp Trail (amazon.com)
Inov-8 TrailFly G270 V2
$170 / £150, inov-8.com
- No-nonsense durability
- Fantastic grip
- Good for road-to-trail transitions
- May be too firm for some runners
- Zero drop may not suit everyone
Inov-8 has improved an already impressive first-gen G270 by enhancing the fit, comfort and durability for this V2 model. All the things that made the G270 a great trail shoe are still here. Graphene-enhanced G-GRIP lugs, PowerFlow Max foam, Boomerang insole and zero-drop design are rolled over from the original. But we’ll testify to the fact that it’s even more agile and responsive than before.
Read our full Inov-8 TrailFly G270 V2 review
Hoka Tecton X2
$225 / £185, hoka.com
- Excellent for road-to-trail transitions
- Fast, agile and responsive
- Good cushioned protection
- Fit might be snug for some
- Grip struggles in trickier conditions
Hoka excels at making shoes to bring out your competitive streak, and we think the Tecton X2 is no different. Punchy Profly X foam and parallel carbon plates certainly help in that department. But there’s grip and stability too, thanks to the Vibram Megagrip with Litebase outsoles. Unlike some trail shoes with racing pretentions, the Tecton X2 still offers plenty of protection deep into multi-hour trail epics too.
Read our full Hoka Tecton X2 review
Merrell Agility Peak 5
$140 / £140, merrell.com
- Good versatile all-rounder
- Excellent grip
- Plush long-run comfort
- Some heel slipping
- Higher stack limits ground feel
If you think Merrell only produces functional outdoor leisurewear, think again. The Agility Peak 5 trail shoe shows the company is upping its performance footwear game too. Substantial 5mm Vibram lugs, an energetic medium-density FloatPro foam, engineered mesh uppers with TPU overlays and a useful rock plate are just some of the Peak 5’s highlights. We’re also big fans of the gusseted wrap-around tongue, which prevents lace pinch.
Read our full Merrell Agility Peak 5 review
Nike Pegasus Trail 4
$140 / £129.95, nike.com
- Lively, responsive yet balanced ride
- Good road-to-trail all-rounder
- Performs across a range of paces
- Almost no toe-box protection
- No rock plate
The Nike Pegasus Trail 4 is a hybrid runner designed for trails as well as tarmac. Featuring the same Nike React foam you’ll find in the company’s Infinity Run daily trainer, the Pegasus Trail 4 has a responsive and springy ride. Strategically placed 4mm lugs provide plenty of bite on softer terrain. If you’re looking for a pacey all-rounder that you can use on a variety of surfaces, we think you can’t go wrong with the Pegasus Trail 4.
Read our full Nike Pegasus Trail 4 review
New Balance SuperComp Trail
$199 / £200, newbalance.co.uk
- Light and punchy ride
- Good durability
- Copes well with road-to-trail transitions
- Short, tight and narrow fit
- Lacks some stability
- Can catch stones
It looks like a road shoe. It even feels like a road shoe. But any comparisons with its road cousin the SC Elite are dispelled as soon as you leave the black stuff behind. It complements the responsive FuelCell foam found in the SC Elite with a tougher, more resilient foam to give you confidence inspiring stability and enhanced durability. The forked carbon plate creates a light and punchy ride, too, allowing you to push anything up to 5km trail race pace. We think it’s the ideal choice for fast, technical trails.
Read our full New Balance SuperComp Trail review
How are trail running shoes different to road running shoes?
Trail running shoes are built to handle rougher runs when you step off the more consistent and reliable surface of the road. These rugged running shoes have more aggressive rubber outsoles with deeper lugs to provide better grip and traction on slippery surfaces. Lug depth and patterns vary, with deeper lugs and aggressive lug patterns offering stickier grip in mud and more surface traction. If you’re running from road to trail or on firmer ground, shallower lugs provide grip without holding you back.
Some trail shoes also have reinforced uppers with toe-guard overlays around the toe box to protect your pinkies from accidental encounters with rocks and roots. They can also feature rock plates to prevent the lumps and bumps coming up through the midsole to batter your feet. This all tends to make them heavier than road shoes.
Speaking of battered feet, heading off road onto uneven ground creates a bigger challenge for your feet and ankles. That requires more support and stability. So trail shoes tend to have features to help, including a more robust build with increased structure in the heel, side walls and different midsole technology to ensure you have a reliable platform for picking your way along the paths.
There’s also a new trend for trail shoes to offer protection against water. Breathable GORE-Tex coatings are now common in a bid to keep feet dry. Though nothing’s going to prevent soggy socks if you go ankle deep into a big puddle, mind.
Some road-shoe DNA is now being transferred to trail shoes, too. That includes livelier, lightweight responsive foams, carbon plates and more aggressive superlight racy designs.
When should you wear trail shoes?
Trail running covers a very wide variety of terrain, including steep grassy fells, rocky mountain climbs and uneven coastal paths. Then there’s flat gravel paths that run alongside rivers, through forests or in parks. They can be clear, wide and groomed; steep, wild and muddy; and even sandy or slippery. Basically any time you venture off the road onto uneven, unpredictable terrain, you’ll want to consider lacing up a trail shoe. Though in drier, flatter, more groomed conditions, sometimes road shoes can still get the job done. And we’re seeing a big trend for do-it-all road-to-trail shoes that offer good versatility across a wider range of terrain.