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Sunshine, fresh air, and endorphins — sounds like the perfect day! The only thing that could ruin this picture is blistered feet from running in the wrong shoes.

If you’re ready to leave your treadmill behind and hit the trails, you may wonder whether you really need to purchase trail running shoes.

After all, aren’t your normal running shoes good enough?

Indeed, running outside on trails requires a different level of protection, support, and traction than running on pavement.

As a result, trail running shoes often have thicker soles, extra traction, and more weatherproofing features than road shoes.

When choosing which shoes should make the cut, we considered several factors, including:

  • Versatility. We included options to suit a variety of running landscapes, from muddy trails to rocky mountainsides.
  • Durability. Everyone loves a shoe that can stand the test of time, which is why we paid close attention to the durability and weatherproofing features of each shoe.
  • Cushioning. The amount of padding in trail running shoes varies greatly. We included low, moderate, and high cushioned shoes to accommodate a range of preferences and needs.
  • Price. We know budgets can vary, so we included options at a range of price points.

Here are the 8 best trail running shoes of 2021.

Best all-around trail running shoe

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4

  • Price: $$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 4 mm
  • Lugs: 5 mm
  • Cushioning: moderate

The Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 is the all-around best trail running shoe, thanks to its lightweight construction, ample cushioning, and roomy toe box.

The shoe also includes 5 mm-deep lugs for grip and a breathable mesh upper to keep your feet from overheating on hot days.

What’s more, the Speedgoat 4 is designed with Hoka’s Meggagrip technology, meaning that the shoe will keep you stable and secure in both wet and dry conditions.

However, as the shoe features a thick midsole, some runners note that it’s hard to feel the trail during more technical sections.

Additionally, while it’s a versatile option, runners who frequent one specific type of terrain may want to consider a more specialized shoe.

Best for soft terrain

Salomon Speedcross 5

  • Price: $$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 10 mm
  • Lugs: 6 mm
  • Cushioning: moderate

When it comes to soft terrain, traction is key.

The Salomon Speedcross 5 shines on soft, muddy trails thanks to its arrow-shaped, 6 mm-deep lugs.

The latest model of the shoe also features an updated grip that’s designed to be extra sticky. As a result, the Speedcross 5 is also a great option for running on snow or over wet rocks.

Other notable features include a high heel-toe-drop, a good amount of cushioning, and a wider toe box, making the shoe a good option for runners with wider feet.

While the welded upper is designed to keep mud and water out, it also makes the shoe less breathable, which may be a downside if you run in hot conditions.

Another downside to consider is that the lugs wear down quickly when used on hard dirt or pavement.

Therefore, if you plan on taking your run to a hard surface, you’ll want to choose a different pair.

Best zero drop

Altra Lone Peak 5

  • Price: $$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 0 mm
  • Lugs: 3.65
  • Cushioning: moderate

If you prefer a zero drop shoe, the Altra Lone Peak 5 is your best bet.

While the Lone Peak series has been around for over 10 years, the latest model features Altra’s TrailClaw and MaxTrac outsole to provide plenty of grip regardless of your terrain.

The shoe also scores high marks with runners for its balanced cushioning, which allows your foot to rest in its natural position.

Reviewers also note that they’re breathable, easy to lace, and good for water drainage.

That said, some longtime Altra customers complain that the sizing of the Lone Peak 5 seems to differ from previous models, so you’ll want to make sure to try the shoe on before purchasing it.

Additionally, other reviewers report negative experiences with Altra’s customer service team and difficulties with refunds.

Best for beginners

Brooks Cascadia 16

  • Price: $$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 8 mm
  • Lugs: 3.5 mm
  • Cushioning: high

The Brooks Cascadia 16 is a solid shoe from a brand that has been around for over 100 years.

The latest model, in particular, is a great option for beginners. It features a new midsole and outsole construction that helps the shoe mold more closely to the ground, creating a more stable and secure experience.

The shoe also includes Brooks’s Ballistic Rock Shield, which protects against small pebbles and provides better side-to-side adaptability on uneven surfaces.

Plus, in addition to handling a range of trail conditions, the Cascadia 16 works well on pavement, making it a good option if you choose to stick to more established trails.

Unfortunately, with a heel-to-toe drop of 8 mm, the Cascadia 16 isn’t the ideal shoe for low drop enthusiasts.

Customers also note that the grip isn’t sticky enough for very technical terrain.

Brooks Divide 2

  • Price: $$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 8 mm
  • Lugs: not disclosed
  • Cushioning: high

This Brooks’ model was designed with beginner trail runners in mind.

Appropriate for both trail and on-road routes, the shoe has a familiar fit while offering sticky traction to keep you secure while running up and down hills.

However, keep in mind that this shoe is meant for light trails and won’t provide enough grip for more rugged terrain.

Best for road to trail

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6

  • Price: $$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 5 mm
  • Lugs: 4 mm
  • Cushioning: moderate

If your run takes you on both pavement and trail, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 is worth considering.

The shoe’s 4-mm lugged sole offers enough traction for muddy surfaces while still being comfortable enough to run on firmer surfaces. Plus, the lugs are broad and closely spaced to provide a smooth transition from one surface to another.

The Challenger is also available in wide fits and has the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance for promoting good foot health.

Best for rugged terrain

Hoka One One TenNine Hike Gore-Tex

  • Price: $$$
  • Heel-toe-drop: 4 mm
  • Lugs: 5 mm
  • Cushioning: high

Looking more like a hovercraft than a hiking boot, the design of the Hoka TenNine Hike Gore-Tex offers maximum ground contact for tougher terrain.

Yet, thanks to innovative technology, the shoe weighs less than you might expect.

The TenNine Hike is also made from breathable Gore-Tex fabric to keep your feet dry, while the compression-molded, ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam insole offers added support and impact absorption.

However, as it’s designed for all-day wear on the trail, the shoe isn’t as versatile as others on this list.

It’s also not a great fit if you prefer a minimalist-style shoe, or if you’re on a tight budget.

Best affordable

WHITIN Minimalist Trail Runner

  • Price: $
  • Heel-toe-drop: 0 mm
  • Lugs: not disclosed
  • Cushioning: low

With a roomy box toe, true rubber sole, and over 11,000 mostly positive reviews, the WHITIN Minimalist Trail Runner is a steal. It’s even manufactured using animal-free products and processes.

In addition to being a budget-friendly pick, the shoe is a minimalist runner’s dream, as it offers a zero heel-toe-drop, as well as a removable insole for a more barefoot feel.

That said, this trail runner isn’t as sturdy or protective as others on this list.

Customers also note that the shoe isn’t as durable as more expensive options. Though, given that it’s priced under $50, this may not be a deal-breaker for some.

Here’s a quick look at how our top pics compare:

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4Salomon Speedcross 5Altra Lone Peak 5Brooks Cascadia 16Brooks Divide 2Hoka One One ChallengerHoka One One TenNine Hike Gore-TexWHITIN Minimalist Trail Runner
Price (MSPR)$145$130$130$130$100$130$250$41.99
WeightMen’s:
10.8 oz. (306.2 grams)

Women’s: 9.2 oz. (260.8 grams)
Men’s:
11.3 oz. (320.3 grams)

Women’s: 9.9 oz. (280.7 grams)
Men’s:
11.1 oz. (318 grams)

Women’s: 9.2 oz. (260 grams)
Men’s:
10.5 oz. (297.7 grams)

Women’s: 9.5 oz. (269.3 grams)
Men’s:
10.3 oz. (292.0 grams)

Women’s: 9.2 oz. (260.8 grams)
Men’s:
9.8 oz. (277.8 grams)

Women’s: 8.1 oz. (299.6 grams)
Men’s:
17.8 oz. (504.6 grams)

Women’s: 14.7 oz. (416.7 grams)
Men’s:
12.3 oz. (348.7 grams)

Women’s: not disclosed
Heel-to-toe drop4 mm10 mm0 mm8 mm8 mm5 mm4 mm0 mm
Level of cushioningmoderatemoderatemoderatehighhighmoderatehighlow
Lug depth5 mm6 mm 3.65 mm3.5 mmundisclosed4 mm5 mmundisclosed
Ideal terrainversatilesoftversatileversatilesmoother surfacesversatilerugged terrainsmoother surfaces

Note that the prices listed above are based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP. The actual price may vary by retailer.

Additionally, the listed weights are provided by the manufacturer and may vary by shoe size.

Here are a few factors to consider when shopping for trail running shoes:

  • Intended use. Will you be running on hard-packed dirt? Or, are steep mountainsides in your future? While some shoes are geared toward a specific type of terrain, others are more versatile.
  • Foot shape. Do you have a high arch? Do you need a wider than average shoe? To avoid blisters and hot spots, it’s best to try on a shoe for yourself to find your perfect fit.
  • Cushioning. While some runners appreciate extra cushioning in the heel or mid-foot, others prefer the feel of a minimalist-style shoe.
  • Heel-to-toe drop. The drop of a shoe is important for supporting your preferred stride and cadence. Low and zero drops support a front or midfoot strike and faster cadence, while higher drops are better if you prefer to land heel first.
  • Price. Before purchasing, we recommend shopping around for the best price. After all, store coupons, seasonal sales, and even exploring clearance options can make an amazing pair of shoes more budget-friendly.

Of course, the best way to find the option that’s right you is by visiting a shoe store to test out a variety of brands, sizes, and styles.

Plus, many store employees are more than happy to provide advice on the best shoe for your running style and foot shape.

If you plan on exploring the more remote sections of the great outdoors, trail running shoes are a wise investment.

With additional padding, stronger grips, and thicker soles, trail running shoes will take you further than standard running shoes.

However, not all trail running shoes are created equal.

Before buying a pair, make sure to consider factors like the type of trails you’ll be running on and your foot shape.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.