The Best Trail Running Shoes: We Tested

Trail runners find the joy in the journey, exploring places a car cannot. Technical ascents in high alpine, singletrack ribbons through urban forests and technical ascents are all yours. It doesn’t matter where you run it is the same trio: dirt, you and your sneakers.

Which trail-running shoes is right for you? The 21 REI Cooperative member-testers evaluated every aspect of grip, response, and comfort to bring you the best. The REI Co-op member-testers ran up mountains and fought frigid temperatures to bring you the best trail running shoes this season. This guide will show you how to do long runs on technical terrain and timed efforts.

Test Results

You can find our quick recommendations right here, or continue reading for our complete round-robin review of the top trail-running shoes.

  • Best Trail-Running Shoe for Beginners & REI Cooperative Editors & Choice Award Winner: Salomon Sense Rider 4
  • Best One-Quiver Trail-Running Shoe: HOKA Mafate Speed 4
  • Best Zero Drop Trail-Running Shoe Altra Lone Peak
  • Long Distance Trail Running Shoe: Brooks Cascadia16
  • Best Trail Racing Shoe Saucony Peregrine12

Other top performers

  • HOKA Speedgoat 5
  • On Cloudultra


Best Trail-Running Shoe for Beginners + REI Cooperative Editors’ Choice Award Winner

Salomon Sense Ride 4 Trail-Running Shoes

4.070 ReviewsView 70 reviews with an average rating 4.0 out 5 stars Women’s $120 3.9180 ReviewsView 180 reviews with an average rating 3.9 out 5 stars Men’s $120

Score 1997

Weight 1 Lb. (women’s 7); 1 lb. 5 oz. (men’s 9)

Heel-to-toe drop Moderate (8 mm)

Cushion Moderate (27mm stack height for women’s; 32mm stack height for men’s).

Test Results – Don’t fix it if it’s not broken. This is the reasoning behind the Salomon Sensor Ride 4, the latest version of a shoe that won the REI Co-op Editors Choice Award in 2019. The 4’s core DNA is the same as the 3. Its dual-density sole is made from cushy foam and has a dense, rubberized insert at the heel for quick turnover. This shoe is versatile enough to satisfy most runners. After a day of running in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, one Colorado-based tester said that although my daily runs range from 3 to 5 miles and his feet feel great. A moderate, 8-millimeter heel-to-toe drop (learn more) feels like a happy medium for most runners, too.

The 4 received high marks from our testers for traction, just like the Sense Ride 3. Salomon’s Contagrip rubber compound is used to make the outsole. It sticks like glue on sandstone or dusty granite and pairs with 4-millimeter-long lugs that allow it to easily bite into gravel and dirt. Our Colorado-based tester says that 1,000 feet is my favorite climb, and that I have never fallen on the descent. The shoe’s midsole has a thin rock plate or nylon shank that protects your feet from bruising. It also adds enough stiffness to prevent the shoe from folding over.

The Sense Ride 4 also has everything you need for a daily driver: a breathable mesh top; a socklike sleeve to keep debris out; and quick one-pull laces that allow for a precise fit. Salomon has added padding to the heel of the 4 for a secure fit and protection against burrs and other annoying things. The lace garage, as with the 3, is difficult to reach. Buy here.


Photo by William Rochfort Jr.

Bottom line: This lightweight Salomon Sense Ride4 is great for intermediate and advanced trail runners.


Testing stats

  • Total distance: 512 miles
  • Testing states: Colorado and Montana
  • The best testing story : Our Montana-based tester spotted the snow falling in large, thick flakes while running through the North Hills, near Missoula. She stopped to take in the beauty of the area. She says, “I realized that I was very near to a fawn with her doe grazing.” The doe ran, but the fawn stopped. I yelled, “Wait!” and the doe stopped. The doe then walked away as I sang, “You’re OK,” in a sing-song voice. Her fawn and she continued to graze together. Magical.”



Best One-Quiver Trail-Running Shoe

HOKA Mafate Speed 4 Trail-Running Shoes

4.56 ReviewsView 6 reviews with an average rating 4.5 out 5 stars Women’s $185 4.417 reviewsView 17 reviews with an average rating 4.4 out 5 stars Men’s $185

Score 96.2

Weight 1 Lb. 1 oz. (women’s 7); 1 lb. 5 oz. (men’s 9)

Heel to-toe drop Lower (4 mm).

Cushion Maximum (31 mm stack height, women’s; 33 mm stack height, men’s)

Test Results – It’s lightweight, comfortable, and has great traction. This is the Mafate Speed 4 ,’s latest offering. It was completely redesigned and our testers loved it. Both EVA foams are firmer in the toe and heel, but the top layer of foam is treated differently to increase foam expansion. This results in a soft, bouncy top and a durable layer below. Combining HOKA’s classic rocker sole (which slightly curves upwards to resemble a smile) with the soft top, our Colorado-based tester was able to easily move through varying terrains without complaint.

We were captivated by the shoe’s new, bright colorways and its unique shape. The upper is made from jacquard mesh and has a bitsnugger design than the previous version. However, that’s not a problem. After her first 10 miles on the Mafate Speeds, one tester with a bunion said that she felt more secure. A few overlays can add some design flair and durability.

Vibram Megagrip’s outsole is lined with a host of 5-millimeter-long lugs. It has Vibram Litebase construction. The sticky Megagrip rubber is well-known, but it’s also heavy. Therefore, the Litebase version offers the same traction with a lighter and thinner compound. One of our crew members said that it didn’t matter whether I was climbing up rocks or descending down steep slopes, I felt solid. Although there is still some EVA foam left to cut ounces, the durability of the product was not compromised over 50 miles. Let’s give them a try. Buy here.


Bottom Line: With its lower profile and the increased cushioning of the redesigned midsole, the HOKA Mafate 4 is a great combination of comfort, efficiency, and versatility.

Testing stats

  • Total distance: 82 miles
  • Testing states California and Colorado
  • The best testing story : A Colorado-based tester was injured this summer and the Mafates appeared on the day she returned to the trails. She reports that she can’t see any other magic when she looks at the Mafates. “I was able log 4 solid miles, and they felt great every step of it.”


The Best Zero-Drop Trail Running Shoe

Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail-Running Shoes

4.4228 ReviewsView 228 reviews, with an average rating 4.4 out 5 stars Women’s $140 4.4382 ReviewsView 382 reviews, with an average rating 4.4 out 5 stars Men’s $140

Score 94%

Weight 1 Lb. 1 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 5 oz. (men’s 9)

Heel-to-toe drop None (0 mm)

Cushion Moderate (25 mm stack height)

Test Results – The legacy continues. The Altra Lone Peak 6 is now in its 11th year. There are a few improvements that make this version lighter than it was before. The kicks are also more secure. Altra spent the majority of their time updating the upper with the air-mesh, securing the midfoot area and ensuring a snug fit. This gives the boots confidence on technical terrain. One tester was able to describe himself as a “billy goat” when he visited Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The new upper is not significantly different. Altra switched to the EGO midsole last summer, so the Lone Peak 6 has the same proprietary blend rubber compounds that miraculously don’t weight the shoe down. You get a lightweight trail shoe that is lighter than other sneakers and has a wider, more comfortable last. One tester said that it doesn’t feel as if you’re floating on puffy clouds but that’s a good thing.

Altra kept the TPU rockplate underfoot. This means you can still get protection and a firmer platform for toeing off. The spacious toe box has remained unchanged. Lone Peaks come in a wide range of sizes, but it is wide. We recommend that you try the extended size before you buy. Shop here.

Photo by Altra

Bottom line: Are you looking for a trail shoe that is zero-drop? The lightweight Altra Lone Peak 6 is a great choice. It has a responsive midsole, a large toe box, and is light.

Testing statistics:

  • Total distance: 467 miles
  • Testing states Colorado and Washington
  • The best testing story: A Washington-based tester was just about to climb a steep, narrow ridgeline in the Cascades. It was then that the summer heat began to scorch her skin. She was unable to contain her excitement at passing an alpine lake so she jumped in, shoes and all. She laughs, “It was freezing snowmelt waters but it felt so refreshing!” “The sun dried us every step as we ran the final seven miles, and it was dripping wet.” My Altras were completely dry by the time we reached the trailhead.



The Best Long Distance Trail Running Shoe

Brooks Cascadia 16 Trail Running Shoes

4.3167 ReviewsView the 167 reviews, with an average rating 4.3 out 5 stars Women’s $130 4.3198 ReviewsView the 198 reviews, with an average rating 4.3 out 5 stars Men’s $130

Score 93

Weight 1 Lb. 2 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 3 oz. (men’s 9)

Heel-to-toe drop Moderate (8 mm)

Cushion Moderate (20 mm stack height)

Test Results

Everyone loves a good comeback story and the Brooks Cascadia16 is no exception. The original Cascadia 16 trail shoe was launched in 2005. This latest version features a completely new midsole, which makes it more comfortable for long distances. It’s called DNA Loft v2, and it is made with a mixture of rubber, air, EVA, and rubber. This reduces the weight of the Cascadia 16, and makes it softer underfoot. After a 6-mile hike up to Cathedral Lake, a Colorado-based tester said that the last version made her feel like she had a leadfoot. However, these gave her some comfort and bounce. The new thermoplastic EVA rock plate provides additional stability and protection underfoot, giving confidence on steep and rooted trails.

The Cascadia Series’ upper has been a durable highlight since its inception. Although the technical material is still called engineered mesh, it is mostly covered with a thin layer of TPU. It is heavier than lighter shoes like the Saucony Peregrines ( under), but it provides superior protection, even when you are walking through talus fields higher than tree line. One of our testers said, “The last thing that I want to do is shred my shoes 20 miles into backcountry,”

Brooks chose a TrailTack rubber outsole, a brand new rubber outsole that can withstand a variety of terrains including scree fields, granite slabs and rooty singletrack. They made vertical chunks out of the outsole in the 16s. This gave them more flexibility to wrap around trail obstacles and gives them more flexibility underfoot. While the Cascadias won’t make you faster, they will protect you while you run farther. Click here.

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