Best trail running shoes in 2020

  • Trail running shoes keep your feet protected against rocks, roots, and the ever-changing terrain you’ll find on backwoods jogs.
  • Depending on the style of trail running you prefer, there are pairs perfect for racing, for keeping your feet dry in a downpour, and those that are designed to function on pavement as well as they are on the trail. 
  • Our top pick, the Salomon Sense Ride 3, is an impressive all-around, neutral trail shoe that fits like a glove and is built to last.

Trail running shoes are designed somewhere between a road running shoe and a hiking boot. They’re made for moving fast but give you just the right amount of protection and support to help you leap over rocks, dodge roots, and plow through the mud without taking a spill. 

Find the right set of trail shoes and take them on a gorgeous path through the woods and you’ll have a running experience like no other. Pick the wrong ones, however, and you could be in for a rough ride.

How to shop for trail running shoes

There are many things to look for in a good trail shoe but the first question you should ask yourself is, where do you plan on using them? If your runs are on a combination of roads and trails, you’ll want a hybrid shoe that won’t slow you down on concrete while giving you enough grip on dirt to prevent you from sliding all over the place. 

If you see yourself regularly running on wet, muddy trails, you’ll want shoes with longer rubber lugs on their outsoles for better traction. You may even consider getting waterproof shoes made of Gore-Tex if you see a few river crossings in your running future.

When traversing difficult terrain, you may want a shoe with a reinforced toe cap to prevent sharp objects, such as sticks or branches, from piercing the front of your shoe. Also handy are shoes with rock plates, which are slabs of plastic or carbon fiber sandwiched between the midsole and the outsole of the shoe that shield your foot when running over jagged rocks.

What else to keep in mind

Other features are more of a matter of taste. Do you want your trail shoes to have a pronounced drop? This means that the midsole is tilted forward with the heel higher than the toe portion of the shoe. Some runners feel having a heel-to-toe drop of 10 millimeters or more helps their running form by propelling them forward while the added rear foam protects their heels on bumpy trails. 

Other runners, however, prefer zero drop shoes where the heel and ball of your foot are the same height off the ground. Shoes without drops are typically better for more technical trails and less likely to cause you to turn your ankle on steep, uneven terrain. Some runners even say zero drop shoes help them feel the trail better. 

There’s certainly plenty to consider, which is why we’ve field-tested a range of different trail shoes to help you find one fit for your running style. 

Here are the best trail running shoes for men: 

Updated on 7/21/2020 by Dan Havlik & Rick Stella: Added an entire new set of recommended trail running shoes and introduced new categories of best lightweight zero drop trail running shoes, best hybrid trail running shoes, and best trail running shoes for races, and updated the formatting throughout.

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