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Check out these 12 off-road models and get ready to hit the trail.
ASICS GEL-Fuji Trainer2, $100
9.2 oz.; 7.9 oz.
Fit: These provide a medium fit throughout, with a wider heel pocket, but can be cinched down for a fairly secure fit on everyone except for runners with very narrow feet.
Feel: The ride on these was light, yet semi-firm. A softer heel counter and mesh upper combine with subtle overlays for added support and an overall feeling of non-restrictive structure. The 6mm heel-toe drop platform seems to be a midpoint between traditional and modern and contributes to the easy flex and feeling of having just enough cushion and protection.
Ride: The Fuji Trainer 2 gripped well in the grime thanks to widely spaced, multi-directional treads that held the trail, but not mud. One tester, a long-time ASICS wearer, appreciated the stable, yet nimble ride. However, the paired down design did leave some wondering, “How did they get so much shoe in such a lightweight package?”
Brooks Cascadia 8, $120
11.9 oz.; 9.8oz
Fit: A medium fit throughout can be cinched down for more narrow feet and the toe box is roomy enough, with a little extra width from the first metatarsal across to the little toe so feet have space to spread.
Feel: Brooks nails it in updating this popular trail shoe. It feels like home the moment you lace it up, with an ample amount of semi-soft cushioning (Brooks added their BioMoGo DNA to the midsole), a padded heel cup and welded upper overlays to hold your foot tight. Surprisingly, this is one of the heavier trail shoes you’ll find at stores and it has a more traditional 10mm heel-toe drop, but it runs with more agility than previous incarnations.
Ride: The eighth iteration of this all-purpose trail runner is lighter, lower to the ground (the heel was dropped 2mm over the Cascadia 7) and has smaller lugs, without sacrificing underfoot protection, for a faithful ride on smooth trails, over technical rocks and roots, and even on frozen, mud-rutted paths. The heel-to-toe transition is super smooth and the enhanced lateral crash pad gave good push off return.
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La Sportiva Helios, $120
8.1 oz.; 6.8 oz.
Fit: A secure, no-slip heel cup, trim-fitting midsole and average volume toe box give this shoe a comfortably secure fit.
Feel: Like barefoot but better is what comes to mind with this warm weather runner’s dream shoe. It has a 5mm heel-toe offset, but it’s not a minimalist shoe by any means. A tight mesh upper gives maximum ventilation, with a stable foot platform and pleasing underfoot cradle. Whether it’s sweat or water crossings, feet are going to get wet, but these drained well and dried fast for a more comfortable run.
Ride: The Helios delivers a fun, minimalist ride with softer edges — a happy medium of trail feel and cushioned comfort. These rocked it on damp, sandy trails in south Florida, with the protection and performance to handle wet logs, knotty roots and coral rocks — a 2mm EVA rock pad adds protection to the injection molded EVA midsole.
Montrail FluidFeel, $110
10.4 oz.; 8.7 oz.
Fit: The FluidFeel has a secure heel pocket and snug midfoot with average roominess in the toe box
Feel: Testers were unanimous in saying these felt great out of the box, and gave good cushion and support without being bulky. They especially appreciated the wide, soft forefoot-landing platform (with a 9mm heel-toe drop).
Ride: These are good shoes to grab for clicking off long miles on the trail. Proprioception is sacrificed somewhat with the additional supportive features, but the FluidFeel moves smoothly over uneven terrain and generally feel good, with no hot spots or constriction, for the length of a run. Traction was smooth enough for road-to-trail transitions and grippy enough for snow and mud. Said one tester: “I like this shoe for longer training runs when I need something sturdy and reliable that I know I won’t twist my ankle in every time I take a step.”
New Balance Leadville 1210, $125
10.3 oz.; 8.1 oz.
Fit: The Leadville has a medium fit through the heel and mid-foot opening into a generous toe box.
Feel: A midweight stability shoe is a beautiful thing, especially when the fit is right. These feel supportive, yet not too firm under foot, with an upper roomy enough to accommodate foot swelling and a comfortable 8mm heel-toe drop. Testers liked how the padded, no-dig tongue laid flat against the top of their feet and helped keep debris out.
Ride: Despite the ultra implications of its name and somewhat bulky construction, this is a refreshingly nimble stability shoe with an intensely grippy, dual-density Vibram outsole for tackling more technical trails, while the stout footprint gives good stability. The support and light posting come from New Balance’s REVlite foam, making for a fluid heel to toe transition “Love the cushion in the sole — a heel-striker’s Shangri-La,” one tester gushed.
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Patagonia Gamut, $125
10.1 oz.; 8.2 oz.
Fit: The Gamut has a solid medium fit from heel to toe, with enough give to be well suited for medium to wide feet.
Feel: Support without too much structure is the driving feel of this neutral shoe. The upper has sewn overlays for protection and structural support, as well as a sturdy heel counter, but most of the upper is a breathable foam and open mesh construction, with some stretch for movement. The sole has enough cushion for ground insulation, but not enough to interfere with sensing the trail.
Ride: While comparable in weight to some of the more supportive shoes we tested, the construction of the Gamut delivered a light and responsive ride on the trails, with enough heel stability for light heel strikers and smooth forefoot transition and push-off for mid-foot strikers in the group. A rock plate and moderate, multi-directional lugs gave confident boost for scrambling over varied terrain.
Salomon Sense Mantra, $120
9.6 oz.; 8.8 oz.
Fit: The Sense Mantra boasts a medium-fitting heel and a reliably snug midfoot that locks down to a glove-like fit, and a high-volume toe box
Feel: These are part of Salomon’s road-to-trail line and have a less burly feel than many of the brand’s mountain runners. They feel firm and neutral with a 6mm drop and good ground awareness. If you like running sans socks, you’ll love the seamless construction and sock sleeve.
Ride: Trails are about the journey, and the playfully responsive feel to the Sense Mantra makes for an enjoyable partner on the way. While these work just fine for heel strikers, they are designed for efficient midfoot runners, with a protective film from the midfoot forward. Multi-directional lugs run the length of the shoe for stability and traction when you need it.
Saucony Peregrine 3, $118
9.9 oz.; 8.7 oz.
Fit: The Peregrine 3 had a performance-ready streamlined fit from heel to toe, snug throughout with a little bit of wiggle room in the toe box.
Feel: Our testers really liked the feel of the newest version of the Perengrine. “Like my foot, but better.” “Unobtrusive.” “Just what I need, nothing more.” The underfoot cushion trends to firm without being hard, and the seamless upper breathes, but manages to keep trail grit at bay.
Ride: One tester called this a “sweet spot shoe,” thanks to the merging of cushion, moderate multi-directional tread, ample protection and a 4mm drop that make for a quick turnover, running-for-joy-of-it experience on a variety of trails. It doesn’t hug the turns quite like the minimalist Kinvara TR, but the additional structure makes this a more forgiving shoe against rocks, roots and stride lapses.
Scott T2 Kinabalu, $120
9.9 oz.; 8.0 oz.
Fit: The Kinabalu fits medium in the heel and narrow across the instep with a standard volume toe box.
Feel: From the more traditional 11mm drop to firmness underfoot, these feel like an old-school running shoe retooled with modern lightweight materials (including the soft but very resilient midsole foam), which may explain why testers “really liked them” but couldn’t quite explain why.
Ride: Scott’s rocker construction helps give a smooth stride transition for both heel and forefoot strikers (heel strikers noticed it the most), and the streamlined design was good for a nimble ride with a secure grip. With a moderately burly tread, rock plate and water drainage ports, testers liked them as a good “all-around” shoe that can handle short to long mileage runs.
The North Face Hyper-Track Guide, $120
9.3 oz.; 7.9 oz.
Fit: The heel has a medium fit with secure mid-foot and an average volume toe box.
Feel: These pass the “standing test” with a soft midsole and breathable, open-mesh upper that has give so as not to pinch a wider forefoot and welded overlays for support. Or, according to one of our high-mileage testers, “From the minute I put these shoes on I knew I had found a new favorite pair of shoes. They enveloped my feet like a slipper, hugging without constricting.” The Hyper-Track Guide has a moderate 8mm heel-toe drop built into its neutral composition.
Ride: Testers raved about the light, quick, neutral ride, but felt inserts were a must if you were prone to pronation. These are slung low and close to the ground making for responsive trail feel. The lack of a rock plate and more minimal lugs make for a silky stride, but means you feel the whole trail, rocks and all. These were a top choice for short to medium length runs, speed training, racing, road-to-trail transitions and less technical trails.
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TrekSta Sync, $125
10.9 oz.; 9.5 oz.
Fit: A beefy foam collar promotes a secure heel feel, with the cinched down feeling continuing through the midfoot and opening to a wider toe box.
Feel: TrekSta promotes the “nest fit” of this shoe, meaning it’s been designed to cradle and hold the shape of your foot. Translation — it feels like it has a built-in orthotic (both with and without the insole liner). Some testers were fanatical about the sensation, but those preferring less structure were not.
Ride: How this shoe ran depended on whether or not testers liked the feel. The positive camp was excited to experience the low-riding feel of a 4mm, more to minimalistic shoe, with the added benefit of solid support, dual-density midsole and some extra spring from forefoot pods. “The ‘nest fit’ takes the pressure off my arch and allows for a more stable footfall and still allows for a neutral position.” Naysayers said the ride felt flat and the forefoot pods felt like, “funny bump under the ball of my foot.”
Vasque Pendulum, $110
10.9 oz.; 8.8 oz.
Fit: The Pendulum has a snug-fitting, moderate fit through from the heel to midfoot (but with a soft heel cup) and generous volume in the toe box combined for a secure, larger volume fit.
Feel: Asymmetrical lacing gives the upper a secure cinch, and a stout foam insole cradles your foot without feeling squishy, and somehow managing to deliver a firm ride.
Ride: Vasque has struck a balance between low-to-the-ground responsiveness and foot protection (with the addition of a TPU plate and moderate lugs) making for a protective, but enjoyable ride and secure striding on a variety of trails that didn’t leave testers feeling worse for wear at the end of a long run.