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Best Trail Running Shoes Review

| Gear | Running Gear | 06/10/2011 04:00am
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We’ve reviewed 11 pairs of the best trail running shoes to get you get off road and on the pace


Running off road is great for winter training, we review 11 of the best pairs out there. Find more group tests from Triathlon Plus in our other best triathlon gear reviews.

New Balance 101
£49.99
Weight 226g
www.newbalance.co.uk

New Balance 101

There have always been thin, light trail shoes, worn by those who think nothing of hurling themselves down a scree slope. But several shoes we tested have moved this stripped-down concept on to ‘barefoot’ shoes. New Balance sent us their Minimus Trail shoe, little more than a sole, but we thought the 101 had a wider appeal; it’s still a light shoe though, with barefoot elements. The lacing loops into sturdy overlays to cradle the foot. It’s surprisingly cushioned for something so thin. Our tester found it tight around the toe, thanks to the puncture-resistant toe coating. A pattern of tough diamond-shaped spikes in the middle area of the outsole gives rock protection, while softer lugs on the outside help you paw your way over the ground. The grip on these was fantastic, whether on the mud or loose dusty trails.

Verdict
Good short-distance race shoe, suited for light trails.

Value 4/5
Performance 5/5
Overall 4/5

Triathlon Plus Top Value Award, issue 33

 

Brooks Cascadia 6
£80
Weight 317g
www.brooksrunning.co.uk

Brooks Cascadia 6

This looks like a road shoe, and is cushioned enough to get away with a few miles on Tarmac, but it’s packed with trail features. It uses Brooks’ DNA cushioning material to build a four-point Pivot System that means however you land, you get a soft footfall – we certainly noticed this, though at times we would have preferred a bit more feel for the ground. The Ballistic Rock Shield in the front of the foot is designed to disperse pressure from sharp objects, and while we couldn’t feel a thing disturbing our tender toes, we were a bit disappointed by the low flexibility. The best feature of this shoe though is the outsole, made from a really tough, responsive rubber, with clever ‘golf spike’ lugs that twist and grip into soft mud – they’re really effective for relatively shallow spikes (meaning they’re not too intrusive on flatter surfaces).

Verdict
Really grippy, solid trail shoe that offers a cushioned landing.

Value 4/5
Performance 4/5
Overall 4/5

 

Saucony Progrid Peregrine
£80
Weight 258g

www.saucony.co.uk

Saucony Progrid Peregrine

Another shoe from the minimalist mould, the Peregrine felt really good to run in without socks, making it a solid choice for off-road duathlons this winter, as long as you won’t be crossing too much wet rock or pavement. The tough but breathable upper, padding on the tongue that prevents pain on the top of your foot, and soft inner all keep things really comfortable. Built on the same last as the popular Kinvara barefoot shoe, it feels low to the ground, fast and responsive, though it’s not especially flexible. The foam midsole seems denser than on a road shoe, protecting feet from stones, but is responsive and thin enough to make sure you can feel where you’re going. The sticky rubber outsole is great on the trail and wet pavements, but on wet rock it wasn’t quite up to the job.

Verdict
Tough, light and responsive, good for running without socks.

Value 3/5
Performance 3/5
Overall 3/5

 

La Sportiva Crosslite
£80
Weight 290g

www.lasportiva.com; www.lyon-outdoor.co.uk

La Sportiva Crosslite

Despite the name, there’s not much ‘lite’ about these; they have the feel of stripped-down hiking boots rather than beefed-up race shoes, but for longer, heavy-duty trail or mountain racing, they’re great. The stiff, deep-lugged outsole has a clever pattern of notched points designed to give grip even on steep slopes; like the Inov-8s, this is intrusive on hard, flat surfaces but invaluable on grassy or muddy hills. The upper is the most protective on test, with a tough coating round the sides and back and rubber over the toes; the laces are covered by a gaiter to stop small stones and twigs getting into your shoe. Inside, the shoe is made from a special anti-slip fabric, though if anything our tester said the fit felt less secure than others we tried, probably because of the overall stiffness of the build.

Verdict
Full-on off-road shoe with loads of protection, but some found fit awkward.

Value 3/5
Performance 4/5
Overall 3/5

 

Adidas Supernova Riot 3
£85
Weight 364g
www.adidas.co.uk

Adidas Supernova Riot 3

This solid trail shoe for over-pronators will suit you if you’re happy with adidas road running shoes. The main difference on this third version is a new outsole from tyre makers Continental; using technology from their mountain bike tyre programme, this version doesn’t suffer from the goat-on-wet lino problems the old Riots did. The tread design has improved too – the old thin blades that didn’t present enough material to the ground are now working with more useful two-step octagonal lugs. Other tweaks are a more roomy upper and a slightly taller midfoot area. Toe-off is improved with extra padding in the midsole under the forefoot. One glance will tell you this is not a pure off-road shoe – it’s too big and soft for that – but unless you’re super serious about only running on dirt, it’s a useful, versatile road-to-trail trainer.

Verdict
Good transitional shoe for road runners looking for security on the trails.

Value 4/5
Performance 3/5
Overall 3/5

 

Inov-8 X Talon 212
£90
Weight 212g
www.inov-8.com

Inov-8 X Talon 212

In contrast to the Supernova Riots, this is as pure as off-road shoes get. Everything from the name to the outsole says if you’re wearing these, you mean business. They just don’t work on the road – we could really feel the deep lugs underfoot on pavement – but on mud, rock and grass they positively pull you along the ground. Cushioning is minimal and they’re incredibly flexible, so great for light, fast off-road runners and perfect for racing. Tough material on the upper gives good protection from the elements, but isn’t sweaty, and plastic webbing linked to the lacing gives a secure feeling. The outsole is a surprisingly soft, sticky rubber that gave the best rock grip in the wet of all the shoes here. The only change we’d like to see for racing would be a sewn-in tongue, just to save us a bit of time in transition.

Verdict
Pure, aggressive, racy off-roaders for people who like to claw the ground.

Value 5/5
Performance 4/5
Overall 4/5

Triathlon Plus Gold Award, issue 33

 

Mizuno Wave Cabrakan 3
£90
Weight 285g
www.mizuno.co.uk

Mizuno Wave Cabrakan 3

The cabrakan is a bulky shoe, with lots of cushioning for an off-road number. It’s rugged, so good for winter running, and our tester ran through a few cow fields and came out unscathed thanks to its water-resistant mesh upper, grippy Wet Traction rubber outsole and protective toebox. It feels high off the ground compared with some of the shoes here, but there was no loss of proprioception. Though it’s a roomy shoe, it felt a bit tight in the midfoot – some people might appreciate that feeling of hugging the foot, but our tester had a bit of numbness in the toes. The padded tongue and cushy brushed inner lend themselves to sockless running, and stretchy bands hold the tongue in place, so it’d be a good duathlon choice. It’s a very stiff shoe and heavy in the heel – better suited to training than racing.

Verdict
Big, protective shoe with good grip and a nice inner – good for long off-road runs.

Value 4/5
Performance 3/5
Overall 3/5

 

Merrell Trail Glove
£90
Weight 176g
www.merrell.co.uk

Merrell Trail Glove

You don’t get a lot of shoe for your money here, but you get a lot of ideas. The most barefoot of the barefoot shoes we’ve got tested, this is a 4mm outsole/midsole with a light, breathable upper – which is how Merrell have reached that incredibly low weight. There’s no drop from heel to forefoot, and flexibility is high, so it’s a really natural ride. The Omni-Fit lacing system locks your foot to the upper with plastic overlays, and the lace loops hook through to the tongue, keeping it in place. Despite the flexibility and thinness of the sole, there is a rock plate of sorts, keeping your feet safe from stones and twigs, and our tester had no problems with this or with grip. In thick mud they’re not the best, as lugs are low-profile, so you can’t claw your way through. The inner is soft and snug. What was really striking was the glove-like fit, which our tester raved about.

Verdict
Is exactly what it claims to be: – a foot-glove for running on trails.

Value 5/5
Performance 3/5
Overall 4/5

Triathlon Plus Peak Performer Award, issue 33

 

Salomon XR Crossmax CS
£95
Weight 320g
www.kswiss.co.uk, www.salomonrunning.com

Salomon XR Crossmax CS

A great shoe for people taking to the trails for the first time, these are designed for road and off-road running and come in both neutral and supportive versions (we tried the former). A tongue loop and one-pull lace system makes them strong duathlon contenders, though we were a bit too quick with our lacing and had to stop to adjust the pressure on the bridge of the foot. The road-to-trail design makes for a well-cushioned firm shoe; not the most racy on test, but the most versatile. The OS tendon feature – two strips of plastic running through the midsole, designed to give energy rebound – seems to have value, as we found them responsive for a fairly heavy, thicksoled shoe. We really liked the seamless inner and cradling fit, making running without socks a blister-beating dream.

Verdict
Not one for tearing up the cross-country circuit, but great if you like to mix it up.

Value 4/5
Performance 3/5
Overall 3/5

 

Nike Zoom Structure Triax
£120 Weight
320g
www.nike.com

Nike Zoom Structure Triax

We know what you’re thinking. This doesn’t look like a trail shoe. Well, that’s because it’s not – it’s a road shoe that can be customised using Nike’s iD programme (hence the high price) to add a trail outsole and GoreTex upper (not shown here). It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds, since Nike’s Flywire offers a good secure fit round the midfoot and stops your foot slipping round, and good flexibility and traction have been at top of their road-shoe priority list for a while. Where it falls down though – apart from the steep price you’re paying for customisation – is the pillowy cushioning. We like to be a bit more connected to the ground when we’re running off road, and this just doesn’t offer that or the responsive feel we’d like.

Verdict
If you know what you like and you like Nike Structure Triax, this takes it to the trail.

Value 3/5
Performance 2/5
Overall 2/5

 

Newton Momentum
£119.99
Weight 317g
www.newtonrunning.co.uk

Newton Momentum

A bit like the Nike shoe, these are best suited to people who want to stick with their road shoes but have them beefed up for off-road running. The trail makeover on the Momentum reaches deeper and, by the low-profile, natural-running design of Newton shoes, it’s more successful, though we still wouldn’t use these for really gnarly tracks – the soles just aren’t spiky enough. This is a ‘guidance’ shoe so there is good support from the midsole and a subtle lace-wrapping system. They’re good for racing on the trails, especially for tri and duathlons – heel and tongue tabs are a nice touch. The lugs aren’t deep enough for really thick wet mud, but the tough rubber compound was sticky on rock and wet pavement. You get protection from the tight mesh upper, toe-guard and sturdy overlays. They’re firm, springy and stable, and work well on road too.

Verdict
A responsive, supportive and protective shoe for off-road ‘natural’ running.

Value 4/5
Performance 3/5
Overall 3/5

 

Find more group tests from Triathlon Plus in our other best triathlon gear reviews.

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Posted on Thursday, October 6th, 2011 at 4:00 am under Gear, Running Gear. You can subscribe to comments. Comments are closed.

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