Best Trail Running Shoes
It's true: Cut a pound from your footwear, and it's like you've cut three pounds from your pack. These two runners will help you find your pace, whether you're racing or shouldering a light pack.
Dynafit Speed Mtn GTX
Our take We had our reservations about the slipper-like Speed Mtns, but after 54 days, 140 miles, and 30,000 feet of elevation gain without a slip in these svelte runners, we’re converts. “Most folks wouldn’t consider the route up Alaska’s Mt. Troy a trail at all: You have to run up a stream, ascend through a thick spruce forest, and then cross the rocky alpine zone—but the Speed Mtns easily handled the task,” says one tester of his backyard run in Tongass National Forest. The secret is in the durable outsole, which is made of a butyl rubber compound, like a car tire. Known for its weatherproofing, the butyl sole proved just as grippy on snowy forest roads as rocky singletrack. Diamond-shaped lugs vary in depth (up to a cleat-like 6mm) across the sole, while a tough canvas upper, climbing shoe-like rubber rand, and burly toe bumper protect the Speed Mtn from trail debris. And the cost for all those features? Ouch.
The details Our testers liked the speed lacing system, which keeps the shoes cinched evenly, but the protective sleeve is tough to manage with cold fingers. Fit note: Dynafit ditched its standard lasts in favor of a wider one for the Speed Mtn—meaning it fits larger-volume feet and allows for more toe splay.
Trail cred “The ballistic toe bumper kept my feet bruise-free,” says one Alaska-based tester with a history of broken toes.
$180; 1 lb. 11 oz.; m’s 7-13, w’s 6-10
Adidas Terrex Two Boa
Our take “Like a BMW cruising down the Autobahn,” our tester says of these German-engineered low-tops. The recipe for the smoothest ride in our test is
relatively simple: a slightly thicker-than-average EVA midsole and a rockered profile with a 6mm drop for a natural, roll-off-your-toes stride. Our feet stayed fatigue-free after big-mile runs and training sessions on steeps. The latter was no problem for the Continental outsole, which also held fast on wet rock and icy singletrack in New York’s Durand Eastman Park, thanks to 4mm lugs. The Terrex Two’s 26mm-thick heel provides just enough cushion for backpacking with a load under 30 pounds.
The details A Boa dial stands in for laces, making it easy to tweak fit on the fly, and one tester even dubbed the Terrex Two a great camp shoe for the easy-on, easy-off factor. Check fit: One wide-footed runner felt crammed in the slightly narrow toebox.
Trail cred “I normally have a sneaker blow-out by now, but I’m creeping up on 200 miles in these and they aren’t even close to falling apart,” our New York-based ultrarunner says.
$120; 1 lb. 5 oz.; m’s 6-15, w’s 5-12
Best Light Hiking Boots and Shoes
With features like toe bumpers and extra support, these eight shoes are perfect for a range of conditions, with a range of pack weights.
Arc’teryx Konseal FL
Our take Most shoes that aim to split the difference between climbing and hiking are great for scrambling, but less so for hammering out big miles. Enter the Konseal. A 4mm OrthoLite insole sits atop a bouncy EVA midsole, creating a plush ride more comfortable than any other approach shoe we tested this season. This combo protected one tester from rocks and roots during 100 trail miles outside Chamonix, France. (Tradeoff: The extra cushioning decreases ground feel.) A TPU frame also provides more stability than a typical low-cut hiker, allowing one tester to shoulder 60 pounds of climbing gear to and from the crag.
The details The ultrasticky Vibram Megagrip outsole held tight to slick, polished limestone in France’s Verdon Gorge, but the shallow, 3mm circular lugs weren’t much help in slush on Alaska’s Hatcher Pass. The relatively stiff sole and pointy toe help the Konseal edge, and our testers had no problems torquing it into cracks and small pockets. Note: The Konseals are available in a Gore-Tex version for $200.
Trail cred “The insoles are so comfy that I pulled them out to use in my mountain boots,” said one Alaska-based tester after a summer with the Konseals.
$165; 1 lb. 5 oz.; m’s 7-13, w’s 5-10
La Sportiva Spire GTX
Our take The shoe buyer’s dilemma: Do you want waterproofing or breathability? One usually comes at the expense of the other, but the Spire GTX does a pretty good job of eliminating the tradeoff. Our feet never got too sweaty in the light-duty kicks—even while tracking through Joshua Tree National Park on a 90°F day—thanks to the year’s best use of Gore-Tex Surround. With Surround, each step compresses a liner in the midsole that squeezes sweat vapor out through the sides and under the foot; paired with the Spire GTX’s meshy upper, it’s the most breathable waterproof shoe in this lineup.
The details A PU web overlaid on the upper protects the lightweight shoe from errant rocks and sticks without compromising breathability. One tester, who carried a 40-pound load for 20 miles in Yosemite National Park, complimented the Vibram XS Trek outsole. Its chunky, rectangular lugs bit into loose gravel without issue.
Trail cred “I scree-skied through some coarse rock in J-Tree without any damage to the sole,” said our tester after 100 miles in the Spires.
$190; 1 lb. 15 oz.; m’s 6-13.5, w’s 5-12
SCARPA Hydrogen GTX
Our take For fast-and-light missions on rough terrain, consider the Hydrogens your chariot. They’re stiffer than trail runners—not buckling or folding under us on a fastpacking trip on the rocky trails of Idaho’s Sawtooth Range—but at 13 ounces per foot, they’re just as light. SCARPA slices weight by using a mostly mesh upper (though leather and TPU overlays still preserve durability) and an hourglass-shaped outsole (saving ounces in the arch area). The formula kept us stable and comfortable under a 30-pound pack.
The details The Vibram XS Trek outsole and its 5mm, multidirectional lugs gripped muddy paths near Oregon’s Owyhee River and dry rock in Idaho. Thanks to Gore-Tex Surround technology (see La Sportiva, above), the Hydrogens kept us dry when we slogged through high-alpine slush, but still breathed well on warm days. Fit note: One wide-footed tester felt pinched in the heel.
Trail cred “These shoes gave me confidence on uneven, rocky terrain, but were light enough that I didn’t want to rip them off my feet at the end of the day,” says our tester, who logged 200 miles in the Hydrogens.
$180; 1 lb. 10 oz.; m’s 7.5-15, w’s 5-10
Columbia Conspiracy III Titanium OutDry Extreme ECO
Our take Apparel has been getting greener for some time, but, frankly, it’s hard to make an eco-friendly shoe. So consider us pleasantly surprised by the new Conspiracy III. The low-top is made up of 40 percent recycled materials, including the polyester upper and regrind EVA in the midsole, and still stands up to the trail. A TPU shank keeps the Conspiracy III stable on uneven terrain, while OutDry Extreme ECO technology (which puts a PU membrane on the outside of the shoe) seals out water. Our feet stayed dry, even when splashing through the shallows on a rafting trip down the Upper Colorado River near Kremmling, Colorado.
The details The Conspiracy III’s upper is naturally either charcoal-colored (pictured) or bright-white, not dyed. By skipping the traditional dyeing process, Columbia saves an additional 15 liters of water per pair. Fit note: The OutDry Extreme doesn’t have much give in the upper, so testers with wider-volume feet felt pinched at the forefoot.
Trail cred “I use these shoes for hiking and mountain biking now,” one Colorado-based tester says. “The Omni-Grip outsole is sticky enough to hold onto flat pedals, and the lug pattern—which isn’t aggressive—gives me plenty of contact area.”
$150; 1 lb. 8 oz.; m’s 7-15, w’s 5-12
Merrell MQM Flex Mid Waterproof
Our take If we were in the business of reviewing testers, we’d give the one that logged 560 miles on New Zealand’s Te Araroa track our highest score, and that tester gave the MQM Flex Mid her stamp of approval. “Both my hiking shirt and socks are in tatters, but the boots are intact,” she says. A TPU overlay on the meshy, running shoe-like upper acts as a rough-and-tough barrier against debris, and the burly M Select Grip+ outsole showed little sign of wear. (Though the MQM Flex Mids offer enough ankle support for overnight loads, the EVA midsole and running shoe feel make these boots best for fast-and-light missions.)
The details A unique TPU heel counter locked our feet down on technical descents, while proprietary M Select DRY waterproofing kept moisture out on low creek crossings in New Zealand. With M Select DRY, Merrell puts a super-thin waterproof layer (the same one the brand uses in rainshells) beneath the MQM Flex’s upper. But, because of the shoe’s mostly-mesh makeup, dry time didn’t suffer, even with the waterproof membrane: “I happily crossed streams higher than my ankles, knowing my feet would dry out in a few hours,” our tester says. Check fit before buying: Our wider-footed testers suffered blisters.
Trail cred “You’d only need two pairs of these for an Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, which is a great money saver,” says our New Zealand tester, who logged 34 days straight in the MQMs.
$140; 1 lb. 11 oz.; m’s 7-15, w’s 5-11
LOWA Locarno GTX Mid
Our take Hikers know that “trail-to-town” is the gear industry’s version of fake news, so we were skeptical of the slick-looking Locarno’s technical chops. But a season of hard use has us thinking this midcut is the real deal. Its PU midsole is more supportive than EVA, and we had no problems toting 25-pound loads or scouting boulder problems near Long Lake in the Eastern Sierra. True: The package is svelte and the outsole thin, but our testers reported that they actually felt quicker and more nimble in the Locarnos than typical midcuts. Credit the internal PU frame for the low-profile support—which also happens to make the boots look pretty good with jeans or slacks. (Drawback: Though the nubuck-and-fabric upper is around town-ready, it doesn’t breathe very well on the trail.)
The details The proprietary rubber outsole has shallow, 3mm, arrowhead-shaped lugs, which kept us steady when navigating loose granite on California’s Bishop Pass, and a Gore-Tex membrane seals water out. Fit note: The Locarnos don’t have enough support for high arches.
Trail cred “Thanks to a snug fit in the heel and the cushioned ankle, I hiked 6 miles the day the boots arrived, and I never experienced any hot spots,” said our California-based tester after her initial trek in the East Bay.
$210; 2 lbs. 1 oz.; m’s 7.5-14, w’s 5.5-11
Oboz Sapphire Mid Waterproof
Our take A women’s-specific last is one thing, but volume isn’t the only thing that tends to differ between men’s and women’s feet. That’s why our ladies reached for the Sapphire Mid, a women’s-only model that not only has a smaller forefoot, but that supports their more slender ankles with an asymmetrical collar. “I felt at home in this boot right out of the box,” our tester affirmed after her first outing. “I did a 3-mile hike on Canada’s Prince Edward Island the first day and didn’t experience any break-in blues.” But comfy doesn’t mean dainty. One tester, who tallied 33 miles over three days with a 35-pound pack on a rough coastline in Nova Scotia, proclaimed that her feet barely felt tired. (Three densities of EVA in the midsole provide varying levels of comfort and support.)
The details Oboz uses its B-DRY waterproof-breathable membrane in this version of the Sapphire Mid. (With B-DRY, Oboz places a PU bootie in the boot’s core.) The waterproofing works, but combined with the nubuck upper, the Sapphire Mid left our feet steamy on an 85°F day on Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Trail.
Trail cred “I covered a lot of terrain in these boots—rocks, roots, gravel, and streams—but they don’t look any worse for the wear after 150 miles,” our tester said of the Sapphires’ Swiftcurrent outsole. (Style points: The outsole has a molded topo map of Glacier National Park.)
$160; 1 lb. 12 oz. (w’s 7); w’s 6-11
Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
Our take “These soles stick to everything,” raved one tester after a jaunt up Manastash Ridge in central Washington. We can’t argue. On feedback forms, our testers listed talus, steep scree, sand, wet rock, mud, and snowfields as terrain that the X Ultra 3s quelled. The Contagrip outsole is Salomon’s stickiest, and mixed chevron- and T-shaped lugs gripped well on sloppy descents. (A unique chassis between the outsole and midsole also helps with control on technical downhills.) But whereas super-sticky outsoles tend to wear down faster, these didn’t: Salomon uses a density gradient, so high-use sections of the sole (like the outer edge) have a harder rubber, while lower-wear areas (like the central column) are softer.
The details The X Ultra 3s have a snug heel cup and a memory foam-like OrthoLite sock liner. The Gore-Tex membrane kept water out during a slushy, 9-mile trek in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests, but doesn’t breathe as well as Gore’s Surround (page 47), and we had sweaty feet.
Trail cred “The footbeds on these Salomons make them feel more like trail runners than any other midcut I’ve tried,” says one tester.
$165; 1 lb. 15 oz.; m’s 7-13, w’s 5-10
Best Midweight Hiking Boots
When the trail gets tough, your boots should too. These two midweight hikers are ready for rocks, mud, and anything else you can dream up.
Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR
Our take It’s rare when our tester evaluation forms showcase such consistency as those for the Trackmaster did: “Extremely sturdy lateral support,” one read. “Never worried about rolling an ankle,” read another. “Excellent support in snow, ice, mud, and muck,” read another. A rigid Vibram outsole kept our ankles from buckling on a slope of sliding boulders, while the single-piece leather upper keeps the boot stiff, locking in our ankles more like a mountaineering boot. Unlike a mountaineering boot, however, the midsole is made of EVA—making it cushier than expected.
The details Chunky, rectangular lugs clung to gravel near Mills River in North Carolina, and a burly PU reinforcement on the toe adds approach shoe-like protection. The Gore-Tex waterproofing earned high marks—even slushy snowmelt didn’t penetrate—but the combination of membrane and all-leather upper made for sub-par breathability.
Trail cred “The Trackmasters were stiff enough for kicking steps into snowfields on shoulder-season hikes,” says one New England-based tester.
$220; 2 lbs. 2 oz.; m’s 8-13, w’s 6-11
Vasque Saga GTX
Our take For long-haul trips when we needed a boot that could bash through anything, we reached for the full-coverage Sagas. They’re taller than typical midweights, stretching high above the ankle bone to seal out debris, and made with a tough synthetic upper that’s naturally hydrophobic. A burly rand protects the boot—and toes—while a wishbone-shaped TPU plate in the midsole keeps the Sagas stiff and stable on uneven terrain, which one tester appreciated when she found herself chasing her friend’s flock of goats down a scree field outside of Santa Fe.
The details The Vibram Megagrip outsole offers above-average traction. Five toe and heel vents keep the Sagas airier than expected for a waterproof midweight, which we appreciated on a humid, three-day trip on Vermont’s Long Trail in September.
Trail cred “My feet stayed dry even when I taught an entire aquatic biology class standing in a stream,” one New Mexico tester says.
$230; 2 lbs. 14 oz.; m’s 7-14, w’s 6-11 (plus wide options)