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By Adam Morgan, Senior Finance Editor

The Best Trail Running Shoes for Men

Trail running is fast becoming one of the most popular endurance sports in the world. But like all outdoor activities, you’ll go a lot further (and be a lot happier) with the right gear. Investing in the best possible shoes is hands-down the most important decision you’ll make before hitting the trail, so we conducted four weeks of market and field research — including trail runs in three different states, on several different trail types — before picking our favorites.

The 3 Best Trail Running Shoes for Men in 2019

Brooks Caldera 2

Best for
Light Trails

Brooks Caldera 2
The most comfortable shoe we tested is also the best-designed
Pros
Balanced, thoughtful design
Extremely comfortable
Cons
A newer model
Limited style options

Why we chose it

Balanced, thoughtful design

Back in the early 2000s, Brooks partnered with ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek to create new trail running shoes from scratch. Their first two collaborations were the Cascadia (more cushioned) and the Mazama (more minimalist). The Caldera is a newer “neutral” model meant to be a midpoint between the two, and it strikes a perfect balance. The upper is extremely light thanks to double-layered mesh, and the midsole is well-cushioned without adding too much weight.

Extremely comfortable

The Brooks Caldera 2 was hands-down the most comfortable trail running shoe we tested. Honestly, we’d wear them around the office all day. Sitting still, they feel like pillows — in motion, they feel like a foot massage. Some advanced “barefoot runners” will prefer shoes with less cushioning, since they’re lighter. And runners who enjoy rugged, rock-and-root-strewn trails may want something with larger lugs on the outsole, like the Salomon Speedcross below. But most trail runners need something in the middle of all these design spectrums, and the Brooks Caldera 2 is your best bet.

Points to consider

A newer model

Last year, Brooks released a Caldera 3 with a few new features: an updated “lace garage” on the upper and a second gaiter attachment point at the toe. But unless you’re hankering for those upgrades, the shoes are functionally identical, and the Caldera 2 is less expensive, so it remains our top choice.

Limited style options

Unlike most of the shoes we tested, the Brooks Caldera 2 (and 3, for that matter), only come in one color/style — and it’s a polarizing one! If you like fluorescent yellow, you’re in luck, but there are no options for runners who prefer earth tones or matte black.

Salomon Speedcross 4

Best for
Rugged Trails

Salomon Speedcross 4
A lightweight performance shoe with some serious grip
Pros
Built for adventure
Thoughtful features
Cons
Not very breathable
Borderline excessive traction

Why we chose it

Built for adventure

At 10.6 ounces, the Salomon Speedcross 4 is the heaviest shoe we tested, but that’s because it packs the stability, traction, and protection of much heavier models into something that falls (barely) within our weight limit. The upper is firm thanks to “anti-debris mesh” and the midsole is surrounded by a wrap-around mud guard, but the real stunner is the outsole. Just look at those lugs, pointed in every direction to grip any surface, uphill or down.

Thoughtful features

The Salomon Speedcross 4 has an interesting lacing mechanism — instead of tying, you pull a tab to tighten the laces, then tuck it into a lace pocket embedded in the shoe’s tongue. It’s a nice way to keep the laces out of the way and ensure they never come untied. Also, the outsole lugs actually extend all the way up to the front of the toe box, which comes in handy when you’re running down steep hills.

Salomon-Speedcross-4-Lacing

Points to consider

Not very breathable

Because the upper is constructed out of firm, water-resistant, “anti-debris” mesh, the Salomon Speedcross 4 isn’t as breathable as shoes made out of more traditional mesh. If your feet tend to sweat a lot, or if you run long-distance routes, you may want to consider alternatives.

Borderline excessive traction

If you mainly run on flat, smooth, dry trails, the Salomon Speedcross 4 might be overkill. Those intense lugs could slow you down, and you might enjoy a more responsive midsole since your feet won’t need as much protection.

Saucony Peregrine 8

Best for
Beginners

Saucony Peregrine 8
An attractive, versatile shoe at an affordable price
Pros
Versatile
Affordable
Cons
Less durable

Why we chose it

Versatile

The Saucony Peregrine 8 is the Swiss army knife of trail running shoes — light and breathable enough for long distances, cushioned enough for protection, and equipped with sharp lugs to keep your footing on soft and slippery surfaces. It’s the ultimate “middle ground” between a light trail shoe and a rugged trail shoe, making it perfect for figuring out what kind of runs you prefer before investing in something more specialized (like our previous two picks).

Affordable

Best of all, the Saucony Peregrine 8 is one of the most affordable trail running shoes we tested. Anything cheaper — like the Adidas Terrex Tracerocker — probably won’t have the same quality of materials or design.

Points to consider

Less durable

The Saucony Peregrine 8’s upper almost completely constructed out of mesh, without much reinforcement. That’s not unusual — the Nike Terra Kiger 4 and New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi v2 were built similarly — and it keeps your feet light and well-ventilated. But it also shortens the shoe’s lifespan, particularly on rougher trails.

Guide to Trail Running Shoes

Parts of a Shoe

  • Upper: The upper-most part of the shoe that covers the top of your foot, usually made from a light, breathable material.
  • Midsole: The cushion-y “meat” of a shoe sandwich between the upper and the outsole, usually made from polyurethane or EVA foam.
  • Outsole: The bottom or “tire” of the shoe that makes direct contact with the ground, usually made out of carbon or blown rubber for traction. Shoes designed for rugged surfaces will have larger “lugs” for a stronger grip.
  • Insole: The inner surface of the shoe where your foot sits, just above the midsole.
  • Toe box: The front of the shoe where your toes sit, usually protected by a rubber “bumper”.
  • Shank: A metal plate sometimes embedded within a shoe’s midsole to increase stability and support. Also called a rock plate.

Types of Trail Running Shoes

  • Light trail shoes: For relatively flat, smooth, and soft trail surfaces like dirt, gravel, or sand.
  • Rugged trail shoes: For steep and/or debris-filled trails, where the runner has to navigate roots, rocks, and mud.
  • Waterproof shoes: Both light and rugged trail shoes come in waterproof versions, but the added layer always increases the weight (and cost) of the shoe.
  • Barefoot shoes: Extremely light shoes with almost no cushioning in the midsole and no structure on the upper. Preferred by many advanced trail runners for their lightness and “feel” for the trail, but not the best option for most people because they increase your risk of injury.
  • Cloud running shoes: Heavily cushioned shoes that feel like “running on a cloud,” offering maximum support and stability, but at the cost of weight and almost zero “trail feel.”

Trail Running Shoe FAQ

What's a heel-to-toe drop?

Also known as "HTT drop," "the drop," and "the differential," it’s the height difference between the heel of the shoe and the toe of the shoe. Advanced runners usually prefer a 0mm drop, but most people benefit from a 4-10mm drop, because it helps train your body to land on the middle or front part of your foot instead of your heel.

How much cushioning do I need?

One of the key differentiators between trail running shoes is the amount of cushioning between your feet and the ground. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal level of cushioning — it depends on your feet, your stride, and your typical trail type. On one end of the spectrum are “cloud running” shoes with maximum cushioning. These are usually best for beginners, runners with high arches, over-pronation, over-supination, or those with a higher risk of injury. On the other end of the spectrum, “barefoot running” shoes are extremely minimalist with a very thin layer of cushioning. Advanced trail runners often prefer these shoes because they’re lighter and allow for more “trail feel,” since your feet are in closer contact with the ground.

As you can see below, most of the shoes we tested lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

The Best Trail Running Shoes: Summed Up

Brooks Caldera 2
Salomon Speedcross 4
Saucony Peregrine 8
The Best
For Light Trails
For Rugged Trails
For Beginners
Weight (per shoe)
9.9 oz
10.6 oz
10 oz
Heel drop
4 mm
10 mm
4 mm
Price
$110-$140
$97-$130
$90-$120
Cushioning
Moderate
Moderate
Light

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