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Seven Sweet Rides

Trail Runner's Choice for your winter line up.

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Photo by Dan Krauss

Trail-running participation has increased more than any other outdoor sport in recent history (for sports starting with participation above one million in 2007).

With an increase of 117 percent since 2007, 9,149,000 trail runners take the time in their day to lace up, get outside and hit the trails. Here at TR, we aim to help keep it up!

Manufacturers have their hands full answering the demand for better and better trail shoes: the VK-climber, the muddy mate, the zero-drop glider, the light-and-fast racer, the all-arounder, the fortified, deep-lugged aggressor. We combed through the latest options, and called on our network of 57 shoe reviewers to test this season’s best new offerings and, amazingly, we think there’s something for everyone.

Price: $120
Weight: 9.0 oz (M), 7.4 oz (W)
Drop: 5 MM
Rock Plate: No

If you’re not already a HOKA ONE ONE believer, prepare to be born again. Sleek (for HOKA) and super light, this shoe doesn’t have the normal marshmallow-on-clouds ride. HOKA is clearly changing their game to appeal to folks who want a comfortable, sturdy shoe that doesn’t sacrifice agility or resemble a cartoon parody of a running shoe.

The Torrent is airy and light and maintains surprising utility on moderate to technical trails due to multidirectional lugs and a high-traction outsole.
The lack of a rock plate lightens the load, yet means some sharp objects may be felt, especially as the midsole wears down after a few months of heavy use.
The low-to-moderate heel stack (23mm M’s, 21mm W’s) provides surprising comfort, yet adds more technical trails to the Torrent’s repertoire. Banking off squishy singletrack turns and rock hopping up scree are non-issues for the Torrent.

Fit: True to size/may run long

Best For: Nearly anything with racing distances between 10M and 50M

Price: $120
Weight: 10.2 oz (M), 8.7 Oz (W)
Drop: 0 MM
Rock Plate: yes

There are a couple key changes to the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 from its predecessors that give it a place at the table. A new built-in, skeletal rock plate offers more protection, and the outsole is even more sturdy and tacky, elevating the comfortable cruiser to a more advanced trail shoe—this thing can mountain goat with ease.

Testers reported the shoes as effective on a variety of trails from wet grass to steep climbs, with comfort decreasing as surfaces harden (hardpack and pavement).

The mesh upper is incredibly breathable and secure with thin overlays acting as scaffolding. Some of the overlays have been moved, as they were rubbing on toes. The tongue is gusseted halfway with elastic for adjustability and security. And, of course, the wide toebox allows those toes to spread out and get comfortable. Don’t forget to check out the waterproof yet breathable version, the Lone Peak 4 RSM. Like the standard Lone Peak, low and mid-height versions are available.

Fit: True to size

Best For: Moderate to aggressive terrain and racing distances from 5K to 50M

Price: $110
Weight: 9.0 oz (M), 7.0 oz (W)
Drop: 6 MM
Rock Plate: yes

The Agility Synthesis Flex received the most style points of 2018’s fall lineup. Vanity aside, Merrell has made strides in the trail-shoe category by keeping things simple. The Agility Synthesis Flex focuses on being a light trail shoe with a high level of response due to its rocker. It features medium midsole cushioning and no-nonsense design including standard, though secure, lacing, a comfortable cuff and a modest toe bumper.

While the upper may look like armor, it plays more like a mult-screen layer, keeping the shoe extra light and flexible.

The outsole is Merrell’s stickiest yet and the moderate lug depth (5mm) performed well on a mix of terrain from road to hardpack to uphill scrambles.
Reviewers applauded the shoe’s durability and flexibility, while some complained of a lack of breathability.

Fit: True to size, slightly wide

Best For: Mixed terrain, with racing distances 5K to marathon

Price: $130 (On sale for $112)
Weight: 13.6 oz (M), 11.5 oz (w)
Drop: 7 MM
Rock Plate: no

“Low, quick and springy,” as one of our reviewers said, just about sums up the Terrex Agravic XT by adidas. This shoe pairs a secure Gore-Tex upper with a high-groundfeel sole for a specific result. It does well on wet terrain and hardpack surfaces, and should be kept on hand for those wet and wild races coming up.

The low stack height (17mm) and relatively steep drop keep the gait cycle fast while the aggressive, Continental rubber outsole and sparse, sparrow-design lugs grip at a variety of ground angles.

The favorite feature of the shoes was its traction, and the sweet spot seems to be between 10 miles and marathon distance.

Fit: True to size

Best For: Short-to-middle-distance fall and winter racing

Price: $120
Weight: 9.6 oz (m), 8.7 oz (w)
Drop: 4 mm
Rock Plate: yes

The latest edition of the tried-and-true Pure Grit features a new tongue design and outsole-lug configuration. The outsole still uses the proprietary Sticky Rubber, which testers lauded on a variety of terrain. The toe bumper is asymmetrical (over the big toe) and the shallow stack height (19mm to 15mm) make this shoe good for the occasional run-gone-scramble. The Pure Grit 7 edges well and protects the foot from rocks while maintaining ground feel.

Our reviewers noted the smoothness and comfort of the midsole’s ride even with its modest rocker. Getting the most points for the 7 was the upper design—it features an asymmetrical lacing system that applies less pressure on the top of the foot and snugs down well, and high breathability.

Perhaps not specific for racing, the Pure Grit 7 makes for a solid strength trainer.

Fit: True to size

Best For: Varied terrain aside from mud; racing distances 10 miles to marathon

Weight: 10.3 oz (m), 8.8 oz (W)
Drop: 8 mm
Rock Plate: yes

Salomon is famed for offering durability and speed in one package and the Ultra Pro is no exception. While only slightly heavier than other brands in our fall selection, the 8mm drop makes the Ultra Pro likely the best candidate in this line up for long technical offroading as well as trail racing.

The gusseted tongue and classic Salomon cinch lace system wrap the foot snugly and reviewers reported feeling completely secure. The 24mm to 16mm heel-to-toe stack is built with a midsole that is firm but comfortable with plenty of rebound.

The 3D Air Mesh offers good protection and the EndoFit wrap on the midfoot and ankle help lock in the fit, despite some reviewers noting a longer/wider toebox. For just about all terrain and all distances, testers gave the Ultra Pro high marks.

Fit: True to size / may run long

Best For: Technical trail with racing distances 10M to 50M+

Price: $130
Weight: 7.2 oz (m), 6.4 oz (W)
Drop: 3 MM
Rock Plate: no

The HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz has made a special appearance in our fall selects due to the unique nature of this racer. The Evo Jawz looks like a racing cleat on first glance, but is wildly comfortable when slipped on. The 6mm lugs make up nearly a third of the heel stack, yet the Profly midsole and Vibram MegaGrip outsole give these speedsters a smooth feel, typical of HOKA shoes. Weighing in under eight ounces, it’s truly like running on air.

Of course, the thin midsole and lacking rock plate mean the Evo Jawz isn’t meant to be an all-arounder; this shoe is ready for VKs, short- to medium-length workouts and tempos or occasional longer runs designed for building foot and calf strength.

A woven rip-stop upper keeps the foot well protected yet maintains an airy, sleek fit. Don’t be surprised if your toes are dusty after a longer run.

Fit: True to size

Best For: Gravelly terrain and slick grass and mud, with racing distances less than a half-marathon

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