The 5 Best Trail Running Shoes in 2020

If you love the beauty of nature and the challenge of a good run, nothing can beat the activity which brings both together: trail running.

But if you are going to go trail running, it is essential that you do so with a solid pair of shoes on your feet.

I did a lot of track running before I thought of trying trail running at a local state park. When I did, I realized immediately that not just any old shoes were going to cut it.

Running on trails, you deal with shallow and steep grades up and down. You are running on an uneven surface which may sometimes feature pebbles or rocks. At times, it may become slick or muddy.

The best trail running shoes will give you the traction, stability, and support you need to traverse these unpaved surfaces.

So, I launched a search to find a new pair of shoes for running on trails. I ended up testing a number of different shoes in the process. Since I did that legwork (literally!), I thought I would put together a buying guide in order to save you time.

ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners Cross Trainers

The Best Trail Running Shoes Overall

If you live in a hot climate, then you are going to need breathable trail running shoes that help your feet stay cool and dry. In this category we recommend the ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners Cross Trainers. These shoes are especially engineered to be as cool and comfortable as possible. This is actually the first item I pack whenever I go camping.

Pros:

  • These shoes are lightweight, breathable, flexible, and “minimalist” in every respect. Promoted by the company as “less shoe, more you,” they give you an experience which is similar to running barefoot—but of course you are not, and your feet are protected.
  • You can choose from a range of appealing color combinations to suit your personality. The appearance of the shoe is sleek to match its flexibility and minimalism.
  • The midsole is designed to absorb shock while you are running.
  • The tread provides good traction, allowing you a solid grip on the ground.

Cons:

  • Those who are used to other “barefoot shoes” may find these to still be a bit too much “shoe” (perhaps because they offer some arch support). But they are a great best of both worlds option which should suit many runners looking for something more minimalist than a traditional running shoe.

Sizing:

If you have wider feet, you will love the wider toe box on these trail running shoes. They seem to run close to true size, perhaps slightly larger than true size. But ordering up would likely give you too loose a fit, so I would suggest trying your true size first.

TL;DR

Because these shoes are so breathable and minimal, they are perfect for hot climates. But I also recommend them if you just want a shoe which feels as weightless and unobtrusive as possible when you are running. These shoes are an excellent choice for preventing fatigue. With so many benefits, they are my pick for the best trail running shoes overall.

XIANV Men Women Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes

The Best Trail Running Shoes for Wet Environments

If you expect to be running on mud or through streams or in the rain, you need a shoe which offers you superior traction and doesn’t get waterlogged and heavy. In that category, I recommend the XIANV Men Women Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes.

XIANV Men Women Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes

Pros:

  • This is another pair of shoes in the minimalist vein. They are lightweight, non-fatiguing and flexible.
  • The rubber outsole is flexible, just like the upper, and offers impressive traction, even on slippery ground.
  • There is just enough cushioning to help with shock absorption without getting in the way too much of ground feel. The insole is detachable, so you can remove it if you want.
  • Even when the shoes get wet, they do not get too heavy thanks to the lightweight materials.
  • It is hard to beat the low price and overall value of these trail running shoes.

Cons:

  • Despite being made of lightweight materials, these shoes are not as breathable as some competing products. So on especially hot days, you might prefer a different shoe.

Sizing:

The toe box isn’t too narrow, but those with extra wide feet may still need to size up to get the most comfortable fit. On the other hand, if you have exceptionally narrow feet, you may actually need to order a size down. Otherwise, they seem to fit approximately true to size.

TL;DR

If you plan to run through water or mud, the XIANV Minimalist are a great choice. That being said, they are also an all-around excellent option for almost-barefoot running on dry surfaces as well.

New Balance Men’s 481 V3 Cushioning Trail Running Shoe

The Best Trail Running Shoes for Ankle Support

Minimalist running shoes are very much the “in” trend right now. And they offer a lot of benefits in terms of flexibility and ground feel, which can help with stability. But let’s face it—some of us have ankle problems, and we really need something which provides some extra support in that respect. If that is what you are in the market for, take a look at the New Balance Men’s 481 V3 Cushioning Trail Running Shoe.

New Balance Men's 481 V3 Cushioning Trail Running Shoe

Pros:

  • These shoes are similar in design to lightweight tactical boots. A lot of running shoes don’t rise up over your ankles, but these do, so you get that extra support that you need.
  • The upper is a combination of leather and mesh, and there is an NB Ultra Soft Comfort insert. So you have the perfect balance of padding and breathability.
  • A water-resistant treatment has been applied to these shoes, so they are suitable for wet conditions.
  • You can make good use of these shoes not just for trail running, but for everyday wear.

Cons:

  • These shoes may seem a bit stiff when you first get them. But you just need to break them in, and you should find them very comfortable after you do.
  • Traction on wet surfaces is not the best with these shoes.

Sizing:

In terms of fit, these shoes are on the narrow side. Some customers report they are too large, while others report they are too small. I needed to go up half a size from true size to get the right fit, but this is probably because I have wider feet. Otherwise, if your feet are narrower, I would guess they are true to size.

TL;DR

Because these shoes don’t feature top-notch traction on slippery surfaces, I would say they are okay to wear in the rain, but I wouldn’t go charging at full speed across wet pebbles in them or slick mud. I’d lean toward wearing them in dry environments even with their water-resistance.

The main purpose I’d recommend the New Balance 481 for is simply to give you the extra support your ankles might need if you find that a more minimalist running shoe isn’t adequate for your needs.

Inov-8 Bare XF 210 V2 – Barefoot Minimalist Shoes – Zero Drop

The Best Zero Drop Trail Running Shoes  

For another highly recommended pair of minimalist zero drop trail running shoes, let’s take a look at the Inov-8 Bare XF 210 V2 shoes. If you liked the ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners Cross Trainers and the XIANV Men Women Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes, this is another pair that may appeal to you.

Inov-8 Bare XF 210 V2

Pros:

  • The outsole features proprietary flex groove technology. This makes it possible to flex your forefoot in a natural way. It also offers a sticky grip on surfaces, preventing slipping. For this reason, it is ideal for everything from trail running to weightlifting.
  • While not the only pair of zero drop shoes in this list, this pair features almost no cushioning. So if maximizing ground feel is your priority, you should be pleased with how close to barefoot these feel.
  • The shoes are lightweight and comfortable, providing the minimalist experience you are looking for.

Cons:

  • Sometimes the insole can slide toward the back of the shoe, which can be a little annoying.

Sizing:

Despite being advertised as having a wide toe box, these shoes run on the smaller and narrower side. So, size up if you have wide feet (and consider sizing up even if your feet are more “average” in that respect).

TL;DR

As zero drop minimalist shoes, Inov-8 Bare XF 210 V2 are an excellent choice for fully ergonomic movement and for maintaining solid ground feel when you run. Incidentally, I also wear them to the gym when I am deadlifting.

Salomon Men’s Xa Pro 3D Trail Running Shoes      

The Best Trail Running Shoes for Narrow Feet

If you have narrow feet and want a pair of shoe which will fit snugly, you might consider the Salomon Men’s Xa Pro 3D Trail Running Shoes. These shoes also are a good option if you want something lightweight and breathable, but not necessarily minimalist.

Salomon Trail Running Shoes

Pros:

  • The tread on these shoes is excellent and grips well even on slippery surfaces.
  • You get a snug fit with these shoes, perfect if your feet are narrow.
  • While not the lightest shoes on this list, they don’t feel too heavy or fatiguing on your feet. But they provide some extra cushioning for those who need more support than a minimalist trail shoe can provide. Even with the cushioning, they remain breathable.

Cons:

  • These shoes can wear out a bit faster than you might like with frequent wear. I’ve had mine for about eight months, and I’ve been getting blisters. This isn’t usually an issue with Salomon shoes, so hopefully it was a one-off problem.

Sizing:

While on the narrow side, these shoes also run a bit small. So, you may need to size up to get the right fit.

TL;DR

I recommend these shoes if you have narrow feet and don’t want extra room in your shoes. With their narrow fit, these shoes will offer you more stability and comfort while you run.

What to Look for in the Best Trail Running Shoes

Not all trail running shoes are equal. When it comes to running, you want shoes which are going to be as durable, comfortable and safe as possible.

Following are features we recommend you look for when you are choosing trail running shoes.

  • Lightweight. Ideally, trail running shoes should be lightweight so as not to fatigue your feet.
  • Breathable. Your feet can easily become hot and sweaty while you are running, even on a relatively cool day. So, look for trail running shoes which are made out of breathable materials.
  • Shock absorption. The surfaces on which you run could range widely in terms of how hard or soft they are. Because some of the surfaces you run on may be quite hard, it becomes extra important to run in shoes which include cushioning and other shock absorption features to protect your feet from impact with the ground.
  • Ground feel. Even though cushioning is important in running shoes, you do not want to run in a shoe which is so cushioned that you cannot get a solid feel for the ground through your soles. Good ground feel will help you to remain aware of the changing surface as you run. This will make it less likely that you will trip and fall because of unevenness or obstructions.
  • Stability. Look for running shoes which provide excellent support around your ankles. When you are running on uneven, rough surfaces, you are more likely to twist your ankles than if you were running on flat, smooth surfaces. Extra support around your ankles may prevent injuries.
  • Traction. Sometimes, you may find yourself on slippery surfaces such as muddy trails or creek beds. You will need excellent traction in order to run across these surfaces without falling.
  • Water-resistance. If you have to run across a creek or stream, or if it starts raining when you are out on a run, you will not want to find yourself with heavy, water-logged shoes. Check for water-resistant design features in terms of both materials and construction before deciding on a pair of trail running shoes.
  • Size. As with any other shoes, you need to check sizing information in detail before making a purchase. Keep in mind that some shoes run large or small, and may be more suitable for wider or narrower feet. Checking customer reviews can help shed some light on how a particular pair of shoes tends to fit. Also account for the socks that you will be wearing. If you expect to be wearing thick socks on a lot of your runs, you might want to size up from what you would purchase otherwise.
  • Reflective features. If you intend to do any running at night or in foggy conditions, consider getting a pair of trail running shoes which include reflective detailing.
  • Durability. See if you can find any information about how long a particular pair of running shoes are likely to last given your activity levels. Reviews from other customers can help you make a determination about how rugged and durable a pair of shoes are likely to be.
  • Appearance. Finally, while not as important as practical considerations, the aesthetic appearance of your trail running shoes is another relevant buying consideration. After all, you will be spending a lot of time in them.

You may discover that some trail running shoes offer you additional benefits and features beyond those on this list.

Conclusion

We have had a chance now to explore the features of some of the best trail running shoes for a variety of environments and needs. Click on any of the links if you are ready to get the bet trail running shoes for your next adventure now. Still not sure which shoes you want? Consider my top recommendation, the ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners Cross Trainers.