If this latest crop of trail shoes has a theme, it’s bigness—only one weighs in under 10 ounces. But that superficial similarity covers up a range of differences.
Some have crazy cushion, to save your soles over the long haul; others offer protection that can withstand the sharpest, most jagged terrain. Some sport toothy treads made for mountains and bogs; others, more moderate outsoles that transition from patchy mud to dry trail and pavement.
Those are just the broad brushstrokes, of course; each shoe here has a different confluence of features that makes it entirely its own. Read on for the nitty-gritty details of our spring picks.
Altra Olympus 2.0 (Editor’s Choice)
11 oz / 0mm drop / $150
The Olympus 2.0 retains the ultrarunner-friendly features of its predecessor—spacious toebox, ridiculous cushion—but adds several key improvements that make this a truly trail-ready shoe.
Most significant is the updated tread; well-spaced, aggressive-enough lugs bite into soft ground and the sticky Vibram rubber grips slick surfaces. The redesigned upper, a thin, nearly seamless mesh, is breathable, with the minimum of overlays needed to hold the foot securely. The midsole compound is also more resilient, compared to the soft, energy-draining cushion that some testers remember in the previous model.
Like any shoe of its kind, the Olympus may give some runners trouble on uneven, technical terrain due to its high center of gravity and rigid sole.
Fit: True to size, with a secure midfoot and roomy toebox.
Bottom line: Max-cushioned, comfortable and amply treaded, this shoe works for long runs and ultras with varied surfaces but nothing ankle-breakingly technical.
Tester-monial: “The superb cushioning puts these on top of my list for 50-mile-and-beyond race distances.” —Linh Shark, Colorado Springs, CO
La Sportiva Akasha (Editor’s Choice)
11 oz / 6mm drop / $140
Sometimes, the tradeoff for protection and support is clunkiness. Not so with the Akasha.
The springy, rockered midsole, substantial enough to keep the foot safe on the most bruising of trails, allows for a smooth stride; testers never felt the shoe was weighing them down, especially for the degree of protection. The secure upper gives the shoe plenty of lateral stability
Alongside the responsive ride, the tread was a highlight. Deep, multidirectional lugs lent confidence in mucky conditions, on steep ups and tricky downs and, as one adventurous tester averred, “controlled traverses on loose gravel or uneven terrain.” A few testers complained that the high, rigid heel collar rubbed uncomfortably on their Achilles.
Fit: True to size. Classically La Sportiva, the Akasha is narrow throughout; runners with wider feet will feel cramped.
Bottom line: This shoe will protect you on gnarly ridges, keep you sure-footed on steep stuff and let you fly on mellow singletrack.
Tester-monial: “It’s extremely comfortable with great protection, but doesn’t sacrifice the fast, nimble feel I seek in a trail shoe.” —Joel Axler, Flagstaff, AZ
Skechers GOtrail Ultra 3 (Editor’s Choice)
10.8 oz / 4mm drop / $120
Our testers, at first skeptical about Skechers and its recent foray into the running market, were pleasantly surprised by the GOtrail Ultra 3, a legit trail shoe designed with ultrarunning in mind.
The rockered sole is unusually pronounced in this shoe, leading to a smooth, highly efficient turnover. Additionally, four deep grooves make the midsole extremely flexible—and not just by the typically stiff standards of high-profile shoes—allowing for natural flex in the toe-off and greater adaptability on uneven terrain. The Ultra 3 also has the first true trail tread we’ve seen from Skechers, a knobby rubber outsole that performs well on most off-road surfaces.
The soft, stretchy, seamless upper not only pampers the foot but also holds it securely enough for twisty trails. Adding to that plush feel is the cushioning, which is just this side of pillowy. However, some will wish for something a bit firmer. One tester appreciated the substantial midsole but said it was “borderline too soft, which can prove to be energy zapping over long distances.”
Fit: True to size. Snug in the heel and midfoot, with plenty of room at the toes.
Bottom line: Max cushion and max comfort for long runs and ultras.
Tester-monial: “One of the most enjoyable and versatile shoes I’ve ever run in—spare, quick and cushy enough for roads, but with the stability and tread of a great trail shoe.”—Stephanie Ehret, Boulder, CO
Merrell All Out Crush
11 oz / 0mm drop / $150
Merrell markets its All Out Crush as a mud-run shoe, and, sure enough, our testers liked it best on short trail runs through mucky spring conditions.
The outsole’s sticky, throwing-star-shaped lugs held fast in soft ground, gripped wet rock and shed mud admirably. The breathable upper—mesh, overlaid with a thin, perforated waxy layer—repelled snow and mud to some extent, and, though easily soaked by rain or splashing puddles, drained and dried quickly.
With its light weight and flexible midsole, the All Out Crush is fast and nimble. However, most testers found the cushioning too minimal and firm for more than a medium-distance outing. A few testers saw signs of premature wear where the upper creases in the forefoot.
Fit: True to size, with a decently roomy toebox.
Bottom line: A fun, fast, flexible shoe for short runs in wet conditions.
Tester-monial: “Light and nimble, like a performance slipper with a protective tread.” —Sheri Atkinson, Broomfield, CO
10.7 oz / 6mm drop / $129
The standout feature of the Neutron is its tread. Deep, widely spaced lugs offer outstanding traction and muck-shedding capabilities in loose dirt and muddy slop, and the Vibram rubber grips securely on rock.
Testers found the stiff midsole rather clunky on buffed-out singletrack, dirt roads and harder surfaces. But the more rugged the terrain, the better the ride felt; this shoe is built for big days in the mountains.
Fit: True to size. Most will find the fit secure and comfortable from heel to toe, though wider-footed runners may need more room in the toebox.
Bottom line: Not a go-to, everyday trail shoe, but a great option for mountain runs with big climbs and terrain that ranges from mud pits to steep scree.
Tester-monial: “Right for those long runs through the hills. Mud and snow is no match for this shoe.”—Shane Anderson, Arvada, CO
Scott Kinablau Enduro
13 oz / 10mm drop / $150
Like an offensive lineman taking ballet, the Enduro is heavy, aggressive and there to protect you, but surprisingly agile for its size.
The rubbery webbing that encloses the upper resists snow and mud and wards off brambles, sticks and the other enemies one faces on the bushwhackiest of adventures. The underfoot protection is as impressive; between the moderately thick midsole, rock plate and pronounced rubber lugs, jagged terrain barely registers.
The tread is one of this shoe’s strong points: deep enough for mud and snow and sticky enough for slick rock, with a multi-directional pattern that lends confidence when braking on downhills and moving laterally.
The inevitable tradeoff with so much protection is that the Enduro is heavy, not especially breathable and fairly stiff in the midsole.
Fit: True to size, if not a bit long, with a snug fit throughout. Some testers had trouble adjusting or cinching down the laces.
Bottom line: Bombproof top-to-bottom with serious tread, this shoe will appeal to runners who prize protection, grip and stability over flexibility and groundfeel.
Tester-monial: “If you need to take care of your feet on the most aggressive trails, look no further.”—Forrest Tracy, Saint Paul, MN
Pearl Izumi Trail N3
10.8 oz / 4mm drop / $135
The most cushioned trail shoe Pearl Izumi has made to date, the N3 has, as one tester put it, a “fast, low-profile” feel, but with “something extra in the cushion department.”
The rockered midsole allows for a smooth, natural gait, while ample, springy cushioning—the N3 is not actually low profile, it just feels that way—protects feet over the long haul. A wide forefoot base adds stability and gives the toes plenty of room to splay and swell during multi-hour runs. The tread held on a variety of surfaces, including when wet, and was comfortable enough on the road.
Testers had minor complaints about the heel collar, which comes up too high in back and can cause some rubbing along the Achilles. Also, because of the high profile and wide base, it sacrifices some agility on technical trails.
Fit: Runs small; consider sizing up a half size. The extra space in the forefoot will suit wider feet and ultrarunners wanting room for swelling; narrow-footed runners may find it too sloppy.
Bottom line: A responsive, cushioned shoe that shines on long runs but feels fast enough for shorter efforts.
Tester-monial: “It’s a great choice for out-the-door, not-sure-where-I’m-headed-yet runs—stable, reliable, good for all but the most extreme trails.” —Sara Daum, Colorado Springs, CO
11 oz / 8mm drop / $120
Vibrant colorways notwithstanding, the Caldorado stays true to the Montrail brand: nothing flashy or trendy, just a well-built, no-nonsense workhorse of a shoe.
The upper is breathable but keeps out debris. Its overlays—and its never-loosening laces, which more than one tester singled out for praise—lock in a secure fit when bombing downhill and dancing over technical stuff. The moderate tread performed well on harder surfaces and dry dirt, and felt comfortable on roads, but didn’t have enough bite for muddy or snowy singletrack.
Testers especially appreciated the midsole cushioning, which one described as “a nice balance between being firm and having a little give”—in other words, efficient but comfortable. Not especially flexible, the Caldorado is for those who prefer a stiffer midsole.
Fit: True to size and about average width throughout, it should fit most feet.
Bottom line: A medium-cushion, moderately treaded, durable trail shoe for day-in, day-out training.
Tester-monial: “Not too heavy, not too light, not too minimal, not too maximal, not too under-protected, not too over-protected—if Goldilocks took up trail running, this would be her shoe.”—Jason Miller, Austin, TX