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The best trail running shoes for men and women in 2021

A man wearing trail running shoes running on a rocky path
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you prefer escaping the city and exploring the trails, a pair of running shoes with a good amount of grip is essential, so we've hand-picked the best trail running shoes on the market.

Unlike the best running shoes overall, trail shoes are designed to give you a good amount of grip over muddy, uneven terrain, thanks to the deeper lugs on the tread of the shoe. Plus, trail running shoes offer the foot better protection from technical terrains, rocks and puddles you might encounter along the way. 

There’s a number of different trail running shoes available — some are designed to be fully waterproof for wet, winter miles. Others are lightweight and breathable, for warmer summer trails. The right trail shoe for you will depend on the type of surfaces you hope to tackle. Some trail shoes are designed to take you from your front door to the trails, others are designed for really technical terrains and will have features like toe guards, which protect your feet from sharp rocks. 

What are the best trail running shoes? 

The best trail running shoes are the one that fits you best and keeps your feet feeling comfortable on the move. That said, our best in testing was the Nike Wildhorse 7, which was extremely comfortable underfoot on muddy trails and drier conditions, and has a handy ankle collar, which prevents rocks and debris from getting into the shoe. It also looks great.

For experienced trail runners looking for a shoe to wear for their next trail race, the Brooks Catamount is a brilliant shoe, with responsive cushioning for a faster toe-off on technical terrains. It’s lightweight, comfortable and feels quick. 

For runners looking to head from their front door to the trials in a shoe that’ll cope with both, the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 is a comfortable choice. With the same React foam as that used in Nike’s road shoes, the Trail 3 doesn’t feel like a trail shoe, but it performs like one on uneven terrains.  

The best trail running shoes to buy in 2021 

Nike Wildhorse 7

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Future)

1. Nike Wildhorse 7

The best trail running shoe overall

Specifications
Weight: 312 g (M), 265 g (W)
Drop : 8mm
Reasons to buy
+ Ankle gaiter prevents rocks and debris from getting into the shoe + Comfortable over long distances  
Reasons to avoid
- Outsole can be slippery on wet, rocky terrains  

The Nike Wildhorse 7 is not only one of the best-looking trail running shoes we’ve ever seen, it’s super-comfortable and offers a good amount of protection on the run.  Similar to the Wildhorse 6, the mid-sole contains Nike’s React foam, which offers just the right amount of cushioning — you can definitely still feel the ground, but it’s a smoother, more comfortable experience than your traditional, firm trail shoe. In fact, we’ve tested the Wildhorse 7 running along the sidewalk to get to the trails and found the cushioning was comfortable enough on harder concrete surfaces.

Another major selling point with the Wildhorse 7 is the ankle gaiter, which offers a little extra ankle support, but also prevents small rocks or debris from getting into the shoe. The padded heel collar and tongue work for an all-together comfortable experience and the wide toe box give the shoe a good, true-to-size fit. 

The downside with the Wildhorse 7 is the outsole. While the lugs are brilliant on soft wet, muddy tracks, on harder slippery surfaces, they don’t quite have enough grip. All in all, this is a brilliant shoe for most trail adventures and the best trail running shoe overall. 

Read more about the best Nike running shoes

Brooks Catamount

(Image credit: Brooks)

2. Brooks Catamount

The best trail running shoes to wear in a race

Specifications
Weight : 264g (M), 249.5g (W)
Drop : 6mm
Reasons to buy
+Super speedy and snappy thanks to DNA Flash midsole  + Breathable upper 
Reasons to avoid
-The outsole isn't grippy enough for all surfaces  

If you’re a runner who likes to enter trail races, the Brooks Catamount is a brilliant shoe to have up your sleeve (or in your shoe closet). It’s not the most affordable trail shoe around but is definitely a game-changer on the trail running scene. Unlike old-school trail running shoes, the Brooks Catamount is designed to go fast and is cushioned and responsive enough to help you set a PR on more difficult terrains. 

Brooks launched the Catamount in January 2020 along with its new ‘DNA Flash’ midsole foam, which is infused with nitrogen for a lightweight feel with a high energy return. It’s reserved for Brooks’ faster shoes, making it a bold and exciting choice for a trail shoe. At the time, the running industry questioned just why Brooks had decided to release a white trail shoe, but the brand explained they wanted the stains on the shoe to tell a runner’s journey on the trail — there’s even a section on the back of the shoe where runners can add the names of their crew. The Catamount also contains a Ballistic Rock Shield between the midsole and outsole, designed to protect the foot from sharp rocks on the trail. 

While the outsole is great on loose gravel paths and light mud, on really technical terrain, the Catamount can get a little slippery, so hard-core trail runners might want to keep browsing. That said, for road-to-trail runs or races, the Catamount is fantastic.

A photo of the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 - one of the best trail running shoes

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

3. Nike Pegasus Trail 3

Best for running from your door to the trails

Specifications
Weight : 321.4g
Drop: 9mm
Reasons to buy
+A good road-to-trail shoe +Roomy toebox +Very comfortable underfoot 
Reasons to avoid
-Not the grippiest outsole  

The Nike Pegasus Trail 3 is the best trail running shoe to buy if you’re running from your door to the trails. It’s got all the comfort of the classic Pegasus road shoe, but with a grippier outsole to cope with muddy terrains. It looks great too, not that you’ll care once it’s covered in mud. 

Unlike its road cousin, the Pegasus Trail 3 doesn’t have a forefoot Zoom Air unit, although it does have the same React foam midsole for a responsive, cushioned underfoot feel. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about trail running shoes — this totally replaces that old-school stiff midsole with something far plusher. You won’t feel the stones or the tree roots underfoot, you’ll bounce over them. The main difference between this and the road version is the outsole, which has a pattern designed to mimic mountain bike tires for a good grip on slippy terrains. 

The main drawback with this shoe is the outsole, which some runners find just isn’t grippy enough on wet and muddy terrain. If you’re running on lighter trails, you should be fine in the Pegasus Trail 3, but if you’re off on a more technical adventure, you might be disappointed. 

A photo of the Saucony Peregrine 11, one of the best trail running shoes

(Image credit: Saucony)

4. Saucony Peregrine 11

Best for old-school trail running fans

Specifications
Weight : 310g (M), 270g (W)
Drop : 4mm
Reasons to buy
+A good amount of grip +Stable underfoot +Comfortable over long distances 
Reasons to avoid
-Very firm 

For a shoe to be on its 11th version means they are doing something right, and this rings true with the Saucony Peregrine 11. The Peregrine 11 has a good amount of grip on most surfaces and feels like a true trail running shoe underfoot. That said, the firmness won’t be for everyone, and if you’re used to a plush road running shoe, the Peregrine might take some getting used to. 

Similar to previous iterations of the shoe, the Peregrine 11 has Saucony’s PWRTRAC rubber lugs to provide a good amount of traction on wet, muddy and slippery terrains. In fact, the only surface the Peregrine 11 doesn’t perform well on is snow and ice, but arguably, that’s a challenge for most trail shoes. The Peregrine 11 also has PWRRUN cushioning, although this is definitely more responsive than plush. Underfoot, the shoe feels pretty rigid and firm, but it offers a good amount of stability on uneven ground. 

The downside of the Peregrine 11 is that it just won’t be for everyone. Not all runners will love how firm it feels underfoot. That said, if you’re a fan of a firmer, supportive trail shoe, this is one of the best trail running shoes. 

The best trail running shoes - Inov-8 Trailfly G300 Max

(Image credit: inov-8)

5. Inov-8 Trailfly G300 Max

Best for long-distance trail runners

Specifications
Weight : 300g
Drop : 6mm
Reasons to buy
+ A seriously good amount of grip  + Graphene-infused midsole great over long distances  +Flexible 
Reasons to avoid
-True inov-8 fans might find these too Hoka-esque 

For runners who want a shoe that’ll keep up with them in all different weathers, it doesn’t get grippier than the Inov-8 Trailfly G300 Max. The British outdoor brand knows its stuff when it comes to trail running, and it shows. 

The Trailfly G300 Max has graphene in the midsole foam, designed to give runners 25% more energy return. Inov-8 says the addition of graphene also helps the foam retain its rebound power for longer, helping runners stay comfortable on ultra adventures. When it comes to the outsole, the Trailfly G300 Max isn’t messing around — the brand’s GRAPHENE-GRIP rubber lives up to its name and is some of the best on the market over difficult terrains. 

The downside here is that true inov-8 fans might find the chunky sole a little off-putting, as it’s a far cry from the brand's older minimalist shoes. That said, you shouldn’t let this put you off — underfoot this shoe doesn’t feel overly cushioned and bouncy, but will keep you running comfortably for mile after mile. 

How to choose the best trail running shoes for you 

The best trail running shoe for you is the one that fits you best, so it’s always a good idea to head to your local running shop to try a couple of different brands before you buy. Other things to consider before investing in a pair of trail running shoes are the surfaces you plan on running on. If you’re just planning on exploring your local woodlands, you’ll be fine in a shoe with a less dramatic outsole. However, if you’re off on technical trails, you’ll need extra grip to avoid accidents. 

Other things to think about are how long you plan on running. If you’re heading to the Marathon des Sables or the UTMB, you’ll want a trail running shoe with a good amount of responsive cushioning to keep you comfortable. On the other hand, if you’re heading from your front door to the trials, you’ll want a shoe that is comfortable on the concrete, as well as the trials. 

How we test trail running shoes 

We test trail running shoes by running in them! All of the shoes on this list have been put through their paces on a number of different tracks and trails. We’ve run at least 20 miles in each shoe, through the woods on sunny, dry days, and in the mud when the weather has turned in order to help you work out which is the best shoe for your adventure. 

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.