I am consistently asked what my favorite shoes are and my answer is always the same, it depends. What terrain are you on, distances are you covering, what’s your pace, any lower extremity conditions, etc. These are all the questions I ask and even then I can return a list of what might work for you, but from that point it’s up to you. I don’t believe in the perfect shoe, but I believe in the perfect shoe for the individual and for the condition. To that end, this article is all about trail shoes and more importantly, trail racing. There are times when a nicely cushioned full stack shoe is welcome on the trail especially at distance, but there are also times when you just want to blow down the trail at full speed.
Having spent several very intimate weeks with the Mazama in the mountains of Japan, I can safely say this is definitely my favorite Brooks trail shoe (sorry Cascadia). It’s lighter at only 9.3oz, has a 6mm offset, features a double layer of mess in the upper (which can be a little inflexible), and finishes with a sole that is sticky and has decently grippy bi-directional lugs. It also has a really interesting mid that is decoupled so the heel and forefoot are independent which gives you a nice transition. It also includes a rock propulsion plate which protects from hazards and also proper aligns your toe-offs. They retail for $140.
Hoka Speed Instinct
The Hoka Speed Instinct is basically the speedy version of the Challenger ATR and the trail version of the Clayton. Yes it has a slightly narrower toe box than other Hokas with lower, yet still multi-directional lugs, but it’s designed for quickness. It doesn’t have the massive stack that other Hoka’s have (20mm in the mid), but its agile. At 8.4oz with a 3mm drop its super lightweight using Hoka’s PRO2Lite throughout the mid. On the upper you have engineered breathable mesh with 3D printed overlays for additional structure/support across the top of the foot providing more control. The heel cup is way more padded than a normal Hoka, so definitely try this one out first. Retail on these are $130.
What in the world is going on over at Skechers in the Performance group and who would have expected this? We have looked at Skechers in the past with shoes like the GoRun and the GoMeb, but the GoTRAIL is really an interesting step forward. Weighing in at 9.6oz with a 4mm drop, the shoe has a decently wide toe box, and a virtually seamless upper with printed structural overlays. The shoe is water resistant (to a degree) and uses Skechers Gotherm 360 to keep feet warm. It has a distinct mid foot strike zone, multidirectional lugs, and a molded heel. The craziest part is the shoe retails for $69, so don’t let the brand name and history fool you, the Performance team is on to something.
Salomon Speedcross Pro
We reviewed the Speedcross Pro in the past, but the takeaway from these shoes is all about performance at speed. They are a little weighty at 11.5oz, but this primarily due to the fact that they have their mud guard all over including all surface grip. Molded EVA is used throughout the mid and I would never call these cushy, instead I would say responsive… or quick… and the lugs, beast mode. To cap it all off it uses Salomon’s sensitFit eyelet system with lace pouch to keep those laces out of the way. You can pick them up for $150.
Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3 GTX
First off, I love the toe box on the Wildhorse, plenty of room and it looks like Nike is starting to pay attention to brands like Altra and Topo with their design. We are hyped on the GTX model because you get all the benefits of GoreTex in the upper meaning full weather protection and its still a 10.3oz shoe. The mesh upper also features Nike’s Flywire technology which gives you a bit more support and comfort, The mid is compression molded EVA while the forefoot has Nike Air included. The sole features a nice set of bi-directional lugs. Best Nike trail shoe to date… lighter, quicker, more responsive, and while a bit more cushioning could take this shoe for many miles this is all about racing. You can grab them for $130.
We were recently introduced to 361° with our Voltar review, but here we turn our attention to their trail lineup and their Santiago. These are probably the least race oriented of the entire list, but I include them because they are durable and breathe so well. The shoe itself weighs in at 10.9oz with a 9mm drop and much of that weight comes from the exoskeletal wrap on the upper. It is super breathable, but the sidewalls are durable as can be. The mid uses QU!KFOAM (361’s patented EVA mid technology) with an interlink system which was designed to provides cushioning throughout your stride. Retail on these is $120.
Now get out and hit the trails!!