The benefits of trail and off road running for triathletes are endless, from building core strength to technique gains and pure off-season enjoyment.
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What are trail running shoes?
The road or pavement may rule the triathlon amphitheatre throughout the summer months, but when autumn arrives there’s a wealth of opportunities to slip into a pair of trail shoes for both racing and training.
Of course, you can run in your road shoes, but there are subtle (and not so subtle) feature differences – grip, toe bumpers, water protection – that make off-road running in off-road run shoes a more enjoyable and productive experience. In simple terns off-road running shoes are designed to cope with every type of terrain thrown at them, whether it be mud, hills, ice, snow…
What to look for in pair of off-road running shoes
To keep feet cool in summer, look for a breathable upper. This is key year-round across all terrains but even more so on trail-specific shoes, because lightweight material also aids drainage come the muddy and wet off-season.
A distinct feature of a trail shoe’s rubber outsole are teeth-like lugs, vital for staying the right way up come field or fell. They come in varying sizes and depths, so select to suit your intended terrain types, from tow paths to ragged mountain routes.
Consider the laces themselves when buying: round ones can come undone while elastics stay put, and some models feature a tongue pocket to stow laces away. Always aim to try the shoes before you buy, and look for potential areas where rubbing may occur.
Nestled between the outsole and upper, is the mighty midsole; the bulk of your cushioning. Models vary in heel drop and stack height. Don’t go changing too fast when picking your trail shoes, your road shoe heel-to-toe ratios are a good start.
Read more about what to look for an a pair of off-road running shoes here
5 of the best trail and off-road running shoes for men reviewed
The Kinabalu Ultras tip the scales at a lean 270g (for trail shoes) and, for a shoe with an ‘ultra’ tag, they instantly feel nimble. The responsiveness is due to a combo of Scott’s Kinetic midsole foam and an aggressive outsole traction. The rock plate in the midsole heightens the versatility, yet they lack meaningful toe protection for jagged fell runs. And ultra comfort? The high heel collar that is a potential area for rubbing, yet the breathable upper and lightly padded tongue aid the comfort stakes. Overall, then, a do-it-all shoe that’ll adapt to racing, short and long training sets. Pricey, though.
Verdict: An ultra billing, but adept at faster sets too 91%
Many shoe brands claim their offerings are like “running on pillows,” but with the 320g Terrex it’s like striding on tightly-coiled springs due to the beefy EVA-Boost midsole. It’s far from unpleasant and it’s plenty of fun, although we’d like a touch more feel for the ground in the midfoot especially. The grip, supplied by tyre giants Continental, is adequate enough for lighter trails, although the heel loop and sock-like ankle have tri appeal. Comfort comes from the Primeknit upper, while points are awarded for being constructed from plastic waste collected on beaches.
Verdict: High price and weight, but lots of off-road comfort 83%
Like this reviewer, Vivobarefoot’s roots are in Street, Somerset, and we have plenty of West Country love for their minimalist style, wide toe box and eco-ethos – the vegan Primus are made from recycled PET plastics. As a casual shoe, we’ve worn them all summer, but as the ‘ideal shoe to train hard’? It’s here that our Somerset bond separates as there are too many flaws, from the tepid grip to the inability to deflect water ingress, and the hot spot on the medial side. There’s dry Parkrun grass appeal, but the lack of midsole protection make them a no for stony paths.
Verdict: Style and eco credentials but not for rougher stuff, 69%
For a brand with minimalist tendencies, Merrell’s vegan Long Sky sit at a Hoka-esque 27.5mm stack height, which is due more to the monster 5mm lugs than any oversized midsole wedge. And serious grip they have, suitable for an array of slippery stuff and sharp stones, but happily not a clawed nightmare on tarmac. Like Adidas, there’s sock-like inner comfort, but we found more versatility – the 280g and 8mm drop make them race friendly, and comfort comes from an EVA midsole/insole combo. There’s no toe bumper, but the tear-resistant mesh upper shouts durability.
Verdict: Light and durable, grippy and comfy – impressive 89%
We adored the Peregrine 6 but fell out of love with the eighth edition of these Saucony staples, so would the 10s be a Lazarus-like return to form? Mostly, with the overhauled midsole ditching the spongier Everun foam for the more responsive PWRRUN cushioning to make them more race ready. And yet there is a newfound firmness that some will find too harsh, especially on rocky trails and the tarmac to/from home. The clawed grips are still some of the best around and the internal durability issues have been sorted, although that blue tongue shows up mud. Weight is an solid 312g and the drop 4mm.
Verdict: Superior grip and stability, a touch firm for some 85%
6 of the best trail and off-road running shoes for women reviews
They may not be the best-known in the run shoe world, but Topo have become one of this tester’s go-to brands in recent months due to their wide toe box and comfortable uppers. In this trail version, you get a similar feel and they give a comparable experience out on the trails to the Hokas, despite having a 5mm drop compared to Hoka’s 8mm. The sole is similarly sturdy and creates a similar rocking motion, plus the Vibram sole is grippy on most wet or rocky test surfaces, but didn’t get stuck in mud either. These shoes aren’t waterproof, though they do dry relatively quickly, yet the upper did dry in a weirdy, wrinkly way – odd, but this didn’t affect performance! topoathletic.co.uk
Verdict: love the fit and feel, just pipped by Hoka on price! 90%
Where inov-8 shine is when their born-and-bred knowledge of the fells translates into shoes such as their Rockclaw and Mudclaw: specific shoes for a specific purpose. The Parkclaw is a more hybrid beast and we found the chunkier construction and 8mm drop meant this shoe was equally at home on roads or hard-packed pathways as well as on trails, making it a good choice for varied runs, while the Goretex kept our feet dry too. The solid backs were a little tough on our heels while the shoes took a while to break in, and overall they did lack some nimbleness. inov-8.com
Verdict: good do-it- all shoe for runs on varied surfaces 80%
For an extra £15 over the standard £135 Cloudventures, here you receive a waterproof membrane in the upper, which kept our feet dry in the heavy downpours of early autumn, helped by the one-piece tongue. As with the normal Cloudventures, these are a sturdy-feeling shoe compared to the Brooks, for example, but on rocky trails they kept us feeling safe and secure (no stubbed toes here!) and coped well with light trails and mixed surfaces. With that deep double groove on the soles they wouldn’t be our first choice for thick muddy conditions, as they get easily clogged up.
Verdict: reassuring sturdy, waterproof shoe for rocky runs 85%
The chunky trademark midsoles of Hoka shoes might seem a bit counterintuitive on trails where you’re on softer surfaces and changing your plane of movement, but after a 2019 season in the chunkier Evo Mafates we can’t sing the brand’s praises enough on trails. The Torrent is a lighter, more nimble shoe than the Evos and felt leaner and faster from the off, as well as very comfortable. What Hoka do well is give you the confidence to run long miles and this is equally true of the Torrents. They did get a bit soggy, though, so a GTX version would be a very welcome addition. hokaoneone.eu
Verdict: We’re Hoka trail converts! our winter long run fave, 92%
We used 2019’s version of the Salomon Supercross for a mixture of multi-surface runs, muddy walks and general traipsing about last winter. The plush and comfortable upper combined with the Contagrip sole made them a definite go-to shoe that also looked pretty cool for daily wear, too. And now 2020’s version is equally comfortable, with a soft lining and quick-lacing system that quickly cradles the foot and is easy to adjust on the fly. The long heel tab is comfortable on the Achilles tendon and a waterproof version is now available this year for an extra £20 quid.
Verdict: plush and grippy all-rounder; good price point 88%
White. Trail.Shoes… Yep, coming into the wettest, muddiest week of the year so far, we couldn’t help but see these as the sacrificial lamb of the test and within seconds we’d destroyed their Daz-white looks. That aside, though, they felt light, plush and responsive. The sole is grippy but best suited to loose, dusty trails and rock surfaces, rather than sticky mud where we didn’t get enough traction. Added features include space to write your crew names on the side and a Velcro gaiter tab. One for dusty summer trail runs or desert ultras, rather than a UK winter, perhaps? brooksrunning.com
Verdict: plush and comfy, but not for muddy British winters 72%