9 Best Trail Running Shoes For Hiking: 2022 Guide

If you have ever been on a trail and thought, “why am I wearing these big clunky hiking boots” or “I miss my trainers,” then you may want to invest in a pair of trail running shoes for hiking! Here is an ultimate guide to trail runners to help make your next hike faster, lighter, and better!

Are Trail Runners Good for Hiking?

Yes!!! Unless it is a backpacking trip where I plan to carry more weight, I almost always wear my La Sportiva Raptors when hiking.

Trail runners are designed like a sneaker, but with special hiking boot specs. Their soles are often made of grippy rubber with edged treads for better traction on steep switchbacks. Trail runners for hiking are flexible, lightweight, and get the job done.

The best trail running shoes for hiking

Hiking Shoes vs. Trail Running Shoes for Hiking

Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes are built like lighter and lower-cut hiking boots. Their rubber soles are often paired with stiff leather or a leather-mesh combination. Hiking shoes are great for short backpacking trips where you plan to carry a light to medium load.

Trail Running Shoes

Even if you don’t consider yourself a cardio king or queen nor plan on sprinting up switchbacks, trail runners are great for hiking. As mentioned earlier, they are built like a sneaker but equipped with special functions to protect your feet from water, roots, and fatigue. Trail runners are popular among thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers for their lighter feel. If you are prone to ankle injuries and/or plan to carry a heavier weight, a proper hiking shoe may be a better option.

What to Look For When Buying A Trail Running Shoe for Hiking

Tread

If you walk in mud or dirt, you may notice your shoe leaves behind a special pattern. This pattern is an imprint of your shoe’s tread – the (often rubber) part of the trail running shoe that touches the ground. An aggressive tread is the biggest factor that delineates trail running shoes from road running shoes. The tread on trail running shoes is made of lugs, the protruding features that resemble cleats on the shoe’s outsole. In general, the larger and wider spaced the lugs, the better traction a shoe will have on surfaces like mud. These deep lugs (5mm – 7mm), however, can be uncomfortable when running on pavement or firmer surfaces. If you plan to run on hard-packed trails, opt for a shoe with shorter (2mm – 4mm) and more closely spaced lugs.

Pro Tip: For scrambling and/or running on rocky trails, buy trail runners with a “sticky rubber” outsole. The specialized rubber on trail runners like La Sportiva’s, have a specialized rubber that maximizes grip on rock.

Cushion

Ultimately, whether you want your shoe to have more or less cushion is up to you. If you are unsure where to get started, here are some general guidelines:

More Cushioning: More cushioning is common for shoes that go on and off the trail. If you plan on running long distances or primarily on hard-packed trails, the extra cushioning may be easier on your joints.

Pro Tip: Runners that weigh heavier or those with knee and joint pain may find that well-cushioned shoes help reduce shock.

Less Cushioning: A minimalist shoe may be preferred on smooth, short distance trails and/or if you prefer a close-to-ground feel when running.

Rock Plate

A rock plate or nylon shank is built into some trail runners to prevent your feet from rock bruising. If you run on pavement or smooth trails, rock plates are unnecessary. A rock plate on gravel or technical trails, however, can prove extremely valuable.

Waterproofing Features

If choosing a shoe for cold conditions and wet weather, it is important to consider a trail runner’s waterproofing features. Most often, waterproof shoes are marked by “GTX” or “Gore-Tex,” meaning they are equipped with Gore-Tex waterproofing abilities. Waterproof trail runners, however, are overkill in warm climates. They are not as breathable as non-waterproof shoes and will make your feet hot and sweaty. If you are worried about occasional rain or creek crossings, opt for a quick drying, mesh shoe.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

For new runners, the heel-to-toe drop can be quite an obscure feature. It specifies how many extra millimeters of cushioning are in the heel compared to the toe. Choosing the length of a heel-to-toe drop depends on how you run. If you are a heel striker and first land on your heels when you run, a traditional drop (10mm – 12mm) will suit you well. Lower drops encourage midfoot strikes. For many, midfoot strikes are perceived as lower impact than heel strikes. You can find out what type of striker you are on your own or at a local running store.

La Sportiva

Based in Italy, La Sportiva consistently creates technologically advanced, performance-driven trail running shoes. La Sportiva trail running shoes are characterized by their unbeatable traction and durability. Generally, La Sportiva shoes have a narrower fit, are stiffer, and built for challenging and rough terrain. Several models feature Goretex waterproof lining to keep your feet dry.

Salomon

Salomon trail running shoes are right at the top of the line with La Sportiva. The brand promises to deliver protection stability, durability, and great precision when running – putting you more in touch with the Earth beneath your feet. Salomon shoes are generally firm and prioritize a responsive ride over a cushioned feel – like what you would get from our next brand, Hoka.

Hoka One One

As minimalist designs from brands like Altra started to peak in the early 2000’s, Hoka did the exact opposite. Hoka is the King of Cushion and for good reason – their trail runners provide the plushiest, softest shoes on the market. If you want your runs to be smooth and feel like you are floating, Hoka is your go-to brand.

Saucony

Out of the most popular trail running shoe brands, Saucony boasts the most versatile selection. They are known for their mantra “Run For Good” and inspire customers to create their running communities.

Altra

If you read the Hoka description above and asked yourself, “why would anyone not want to feel the trail beneath them” or “I prefer running barefoot,” look no further than to Altra. Altra trail runners are designed by the mantra less is more and are built to bring you back to the way you naturally run. Their models are defined by a wider toe box which allows your foot to expand and your toes to wiggle. Altra trail running shoes have little to no drop, which means your foot will fall and lay flat, rather than from heel to toe (like most running shoes). Altra is the perfect brand for fans of the book “Born to Run” and you hippies that like the toe running shoes.

Arc’teryx

Arc’teryx regularly builds high-end products with the best technology on the market. Their trail runners are known for their lightweight and sleek design. Many of their models are integrated with a durable, Gore-Tex waterproofing technology to keep your feet dry, yet able to breathe.

Before buying a pair of trail runners based on our lists, it is important to note that your best pick is based on what style shoe YOU prefer! While these are some of the most popular models found on the cardio kings and queens of the Colorado Rockies, your #1 Pick should be based on your desired shape and comfort.

The Best Trail Running Shoes For Hiking

You can’t go wrong with any of these trail runners. These are the most popular and best quality for this season.

Most Popular
Trail Runner

Hoka One One Speedgoat 5

Best All-Round
Trail Shoe

Saucony Peregrine 12

Most Versatile
Trail Runner

Brooks Cascadia 16

Best Trail Runners For Sand + Mud

Salomon Speedcross 5


Best Off-Trail Trail Runner For Hiking

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II


Best Trail Runner For Technical Terrain

La Sportiva Bushido II


Most Durable
Trail Shoe

Altra Lone Peak 6


Lightest Weight + Full Cushion Trail Shoe

Altra Mont Blanc

Hoka One One Speedgoat 5

Category: Rugged Trail, Vegan
Price: 
$155
Weight
: 8.5 oz (W) 10.3 oz (M)
Rock Plate: 
No
Cushioning: 
Maximum (31mm heel)
Drop: 
4mm (27mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular, Wide in Men’s

Why We Recommend: There is a reason why Hoka One One’s best-selling, Speedgoat is our favorite cushioned trail running shoe for hiking as well. The unbeatable cushion makes rugged trails feel like you are walking on clouds. All Hoka’s also feature a midsole Meta-Rocker that helps propel you forward with every step. The Speedgoat 5 is an ounce lighter and grippier thanks to more surface contact and traction in the outsole. The trade off for more cushioning is less ground feel and less precise foot placement but that is not an issue for hiking.

One you put on Hoka’s, you won’t want to take them off. The shoes have been spotted with all types of outfits from athleisure to business casual.

For more information on this trail runner, check out our complete review of the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw. Women REI | Backcountry

2) Best All-Round Running Shoe

Saucony Peregrine 12

Category Rugged Trail, Versatile, Lightweight
Price $130
Weight 6.3 oz (W), 7.7 oz (M)
Rock Plate Yes
Cushioning
Moderate (26.5mm heel)
Drop
 4mm (22.5mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular + Wide

Why We Recommend  The Saucony Peregrine is a long time favorite for its outstanding versatility as an off-road all-round trail running shoe. The 12th version sheds over 3 ounces of weight and adds softness from PWRRUN, the new 3mm expanded polyurethane sock liner. The shoe boasts high traction and good foot protection on challenging terrain. However, mud builds up on the outsole so it not the best choice for wet conditions.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw Women REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw

Saucony Peregrine 12-ST

Category Rugged Trail, Versatile
Price $140
Weight 9.7 oz (W), 10.2 oz (M)
Rock Plate Yes
Cushioning
Moderate (26.55mm heel)
Drop
 4mm (22.5mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular

ST stands for Soft Terrain, meaning wet, dirty, and mucky conditions. Compared to the 12, the 12-ST has a more flexible rock plate, deeper and more widely spaced outsole lugs, and outer mesh layer to help keep mud out. The speed laces are an upgrade too. All that is 2.4 ounces heavier and $10 more than the 12.

Check Price: Men Saucony Women Saucony

3) Most Versatile Trail Running Shoe

Brooks Cascadia 16

Category Rugged Trail, Long Distance, Protective
Price $130
Weight 9.5oz (W), 10.5oz (M)
Rock Plate Yes
Cushioning Moderate (20mm heel)
Drop 8mm (12mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular + Wide

The Brooks Cascadia is known as a durable, comfortable, and stable all around trail shoe. The 16 is a smoother, lighter version with updated traction to tackle all types of terrain. The 16 is 5% softer and 20% lighter than the 15 while remaining responsive. Another new feature is a gaiter tab at the heel. The fit has a wider toe box and firmer heel cup than previous iterations that has disappointed some fans of the Cascadia but is an improved fit for others. The 16 is also available with Gore-tex.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry Women REI | Backcountry

4) Best For Loose, Sandy, Messy Terrain

Salomon Speedcross 5

Category Rugged Trail, Protective, Long Distance
Price $130
Weight
: 9.8 oz (W) 11.2 oz (M)
Rock Plate: 
No
Cushioning: 
Maximum (35mm heel)
Drop: 
10mm (25mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular, Wide in some sizes

Why We Recommend The Speedcross 5 is a mid-weight, mid-cushion shoe with high performance. Designed for traction, 5 mm lugs provide grip on technical, soft, and muddy terrain and protect without a rock plate. A toe cap and anti-debris mesh protect the rest of the foot. The high-rebound midsoles provide excellent energy return while the heel cradle provides stability. Between the welded uppers and quick lace system, the shoe fits like the proverbial glove. This rugged shoe will keep you comfortable for as many miles or days you get out there.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw | Salomon Women REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw | Salomon

5) The Best Off Trail Running Shoe

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II

Category All Mountain, Off Trail, Long Distance
Price $130
Weight 10.4 oz (W), 12.5 oz (M)
Rock Plate Yes
Cushioning Moderate-High (28mm heel)
Drop 9mm (19mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular, European sizing

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Why We Recommend. Also a Mountain Running Shoe, the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II has more cushion and drop than the Bushido. Rugged enough to go off trail, the Ultra Raptor II trail runners have a full rock plate, deep treads, and sticky rubber outsole for maximum protection and stability. These shoes stay comfortable for long distances at any speed. The roomy toe box provides a wider fit than some other La Sportiva shoes.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw | La Sportiva Women REI | Backcountry | La Sportiva

6) Best Trail Running Shoe For Technical Terrain

La Sportiva Bushido II

Category Technical, Rugged Trail
Price: $130
Weight 8.8 oz (W), 10.5 oz (M)
Rock Plate Forefoot rock guards
Cushioning Low-Moderate (19mm heel)
Drop 6mm (13mm forefoot)
Width Options Regular, European sizing

Why We Recommend  Part of the La Sportiva Mountain Running Shoe line, the Bushido II is stable, grippy, and protective on rugged and technical terrain. The original Bushido was Trail Runner magazine Editors’ Choice Award and the second generation is even more versatile. Moderate cushioning balances feeling the ground and comfort. The stiff and supportive sole is stable on rough terrain but not suited for the road.

The Italian sizing can be narrow and doesn’t always translate so expect to size up by a half or full size.

There is also the La Sportiva Bushido II GTX with waterproof Gore-tex for women and men.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw | La Sportiva Women REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw | La Sportiva

7) Lightest Weight – Full Cushion Trail Runner

Altra Mont Blanc

Category Rugged Trail, Long Distance, Vegan
Price $180
Weight 6.9oz (W), 9.9oz (M)
Rock Plate No
Cushioning Maximum (30mm heel)
Drop 0mm
Width Options Regular

Why We Recommend The Altra Mont Blanc is the lightest weight, maximum cushion trail runner out there. Vibram Litesole with micro and macro lugs provide maximum grip and traction without any extra weight. The minimal upper is breathable and lightweight but may not be as durable in the long run. Get these if you want the comfort of Hoka’s in a zero drop shoe.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw Women REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw

8) Most Durable Trail Shoe for Thru-Hiking

Altra Lone Peak 6

Category Rugged Trail, Long Distance, Lightweight
Price
$140
Weight 
6.7 oz (W), 8.5 oz (M)
Rock Plate Yes
Cushioning
Moderate (25mm heel)
Drop
0mm
Width Options: Regular + Wide

Why We Recommend Altra shoes are built for ultra-endurance runners. Their patented Toe Shaped toe box is wider than other brands and allows your toes to spread to help prevent painful blisters and injuries that are common on long-distance runs or thru-hikes. Altra Lone Peaks are equipped with durable soles and Gaiter Traps to keep your gaiters on and your environment out. The 6th version of this shoe includes an updated outsole, canted lugs, and a customizable lacing system.

Pro Tip: Many veteran thru-hikers say, “if you are thinking about doing a thru-hike, do it.” Nevertheless, just the idea of a thru-hike can be daunting. To help you get started and learn more, check out A Complete Guide to Successful Thru-Hikes.

Check Prices: Men REI | Backcountry Women REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw

9) The Best Long Distance Trail Running Shoe

Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3

Category: Versatile, Protective, All Terrain
Price: $180
Weight: 10 oz
Rock Plate: No
Cushioning: Moderate-High (29mm heel)
Drop: 8 mm
Width Options Regular (Runs narrow)

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Why We Recommend: The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is one of, if not the, best trail running shoes. The impressive foot protection is built for ultra distances. If your budget allows, these shoes promise a sock-like fit with an extraordinary grip. The sole is sensitive even with ample cushioning.
Out of the box, Salomon’s S/Lab Ultra 3s are known to be a bit narrow. If you have wider feet, Altra trail runners may be a better fit for you. These are billed as unisex but the sizing is men’s.

Check Prices: REI | Backcountry | Salomon

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