Hitting the trails in the summer not only makes you a stronger skier and rider, but can be a downright fun way to stay (or, get) super fit while enjoying long days and warm sun.
We tested the season’s best trail running and hiking shoes to help you tackle the trails, from smooth running, town-to-trail options, full-on mountain chargers, to hikers that cross-over to all your mountain town needs.
by Lisa Jhung
Brooks Caldera 3, $140
A lack of a hard plastic rockplate underfoot, a comfortable, flexible upper, and a notably cushy midsole combine to make the Brooks Caldera 3 run like a road shoe with trail chops. We think it’s most at home on smooth or hard-packed dirt instead of super rocky, rooty trails, making it a great town-to-trail shoe (it runs fairly smooth on paved sections). The soft and springy midsole compound—tuned to run softer than what’s found in Brooks’ more rugged Cascadia—makes this shoe comfortable either during long days on the trails, or worn as a casual shoe. Swami gripe: The fit can feel a little sloshy on off-camber terrain. Swami like: Hydrophobic mesh both repels and drains water. 9.3 ounces (men’s); 8.5 ounces (women’s)
Scarpa Spin Ultra, $150
Here’s a shoe that can handle rugged mountain runs and casual town trails with equal finesse. The all-mountain readiness comes from toe-cap protection, torsional rigidity, and a toothy outsole. We chalk up its in-town run-ability—it performs smoothly on rolling, gentle trails as well as loose and rugged steeps—to the H-shaped TPU insert that offers underfoot protection while still allowing the shoe to flex well at the forefoot. The shoe remains remarkably lightweight, mainly due to its use of Vibram “Litebase” rubber, which is 40 percent thinner than other outsole rubbers but just as stout. Swami gripe: The price tag. Swami like: A stretchy tongue wraps the feet securely.
9.8 ounces (men’s); 7.8 ounces (women’s)
Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 5, $110
Here’s a hard-charging trail shoe that still remains fast and comfortable on loam track. A rockplate stops pointy jabs from ruining your day, while sticky rubber down the center of the outsole joins high-abrasion rubber around the perimeter to grip everything from loose dirt to sloshy mud. It’s also an agile shoe, so hopping from rock to rock and around obstacles feels like second nature. A Nike Zoom Air Unit under the heel absorbs impact for comfort mile after mile. And uppers reinforced with glued overlays—not stitched, so the interior remains nice and smooth—secure feet and provide durability. Swami gripe: We’re kind of sour on the crazy color option, (but it comes in more muted tones as well). Swami like: Actually, we kind of love the crazy color.
10.2 ounces (men’s); 8 ounces (women’s)
Altra Superior 4.0, $110
The Superior 4.0 lost a few ounces from its predecessor, mostly thanks to a new midsole compound called Quantic. A lighter weight shoe is always appreciated, but the updates make this shoe run soft while still rebounding with great energy. We like the simplicity of the upper and the comfort of the seamless tongue. Like all Altra shoes, the Superior 4.0 is built on a zero-drop platform, meaning there’s no rise in the heel from the forefoot to mimic a bare foot. It also has a notably wide forefoot fit to allow for toe splay. (Some love that, some don’t.) Swami gripe: Zero drop takes a while to get used to—so ease into it. Swami like: It also encourages a natural running stride.
7.9 ounces (men’s); 6.3 ounces (women’s)
Hoka One One Speedgoat 3, $140
The massively cushioned (yet still lightweight) Speedgoat 3 does a great job absorbing the impact of rocky trails and miles upon miles of pounding. That’s a big reason this shoe is on the feet of so many ultrarunners. It also has the best traction of the Hoka line, with five-millimeter, multi-directional lugs made of Vibram MegaGrip offering surefootedness. This version of the Speedgoat features a better fit than before, with repositioned overlays and a tongue that’s more integrated into the upper. The combination means less foot-sloshing within the shoe, which is a welcome upgrade. Swami gripe: Doesn’t offer a lot of ground-feel for lateral control. Swami like: Despite all the cush, the shoe still flexes well.
10.3 ounces (men’s); 9.1 ounces (women’s)
Salomon Speedcross 5, $130
If your summer routes include rocky trails with loose dirt, mud, and muck, the Salomon Speedcross 5 just might be your shoe. The outsole features toothy lugs in a chevron pattern crafted from a rubber compound called Contagrip. We found it offered solid traction. A closed-mesh upper and tight mesh panel lying over the tongue of the shoe helps keep dust and grit from infiltrating socks. And Salomon’s Kevlar Quicklace system, like always, provide a secure, one-pull fit. Just make sure to tuck the lace loop into the mesh lace garage, lest you leave it out and get taken down by a branch on trail. (It happens.) Swami gripe: A somewhat narrow outsole makes the shoe feel a tad tippy. Swami like: Ample cushioning in the heel for long days out.
11.6 ounces (men’s); 9.9 ounces (women’s)
Saucony Peregrine ISO, $120
The Saucony Peregrine, with its low-to-the-ground ride but energetic cushioning, has long been a popular model. For good reason: This is one agile, fast, and rugged shoe, and we dig it for that tough to find balance. This year’s update gets the brand’s ISOFIT upper, which integrates the tongue and the uppers to securely wrap the foot. The result is an increased sense of control, as the shoe feels like an extension of the body. Toothy lugs give the Peregrine ISO great traction, and the 4mm drop from heel to toe adds to the quick feel. Swami gripe: The ISO fit can feel a little constricting. Swami like: Ample padding around the heel collar.
10.5 ounces (men’s); 9.2 ounces (women’s)
[Light Hiking Shoes]
Lowa Gorgon GTX, $210
If you live in a mountain town with wet summers, or lingering snow on trails at higher elevations, the Gorgon GTX (Gore-Tex) could be your everyday shoe. A seamless interior makes them comfortable upon first step-in. And the structure of the upper comes courtesy of an exterior frame that, in conjunction with a dual-density midsole, makes the Gorgons feel stable on a variety of terrain. With a 12mm drop between the heel, and forefoot cushioning, the forefoot feels a tad firm on rough ground. But ample flexibility, despite the Gore-Tex upper (which can make some shoes feel too stiff) allows the Gorgon GTX to remain comfortable both on-trail and off. Swami gripe: Cushioning feels firm, especially under the forefoot. Swami like: Always good to own a pair of Gore-Tex shoes.
13.4 ounces (men’s); 11.5 ounces (women’s)
La Sportiva Trail Ridge Low, $119
Built on a trail running shoe last, but with classic hiking shoe looks, the Trail Ridge Low strikes a great balance of form and function. A leather upper is durable and helps these shoes crossover into casual wear, while mesh paneling allows breathability in summer heat. On trail, the shoes proved comfortable and felt relatively lightweight on the foot. We liked how they flex like a running shoe and have ample cushion underfoot. A hard TPU plastic insert in the midsole adds stability, especially welcome while wearing a heavy pack, and major lugs provide great traction. Swami gripe: They can feel a bit warm in the summer heat. Swami like: Durability and support with trail running shoe comfort.
13.2 ounces (men’s); 10.5 ounces (women’s)
Tecnica Plasma S GTX, $180
Hot off the heels of the 2018 launch of Tecnica’s Forge hiking boot, which was the first custom-molded hiking footwear on the market, is the low-cut and versatile Plasma. During a 20-minute, in-store process at select retailers, the Plasma or Plasma S GTX is custom fit to each individual’s feet. The resulting custom fit eliminates the regular break-in process of hiking shoes. The Plasma proved comfortable and waterproof in wet conditions, while breathing well. They’re somewhat stiff, and feel about as supportive as a low-cut hiking shoe can (meaning they’re not as supportive as a boot). A rugged Vibram MegaGrip outsole offers great traction. Swami gripe: If only individual shoe length (between right and left) was also customizable. Swami like: The lace locks do a good job securing the otherwise slippery laces.
15.2 ounces (men’s); 12.9 ounces (women’s)
THE ALMIGHTY RUNNING SHOE
There is no shortage of running shoes that promise to make you faster, more comfortable, more sure-footed, able to run a hundred miles, able to run until you’re a hundred years old, able to fly, run more naturally, run more like a hunter-gatherer. But no matter what promises a shoe company might be making, the most important thing is that you need to be fitted for the right pair for you. Every pair of feet is different, and every person runs differently. There is no magic bullet brand or specific shoe model that works for everyone.
Also, if you’ve been running in your mom’s old shoes, your checkered Vans, your hiking boots, two-year-old shoes, your wife’s shoes, five-year-old shoes, your Zumba shoes, ten-year-old shoes, or shoes you’ve worn to your nursing job every day . . . there’s no wonder why you think running sucks.
Running does suck in old shoes or shoes that aren’t right for your foot, your body, or your style of running.
HOW TO FIND THE SHOE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
It is highly recommended that you start your search for new running shoes at a specialty running store. Sure, you can find every shoe in those stores online, but specialty running shoe store employees are trained to help you find the perfect pair of running shoes for your body, running habits, and goals. They’ll ask you questions about the kind of running you’re looking to do (Hint: You answered some of those questions for yourself in the Know-Thyself-to-Become-a-Runner Quiz); they’ll measure and look at your feet (Wide or narrow? Bunions or insanely long toes?) and inspect the bottoms of the shoes you wear on a day-to-day basis to assess the wear-pattern. (Inside/medial side of the outsole worn down? You need some medial support.) What they won’t do: roll their eyes when you say you like the blue shoe on the wall and the one with the cool pattern. They’re trained to listen to your likes and then go to the back room and pull out those shoes and a bunch of other ones they think would work (probably better) for you.
GAIT ANALYSIS: WHAT AND WHY
Your friendly shoe salesperson may have you run on a treadmill for a gait analysis. They’ll put you in different shoes and watch you run by studying—possibly by videotaping—how your feet strike the treadmill, if your hips are out of whack when you run, and other gait traits. They’ll assess how different shoes affect these factors, then help fit you with the shoe that helps guide you into, hopefully, the most natural, comfortable, and efficient running stride possible.
Your helpful salesperson may then start throwing out a bunch of technical running shoe terms.
Reprinted with permission from RUNNING THAT DOESN’T SUCK © 2019 by Lisa Jhung, Running Press