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Here they are: All the best running shoes for trail running

Woman jogging on trail covered in Autumn leaves
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If you haven't stepped outside to be greeted by a cool, crisp breeze yet, you will soon: Fall is here! You outdoorsy types might be tempted to slow things down and swap out the summer shorts for blanket forts and pumpkin spiced everything, but don't get too comfortable -- there's still plenty of time to lace up those running shoes and hit the trails running before winter brings the chill.

If you spent the summer staying active outside, you're already familiar with the allure of trail running. The wind in your face, the sounds of nature all around you, the crunch of natural terrain beneath your feet: it's all part of an invigorating experience. And doing all that during the fall can add an extra layer of excitement: the wind in your face has a brisk chill that will keep you alert and is there anything better than jogging over countless crunchy, golden yellow leaves? Probably, but it's a seasonal favorite for us.

Gearing up for trail running requires a bit more care than prepping for a paved running path or hitting the treadmill, which means you need the right footwear for the job. In other words, if you think your gym shoes will do the trick... you may be wrong.

"For trail running, you'll need shoes that are specifically made for off-road terrain," says certified personal trainer and director of Your Future Fitness Andrew Blakey. "Trail running shoes are made to withhold the constant bashing and rubbing on rocks, roots, trees, and other debris that could put a short lifespan on your running shoe if it's not designed for such conditions."

Since trail running has been linked to benefits like improved balance and leg strength, there's no reason not to invest in the best athletic footwear for the occasion.

Best running shoes for trail runners

Here are our expert-recommended picks for the best running shoes for trail runners.

Check out these must-have sturdy kicks from brands like Nike, Brooks, and Saucony. 

Best shock absorption: Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3

Women's Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3

One of our first picks is the well cushioned Ultraventure 3 by Topo Athletic. Marketed as a durable and breathable shoe ready to handle rugged terrains, this shoe is popular for its blend of comfort and construction.

"These shoes feature a lightweight and breathable upper, as well as 5mm drop cushioning for great shock absorption," says Dr. Gregory Alvarez, a podiatrist at the Ankle and Foot Centers of America. "The Vibram MegaGrip rubber outsole provides excellent grip on any terrain."

This lightweight running shoe comes in three colors and men's and women's sizes.

Men's Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, $150

Women's Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, $150

Best lightweight: Altra Lone Peak 7 

Men's Altra Lone Peak 7

For something lightweight that won't have you slipping and sliding along uneven or muddy terrain, check out this popular trail running shoe by Altra. The MaxTrac outsole and multidirectional lug pattern (those nobby little guys on the bottom of the shoe that keep you stable) will help you to stay on your feet and keep momentum as you run.

"These shoes feature a lightweight mesh upper and... rubber outsole for improved traction on wet or dry surfaces," Alvarez says. "They also feature an EGO midsole for cushioning, as well as a removable StoneGuard rock plate for added protection against sharp rocks and debris."

Marketed as highly responsive and with ample cushioning support, this running shoe has a 4.4 out of five-star rating by satisfied trail running customers. Find a selection of nine color designs in men's sizes at Amazon and five colors in women's sizes at Zappos.

Men's Altra Lone Peak 7, $112 (reduced from $150)

Women's Altra Lone Peak 7, $150

Best daily trainers: Saucony Peregrine 13 

Women's Saucony Peregrine 13

If you want a well reviewed running shoe that's built to last, the Saucony Peregrine 13 might be for you. With a lightweight design, solid cushioning to absorb impact while you run, and rubber outsoles for traction, these make for a great well-rounded shoe.

"These shoes feature a lightweight and breathable upper, as well as cushioning for great shock absorption," says Alvarez. "The rubber outsole ensures excellent traction on any terrain."

"I love, love, love these shoes," one reviewer says. "I bought them for an upcoming trip... and so far, so great. If you have high arches and do a lot of walking, or plan to take up trail running, I recommend giving these a try."

These popular running shoes come in seven colors for men's and women's sizes. And don't miss out on the discounted price (as of this writing) for some designs in women's sizes.

Men's Saucony Peregrine 13, $84 (reduced from $140)

Women's Saucony Peregrine 13, $140

Best stability on varied terrains: Salomon Sense Ride 5

Men's Salomon Sense Ride 5

To get a leg up on the unpredictability of some natural terrains, check out the Sense Ride 5 running shoe by Salomon. The trademarked SensiFit design is marketed as great for keeping your foot safe and secure when trail running.

"These shoes are designed to provide great traction on any surface," Alvarez says. "They feature a breathable upper, Contragrip rubber outsole with lugs for improved grip, as well as EnergyCell+ midsole foam for responsive cushioning."

Sturdy and comfortable, these running shoes are touted by Salomon as offering "adhesive response on rough terrains." Find them in men's and women's sizes below.

Men's Salomon Sense Ride 5, $130

Women's Salomon Sense Ride 5, $130

Best traction: Hoka Speedgoat 5

Men's Hoka Speedgoat 5

Recommended by experts like Dr. Marc Matarazzo, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, and former professional runner and CMO of Nonaste Bill Reifsnyder, the Speedgoat 5 by Hoka simply had to be on our list. 

"[This shoe is] said to have excellent traction, which can help avoid injury on rocky trails, [plus] lots of cushioning," Matarazzo says. Hoka advertises this shoe as a top contender for trail running and hiking. 

With an updated Vibram Megagrip (built on designs in previous Speedgoat designs), this running shoe is great for maintaining your grip on loose soil. The lighter midsole compound and sturdier double-layer jacquard mesh upper will also keep you cool, comfortable, and safe from the elements as you blaze trails.

Find 11 vibrant color designs in men's sizes and eight colors in women's below.

Men's Hoka Speedgoat 5, $155

Women's Hoka Speedgoat 5, $155

Best for uphill runs: Brooks Catamount 2

Women's Brooks Catamount 2

If you crave something built for strength and speed, the Catamount 2 by Brooks might be the one thing your trail running getup is missing. 

The high-traction outsole is designed to keep you balanced without slowing you down. A dual-sided mesh upper will keep nature on the trail (and out of your shoe) thanks to a hydrophobic and abrasion-resistant exterior.

The patented SkyVault propulsion plate on the bottom of the shoe will help you to run uphill, taking your trail running to new heights. An added mudguard and TrailTrack rubber outsole can enhance your traction on any surface.

Men's Brooks Catamount 2, $170

Women's Brooks Catamount 2, $170

Best waterproof shoe: Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX

Men's Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX

There's water-resistant, and then there's waterproof. These trail running shoes by Nike are well reviewed for their level of comfort, durability, and tendency to keep your foot nice and dry while you run. 

"I bought this [shoe] for my trip... where I would be doing a lot of hiking in various terrains," one reviewer says. "These were comfy right out of the box ... These also kept my feet dry during the rain [and] dirt out of my shoes."

The Gore-Tex outer layer of these running shoes looks like a real game changer when it comes to keeping out the elements. So if you're a "rain, sleet, or snow" type of trail runner, these might be for you.

Find these in nine color schemes in men's and women's sizes at Nike below.

Men's Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX, $10

Women's Nike Pegasus Trail 4 GORE-TEX, $160

How to find the best athletic footwear for trail running

When it comes to shopping for the perfect pair of running shoes to wear on natural trails, there are a few things to keep in mind. First up is making the clear distinction between running shoes meant for the great outdoors and those built for indoor use -- such as a treadmill.

"Shoes made for treadmill running are usually lightweight and meant to stabilize and cushion feet on a smooth, even surface as opposed to shoes made for trail running which have a better grip and more ankle support to protect feet on uneven terrain," Matarazzo says. 

Grip, foot protection, and a solid construction (aka durability) are some of the most important things to look for in a pair of trail running shoes. Uneven and unpredictable terrains can catch you by surprise when trekking it on unpaved paths, so prepare for tiny jump-scares like pebbles, tree roots, and the like by wearing shoes with rubber outsoles.

How we chose the best running shoes trail running

  • Customer reviews: These days, a good pair of shoes should come backed up with great reviews. That's why we only selected the most highly regarded running shoes for trail running.
  • Expert recommendations: We backed up our selections with insight and recommendations from experts on all things footwear.
  • Star rating: No subpar shoes here! Only four stars and up for our trail running shoe recs.
  • Your needs: Maybe you keep it simple with park trails, or perhaps you do your trail running in more heavily wooded areas -- whatever the case, you'll find something that suits your needs on our list.

Related: Read more about how we review products

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