For the love of the trails: Best trail running shoes for every foot
January 5, 2023|By Tim Kelly
When it comes to outdoor gear, trail running shoes can be some of the hardest to choose. How do you find the best trail running shoes in a sea of so many options? Whether you're a seasoned trail runner, an avid hiker, or an urban runner interested in heading for the hills, knowing what to look for can help you determine the right trail running shoes for you.
When considering the best trail running shoes, two key aspects should be taken most seriously: fit and comfort. Well above all else, the shoe should feel great on your foot and fit well to provide support and prevent injuries.
When I managed a local running store, I'd always tell customers, "You almost want the shoe to feel like an extension of your body." This especially holds true when you're on the trails. You'll be planting your foot on the ground with more lateral force. You'll also be ascending, which puts more demand on a good heel fit, and descending, which, if the fit is not great, can cause your foot to slide and your toes to hit the front of the shoe (ouch). At some point, you're bound to come across a creek crossing or wet trail and when your feet get wet, you'll want to minimize any unnecessary movement in the shoe to avoid blisters.
For anyone that's been running for some time, you'll agree that finding a comfortable, great-fitting shoe can be a difficult task, but it really doesn't have to be. Wide feet, narrow feet, painful bunions, arch support, heel support — we all have our specific needs and wants when considering shoes. Luckily, in the last several years, with interest growing in trail running, there have been an increasing number of options and technologies entering the world of trail running shoes. You can now find trail shoes specifically tailored to different foot shapes, support needs, cushioning, and more — much like road running shoes.
Brooks has improved its trail running line of shoes through the years, offering shoes for just about any trail experience for runners and hikers alike. Below, we'll provide an overview of the different types of trail running shoes that can help ensure the best run when tailored to almost any foot.
Best trail running shoes overall: Cascadia 16
Whether you're looking for the best trail running shoes for women or men, the Cascadia is the first on our list, and for good reason. An iconic shoe that's been around longer than many of us have been running, the Cascadia stands the test of time and has improved year over year to become the all-in-one, all-terrain trail option from Brooks. Now in its 16th edition, the shoe has been updated to be lighter, softer, and more adaptable on the trails.
With a new midsole and outsole construction, the shoe molds easily to the terrain to offer a more stable, confident ride. This also makes the shoe one of the best trail running shoes for high arches.
Another key but often overlooked feature of an awesome trail shoe is a rock plate running through the midsole of the shoe. This is something you might not even consider until you step over a jagged rock or root, but a rock plate could be the difference between running four more blissful miles or hobbling back to the car. The Cascadia offers an updated Ballistic Rock Shield that includes vertical grooves for added side-to-side adaptability.
Finally, the outsole offers a tread just aggressive enough for almost any trail condition while being smooth enough to run on the, dare I say, road? Yes, I did.
Best trail running shoes for flat feet: Catamount
Don't be fooled by this lightweight, fast, and incredibly comfortable trail shoe. Wait, what? Isn't that a good thing? It sure is, it's just unheard of — until now.
Most of us wouldn't consider a trail shoe to have the ability to be fast, lightweight, and comfortable while also being stable, especially while bounding down a switchback trail. But the Brooks Catamount accomplishes all of the above. If you're a runner that battles flat feet, slight pronation, and maybe even a bit of plantar fasciitis from time to time, the Catamount provides a slightly more rigid and responsive midsole to take the stress from your feet back onto the shoe.
Included through the length of the midsole and adding extra protection is the Ballistic Rock Shield. The Catamount also offers an outsole profile made from TrailTack rubber. It'll give any runner added confidence running uphill, downhill, or on a wet surface.
In addition to offering added support for those with flat feet, this shoe is fast. If you're someone that likes to bomb down switchbacks, bound up a ridgeline, or pin a bib number on your running shirt every weekend to hit a new trail race, the Catamount is a strong option.
Best trail running shoes for wide feet: Cascadia 16
If you're someone with wide feet, trust me, I get it. When you're looking for a specialty shoe (wide) with a specific need in mind (trail running), you might think it's a lost cause. However, not only is the Brooks Cascadia our pick for the overall best trail running shoe, it's a great option for those of us with wide feet. It offers a roomy toe box and, even better, it is one of the few trail shoes that legitimately comes in a wide size!
Best running shoes for trail and road: Divide 3
Are you like me where, depending on the day, you might be cruising down the road in an urban environment, then the very next day you're 10 miles into the deep woods on a beautiful trail run? Do you trade sidewalks for single tracks? Single tracks for sidewalks? I know I'm not alone here. Some days I just feel like running on the road, and some days I opt for the cleansing fresh air and solitude the woods offer on my run. With a running routine like that, it's hard to nail down a pair of shoes (or several pairs of shoes) that really offer everything you need. Yet the Brooks Divide is a fantastic option to consider for those of us that feel the pull of both trails and pavement from day to day.
The most impressive thing about the Divide is the familiar fit of a road shoe that sits atop a strong trail outsole. You'll slip into this shoe, and it's bound to feel like your trusty pair of road shoes. Flip the shoe over, and find a tread (just the right amount to keep you running happy on the road) with sticky TrailTack rubber to keep you confident on the trails. It's the best of both worlds.
Best trail running shoes for hiking: Caldera 6
Another common scenario at the running store was a customer coming in asking to try on hiking boots. While we carried a decent selection of hiking boots, I always encouraged the customer to consider trying on some trail running shoes. Unless you're carrying a heavy frame pack or logging long miles in the rugged mountain terrain for days on end, a trail running shoe is going to be much more comfortable, lightweight, and breathable than any pair of hiking boots, while also offering comparable protection under foot and confidence on the trails.
One of the most impressive shoes in this category is the Brooks Caldera. The Caldera is a max cushion shoe designed to give you just the right amount of cushion underfoot to keep you logging miles whether it's at a steady hiking pace or a faster running clip. Brooks designed this shoe with the BioMoGo DNA midsole, which works in symbiosis with the outsole to adapt to changing terrain and give you more stability when you need it most. This technology also adapts to your stride, weight, and speed to reduce the impact on your joints.
In addition to being a great hiking shoe, the Caldera 6 is a workhorse of a shoe for those that log long miles week after week. Logging hours upon hours on your feet can take a heavy toll on the body, so having a shoe that is optimally comfortable is an absolute necessity. Brooks spared none in making sure this shoe holds up to the demands of big-time miles on the trails.
Opt for the best comfort and fit
Just like some of our favorite trail running routes, I'll loop back to the beginning. When you're selecting shoes to keep you happy and healthy on the trails, above all else, make sure they fit well and are comfortable. Brooks has done an amazing job developing materials (engineered mesh FTW) that offer optimal comfort and breathability in the upper of the shoe while also working to perfect the cushion and stability underfoot.
Certain shoes will no doubt align best with what you're demanding of them, and it's always important to consider things like high arches, wide feet, or past injuries. But when it comes to the perfect shoe for you, always consider comfort and fit to ensure the happiest runs.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.