2017 Trail Shoe Guide
13 Shoes for Your Off-Road Adventures
ARC’TERYX NORVAN VT $200; Unisex: 300 g (10.6 oz.); Drop ratio: 9 mm
The respected Canadian outdoor brand has been toying with trail running for years. Now, they reveal their all-in with their first shoe, the Norvan VT. We imagine the last two letters stand for “vertical,” as the Norvan is specifically kitted out to scramble on wet rocks and scree. The Norvan VT’s underfoot feel is decidedly firm and reactive, good for sure-footed mountain running and beaten down singletrack. One novel element of the VT’s design is the lacing system, which allows you to adjust the forefoot fit on the fly, as extra toe splay may be needed on descents, while a tighter fit is preferred during a tough climb. The Norvan VT is a solid first step for Arc’teryx if you’re looking to run in the mountains.
ASICS GEL-FUJI RUNNEGADE 2 $150; Men’s: 261 g (9.2 oz.); Women’s: 218 g (7.7 oz.); Drop ratio: 6 mm
The Runnegade 2 is a lightweight singletrack beast. The heavy and extremely aggressive lugs are great for both traction and speed. The rather low stack height and decidedly minimal design are perfect for a shorter trail race, or a longer affair if you’re an efficient runner. The upper is constructed of neoprene-like material and is entirely constructed from one piece of fabric. It fits like a booty more than a conventional sneaker, with a high ankle to keep debris from jumping onboard. The area around the toes and midfoot are protected with a water-repellent skin, but our testers did note that the upper can get bogged down during really wet conditions, and it fit a bit narrow. The Runnegade 2 is a speedy, super light option for any trail run under about 30K.
COLUMBIA MONTRAIL CALDORADO II $190; Men’s: 289 g (10.2 oz.); Women’s: 269 g (9.5 oz.); Drop ratio: 8 mm
The legendary outdoor company Columbia recently merged their shoe lineup with respectable trail brand Montrail. The Caldorado II is a neutral multi-purpose shoe with the flexibility for faster singletrack runs, while retaining some of the toughness and durability needed for all sorts of challenging terrain. The Fluidguide EVA midsole is pretty firm, and the heel-to-toe rubber outsole is great in wet and muddy conditions. The Caldorado’s updated upper sheds some bulk by going with welded-on layers in order to provide structure around the foot. Best of all, the Caldorado II is really comfortable, with a padded tongue and zero hot spots. It’s a wonderfully versatile trail shoe that is also quite durable.
HOKA ONE ONE CHALLENGER ATR 3 $170; Men’s: 269 g (9.5 oz.); Women’s: 244 g (7.9 oz.); Drop ratio: 5 mm
The previous Challenger ATR was a fantastic hybrid road/trail shoe, with a couple of notable flaws: a rather wimpy outsole for rougher terrain and a somewhat problematic fit around the midfoot. This third iteration vastly improves the upper, while maintaining the extremely soft midsole, opting to keep the shoe right in between the road and trail worlds.
The Challenger ATR 3 employs a whole new last, based on the super-popular Clifton, meaning the shoe is going to fit more snuggly, particularly in the forefoot. Under the foot, this shoe is like running on a cloud. It’s not a great fit for really rough terrain, but is ideal for long cruises on flat, dry terrain.
MERRELL AGILITY PEAK FLEX $150; Men’s: 315 g (11 oz.); Women’s: 255 g (9 oz.); Drop ratio: 6 mm
Merrell retooled their potent outdoor lineup in 2017, focusing exclusively on the trails. The brand is known for making some of the best minimal shoes on the market, but the Agility Peak Flex is a more maximal offering.
The outsole is heavily lugged for lots of rough trail grip and, you guessed it, agility. Sandwiched between those toothy lugs and your foot is quite a bit of cushioning, particularly along the medial arch and heel, which would make the Agility Peak Flex a decent pick for slight pronators. Up top is a solid, durable upper and interlocking lacing system for long, adventurous runs.
NIKE WILDHORSE 3 GTX $175; Men’s: 292 g (10.3 oz.); Women’s: 249 g (8.2 oz.); Drop ratio: 8 mm
Nike stays committed to the trail scene with this excellent upgrade of the Wildhorse. This particular version is also tricked out with a Gore-Tex waterproof and highly breathable membrane, a welcome edition for Canadians looking for a versatile trail shoe to do double duty as a winter runner.
Another big addition is Nike’s Flywire cabling system for a better fit around the foot. The compression-moulded Phylon midsole is firm enough for racing, but the Zoom Air unit in the forefoot is a sigh of relief with each touchdown onto a hard surface. The Wildhorse 3 runs a touch on the small side, but otherwise feels like a secure, grippy and waterrepellent piece of all conditions gear.
NEW BALANCE MINIMUS TRAIL 10V1 $150; Men’s: 212 g (7.4 oz.); Women’s: 181 g (6.3 oz.); Drop ratio: 4 mm
It’s not often that we see a brand bring a shoe out of retirement. The Minimus Trail 10v1 was originally released a few years back, at the height of the barefoot fad. And, although the demand for ultralightweight, next-to-the-asphalt shoes has died down, many forefoot-striking trail runners still prefer a sock-like shoe.
The Minimus Trail is basically an outsole and a sock-upper, and little more. A few light wrap-around pieces of rubber and fabric provide structure and fit around the heel and forefoot. Apart from that, this is a super flexible, very nimble ride. The Vibram outsole lets you feel the earth beneath your feet, but is grippy and mildly protective. Minimal fans rejoice, the Minimus Trail is back and its, well, as same as ever.
THE NORTH FACE ENDURUS TR $170; Men’s: 317 g (11.2 oz.); Women’s: 273 g (9.6 oz.); Drop ratio: 6 mm
The North Face firmly enter the max cushioning category with this new model, the Endurus TR. And endure you will with this very plush, easygoing ride. The Endurus TR is certainly no speed demon, with a pretty substantial stack height, grippy outsole and very soft touch. It’s perfect for logging very long trail runs, such as a 50 or 100 miler. Our reviewers noted three distinct attributes that make the Endurus a stand out. The welded overlays provide structure to the pleasantly light and breathable upper. The XtraFoam midsole is pillowy soft. And the Vibram outsole seems capable of handling just about anything we threw at it, even snow, mud and ice. The Endurus TR is an ace addition to growing market for big, comfy trail shoes.
SAUCONY PEREGRINE 7 $150; Men’s: 266 g (9.4 oz.); Women’s: 238 g (8.4 oz.); Drop ratio: 4 mm
The Saucony Peregrine 7 is ready for battle. This aggressive-plated shoe is ready to take on all conditions, including undulating terrain, slippery surfaces or wherever your off-road adventures will take you. Fortunately, testing came at an ideal time as trails were muddy before becoming snow-covered, leaving little room for error to take on our feet. In our experience, the spike-like sole is the biggest takeaway from the shoe and made it a great lightweight option for trail runners of all abilities.
As with many quicker trail shoes, the overall structure is quite stiff, especially in the heel, to protect from the shoe’s intended purpose: taking on technical terrain. The thicker upper has less breathability than a neutral trainer but the added protection is key for your off-road adventures.
TOPO ATHLETIC ULTRAFLY $180; Men’s: 286 g (10.1 oz.); Women’s: 244 g (8.6 oz.); Drop ratio: 5 mm
The newest shoe from the former CEO of Vibram. The UltraFly is technically a stability shoe, with a stiff chunk of EVA material on the medial side for some support. But it works well for neutral runners as well. Previous Topo shoes have been pretty firm, but the UltraFly’s thick midsole layer offers bounce and cushioning. Although the UltraFly is a hybrid trail-road model, the upper feels a bit more suited for rugged terrain, and should outlast many shoes on the market today. The nicest aspect of the Topo line is the roomy toe box, which allows for wider feet and more toe splay. A tough everyday trail or rough road trainer.
UNDER ARMOUR HORIZON RTT $140; Men’s: 300 g (10.6 oz.); Women’s: 241 g (8.5 oz.); Drop ratio: 7 mm
Under Armour has made an aggressive and mostly successful move into the running market in the last year or so. It’s been driven by a solid shoe lineup. Our testers were huge fans of their 2017 road shoe offerings. The Horizon RTT is UA’s first trail shoe, and like its roadie siblings, it’s a pretty strong effort. First thing’s first, this shoe is really sharp to look at. Its got a clean, classic look, almost like a European hiking boot design, but it’s kitted out with quality, responsive materials. The Horizon RTT fits and feels similar to the Nike Wildhorse, with a firm grippy outsole and decent cushioning. The upper is well constructed to take abuse, but isn’t overly bulky. UA has produced a great all-rounder with their first trail shoe.
SALOMON S-LAB SENSE ULTRA $220; Unisex: 275 g (9.7 oz.); Drop ratio: 9 mm
In 2001, Salomon’s S-Lab Sense shoe was revolutionary in the ultra trail scene. It was a super aggressive, firm and fast racing shoe designed specifically for Kilian Jornet, who was redefining how we run a 100-miler. Granted, Jornet’s needs are a little different than the rest of us, so Salmon wisely created this exciting shoe, the S-Lab Sense Ultra. The key differences between Jornet’s shoe and the Ultra are in the amount of cushioning and padding. The Ultra still has a firm enough midsole that it’s protective and durable without being bulky. Other aspects of the S-Lab models are found in the Ultra as well, including the Quicklace and lace pocket system and the sticky Contragrip outsole. The Ultra is an incredible shoe for elites and mere mortals alike, looking to run fast over long, hearty terrain.
BROOKS CALDERA $160; Men’s: 280 g (9.8 oz.); Women’s: 258 g (9.1 oz.); Drop ratio: 4 mm
The Caldera is a new trail shoe aimed at the ultra crowd. It’s a lighter, more flexible sibling to Brooks’s stalwart trail go-to, the Cascadia. Although the Caldera has a relatively low heel-to-toe offset, it’s got loads of cushioning underfoot, with a very soft midsole. The outsole of the Caldera sports a crazy lug pattern that’s clearly designed for forefoot-strikers. Much of the shoe is lined with tough rubber although, oddly, a big empty spot right in the middle of the heel landing area, which might make for less traction if you’re a serious heel-striker. The upper looks sophisticated, with welded overlays and a very light mess toe box. Our testers found this to be in an interesting space somewhere between a performance and max cushioning shoe; great for long, easy trail cruising.— MD