As the cross-country season beckons, many runners are venturing off-road and here we take a look at some of the latest trail offerings from leading shoe brands
NNormal – Kjerag – £170.00
The shoe that Kilian Jornet won the 2022 UTMB race in, the Kjerag is actually a shoe he developed and a brand he created.
It’s very much a trail racer, although Kilian says his UTMB-winning shoes have covered over 1500km, so it’s built to go the distance. Being durable was one of the considerations in creating the shoes, a factor to help with sustainability.
The shoe features a relatively low-profile midsole cushioning with a 23.5mm of stack in the heel and a 6mm drop in the EExpure foam, a foam they say was developed specifically for trail shoes. It has a familiar feel and ride, similar to that of many Pebax-based marathon racing shoes.
Grip comes from a Vibram Metagrip Litebase sole with 3.5mm deep lugs. While not the most aggressive shoe, it is able to cope with the variety of trail surfaces you might encounter on a longer mountain race (firm footpaths and forest trails).
The Kevlar-reinforced Matryx upper fabric is both strong and lightweight, with a single-layer construction, again built for speed.
The Kjerag is a high-performance shoe and Kilian has had great success with it. For mere mortals, it is perhaps better suited to firm trails run at a faster pace thanks to its highly responsive feel and lightweight racer feel.
Salomon – Thundercross – £140.00
Off-road specialists, Salomon have a brand-new model, the Thundercross, which offers high levels of cushioning and grip for a dynamic and cushioned ride.
At 5mm deep, the outsole lugs appear aggressive, with a design that inspires confidence when both ascending and descending steep hillsides. The deep chevron pattern bites into the ground and provides coverage across the full width of the shoe.
Cushioning comes from the brand’s energy foam, which is softer and more responsive than previous generations of trail shoes and at 31mm deep in the heel, there’s plenty available to soak up the terrain.
The shoe’s upper is typical Salomon, strong and well made, with durable overlays for protection, a reinforced toe bumper and the familiar quicklace for a customised fit.
Suitable for regular off-road training thanks to the plentiful cushioning as well as racing, where the deep lugs allow you to attack the trails, this is a versatile trail shoe offering a smooth and energising ride.
Altra – Outroad 2 – £130
Bridging the gap perfectly between road and trail, the Outroad 2 offers road shoe cushioning with trail shoe traction.
Of course, being Altra we have a balance cushioning construction offering 27mm of the brand’s AltraEGO midsole foam throughout the length of the shoe. For those new to the brand, this ride (often referred to as zero drop) provides a more natural feel and works very well when on the trails, where you’ll naturally be a little more aware of your footing.
The Altra ‘footshape’ toebox is evident with a roomier forefoot which allows the foot to splay and stabilise itself.
The MaxTrac outsole, while reasonably aggressive is spread evenly across the entire width of the shoe. This allows it to provide great grip on the trails but also tackle road sections with ease.
The Outroad is a great all-around shoe for multi-surface scenarios and a great introduction to the brand and lower-drop shoes.
Dynafit – Ultra 100 – £150
Another shoe with a background in the UTMB, the Ultra 100, as the name suggests, is built for long-distance trail events. From the ground up, everything about the shoe suggests trail endurance.
The outsole is Vibram’s Metagrip with 4mm deep ‘Traction’ lugs, this is a particularly aggressive design built for durability and grip. Midsole cushioning is improved over previous models and now offers more ‘energy return’ in a lighter package. Its pronounced rocker geometry helps the 30mm stack roll forward for a more dynamic toe-off which, should prove beneficial over longer distances.
The upper of the Ultra 100 is typical of this type of shoe, built using strong, durable materials with plenty of protection around the foot but with breathable mesh sections to aid all-day comfort.
A stretch lace cover is a useful addition and keeps the laces stowed away once fastened.
It’s clearly a shoe built for ultras but on shorter daily trail runs it proves just as good with a dynamic ride and plenty of traction when the terrain demands it.
Nike – Ultrafly Trail – £229.95
An eagerly anticipated model, the Ultrafly was expected to be a Vaporfly for the trail. Taking styling references from the popular road racing shoe, this model features both the brand’s ZoomX midsole and Carbon Flyplate.
In many ways, the shoe does resemble the Vaporfly, the highly responsive feel is instantly familiar but the shoe isn’t simply a carbon copy with a grippy sole. It’s built for longer distances as the name implies and as such, the shoe simply feels very comfortable, so much so that many runners won’t take the shoe to its limits, simply enjoying it over a weekly off-road training run.
The ZoomX foam is wrapped in a fabric shroud for protection and durability and the Flyplate has a flat bottom to add more stability on uneven terrain. Perhaps the most important feature is the Vibram outsole. Again, this is aimed at ultra-distance adventures so it’s not overly aggressive but totally suitable on the intended trails of the Ultrafly.
The Vaporweave upper is lightweight and durable as well as breathable and although the lacing felt a little stiff at first, the fit and feel were great once on the move.
The Ultrafly is a little different to many of the other shoes here in that it feels the closest to a road shoe that’s ‘trail-capable’ and if I was to be tackling an ultra-distance event, off-road, it would most likely be my first choice.
ASICS – Fujispeed 2 – £160.00
Another trail shoe with a carbon plate and perhaps inspired a little by its road-going cousin, the Fujispeed 2 is built for running at speed off-road. Where it differs from the competition and indeed its road-going equivalent is the price, being around £60 less expensive!
Bearing in mind the features and price, the shoe offers good value given what it offers.
The FF Blast plus midsole is a light and responsive foam and combined with the carbon plate makes a great combination which is particularly noticeable on firmer trails, injecting a touch of ‘energy return’.
The traction is superb, with well-placed lugs that bite into gravel paths as well as dealing with a little mud with ease.
Although the upper features plenty of rubberised sections to add protection and increase durability, the fit is very soft, neatly padded and very much feels like that of one of the brand’s road models, making for a great environment.
Given its features, performance and relatively competitive price, I’d say the Fujispeed 2 is one of the best all-around trail shoes on the market right now. It’s able to pick up the pace as well as cope with regular daily miles on a good range of surfaces.
Merrell – Agility Peak 5 GTX – £170.00
In its previous generations, the Agility Peak has always been one of my favourite trail shoes. A model that perhaps goes under the radar of many runners, the shoe offers a great combination of cushioning and grip as well as a really good fit.
This updated model features an updated, slightly softer and more cushioned midsole to improve the ride and very aggressive Vibram lugs for go-anywhere traction.
Available in both a regular and waterproof, Gore-Tex option, the latter is my personal preference. Here it adds lightweight water-proof functionality to an already good shoe.
Of course, Gore-Tex has both its fans and detractors, but for me, that waterproof protection is perfect for the morning autumnal dew as well as the terrain I’d usually encounter in the winter months.
The Agility Peak is a versatile and durable off-road option and in its Gore-Tex iteration a perfect year-round model.
Saucony – Aura TR – £95.00
An entry-level trail shoe, the Aura offers enough practicality for those who perhaps wanting to venture off-road and further afield for the first time or simply want a second shoe off-road option.
Despite a relatively low price, the shoe still provides plenty of cushioning, with a 31mm stack of VERSARUN foam with an 8mm drop, meaning more than enough protection to soak up the miles.
Whilst not the brand’s range-topping outsole, the XT-600 rubber lugs do provide great durability and just what’s needed on the trails, good, go-anywhere traction.
The durable upper offers plenty of protection and is reinforced in all areas of high abrasion to ensure the shoe can tackle any terrain and undergrowth it may encounter.
The Aura TR is a great value go-anywhere model that’s perfect for those simply requiring a no-frills trail option that will do the job.
HOKA – Zinal 2 – £160.00
Designed as a trail racer, the Zinal 2 is light and fast. Built for speed and traction, Hoka has reduced the cushioning stack by 2mm from the first-generation version and increased the depth of the outsole lugs up to 5mm.
The shoe instantly feels ready to race, with a stretch-knit ankle collar, it keeps debris out, perfect for those dry, dusty paths of European mountain racers. It makes for a great fit and instantly gives the shoe a close, sock-like fit that hugs the foot and helps maintain a connected feel of the ground.
The low-profile cushioning helps the shoe adapt to contours and uneven terrain and enhances that connected feel, while the Vibram Metagrip Lightbase provides excellent traction at the same time as keeping weight to a minimum.
Whilst the shoe could be used as a regular off-road model, it’s at speed that it excels as it’s built for going fast with precision and agility on the trails.
True Motion – Nevos Elements – £140.00
The Nevos Elements is essentially a go-anywhere version of the brand’s most popular road-going model, the Nevos.
With a more rugged outsole for additional traction and a water-resistant upper, the shoe is ready for a variety of conditions and terrain. While not a trail-specific sole or shoe, it is perfectly serviceable as a multi-use model.
The brand’s unique cushioning system uses a U-shaped midsole with a hollow centre. This helps with a softer foot strike and helps to centre the foot, making it a stable shoe without the need for additional technologies or devices. After a few miles, the ride becomes a very natural feel and provides nice cushioning and a natural push-off.
The upper is a rather plush, neatly padded construction which fits well whilst allowing a little natural movement of the foot. The water-resistant finish makes it all the more versatile.
Lululemon – Blissfeel Trail – £147.00
Building on the success of the popular Blissfeel road and gym shoe, this model sees the addition of a trail-capable outsole for added traction off-road.
Built on a women-specific last, the fit is the result of over one-million foot scans, with the result being a great wrap-around fit that hugs the foot perfectly.
The moulded heel support provides a close and secure fit that helps stabilise the foot on rough terrain. Combined with the lugged outsole with the responsive cushioning gives a smooth ride that suits footpaths, dirt tracks and forest trails for those off-road adventures.
Superfeet – Active Cushion insole – £40.00
New form insole specialists, Superfeet, the Active Cushion insole is available in three different arch heights.
With all the benefits of the signature Superfeet shape, these offer a flexible, cushioned insole with three choices of arch height – low, medium and high. Designed to replace the removable liner in existing shoes they are perfect for a closer, more structured fit.
They are suitable for most sports and activities, including running and walking. The choice of arch height will depend on the athlete’s foot shape, but all three heights allow the user to enjoy cushioned comfort.
In addition to offering an insole with comfort and flex, they feature a MoistureWick top cover helping reduce foot odour, while the energising heel cushion and responsive forefoot zone disperse impact and maximise energy transfer.
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