Trail Shoe Guide 2017

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 (£100)

WINNER: EDITOR'S CHOICE AWARD

We’ve liked previous versions of the Challenger ATR because it’s a trail-worthy version of the excellent, lightweight and speedy Clifton road shoe. Our only gripe with those earlier models was a rather-too-snug forefoot. For version 3, testers reported that the toebox felt roomy. It’s one of the few tweaks Hoka has made to the shoe, thankfully opting to leave much else as it was. The midsole and outsole are nearly identical to earlier versions, though the lugs in the middle of the forefoot have been spaced out, which means it will be easier to shed mud. The upper is breathable yet more durable, thanks to 3D-printed overlays that help hold the foot steady on uneven terrain and fend off trail-side sticks and debris.

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Very stiff

Weight: 269g (men’s), 223g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 8mm (men’s), 10mm (women’s)

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

Brooks Caldera (£105)

For ultra runners and those who like to hit the trails early and spend all day exploring, the Caldera is a highly reliable option. The shoe has a wide base that makes full contact with the ground, plus sticky rubber and multidirectional lugs to keep you upright on tricky terrain. Testers loved the comfort straight out of the box and the shoe’s ability to grip even the gnarliest rocks in the Cairngorns and the Lake District.

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Extremely soft

Flexibility: Very stiff

Weight: 283g (men’s), 235g (women’s

Heel/toe drop: 6mm (men’s), 5mm (women’s)

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

Inov-8 Roclite 290 (£105)

A highly durable shoe that would serve as an everyday option for trail-running mortals, and a long-run model for mountain goats. Testers enjoyed the rugged, mountain-worthy features, but wished for more cushioning on nasty terrain. However, all appreciated the toothy grip and secure fit from the upper. ‘I like the low drop and good ground feel they provide without sacrificing protection,’ says tester Michelle Shultz.

Heel cushioning: Extremely firm

Forefoot cushioning: Very firm

Flexibility: Very flexible

Weight: 280g (men’s), 232g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 6mm

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

Merrell Agility Peak Flex (£109.99)

In an attempt to make this shoe flex both up and down – mimicking a bare foot – Merrell cut grooves into the top of the midsole foam to complement those under the sole. Both the RW Lab and testers reported stiff levels of flexibility, which is probably down to the rock plate in both the heel and forefoot that shields your foot from rough trails. But our testers gave it high marks for the fine balance of weight and cushioning.

Heel cushioning: Extremely soft

Forefoot cushioning: Quite soft

Flexibility: Very stiff

Weight: 309g (men’s), 249g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 9mm (men’s), 5mm (women’s)

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v2 (£105)

The Hierro is an ultra-distance option from New Balance. With a soft, fairly flexible sole, the Hierro offers protection for long efforts on rugged singletrack. The forefoot lugs are angled to pull you forward while the heel lugs bite solidly on descents. Overall lug design is deeper, though it still performs on hard trails. A beefed-up toecap shields you from rocks, but without being so tough that you stub your toe from the inside.

Heel cushioning: Neither very firm nor very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Very soft

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 297g (men’s), 244g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 4mm (men’s), 5mm (women’s)

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra (£145)

The Sense line has traditionally been for the elite few: the otherworldly Kilian Jornet types who float effortlessly over trails wearing their racing flats. This latest addition to the range is for the rest of us. ‘It takes the best performance features of the S/Lab Sense 5 Ultra and adds cushioning and greater protection for technical terrain,’ says tester Pat Heine, an ultra runner who loves knocking out 100-milers.

Heel cushioning: Very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Quite firm

Flexibility: Quite stiff

Weight: 275g (men’s), 235g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 13mm (men’s), 10mm (women’s)

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

Saucony Peregrine 7 (£104.99)

For the latest update to this popular shoe, Saucony removed a block of bouncy foam from the heel but gave the shoe a thin, full-length layer of the same material below the sockliner. In the RW Shoe Lab, we measured a dip in heel cushioning as a result, though testers said the shoe feels responsive. The rest of the midsole and outsole remains unchanged, so you’ll get that same solid grip in all conditions.

Heel cushioning: Very firm

Forefoot cushioning: Quite soft

Flexibility: Very stiff

Weight: 278g (men’s), 235g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 4mm

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

Scott Supertrac RC (£125)

RC stands for Racing Concept and this speedster excels on technical terrain. The deep lugs are spaced to shed mud, and they radiate out in a circle from under the base of the big toe, where you generate force on push-off. The seamless upper and grippy tongue smoothly lock down the foot when going full tilt. The midsole is fairly thick, but we found it rides pretty firm, so it’s suitable for heavier runners despite the low weight.

Heel cushioning: Neither very firm nor very soft

Forefoot cushioning: Neither very firm nor very soft

Flexibility: Neither very stiff nor very flexible

Weight: 275g (men’s), 221g (women’s)

Heel/toe drop: 11mm (men’s), 8mm (women’s)

Buy: Men's, women's

Photo by Nick Ferrari, Matt Rainey

In tough trail conditions you need features you won’t find in road shoes. Here's what to look for in a trail running shoe:

1/ Bigger outsole lugs for improved traction.

2/ Reinforced toe section to guard against stubbing.

3/ Midsole rockplate to protect against sharp objects.

4/ Gusseted tongue to keep small debris out.

5/ Tougher, more-closed mesh to protect against mud and water.