Long-distance runner Damian Hall finds six trail running shoes with the traction and comfort to help you blast across the hills, mountains and fells. Which trail shoe had the best grip? Which trail shoe had the best quick-drying qualities? Which trail shoe was the most comfortable?
Inov-8 X-Talons 200 – £80
Inov-8 X-Talons are a classic trail-running shoe, especially popular in the fell running world. They feel deliciously flexible, and make the wearer feel fast and light (200g, as the name indicates). They’re also the most responsive shoe on test. You can sense rocks and roots under foot, but in a way that makes you feel in touch with terrain rather than annoyed by it. The tacky, sticky rubber provides grip so good you can – literally – hear it attaching itself to rock. It’s especially good on wet, muddy and boggy ground – i.e. trademark British conditions. While a 3mm heel-to-toe drop will please the minimalist-leaning runner, those newly converted from heel-heavy road-running shoes will take longer to adjust. Distance runners, too, may want more cushioning.
Verdict: Peerless grip and responsiveness, perfect for fell and obstacle races.
Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T – £82.15
The Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Saucony XODUS 6.0 (see below) in almost every respect. The first thing you notice is the pleasing lightness (264g), their flexibility and minimalist (4mm) drop from heel-to-toe, and their slipper-like feel – they’re definitely a light and fast option. The grip is perfectly good for summery trails, and they’re the comfiest for Tarmac, too. But the smallest lugs here mean they won’t be much use come winter. They’ve got surprisingly good cushioning for their weight and could be an excellent option for racing – a sort of racing flat for trails. They’re very likeable, the type of shoe you wear about the house, or all weekend. But they’re perhaps just a bit limited for UK conditions.
Verdict: A good, fast, light and flexible option for summer trails.
The North Face Ultra Endurance – £110
The word Ultra in the name implies these are designed to be worn for many hours and miles at a time, and indeed I ran several 60-mile days on the South West Coast Path in these trail running shoes by The North Face, where they performed really well. They’re more rugged than some options here, medium weight (260g), and their 8mm drop from heel-to-toe will suit most people well. The wide sole works really well at spreading impact so consequently you don’t feel as nimble as in the X-Talons. Protection is good too, with a rubber toe guard for unwanted meetings with rocks. The grip is good for standard trails, but wouldn’t suit a rock, fell or muddy multi-terrain race so well. But for long days out these are superb.
Verdict: A superb shoe for distance running.
Saucony Xodus 6.0 – £125
If monster trucks produced trail running shoes, this is what they’d make. The Saucony XODUS 6.0 are uncompromising, hyper-aggressive footwear aiming at muddy terrain, which they power through without flinching. That said, mud and stones can linger in the lugs, reducing the effectiveness of the grip. They’re very well cushioned, with a pleasingly breathable upper and a very roomy toe box – maybe too roomy for some. The pay off is that they’re heavy, at 352g – they also feel big and seem to lack responsiveness and dexterity. But then you don’t need dexterity when faced with knee-high mud. These are a good choice for British winter conditions, less so speeding along dry summer trails.
Verdict: Big and heavy, with a monster-truck attitude to winter conditions.
New Balance Leadville V3 – £105
I covered several 60-mile days on the South West Coast Path in these trail running shoes by New Balance recently, where their comfort and cushioning was much appreciated. They’re named after the classic US 100-mile race and accordingly designed for ultra distances, but they feel very much like a road shoe, making for a good choice for the new convert. The upper is a very breathable mesh – meaning blisters are less likely as water and sweat can escape – while an 8mm drop will suit most too. There’s protection from sharp rocks around the toe and sides, and they feel lighter than the claimed weight of 293g. Normally we’d be dubious about a road running brand adapting a shoe for the trails, but these really work.
Verdict: Cushioning and comfort makes these a great choice for the beginner trail runner.
Salomon Speedcross Pro – £120
I’ve worn Salomon Speedcross for UTMB, the Dragon’s Back Race, fell, ultra and trail races all around the country, without problems. But these are a new version of Salomon’s much-loved classic. Salomon’s unique lacing system means they never come undone during a run. The aggressive 6mm lugs provide excellent grip on steep hills, mud and technical trails, however, Speedcross used to be notoriously suspect on wet rock, but these are improved. A 10mm heel-to-toe drop makes them beginner friendly, but they aren’t as low and responsive as say the Inox-8 X-Talons – and they’re 130g heavier. They offer more support, but to some that may feel rigid. A thicker material means they also don’t drain as well as Speedcross 3s.
Verdict: A popular, versatile shoe for short and long trail runs.
Main image: Columbia Montrail trail series 2017