When you head onto grassy paths, rocky trails and muddy forest tracks you need a pair of shoes with support, traction and protection so all you have to focus on is enjoying the run
Mammut MTR 201 Pro Low
This is a shoe that takes rugged ground in its stride. There’s a sticky sole with good lugs that grips well across a range of terrain. The upper is also secure and robust with a strong toe bumper and the laces adjust to give a secure fit. The speed lacing system can take a bit of getting used to and you may decide to lose the toggle and use the laces conventionally (the toggle-on-normal-laces-approach does at least make that option an easy one).
In terms of cushioning the shoe performs well on hard ground and offers a good level of support, including that provided by the midfoot. The MTRs are not light nor speedy but are certainly up to long hauls on demanding ground.
Verdict: Robust and secure for demanding terrain
La Sportiva Helios SR
These shoes have a lightweight and springy feel to them. The upper has a very sock-like feel and provides great fit and flexibility. This is added to by the shoe’s midsole flexibility, particularly at the forefoot. The cushioning is set for a speedy ride – there’s spring without it being unduly soft. The lugs and level of stickiness on offer from the rubber outsole offer a confident feel on a mix of underfoot conditions, including soft ground.
Pushing the pace is certainly easy enough in these shoes. But on tougher terrain or for spending prolonged periods on the hills you may need a more rugged shoe.
Verdict: Light, fast and grippy
Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX
A stalwart of a shoe that you know will be up to a real hammering on the hills. OK, this is not a lightweight, responsive shoe but if you are out for long periods on ground that’s going to put you to the test this is the type of shoe you want. The speed lacing adjusts to a good fit. There is enough cushioning and protection for hard and rugged ground and the support and stability offered is very good in terms of both the midsole and the upper construction.
The grip works well on most surfaces, although you may want a deeper tread if you are spending run-time on sloppy ground. The weatherproofing and gusseted tongue will keep the elements out.
Verdict: Protective and durable for prolonged use in tough conditions.
Merrell All Out Charge
This has the feel of a hybrid shoe – it’s at home on the trails but you can pull these on for a road run and feel equally at home in them. The tread works well and offers decent grip on most off-road surfaces. The upper fits and flexes well, it is secure without being restrictive. The cushioning and midsole are well-balanced and there’s a touch of softness that feels forgiving while the shoe is firm enough and structured to provide stability.
On really rugged terrain you might want a shoe that’s more robust or protective, but on most terrain including lighter trails, the Merrells are going to work well.
Verdict: Versatile and great for light to moderate trails
Saucony Peregrine 5
Back in the day runners who ventured off-road either did so in clumpy old trainers or superlightweight spikes. If you ran in the latter, you’ll know the feel the Peregrine provides – light and grippy. It’s the kind of shoe that encourages you to get a move on. The traction is superb, plus there’s a rock plate to protect your foot from hidden stones, but that’s not at the expense of speed.
This is a low-profile weekend warrior that’s packed with lightweight technology – such as Saucony’s Powergrid which makes for a smooth transition from heel to forefoot. Use them for thick mud, or shorter, faster outings, and you’ll appreciate the response provided.
Verdict: A racing shoe you can take out every day