We chose these off-road shoes to match up to the way you plan on beating them up out on the trails.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5SG
Best for: speed up and down technical mountain trails
Salomon aimed to build a lightweight-yet-protective shoe here that could carry neutral striders over tough terrain. Did it ever succeed. What this 9.2-ounce shoe lacks in cushioning it makes up for with performance. Over sandrock and through spring-melted mud, this luggy trail shoe brandished the responsiveness of a road runner.
A firm midsole protected the underfoot while providing powerful leverage through the stride cycle. And the upper fit was never a question, as Salomon’s trademark quick-lace system neatly and snugly provided a plastic-wrap-like fit around the foot for maximum comfort.
$180 | salomon.com
Best for: Door-to-trail runs
Beloved long-time running shoe brand Brooks crashes the “maximalist” party with the Caldera – an extremely well-cushioned, stable trail shoe that still manages to feather the scales at under 10 ounces. The Caldera features a foam midsole that feels lively and responsive, not energy-absorbing, mushy or clunky. That extreme cushioning takes to pavement and smooth gravel very well, while the underfoot lugs easily transition to trail. The toe box was roomy—which increases the shoe’s surface contact with trails, making it a trusted BFF when the mountain is trying hard to humble you.
$140 | brooksrunning.com
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3
Best for: Long miles, on a variety of surfaces
Many trail running shoes claim to be all things to all runners. The ATR 3 is the closest to delivering on the promise. It provides pillow-like comfort over both road and trail miles. One female tester, a two-time Ironman finisher, raved, “Right out of the box, I could race in it this weekend.” Another tester, who is training for a new FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the unforgiving 486-mile Colorado Trail this summer also loved it: “Any time you can wear a shoe for four-plus hours and can’t feel it, it’s working,” he said. “I plan to have three pairs of the ATR 3 for the Colorado Trail.”
$130 | hokaoneone.com
Best for: Gravel paths and groomers, occasional pavement
This shoe, aimed at the moderate-novice trail runner, features a ripstop upper that envelopes the foot. With all of that protection, it’s a safe bet that this 9.8-ounce kick will outlast nearly every other this spring. On rocky trails, the Horizon RTT performed like a champ, with a protective forefoot plate working yin-yang style with responsive foam cushioning to furnish a smooth ride for both weekend enthusiasts and wire-framed elites thirsty for vertical miles. Make no bones about it: Under Armour is bringing credible high performance to the mountains.
$108 | underarmour.com
The North Face Endurus TR
Best for: Trail adventures
The 11.2-ounce North Face Endurus TR brings the brand’s big-mountain heritage to trail running. Runners fixated on their Strava splits will likely want to consider lighter-weight options, like The North Face Ultra Terrain ($120), which is also new this spring. But everything is a tradeoff and, while the Endurus is not a ballerina slipper for the trails, it undeniably will survive a run through the wringer. The end result is a beefy trail shoe that can move quickly when the situation is right. That makes it a worthy sidekick for fastpacking or “crossover” exploration where a steady hike is more efficient that an uphill wind sprint.