We put five high-performing shoes through the wringer so you can pick the right one for your style, terrain and passion.
Under Armour Horizon RTT
Perfect For: High-mileage trail monsters who need a shoe that can take a serious beating.
Pretty Darn Good For: Post-run revelers who don’t want to look like running dorks at the local brewery.
Down and Dirty: Made exclusively for trails, the Horizon RTT features a rock-proof polyurethane and textile upper. This outermost layer forms a cohesive protective sheath, but look closely and you’ll spot hundreds of vents to ensure that it doesn’t cause your feet to overheat. The shoe’s heel cushioning rivaled others we tested and responded well on all surfaces after a few miles of breaking in. The luggy outsole earned our trust across rocks and muddy spring downhills. $110; underarmour.com
Perfect For: Serious miles on paved paths or treadmills.
Pretty Darn Good For: Treading the occasional dirt road or gravel circuit. Down and Dirty: This super-comfortable, roomy road shoe provides all the cushioning and durability you need for training, plus enough design chutzpah for your neighborhood 10K (they claim the most energy return of leading performance running shoes). A specially-designed mid-foot flex point encourages a linear heel-to-toe transition essential to efficient leg turnover (geek alert!). But don’t limit these to sidewalks: The Levitate is a true road-trail hybrid. One of our testers, a seasoned trail ultra runner who logged 100 miles in testing, marveled at how the stride-neutral Levitate floated over pavement and roots. “I ran on asphalt, dirt, gravel, mud and snow. You can take these anywhere!” $150; brooksrunning.com
Salomon XA Elevate
Perfect For: Mid-pack trail runners and varied conditions.
Pretty Darn Good For: Local rails-to-trails paths or gravel rollers.
Down and Dirty: The Elevate magically brings the comfort of a road shoe to the unforgiving, rocky terrain of the mountains. The forefoot flexes and grips with just the right degree of firmness: It’s stiff enough to protect but pliable enough to let you feel the Earth roll under you. It performed equally well in the dust and mud, thanks to a special grippy rubber compound on the outsole. There’s also plenty of support in this sturdy, lightweight package. $130; salomon.com
Altra King MT 1.5
Perfect For: Front of the pack mountain runners—or those striving to get there. Pretty Darn Good For: Dancing across technical terrain at any speed.
Down and Dirty: With its feathery weight (8.5 ounces in a men’s 9) and snug fit courtesy of an over-the-top-of-the-foot strap, the flexible Altra King truly is a high-performance trail slipper. The roomy toe box lets your foot breathe without being sloppy. The lean fit doesn’t compromise durability, either; one tester logged 80 miles and more than 20,000 feet of climbing with no signs of wear. Whereas other shoes sport a heel-to-toe drop ranging from 6mm to 8mm, Altra’s bedrock mantra is that it provides cushioning and zero drop from heel to toe. The belief is that a zero drop translates to a more efficient running form. We see the light. $140; altrarunning.com
HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR 4
Perfect For: Long, arduous miles, especially trail ultramarathons. Pretty Darn Good For: Every-day wear. Down and Dirty: HOKA’s update to the Stinson ATR offers a wider platform, which equates to more surface contact—and better traction. Comfortable straight out of the box, the Stinson’s tightly-packed lugs provide excellent grip on wet or muddy surfaces. Finally—let’s not kid ourselves—HOKAs are about cushioning. The Stinson delivers a spongy ride for mile after mile. $160; hokaoneone.com