for those who love the outdoors

30 January, 2023


6 of the best trail running shoes

Over the last few months contributor, Paul Freary, has been trying a variety of trail running footwear options across varying terrain and in what could be considered somewhat mixed conditions. Here are his selection of 6 shoes which have all had an opportunity to demonstrate their quality.

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Over the last few months I’ve been trying a variety of trail running footwear options across varying terrain and in what could be considered somewhat mixed conditions. During the winter months the weather is as much of a challenge as the hills of the North Pennine Moors close to my home that form the majority of my training routes, so this selection of shoes have each had an opportunity to demonstrate their qualities to me.

HOKA – Challenger 7 - £130.00

For good cushioning and the ability to wear this shoe straight from your front door to the trail, the Challenger 7 is a good option.

Falling into the brand’s trail running category the shoe is much more versatile than that initially suggests as it is capable tackling road and trail alike.

Cushioning comes from a deep stack of compression moulded EVA foam as you’d expect from Hoka, with 31mm of cushioning under the heel and 5mm drop to the toe. It’s a relatively soft, plush ride and very familiar. The midsole now extends up a little around the foot, cradling it and in doing so makes the shoe reasonably stable. The outsole looks pretty aggressive, with the 4mm, well-spaced lugs, but the layout of these lugs and their shape allows them to offer traction around the edge of the shoe and a little more forgiving in the centre. This allows the shoe to cope with loose, soft surfaces as well as feeling more than adequate on the road.

A new engineered mesh upper looks and feels great and really elevates the shoe with a premium appearance. The padded heel collar and extended heel tab makes the shoe easy to get in and out of and again add to the more premium feel.

For fans of the brand it a great multi-surface option offering that familiar deep cushioning that can take you mile after mile and soak up every step of the way.


Colour: Options, Men’s x 5 / Women’s x 6

Weight: 252g (Men’s UK8)

Cushioning stack: 31mm/26mm

Heel drop: 5mm

Lug depth: 4mm

Hoka speedgoat

Altra – Lone Peak 7 - £135.00

Zero drop shoes or balanced cushioning as Altra prefer, refers to a shoe where the depth of cushioning is the same along the length of the shoe. This helps to encourage a more mid-to-forefoot ground contact and in doing so lowers the impact. Many runners will, of course be more familiar to shoes with a higher heel, so becoming adjusted to a zero-drop shoe will and should take a little time. This is where a trail shoe may be helpful when considering moving to zero drop models. On the trail you’ll normally, quite naturally, plantar flex the foot (point the toes towards the ground a little) in order to allow the foot to adapt to the uneven nature of the surface more easily. This in itself means a more balanced cushioned shoe naturally tends to feel quite natural on this type of surface.

This update to the brand’s most popular trail model sees slight improvements rather than a full overhaul but they help make the shoe even more appealing to try for fans and new users to the brand alike.

The foot shaped fit of the shoe is a revelation to those not familiar with the brand. The broader and roomier shape allow the toes to spread and create a naturally stable ride. Combine this fit with the balanced midsole and you have a shoe that feels spacious as well as natural.

A small, external heel counter has been added to create a little stability, while the cushioning is soft enough to work well on a variety of trail routes.

The MaxTrac outsole may not have the most aggressive looking studs but it works surprisingly well with an almost ‘sticky’ traction and seems to ‘bite’ the ground well.

A lightweight, seamless mesh upper holds the foot well, supporting the midfoot for control while opening up the forefoot for the spacious, natural feel.

It’s a good trail shoe in its own right but also a nice option for those wanting to experience the lower drop ride.


Colour: Options, Men’s x 4 / Women’s x 4

Weight: 314g (Men’s UK8)

Cushioning stack: 25mm/25mm

Heel drop: Zero

Lug depth: approx. 3mm

Altra lone peak

Inov-8 – Roclite Ultra G320 - £170.00

Roclite models from Inov-8 tend to be all-round trail shoes that can tackle a variety of surfaces without sacrificing comfort or traction.

This model is the first in the Roclite range that uses the brands Graphene infused cushioning, G-Fly foam as well as a Graphene outsole.

At just one-atom thick, Graphene is the world’s first two-dimensional material and yet is 200 times strong than steel. When mixed with rubber the result is a stronger, stretchy material that’s more resistant to wear.

Cushioning here comes from the G-Fly foam as well as a Boomerang footbed. This footbed adds an extra level of cushioning that’s soft and welcoming as soon as you slide the shoe on and, as the name suggests, it’s really quite bouncy! When off the beaten track it adds up to a welcome and responsive ride that thanks to a built-in rockplate effortlessly soaks up the trails taking even sharp rocks in its stride.

At 6mm deep the outsole lugs are aggressive enough to cope with worse conditions you might encounter and being nicely spaced and flexible they shed any mud easily.

A stabilising adapter-fit heel enclosure keeps the foot and ankle stable and secure, wrapping the rearfoot into the lacing system. While a new, stronger upper with a rubberised toe bumper increase durability and protection at the front of the shoe.

It’s a Range Rover of a shoe, capable to going anywhere in comfort!


Colour: Options, Men’s x 2 / Women’s x 1

Weight: 320g (Men’s UK8)

Cushioning stack: 20mm/12mm

Heel drop: 8mm

Lug depth: approx. 6mm

Inov 8 roclite ultra g320

New Balance – Fresh Foam X More Trail v2 - £150.00

Giving the Fresh Foam X More road shoe an off-road make-over makes for a very interesting outcome. Max cushioning with a more durable upper and Vibram outsole gives off-road runners the best of both worlds, comfort and traction.

That said the shoe is perhaps more comfortable on less rugged terrain where the ground is a little firmer. Afterall, what would be the need for all this glorious cushioning in deep mud?

That deep cushioning comes in a thick (33/29mm) stack and the Fresh Foam X is the brands highest performing material in terms of shock absorbing and ‘energy return’ so you can be confident of it soaking up impact regardless of the time on your feet.

Vibram’s XS Trek Evo outsole provides the traction in a configuration that’s balanced for stability and grip on unpredictable surfaces. It works very well and despite the lugs not appearing too large the combination of the outsole pattern and flex grooves allows a much deeper grip when you do encounter softer surfaces.

If you tackle a mix of roads and trails on your runs then this is a great compromise. On firm or road surfaces that Fresh Foam cushioning simple absorbs the studs of the outsole so you hardly notice they are there. On the trails they’ll do their thing and give you the required traction.

If a go-anywhere shoe with a high amount of cushioning is what you require this ticks all the boxes.


Colour: Options, Men’s x 2 / Women’s x 1

Weight: 323g (Men’s UK8)

Cushioning stack: 33mm/29mm

Heel drop: 4mm

Lug depth: approx. 3mm

New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail

Merrell – Agility Peak 4 Gore-Tex - £160.00

Don’t like getting wet? Well Gore-Tex is the answer. This water-proof membrane keeps water as well as adding a layer of insulation that keeps you warm as well as dry.

The Agility Peak was already a great off-roader and now has been updated with a thicker and softer, more responsive midsole in the form of the brand’s FLOAT PRO FOAM cushioning. This Gore-Tex version takes the new model a step further with a waterproof upper.

The previous version of this shoe has always been a favourite of mine despite being somewhat of a hidden gem of a shoe. This model ups the game and feels softer and even more welcoming making for a great day out on the trails.

It’s a stable shoe too so adds confidence to your stride and with 5mm Vibram Metagrip lugs it can tackle more terrains with ease. A rockplate keeps sharp rocks at bay and the flex grooves in the outsole and midsole allow a high level of adaptability when contouring.

For me the Gore-Tex upper keeps the elements out and makes this a great allowing me to concentrate on the route ahead without worrying about the wet and cold conditions.


Colour: Options, Men’s x 2 / Women’s x 3

Weight: 320g (Men’s UK8)

Cushioning stack: 30mm/24mm

Heel drop: 6mm

Lug depth: approx. 5mm

Merrell Agility Peak GTX

Puma – Fast-Trac Nitro - £100.00

Coming in at what could be considered a bargain price, this high-performance off-road shoe features Puma’s latest cushioning technology, NITRO foam at the £100 price point.

The advanced Nitrogen injected foam is in fact being used in some shoes at twice the price from other brands and offers a responsive and cushioned feel. Here it’s combined with PROFOAMLITE, an EVA material to encase it and maintain a stable platform when off road.

The PUMAGRIP used on the outsole has become popular on all the brands latest shoes and can be found here in a specific off-road configuration with deeper lugs that work wonders on a multitude of surfaces.

The shoe has very much a road shoe ride that’s been converted into a trail model and like many shoes of this nature, it feels better for it. A tough mesh upper with reinforced overlays for durability completes the package for a price conscious and capable trail performer.


Colour: Options, Men’s x 3 / Women’s x 4

Weight: 320g (Men’s UK8)

Cushioning stack: 29mm/21mm

Heel drop: 8mm

Lug depth: approx. 4mm

Puma Fast Trac Nitro

So, which one will suit your style? If you would like to check out more of Paul's articles, you can do so by clicking here.

Paul Freary


Athletics runs in the Freary family. Paul’s father, Mike held the British 10,000m record in 1969 and Paul himself has been running for over 45 years.

As an athlete Paul has won Northern and Inter-County golds at 5000m as well as British half-marathon and trail running titles.

His claim to fame is beating Steve Cram over the classic mile distance on the road in Bermuda, a distance where Paul’s personal best in 3minutes 56seconds!

Having worked in the running industry for over 25 years he’s worked for Puma, Fila, Nike and adidas as well as now owning his own running store. An expert in video gait analysis, Paul is ideally placed to write authoritative reviews of running footwear, gadgets and gear.

For 2023 Paul has his targets set on improving his 2:39 marathon from Berlin in 2022.

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