Depending on the terrain and type of activity, a trail runner might be your preference over a hiking boot. Sometimes called hiking shoes or mountain runners, trail runners are great for days where you’re likely to do some hiking and some running, may encounter rocky rooty muddy terrain, or travel on slabs, including scrambling. Trail running shoes are chunkier and more durable than road running shoes but offer the same freedom and range of motion; yet they are lighter and more nimble than boots while still giving you traction and protecting you from rock bruising. Think of them as ankleless boots or a hybrid shoe-boot: all the brawn of a hiking boot but with none of the constriction.
- Aggressive tread: Deeply lugged soles improve traction on uneven, slippery terrain such as rocks, roots, mud, and snow
- Non-rigid sole: Gives you the dexterity to scramble
- Sticky rubber outsole: Improves grip on rock and is ideal for gravel, scree, and slabs
- Rock plate: Hard plastic inserts situated between the midsole and outsole of the shoe help prevent injury or discomfort from sharp rocks, can be full-foot or front half only
- Gore-Tex: Many trail runners are waterproof, which is great for cold, wet climates but will likely be too warm for dry climates. The membranes that make them waterproof aren’t very breathable and can lead to some very hot sweaty feet
- Stiff construction: To prevent excessive foot rotation
- Cushioning: For high-mileage days, a little extra padding reduces impact
- Rocky terrain
- Steep inclines
- Wet, muddy, slippery trails
- River crossings, bogs, log bridges
- Scrambling/boulders and slabs
- Off-trail travel
- Unmaintained trails
- Long high-mileage days
- Ultralight hiking or backpacking trips
I started out with the North Face Ultra, a solid trail runner that was great for long days on well-groomed trails as well as the steeper inclines and low-grade scrambles I was growing to love. The Pacific Northwest is notorious for being wet, muddy, slippery, and rocky, and these shoes handled anything I threw at them. I continued to use my day boots in the winter or anytime ankle-deep snow or water was present, but the Ultras were good for most everything else. As they started to wear out, I decided to try both the LaSportiva Mutants and Ultra Raptors, and fell deeply in love with the sticky grippy agility of them, not to mention the way they hug my foot perfectly. They’ve carried me up Mt. Whitney, Glacier Peak, and around the circumference of Mt. St. Helens, and have thrived under the weight of 45 pound packs as well as on the sketchiest descents of class 4 scrambles.
So if you are looking to get off the roads and into the mountains, or if you find your boots are feeling like overkill, trail runners might be right up your alley. Or gully. Or summit block.
Popular Trail Running Shoes For Women
- Solomon X Ultra 3 Low GTX
- Keen Targhee Vent Hiking Shoe
- Oboz Sawtooth II Low BDry
- La Sportiva Spire GTX
- North Face Hedgehog Fastpack II
Wendy Harrington is a California native who has lived in a small town at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state since 2001. Her love of trail running and peakbagging has led her to summit all five Washington volcanoes, climb to the high points of three states, and put nearly a thousand miles a year on her boots. Her loves include ridgelines, saddles, granite, one-day pushes on big mountains, anything volcanic, long solo days, and objectives that push limits and test endurance.