The Best Winter Running Shoes of 2021
When the sun takes a sabbatical on the south side and winter’s cold bite starts to sink deep, you don’t need to hang your head over the treadmill. Chin up — we’ve found the best winter running shoes to keep you training outside all year long.
Any trail running shoe worth its lugs has enough traction to keep you upright in sloppy conditions. But a good pair of winter running shoes takes it up a notch.
While summer conditions have a bias for lighter, airy kicks, winter shoes will sacrifice breathability for waterproof membranes, shells, higher collars, and gaiters that shed the icy snow and mud.
You pay a little more for the bells and whistles, but the goal is to keep feet warm, dry, and safe as you run through winter.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Winter Trail Shoe
- Best Winter Roadrunner
- Best Winter Zero Drop
- Supportive and Grippy
- Best for Mud
- Snow Monster
- Road to Trail
- Best of the Rest
The Best Winter Running Shoes of 2021
After logging long winter miles in dozens of shoes this year, we found these winter-worthy kicks for 2021. And because winter in Minnesota is heaps different than in Portland or Boston, we’ve identified a gamut of shoes that meet multiple definitions of winter.
Saucony’s Peregrine series has been a longstanding winner with trail runners and reviewers alike. The stack is low, the toe volume is ample, and the shoe wraps the foot without any awkward pinching or binding. And then there’s the traction. For serious runners who don’t want to slow down through winter, Saucony’s Peregrine 11 GTX ($150) is our best pick for winter running 2022.
The ride is firm and supportive, providing a consistent feel without being too bouncy. Flip the shoe over, and you notice the aggressive, tacky rubber chevron lugs. The tightly spaced rubber cleats run heel-to-toe and inspire confidence in the sloppiest conditions. The grip on the Peregrine is all business, and this is the shoe we reach for in heinous terrain. If you need more protection, the Peregrine can take screws and marks where to put them.
The GORE-TEX inner sock keeps the foot dry, but it lacks full-tongue protection. It’s a low-riding shoe — Saucony sewed in a D-ring over the toe and an elastic loop in back to keep a gaiter.
From fit to trail feel, the Peregrine lives up to the hype. If you’re new to the shoe, grab a pair of their trail shoes and expect a lively ride. If you’re looking for a way to extend your running into winter, the GTX version may make you a Saucony convert.
- Fit: True to size
- Weight (per shoe): 11.5 oz.
- Drop: 4 mm (27-23 mm)
Best Winter Roadrunner: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield
If your winter runs are primarily on road and you don’t need the aggressive traction of a winterized trail shoe, our best pick is Nike’s Pegasus 37 Shield ($130). The Pegasus is everything you’d expect from Nike — a sleek, stylish shoe that excels as a daily trainer. It’s a stalwart road shoe with ample Nike “air” pocket psi cushion underfoot that continues to feel wonderful mile after mile.
The shine on this shoe is the fantastic upper fit. It wraps the foot, allowing zero room to play. Every part of the foot is in contact with the shoe, truly connecting you with the shoe — and the ground.
The shoe rides over Nike’s React midsole foam, giving it a cushioned ride from heel to midfoot that bounces as you roll through the stride before toeing off the shoe. It’s a plush and responsive effect that makes the shoe a great daily trainer.
Flip the shoe over and you’ll notice the siping and traction are unique to the winterized Pegasus 37. The lugs are closer, and siping is ample. The pattern gives you more contact with the road and better drainage underfoot for supreme wet-weather traction.
Weather protection is provided by a half-length weatherized toe cap that wraps the front of the shoe. It keeps the weight down and breathability high with extra protection out front where runners tend to kick up moisture. This relegates the shoe to warmer winter climates where you might get wet but don’t need the barrier to trap heat.
- Fit: True to size
- Weight (per shoe): 12 oz.
- Drop: 10 mm (28-18 mm)
If cushion and max wetness protection — with a sense of flair — are your key needs, HOKA’s Speedgoat 4 GTX ($160) offers it all in spades. These runners epitomize HOKA’s trademark cushion and plush feel. Built on the summerweight chassis, the Speedgoats have ample rebound and expanded the toebox for long training days.
The latest update adds support and overall better midfoot wrap/fit, giving it some chops and feel on technical terrain where more precise footwork is needed. And there’s the plush cushioning underneath that attracts ultrarunners and weekend runners alike.
You’ll notice plenty of bounce in these, so they’re not for runners who want to feel the ground as they run. Those with wide feet or who experience cramped toes on longer runs will appreciate the room.
On the sole, 5mm lugs make for decent traction on winter trails or light, untracked snow. The traction brings the right balance of all-terrain tread and gummy traction on all types of surfaces. If your winters are mild and summers trend wet, these can be a great general trail shoe option as well.
Bottom line: With HOKA’s renewed GORE-TEX partnership, these are a great trail shoe to get you through winter in most conditions. If you like running with maximum cushion, these are for you.
- Fit: True to size
- Weight (per shoe): 12 oz.
- Drop: 4 mm (32-28 mm)
How do you make one of our favorite winter running shoes even better? Carefully!
When Altra released its fourth version of the ever-popular Lone Peak RSW, they kept the shoe relatively true to the original — minus one key component. Altra swapped out Polartec’s NeoShell outer for a welded eVent shell.
This year Altra released the 5.0 version of the Lone Peak. With its upgraded EGO midsole, the shoe provides just enough cushion to protect feet on rough, rocky terrain and a better sense of the ground. Traction is fabulous, the wide forefoot is Altra standard, and the tongue and upper are comfortable. We found it both protective and supportive and named the LP5 our favorite minimal trail shoe for 2021.
The Lone Peak ALL-WTHR ($160) takes the eVent shell from the 4 and brings it over onto the new and improved midsole of the 5. Together it’s a highly breathable winterized shoe.
Like a waterproof shell, the eVent material doesn’t wet out and is reputably more breathable than GORE-TEX. After logging 100 miles in wet, sloppy winter conditions, we’d have to agree. Our feet didn’t wet out from sweat, and our toes remained warm during an off-trail marathon slog across the snowy Owyhee Desert.
The ALL-WTHR is a low-top. And because the Lone Peak’s low profile puts you closer to the snow, we recommend you batten down on powder days. Snow troopers will want to invest in a gaiter or look at the full-gaiter shoes from Adidas or La Sportiva.
Bottom line: Zero drop can be rough on the calves, but for those that have worked up to it, the Lone Peak ALL-WTHR is one of the most comfortable shoes on the list. The addition of eVent makes the shoe the most storm-worthy and breathable shoe in the lineup.
- Fit: Runs wide; otherwise, true to size
- Weight (per shoe): 13 oz.
- Drop: Zero (25mm stack height)
While we love a beefy gaiter on our winter running shoes, one of our biggest gripes is lacing into the shoe under the gaiter. You usually need to tie into the shoe first, and then carefully close the gaiter up over the bulky lace system, trying not to blow the zipper. Adidas Agravic Tech Pro ($250) uses a BOA mechanism to dial in your fit after you’ve zipped into the shoes. It’s one of the best tie-in mechanisms we’ve found for full-winter protection.
Two long loops allow you to pull the shoe over the foot. One pulls off the heel, the other off the tongue. Keeping the tongue centered are two mesh stabilizers wings. The inner shoe is light but robustly protected with overlying TPU layups. The entire shoe is seamless inside and incredibly comfortable.
The Agravic chassis rides over a plush Boost midsole. It’s soft and remains pliable under extremely cold conditions. It provides plenty of cushion for long runs, and the 6-inch, full-zip gaiter will keep you dry during every minute of them.
The water-resistant gaiter closes over the shoe with a zipper that pulls towards the inside, which we like. We find centered zippers on these gaiters can irritate the shins over the miles. That’s not the case with the Tech Pro, which supports more forward flexion. The gaiter has generous room around the ankles, accommodating a variety of ankle diameters.
A padded strap wraps over the zipper top and closes to the lateral side, closing the top of the gaiter from snow. The lateral closure also ensures that you’re not catching it on the opposite ankle. Rubberized strips are applied to the shoe’s upper, protecting the gaiter and adding extra waterproofness.
Most notably, though, is the external BOA closure system. Pull the shoes on, zip the shoe closed, and dial the tension over the top of the foot. It’s quick and easy to get into and pulls off the feet just as easily.
At 15 ounces per shoe, the Tech Pro does feel a little heavier on the ground (and in the wallet), but you’re buying into protection other shoes don’t have.
If you find you need traction on underlying ice, we’d recommend La Sportiva’s Blizzard GTX.
Bottom line: This shoe offers foul-weather traction in a supremely comfortable package. This was one of our favorite low-volume cushion shoes. We recommend these for runners who want to storm the roads and trails when everyone else is taking a snow day.
- Fit: Comfortably snug
- Weight (per shoe): 15 oz.
- Drop: Unavailable
- Lugs: 4 mm
Running in high tops? We weren’t sure about it either. But we were pleasantly surprised with how comfortable and supportive inov-8’s Roclite G 345s ($190) were.
At the time of their debut, the G 345s were considered the lightest GORE-TEX boots on the market. Since then, inov-8 has launched a burlier, lighter version with the G 286 GTX. The 286 shaves 2 ounces, drops the chassis, is a tad wider, and brings a durable CORDURA outer. We found the 286’s shell a little stiff and not worth the extra coin for trail running.
The G 345s, though, have a soft knit outer that feels more like your traditional running shoe. It’s soft and quiet under step and has a more natural fold around the foot. The entire shoe is wrapped in GORE-TEX and has a gusseted tongue that folds under the collar. The added height keeps the elements and crud from siphoning into the shoe.
With a 16-8mm heel-toe stack, these sit much lower than HOKA’s 32-28mm, so you’ll feel more stability as you you run through variable terrain. And the 8mm drop is a more traditional running shoe drop.
The midsole allows moderate flexion and torsion in the toe but is pretty stiff in the midfoot, which helps prevent ankle rolls. This design brings that ankle support all the way to the midfoot, giving you a really supportive runner.
Inov-8 names its shoes after its weight in grams. The Roclite G 345s weighed a tad more on our scales: 360 g for our size 10 (or 12.7 ounces per shoe).
Regardless, you’re getting the support of a hiker in a package that’s competitive with any low-top runner on this list. What you lose, though, are extra bumpers and protection. Weight will always have its tradeoffs, and if you tend to bash your toes on roots and rocks, these probably won’t be the right shoes for you.
The “G” stands for graphene, and that’s this shoe’s secret sauce. It’s Nobel Prize-winning science and reputedly 200 times stronger than steel. The blocky, lugged outer soles are coated with a micro layer of graphene.
All you really need to know is the combination of lug and graphene awards the outer sole with the most durable and best traction shoe on the list. They inspire confidence on everything from loose trail to slick, mossy rocks.
Our biggest gripe with the shoe is the lacing system. The laces thread through a series of round cords that replace traditional eyelets. The eyelet cords follow the stripes that run down the shoe’s sidewall, adding a touch of support by helping wrap the foot snugly in the shoe.
But we found out of the box, they can be tough to cinch snug — especially with cold digits. They do loosen up, and it becomes easier to pull tight around the foot over time.
The shoes also lack a mechanism to hook a gaiter around the ankle. But inov-8 has a solution: its own proprietary, sock-like gaiter you can buy aftermarket for $25. It fits around the shoe and laces under the sole. We’ve used it before, and it excels at keeping debris out, but the cord underfoot can (and will eventually) wear out.
Bottom line: Running through chunks of road crud and obscured trail can be tough on the ankles. These mid-ankle boots offer a touch of support and protection and are a good bet for technical terrain.
- Fit: Narrow
- Weight (per shoe): 12.6 oz. (on our scales)
- Drop: 8 mm (16-8 mm)
For really muddy conditions, traction is mandatory. You want a shoe that responds to the terrain, provides confidence cornering slick spots, and gives you traction when climbing. Our go-to has always been Salomon’s Speedcross.
While a ferociously sexy shoe to look at, the Speedcross always felt a little clunky and unstable. The Wildcross has shed some weight and drops the stack for a dialed trail shoe that performs deliciously on the trail.
We found the toebox had a touch more volume. It allows the foot to spread out just a bit, giving the foot some extra stability.
The rubber is the same as the Speedcross, but the lug pattern has changed. Instead of the chevron lugs, the Wildcross ($170) uses a tri-point lug. The pattern provides more points of contact with the ground and a few more lugs for increased traction without sacrificing its ability to shed mud.
Our testers gave the Wildcross high marks in sloppy trails. “The Wildcross hit the mud — and the loose dirt, tree-fragmented debris, roots, loose rock, and more — without slipping. Expect a fast ride!”
Up top, a pair of wings wraps over the foot. The quick-lace system feeds through eyelets on the wings. It provides extra durability and support, and it helps wrap the foot snugly against the inside of the shoe.
No gussets here — the tongue floats underneath. This is a weak spot for water to intrude, but a mesh guard prevents debris from siphoning in. The collar is also more padded, assisting in debris management and comfort.
Our only ding is the lacing system. It uses the traditional quick-lace system found on most Salomons, but they exit through the center lace garage, making them a little finicky to work with and harder to slip over the foot. Once it’s on the foot, it’s a pull-it-and-forget-it mechanism that works as it should. Compared to the Speedcross, the overall feel is better in just about every metric.
The Wildcross is available with a water-resistant upper for a reasonable $130. For winter pursuits, we’d recommend the GORE-TEX version ($160).
Bottom line: This is a great shoe for runners who want a racy mud runner and keep the speed on steep, muddy trails.
- Fit: Runs narrow; otherwise, true to size
- Weight (per shoe): 10.2 oz.
- Stack: 25 mm
- Drop: 8 mm
Snow Monster: La Sportiva Blizzard GTX
Winter, meet your match. The La Sportiva Blizzard ($199) is a reasonably lightweight GORE-TEX shoe wrapped in a full gaiter, running over aggressive 7mm lugs pegged with nine carbide spikes.
The Blizzard is deceptively light, given its monster silhouette. Its fat-tire look is attributed to the sock-like gaiter that wraps the shoe, giving it a bootlike presence. It requires some footwork to finagle over the dogs. Fortunately, the Blizzard has huge pull tabs to make that job a little easier.
Once the shoe is laced up, the single-cord lace tucks out of the way of the snow and ice (and hobnob spikes) in a tidy pocket. A few ounces of prevention (and bulk) pay dividends on the trail — nobody likes to run with snowballs in their shoes.
Runners scratching tracks over icy trails will appreciate the carbide spikes. Our reviewers ran on pure ice and found that they grip like a charm. No more timid tip-toe stepping on ice with these bad boys. We found there were just enough spikes for traction, but it sort of leaves you wanting more, which you can buy for another $49 through La Sportiva (they come with a tool).
Do-it-yourself runners will probably find it easier to go to the hardware store and sink a handful of extra sheet metal screws into the lugs for a couple of bucks.
Bottom line: At $199, the sticker price will likely put your credit card on ice. But if your winter training requires pushing out into the tundra, the Blizzard is a sure bet to stay on your training plan.
- Fit: La Sportiva shoes are known to run aggressively narrow. If the shoe fits, this narrowness translates into a pure extension of the foot to the ground and a speedy winter trail trainer. Go up a half size from street shoes.
- Weight (per shoe): 13.3 oz.
- Drop: 6 mm (18-12 mm)
Look at any list of the best running shoes, and you’ll find Brooks near the top. In fact, Brooks is the No. 1 seller for road shoes in America. The Cascadia ($160) has taken a lot of its success from the road and brought it over into a venerable trail runner.
A nice grab loop makes them easy to slip into. The loop ends with a Velcro tab on the heel, and it’s meant to keep an aftermarket gaiter over the heel. A small clip in the first toe eyelet keeps the gaiter over the laces. This is a nice touch, especially if you plan to occasionally run in snow but want to use the shoe in drier weather.
The lugs are aggressive but not overly tall. They transition well on the roads. The waterproof mesh top is wrapped with a lightweight rubber rand that encloses around the entire lower shoe. Running through winter crust can be abusive on shoes (and feet). We found the rubbery layups provide a lot of protection.
Ankle twists are a big concern when running in winter. Brooks has a pair of roll bars (which it calls “pivot posts” on the Cascadia) under the forefoot and heel. These help keep the foot riding neutral under stride and feel really stable on uneven terrain. This stability is also accomplished by how low the Cascadia rides.
Unlike the massive 12mm drop and stack on the Adrenaline or Ghost, the Cascadia sits lower to the ground and has a tamer 8mm drop. This helps keep your center of gravity closer to the ground and makes you less likely to twist an ankle.
Brooks bills the Cascadia as a cushioned shoe. If you’re crossing over from the Ghost or Adrenaline, this shoe will feel much firmer, stiffer, and lower. But this also makes the shoe really great on technical terrain, where you want that nimbleness to roll with the punches as well as protection from underlying terrain.
Bottom line: We’ve run in the Cascadia since its first model. The Cascadia 15 is tamer than it used to be. The toebox is a little narrower and the traction is still aggressive, but it feels a little flat at speed on tame ground. But this shoe really sings on the technical stuff, including crusty winter road runs.
- Fit: True to size with a wider toebox
- Weight (per shoe): 11.7 oz.
- Drop: 8 mm
The Best of the Rest
While these aren’t the most recently released running shoes, they’re still some of our favorites from past winter running reviews and worthy of a mention.
Because the perfect shoe varies widely from person to person and depends on your preferences and winter weather conditions, we want to give you the complete rundown.
Our editors and testers have put countless miles on these runners. From icy Minnesota road running to wintry Colorado trail running, these shoes have held up.
With its deep roots in climbing, it’s no surprise Arc’teryx is our top choice for all-terrain running. The LD2 (for Long Distance) GTX ($195) is characteristically at home on the wet trails.
The LD2 runs narrow and firm while reserving proper length for the toes. The shoe closes over the foot with flat laces that tighten over a padded tongue. The tongue stays centered over the foot with mesh wings. Overall, the LD2 is one of the most comfortable shoes on the list.
The vamp is sveltely wrapped with generous protective overlays that disappear into the upper, allowing you to push the technical limits of the shoe. Jamming, smearing, toeing cracks — the shoe gives confidence it won’t blow out when redlining the terrain.
The chassis rides over a fantastic outsole, which our testers gave the highest marks for wet and wild terrain. It’s firm and protective but not overly cushiony.
Though the shoe is billed LD2 for long-distance, we prefer this shoe for shorter runs. There’s just not enough cushion for those 20-mile runs.
The Achilles heel of this shoe is the traction. The relatively shallow 3mm lugs push these shoes out of range when hard and wet surfaces trend soft and muddy.
- Weight (per pair): 10 oz. (size 10)
- Drop: 9 mm
Merrell’s MQM Flex 2 GTX ($140) is the antithesis of La Sportiva’s Jackal. Where the Jackal is low-volume, the MQM is voluminous. Where Jackal is stiff, the MQM is compliant. Riding 2 mm lower than the Jackal, the MQM feels notably more agile underfoot. It’s more planted, more stable. The shoe flexes over terrain and feels less tippy than the Jackal.
Down the midsole, a protective rock plate keeps sharps from disrupting your run. The outsole rises out in front of the toes, forming a TPU toe bumper to protect from direct hits. While protective overlays wrap the side, they don’t offer full protection. You’re going to feel any objects that strike the foot off-center.
GORE-TEX shoes can fit tighter than their summer counterparts, requiring you to size up. This isn’t the case with the MQM GTX. The MQM has a spacious toebox and can feel a little sloppy if it isn’t sized right. This compounds on sandy trails where we found the traction tends to break a bit.
If you wear thicker socks in winter, the added volume will be negligible. If you have wide feet, these will feel dreamy. But for those with mid-volume feet wearing summerweight socks, you may want to consider going a half size down.
Bottom line. The MQM hits all the marks we look for in a winter runner. Waterproof (thanks to GORE-TEX), a gusseted tongue (preventing the tongue from sliding and water from seeping in), and chunky traction. Most notably, it does all this at the price of many non-waterproof running shoes. The MQM Flex 2 GTX lists for $140 but is available online for less.
- Fit: Runs a half size large
- Weight (per shoe): 12.5 oz.
- Drop: 8 mm
Snug, grippy, and surprisingly breathable for a waterproof option, the Brooks Ghost 13 ($160) provides an excellent option for middle-of-the-road runners. You won’t find the cushion or splay-friendly toebox some of the competitors here offer. But in its place, you get a stable, reliable, waterproof running shoe with plenty of traction on the occasional ice patch.
It’s not the lightest on this list, but it’s still acceptably svelte — my size 13 weighed 13.4 ounces each (11.4 ounces for size 9/9.5). The lugs aren’t too aggressive, which allows a predictable, even foot strike and solid grip.
Bottom line: Brooks’ 3D Fit Print upper with a GORE-TEX membrane hugs the foot and provides terrific protection from snow and rain while still venting adequately.
- Fit: Snug but true to size
- Weight (per shoe): 11.4 oz.
- Drop: 12 mm
Born out of mountaineering, it was a natural transition for Scarpa to enter the mountain running field. Scarpa’s Ultra Spin GTX ($170) hits all the marks on what we look for in an ultra mountain shoe.
The fit is generous but not sloppy. The outer is robustly protected with TPU overlays and a fat toe bumper. The sock-like fit keeps the tongue centered and prevents debris from spilling in. Riding over a Vibram Megagrip outsole, the traction is aggressive with broadly spaced lugs that quickly shed muck off the soles.
And under the protective GORE-TEX shell, there’s plenty of room to wear a thicker sock and the midsole has ample cushion to suck up repeated pounding. The shoe feels stable, predictable, and overbuilt for inclement weather.
The summer version often gets dinged for sensitivity. Indeed, it doesn’t have a rocker and feels stiff — it doesn’t wrap around the underlying terrain and lands hard. But it’s a compromise we can trade for stability on rough, frozen terrain.
In the end, the overbuilt protection it gives ultrarunners translates to a winning winter runner for the rest of us.
- Weight (per pair): 24 oz. (size 10)
- Drop: 6 mm
- Best for: Long-distance runners who want extra protection
No brand understands slaying brown pow better than inov-8. While inov-8 has a stable of capable steeds for running the fells, we found the X-Talon ($185) an unstoppable bundle of joy in the slop.
The shoe fits like a slipper, inspiring supreme confidence at speed. And 8mm carbon-infused knuckle lugs cleat the sole, chewing through slick ground like crampons.
Deviating from our list, it’s not waterproof, but it’s totally bombproof. The seamless ballistic nylon upper is wrapped by a thin rubber rand that stretches from the toe to the midfoot. A thin bootie tongue sits under thin laces to keep the mud from slipping inside the shoe.
Come October and November, this is the shoe we reach for when we want to slip out on wet trails before the sun sets. It’s light, the torsion is great, and the midsole is firm. There’s not a lot of cushion to it, so it’s best suited for 45- to 60-minute runs when you want to drop the hammer. And boy, does it deliver. These shoes can rail on swoopy trails.
Bottom Line: The G stands for Graphene, the durable carbon layer on the lugs. But it might as well stand for gravity. If you’re looking for inspiration to get out on those wet, muddy days, the X-Talon G is the most legal fun you can have on two feet.
- Weight (per pair): 16.4 oz. (size 10)
- Drop: 6 mm
- Best for: Neutral runner with narrow feet; mud and soft surfaces
How to Choose a Winter Running Shoe
Staring at a wall of shoes or endlessly browsing an online retailer can be overwhelming. We’ve broken down some helpful tips to find the right shoe.
Consider Where You Run
These days, manufacturers have dialed shoes for nearly every niche of running. This even applies to winter. A quick way to hone in on the right shoe is to identify where you run.
Winter road running shoes tend to be built off of a brand’s stalwart training shoe. Brands want to invest in a winner, and a winter winner will be a shoe that is also a summer winner. The traction on these trainers will already be beefier than a racing flat and are suitable for running on wet roads.
But they’ve added a waterproof breathable membrane to keep dedicated runners on the road through winter on a familiar last. If you already run in Brooks or New Balance, their winterized road shoes will be a good bet for cold, wet conditions.
Winter trail running shoes have an aggressive lug pattern that bites into dirt, sand, and mud. But not all treads are the same. A blocky, cleat-like tread will shed mud in the Pacific Northwest but can feel clunky on hardpack found in the Southwest and can cause trips and falls.
Some brands, like Salomon and La Sportiva, offer shoes with integrated spikes. These are for runners who live in regions prone to ice, like the Northeast or the Columbia River Gorge.
Spikes can be wonderful on ice, but feel sketchy on rocky terrain and godawful on the pavement. Another option is to buy aftermarket crampons. We’ve paired our running shoes Yaktrax and Black Diamond’s Distance Spike.
These aren’t going to feel as stable as lugs embedded with carbide spikes, but they provide more flexibility in your winter quiver, pairing with a variety of shoes. We’ve found these lightweight crampons capable of crossing over into fast and light mountaineering junkets, too.
Trail shoes also have a more durable upper, a robust toe bumper, and a firmer sole or even a rock plate — all to protect the feet from underlying roots and rocks. Trail shoes with lower lugs can be a little more runnable on roads, making them a suitable choice for snow-choked road runs.
All of the shoes on this list have a waterproof breathable membrane to keep melting snow and water from creeping in while keeping the toes warm.
Like spikes, integrated gaiters are a fantastic addition and worth the cost for those who frequently run in deep, snowy conditions. They shed snow weight quickly and keep feet warmer and drier. But because they trap heat, they can quickly become uncomfortable on milder days. Like crampons, gaiters can be purchased aftermarket for $25-50.
Which Shoes Should I Buy?
With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to choose the right trail shoes. Here are three things to consider as you shop:
- Set realistic running goals. If you dream of running a 100-miler one day but realistically will use the shoes for 5-mile training loops around your local park, buy shoes for the latter use first.
- Consider shoe width. For folks with wide feet, or those running very long distances, a wide forefoot can be a bonus that lets toes splay. The downside is that wider shoes are less precise, can be a little more clumsy, and won’t fit well on people with narrow feet.
- Test out the tongue. Does it fit comfortably? Will it keep rocks out of your shoe? Shoes with gusseted tongues help keep snow and debris from creeping into the shoe.
How Should Trail Running Shoes Fit?
Stack & Drop
Unless you’re running barefoot, every shoe has a stack. Measured in millimeters, the stack refers to how high the insole sits off the ground. Shoes with more cushion inherently have a higher stack. Furthermore, most shoes have a drop in stack height from the heel to the toe.
If you’re new to running, experts recommend a lower heel drop; it builds a wider range of motion and strength, which makes you a healthier runner. We also find a lower stack keeps your center of gravity closer to the ground. This becomes even more important on unstable terrain, with snow covering hidden obstacles.
Flexibility is your friend on the trails. You need variability to match the variable terrain. Trail runners and those running in winter — where obstacles can be hidden under snow — will prefer a shoe with a firm outsole and less cushion but a firm toebox to push off of.
Flexibility and torsion can help the foot adapt to the trail and objects obscured by snow. But too much flexibility can feel unstable. Without stability, the ankle can be exposed to rolling.
How to Choose the Best Trail-Running Shoes: A No-Bull Guide
Check out our quick guide on how to buy and choose the best trail running shoes for you. It's got lots of info, few words, and no marketing jargon. Read more…
How Long Do Running Shoes Last?
The life of a shoe depends on a variety of factors, including running style, weight, and how often they’re used. But in general, 300 to 500 miles is a good rule of thumb.
So if you run 10 miles per week, your shoes could last 8 months to a year. If you’re logging 20 miles per week, plan on replacing your running shoes every 4 to 6 months.
And if you see excessive wear patterns, holes, or tears, or if you notice a decrease in footbed comfort, it’s probably time to grab a new pair of sneakers.
Durability aside, we typically don’t wear our winter shoes daily. Winter-specific running shoes supplement our running quiver, rotating into the queue as the weather calls for it. This increases the shelf life of our winter shoes and stretches our dollars out over several years of use.
The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2021
We tested and ranked the best trail running shoes for every style and budget. And for more help choosing, check out our buyer's guide. Read more…
The Best Trail Running Shoes for Women in 2021
From muddy local trails to epic mountain runs, we've found the best trail running shoes for women. Read more…