Taking it off-road: a round-up of some of the trail shoes I used in 2013

This year, more then ever before, I was running more and more off-road. At the start of 2013, I tried to nail a decent cross-country season and with the heavy snow that we had throughout the winter, I found myself running in trail shoes more and more. Then after my tilt at the London marathon in April, I undertook a summer of ultra trail races – including the UTMB CCC race around Mont Blanc from Courmayeur to Chamonix. Spending time in Chamonix in the heart of the Alps for 6 weeks with my wife, the Trial-Princess Mrs. F gave me the ultimate chance to get off-road and into the mountains.

Throughout the year I was lucky enough to have the chance to try several different pairs of trail shoes and I thought that as the year comes to its end, I would round up some of the different trail shoes I wore and what I thought of them. Please note, these shoes are in absolutely no particular order. Right, let’s get started… and if you want more details on the shoes, click on the name to be whisked away to another website.

Saucony Kinvara TR2

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.45.13I am a big fan of the Kinvara as you can tell from this review and I was really excited to get my hands on a pair of the trail version of this shoe. It did not disappoint. The things that I really like about the ‘normal’ Kinvara has transitioned very well into the trail shoe: light weight, low profile, seamless upper, comfortable collar around the heel and ankle. Added to that are some really lovely trail-specific features including a mesh rock plate which offers protection without adding weight. Under the foot there is the addition of spike-like nodules which give superb grip on loose and wet ground.

My opinion: this shoe is undoubtedly for faster shorter efforts. Of all the shoes I tried this summer, it was the one that felt the most like a cross-country spike, which means that it is both light, grippy and low-profile but also a little unforgiving and I for one would definitely not want to be running in these on hard, rocky trails for hours and hours on end. They are idea for an off-road 10km or perhaps half marathon and would also be a great choice for a dry cross-country race.

Saucony Peregrine 3

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.45.54I won’t beat around the bush – I really like the Peregrine. Ever since I was told about them by a training partner, I have always had a pair on the go. Strangely they don’t seem to make an appearance on the shelves of many running shops, but they should. The Peregrine 3 has many of the same features as its predecessors with a 4mm heel-toe offset, which makes them feel really ‘racey’ and the excellent External Bedrock Outer Sole plate and moulded toe cap which do an excellent job of protecting the foot from sharp stones on the trail. There is also a gusseted tongue which keeps grit and gravel out and little metal loop at the bottom of the laces to attach a gaiter to – lovely touches.

My opinion: I really am a huge fan of this shoe. I wore them while I was in Chamonix for 6 weeks during the summer and they took a real beating in the mountains. For anything up to 3 hours, they were the shoes I wore. They coped with wet trails, some snow, dry conditions, rock-strewn routes and roads when I had to use them. The Saucony Peregrine 3 is a great shoe if you want something that feels fast and comfortable at the same time.

Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.49.06This is a BIG shoe – definitely at the fast-packing end of the Salomon range. Nevertheless it is worth a look. Salomon, with their roster of super-star trail running athletes, have a great team to showcase their lightweight trail racing shoes – the S-LAB range. These are the shoes I’d have loved to try out. However when I mentioned that I was going to race the 100km UTMB CCC race this summer, Salomon decided to send me this shoe.

The shoe is described by Salomon asLight, durable and stable on the most demanding terrain” and I think they have got two out of three right – durable and stable. Lightweight does not come naturally to a shoe that is durable and stable and so it proves to be with the XA PRO 3D ULTRA 2. This shoe is targetted at trail runners and fast hikers and I would suggest that it is the most ultra of ultra runners (or those who are very, very slow and therefore on the trails for a very long time) who will like these trainers. As a side note, the pull-and-secure lacing system is interesting and whilst it looks a bit fragile, I certainly haven’t magazines to break it yet.

My opinion: I like the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 but it is not a shoe that I would wear all that often. I like to consider myself to be a reasonably light and efficient runner, I usually aim to run continuously as I go and I rarely go out for more than 4 or 5 hours at a time, so I don’t have too many occasions to run in a shoe that I think is almost a hybrid trail shoe / hiking boot. But if you are after a really solid shoe, with immense grip and masses of comfort, this shoe is worth considering. 

adidas Adizero Xt 4

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.51.49Amongst the shoes I have reviewed here, this is most definitely at the lighter end of the scale. In short, this feels like a real trail racing shoe rather than a trail running shoe (perhaps there is no need to differentiate, but I am going to for the purposes of this review). This is the shoe that the adidas team gave me when I joined their team for the adidas Thunder Run 24 relay race and I have to say that I was hugely impressed with them.

The Thunder Run was the perfect opportunity to try out a shoe like the Xt 4. As a team, we decided to run a 10km loop each before swapping over. That meant that we were running hard for 35-odd minutes which was perfect for a racing shoe. Then we had very variable conditions – bone dry and hot at the start and then a deluge that turned the entire course into a shin-deep quagmire of sticky mud.

The shoes stuck to their task (pun intended) from beginning to last. Despite being brand new on the day of the race, I didn’t have a single blister or hot-spot which could be down to the fact that I do wear adidas shoes, especially the adiZero for marathon races. It could also be down to the fact that the shoes are very well made and despite my feet being soaked once the rain started, they didn’t move about on my feet.

My opinion: The Adizero bit of the name of the shoe denotes a shoe at the lighter, faster end of the adidas range and the Xt 4 does not disappoint on that front. This is a low-profile, grippy racing shoe. It is not very cushioned shoe and that might mean that it is not ideal for very long races on rocky trails. But if you want a shoe that you can tear around the trails on, that will cope with any conditions, then this is well worth checking out.

adidas Supernova Riot 5

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.51.07This is a fantastic all-rounder of a trail shoe and one of the shoes that covers as many of the bases as possible. The Supernova Riot is cushioned, light, grippy and resilistant to rocks and roots. I have hammered this shoe on every sort of trail and it has taken everything I have thrown at it and looks in as good condition as the day they came out of the box. adidas have included some proprietory technology called TRAXION® in the outsole, which gives amazing grip on everything from from dry, rocky trails to slippery, muddy routes. The outsole also includes sections of Continental Rubber (yep, the same that Formula One cars use in their tyres) which really do make the shoe feel safe and secure, even in very wet conditions.

My opinion: ironically there is not all the much that I have to say about this shoe. It is everything I think a trail shoe should be: light, comfortable, grippy and rugged. This is not a racing shoe in the same way that the adiZero XT4 or the inov-8 Trailroc is, but it is also not a big heavy shoe of the type that I think are perfect for real ultra distance races (think the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 or the Mammut MTR 201 Dyneema). This is a ‘go to’ or all-rounder trail shoe that will make a great choice if you want something that will cope with most distances and conditions. 

Scott Kinabalu

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.54.11Last year I was part of the freestak team that took 6 runners to Chamonix for the Trail Running Team campaign. While we were out there I seemed to hear about the Scott Kinabalu from everyone I spoke to. Luckily for me, Scott got in touch and offered to send me a pair, so I was intrigued to see what they were all about. It turns out, they were well worthy of their positive reputation.

Straight out of the box, the Kinabalu feels disconcertingly light. Almost as if the shoes were made from substandard material. But judging these shoes by the weight of others would be a mistake. They really prove that a shoe can be light and resilient at the same time, thanks to the AeroFoam midsole, which is 25% lighter than traditional EVA foams. The upper of the shoe is seamless, lightweight and comfortable: perfect for long distance races.

I had to make a choice this summer about which shoes I would wear for the 105km UTMB CCC and of course having never run that sort of distance or been on the go for that long before, I wanted to be absolutely sure that the I had the right shoes on. Thankfully I was in Chamonix for 6 weeks with Mrs. F. so I had a chance to try out a few shoes. In the end it came down to a choice of three: the inov-8 Roclite 315, the Mammut MTR 201 Dyneema and the Scott Kinabalu. Then I trod on a nail.

I was returning from a run up to the summit of the Brevant overlooking Chamonix and I was flying down the trails towards my breakfast at the apartment we had hired. Suddenly there was a really sharp pain in the sole of my right foot. I jumped straight up in the air and hopped along as I tried to come to a stop. I whipped off my shoe and checked my foot, which was OK and then looked at the bottom of the shoe. Stuck right through the sole was a big, rusty iron nail.

I decided that it was a sign. The thick Aerofoam had saved my foot and as I had loved everything else about the shoe, it was decided: the Kinabalu was the shoe for the CCC for me.

My opinion: I think that the Scott Kinabalu is a great shoe. It really is tremendously light and yet fantastically cushioned. The shoe has a lovely wide toe-box which allows for foot-swell after hours on the trail. And there are plenty of lovely little touches like the elastic loop on the tongue which the ends of the laces can be tucked in to.

There are some oddities – the laces are insanely long: far too long to be useful. And there is no arch in the sole, so you can’t use a gaiter that has a strap under the foot. But those things aside, I think that the Kinabalu is a great shoe. It was ideal for the CCC and I will definitely enjoy wearing them for other longer mountain adventures.

Mammut MTR 201 Dyneema

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.55.55As I mentioned earlier, I was part of the freestak team that took the six Trail Running Team members to Chamonix as part of their prize. The kit sponsor for the team was Mammut and they provided apparel and footwear for their part. The shoes that they supplied were the MTR 201 Dyneema.

The first impression that I, and most of the Trail Running Team members had, was ‘why white’? For a trail running show, white is probably the worst colour. But we were all sensible enough to realise that colour is less important than performance and the MTR 201 Dyneeema has enough technology in it to fly a man to the moon (probably).

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the shoe is the Dyneema part which refers to the material that the upper is made from. Dyneema is a very robust and abrasion resistant fabric that is used in webbing and express slings for climbing, something that Mammut, as a mountaineering brand, knows all about. Under the foot there is some very aggressive lugging and a very cushioned base, which means that the shoe is not the most low profile or elegant of those I have used. But it does deal with everything that the Alps had to throw at them and the other runners in the Trail Running Team all got on with them without complaint, which is pretty amazing.

My opinion: the Mammut Dyneema MTR201 is a great shoe. It is a real ultra-distance shoe, being on the big side and not really low-profile. But it is built to last – indeed unlike many of the other shoes I have tried here, the upper is pretty much bomb-proof and could easily outlive the EVA sole if you are running big mileage weeks. The shoe is also amazingly grippy and managed to deal with all the wet conditions I could throw at it. For a training and long-distance training shoe, you won’t find a much better shoe.

Inov-8 Trailroc 235

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.58.06The inov-8 Trailroc 235 is most definitely a “performance-focused trail shoe” (inov-8’s description). There is a zero heel-toe differential, meaning that the heel and the front of the foot are at the same height on level ground, which tends to force the runner onto the forefoot which is a more racey way to run. The shoe also has very little in the way of underfoot cushioning which gives the shoe something of a barefoot feel. This is not a shoe for runners looking for a plush, cushioned ride!

The upper of the shoe is really soft and flexible. Highly breathable and very lightweight, this shoe is almost certainly aimed at those looking to race relatively shorter distances (although obviously if you are a very experienced minimalist runner, these would probably suit you for much longer runs than I would use them for). On the bottom of the shoe, inov-8 have mixed three different rubber compounds varying in hardness which provide maximum grip on dry and loose trails. I would say however that on wet rocks, these shoes might not be ideal!

My opinion: these shoes are a great choice for shorter, faster races and training runs. I’d use them for dry cross-country races and off-road hill sessions. But they would not be the shoes that I would reach for if I was going for a longer training run and certainly don’t offer enough protection under foot for very rocky trails for me. But if you want light-weight, minimalist and speedy, then these are for you!

Nike Zoom Wildhorse

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.59.15Creating a shoe like the Zoom Wildhorse seemed to me, on first impression, to be a rather weird decision by Nike. I was initially skeptical about why anyone would want to go with a Nike shoe over one from a brand with much deeper trail running experience and credibility. And I was a little unsure about whether Nike would be able to create a true trail shoe rather than a road shoe with some ‘trailification’. But with the Wildhorse, they seem to have pulled it off. This is a great fitting, lightweight shoe with a breathable mesh upper, a supportive hold on the mid-foot, the fast, low-profile feel of a track spike and the aggressive traction of a proper trail shoe. The shoe is built upon a Nike Zoom sole which delivers low-profile protection and incorporates Dynamic Fit technology to provide an adaptive fit. The upper is primarily a mesh material which means the shoe is really breathable and conformed to my foot shape really well. And the backwards-facing lugs of the waffle outsole provides a decent level of grip. All in all, this is a great option for the runner looking for a familiar feeling shoe that is a good option for every-day trail running.

My opinion: I think that Nike have created a really interesting shoe with the Wildhorse – everything from the name to the look of the shoe means it stands out. But more than everything, the shoe’s origins in the USA means that this is a great shoe for dry to moderately wet, rolling, soft trails, which is what most runners in the US are familiar with. The sort of icy, wet, vertical rock-strewn trails that you can find in the UK and the Alps, are probably a bit challenging for Nike’s offering. But as an everyday trail shoe that will cope with pretty much everything you throw at it, the Wildhorse is a great choice.

So there we have it – a round up of some of the trail shoes I have been wearing this year. There is a huge range available, that much is clear. The shoes that I had the chance to try this year did seem to polarise between racing shoes and big, cushioned shoes that I think are for training and for very long distance races. I think that if you have a pair of each in your shoe cupboard, then you’ll be set for the winter no matter what the weather and trail conditions throw at you. If you have tried other shoes and you love them, please comment below and let me know what they were and why you like them… I might invest because after all, you can’t have too many shoes, right?


  1. Great selection. I’m a big fan of the XA Pro 3D Ultra due to the lace system and low profile with loads of trail feel, but always thought it should be lighter . Any idea how it compares to the Ultra 2?

  2. Another good write up Simon. I’ve used the XA-Pro for years, but more recently less for actually running in as I’ve shifted to lighter shoes. Durability is very good and I’ve not managed to snap those feeble looking laces yet, they actually work very well.

  3. Good post Simon. Nice to spend all that time in Cham with a range of shoes. While many manufacturers are claiming an anatomical fit it would be good to see a general widening of the toe box on more trail shoes. Too many shoes, for my foot anyway, are narrow up front. I’d also like to see a few more firms offering lower drop variations. The Scott (and Pearl Izumi) shoes look great but I’d prefer something with less that 10mm of differential.

    Question for you. Do you think we’ll see more ‘maximinimal’ shoes (a la Hoka) in 2014?

    In keeping with your post, I’ll share the wealth. Over the last year I’ve tried the following:

    Vibram Spyridon – ran 700 miles in the first pair before they wore out. Surprisingly good grip for the relative low profile lugs. No padding or cushioning which can be a distinct advantage in waterlogged trails. The downside of the minimalism is that with no cushioning these can be tough on the soles during ultra runs. They’re definitely my favourite trails shoe but for ultras a bit of cushioning really saves the legs. I’m not sure I’ll be racing in these anymore for that simple reason

    Inov-8 Beargrip 200 – super-lightweight zero drop minimal trail shoe for when it gets really muddy. The football stud lugs provide a surefooted feel in even the sloppiest conditions. Lightweight upper doesnt hold water either. Downside (as with so many Inov8 shoes) is that they have a very narrow toebox. I actually like a close fitting shoe for racing but after 35 miles (over multiple runs) a hole had developed on the outside of the small toe where the shoe flexes. Still use them (with gaffer tape) but only on days when conditions are really bad.

    Salomon S-Lab Sense – the shoe that carried me round all 119km of TDS last year. Super-lightweight 4mm drop trail shoe designed with input from Killian Jornet. Low stack height gives a surefooted feel and the carbon rockplate sufficient protection from everything the Alps dealt out. A real fan of the quick fit lacing which provides a snug glove like fit. The only gripe I have is the sizing. Once again, they could be a bit wider in the toe box. I had to size up a full size to get the width up front. Also, not the most hard-wearing of shoes – the TDS pretty much ate them up and spat them out. I guess, if you are Killian, you don’t have to worry about the cost of replacing your shoes. This could well be my go-to shoe again for 2014 (fingers crossed) although the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 looks interesting. Oh and although they werent designed for it they were actually pretty good in the snow and ice in Chamonix last week.

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