We put the season’s top new trail shoes to the test, with the help of 200 runners and the RW Shoe Lab. Here are the models that stood up best.
BEST UPDATE: Brooks PureGrit 2
The PureGrit’s upper received a serious makeover, keeping in line with the rest of the second iteration of the Pure project, but it’s underfoot where we noted the most meaningful change. The first version of the shoe had a clever outsole pattern that held well on loose dirt, but its swirly, pointed tread proved slick on rocks and roads. This update gets a more traditional design – diamond-shaped lugs have sharp edges that bite into nearly any surface. Up top, Brooks used thinner and lighter materials, improving how the shoe wraps the foot, including a switch to asymmetrical lacing (which relieves pressure on the top of the foot) and a burrito tongue (one side is attached to the shoe’s upper). Welded-on overlays extend from the heel down to the base of the toes to firmly lock the foot in place.
BOTTOM LINE: Good cushioning in a lightweight, minimal-feeling shoe.
Weight: 287g (M); 230g (W)
Height: 29.6mm (heel); 24.2mm (forefoot)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5.4mm
BEST DEBUT: Salomon Sense Mantra
The Sense Mantra is a “door-to-trail” version of the S-Lab Sense,a minimal shoe custom made for Salomon’s elite trail runner Kilian Jornet. Basically, there’s a bit more shoe underfoot so that it will work for many more runners, especially those who run a kilometre or two on the roads between their home and the trailhead. The Sense Mantra features a 7mm heel-to-toe drop – lower than average, so runners may adjust to the flatter platform more quickly than in more minimal footwear. Yet while the shoe puts your foot closer to the ground than an average trail shoe, it offers plenty of protection from rocks and sticks. A flexible, puncture-proof material replaces the traditional stone shield, guarding against trail debris, but wear-testers said the shoe still rides a bit stiff.
BOTTOM LINE: Want to transition to minimal footwear? Start here.
Weight: 261g (M); 216g (W)
Height: 29.3mm (heel); 22.3mm (forefoot)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 7.0mm
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Brooks Cascadia 8
The Cascadia has that rare combination of road-shoe comfort and trail-shoe ruggedness. Our wear-testers reported that it performed remarkably well on a variety of surfaces – one tester even wore it for long stretches on a treadmill. RW Shoe Lab tests reveal that the heel is significantly softer than the forefoot, something our wear-testers appreciated on longer runs. The shoe absorbs impact upon heel-strike, but the forefoot is firm enough that testers could still feel the trail surface. Underfoot, the outsole features an updated multi-directional lug pattern that provides sure footing up and down hills. “The tread offered good grip on loose terrain and handled grass well, too,” says wear-tester Melanie Marinaccio. The upper features a dense mesh to keep out dirt and debris.
BOTTOM LINE: A well-cushioned and smooth ride on any surface.
Weight: 341g (M); 287g (W)
Height: 33.3mm (heel); 24.4mm (forefoot)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8.9mm
For more trail shoe reviews, purchase the October 2013 issue of Runner’s World.