Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes for Spring 2023
The days are growing longer, the temperatures growing warmer and the trails are calling. Whether you're new to the trails or a single-track diehard, spring is a great time to get off the road, explore and switch up your routine with a trail run.
When you head out on the dirt, it’s important to have the right shoes for trail running. What’s the difference between road running shoes and trail running shoes? Trail running shoes protect your feet when you go off road in ways that road running shoes can’t. They offer lugs and a softer rubber outsole for reliable traction to help you grip the ground and extra protection in the toe cap and in the midsole to shield you from rocks and roots.
Fleet Feet reviewers tested out five trail running shoes launching this spring: the Brooks Catamount 2, the Karhu Ikoni Trail, the Mizuno Wave Mujin 9, the Saucony Endorphin Edge and the Saucony Peregrine 13. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest trail shoe releases.
Brooks Catamount 2
|Weight||8.6 oz (W), 9.7 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||6 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||31 mm/25 mm|
The Brooks Catamount 2 offers everything you need to tackle the trails and nothing you don’t. Reviewers appreciated this no-frills, lightweight trainer that offers the necessary protective features without going overboard.
“I love the simplicity of the Catamount 2,” says Ashley. “It’s really easy to go overboard trying to trail-ify a shoe with elements like bootie construction and rock-solid toe caps, but Brooks went the opposite direction: They included trail-ready elements in a gentle, understated way that ensures the Catamount feels easy to wear right out of the box. The laces are simple, but the fabric stays put and the toe box is protected, but it’s not overly aggressive like many trail trainers. It feels thoughtful, like a trail runner made it.”
The thoughtful construction continues throughout the midsole and outsole of the shoe. The midsole is comprised of Brooks’ DNA FLASH cushioning, their lightest and most responsive midsole foam. If you’ve worn the Brooks Hyperion Tempo or Hyperion Max, you’re familiar with DNA FLASH technology.
“I really love the firm snappiness of the DNA FLASH Foam,” Nate says. “The higher stack height combined with the rock shield gives me all the protection I need for a long day on the trail without sacrificing stability or performance.”
Brooks’ SkyVault propulsion plate—a firm, curved plate in the forefoot—helps you quickly toe-off while doubling as a rock shield, protecting you from rocks and debris underfoot. The outsole is made with a tacky rubber material that grips both wet and dry surfaces with ease.
Both Nate and Ashley noticed that the lugs are grippy enough to handle mud, snow and even ice, but not aggressive enough to feel uncomfortable on the pavement, making the Catamount 2 a great option if you have to start or end your trail run on the sidewalk or road. If you have wide feet or high-volume feet (feet that take up a lot of space within the shoe), you may want to try a half size up or try the shoes on in-store. They aren’t available in wide sizing (D for women, 2E for men), and our wide-footed reviewer Nate noticed they felt a bit too snug in the forefoot in a normal width.
Karhu Ikoni Trail
|Weight||9.8 oz (W), 13.3 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||5 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||28 mm/23 mm|
The Karhu Ikoni Trail is the closest thing to a made-for-your-feet shoe as it gets. Made with the data from 3 million foot scans, the Ikoni Trail offers a higher volume fit than its road counterpart, the Karhu Ikoni.
“The width of the Ikoni Trail fits really well for me and offers a great step in feel,” says Nate, our wide-footed reviewer.
Like most Karhu shoes, the Ikoni Trail offers a unique ride thanks to brand-specific features like a Fulcrum shape to propel you forward during climbs and AeroFoam cushioning that offers a firm ride. Both Nate and Mandy noticed that, while the Ikoni Trail offers a firm, rigid feel at first, it really comes to life as you pick up the pace and get into a rhythm during your run.
“While the Ikoni Trail feels firm when first putting them on, they really come to life at faster speeds,” Nate says.
“I was really impressed with the cushion towards the end of my run, which is when they gave me a bit of a bounce,” Mandy says. “I was also impressed with the Fulcrum shape on the trails. It helped propel me up and down the hills with ease and made me want to keep going.”
Reviewers did notice that the lugged outsole performs much better on dry surfaces than wet, which is something to keep in mind if you frequent muddy or icy terrain.
“I’ve done a couple of runs in the Ikoni Trail on mixed terrain with mixed results,” says Mandy. “When it’s dry out, the shoe does fantastic on a mixture of greenway and single tracked trails. When it’s rainy, the greenway feels a bit like a Slip ‘n Slide.”
But even with wet conditions, reviewers noticed that the Ikoni Trail does a tremendous job of drying quickly so you don’t feel weighed down.
“It’s rained almost every day in North Carolina for the past three weeks, meaning there were some muddy sections on my run,” Mandy says. “I was super impressed with the drainage of the Ikoni Trail. My entire foot would be covered in water and, within a few steps, it was dry.”
Mizuno Wave Mujin 9
|Weight||10.1 oz (W), 12 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||10 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||38 mm/28 mm|
The Mizuno Wave Mujin 9 offers the highest stack height of all the shoes on our list, putting more cushioning between your feet and the ground. While a higher stack height can provide protection from the elements and cushion the impact of your strides, trail running shoes must balance a high stack height with the stability and agility needed to make twisty turns over tricky terrain.
Even with the big foam cushioning, reviewers noticed the Wave Mujin 9 combines the tall stack height with a hefty dose of stability and an unbelievably grippy outsole for a well-balanced trail shoe.
A thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) plate in the medial side of the midsole adds lateral stability and reduces the effects of overpronation to keep you moving forward as efficiently as possible.
“The Wave Mujin 9 has a touch more stability in the heel counter than most trail shoes,” Nate says. “I ran on a mix of trail, fire road and even some pavement, and the shoe rolled really nicely along. What I absolutely love about this shoe is the Michelin rubber outsole. This rubber means business. Not only is it tacky, but it’s got some serious teeth to dig into whatever terrain you’re running on.”
The upper is made with an engineered mesh that’s breathable and quick-drying, made for slogging through muddy trails or soggy creeks.
“The Wave Mujin 9 immediately offers a sense of security and support upon step-in,” Ashley says. “With that said, I found the step-in feel to be quite rigid, and more in-line with what I think of as a hiking shoe than a running shoe.”
Nate described the upper as durable rather than rigid, and noted that it will likely hold up to lots of wear and tear.
Saucony Endorphin Edge
|Weight||7.8 oz (W), 9.0 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||6 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||36 mm/30 mm|
The Saucony Endorphin Edge is the only shoe on our list with a carbon-fiber plate for maximum responsiveness and energy return. The carbon-fiber plate has become mainstream in road-racing shoes and is beginning to work its way into the trail scene. As we log more miles in these next-gen trail shoes, we’re learning how carbon plates work off road where rocks, roots, twists and turns create a more challenging environment than smooth pavement. Nevertheless, reviewers felt that Saucony did a spectacular job with the Endorphin Edge.
“The Endorphin Edge feels lightweight and nimble without any of the stiffness that I associate with carbon plates,” says Mandy, who finished her initial test run 15 minutes faster than she had anticipated. “Being a bit of a heavier and slower runner, I normally think that carbon-plated shoes are for the people who are on the podiums and not in the back of the pack, but the Endorphin Edge made me rethink this notion. As a mom who works full-time while training for ultra-marathons, saving myself a bit of time for training runs is invaluable.”
In addition to a snappy carbon-fiber plate, Saucony equipped the Endorphin Edge with a PWRRUN PB midsole, the same midsole foam used in the ultra-speedy Endorphin Pro 3. A PWRTRAC outsole offers traction over tricky terrain, although reviewers noticed the outsole felt much grippier in dry conditions than wet ones.
“My second run in the Endorphin Edge was an eight miler in the rain,” Mandy says. “The PWRTRAC outsole did okay, but there was still some slipping and sliding that occurred. I think that this shoe will excel in drier regions, but I would probably pick a more grippy shoe for muddy runs.”
If lightweight, speedy shoes are the name of your trail game, you’ll likely enjoy the Endorphin Edge for just about any distance.
Saucony Peregrine 13
|Weight||8.1 oz (W), 9.2 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||4 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||28 mm/24 mm|
Named after the powerful peregrine falcon, the Saucony Peregrine 13 enables you to fly through the trail with ease thanks to a grippy, lugged outsole and lightweight midsole foam.
The Peregrine 13 uses the same PWRTRAC outsole as the Endorphin Edge, but the lugs are 1 mm deeper for an enhanced grip.
“The tread pattern in the Peregrine is awesome,” says Nate. “Mud, loose dirt, steep terrain—it can do it all.”
A PWRRUN midsole foam, the same foam used in the Saucony Ride 15, offers a soft, smooth ride that feels cushy and protective over the trails, while a rock plate protects you from sharp or bulky objects underfoot.
“The Peregrine 13 has some good responsiveness to it, especially as I ran four tempo miles at a half marathon pace over some dirt roads and steep kicker trails,” Nate says. “My feet never moved in the shoe. They feel light and super grippy, even in loose soil.”
The Peregrine 13 is a bit of a Goldilocks-type shoe—that’s why it made our list of the best trail running shoes of 2023. While it’s not overly cushioned, it offers enough underfoot protection to keep your feet happy over long miles on the trail. It features the standard offerings of a durable trail shoe, like grippy lugs, a rock plate, a quick-drying upper and gaiter attachments, but it doesn’t go above and beyond with its features, keeping it nimble and light (it’s the second lightest shoe on our list).
“This Peregrine provides great cushion and protection for shorter to medium length trail runs,” Nate says. “I think the half marathon distance or shorter is a sweet spot for this nimble, grippy, responsive thing of beauty.”
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