Some trail runners prefer shoes that swallow the terrain, insulating them from every bump and angle. Others, however, like to feel the trail underfoot and want a shoe that protects without isolating, one that lets them grab the ground and propel quickly off every light, quick footplant. These three models vary from minimal to moderate, but share characteristics that let you connect with and dance nimbly over the trail.
INOV-8 TrailTalon 235 v2
One of the lightest, lowest, most flexible shoes on the market feels like a protective and performance-enhancing extension of your foot.
How They Ride
With stack heights of only 11 mm heel / 7 mm toe and an ultra-flexible forefoot, the TrailTalon 235 v2 lets you actively connect with the trail beneath your feet. But INOV-8 packs a lot into that thin midsole, including a soft-and-responsive energetic foam and a “Dynamic Fascia Band” shank that enhances the pop and power of your pushoffs. Wrapping the bottom is a durable full-coverage sticky rubber outsole with multi-directional 4 mm-deep lugs to grip any trail at any angle.
Testers were surprised and pleased with the resulting ride. “I could feel the texture of the ground and rocks but didn’t feel like that was uncomfortable or painful in any way. That contact and connection with the ground made me feel really engaged in my runs and sure of what my feet were doing and where they were stepping,” said one. “With the light, but aggressive tread system, it never felt overwhelming like many trail shoes. It was nimble and responsive and light and well designed,” said another.
INOV-8 updated the upper on this version 2, with an enhanced mesh that is more breathable and durable. Plus, they reengineered the overlays wrapping the heel and midfoot to provide more protection and enhance the fit and support. That fit is snug from heel to ball, but provides adequate toe width for splay and comfort. “These shoes have a slim shape that fit much better than I thought,” said one tester who usually chooses shoes with wider toe boxes. Others noted how supportive and durable the shoes felt despite their lightweight and flexible fit.
The TrailTalons are much better suited for soft ground like marshy grass or mud—what a surprise coming from INOV-8, a company with roots in British hill, or “fell” running—and lack adequate cushioning and protection if worn on dry, rocky ground. No one thought they’d want to go long in these slippers, either, but for short-to-medium runs or races, they made testers feel “nimble,” “engaged,” “fast and light on the trails!”
Weight: 8.2 oz
Drop: 4 mm
Topo Runventure 3
A lightly-cushioned, great-fitting, zero-drop dancer that packs considerable protection.
How They Ride
Everyone who tried the Runventure 3 raved first about its fit, which secures the heel and midfoot while opening up around the toes: “I felt as though my feet could really relax in these shoes,” said one tester. “I really liked the spacious toe box—my toes had plenty of room to move around,” added another, while one gushed, “So well designed, comfortable…nothing is too tight, too flimsy, too loose.”
The great fit, flexible sole, and zero-drop geometry let your feet work naturally and create a nimble, stable ride with a soft, smooth landing and connected push-offs. “The shoe made me feel light and closer to the ground than I typically am on runs,” said one tester, who was initially skeptical, but found the cushioning sufficient, and “was pleasantly surprised to find the running experience was really positive.”
Despite its light weight, the Runventure 3 sports a nearly-full-coverage, durable Vibram rubber outsole and a forefoot rockplate, letting you tackle the toughest trails with confidence. New in this version is the well-padded heel collar and more rigid heel counter for rear-foot security and stability.
One tester found the lacing a bit difficult to cinch down, and some noted that the overlays that surround the upper can feel “crinkly,” but by and large, testers found the shoes “almost unnoticeable” and “a nice, comfy pair of shoes to take on the trails!”
Weight: 7.6 oz
Drop: 0 mm
HOKA Torrent 2
A nimble, flexible, responsive HOKA with moderate cushioning and an accommodating fit.
How They Ride
The Torrent 2 is a HOKA trail shoe for people who don’t like HOKAs—although those who do like HOKAs might appreciate them too. A surprisingly responsive shoe from a brand known for high, squishy models, the Torrent 2 flits over trails. The relatively low midsole (23 mm heel/18 mm toe) provides just enough cushioning to dampen foot strike and smooth over hard things underfoot while connecting to the trail with a firmer forefoot that produces proprioceptive stability and powerful push-offs.
Every tester loved the fit of the updated upper, which has ample width in the forefoot (another HOKA surprise) while providing strong heel and midfoot lockdown. “Room for my feet, don’t slip at the heel—why aren’t all shoes like that?” said one tester. “The toe box has more width in it, which I enjoyed,” said another. The lugs on the sticky-rubber outsole have also been updated, and testers approved. “The sole was amazing for uneven terrain,” said one. “The flexible outsole didn’t slip at all,” said another.
One tester who has had bad experiences with max-cushioned HOKAs on the trails was won over by the Torrent 2, saying, “I found myself reaching for these when heading onto technical terrain and for longer runs on gravel and smooth dirt paths. They provide a smooth, fast, and stable ride on any terrain.” If you’re looking for a “light with grip” shoe that delivers a smooth HOKA ride but not the HOKA squish, the Torrent 2 is worth a try.
Weight: 7.6 oz
Drop: 5 mm
Price: $120 (available June 1)