Crisp air, cooler temps, and clear skies just beg for adventures on dirt, wood chips, or pine needles. We scoured the season’s latest women’s trail offerings—from weather-protecting hard chargers to road-to-trail hybrids—to bring you the leaders of the pack. From oversized, max-cushioned cruisers to svelte, speedy racers, this fall brings us innovative, stylish, supportive and protective kicks for getting off-road. Here are a few of this season’s best trail running shoes we enjoyed getting dirty.
Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro | $145
The Ultraventure Pro is a brand new shoe, that, while based on the geometries and structure of the Ultraventure, elevates the off-road performance with a bulletproof rock plate, a Zip-foam midsole, and a Vibram Megagrip outsole for underfoot protection aplenty — plus a tougher, more durable upper. If you like to mix long runs or thru hiking on hardscrabble terrain, where protection, durability, stability and comfort are prioritized over quick-rolling running ease, this is the shoe for you.
New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail v1
New Balance has joined the maximalist movement and gone big with its all-new, cushy More Trail v1, the brand’s thickest Fresh Foam midsole. This shoe is completely new to New Balance’s lineup, taking the Fresh Foam More road shoe to the trails. It employs FRESH FOAMx, New Balance’s data application approach used in the design process to focus the midsole for targeted, precise underfoot cushioning so it is exactly, and only, where needed. This shoe is for you if want to gain trail confidence through muffled impact yet still have some underfoot sensation that isn’t overly muted to help guide your way through rugged terrain. (A note from testers: The fit is small, except for the spacious toe box, so you may want to try these on before purchasing to see if you should go up a half size.)
Altra Olympus 4 | $170
Roll over rocks with ease thanks to this max-cushioned, flexible ride. Your feet will love the brand’s signature foot-shaped toe box and women’s anatomical fit, which allows your toes to spread naturally, keeping you steady and comfortable on uneven surfaces. The rounded heel and improved tongue create a smoother, more locked-in feel mile after mile. Not the most nimble of trail shoes, testers said the Olympus made up for it with cushioning and the stability gained from the balanced geometry of the foundational midsole/outsole platform, giving them a ride that felt lighter than their size.
Brooks Cascadia 15 | $130 ($160 GTX)
Fifteen years ago Brooks came out with a rather burly trail shoe that ran remarkably smoothly despite its protective sole and uniquely stable stance. They excelled in a variety of trail contexts, from rough mountain backcountry to summer miles over Nebraska sandhills for a state-champion cross country runner I coached. Over the years Brooks has kept the great qualities of the Cascadia while refining the materials to lower the weight and improve the ride and fit. Last year saw one of the most significant modifications when they reduced the size of the pivot posts on the 4-corner “suspension” system, which smoothed the ride without losing the 360° stable feel, as one tester reported: “There are plenty of times where I’ve been able to rescue myself from twisting an ankle or fully stumbling on a rock or root.” This year Brooks simply tweaked the upper to increase breathability and drainage, which also worked, as a tester who wore them in the 46-mile Grand Traverse Mountain Run noted, “After several water crossings (some of them with water at mid-calf height), these shoes seem to drain quickly, which obviously helps minimize blisters and discomfort.” In sum, that tester said, “The Brooks Cascadia 15 shoe is remarkably sturdy and stable, while also having a real lightweight ‘trail racer’ type feel to it. It’s not often that a trail shoe this rugged and durable also feels nimble.”
Inov-8 TerraUltra G-270 | $160
It is always assuring to know that when you touch your foot down on the ground that it will stay there until lift off — even when you’re landing on slick mud or wet rock. That trail-experience-improving assurance is one of the calling cards of the TerraUltra G-270’s truly remarkable traction, enhanced by the 4mm outsole lugs’ Graphene compound, an additive to rubber to make it simultaneous more elastic and more durable. The new midsole foam isn’t the softest or most flexible, but it is plenty protective and with a responsive, proprioceptive connection to the ground that our testers found stood up well to hard, rocky trails. The fit, although slightly more generous than most Inov8 shoes, remains somewhat narrow in the midfoot, which, combined with the supportive and durable upper created a secure foot-hold that enhanced the assurance provided by the grippy sole. One tester raved how she, despite chronically floppy ankles, didn’t trip or roll her ankle once while wearing these on gnarly Colorado trails.
La Sportiva Jackal | $140
La Sportiva goes wide! Many a mountain runner with bigger toes or the desire for toe splay has been waiting for the day they can run in these fine Italian shoes but has been stymied by the company’s signature narrowness. Now, with the Jackal, that option is open to all. Our test team found the ride delivered by the midsole’s compression-molded EVA with PU inserts dependable and steady. It’s not overly soft or flexible underfoot but, testers reported, “The firmness is evened out by the flexibility.” A dual-density rock guard with flex groove inserts helped balance the bottom unit with ample push-through protection and a stable stance. The upper, while durable and protective, has a smooth, near-seamless bootie-like interior with a gusseted, padded tongue. Even though there is more forefoot volume than most La Sportivas, be sure to go up a half or full size anyway because the shoe fits small in length.
Salomon Sense Ride 3 | $120
A versatile ride that grips a variety of trails and can cross over smoothly to roads, with an improved fit and optimal balance between protection and feel for the trail. This version is a bit smoother and less of a race-oriented shoe than the Sense Ride 2. The new midsole sidewalls encapsulate the foot and provide more of a proprioceptive fit. Underfoot you’ll find burlier traction and the rock plate covers more of the foot, while the upper mesh is denser and lets in less trail dust. This is the shoe for you if you want a versatile, all-surface shoe to take on almost any trail condition with finesse and confidence. Good for long, technical runs that encounter a wide variety of surfaces.
Saucony Switchback 2 | $140
For trail runners looking to get to their destination fast, the lightweight Switchback 2 is a race-ready machine that delivers more of what you need—long-distance cushioning placed into a nimble, grippy, and dialed-in package. [Read the full Saucony Switchback 2 review here.]
Merrell Agility Synthesis 2 | $110
The Synthesis 2 is a versatile “all surfaces” trail running shoe that also fares well as a light hiker and, if you get the Honey Stinger version, conversation starter. The shoe delivers moderately-firm cushioning with a commendable flex, providing a smooth ride, transitioning naturally from heel to toe. The toe box is seriously roomy inside the bootie upper that, while long, held comfortably and relatively securely — adequate for the tamer trails testers recommended you keep to in this shoe, due to the minimal push-through protection despite the presence of a rock plate.
HOKA One One Speedgoat 4 | $145
As expected from HOKA’s maximalist approach and the Speedgoat name, this big yet light shoe rolls right over trail obstacles with a cushioned and aggressively-tractioned platform that accommodates wide feet. Version 4 boasts a more responsive midsole and firmer ride, wider forefoot fit, printed upper overlays for added durability, support and security, and a gusseted, thinner tongue for breathability. It’s a great pick if you aren’t the lightest on your feet, especially towards the end of a long trail run when you want the comfort of being able to confront rocks, roots and slop with confidence and cushion.