Cast your mind back 10 years. It was a time of Adidas Stan Smiths, Common Projects, skinny jeans, beards galore and rarely a sock in sight. Back then, the idea of people parading around the city’s coolest spots in teched-out trail running shoes would have seemed absurd. But fashion moves in mysterious ways, and thanks to the rise of the ‘ugly sneaker’ and the ongoing obsession with outdoor gear, these functional kicks have become something of a sneaker sensation in recent years.
From mountain trails and woodland singletrack to city streets and Fashion Week runways, these rugged yet sporty shoes have taken over. They’ve turned alpine equipment brands like Salomon and Hoka One One into some of the hottest names in footwear fashion, and you’re now just as likely to find them stocked by the likes of Ssense and Mr Porter as you are by your local outdoor-equipment store.
Thinking of adding a pair of trail runners to your footwear lineup? We don’t blame you. After all, what other type of footwear offers the same combination of comfort, practicality, durability and style? To help you find the right pair, we’ve narrowed the selection to our favourite options for the best brands in the business.
Fashion Vs. Function
Trail runners have been hijacked by the fashion crowd, but at their core they’re shoes with a very specific purpose. They’re designed to cope with the demands of running off-road on uneven surfaces. This means they’re highly technical products.
Here at Ape, we deal with things from a style perspective. If you’re looking for expert recommendations for the right pair of shoes to stop you from rolling an ankle on your next ultramarathon, there are better resources out there.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a comprehensive list of the best brands and models for a pair of trail runners that look good enough to welcome into your everyday wardrobe, you’ve come to the right place.
The Best Trail Runners To Buy Right Now
French alpine sports brand Salomon has taken the sneaker world by storm with its techy yet wearable trail runners. The company still continues to create some of the best performance shoes for athletes, but it also has a dedicated lifestyle range that’s aimed squarely at those more interested in the aesthetic side of things.
There are a number of standout silhouettes, but king among them is the XT-6. This sporty lugged sneaker was the brand’s flagship trail shoe a decade ago and was brought back in an attempt to entice the fashion crowd. It hit the zeitgeist perfectly, becoming an overnight success. Expect an ever-changing selection of wild yet wearable colourways.
Hoka One One
Hoka One One is a cult French running brand known for its maximalist shoes featuring quite frankly bizarre looking oversized midsoles.
The look of its sneakers is definitely a bit of a Marmite thing, but if you’re not put off by the bright colours and orthopedic-esque shape you’ll find a whole range of weird and wonderful trail runners to get stuck into.
The Mafate Speed trail shoe has proven a particularly big hit with the more style-conscious customer.
Italy’s La Sportiva has almost a century’s worth of experience kitting out mountaineers and alpine athletes with high-end performance equipment. It specialises in mountaineering footwear, climbing shoes and ski boots, but it also makes some pretty heavy duty trail shoes designed for covering rough, mountainous terrain at speed.
The brand’s Ultra Raptor trail runners are a common sight on gorpcore Instagram accounts thanks to their aggressive, sporty shape and rugged build. Not exactly a low-profile option, but if you’re into the whole oversized sneaker thing then it should be right up your street.
Adidas Terrex is the German sportswear giant’s outdoor line. It’s aimed at hikers, skiers, trail runners and pretty much anyone whose active pursuits take them off the beaten track and into the hills.
The brand has a number of trail-focussed footwear models, but we’re particularly fond of the Agravic Flow 2.0, which offers a winning blend of performance and casual looks. Plus, they’re available in a Gore-Tex version too, making them perfect for tackling winter weather.
Arc’teryx has long been a favourite brand of those who push their outdoor gear to the absolute limits. The Canadian company is known for its precision design, attention to detail, understated aesthetic and high price points.
It started life making climbing harnesses, but has since become better known for its technical outerwear. Gore-Tex shells in particular. It also makes some fantastic hiking boots and trail runners.
Check out the Norvan LD 3, which is the label’s latest and greatest version of its flagship off-road running shoe.
Nike makes some of the best running shoes on the planet. Models like the Alphafly and Vaporfly have smashed their fair share of records and helped to carry athletes to victory on numerous occasions.
When you take that running pedigree into account, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that the Swoosh makes some great trail shoes too. The Pegasus Trail 3 is currently the brand’s most popular trail runner, with simple styling and an understated look that’ll allow it to slot into almost any casual outfit.
Boston’s New Balance is another storied running brand that has taken its designs off road. And the best selling model is the Fresh Foam X Hierro v7.
The US brand makes these shoes in a number of jazzy colourways that will appeal to the more casual customer, as well as a Gore-Tex version to deal with inclement weather.
Founded in 2010, Swiss brand On is a relative newcomer to the running-shoe world. It’s known for its unique cushioning technology, which gives its shoes a distinctive look and has made them popular with professional and amateur athletes alike, both on road and off.
Check out the Cloudultra Trail to get an idea of what the brand is all about.