Published: February 2010
The Science of Speed: Trail Running Shoes
High-tech foams. Über-precise body mapping. And, of course, that whole “barefoot” thing. A new age of running is upon us—here are the shoes and apparel leading the way.
Text by Brian Metzler

1. Crossover - Trail or road? Montrail’s Rockridge excels on both. The 11.4-ounce shoe uses a new hexagonal foam—picture a honeycomb—to deliver the cushioning you need for pavement without sacrificing the stability required for mixed terrain (it’s soft but not squishy). And while the outsole is knobby enough for dirt and rocks, it won’t trip you up on asphalt ($90; montrail.com).

2. Speed Machine - The New Balance 100 is the lightest trail runner we’ve seen: 7.7 ounces for men, 6.0 for women. Except for the three-mm lugs and slightly reinforced toe bumper, there’s little difference between this and a traditional road racing flat. It’s agile enough to tiptoe through any kind of terrain, but protection is minimal—avoid super-technical trails ($75; women’s shown; newbalance.com).

3. Rock Jock - You’d be hard-pressed to find a running shoe with more grip than La Sportiva’s Raptor. Its climbing-inspired sticky rubber outsole powers up and down slabs of granite and slickrock like a superhero. And when the going gets really steep? The plastic-reinforced upper keeps your foot from rolling side to side ($110; sportiva.com).

4. Mountain Goat - Stream crossings, boulder hopping, mudslides—the gnarlier the course, the better The North Face Devils Thumb GTX XCR performs. There’s a reason it’s the heaviest shoe here (up to 14.5 ounces): It’s equipped with a rock protection plate, reinforced toe bumper sidewalls, a dual-density rubber outsole, and a waterproof-breathable upper. For mountain runners, this is the one ($130; women’s shown; thenorthface.com).

5. Multitool - No two trails are alike—but the Mizuno Wave Cabrakan can run just about any of them. It has enough cushioning for hard-packed fire roads yet still stays nimble on rooty singletrack. Slippery slop ahead? The dual-density tread offers plenty of traction without gathering mud ($125; mizunousa.com).