During lockdown, running boomed. Pounding the pavement was already a pretty popular pastime before the pandemic hit, with races such as the London Marathon consistently oversubscribed, and parkrun – a free, weekly, timed 5k – rapidly growing from just 13 runners in 2004 to over three million (and counting) today.
Yet, the running revolution pre-Covid seemed limited to the road. Trail-running only sparked haunting memories of painful school cross-country slogs. But cabin fever drove out the masses so that more and more of us ventured further afield to escape the concrete jungle and get lost in nature.
Jogging and sprinting through fields, down forest paths, up mountains and maybe even the odd desert is gaining traction – offering a chance to really get away from it all, ignore the splits on your watch and run purely for enjoyment.
No matter what your goals are, all that fun of running in the wild will very quickly go out the window if you find yourself awkwardly going over on your ankle or slipping in the mud. So picking up the best trail shoe is key.
These shoes differ from road-specific trainers in a few ways. One of the biggest differences you’ll notice is the tread – how grippy the sole is. Trail shoes will usually have deeper lugs, to provide better grip on uneven and soft surfaces, and may also have rock plates, toe bumpers and reinforced sidewalls to protect your feet on uneven surfaces.
How we tested
To help you pick the best trail-running shoes, we put a range of options through their paces. We tested these trainers in a variety of conditions around the south of England, where they were faced with everything from woodland trails in the New Forest to muddy, technical terrain in the Chiltern Hills.
Just remember that picking the “perfect” pair of trail shoes is a very personal choice, so try not to be swayed by friends or sponsored athletes, and choose whatever feels the most comfortable for you.
Consider what kind of trails you run on most – and what sort of terrain you need them for. Do you want a road-to-trail shoe that’s basically a road trainer with enhanced grip and traction? Or something more technical with specific features for wet or rugged terrain? Will it be steep? Muddy? Long? Whatever your preference we’ve rounded up a selection of the best to get those juices flowing.
The best women’s trail-running shoes for 2022 are:
Best overall – On Running Cloudultra: £160, On-running.com
Best for speed – North Face women’s Vectiv Enduris shoes: £125, Thenorthface.co.uk
Best hybrid trail shoe – Saucony women’s Peregrine 11: From £86.77, Amazon.co.uk
Best lightweight option – Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2: £130, Arcteryx.com
Best road-to-trail running shoe – 361° Taroko 2: £101.80, 361europe.com
Best for ultramarathons – Salomon Ultra-glide, £140, Salomon.com
Best cushioned trail-running shoe – Adidas Terrex Speed ultra trail running shoes: £144, Adidas.co.uk
On Running Cloudultra
We’re big fans of this Swiss running brand On, here at IndyBest. If you’re looking for something that’s able to tackle technical trails, steep climbs, rocky terrain and provide downhill cushioning, then you can’t go too wrong with shoes born and tested in the Swiss Alps.
The Cloudultra, which launched earlier this year, is designed for running ultra distances (it won awards for trail-running innovation straight away). It’s an incredibly versatile trail shoe and offers a high level of grip across both wet and dry surfaces. So, whether you want to conquer some epic mountain ultramarathon or use it for rocky, gravel paths, the two layers of CloudTec Helion superfoam provide comfort and cushioning without losing responsiveness.
Buy now £160.00, On-running.com
North Face women’s Vectiv Enduris shoes
While we love the look of these impressive trail shoes from the North Face, we’re not entirely sure how long the Vectiv Enduris shoes will stay white for. Featuring a carbon plate (which is fairly unusual for a trail shoe), these trainers are designed to tackle dry mountain paths with speed.
When on, you can really feel the “rocker” midsole technology propelling you forward. Supportive and stable, these do come up a little on the smaller size, so we recommend sizing up if you like more space around your toes.
Buy now £125.00, thenorthface.co.uk
Saucony women’s Peregrine 11
Not just for wearing on Wednesdays, these pink Peregrine 11 trail shoes with golden yellow laces from Saucony are easily one of our favourite pairs of trainers. A true all-rounder; the hardwearing 4mm lugs made from tough “Pwrtrac” rubber on the sole mean you can take on the mud, grass, rocks and woodland confidently, while the responsive, cushioned “Pwrrun” midsole means they still feel plush, secure and comfortable. They look great too – and come in a range of colourways, offering both understated options and more out-there looks to suit everyone.
Buy now £86.77, Amazon.co.uk
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2
These shoes are super light. They weigh just 145g (women’s UK 5.5) – so when they arrived in the post, we actually did a double-take at whether these could actually be trainers. The norvan SL 2 is the second iteration of Arc’teryx’s trail shoe – designed for the incredibly technical trails in North Vancouver, so you can expect a high-quality grip no matter the weather.
Light and durable, these simple trail shoes will no doubt be incredibly popular with runners who like to travel often and pack light. In fact, when we first tried these on, we couldn’t work out why there was a hole towards the back of the trainers – we’ve since realised it’s so you can easily clip them to your harness or bag using a carabineer. Very useful.
Buy now £130.00, Arcteryx.com
Merrell women’s Agility Peak 4
In bright, candy-coloured hues, these cushioned, grippy trail shoes from Merrell are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to the norvan SL 2s (£130, Arcteryx.com).
Designed for runners who want a lot of protection, even on the most rugged and rocky of tracks and trails, the Agility Peak 4s pair a slightly thicker mid-sole made from the lightweight FloatPro foam with a new vibram megagrip for traction and grip. With a protective toe cap to keep your toenails safe and a rock plate underfoot to protect you from landing on spiked, jagged edges, it can handle pretty much whatever conditions you throw at it.
Buy now £120.00, Merrell.com
361° taroko 2
Best: Road-to-trail running shoe
For runners who want the best of both worlds, 361°’s newest trainer, the Taroko 2 (which launched this summer) somehow manages the rare feat of being as at home on the road as it is on the trail. Balancing a breathable, soft mesh upper – that’s usually reserved for the road – with shock-absorbing “Qu!kfoam”, tough outsole and a rather unique pull-cord heel design that helps to lock the heel into place, this shoe feels both secure and supportive. The outcome? A rather versatile trainer that delivers across varied terrain.
Buy now £101.40, 361europe.com
Whether you’re a newcomer to trail-running or an ultramarathon runner, one brand you’ll likely have heard of before is Salomon. Aiming to keep ultra-distance competitors’ feet happy after 100k of trails, the ultra-glide is all about maximising comfort without compromising on grip and forefoot ground protection.
When we pulled these out of the box for testing, the first thing we noticed were the quick laces. They basically allow you to quickly adjust your laces on the move and make sure you never have a loose end – they also make taking them on and off when muddy a dream. These trail shoes offer a much softer feeling than many of Salomon’s trainers, which mean they’ll keep your legs protected over endurance efforts, without losing the responsiveness needed on the trails. Plus they’re also easy to clean.
Buy now £140.00, Salomon.com
Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra trail running shoes
Using Adidas’s famed boost cushioning, these trail shoes give the same energy return and responsiveness that you’d expect from their Ultraboost trainers for road running, while the Continental soles with shallow lugs help to increase the grip on loose gravel roads.
Adidas teamed up with ultramarathoner Tom Evans when designing these trail shoes – but don’t let that put you off into thinking they’re only for the pros. We think anyone who hits hard, wooded trails on the regular will enjoy wearing these fun-coloured shoes.
Buy now £144.00, adidas.co.uk
The verdict: Trail-running shoes for women
If you’re just trying out trail running for the first time, it’s probably worth saying that your road running trainers will work just fine. But, if you know you need something specific – for mud, sand, or rocks, for example – then this is the perfect excuse to add to your trainer collection.
For hard, dry surfaces, we really love On’s Cloudultra shoe, but for muddier, boggy conditions you might want something that more closely resembles spikes. For an all-rounder trail shoe that can actually cope with mud, Saucony’s Peregrine 11 ticks lots of key boxes.
After a supportive pair of kicks for your run? Check out our edit of the best running shoes for women