We partnered with 7 of the top brands to test and review some of the most awesome new shoes to hit the shelves. We take a data-driven approach to testing shoes, putting hundreds of hours and a more than 1000 total miles across all brands. Enjoy our results and feedback for each of these.
Adidas Terrex Agravic GTX ($165) – Built with responsive boost™ cushioning and a waterproof GORE-TEX® membrane, the textile and mesh upper has abrasion-resistant welding for added durability. The grippy Continental™ Rubber outsole hugs trails even in wet conditions. Weight: 15oz (men’s 11), 6mm drop.
Brooks Cascadia 12 ($130) – Rugged utility for protection over any trail, with the cushion runners crave when running off-road. Ballistic rock shields protect against potential surface hazards. Mesh uppers manage moisture to keep feet cool and dry. Weight: 12.1 oz (men’s 8.5), 10mm drop.
Brooks Pure Grit 6 ($120) – Lightweight agility and grippy traction for trail runners seeking out wild, off-road adventures. The rounded heel provides enhanced alignment to minimize stress on joints, while the 3D rubber print lends strategic stretch and structure for a durable, protected fit. Finally, the BioMoGo DNA midsole and ballistic rock shield provide the added protection you need. Weight: 9.6oz (men’s 8.5), 4mm drop.
Columbia Montrail Trans Alps FKT ($130) – If it doesn’t win for anything else, it certainly will for the industries longest name. Outfitted with a brand-new abrasion and water resistant forefoot shield, the men’s Trans Alps™ F.K.T.™ II Shoe serves up a supremely smooth ride on rugged mountain terrain thanks to a full-length FluidFoam™ midsole for exceptional cushioning, flexibility, and support, while a reinforced toecap and heel, co-molded mid-foot TrailShield™, and larger 6mm lugs provide all-around protection and stability. Weight: ~11oz (men’s 8.5), 8mm drop.
Hoka Speedgoat 2 ($140) – The Speedgoat 2 is designed to attack all breeds of technical trail. Built on a new last, the wider midsole creates a more stable platform for the foot and offers a wider toe box with reinforced areas where your feet need them. The outsole features deeper, more aggressive Vibram® lugs which hold up to all kinds of rugged terrain, while the more forgiving upper offers improved comfort up top. Weight: 10oz (men’s 8.5), 4.5mm drop.
Inov-8 Parkclaw 275 ($130) – The new Parkclaw claims to be the perfect shoe for runners wanting to run on paths and trails, or those looking to make a transition from road running to trail running. It performs superbly on both terrains, and features an aggressive outsole for increased grip. Weight: 9.6oz (men’s 8.5), 4mm drop.
Inov-8 Trailroc 285 ($150) – The TRAILROC shoe series has undergone a complete redesign and is now back with a bang this season. The TRAILROC 285 offers more protection, more support, more comfort, and greater energy return and improved grip. Supreme grip and all-over protection combined with increased heel support, a cushioned midsole and durable upper, deliver the ultimate shoe for training on hard and rocky trails. Weight: 10oz (men’s 8.5), 4mm drop.
Salomon XA Elevate ($130) – Salomon’s Premium wet traction soles provide grip; focused surface contact at the forefeet lends confidence on rocky terrain. The breathable mesh uppers have synthetic overlays that wrap insteps and lend stability on uneven terrain, while the quick laces can be hidden away inside lace pockets or tongues. Finally, Salomon’s innovative construction cradles your feet and minimizes slippage inside the shoes. Weight: 1o.4oz (men’s 8.5), 8mm drop.
The North Face Ultra Cardiac II ($110) – These ultra-comfortable shoes allow you to extend your run while maintaining protection and extreme construction. The Vibram® Megagrip sole provides durable, sticky traction in all conditions while providing additional energy-return foam in forefoot for increased performance. Weight: 11oz (men’s 8.5), 6mm drop.
Fit & Feel
Our TAUR testers have tried dozens of brands and models over the years. As experienced trail and ultra runners, they know instinctively what they like and don’t like. Almost immediately many of the testers knew whether they would like a shoe or not. Throughout our test period, those initial thoughts were confirmed and the results were decisive.
The North Face Ultra Cardiac stood out as the most comfortable and offered the best fit. Testers were pleased with the way the heel cup and midfoot support held the foot in place, while the toe box was wide enough to remain comfortable and allow the toes to splay.
Scott: “These might be the most comfortable trail shoes I’ve ever had on my feet. They are light and have plenty of cushion. The shoe tends to be a touch sloppy in technical terrain and my feet did slide some, but it wasn’t enough to become a real issue. The upper is very light and breathable making these a perfect shoe for longer runs.”
Craig: “I knew immediately these were going to be my new favorite shoe. Nearly 200 miles later and a full 50 miler across Zion National Park and my initial thoughts have been confirmed. This is hands down the most comfortable and best fitting shoe I’ve ever worn.”
While other shoes proved to be comfortable and fit well, there were a couple that struggled and did not review well. We will allow our testers to speak for themselves regarding certain models.
Brent and Matt in regards to the Adidas Terrex Agravic GTX: “This shoe generally fits well. It may run a tad big and is a little spacey in the front but overall is decent (Brent). I had pinky discomfort after several hours in the shoe (Matt).”
Erik and Scott speak up about the Brooks Cascadia 12: “Fit good, even for my wide feet. At times they felt a little stiff and “flat” which is a definite departure from the last time I wore a Cascadia, but I liked it (Erik). The toe box felt more roomy than models I’ve worn in the past. Overall the fit of the shoe was really good. The shoe has a very stable fit. My toes felt locked into place without being too tight (Scott).”
Arianne, Lisa, Brent, and Craig give their thoughts about the Brooks Pure Grit 6: “These shoes ran about a half size too small and were still a little snug for my liking. It took a few runs to break them in (Arianne). Felt like slippers 🙂 I typically wear a 9.5 in running shoes. These are 9s. If these were my go to trail shoes, I’d need my regular, a 9.5 (Lisa). Love the space up front. Fits well and breaks in great (Brent). The Pure Grit have a great natural foot feel, allowing for a lot of comfort up front and good support overall (Craig).”
Susy and Emir provide some insight into the Columbia Montrail Trans Alps FKT: “Fit well, the insole felt as if it was custom made to fit the shape of my foot. No need to break them in, I took them out for a 43 mile adventure on the local mountains of Southern California and offer and comfortable fit throughout day and night (Susy). At first it feels very comfy at snug, but while running the shoe feels very sloppy. The tongue moves to the side while running and it wants to stay there no matter how many times it gets fixed (Emir).”
Erik and Amy have their own opinions about the Hoka Speedgoat 2: “This is the first Hoka shoe since the Bondi B back in 2013 that I have worn that felt right. I wore it on cruiser single track, as well as technical downhills and climbs. And it felt good. Stack wasn’t ridiculously high, how some of the Hoka’s in the past have felt, and I didn’t worry that I was going to roll my ankle (Erik). They fit true to size and were actually pretty comfy (Amy).”
Pete and Susy tested the Inov-8 shoes and had some thoughts: “The Parkclaw is built for medium last runners this shoe formed around my foot, while the Trailroc had a great last and felt snug in the heel (Pete). The Parkclaw felt very stiff for the first couple of runs but once broken down they molded fairy well to the foot shape and became comfortable for many more miles (Susy).”
Craig and Pete have been wearing the Salomon XA Elevate for a while now and have formed their own opinions: “While it took some time to mold to my foot, it broke in and has been very comfortable ever since (Pete). This is definitely a stiffer shoe underfoot, but the support can be nice and helps a lot on technical terrain (Craig).”
The upper of any shoe is often the most important aspect to determining whether a consumer will like a shoe or not. It needs to be built of good construction, sturdy enough to hold up to some abuse (we are trail runners, after all), but be comfortable enough for long days in the mountains or desert. The balance can be tricky, but a few companies seemed to have gotten it pretty nailed.
Overall the Brooks Pure Grit 6 stood out above the others, with nearly all 5s across the board. Comfort and construction were balanced well and they stood up to the hammering our testers put on them.
Lisa: “Yes! I really am in love with these shoes.”
Arianne: “The upper was made really well. I can’t foresee blowing through them anytime soon.”
Craig: “It’s like having slippers on the top of my feet, but ones that actually don’t fall apart when I go outside. I love these uppers.”
Most of the other brands seemed to have pretty well constructed and comfortable uppers. Our testers were generally impressed across the board.
Both Matt and Brent were pleasantly surprised at how well made and comfortable the Adidas Agravaic GTX was. “Gortex, so not breathable, but well built and bulletproof (Matt). The fabrics on this shoe are great compared to previous renditions of this shoe. I am pleased with the improvements that were made over the past few years. It’s beefy, yet breathable and doesn’t add a lot of extra weight (Brent).”
Erik and Scott share their thoughts regarding the Brooks Cascadia upper: “I had no issues with the upper. After close to 200 miles they looked almost fresh out of the box. It held up to abrasion, sand, mud and baby vomit exceptionally well (Erik). I really liked the upper. I think it is the perfect combination of comfort, breathable and durable. The upper is made with a very light fabric that breathes well and dries fairly quickly. After almost 100 miles I didn’t notice any tears or wear in the upper (Scott).”
Susy and Emir have some differing opinions regarding the Columbia Montrail Trans Alps FKT: “Well done on the upper!! Seamless lining throughout proving lateral support. The shoe tongue was surprisingly thin with just enough padding to prevent from slipping to the side while in motion. The toe box has a reinforce lining strip across the front for added protection. It also offers a great back heel support witch helps with stability when running on terrain that is constantly changing (Susy). Decent upper with good durability. ankle collar already has rips from catching it on the outsole while running (Emir).”
Chelsea, Amy, and Erik all wore the Hoka Speedgoat and had similar opinions regarding the upper: “The upper seemed to breathe and move well (Chelsea). My foot felt snug and secure, no sloshing through the midsole, and due to some exceptionally warm fall weather, I am able to say that the upper breathes very well and my foot didn’t get sweaty, unlike some of the Hoka uppers in the past (Erik). Survived the boulder rocks so seems pretty sturdy. Felt nice and breathable (Amy).”
Pete and Susy have some ideas about the Inov-8 shoes: “The Trailroc is a more protective shoe then I normally like, the toe cap and heel counter seemed to hold onto the trends from 5 years ago (Pete). Great overall upper fabric construction (Parkclaw), seamless lateral lining, providing added lateral support. A nice toe box protector lining across the front the toe box, it comes in handy when feet are tired and runners start dragging feet and possibly hitting a rock or two…, ouch! Love the height of the heel tab is just perfect for added support around her and ankle area. The tongue stayed in place during those long runs which it is an A plus. Shoes laces, never a problem (Susy).”
Craig and Pete took the XA Elevate through nearly every type of condition, with good results: “Beefy upper, would hold up to just about anything (Pete). It would take some serious work to put a hole in these things (Craig).”
Pete and Chelsea have some great opinions regarding the Ultra Cardiac: “The upper is extremely light and comfortable and I felt like I could run 100 miles in comfort. That comfort does come with a small price and that is that the upper doesn’t have as much protection as I would like in technical terrain. It wasn’t a huge issue, but something to note (Pete). The upper is sturdy and comfortable, a great combo (Chelsea).”
If the upper is the stylish body of a sports car, then the outsole is the tires. As trail runners, we are obsessed with traction. Our shoes have to keep us on our feet, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it’s loose rock, mud, snow, or hard-packed dirt, we expect our running shoes to grip and stay in place.
All but a couple of the shoes did really well, three of which scored perfect 5s across all testers. Three additional models were close at 4.5, impressive as it goes to show that most brands are really starting to get traction dialed in. What’s actually surprising is that the three brands that scored a 5 are actually the least known in the US for their trail running shoe line – Adidas, Inov-8, and The North Face.
Where most shoes struggle, the Adidas Terrex Agravic GTX excels. Wet and slick rocks have a tendency to send runners flying, however, both testers felt the Agravic excelled here. Their patented Continental rubber is nearly the consistency of a rock climbing shoe, just slightly stiffer and more durable.
Brent: “This shoe is the best grabber I have worn in recent years. It’s excellent on technical terrain. The Continental rubber they use is amazing and the tread pattern affords a critical component that makes a great outsole.”
Matt: “Super grippy, especially on wet and slippery surfaces.”
The Inov-8 Trailroc 285 was built specifically designed for technical trails. With a focus on dense rubber and sticky outsole, the shoe is capable of handling any surface without falling apart. Pete was our main tester for this shoe and gave it a lot of attention, putting more than 100 miles on it. Ultimately, it performed outstandingly and is a regular in his rotation.
“This is a fantastic shoe in various conditions.”
Our last shoe to score a perfect five is The North Face Ultra Cardiac. This shoe was a shocker because at first look it appears to have more of a road style outsole. However, the minimal aggregated rubber made of Vibram Megagrip lives up to its name. It simply sticks to everything. All of our testers were blown away by its ability to hold to the trail, regardless of conditions.
Chelsea: “Great sole, no lugs but very grippy.”
Scott: “At first glance, the outsole doesn’t appear to be very aggressive, but I found the rubber to be very sticky and I never had a problem slipping or sliding in this shoe. The outsole also provided adequate protection from rocks. The outsole performs a lot better than I thought it would and I never had any problems with it. It also seems to be wearing very well.”
Craig: “Hands down my favorite shoe and outsole. It transitions from technical trail to buffed out trail to the road without a thought. Absolutely perfect.”
The remaining shoes in the test line continued to perform quite well. Take a look at what our testers thought.
The Brooks Cascadia 12 has really improved the durability and quality of their outsole. “I found the traction to be quite good on dry trails, even in steeper terrain, but I felt like the grip on rock was a little below average. The rubber is not sticky at all, so I didn’t prefer this shoe while scrambling, but it handled just about everything else well (Scott). “The outsole performed well in every condition I ran in. Snow, slush, mud, dry rocky trail. Minimal outsole breakdown or wear after some solid miles (Erik).”
With minimal lugs, the Pure Grit 6 wouldn’t appear to perform well. However, testers all responded that they thought it worked very well. “This is a really sturdy shoe. The grip was great for trails, but also not bad on the roads (Arianne)”. “Never had an issue in the desert. I felt secure descending down our rocky terrain. Rock plate was sturdy enough that I didn’t worry about all the random rocks on the trail (Lisa)”. “The rubber rebounds well and is great on the trails. Crosses over well to the road too if needed (Brent).”
Columbia Montrail is still working out some kinks. As one of the lowest rated for the outsole, the lugs were quite large and very soft, which made for easy tearing and they wore quicker than any other brand. “Oh boy!! The outsole is crazy gnarly. After several miles on rugged mountain terrain the outsole still performs and looks as if it was brand new. The outsole was made to outlast the most gnarliest of all trails (Susy)”. “I liked the flexibility at first, but after a while the outsole just broke down and I started losing traction.”
Testers agreed that the Hoka Speedgoat 2 was decent on easy terrain, but as it got more technical, the shoe broke down quite a bit. “Had decent grip however not amazing. Some slipping on steep downs and slipping on ice and snow (Amy)”. “The outsole was a little stiff to begin with, but after a few runs, it softened up nicely, without giving up any of its grip or traction (Erik).”
Like the rest of the shoe, the Salomon XA Elevate is an amazingly durable shoe. The biggest drawback is that the outsole is quite stiff and doesn’t really break in. Both Pete and Craig put well over 100 miles on the shoe and there was little wear and tear. “I love this shoe for really technical terrain. The outsole is bomber. If you want protection, this is the perfect shoe (Craig).”
We always give this category a nod, even if looks shouldn’t be all that important. As trail runners, our shoes tend to look cool for about a week, then we get them dirty and don’t care anymore. That said, we will give them the attention they deserve.
Both the Brooks Pure Grit 6 and Inov-8 Parkclaw 285 got top marks at a 4.5. Check out what our testers had to say.
Regarding the Inov-8 Parkclaw: Susy says, “Inov-8 could have done better on the looks, black is just so basic but does a great job by hiding all the trail dust. Probably a selection of neon colors could brighten up their upcoming models.”
Regarding the Brooks Pure Grit 6: Arianne says, “These shoes are good-looking. I really like that you can tuck the shoelaces in for a sleeker look. Maybe not prom worthy, but I’d definitely take them on a second date.”
We feel like our testers had plenty to say about the other brands.
“This shoe model has never been a stunner, but this iteration has done well (Brent)”. “Good looking shoe, mix of neutral and bright (Matt).” Adidas Terrex Agravic GTX.
“I really like the look of this shoe. I like the color options and think it is quite stylish and looked good with just about everything I wear on the trails and even casually (Scott)”. “The color scheme I had was very bright. And very blue. The reflective Brooks logo really stands out for night running (Erik).”
“Shoes look very nice. Great colors and overlays (Emir)”. “The Columbia Montrail made the new Trans Alps looking ready to tackle any adventure (Susy).”
“The Hoka Speedgoat 2 looks like a running shoe It’s not quite as clownish as some of the other Max cushion shoes out there, but the bottom line is it’s a max cushion shoe that is built for performance more than looks (Erik).”
“Looks like a euro race shoe (Pete)”. “Not a fan of the neon yellow, but the blow pops and I’m sure there is another colorway that looks better (Craig).” Salomon XA Elevate
“I really liked the silver color of these shoes. They are very unique and fun and I got a lot of comments out on the trails (Scott)”. “Colors were a little bright (Chelsea).” The North Face Ultra Cardiac 2
This is the category where it is all brought together. Fit and Feel, the upper, and outsole have to all work together to make for a great shoe. Ultimately, the Brooks Pure Grit 6 out-performed the rest, but by a slim margin. Testers felt that it was simply the best overall shoe and had the most to offer. We congratulate Brooks on making an incredible trail shoe.
Lisa: “Everything I want in a trail shoe. Lightweight, medium cushion, roomy toe box. I feel fast when I’m running in them. Yay :)”
Brent: “Performed very well and is a great shoe.”
This is the part of the review we love the most, where we can really break down how shoes perform. Check out our testers feelings regarding the remaining brands.
Adidas Terrex Agravic GTX. “This shoe performed much better than I had expected. Having tested and reviewed the two previous models I had low expectations. I was pleasantly pleased with how well this shoe performs and how easy it was to pick up some fun miles (Brent)”. “Good cold weather/wet/winter shoe. Can get warm since it doesn’t breath well. Moderate distance shoe that looks great with excellent traction (Matt).”
The Brooks Cascadia 12 is a very good all-purpose trail shoe. It handles reasonably well at just about everything. The shoe has a very comfortable fit and handles just about most terrain well. On longer runs I found the shoe to be quite comfortable and would use it for a longer ultra. My feet stayed in place and always felt secure and never slipped. The only area where performance was below average was on rock scrambles. I would definitely recommend this shoe to anyone that is looking for an all-purpose trail shoe to handle varied terrain and distances. The shoe performs reasonably well in the mountains and is very tough considering how lightweight it is (Scott).”
“The North Face Ultra Cardiac 2 is simply my new favorite all around shoe. I’ve done multiple days of 6 hours or more, with a challenging 50 miler also. I could have easily kept running for another 50. The shoe out-performed any other brand I tested (Craig).”
Feelings about Hoka are often polarized. At TAUR we feel the Speedgoat 2 has finally bridged that gap and offers a great shoe with solid performance. “Smooth to run in. I almost forgot I was wearing a Hoka it felt so good (Erik)”. “Seemed to do fairly well but the cushion was a little too much (Chelsea)”. “Despite some of the grip issues I had, generally these peformed well. Comfortable ride, durable. I put them through the ringer on the rocky terrain here and they held up well, no tears or noticeable wear (Amy).” Hoka Speedgoat 2
The Salomon XA Elevate is one of the heaviest shoes we tested, but it performed very well. The durability is unmatched and could handle any conditions thrown at it. “While I don’t think I could do an ultra in this shoe, it’s a brilliant mountain shoe and one that has become a staple in my rotation (Craig).”
Both of the Inov-8 Shoes made a solid showing. New to the TAUR testing rotation, we hope to see more of them in the future. “Running on the new Inov-8 ParkClaw never felt felt better. Delivered a quick responsive turnover, phenomenal traction on varied terrain, it transitions well from trail to roads delivering a smooth ride on both terrains (Susy)”. “A great shoe that looks made for the trails but also performs well on the road (Pete).”
The Columbia Montrail Trans Alps FKT will be a great shoe, with a little refining. Maybe they will also figure out how to shorten the name. “Great shoe for long hiking treks and long distance running, Will not recommend it for short fast runs (Susy)”. “Just an ok performance. Shoe feels sloppy and heavy. The tongue moves around a lot even while tightly laced (Emir).”
We hope you like the new format of our consolidated reviews. It’s a lot of scrolling, but we enjoy having it all in a single location. Let us know your feelings in the Comments for future comparative reviews.