hoka speedgoat 5 side
Shoe ReviewsSite Feature

The 6 Best Trail Running Shoes for Beginners: Who Needs Roads?

What You Need To Know

  • If you want to run trails, you’ve gotta come prepared
  • It’s alright to be intimidated by the number of options
  • These picks will suit any trail runner, but especially a rookie

After a few months (or years) of pounding out miles on the road, it’s totally normal to want something new. That’s how most people stumble into trail running — unless they already live in the middle of BF nowhere and roads aren’t an option. No matter what brings you into the world of trail running, it’s important to come equipped. That means shorts like Courtney Dauwalter, a Coros watch like Kilian Jornet, and trail running shoes like, well, anyone. The important part is that you get a pair that works for beginners, and that’s where we come in.

We’re proud of our trail team here at Believe in the Run, so we did what any good editors would do — we locked them in a room without any gels, flannel, or giant belt buckles. Then, we told them that they couldn’t come out until they decided on the one perfect trail running shoe for any beginner. Alright, not that last part, but we did have them put their heads together to come up with a few recommendations. Each reviewer picked three shoes, and we tallied the votes to make our list. They literally could not agree on a damn thing, so we have some honorable mentions, too.

All the picks come directly from our trail reviewers, who know these shoes better than anyone. If you disagree with one of them, you’ll have to challenge them to a one-on-one race to the top of your mountain of choice. Should you win, we will respect your opinion over theirs. Alright, onto the list.

NOTE: We may make a small commission from some of the shop links below, so if you pick up a shoe on the list, thanks for helping us out!


» Altra Lone Peak 6

altra lone peak 6 trail running shoes

Good for: Zero drop in a light, nimble package | Drop: 0mm, duh | Price: $140

Just because it’s first on our list doesn’t mean that the Altra Lone Peak 6 is the best trail running shoe for beginners. However, it did show up on four of the six ballots, so maybe there’s some truth to it. All of our reviewers that mentioned the Lone Peak called it a great entry point to the world of Altra and, more generally, zero-drop shoes. The Lone Peak follows the classic Altra tenets of a wide toe box, a non-existent drop, and a grippy outsole that’s basically talons for your feet — what more could you ask for when diving into the world of trail running shoes?

It’s a lightweight option that finds a good balance between protection and comfort with an Ego Max midsole, and you can always use it for hiking if you decide that trail running isn’t your scene. In fact, Sam readily pointed out that the Lone Peak is the number one shoe for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, whether walking or running. We considered a few other Altra shoes for the list, but it’s tough to recommend that a beginner spends a ton of money. Ultimately, the Lone Peak is an excellent balance between quality, value, and flexibility.

Shop Altra Lone Peak 6

» Topo Athletic Pursuit

topo athletic pursuit - lateral

Good for: Zero-drop with a little more protection | Drop: 0mm | Price: $140

We’ll stick with the zero-drop category for one more shoe, as the Topo Athletic Pursuit made both ballots that the Lone Peak missed. Topo isn’t the top name in the trail running game, but it’ll earn you some cred from those in the know. It was the top recommendation from both Matt and Taylor, and they’ve been around for, well, forever. The Pursuit is one of Topo’s latest offerings, so it has the benefit of a little extra tech in its medium-stack package.

It starts strong with a Vibram Megagrip outsole, which is almost a must-have when you’re looking for your first trail shoe. The midsole is Topo’s Zip Foam, which lands between medium and soft. It’s comfortable enough to ease you into the trail life without completely eliminating every sense of ground feel. Matt and Taylor praised the Pursuit’s flexibility, which is a must-have when learning the ropes.

Shop Topo Athletic Pursuit – Men Shop Topo Athletic Pursuit – Women

» Hoka Speedgoat 5

hoka speedgoat 5 trail running shoes

Good for: Literally anyone, any time, anywhere | Drop: 4mm | Price: $155

If you ask Hoka fans, there’s only one GOAT when it comes to trail running shoes, a Speedgoat, that is. The legendary all-rounder is now on its fifth generation, and we pretty much agree that it’s the best one yet. It’s my own personal pick as my first trail shoe, and I wasn’t even consulted for the vote. Hoka’s Speedgoat 5 is a shoe that our reviewers have no problem recommending as an option for your first race, your hundredth race, or just a few miles with your buddies — it just does everything. It has a pedigree to rival the Lone Peak, but with a more comfortable drop and a lot more cush.

Don’t confuse it — cush doesn’t always mean soft. The Speedgoat isn’t a marshmallow, but it does help to cover up some ground feel. It offers a great blend of comfort, security, and grip, something like a holy trinity of trail running shoes. Both Matt and Taylor also considered the Hoka Mafate Speed 4 as another option, but once again, we don’t want to recommend a $185 trail shoe to welcome you to the club. It doesn’t matter that it’s crazy comfortable, that’s a lot of money.

Shop Hoka Speedgoat 5 – Men Shop Hoka Speedgoat 5 – Women

» Salomon Pulsar Trail

Good for: Fans of plated trail shoes | Drop: 6mm | Price: $130

You can’t have a list of trail running shoes without at least a mention of Salomon. The old lady in the trail scene took a little while to get hip with the times, but man, it’s done so in a big way. Its Pulsar Trail is a great option for road runners who love plated shoes, and it’s not shy about style. No, we’re not suggesting that a first-time trail runner try a wild option like Saucony’s Endorphin Edge or Altra’s Mont Blanc, but there are other ways to get your pop.

It’s also important to note that we’re not talking about the Pulsar Trail Pro — that’s a different beast for down the road. The two shoes look similar, and heck, they even share some tech, but the three-quarter length Energy Blade plate and Energy Surge foam are just a little more approachable on the standard Pulsar Trail. Oh, this is one of the most affordable options on this list, which is always a plus. Salomon’s Quicklace system won’t come untied mid-run, either, thanks to its closed-loop design.

Shop Salomon Pulsar Trail – Men Shop Salomon Pulsar Trail – Women

» Asics Fuji Lite 2

asics fuji lite 2 trail running shoes

Good for: Road-inspired trail running | Drop: 4mm | Price: $120

The Asics Fuji Lite 2 wasn’t one of the most popular picks on our voting ballot, but it goes to show how much we trust Taylor’s years of experience. He vouched for the Asics trail model and our next shoe, as both make for great road-to-trail trainers. It’s maybe a little bit shocking to see Asics on this list, given its laissez-faire approach to the category overall, but that’s what makes the Fuji Lite 2 so good. It has the bones of a road shoe but just enough tweaks for life in the wild. Who knows, it might get upstaged by the Novablast 3 TR, but we haven’t gotten to try that shoe enough yet.

The Fuji Lite 2’s midsole is a comfortable slab of Flytefoam — not Asics’ softest foam, but a good mix of comfort and durability, to be sure. Taylor heaped praise on the AsicsGrip outsole, which is saying something for a guy who usually lives and dies by the yellow Vibram logo. There’s not much else to say other than that Asics is heading in the right direction, and you may as well get on the hype train if you’re not already there.

Shop Asics Fuji Lite 2 – Men Shop Asics Fuji Lite 2 – Women

» Nike Pegasus Trail 4

nike pegasus trail 4 side

Good for: Dry road-to-trail miles | Drop: 10mm | Price: $140

Taylor’s other road-to-trail recommendation is actually a favorite among our road team, at least as far as anyone who’s tried it. Robbe wore the Pegasus Trail 3 as much as any other shoe in 2021, and the Peg Trail 4 tells the same story. It might be the best version yet, which is saying something. You get a nice slab of React foam underfoot, which is tough enough for the trails but definitely holds onto its responsiveness.

Each year, the Pegasus Trail seems to build its DNA further from the main road model, and that’s a good thing for the trail running crowd. We’re not saying the standard Nike Pegasus is bad by any means, but the trail running version just hits differently. However, you might want to look elsewhere if you’re in Seattle or any other place where it rains. We keep getting our hopes up for the Swoosh to figure out its outsole compound, but it keeps coming back to the same slippery when wet setup we know and don’t really love.

Shop Nike Pegasus Trail 4 – Men Shop Nike Pegasus Trail 4 – Women

» Honorable Mentions

  • Brooks Caldera 6 ($150Call it Big Thiccums cause this baby has a ton of foam underfoot. The bathtub construction cradles your foot in a metric ton of foam, which is just about enough to ensure you never feel the ground again. Heck, Robbe took it straight out of the box and into a 50K with great results. He hurt himself, but that reflects more on Robbe than on the shoe.
  • Atreyu Base Trail ($115Atreyu’s foray into the world of trail running shoes sums up what it is as a company. The Base Trail is a no-BS trainer with a good bed of supercritical foam that walks the line between road-ready and born to be wild. Oh, and Atreyu knows how to price a shoe better than just about anyone in the business.
  • Salomon Ultra Glide ($140Alright, we’re back to Salomon for one more option — we just couldn’t pick. The Ultra Glide is another good entry point to the brand, and its 10mm drop offers a nice rest for your Achilles compared to a lot of these low-drop picks. It’s not Salomon’s newest shoe, but the Energy Surge midsole offers a heap of comfort while you adapt to life without roads.

4 Comments

  1. Hi there.

    I think the Norda 001 should be considered here too. It looks expensive at first but when you do the math of money invested by kilometres worn, it’s one of the cheapest option.

    After 1200km I still use mine and they’re beginning to feel flat.

    The best trail shoes on the market in my opinion.

    Cheers

  2. Topo and Altra both make great shoes, especially for trails, and I don’t want to start a holy war here. BUT, of all the Topo trail shoes (MTN Racer, Ultraventure, Terraventure, etc.), you pick the zero heel drop one? That means that 2 of the 6 trail shoes you recommend are zero heel drop. That assumes then that one third of the running public is wearing zero heel drop shoes? Asking a road runner to try trails with a new trail shoe AND transition to zero heel drop (not always trivial) is a big ask is it not? I think one zero heel drop shoe would have been enough and probably more representative of the general running public.

    Also, for a lightweight trail shoe intended for light to moderate trail running, I would recommend Skechers Go Run Razor Trail 2 over the ASICS Fuji.

    Just my two cents. It’s all good.

    Happy trails!

  3. A pretty good trail shoe review but I agree that zero drop options are still for a select few. I went from the Hoka Speedgoat 3 (excellent shoe) to the Hoka Challenger 6 (an excellent road to trail shoe) to the Salomon Ultraglide, a really good 6mm shoe and am up over 400km in it with barely any visible wear. I have a new pair of the Nike Peg 4 still in the box which I picked up on sale to replace the Ultraglide in a few months. I know a ranked in Australia trail runner who has just switched to the Asics Fuji lite 2 for training durability over his usual Altras. I’m hoping to pick up the Brooks Caldera 6 on sale and in a better colourway in the new year. Thanks for the review!

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