We put the season’s top new trail shoes up against each other, with the help of our test runners and the RW Shoe Lab.
Here are the models that stood up best:
Merrell Lithe Glove
The most noticeable difference testers picked up with this truly minimalist and ‘glove-like’ shoe was exactly that – it seriously fits like a glove. The inner fabric is soft enough to wear without socks, and the upper contains no mesh, also contributing to the soft feel.
The toe-box is wide enough so your toes aren’t guided to a point, but even though there’s no support for most of the foot, a stronger toe-cap strip on the upper provides much-needed protection when you stub your toes on rocky trail routes.
Weight: 184 grams
BOTTOM LINE: Once you’re ready for a ‘barefoot’ shoe – pull on the Glove.
R1150, from Due South
Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail
The fit of the Breatho is snug, light and airy. Running without socks is an option, but be sure you’re a seasoned minimalist runner, as the cushioning is negligible.
The 2.5mm sole provides great feel for the trail. The close proximity of the foot to the ground is offset somewhat by the prominent 4.5mm lugs, but testers loved the combination when it came to climbing rocky trails up steep gradients.
Weight: 300 grams
BOTTOM LINE: A minimalist shoe with aggressive lugs for rugged terrain.
R1100, from www.vivobarefoot.co.za
Inov8 Trail Roc 245
When you want to get in touch with loose or sloppy trails, reach for the Trail Roc 245 with confidence.
“The cushioning is sparse, but it does its job and protects my foot without getting in the way,” said tester Shaun Jennings, from Knysna. Offering even more protection, the full-length sticky-rubber outsole grips well in most conditions, while deep lugs shed mud and rocks.
Weight: 258 grams
BOTTOM LINE: For lightweight and efficient runners who want to go fast.
R1395, from Sportsmans Warehouse
New Balance Minimus 10 V2 Trail
Little has changed since then, but the outsole now has six-sided lugs of varying size – larger in high-wear areas, smaller in positions requiring less durability – for improved traction and weight savings.
Weight: 179 grams
BOTTOM LINE: A truly minimal shoe, with excellent traction and durability.
R1200, from New Balance Outlet Stores
Asics Gel-Fuji Trainer 2
Despite the robust-looking design, the Fuji Trainer is a lot lighter and more nimble than testers expected.
Much like Asics road shoes, it offers good cushioning, especially in the substantial 24mm forefoot. A full-ground-contact outsole rolls well over all surfaces, and provides solid grip on loose terrain.
Weight: 272 grams
BOTTOM LINE: Road-shoe comfort for off-road excursions.
R999, from Due South and Tekkie Town
Puma Faas 500 Trail
The Puma Faas range of road shoes has been extended to the trail, with the same numerical system for cushioning variability.
The Faas 500 is well-cushioned, but unlike most other cushioned trail shoes, it has a profile of just 4mm from heel to toe – a design choice that’s becoming a trend these days, promoting forefoot striking. Testers liked the gaiter channel in the sole specifically to accommodate the elastic gaiter cord, and a clip ready to fasten it down at the laces.
Weight: 330 grams
BOTTOM LINE: Good for an introduction to trail running, with a soft ride.
R1400, from Puma Stores 021 551 0832
Salomon Sense Mantra
The Sense Mantra is a ‘door-to-trail’ version of the S-Lab Sense, a minimal shoe custom-made for Salomon’s elite trail runner Kilian Jornet. Basically, there’s a bit more shoe underfoot, so it’ll work for many more runners, especially those who run a kay or two on the roads between their home and the trailhead.
The Sense Mantra features a 7mm heel-to-toe drop – lower than average, so runners may adjust to the flatter platform more quickly than in more minimal footwear. Yet while the shoe puts your foot closer to the ground than an average trail shoe, it still offers plenty of protection from rocks and sticks. A flexible, puncture-proof material replaces the traditional stone shield for guarding against trail debris, but testers reported that the shoe still rides a bit stiff.
Weight: 261 grams
BOTTOM LINE: Want to transition to minimal footwear? Start here.
R1500, from Salomon Stores
Brooks Cascadia 8
The Cascadia has that rare combination of road-shoe comfort and trail-shoe rugged-ness. Our testers reported that it performed remarkably well on a variety of surfaces – one even wore it for long stretches on a treadmill. RW Shoe Lab tests reveal that the heel is significantly softer than the forefoot, something our testers appreciated on longer runs.
The shoe absorbs impact on heel-strike, but the forefoot is firm enough that
testers could still feel the trail surface. Underfoot, the outsole features an updated multi-directional lug pattern that provides sure footing up and down hills. “The tread offered good grip on loose terrain, and handled grass well, too,” said Melanie Marrinos, of Fourways. The upper features a dense mesh to keep out dirt and debris.
Weight: 340 grams
BOTTOM LINE: A well-cushioned and smooth ride on any surface.
R1300, from The Runner Group
adidas Supernova Riot 5
The Supernova Riot 5 is a multi-terrain master. On gravel paths, a slight medial post under the arch and an independent crash pad at the rear of the shoe provide added stability.
On gnarly surfaces, the rubber outsole (by car-tyre maker Continental) has enough bite to keep you on your feet.
Weight: 349 grams
BOTTOM LINE: A durable trainer, suitable for high mileage.
R1 300, from adidas Stores 021 442 6200
Mizuno Wave Ascend 8
Mizuno is sticking to what they do best – and that means taking what works on the road and adapting it for the trail.
Actually, the Wave Ascend 8 caters for both options: the X-shaped outsole lugs are suitable for the road and for a variety of trail types (testers had no problems starting a run on the road in order to get to their trail run). Once in the rough, X-shaped overlays provide lateral control and support.
Weight: 330 grams
BOTTOM LINE: A rugged trail shoe with plenty of cushioning.
R1 400, from The Sweat Shop