Trail running tackles unique terrain, potentially intimidating challenges, and requires a performance-focused shoe with lightweight features. It’s not always possible to balance performance with comfort, however. Which is why these picks for best lightweight trail running shoes are so impressive.
It is possible to find a comfortable and lightweight fit that offers the functionality you need when you’re traversing waterways, trekking up steep climbs, and cruising downhill. Fortunately, there are a few selections that top the list of best lightweight trail running shoes. With benefits like enhanced support, ample cushioning, and optimal grip for slippery obstacles, here are the top shoes for avid trail runners.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4
1. Salomon Sense Ride Running Shoes
Ample cushioning pairs with premium traction for comfortable and stable runs with the Salomon Sense Ride shoes. A relatively thick midsole and 8mm drop mean there’s plenty of play between you and the terrain, plus a wet traction outsole helps to dig in. However, the shoes weigh in at only 275 grams.
Mesh uppers lend breathability, so your feet won’t be sweating. However, some wearers raise concerns about durability, with the mesh coming apart before the rest of the shoe shows any wear. The friction-free laces and Quicklace technology earn high marks, however.
Sure, the outsoles look great for trail running, but what about the interior? Salomon uses the Endofit sleeve design with the Sense Rides, helping to cradle your feet in the right places. This tech also helps improve feedback and foot wrapping.
Multiple technologies combine to create maximum cushion. Among those are Vibe, Opal, EnergyCell, and Compressed EVA materials. Overall, the combination of elements helps promote rebound, so you don’t lose energy on the return. At the same time, they reduce the impact as you run, helping to reduce the stress on your feet and entire body.
- Maximum cushioning
- Breathable mesh upper
- Durability concerns with the mesh upper
2. Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 2 Racing Shoes
Salomon bills the S/Lab Sense Ultra 2 as an elite shoe for ultra distance athletes. The shoes cater to the needs of racers who run on mostly dry terrains in mixed weather conditions. And it’s true, the S/Lab Sense Ultra 2s strike a balance between feedback and ample protection from obstacles, along with a relatively low 9mm drop.
The outsole is nothing new: Salomon’s wet traction grip sole gives racers the texture they need to navigate easily. But there’s also dual-density compressed EVA, along with the EnergyCell midsole compound.
Together, the two materials create a high-rebound surface that helps increase your energy return while decreasing your body’s exposure to more jarring impacts. So it might come as a surprise to find out that the S/Lab Sense Ultra 2 only weighs 275 grams.
You’ll also recognize the Endofit internal sleeve, the highlight of Salomon’s feedback system. You’ll also appreciate the Quicklace system, a minimalist lace that’s easy to adjust no matter the conditions. And while there’s no measure of waterproofing, the breathable mesh dries quickly to keep you comfortable on damp runs.
- Versatile on trails and through to roads and asphalt
- Ample grip on slippery and rocky trails
- Some wearers report the toe box is relatively narrow and doesn’t leave room for toe spread
3. Altra Superior 3.5 Trail Running Shoes
With upgrades following the rollout of the Superior 3.0, the 3.5 adopted a more durable upper that will keep up with the rest of the shoe. With light cushioning and a wide toe box, the Superior 3.5 is a top choice of minimalist trail runners.
A zero-drop platform and 6mm contour footbed allow for feedback from the trail, but the EVA midsole and rubber outsole give protection against obstacles. Despite its breathable exterior, the 3.5 also has GaiterTrap tech to keep debris from getting inside the shoe.
Although the Superior 3.5s lack the cushioning of Altra’s other offerings, the combination of their StoneGuard and Duratread outsoles mean you’ll be able to tackle rugged terrain and rocks.
And while they appear bulky with the thick outsole, the Superiors weigh just 272 grams. That’s under 10 ounces, making Altra’s contribution a serious contender for trail runners looking for light weight with peak performance.
- Supportive and snug heel cup fit
- Responsive trail feel thanks to the slim footbed and feedback tech
- Some wearers report that the upper is not as durable as the super-grip outsole
4. Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4 Trail Shoes
Another clean trail shoe with outsole lugs to impress is the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4. You’ll achieve superior grip with the strategically-placed lugs, but it’s the improved durability that wearers truly appreciate. A large toe guard area, for example, helps prevent damage when you run into obstacles.
With a stability rank of “neutral,” the Challenger ATR 4s accommodate a range of running (and foot) styles. A 5mm heel-toe drop supports a more natural gait, and while there’s plenty of outsole to absorb the force of the trail, the shoes weigh in at a flat nine ounces or about 255 grams.
While reviewers often note high expectations for each subsequent version of the Challenger ATRs, some changes, such as removing the tongue padding and holder, have become drawbacks in the latest offering.
Still, for those new to the Challenger ATRs or for those who didn’t like previous features, the 4 delivers a lightweight and “cloud-like” feel and quick-drying performance to keep you comfortable on the trail.
- Ample cushioning despite the light weight
- Exceptional grip thanks to strategically-placed lugs
- Some wearers note that durability is lacking
- The 4 does not have tongue padding or a tongue holder, as previous versions did
5. Salomon Sense Pro 3 Trail Running Shoes
A dynamic shoe that promises to accommodate both training and racing, the Sense Pro 3 weighs in at a slight 226 grams in smaller sizes and looks just as sleek. While the 3s have less cushioning than previous models- leaning toward a more minimalist style- this contributes to an overall lower weight that’s preferable on the trail.
Still, you won’t be slipping and sliding around, thanks to Salomon’s Premium Wet Traction Contagrip outsole. That’s enough protection to make trail running accessible, but not a big enough barrier to reduce the feedback you get while navigating the terrain.
Plus, there’s a breathable mesh upper to keep you comfortable and dry regardless of the weather conditions. Salomon also uses their Endofit internal sleeve to help improve feedback and ensure you don’t experience chafing against the simplistic in-shoe design.
While there’s not much in the way of extra padding on the Sense Pro 3, there is padding in the tongue and collar for comfort. Plus, the trim textile insole and injected-EVA midsole help absorb impact.
- Sleek and streamlined design
- Optimal traction in wet conditions
- Trim cushioning poses durability questions for some wearers
6. Merrell Agility Synthesis Flex Trail Running Shoes
A removable footbed gives you customization options, but the foundation of the Merrell Agility Synthesis Flex shoes is the flex-groove EVA midsole. It protects your feet while flexing to accommodate changes in road and trail conditions. Plus, an antimicrobial element helps prevent and reduce shoe odor.
For rugged trail conditions, the M Select GRIP outsoles help you maintain traction. An additional protective pad provides further support. Plus, the FlexConnect material allows your foot to flex naturally, helping ease high arch discomfort while conforming to your feet.
Even with the stability and cushion elements, each shoe weighs in at just 242 grams.
One particularly unique feature in Merrell’s Agility Synthesis Flex shoes is the fact that they don’t use any animal products. While not all trail running shoes are vegan, these are, but you wouldn’t know it based on their industry-standard performance.
Keeping the style traditional, Merrell uses standard lace closures and a mesh upper, but their style choices are rather unique. Multiple color options are available, the highlight being an aqua-orange-yellow combination.
- Supportive structure helps ease high arch pain
- Solid feel and ample cushioning despite the light weight
- Limited width options, so possible unsuitable for those with wide feet
7. New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail Running Shoes
Practically the new standard in minimalist running footwear, Vibram’s outsoles provide a flexible and responsive running experience with the Minimus 10v1s. The upper combines synthetic and mesh materials for breathability while the sole focuses on traction and durability so you can reach peak performance.
Performance foam gives support without adding bulk, and thanks to the lightweight materials, the Minimus 10v1 weighs 212 grams. A midfoot wrap also aids in maintaining stability regardless of the terrain.
Though New Balance makes no claims about water-tightness, wearers report some water-resistant capabilities. And while the primary goal is to keep you comfortable and stable on the trail, many wearers put their Minimus 10v1s to work both before and after their runs.
With all the rave reviews, however, also comes the highlight that the Minimus line runs about a half a size too small, according to multiple reviewers. Sized correctly, though, wearers report a decline in both knee and arch pain- a credit to the supportive nature of these New Balance trail shoes.
- Textured tread grips surfaces without grabbing small pebbles and debris
- Multiple colors and styles available
- Some wearers note a too-tight midsection and difficulty putting the shoes on
8. Merrell Trail Glove 4 Trail Running Shoes
While the mesh lining and breathable upper is nothing new, the Vibram TC5+ outsole is a notable component of the Trail Glove 4. Included in the shoe’s 230-gram weight are TrailProtect pads for underfoot protection and a sock-like feel with light cushioning.
The barefoot shape means a zero-drop footbed along with the high-performance rubber sole, allowing you to feel feedback from the trail. Plenty of ventilation makes the Trail Glove 4s usable in a variety of conditions, and the Vibram sole keeps its grip even in wet environments.
The lugs on the soles measure 3mm, so not too knobby to wear on varying terrain, even roads. And while the shoes keep with most minimalist styling aspects, reviewers who are unfamiliar with the TrailProtect pads may feel there’s too much support for a zero-drop shoe.
Similar to other Merrell offerings, the Trail Glove 4 is also a vegan product, meaning it doesn’t use or contain any animal products.
- Trim and grippy Vibram outsoles
- Superior foot fit thanks to the integrated tongue and “sock-like” feel
- Protective pads may imitate arch support and make wearers uncomfortable
9. LaSportiva VK Mountain Running Shoes
The name literally means Vertical Kilometer, referencing the uphill phases of trail running, and LaSportiva definitely delivers. A snug-fitting upper feels like a sock- that’s even what LaSportiva calls the tech- and uses a single, interconnected fabric piece. The result is a comprehensive fit that feels weightless.
Of course, 200 grams isn’t exactly “weightless,” but it’s light enough that the VKs are significantly lighter than the rest of our top picks for best lightweight trail running shoes. The overall volume is kept low with the “sock” upper, but stabilizer panels and a protective toe cap will keep your feet optimally positioned and protected.
The midsole uses compressed EVA with rock-guard, so you don’t have to worry about sharp obstacles affecting your run. And, at only a 4mm drop, the VKs rank alongside top minimalist-style trail shoes.
For a high-performance trail shoe that focuses on the vertical aspect of the climb, you can’t go wrong with LaSportiva’s VK.
- Sock-like fit accommodates all foot shapes and widths without chafing or blisters
- Currently only a single color option (black and yellow)