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Best Running Shoes for Cross-Country Runners in 2023


It’s every running parents dream for their kids to get into running too! Whether you’re a runner or not, if your kids are getting into cross-country, they need good shoes to protect their feet on rough ground.

Choosing running shoes for cross-country runners can be tricky. If your kids are younger and just getting into the sport, chances are they won’t need spikes. Older teens who wear spikes in cross-country meets are likely to practice in shoes without spikes.

So the shoes we’ve chosen are either road shoes or trail shoes that are ideal for practicing or running on less technical ground. They offer a good amount of traction, support, and cushioning while still staying affordable.

Our top pick is the Brooks Launch. It’s super lightweight with enough cushioning to protect your feet. It comes in a GTS version if you need support. Best of all, it’s one of the best values on the market.

If you’re looking for the best cross-country spikes for your kids’ meets, check out this article with our favorites.

But if you want a pair of affordable running shoes that will protect your kids’ feet while they run, the shoes on this list are our top choices.

Top 3 Best and Favorites


Brooks Launch 10


  • Lightweight, versatile shoe
  • BioMoGo DNA foam
  • Flat laces


Nike Air Winflo 9


  • Full-length Nike Air cushion
  • Perforated, translucent mesh
  • Flywire cables built into the shoe


Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 40


  • Full-length React foam
  • Plush, soft upper
  • Excellent arch support

Best Overall

1. Brooks Launch 10

The Brooks Launch 10 is nothing fancy, but it does the job very well. It includes everything a cross-country runner would need to stay comfortable and protected during their practice or meet.

What We Like

This is an excellent choice for a new cross-country runner looking for a great shoe to see them through many miles.

It’s exceptionally lightweight, just over 7 ounces for an average-sized women’s shoe and just over 8 ounces for the men’s. They won’t weigh you down on the course!

There’s no fancy technology in this shoe. But it does provide everything a cross-country runner needs for high-school practices and meets.

A Creel Warp upper provides support from the outside in, and sections of open mesh allow for good ventilation throughout the shoe. You’ll get a good lockdown on the feet thanks to flat laces that can cinch down tightly.

The BioMoGo DNA midsole has been bolstered by an extra 2 mm. It’s a mixture of soft comfort and firm support, so it delivers speed and responsiveness without compromising comfort.

There’s also a generous, almost full-coverage layer of Green Rubber on the outsole. This makes the shoe quite durable and also offers great traction on typical cross-country surfaces.

Why We Like It

The Brooks Launch 10 is a classic running shoe that offers everything a cross-country runner needs to stay safe and comfortable on the course. It’s also incredibly lightweight and quite affordable for what you get.

What to Consider

The Green Rubber outsole is sustainable but doesn’t provide the best traction in wet weather. If you live somewhere that rains a lot, this may not be the right shoe for you.

What’s New

The Brooks Launch 10 is more sustainable than the 8, featuring a new Green Rubber outsole. It also has 2 mm more cushioning in the midsole, which is surprising as it’s also lost half an ounce in weight from the 8.


  • A lightweight, versatile shoe that can be used for both racing and training
  • Increased stack height of BioMoGo DNA foam provides comfort and support
  • A generous layer of Green Rubber on the outsole increases durability and provides excellent traction on XC courses
  • Flat laces and multi-density mesh upper help you to get a good lockdown for greater safety and coolness on your run


  • The traction isn’t the best in wet weather

Top Value

2. Nike Air Winflo 9

If you’re on a budget, we highly recommend the Nike Air Winflo 9. It’s fast, lightweight, and has a bit of a spring in its midsole while being surprisingly well-priced.

What We Like

The Nike Air Winflo 9 is a great shoe for those who want something light, comfortable, and with a bit of speedy responsiveness.

Cushlon foam in the midsole offers a good combination of softness and springiness. There’s also a Nike Air unit running the full length of the shoe, providing even more energy return.

The mesh upper is light and perforated to allow air to flow through it easily, cooling your feet down. A gusseted tongue reduces any chance of chafing, and the Flywire cables integrated into the lacing system help to get a more snug cinch down on the foot.

The outsole delivers excellent traction. Different tread patterns on the medial and lateral sides of the shoe provide slightly different grip for all types of surfaces.

A guidance line down the middle of the outsole also gently guides the foot through its natural gait, minimizing the risk of injury.

Why We Like It

The Winflo 9 is a high-value shoe for a friendly price. Teens with average to narrow feet will enjoy the light bounce this shoe provides, and it’s also light enough to be speedy.

What to Consider

The Winflo, like all Nikes, is on the narrow side and may not be suitable for runners with wide feet. If your teenager has wider-than-average feet, this might not be the best choice of shoe for them.

What’s New

There’s been an update to the Cushlon foam in the Nike Winflo 9, which has added some more bounce to the shoe.


  • A full-length Nike Air cushion delivers both padding and responsiveness
  • Perforated, translucent mesh upper keeps your feet cool on runs
  • A gusseted tongue reduces the chance of chafing and discomfort
  • Flywire cables built into the shoe provide extra support and allow for a solid lockdown


  • May not be suitable for those with wide feet

Best Nike for Cross Country

3. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 40

If your kid is a true Nike fan and you don’t mind spending a bit extra, the Pegasus 40 is a great choice. It’s durable, comfortable, and light, everything you need to tackle the XC course in style and comfort.

What We Like

Nike fans, the Pegasus 40 is a fantastic choice for a cross-country shoe. It looks good and offers a range of features ideal for protecting the feet and improving performance on the XC course.

A plush upper with comfortable padding around the ankle—including an internal heel counter—keep your foot well locked in. This allows you to take advantage of the arch support in the shoe, which is ideal for medium to high arches.

Aside from a full-length piece of React foam in the midsole, there are also two Air Zoom cushions, one in the heel and one in the forefoot. These do an excellent job of absorbing shock and giving you a bit of a bounce on the toe-off.

Firm carbon rubber on the outside of the sole and soft blown rubber on the medial side make the perfect combination for all varieties of terrain. You’ll have all the grip you need and a high level of durability as well.

Why We Like It

The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 40 combines comfort, shock absorption, responsiveness, and style. It also comes in at a good price for what you get.

What to Consider

The upper of the Pegasus 40 is thick and plush, but that means it runs slightly warm in the heat. If you’re prone to your feet overheating, this may not be the best shoe for you.

What’s New

The Pegasus 40 has lost some weight compared to the 38. There’s also an double the Zoom Air units in the midsole, which contributes to a better bounce. The fit has been updated for a more supportive fit.


  • Full-length React foam in the midsole, plus Air Zoom cushions for extra shock absorption and spring
  • Plush, soft upper keeps you comfortable for long periods of time
  • Dual-rubber outsole provides superb traction and a high level of durability
  • Excellent arch support for medium to high arches


  • This shoe runs slightly warm

Best Traction on Dirt

4. Saucony Peregrine 13

The Saucony Peregrine 13 is a trail running shoe. If there’s not enough traction under regular running shoes for your teen to run comfortably on their XC courses, this could be a good option.

What We Like

The Peregrine is a trail shoe but also ideal for cross-country running. With a rock plate built into the midsole, your teen’s feet will be well protected against hidden rocks on the course.

There’s a good-sized piece of PWRRUN foam in the midsole, with a somewhat unusual 4 mm heel-to-drop. It’s firmer than you may expect, which shouldn’t be a problem for shorter or mid-distances.

Added cushioning is provided by the thick, 7.2 mm insole, which increases the comfort and shock absorption of the shoe.

A stripped-down upper with supportive overlays and a snug, comfortable heel counter conforms to the foot to provide the support you need. Lock it down with comfortable laces to ensure that the shoe doesn’t move on your foot.

On the outsole, 5 mm lugs provide more than enough traction on dirt, grass, and other terrains. With these shoes, you’ll be able to handle almost any course, regardless of the ground conditions.

Why We Like It

The Saucony Peregrine 13 offers more grip than your average running shoe and can comfortably handle dirt, grass, or other rough terrains. It’s also a budget-friendly trail running shoe.

What to Consider

The heel collar is no longer as padded as it was in the previous version of the shoe. This may lead to chafing for some or feel uncomfortable as you run.

It also has a narrow midfoot, which can be a benefit for lockdown but may be uncomfortable for some runners.

What’s New

The 13 is an ounce lighter than the 11 and has a more streamlined upper. The outsole has also been revamped to be simpler while still performing its job well.


  • PWRRUN foam provides firm cushioning and underfoot support
  • 5 mm lugs on the outsole provide excellent traction on technical trails
  • Fiber-weave rock plate in the midsole protects against hard ground and rocks
  • A solid, rigid heel counter locks the foot in place and prevents unnecessary movement


  • The stiff heel collar may cause chafing
  • It has a slightly narrow midfoot

Best for Middle Schoolers

5. Nike Star Runner 3

The Nike Star Runner 3 is specifically designed for younger runners. They’re versatile, lightweight, and comfortable for cross-country running. Add their friendly price tag, and they make a great choice for first-time cross-country runners.

What We Like

This running shoe is a great choice for cross-country runners at the middle school level. Parents who are Nike fans, this shoe will get your child off on the right foot!

With lightweight foam underfoot, your middle schooler’s feet will be protected enough for short cross-country courses and comfortable enough not to become too fatigued. It also makes the shoe quite lightweight, which means increased speed on the course.

Breathable mesh keeps your youngster’s feet cool as they exercise, and a toe bumper around the forefoot helps to increase the durability of these shoes. Good news if your kid is hard on shoes!

There’s a generous layer of rubber underneath the shoes, which has a solid tread pattern on it to encourage good grip on cross-country surfaces. It also includes some recycled material, so you’re doing some good for the planet when you buy these.

Why We Like It

The Nike Star Runner 3 has been specifically designed for younger runners. It’s lightweight, versatile, looks good, and comes in multiple colors. It’s budget-friendly too, so it suits both kids and parents!

What to Consider

The Star Runner doesn’t offer a lot of support in the midsole. This is usually adequate for young runners, but those who need additional support for their feet most likely won’t find this shoe to be adequate.

What’s New

The shoe has been redesigned to have a sleeker, more streamlined look and feel. The outsole has also been updated with a new tread pattern.


  • Lightweight shoes that are versatile enough for XC running and other activities
  • Rubber soles have excellent traction and use recycled material
  • The toe bumper increases the durability of the shoe, which is great for young wearers who are hard on shoes
  • Soft, comfortable foam underfoot keeps you comfortable for many miles


  • May not be suitable for those who need more support in a shoe

Best ASICS for Cross Country

6. ASICS Gel-Cumulus 25

The ASICS Gel-Cumulus 25 is exceptionally cushioned and ideal for youngsters who want a plush and protective shoe on the XC course.

What We Like

The Gel-Cumulus 25 is a great shoe for those who want a bit more cushioning underfoot. With a combination of Flytefoam cushioning in the heel, Flytefoam Blast in the forefoot, and gel padding in both the front and back of the shoe, there’s plenty of comfort and shock absorption in this shoe.

The engineered mesh upper is made from recycled material and has a sock-like fit for comfort and streamlining. A snug heel keeps the feet locked down and prevents any hint of unnecessary movement within the shoe.

In the forefoot, there’s something called 3D Space Construction, which is a foam that compresses at different rates for male or female feet. It’s designed differently in the men’s and women’s shoe to be appropriate for the male or female foot.

AHARPLUS rubber on the outsole covers strategic areas in order to lighten the shoe while still providing excellent grip on cross-country terrain.

Why We Like It

The Gel-Cumulus 25 is an excellent choice for cross-country runners who want a comfortable, plush, and protective shoe. For the technology it contains, it’s also surprisingly well priced.

What to Consider

Strangely, the Gel-Cumulus 25 isn’t very accommodating for wide feet, whereas the 23 was. You can get them in wide and extra wide widths, but they may still be too narrow to accommodate wide feet comfortably.

It’s also a little on the heavier side, which a youngster may not notice but could make a difference to your kid’s performance.

What’s New

The heel-to-toe drop of the 25 is 2 mm lower than on the 23. The heel has been revamped, the outsole has been lightened and simplified, and the midsole has been simplified, leading to the 25 being lighter than the 24.

Also, the Trusstic system of the shoe has been moved, increasing the comfort of the shoe.


  • Flytefoam and FF Blast cushioning and gel in the forefoot and heel provide exceptional cushioning and shock absorption
  • Full ground contact AHARPLUS rubber outsole keeps you safe on country terrain
  • Engineered mesh upper made from recycled material
  • 3D Space Construction provides extra protection


  • This shoe isn’t the best for wide feet
  • It’s still slightly on the heavy side

Best Brooks for Cross Country

7. Brooks Ghost 15

For runners who specifically like Brooks shoes, we recommend the Ghost 15 as a reliable, nothing-fancy cross-country shoe that does a good job of comforting, protecting, and supporting the feet.

What We Like

The Brooks Ghost 15 is the latest iteration of a much-loved shoe. It packs a lot of cushion into this shoe, making it unusually soft and comfortable.

DNA Loft foam runs the length of the shoe, offering softness and shock absorption throughout the shoe on every foot landing. It provides strong support for medium to high arches.

Although it delivers a little bit of energy return, it’s mainly comfort padding, so some might find the spring disappointing.

The midsole isn’t the only thing that’s plush. An unusually luxurious upper locks your foot in comfortably and safely, helped by the flat laces, which can cinch down more tightly than round ones.

A Segmented Crash Pad in the heel offers some flexibility but ultimately helps absorb shock when the foot lands.

You’ll find 5 mm of rubber underneath this shoe, which is more than the standard. It’s not only excellent for minimizing shock, but it also makes this shoe surprisingly durable and offers good traction.

Why We Like It

The Brooks Ghost 15 is a much-loved shoe and provides excellent cushioning and comfort on varied surfaces. It’s a solid and reliable option for cross-country runners.

What to Consider

The Ghost 15 is an exceptionally cushioned shoe, but it’s not the most responsive. If you want to go fast, you may want to choose a different shoe.

But if you want to go steady and stay comfortable over a long distance on varied terrain, then the shoe is appropriate.

The other thing that may be uncomfortable for some is the high heel-to-toe drop. At 12.4 mm, it’s one of the highest you’ll find, and even that extra 0.4 mm can make a difference to how the shoe feels and place extra strain on the feet.

What’s New

The 15 has had an update to the lacing system, and the upper has been slightly changed for a better fit. There’s no BioMoGo foam in this version, which was included in the 13. Instead, it features full-length DNA Loft foam.


  • DNA Loft foam in the midsole offers comfortable softness and shock absorption on a variety of terrain
  • Plush upper keeps the foot locked down but remains comfortable and free from chafing throughout your run
  • Segmented Crash Pad on the heel helps to soften heel landings and keep the feet protected against shock
  • 5 mm rubber outsole provides superb coverage and increases softness on every foot strike


  • Not very responsive in comparison to other shoes
  • The heel-to-toe drop is unusually high

Best for Wide Feet

8. New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13

New Balance is the way to go if your cross-country kid has wide feet. We recommend the Fresh Foam X 880v13, as it offers a great fit and contains all a cross-country runner needs to stay comfortable and get good results.

What We Like

New Balance shoes run naturally wide, which is great for those who don’t fit into narrow shoes like Nike or ASICS. The Fresh Foam X 880v13 is a fantastic shoe for youngsters getting into cross-country, and it also looks great on the feet.

With a modern, colorful design, the shoe is a popular choice. The upper isn’t just eye-catching, but it’s also quite plush, providing your feet with comfort and locking down quite well on wide feet.

Underfoot, a combination of Fresh Foam X and FuelCell foam provides a good combination of cloud-like padding and responsiveness where you need it.

You can take this shoe on any adventure between the comfortably padded midsole and the thick blown rubber outsole. It’s versatile enough to handle XC courses easily but still worn for other activities.

Why We Like It

The New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 is an excellent choice for runners with wide feet. It fits well and locks down effectively, and you’ll also find great cushioning and a lot of plushness for the price.

What to Consider

The upper of this shoe could run a little warm in hot weather. Also, it’s heavier than most others on this list, having gained some weight from the previous version.

What’s New

The midsole is now dual-density, and the shoe weighs almost an ounce more than the previous version, which can be a downside. This could be due to the more padded upper.


  • Dual-layer Fresh Foam X and FuelCell midsole is one of the brand’s most cushioned options
  • Plush, padded upper helps you to get a solid lockdown for safety and security
  • Thick blown rubber outsole provides excellent traction on varied terrain
  • A versatile shoe that’s ideal for easy runs on cross-country surfaces


  • The upper may run a little warm
  • This shoe is slightly on the heavy side

Best for Flat Feet

9. Brooks Launch 9 GTS

Although flat feet are less common in young runners than in adults, if your young cross-country runner overpronates, the Brooks Launch 9 GTS is a good shoe choice to protect them from injury. It’s easy on the wallet as well!

What We Like

Those who need extra support for flat feet—overpronation—will appreciate the Launch 9 GTS’ mild stability features and wide, stable platform.

This is actually the stability version of our top shoe, the regular Launch 9. It has all the same great features while adding GuideRails along the medial and lateral sides of the midfoot, effectively stopping any rolling or twisting of the foot.

This is much lighter than the usual midsole stability system, but it does an excellent job of preventing overpronation. It’s also lighter than usual for a stability system, and it doesn’t intrude on the comfort or speed of your run.

BioMoGo foam in the midsole offers you the best of both comfort and springiness. This is balanced by the stiffness of the sole, which stops the shoe from twisting and also protects your feet from potential hazards on the ground.

To increase the durability of the shoe and help you stay safe on any surface, tacky and eco-friendly Green Rubber has been generously layered across the outsole.

Why We Like It

The Launch 9 GTS provides good support for overpronators without being intrusive or uncomfortable. It’s also more affordable than many other stability shoes and lighter as well, making it ideal for the XC course.

What to Consider

Although the guide rails are light and unobtrusive, this shoe may not be comfortable for those with neutral feet. It’s important to ensure you’re getting the right version of the shoe to avoid discomfort!

What’s New

With a sleeker upper, 2 mm more in the midsole, and a revamped, eco-friendly Green Rubber outsole, this shoe is more sustainable and has a better fit than its predecessor. It’s also lost a little bit of weight.


  • BioMoGo DNA foam in the midsole offers a good mix of softness and bounce
  • Unusually lightweight for a stability shoe, allowing you to run at a speed and still be protected
  • A stiff sole prevents twisting and protects the foot from hazards on the ground
  • The eco-friendly Green Rubber outsole is durable and protective


  • May not be suitable for neutral runners, and easy to get the wrong version

Best Lightweight

10. Mizuno Wave Rider 26

Shoe weight can make a difference in performance. If your cross-country runner is looking for shoes that won’t hold them back while they’re running, the Mizuno Wave Rider could be the shoe for them.

What We Like

The Wave Rider 26 weighs 10 ounces, but this is still a very lightweight shoe considering it has a Wave Plate in the midsole.

Enerzy foam cushions your feet as you run over unpredictable terrain. It provides both shock absorption and comfort, so your feet won’t fatigue as quickly as you run.

Aside from the foam, there’s a Wave Plate embedded in the midsole. This helps to disperse body weight evenly across the shoe, reducing pressure and fatigue on the feet. It also helps provide a stiffness to the shoe, making it more stable.

On the outsole, X10 Carbon Rubber covers the full forefoot and the high-wear areas of the heel to help you stay on your feet on a variety of cross-country surfaces.

Why We Like It

The Mizuno Wave Rider 26 has excellent features for cross-country running and is still lightweight enough to be comfortable. It’s also a reasonable price.

What to Consider

This shoe has a high heel-to-toe drop—12 mm—which may place some pressure on the forefoot for those who are midfoot or forefoot strikers.

What’s New

The jacquard mesh upper and cushioning have both been updated since the previous iteration of the shoe.


  • Enerzy foam in the midsole offers soft comfort underfoot as you run on varied cross-country terrain
  • Mizuno Wave Plate in the midsole disperses weight evenly and provides some energy return
  • X10 Carbon Rubber outsole makes the shoe grippy and long-lasting
  • Lightweight for what the shoe contains


  • The high heel-to-toe drop may place pressure on the forefoot

Best for Under 100

11. Brooks Revel 6

Sometimes you have no choice but to opt for the budget shoe. But you don’t need to worry about missing out on quality because the Brooks Revel comes in at under $100 without sacrificing cushion or protection.

What We Like

The Brooks Revel 6 is one of the best budget shoes on the market. This is a superb choice if you’re looking to spend less than $100 on a pair of running shoes for cross-country runners.

The knit mesh upper conforms comfortably to the foot and allows for good breathability. Stretchy, flat laces help to get a great lockdown on the foot.

The padding adapts to your unique stride and contours to the foot, providing you with padding and support where you need it most. It has great comfort, but also some bounce to it, which is unexpected but appreciated for a budget shoe.

There’s a layer of Green Rubber on the outsole, which cover the majority of the sole, providing the wearer with good grip on any surface.

Despite the impressive cushioning, plush upper, and excellent traction, this shoe is surprisingly lightweight, weighing in at just under 9 ounces.

Why We Like It

The Revel is a budget shoe, which makes it available to almost anyone. However, it’s lightweight, versatile, and comfortable enough to make any run feel like a dream.

What to Consider

The midsole of this shoe stiffens up in cold weather, which could mean that it’s less comfortable to run in when it’s cold. It may also lead to the foam flattening quicker in winter and diminishing the lifespan of the shoes.

What’s New

The upper has an updated FitKnit construction, and the outsole also has a new traction pattern for better grip. It’s also a little heavier than the previous version, although it’s still lightweight.


  • BioMoGo DNA foam adapts to your stride to provide custom cushioning
  • Conforming knit mesh upper with stretchy, flat laces gets a great snug fit
  • Impressive Green Rubber coverage on the outsole for long-lasting grip
  • Lightweight shoe, coming in at around 8.7 ounces


  • The midsole may stiffen up noticeably in cold weather

Buyer’s Guide – Running Shoes for Cross Country


Cross-country shoes should be lightweight. This will allow the wearer to move fast over the trails and not be held back, as well as reducing the chance of injury on rough terrain.


In most cases, neutral shoes are adequate for high school athletes. However, if your teen overpronates, then lightweight stability shoes will help to protect their feet.


Cushioning usually comes down to personal preference. There should be sufficient padding to protect the feet from rocks or hard ground, but not so much that it weighs the athlete down.

You may want to take your teen with you to try shoes on and get a feel for the cushioning. Restrict your search to less cushioned shoes—not necessarily minimalist, but not overly cushioned.


The shoes you choose should have good traction for dirt, grass, and pavement. Most road running shoes provide enough traction for cross-country courses.

Trail shoes often provide better traction but could be overkill for most cross-country courses. On less technical courses, the chunky lugs could hold the athlete back from performing at their best.


There’s no need to buy the most expensive cross-country shoes, especially for teenagers who may not even continue with the sport as they get older.

Most teens also don’t need excessive cushioning, which you’ll find in the more pricey shoes. Moderately-priced cross-country shoes are the best choice, although this does depend on your budget and your preference for your teen’s feet.


Can You Use Running Shoes for Cross Country?

You can use road or trail running shoes for cross country. They’re ideal for practices in which minimal traction is needed or for less technical courses, which most XC courses are.

Is There a Difference Between Track and Cross Country Spikes?

Cross-country spikes—also known as XC spikes—are softer and less aggressive than regular track spikes.

XC spikes can be used for longer distances by removing the spikes and adding blanks, which allows the shoe to be more durable, and you have the option to add the spikes back when they’re needed.

Do Spikes Help in Cross Country?

Spikes are great for cross-country runners who are serious about the sport and running on technical terrain. They provide extra traction on tricky ground, as well as helping you keep traction around tight corners.

However, spikes are probably unnecessary for younger athletes who are still new to the sport or aren’t running on tough terrain yet.

Are Trail Shoes Good for Cross Country?

Trail shoes can be good for new athletes who need some extra grip on cross-country terrain. However, most XC courses are not technical enough for them to be necessary.

They’re also usually a bit heavier than road shoes, which could affect performance. Ultimately, it’s up to you—or the athlete.

Ben Drew

Ben Drew

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.

The Wired Runner