When it comes to cross-country shoes, investing in the right pair is essential. Although runners have a personal preference depending on the type of course, your cross country spikes need to be durable and lightweight with great traction to get you across the finish line as fast as possible.
If you’ve never worn cross-country spikes before, you’ll likely be surprised the first time you try them on that they aren’t very comfortable – especially compared to a good pair of trainers. But don’t worry, in the middle of a meet you won’t notice them until you are powering around a corners or up a steep hill!
One thing you’ll notice about the fit is that XC spikes are cut very narrow like a track spike. This is because you want them tight, almost like an extension of your foot. You also want less room around your toes than your trainers. Look for about half a thumb-width between your toes and the front of the spike. Your feet should feel snug but not cramped.
Because they are cut so narrow, if you have wide feet, it can be tough to find a good fit. We recommend the Altra Golden Spike if you find regular spikes aren’t wide enough. This is one of the few wide XC spikes available today.
Now it’s time to get the best pair of XC spikes. We’ve put together this list of the best of the best cross country spikes to help you pick the one that’s right for you.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
1. New Balance XC5Kv4
This superior cross country spike delivers the speed, aggression and attitude you need for the ultimate racing experience. At the top of the three-tiered selection of cross-country spikes that New Balance offers, the XC5Kv4 adds visual appeal and performance to your game.
The lightweight breathable support of the XC5Kv4 gives you an enhanced fit and maximum responsiveness without sacrificing stability. Featuring an air mesh Fantom Fit no-sew upper, your feet feel alive and free, allowing you to deliver an energetic performance at your next meet.
Dedicated to helping athletes accomplish their goals, New Balance is driven to make quality shoes for the same reason you lace them up: to achieve the very best. The XC5Kv4 is no exception.
The REVlite midsole and 5-spike formation provide a nimble feel with the protection your feet need. With a true-to-size fit, these spikes are colorful and comfortable. Delivering exceptional performance all around, you’ll find these shoes are especially designed for cross-country or long-distance track running.
- Premium design
- Best for grass, mud, dirt
- Support across flat surfaces to rugged trails
- Fantom fit no-sew upper
- REVlite midsole
2. Saucony Carrera XC 3
- 6-pin Pebax spike plate
- ISOFIT dynamic fit system
- Extremely lightweight design
- Good tread for grass, dirt, and trails
- Sizing runs small
3. New Balance XC900v4
- HydroHesion rubber for advanced grip in wet weather
- Track-inspired tongue and upper construction
- REVlite midsole
- Great value for a top spike but may still be too expensive for new XC athletes
4. Saucony Havok XC 2
- 6-pin Pebax spike for traction
- Designed for aggressive grass, trail, and gravel terrain
- Improved traction
- Flexfilm upper creates a flexible feel
- Laces are unnecessarily long
- No ISOFIT lacing
5. Saucony Kilkenny XC7
- Comfortable fit
- Lightweight, seamless upper
- Affordable price
- Available in spiked and spikeless
- Heavier and bulkier than more advanced models
- Designed for beginner runners (actually a PRO, if you are new to XC)
- Less form-fitting around the foot
6. New Balance XC Seven
- Extra exposed rubber lugs for more grip
- Snug fit with flexibility for performance
- Internal support cage
- Lightweight, breathable design
- Entry level shoe (only a CON for experienced XC athletes)
- May not fit as snug
7. Nike Zoom Rival XC
The sturdy cushioning and lightweight outsole of the Nike Zoom Rival XC means it was made for cross-country running. Featuring a Pebax plate with a 6-spike design for increased traction, you’ll find the perfect balance of fit, traction, and comfort. It’s our top choice for a Nike XC spike.
Thanks to the dynamic arch band, this cross-country spike offers a secure fit. The combined Flywire technology with the carbon fiber midfoot gives added structure and stability to toe off on each stride in multiple types of terrain.
Don’t worry about comfort when it comes to the Nike Zoom Rival XC. Between the breathable mesh construction and the lightweight, responsive cushioning of the midsole, you’re given maximum airflow and flexibility to increase comfort and capability.
Featuring a Nike Anti-Clog traction outsole to help prevent mud and rocks from clogging up your performance, you’ll push past the competition to the finish line.
- Anti-Clog traction for maximum grip
- A dynamic arch band for a secure fit
- Lightweight design
- Size runs big for loose fit
- Thin bottom sole
8. Altra Golden Spike
- Secure, sock-like fit
- Best option for runners with wide feet
- 5-pin spike plate
- Foot-shaped toe box for natural splay
- Sizing runs half-size large
- Funky look
9. Brooks Mach 18
The lightweight Brooks Mach 18 combines an aggressive spike plate with a molded upper for a super-fast XC shoe. The compression-molded EVA midsole provides nice cushioning among the otherwise minimal spikes.
- Aggressive lug pattern for traction on dirt and grass
- Seamless upper cools and secures your feet
- Spikes don’t perform on hard surfaces due to plastic spike plate
Are cross country spikes the same as track spikes?
No. There are a couple major differences between track spikes and cross country spikes. While both have spike implements that screw into the bottom of the shoe, the differences stop there.
Track spikes have plastic-bottom outer soles (also known as the spike plate). In contrast, cross country spikes have more rubber for some added cushioning.
There is also an emphasis on weight reduction on track spikes. While cross country spikes are light, they are nowhere near as light as track spikes.
Track spikes come in different versions depending on event. There are spikes for sprinting, spikes for middle distances, and spikes for the mile or longer events.
Sprint spikes have an aggressive spike plate and are very stiff. Long distance spikes are light but have minimal cushioning and a thin upper. Middle distance spikes are a tad stiffer with a bit more cushioning.
There is one basic style of cross country spike. They have a more cushioned outer sole with added traction for better grip on dirt and grass. The upper is more substantial than a track spike. This allows them to better to withstand dirt, rocks, and sticks encountered during a meet.
When to wear cross country spikes?
Most runners only wear cross country spikes for meets. You may want to practice in them if you haven’t worn them before. But otherwise only wear them during meets. Use a good pair of trainers for practice.
How much do cross country spikes help?
Quite a bit.
They help in two ways:
The first benefit comes from added traction from the spike implements themselves. These, plus the rubber traction built into the shoes, help you power through turns on grass and dirt. The extra traction is also a huge benefit when running up steep grass and dirt hills.
Second, the lighter weight of the spikes provide a boost when you run. Some of this may be a mental trick. But you’ll feel like you run much faster with a lighter shoe compared to your regular trainers.
How much faster will cross country spikes make you?
They won’t necessarily make you run faster…. but they will keep you from running slower.
You’ll experience this most around turns and corners. The extra traction means you don’t need to slow down as you approach a turn. You’re less likely to slip or slide.
The same traction benefits you on steep hills. You won’t slip, gaining time when you might otherwise be sliding backwards.
The light weight of a spike – as we discussed – may make you run faster. Or it might just make you feel like you can run faster.
Either way, the mental edge can help you power through the last kilometer of a race.
How much are cross country spikes?
Cross country spikes range in price from $60 to $200.
Cross country spikes function the same. Different prices come from the weight and comfort of the spike. Lighter, more minimal spikes cost more than heavier, beginner spikes.
High-end spikes might also feature an enhanced upper with bootie-designed heel collars. These can help keep out debris from getting inside the spike. But they are more for fashion than function.
The most expensive spikes may not be the best spike for you. If you are new to cross country, the entry-level spikes are more cushioned and fit comfortably. Top end spikes are much lighter, but not as pleasant to wear.
Beginner spikes do a better job at bridging the gap between a spike and a good trainer. They’ll give you an advantage over trainers during meets. But without the discomfort of a high-end spike.
How should cross country spikes fit?
Cross country spikes should fit snug. They should feel like an extension of your feet. They’ll feel narrow because they need to wrap securely around your feet when you run. The narrow last also helps cut down on weight.
When fitting spikes, wear them tight. Your feet shouldn’t feel cramped at your toes. But there shouldn’t be a lot of space between your toes and the front of shoe. A good rule of thumb is to wear spikes that are a half size smaller than your trainers.
How long do cross country spikes last?
You should get several seasons out of your spikes before they begin to fall apart.
For most athletes in high school, you’ll grow out of your spikes before you wear them out.
If you are a track athlete and use your XC spikes for track meets, they may wear out a little sooner. But even with the extra use, they should last 3-4 seasons.
How to remove cross country spikes?
The actual spikes implements can be removed with the included spike wrench that come with all spikes. They screw in and out like a threaded screwed.
If a spike gets bent or stuck in the spike, you might need to use a pair of pliers and some elbow grease to remove the stubborn spike. You can spray them first with WD-50 if they are a bit rusty.
How many spikes do cross country shoes have? Cross country spikes have 4-6 spike implements per shoe. Most beginner spikes have 4 spikes while high end spikes have 5-6. More spikes means more traction.
Why do beginner spike shoes only have 4 spikes?
No real reason other than a way to separate beginner spikes from expensive spikes.
How long are cross country spikes?
Spikes that come included in most shoes are usually 1/4 inch long. These can be removed and replaced with any length. 3/8 inch spikes are a good option for meets with lots of dirt and grass – or meets in wet conditions.
How to clean cross country spikes?
The best thing to do is clean off all the mud and dirt with a brush. An old toothbrush works well for tight areas in the spike threads.
If your spikes are really dirty, let them soak in warm, soapy water – then use a brush to clean them off further. Let them air dry, outside if possible.
A few things you should NOT do:
- Don’t put them in a washing machine
- Don’t put them in a dryer
This can cause the spikes to shrink and can damage the spike threads. They can also break down faster with the wear and tear they experience in the washing machine.
Can cross country spikes be used for track?
Yes, they can. But XC spikes function better for long distance events than shorter events. The biggest difference between a long distance spike and a XC spike is weight.
Distance spikes are insanely light with minimal cushioning. XC spikes are more robust and heavier.
You can use XC spikes for other track events. But if you are serious about track and field, you’ll be better off buying a spike made for your specific events.
Can you use cross country spikes for sprinting?
It’s generally not recommended. If you are dabbling with sprinting, XC spikes are better than trainers.But a sprint spike has a stiff and aggressive spike plate. They are designed so you can run on your toes. XC spikes lack the traction and are too flexible to function well for sprinting events.