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If you’re like me, the standard width trail running shoes can play havoc on your toes. I have found myself in real pain with great shoes like those made by Salomon because they tend to suit people with a narrow type of foot.
No matter how comfy a shoe might feel when you first try it on, there’s nothing worse than getting into the first few miles of running and realizing that your feet are going to be a mess by the time you finish.
However, we have a solution for you. There are a number of manufacturers who make trail and road shoes with a wider toe box to allow your toes to spread out in a more natural fashion. Some runners absolutely swear by these and I can testify to that as I have owned multiple pairs of shoes made by Altra, the leading wide toe-box shoe manufacturer.
But it doesn’t have to be shoes that have the wide toe box. Some manufacturers just make shoes that are slightly wider and have more room for the toes, so they will also be within the review. I have run many races over 50k with shoes I was surprised to find were really quite wide and comfortable.
TRAIL SHOE BUYING GUIDE
When considering your next pair of shoes, the weight is very important. You really don’t want to be getting tired legs and have shoes that make you feel your carrying dumbells on your feet. That being said, there is always a fine balance to consider. Light shoes are more streamlined which means they are for shorter fast distances. When your running Ultra Marathons you need to consider other factors such as cushioning and comfort – this will obviously add weight to a shoe. Just make sure your happy with what you have – as always it’s a personal choice, but try and stay under the 11oz mark if possible.
One of the main differences between and road and trail shoe is the outsole. This is for the obvious reason that roads aren’t rocky, wooded, grassy, muddy environments. So the grip on your trail shoe is important. If your looking for a road to trail shoe then the Columbia Variant XSR is a great option. For more varied terrains then the Altras are a better choice. Again, consider your environment, what races you may enter and the possible terrain you will run when you’re looking at purchasing trail shoes.
For any Ultra Marathoner, this is one of the most important aspects. To a degree, it’s the same for trail runners but this really depends on the distances that are going to be covered. Some trail runs are 10k so cushioning might not be top of the list. It’s probably going to be speed so lightweight shoes are required. Our advice for anything Marathon distance and up is to get some very well-cushioned shoes. The Inov-8 Terraultra and the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 are what we would recommend.
HEEL TO TOE DROP
Honestly, a lot is made of toe drop within the running community but honestly, I think it’s a matter of preference. Yes, it takes a little while to get used to low heel drops because you are stretching muscles and tendons that you wouldn’t normally will standard drop. However, the body soon gets used to it – just don’t go zero drop for the first time and try and run 20 miles off the bat.
So, the basics of heel to toe drop are as follows:
4mm – 8mm is a fairly standard drop which is fairly well for both heel and midfoot strikers, whereas the zero drop shoes are more for mid to forefoot strikers. My personal preference is zero drop because I feel comfortable with them, but I also have shoes at 8mm which I also enjoy running in. As I’m more of a mid-foot striker I’m fairly comfortable in either.
ABILITY TO BREATH
This is another option I like for my shoes. The ability to breath well. There are a number of reasons for this, however, the main ones are that you really don’t want your feet to start sweating – this can and probably will lead to blisters if your foot isn’t staying dry. Always look for a shoe that has breathable yet durable materials like those listed in this review.
If you have ever been out on the trails and stubbed your toe without protection you will understand the need for something around the toes. Back in 2017 I had a poor pair of shoes on and stubbed my foot on a tree root, breaking my big toe. It put me out of action for a couple of months and wasn’t pleasant at all. So when deciding on your next pair of shoes, just make sure there is decent toe protection on them. The Inov-8 and Altras are pretty good in this department.
ALTRA LONE PEAK 4.0
- Zero Drop is a Stable Platform
- Very Comfortable
- Drain Well When Wet
- Great for All Distances
- Wide Fit Not For Everyone
- Maybe a Little Heavy for Some
The Altra Lone Peak 4.0 is the companies flagship Trail running shoe and for very good reason. The shoe is hugely popular among the trail running community due to its ability to keep you comfortable on the longest of runs. Whilst it is a phenomenal Ultra Marathon shoe, it’s also great for shorter distances as well.
The shoe has a zero drop platform, which means the heel to toe drop is nothing. This allows you to run far more naturally with a barefoot style feel. But don’t worry, the cushioning underfoot is also excellent, giving you a hugely comfortable ride. The toe shaped forefoot allows the toes to splay out which in turn offers more stability. Personally, it’s something I love as my toes are not jammed together as with standard shoes so I can run for very long distances without any worries at all.
The upper of the shoe is made mainly of a quick-dry mesh plus support from a reinforced toe cap and heel cup. You can be assured that this will protect you from those protruding roots or rocks whilst out on the trail. With the quick-dry mesh you will find that the shoes drain very quickly after those puddles we always seem to find. The midsole of the shoe is made with Altra’s very own foam blend and also has a stone guard to protect you from anything sharp you may encounter on the run.
After 100+ miles of running the shoes still, look new with no scuffs or wear and tear to the soles or grip. This tells me that this is a very durable shoe and should last well. Certainly, the previous versions of the shoe I have owned have lasted very well and I used them in all conditions and terrains.
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a solid trail shoe that will keep you protected and comfortable whilst out on the trails then look no further than the Lone Peak 4.0. A solid trail shoe that will keep you comfortable all day long.
topo athletic terraventure 2
- Vibram Sole for Great Traction
- Very Comfortable
- May be Heavy for Some
The Topo Athletic Terraventure 2 is an excellent shoe that is good on both hard-packed dry surfaces as well as wet muddy conditions. This is due to the new Vibram sole for this model that has a fantastic grip and allows for great traction from the lugs. Some have also commented that the shoe is fairly good to use as a Road to Trail shoe – this is good news for those on a tighter budget who would rather not have to buy road and trail shoes for training.
The shoe is well cushioned and offers a comfortable ride, especially with the wide toes box as per the Altra Lone Peak. The only issue that has been noted is that some people found the shoe a little heavy at 10.8oz and felt like their feet were dragging somewhat. Personally, this isn’t something that I have experienced myself.
The Terraventure has a 3mm heel to toe drop which is still pretty small for today’s standard shoes. Once again, this offers a better running form in my opinion and I have found the lower drop shoes to give me fewer issues over long distances. Over time, your lower legs get stronger, therefore, causing less injury. If you haven’t used low drop shoes before then it’s advisable to build up the distances you run in them. There is an element of calf and Achilles stretching involved with the low drop.
Overall the Terraventure is a very comfortable shoe with plenty of cushioning for a smooth ride. The Vibram outsole really does help this shoe become a bit of an all-rounder when it comes to surfaces. It is as happy on the dry trails as it is on the wet rocky ones. The fact that it is fairly comfortable on the road too, makes it a shoe you should consider as part of your running gear.
INOV8 TERRAULTRA 260
- Zero Drop
- Very Comfortable
- Lot’s of Toe Room
- Excellent Grip
- Interior Padding
The Inov-8 TerraUltra is the companies first real venture with a shoe designed to run ultra marathon distances. Whilst I have used it on short runs as well, I can certainly vouch for its ability over the longer distance as well. At a weight of 260g / 9.2oz, it’s a very light shoe considering it’s built for long-distance and comfort.
The Terraultra grips the foot very well so you always feel secure and there is plenty of room in the toe box as well. Granted, it’s not an Altra style shape, but none the less it certainly offers plenty of room even for my wide feet.
The other great thing about this shoe is that Inov-8 has made it with Zero drop from heel to toe. This is a fantastic addition as this only adds to the overall comfort and ease of running. There is plenty of cushioning for the foot and allows for a comfortable ride over long distances. There is enough there to protect the foot when running over rough ground with sharp stones etc.
The outsole has 4mm lugs which are great for hard-packed trails, wet rocks, and some slightly muddy conditions. The grip overall is very good and the traction is great when going up those hills or rocky areas.
Overall the Inov-8 Terraultra 260 is a fine shoe designed for Ultra Marathons but is equally proficient at smaller distances. Certainly, in the past few months, this has been one of my go-to shoes and I am really enjoying running many distances and terrains in them. Certainly, a big thumbs up for Inov-8 and definitely a shoe you should be considering for your long runs.
NEW BALANCE HIERRO V4 FRESH FOAM
- Sock-Like Upper
- Very Comfortable
- Excellent Grip
- Upper not as Durable as Other Makes
The New Balance Hierro 4 is a wonderfully cushioned trail running shoe that will keep you comfortable for long periods of time out on the trails. The cushioning has been added to this extent so you can be out on the trails for hours without pounding your feet.
The shoe itself has an 8mm heel to toe drop which many will find to be a nice balance when running. The stack itself is 30mm under the heel and 22mm at the forefoot – you can tell straight away that there is a lot of protection between you and the track below. The outsole is a Vibram similar to the Topo we reviewed earlier. There are quite aggressive lugs that allow for a lot of miles with great grip.
The upper is a sock-like upper. It uses two materials to help with breathability while also giving a supportive feeling in areas. New Balance has called this material Hyposkin which is designed to feel like a second skin and make the upper as comfortable as possible. There is a thin rubber layer as a toe guard which may not be as rugged as other shoes on the test but still offers protection against tree roots and the like.
The only other thing of mention is the sock-like upper has what can only be described as a sort of elasticated collar around your ankle – we have seen similar designs of football boots. It definitely helps keep small stones and grit out of your shoes.
Overall the Hierro V4 is a more than an adequate shoe for varied types of trail and will keep you comfortable all day at a very reasonable price. Don’t forget when ordering that you need the Wide version and not the standard if you want plenty of toe room.
COLUMBIA MONTRAIL VARIANT X.S.R
- Great for Road & Trail
- Soft Upper Material
- Upper not as Durable as Other Makes
The Variant X.S.R. is a true door to trails shoe. It can cover endless miles on the roads, yet it can easily handle trail tracks and grass with a little wet and mud thrown in. I’ve been running in a pair of these for the past few months and have covered around 100 miles.
The bottom line is that they are very comfortable and have plenty of cushioning to keep your feet happy on the longer runs. The shoe has an 8mm heel to toe drop with a ride height of 23mm at the heel dropping to 15mm at the toes.
The grip is a mixture of road and trail as you can imagine with a shoe that can handle both. It’s decent on the road and up to now has handled hard-packed and stoned trails with ease offering plenty of foot protection along the way. I’ve stood on some fairly gnarly roots and rocks whilst running in these and my feet have barely felt the impact at all.
The upper is a seamless mesh that is very flexible and durable. I had a similar upper with the Bajada iii shoes I have run nearly 1,000 miles in and the upper is only now starting to show signs of wear. There’s also a nice rubber toe guard that offers plenty of protection should you manage to stub your toes. The shoes aren’t specifically designed or marketed as being a wide shoe, however, I own 3 different pair of Columbia trail shoes and all have a surprising amount of room for the toes, which is why they make this list.
Overall, the Variant XSR is a great option for the road to trail users and will happily cover plenty of miles. Personally, I would maybe use it up to marathon distance. Anything further and you should be considering the Altras or Inov-8’s.
ALTRA TIMP 1.5
- Zero Drop
- Solid Grip
- Comfortable and Cushioned
- Great on All Terrains
- Can be a bit bulky
The second Altra offering in the list is the Timp 1.5. It has the same foot shaped style as the Lone Peak but is slightly more cushioned with a stack height of 29mm.
The outsole on this shoe has been specifically designed so the shoe can tackle all terrains, which is always a great touch when one shoe can do most. Certainly saves on buying multiple pairs for sure. The upper is a fairly lightweight material that has been introduced to try and keep the shoe’s overall weight as light as possible. At 10.5oz it’s not the lightest or heaviest shoe you will encounter.
Overall the Timp is a very well-cushioned shoe that is highly comfortable that can tackle a multitude of terrains. Along with that, it has been reported that the shoe is quite durable too so it should last for many miles. You should consider this shoe if you want one shoe does all on the trails, however, as a personal preference, I would go for the Lone Peak 4.0 as this is more suited to greater ultra distances in my opinion.