Our Top Choices For Zero Drop Trail Running Shoes
The Superior 4 from Altra is one of the most lightweight zero-drop trail running shoes you’ll find, coming in at a mere 18.8 ounces. The uppers are built for comfort, with a foot-hugging design and with a zero rub tongue.
For the outsoles, Altra has their patented MaxTrac rubber, which remains ultra-sticky, even when wet. The lugs are widely spaced though, and not very aggressive, so avoid the muddier paths with them.
While it’s a rock-solid shoe for minimalists, the Altra Superior 4 doesn’t offer enough protection for the average runner; every rock and tree root can be felt through the sole and there’s next to no support or pronation protection.
They do come with an insertable rock guard, but it adds a couple of ounces and isn’t as effective as the built-in protection seen on other models.
Additionally, the midsole material breaks down rather quickly, so you better have a spare pair. Fortunately, they’re affordable.
They are an incredibly comfortable pair of shoes that are intended for runners needing to feel the trail, bumps and all. If that’s not something you’re accustomed to, it’d be better to ease into these shoes with a heavier pair offering more protection.
Xero Shoes made a name for themselves with their lightweight, huarache-style sandals modeled after the shoes of indigenous ultrarunners in Mexico. Most trail runners aren’t ready to strap on sandals for our daily runs though, and the company’s TerraFlex is a great alternative.
They’re still incredibly lightweight (16.4 oz) and flexible enough that they can be rolled up like a pair of socks. They have a wider range of motion than almost any trail running shoe on the market.
The Terraflex is also one of the longest-lasting trail runners. One reason for this is that it essentially lacks a midsole, the part of the shoe that breaks down after a few hundred miles of pounding trail. You will feel every pebble beneath these shoes as a result.
There’s also the outsole rubber, which is quite durable (warrantied to 5,000 miles), but next to no traction on wet surfaces or in mud. The fact that your foot can curve around the rocks and logs helps, but it’s not a substitute for a sticky piece of rubber.
The Terraflex targets a very narrow sector of the trail running market; those wanting to go barefoot, but with less risk of stubbing your toe. They provide almost no protection from the trail and the outsole performs poorly when there’s any moisture; diehard minimalists won’t care though.
Toe shoes are one of the most polarizing pieces of equipment, not just in the running, but the whole outdoor sports world. Originally designed for yacht racers who needed to navigate a slippery deck, they’ve been co-opted by minimalist runners over the past ten to fifteen years.
The Bikila is the lightest shoe we’re reviewing here (just over 10 oz) and their only deviation from the classic Five Fingers design is the addition of laces where there was once velcro straps; this gives the uppers a tighter feel and reduces the chance of blisters.
But beyond a snug fit, how do they feel? Well, that depends on the type of runner you are; if you’re new to barefoot or minimalist running, these are not for you.
They actually have a negative drop (the forefoot is higher than the heel), which helps to prevent heel strikes. If you do heel strike in this, it will hurt. There’s zero cushioning, just a couple millimeters of outsole rubber.
As far as trail running shoes go, the outsole is not impressive. It’s lacking lugs and will become slippery in rain and mud. The rubber isn’t particularly sticky either. The Bikila is better suited for the road.
The Bikila is definitely not for casual wear – they’ll get a few double-takes if you wear them for post-run drinks, but they’re a solid choice for minimalists running on hardpack or asphalt.
The last two pairs of shoes were designed with only the most hardcore minimalists in mind, but if you want a great zero drop trail runner with a decent amount of cushion, the Lone Peaks 4s are right up your alley.
Let’s start with the stack height: there’s a full 25mm of EVA cushion built into the Lone Peaks, which means they’ll feel good even when the trail is a rock-strewn mess. At 24 ounces, they’re on the heavier side, and even though the midsole has a good springiness to it, minimalist runners will feel weighed down by them.
Like the Superior 4, the Lone Peak 4 uses Altra’s super sticky MaxTrac outsole that grips well in rain, mud, or snow. These shoes also feature TrailClaw lugs, which protrude at a slight angle to bite down during the push-off phase of your stride.
Unlike the Superior though, the Lone Peaks don’t offer much protection; the uppers are more flexible and provide little in the way of motion control. That could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your running style.
Unfortunately, the Lone Peaks also suffer from some durability issues, especially as it relates to the toe cap. Don’t expect these to last more than a season or two, depending on your mileage. Fortunately, they’re one of the least expensive shoes on this list.
If there’s one thing you can say about the Ultraboost 19s, it’s that they look really good. The uppers on these shoes are ultra-sleek and incredibly comfortable. The fabric is flexible enough to feel more like a sock than a shoe. If you’re looking for a trail runner with sizeable protection though, that flexibility is a disadvantage.
Adidas’s proprietary Boost foam midsole is certainly a step up from your average EVA midsole, being more durable and returning some energy for the push-off phase of each stride.
That being said, Adidas went a bit overboard with the foam 29mm heel, making the Ultraboost feel mushy. You’ll barely feel the trail with them.
It’s clear from the outsole that these shoes were not designed for trail running, utilizing a nearly lug-less pattern more suitable for the gym floor than the wilderness.
However, the rubber is made by Continental (the tire manufacturer) and it is quite durable. Just another reason they might be more at home on the asphalt than in the dirt.
The Ultraboost is simply not durable or aggressive enough to be a great trail running shoe. If you’re just getting into the sport and jog flat paths, they might work okay, but otherwise, they’re probably better as casual footwear or for road running.
The Trail Glove 4 might be one of the best minimalist trail runners for budget-minded customers. Costing about half of what some of the most expensive pairs do; these are an excellent entry point into the sport.
Another great reason for newbies to pick up the Glove 4’s? They require next to no break in – the uppers fit well and lots of flexibility. Some runners complain that they don’t fit quite tight enough, with a little bit of slop around the ankle collar.
The midsole provides a decent level of cushioning without feely too mushy. There’s also a trail protection insole that can be added for rougher terrain.
Being a major player in the hiking shoe market, Merrill knows how to make a solid outsole, and the Trail Glove 4 is no exception.
While not as aggressive as some of its competitors, it has relatively good traction and sheds mud with ease. The thicker outsole makes them moderately heavy though, weighing about 16 ounces for a pair.
The mesh on the uppers, despite than appearance of reinforcing material, is not very durable. If you regularly run dusty and brush-littered trails, they may not last more than a season.
The Flex Fury is one of the most popular minimalist running shoe lines due to its excellent fit, feel, and style. The upper is made from a single piece of flexible mesh that has some of the best ventilation of any trail running shoe.
The Flex Fury is not a true zero drop running shoe though, with six millimeters between the heel and toe sections. For newbie minimalists this will feel like nothing at all, while still giving a modicum of protection.
The “Flywire cables” which run between the laces and outsole to provide extra stability where most minimalist shoes are lacking. The cables add less weight than would come with the TPU overlays that come on some of the beefier trail running shoes.
The pod-shaped lugs on its outsole work more like a road running shoe than a trail running, providing good lateral flexibility and plenty of surface area to distribute impact. They’re not the best for wet surfaces and mud though.
These shoes are priced low, especially for a company like Nike, but they do wear out quickly, so buy two pairs and have a backup ready in the closet.
The latest offering from Merrill is also one of the most fashionable. This minimalist running shoe has a casual design that looks good on and off the trail and comes in a couple of different color schemes to suit your taste.
The Vapor Glove gets its name from the upper’s design, with its tight fit and maximum ventilation. They’re designed to shed heat in a hurry and are fantastic for runs in desert-level conditions. Weighing in at just under 12 ounces, they’re one of the more lightweight shoes reviewed here.
Where they seem to falter is on the outsole – it has no lugs and very shallow channels for moving water away from the sole. The rubber isn’t particularly sticky either, many casual shoes have better traction than these do. They’re also not very long-lasting, with many runners noting that the uppers get holes or separate from the outsole within a couple of months.
The Vapor Glove is a decent road running shoe, but as a minimalist trail runner, it’s lacking in traction and durability. It’s priced low, but even so, it’s best to stick to the pavement with this one.
The PureFlow 7 from Brooks might be the most comfortable running shoe out there. The uppers are made from a stretched woven fabric that breathes well and doesn’t create any pressure points along the top of your foot.
The uppers also contain a liner, so you really don’t need to wear socks with the PureFlows. They feature an ultra-soft collar that makes them super comfortable with no-show socks.
They’re also pretty well-cushioned, with a 20mm stack and 4mm of drop between the heel and toe. This makes them a good option for runners hoping to transition to minimalist footwear, but without risking injury by suddenly switching to a no-cushion shoe.
They’re also not so cushioned that you can’t feel the trail and pavement beneath you.
The outsoles on the PureFlow are a marvel of modern engineering with a grid of blown rubber lugs that allow for extensive lateral movement with great energy return and a more effortless stride. Brooks claims that they’ll last at least three hundred miles.
The PureFlow 7 is a great all-arounder; these aren’t the cheapest or the priciest minimalist trail runners, and they have enough cushion for those just starting to move away from the heel strike.
The Minimus from New Balance checks nearly every box when it comes to quality running shoes – they’re fairly lightweight (just 16 oz per pair), incredibly breathable, have superb durability, and solid traction on the outsole. Few shoes do everything as well as the Minimus.
Take one look at the Minimus’s and you know they’re going to be comfortable. The uppers are made from a couple of different types of mesh, with lots of venting over the forefoot and a stronger, more protective vent structure over the sides.
Slip them on and your suspicions are confirmed, they fit like a glove. They do require some break-in time though, especially if you have wider feet where the fit won’t be as great.
Then there’s the durable construction we’ve come to expect from New Balance. The midsole will last at least two seasons with regular usage and the uppers and outsole will show little to no wear. The outsoles are super grippy, providing outstanding traction on even the most slippery rock slopes.
If you like to hit up the bar or coffee shop after a run, the Minimus’s neutral stylings and understated look make them perfect for casual wear. Perhaps the biggest downside to the Minimus is cost: they’re at least 25% more expensive than most of the other shoes on this list. Given their versatility though, these could be your daily shoes, your lightweight hiking shoes, and your trail runners, so that’s really not too bad.