How We Tested Trail Running Shoes

By:
Andy Wellman
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday

From ultra distances to short training runs  we put these trail runners through the paces. Here  the Leadville 1210v2 shines in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
From ultra distances to short training runs, we put these trail runners through the paces. Here, the Leadville 1210v2 shines in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

For the third year in a row, we took the best men's trail running shoes on the market today and tested them in the mecca of mountain trail running in the United States: Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Home to one of the most difficult and iconic mountain races in the world, the Hardrock Hundred, the trails in the San Juans only go one direction: up! In 2014, we tested 10 pairs of trail shoes over the course of four summer months, and in 2015 we added seven new pairs of shoes that we wore every day for another three months of intense shoe (and body) testing. This year we started from scratch and tested 14 new pairs that represent the best available on the trail running market today. We didn't bother with manufacturer's B-grade shoes. We did our best to wear each shoe over the variety of terrain present in the San Juans: smooth trails, steep rocky terrain, cross-country tundra, talus, scree, ridgelines, snow, mud, streams, bogs, jeep roads, and even some smooth and flat dirt roads (on occasion).

Columbine Pass is an alternative route into Chicago Basin in the Needle Mountains. Instead of taking the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad  as most people do to access this wilderness playground  we backpacked 18 miles over the pass. On top  getting in a short run without the heavy baggage.
Columbine Pass is an alternative route into Chicago Basin in the Needle Mountains. Instead of taking the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad, as most people do to access this wilderness playground, we backpacked 18 miles over the pass. On top, getting in a short run without the heavy baggage.

Over the past three years of testing, we have run in at least 40 different shoes and have taken them to races, national parks, and wilderness trails all over the world in our quest to determine which shoes are the best. While the San Juans are our home, we also love running in other ranges of Colorado and have spent time testing in the Sawatch Range, Front Range, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We have visited and run in the Great Sand Dunes National Park as well as on the steep climber's trails of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We have blasted out to the Utah desert to test shoes on the trails of Canyonlands National Park, and can't resist getting in a run in the Grand Canyon when nearby.

This year also saw us wearing some of our favorite shoes on climbing rest-day runs and hikes around Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Yosemite National Park. We took two pairs of shoes to the Garwhal Himalaya in India and tested them on the trails around the famous mountain shrines of Badrinath and Gangotri. In the last three years, we have tested the shoes you read about here at the Jemez Mountain 50 mile ultra in New Mexico, the Bighorn 100 trail race in Wyoming, the Hardrock Hundred in the San Juans, the Mustang Trail race in the Himalaya of Nepal, the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in the Canary Islands of Spain, the San Juan Solstice 50 mile race in Colorado, the Speedgoat 50k in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, the Superior Sawtooth 100 mile in Minnesota, and the IMTUF 100 mile race in northern Idaho, not to mention countless shorter races and an untold number of long adventure runs. The knowledge we share about these shoes has been gained by running the world over!

Due to weight restrictions  we only brought two pairs of trail runners for testing to the Garhwal Himalaya in India. Luckily  this durable pair ended up being a perfect companion.
Due to weight restrictions, we only brought two pairs of trail runners for testing to the Garhwal Himalaya in India. Luckily, this durable pair ended up being a perfect companion.

To bring you the most unbiased data, we weigh each size 11 shoe straight out of the box and ignore the manufacturer's stated weight. We note how they feel first putting them on, then keep detailed notes about categories like protection, traction, stability, comfort, weight, and sensitivity after every run. We have multiple people run in each pair and compare notes on how they feel about each. Finally, we perform our water test in a controlled scenario to see which shoes absorb the most water and then shed the water the fastest. In the end, we feel we have garnered a clear picture of each shoe's relative strengths and weaknesses, and feel confident that we can recommend the very best trail running shoes available today.
 

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    Unbiased.