Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best Trail Shoes of 2012

The year is coming to a close, so the obligatory "look back" must be done. Today, I look back and pick my favorite trail running shoes of 2012. Trail shoes received a lot of attention this year and the minimalist movement hit the trails full-force in 2012. I consider myself a "minimalist" runner, but I'm pragmatic.  I'll run local trails barefoot, but I can't run a race barefoot, nor can I run long barefoot. I need tools to help extend my range. The key is finding tools that allow my body to move naturally through the environment. I want shoes that assist my feet, rather than restrict them. With that in mind, here are my three favorite trail running shoes of 2012:

1. New Balance MT110 ($85)
"The New Balance MT110 gets a slick new look with a reworked upper and outsole on this light and nimble trail shoe. Metallic mesh brings a fresh design to the soft yet durable upper. The outsole is fully lugged from heel to toe, for excellent grip on many surfaces, and the flexible midsole moves with your foot to navigate through rocky and technical terrain. With a thin rock plate for added protection, this all-in-one shoe will be your best friend out on the trail." (Running Warehouse web site)

This shoe has almost the perfect mixture of weight, traction, protection, and ground feel. It comes in at about 8oz and has a low to the ground 4mm heel to toe drop (18mm/14mm stack height). The forefoot is wide and allows your feet to remain uncramped. It has a thin rock plate to protect your feet against sharp rocks and roots on the trail. The plate makes the shoe less flexible than I normal want, but it still has a reasonable amount of flex. I can't say this shoe is "the best" at's just a fantastic combination of really good traits. Whenever I reach for a shoe before an ultra race, this sucker almost always ends up in my hand...and later on my feet. It's one of the most solid trail shoes I've ever worn. I have about 400 miles on my current pair now...and it's still going strong. Biggest PRO: Great "jack of all trades" type shoe. Biggest CON: Nothing really--it's good at everything, not necessarily excellent, but also not bad at anything (although the upper does let in a lot of dust).

2. Altra Superior ($95)
"The Altra Superior is the embodiment of high-performance minimalist trail running. This lightweight trail shoe offers a zero drop platform and a foot-shaped last to allow for a more natural stride. A rugged outsole inspires confidence on a variety of trail surfaces, while a removable rock plate beneath the sockliner offers protection when you need it, so you can focus on the trail ahead." (Running Warehouse web site)

All of the Altra shoes are zero drop, this one has a stack height of 12mm. Its listed weight is about 11oz. (Tends to run small, I needed size 14 when I usually wear 13--it weighs about 13oz). It's a heavier shoe than a normally wear, but the extra weight must be balanced well--I don't notice it during my runs. This shoe has a very wide toe box that makes it very comfortable to wear for longer runs. Plus, the rockplate doesn't interfere with flexibility (plus it's removable). Traction is good, but it seems to hold onto mud more than other shoes. I've been looking for a good "100-mile trail shoe"--the Superior may be my solution. It's soft, comfortable, and protective. Feels good when running or walking...and I will be walking during ultra events that go more than 30 miles. I only have about 50 miles on them so far, but I look forward to adding more and more miles on them soon. If it helps me complete my next 100 mile race, it'll move up to the #1 spot as "trail shoe of the year for 2013." Biggest PRO: Extremely comfortable. Biggest CON: Slightly heavy, even for a trail shoe.

3. New Balance MT1010 ($110)
"The New Balance MT1010 is a light and nimble trail shoe that keeps a cushioned and protective ride. It's flexible design has a natural, more minimal feel and allows for narrow turns and quick rock dodging. All the while, the fairly padded midsole compresses gently over hard ground, allowing you to feel the terrain without feeling every stick and pebble with it." (Running Warehouse web site)

I bought this shoe because I thought it would be the MT110 with extra cushioning  That is sorta true, but not quite. It has the same heel to toe drop (4mm, 23mm/19mm), but it feels more isolated from the trail. Guess that's the extra cushioning. It's also less flexible (but more protective). The first few runs felt very mediocre. I wanted to return them for another shoe. But they started to feel better with each additional run. Now, with about 75 miles on them, they are a solid performer. Good traction, good protection, and a generally wide forefoot. It stills feel a bit too removed from the trail, but it doesn't bother me anymore. I think this shoe can be a good choice for 50km to 50 mile trail events. Biggest PRO: Cushioning and protection. Biggest CON: Feels isolated from the trail (but improves with time).


Brad Williams said...

Solid list there Chris. I'm excited to try out the slightly updated 110. At first I never really noticed the lateral raise on the shoe but once I started running in some other trail shoes over the last year for extended periods of time and came back to the 110 I noticed it more and more. Can't really say it caused any problems though. The NB MO80 looks pretty promising too.

Happy 100 training,

Chris said...


The M080 looks interesting (but is expensive). I'll need to check-out the updated MT110--is it out already?

Brad Williams said...

Not yet. I've heard January/February release date for both the 80 and 110.

k said...

Just ordered a pair of MT110 via New Balance (I'm in the UK). Got them for 29.99 which seems a steal!

Chris said...

Awesome price!