Mizuno Ascend 8
Built on the well-cushioned sole of a premium road running shoe, the Ascend offers up a smooth, soft ride on dirt roads with a semi-aggressive, outsole capable of tackling milder off-road terrain. The biggest change to this edition is a new upper configuration. It features a more breathable mesh with subtle overlay supports to dial in fit for a variety of foot shapes. There is minimal protection against trail obstacles, although Mizuno’s Wave insert from the heel to mid-foot doubles as a rock guard. It’s far from being a lightweight shoe, and its traditional heel-toe drop (11mm) and high-off-the-ground design limit the Ascend’s agility.
11.2 oz. (men’s), 9.2 oz. (women’s)
Saucony Xodus 4
Aggressively tooled and built for technical terrain, the Xodus 4.0 meets off-road requirements yet is also sublimely comfortable. All discussions about this shoe should begin with the aggressive tread of the Vibram rubber outsole, which combines softer and firmer densities of rubber for control, grip and technical agility on varying terrain features. The shoe is built on a supportive and somewhat stiff chassis with a 4mm heel-toe drop that aids in stability but detracts a bit from its overall flexibility and performance at faster speeds. A pliable midsole rock plate, reinforced toe cap and abrasion-resistant upper materials offer smart protection against the natural elements on the trail, while a thick layer of soft cushioning gives it a smooth ride even on hard-packed dirt trails and gravel roads. Said one tester: “The traction is great and the lift that you get from the sole is a great height — it’s not so high that I’m concerned about rolling my ankle on every rock but high enough to keep the upper out of the mud and shallow wet areas.”
10.7 oz. (men’s), 9.0 oz. (women’s)
The North Face Single-Track Hyasa II
Athletes who often head out the door, run over pavement and finish on trail will love the updated Hyasa II. It has a thin, flexible rock plate that is limber enough to perform well on smooth trail and pavement, which makes for a dual-purpose shoe but one that is less suited to gnarly technical terrain. Despite the 9mm heel-toe drop, it still feels fairly low to the ground, and the new cushioning package is much more responsive and lively than in the first Hyasa. The low-profile lugs are not particularly knobby, though the rubber compounds allow for reliable traction on most surfaces. Although a few wear-testers thought the Hyasa II was a bit too narrow, most liked the fit and thought it was enhanced by the fully gusseted tongue. A well-balanced platform, reinforced heel cup and a foot-hugging upper give it just enough stability and support for longer runs.
9.1 oz. (men’s), 7.4 oz. (women’s)
After years of tweaking road shoes for trail use, Nike is back in the game with a purpose-built off-road shoe, the light and agile Wildhorse. It has ample amounts of cushioning in the heel, a super-flexible forefoot and a dynamic upper that wraps the foot under the arch to create a near-custom fit, even for wider feet. Our testers loved the smooth ride and low-to-the-ground feeling of the Wildhorse’s 4mm heel-toe drop on a variety of surfaces, including paved roads, gravel roads, soft dirt trails and even moderately technical trails. However, the lack of underfoot protection keep it from thriving over technical trails with roots, rocks and other obstacles.
8.4 oz. (men’s), 7.2 oz. (women’s)
Skechers GObionic Trail
Infinitely flexible like Skechers’ road running models, the GObionic Trail feels like a road racing flat that’s been beefed up with a mildly luggy outsole. It has a minimalist-inspired 4mm drop, but can be converted to a zero-drop platform by removing the built-up insole. Said one wear-tester: “It’s not the most rugged trail shoe, but a nice lightweight option for going off-road. I like how flexible and free it feels.” This shoe is versatile enough to log long miles on roads, gravel trails, dirt roads and gentle rollers with an energetic, easy-striding ride but enough trail-specific features to run nimbly on mildly rugged terrain, too. It has a super-bendable outsole supported by a thick, flexible rock plate and a slightly reinforced toe for basic protection from the occasional scrape and scuff.
8.0 oz. (men’s), 6.8 oz. (women’s)
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