The Best Winter Running Shoes of 2020

When the sun takes a sabbatical on the south side and winter’s cold bite starts to sink deep, you don’t need to hang your head over the treadmill. Chin up, we’ve found the best winter running shoes to keep you training outside all year long.

Any trail running shoe worth its lugs has enough traction to keep you upright in sloppy conditions. But a good pair of winter running shoes takes it up a notch.

While summer conditions have a bias for lighter, airy kicks, winter specialists will sacrifice breathability for waterproof membranes, shells, higher collars, and gaiters that shed the icy snow and mud.

You pay a little more for the bells and whistles, but the goal is to keep feet warm, dry, and safe as you run through winter.

Best Winter Running Shoes of 2020-2021

After logging long winter miles in dozens of shoes this year, we found these winter-worthy kicks for 2021. And because winter in Minnesota is heaps different than in Portland or Boston, we’ve identified a gamut of shoes that meet multiple definitions of “winter.”

Here are our best picks as you run into 2021.

Best for Big, Snowy Miles: HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX — Men’s & Women’s ($170)

HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat Mid 2 GTXIf cushion and max wetness protection — with a sense of flair — are your key needs, HOKA’s Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX offers up all of it in spades. Reminiscent of the retired Tor model, these “moonboot” runners epitomize HOKA’s trademark cushion and plush feel. The brand also expanded the toebox here. Those with wide feet or who experience cramped toes on longer runs will appreciate the room.

On the sole, 5mm lugs make for decent traction on winter trails or light, untracked snow. You’ll notice plenty of bounce in these, so it’s not for anyone who prefers to feel the ground as they run. As a mid option, these aren’t the lightest, but at 13.2 ounces per shoe, they’re not nearly as heavy as they look.

Bottom line: They’re unlike anything else on this list, great for traversing some standing snow, and offer up great moisture protection with HOKA’s renewed GORE-TEX partnership. If you like running with maximum cushion, these are for you.

  • Fit: True to size
  • Weight (per shoe): 13.2 ounces
  • Drop: 4 mm (32-28 mm)

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Best Budget Running Shoe: Adidas Terrex Agravic TR GTX — Men’s & Women’s ($100)

Adidas Terrex Agravic TR GTX

Primarily known for ball sports in the States, Adidas has made a steady splash in the outdoor world and offers some of our favorite adventure-worthy gear. The Terrex Agravic TR GTX is no exception.

Adidas Agravic line has both a soft (thanks to Adidas’ Boost midsole) and firm shoe in their lineup. The TR is more firm in their cushiony Boost midsole. The EVA midsole is also a little stiffer. But it’s not so stiff that it prevents flexing with the trail. The shoe feels wonderfully stable underfoot and the mid-volume shoe hugs the foot.

While some find the TR too narrow, we found it has a wonderful fit that connects you with the trail without any internal sloppiness or potentially nail-bruising toe bunch. The front end has some bumper to it. It’s not super aggressive against rocks and roots, rather falling in the middle of the pack for protection.

At 24-17mm (heel-toe), the stack is low and the drop (7 mm) is reasonable. If your running mates want to nerd out, and lest you forget these digits, Adidas marks all their shoes with stack and weight (these have a prominent 350 marked on the tongue, indicating its weight per shoe in grams). At 12+ ounces/shoe, the TR does feel a little heavier. The tread isn’t super deep — the 5 mm lugs are well spaced and shed mud (and weight by quickly tossing off mud) — and it’s entirely runnable on roads.

The TR GTX has, of course, a Gore-Tex liner. The waterproof tongue seamlessly wraps with the toe of the shoe. If conditions warrant it, you could wear these comfortably without socks. But we did find the tongue a little generous. It’s comfortable and opens wide to make strapping into the shoe easy, but it has a lot of extra material that doesn’t fold shut as elegantly as other shoes.

And did we say these are $100? That makes the TR GTX an absolute steal in the world of waterproof breathable shoes.

Bottom line: This shoe offers foul-weather traction in a supremely comfortable package. This was one of our favorite stability shoes and recommend these for runners who have weak ankles are don’t want to risk a sprain.

  • Fit: Wonderfully normal
  • Weight (per shoe): 12.3 ounces
  • Drop: 17/24 stack, or 7 mm drop

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Supportive and Grippy: Inov8 Roclite G 345 GTX — Men’s & Women’s

Inov8 Roclite G 345 GTX

 

Running in high tops? We weren’t sure about it either. But we were pleasantly surprised with how comfortable and supportive Inov8’s Roclite G 345’s ($190) were.

At the time of their debut, the G 345’s were considered the lightest GoreTex boot on the market. Inov8 has since launched a burlier, lighter version, with the G 286 GTX. The 286 shaves 2 ounces, drops the chassis a few mm’s, is a tad wider, and brings a durable Cordura outer. We found the 286’s shell a little stiff and not worth the extra coin for trail running.

The G 345’s, though, have a soft knit outer that feels more like your traditional running shoe. It’s soft and quiet under step and has a more natural fold around the foot. The entire shoe is wrapped in GoreTex and has a gusseted tongue that folds under the collar. The added height keeps the elements and crud from siphoning into the shoe.

With a 16-8mm heel-toe stack, these sit much lower than Hoka’s 32-28mm, so you’ll feel more stability as you you run through variable terrain. And the 8mm drop is a more traditional running shoe drop. The midsole allows moderate flexion and torsion in the toe, but is pretty stiff in the mid-foot, which helps prevent ankle rolls. This design brings that ankle support all the way to the mid-foot, giving you a really supportive runner.

Inov8 names its shoes after each shoe’s weight in grams. The Roclite G 345’s weighed a tad more on our scales: 360 grams for our size 10 (or 12.7 oz a shoe). Regardless, you are getting the support of a hiker in the package that is competitive with any low top runner on this list. What you lose, though, are extra bumpers and protection. Weight will always have its tradeoffs and if you tend to bash your toes on roots and rocks, these probably won’t be the right shoes for you.

The “G” stands for graphene, and that’s this shoe’s secret sauce. It’s Nobel Prize-winning science, actually, and reputedly 200 times stronger than steel. The blocky lugged outer soles are coated with a micro layer of graphene. All you really need to know is that the combination of lug and graphene awards the outer sole with the most durable and best traction shoe on the list. They inspire confidence on everything from loose trail to slick, mossy rocks.

Our biggest gripe with the shoe is the lacing system. The laces thread through a series of round cords that replace traditional eyelets. The eyelet cords follow the stripes that run down the shoe’s sidewall, adding a touch of support by helping wrap the foot snug in the shoe. But we found out of the box, they can be fidgety to cinch snug – especially with cold digits. They do loosen up and it becomes easier to pull tight around the foot over time.

The shoes also lack a mechanism to hook a gaiter around the ankle. Inov8 has a solution, though and offers their own proprietary, sock-like gaiter that you can buy after market for $25. It fits around the shoe and laces under the sole. We’ve used it before and it excels at keeping debris out, but the cord underfoot can (and will eventually) wear out.

Bottom line: Running through chunks of road crud and obscured trail can be tough on the ankles. These mid ankle boots offer a touch of support and protection and are a good bet for technical terrain.

  • Fit: Narrow
  • Weight (per shoe): 12.6 ounces (on our scales).
  • Drop: 8 mm (16-8 mm)

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Best fo Long Distances: La Sportiva Jackal GTX — Men’s & Women’s

La Sportiva Jackal GTX

 

Strap into the Jackal and you immediately get that sporty slipper feel La Sportiva is known for. This is a low volume shoe that hugs the entire foot, but with some much desired width in the toe box. The tongue wings over and around the the foot with gussets seamlessly wrapping around the toe box like a sock. This keeps moisture and debris from creeping in, while helping seat the foot in the shoe. The inside is nearly seamless, enhancing the slipper-like feel. And its construction is one of the best in the bunch.

Billed as a mountain shoe, the Jackal ($170) rides over a stiff mid sole with a protective rock guard and robust bumper out front. It does a wonderful job protecting the foot from rough terrain. But there is also very little lateral torsion to the shoe. In our experience, this stiffness doesn’t allow it to flex with the underlying terrain, and can feel a little wobbly when running over rocky, rooty terrain.

That stiffness is paid back in protection and cushion. It’s not going to be a super, plush ride like the Hokas. It’s more purpose built for sucking up the bumps when bounding down rough terrain on long runs.

There’s also very little rocker to the shoe. But it has good metatarsal flex. This gives the Jackal nearly full contact with the ground through your stride. We did find that when climbing steep trails, the stiffness can force the heel to pull up a bit.

Underfoot, the 3mm, blocky tread pattern keeps you connected on loose scree, rock, and snow — whatever you want to throw at them. But the lugs are still low enough to make this an efficient runner on winter roads. To that end, its run-ability on cruddy roads might be the unsung quality of the Jackal.

LaSportiva is known to have a tight, “Euro” fit. We almost always go up a half size from our street shoes. Though the Jackal has a bit more toe box volume than other La Sportiva models, it comes up short in the toes. With the Jackal, we highly recommend you try before you buy, or consider buying a full size up over your street shoe. If you are running in thicker winter socks, this only becomes more important.

Bottom line. La Sportiva bills the Jackal as a mountain runner. There’s certainly enough protection for any mountainous terrain, but we found this shoe crosses over well onto snow-packed city streets, too.

  • Fit: Runs a full size small
  • Weight (per shoe): 11.1 ounces
  • Drop: 7 mm (29-22 mm)

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For Wide Feet (or Thick Socks): Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX Men’s & Women’s

Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX

Merrell’s MQM Flex 2 GTX ($140) is the antithesis of La Sportiva’s Jackal. Where the Jackal is low volume, the MQM is voluminous. Where Jackal is stiff, the MQM is compliant. Riding 2 millimeters lower than the Jackal, with its flexibility, the MQM feels notably more agile underfoot. It’s more planted, more stable. The shoe flexes over terrain and feels less tippy than the Jackal.

Down the midsole, a protective rock plate keeps sharps from disrupting your run. The outsole rises out front of the toes, forming a TPU toe bumper to protect from direct hits. While protective overlays wrap the side, they don’t offer full bumper protection. You’re going to feel any objects that strike the foot off-center.

Gore-Tex shoes can fit tighter than their summer counterparts, requiring you size up a half size. This isn’t the case with the MQM GTX, though. The MQM has a spacious toe box and can feel a little sloppy if it isn’t sized right. This compounds on sandy trails where we found the traction tends to break a bit.

If you wear thicker socks in winter, the added volume will be negligible. If you have wide feet, these will feel dreamy. But for those with mid volume feet wearing summer weight socks, you may want to consider going a half size down.

Bottom line. The MQM hits all the marks we look for in a winter runner. Waterproof (thanks to Gore-Tex), a gusseted tongue (preventing the tongue from sliding and water from seeping in), and chunky traction. Most notably, it does all this at the price of many non-waterproof running shoes. The MQM Flex 2 GTX lists for $140, but is available online for less.

  • Fit: Runs a 1/2 size large
  • Weight (per shoe): 12.5 ounces
  • Drop: 8 mm (27.5-19.5 mm)

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Best for Mud: Salomon Wildcross  GTX — Men’s & Women’s

Salomon Wildcross  GTX

For really muddy conditions, traction is mandatory. You want a shoe that responds to the terrain, provides confidence cornering slick spots, and gives you traction when climbing. Our go-to has always been Salomon’s Speedcross. While a ferociously sexy shoe to looks at, the Speedcross always felt a little clunky and unstable. The Wildcross ( has shed some weight and drops the stack for a dialed trail shoe that simply performs deliciously on trail.

We found the toebox had a touch more volume, in a good way. It allows the foot to spread out just a bit, giving the foot some extra stability. noticeably more than its cross pedigree.

The rubber is the same as the Speedcross, but the lug pattern has changed. Instead of the chevron lugs, the Wildcross ($170) uses a tri-point lug. The pattern provides more points of contact with the ground and allows a few more lugs for increased traction without sacrificing its ability to shed mud.

Our testers gave the Wildcross high marks in sloppy trails, saying, “The Wildcross hit the mud — and the loose dirt, tree-fragmented debris, roots, loose rock, and more — without slipping … Expect a fast ride!”

Up top, a pair of wings wrap over the foot. The quicklace system feeds through eyelets on the wings. It provides extra durability, support, and it helps wrap the foot snug against inside the shoe. No gussets her, the tongue floats underneath. This is a weak spot for water to intrude, but a mesh guard prevents debris from siphoning in. The collar is also more padded, assisting in debris management and comfort.

Our only ding is the lacing system. It uses the traditional quicklace system found on most Salomon’s, but they exit through the center lace garage, making them a little finicky to work with and harder to slip over the foot. Once it’s on the foot, it’s a pull it and forget it mechanism that works like it should. Compared to the Speedcross, the overall feel is better in just about every metric.

The Wildcross is available with a water-resistant upper for a reasonable $130. For pure winter pursuits, we’d recommend the GORE-TEX version ($160)

Bottom line: For runners who want a racy mud runner keep the speed on steep, muddy trails

  • Fit: Runs narrow; otherwise, true to size
  • Weight (per shoe): 10.2 ounces
  • Stack: 25mm
  • Drop: 8 mm

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Snow Monster: La Sportiva Blizzard GTX

La Sportiva Blizzard GTX

Winter, meet your match. The La Sportiva Blizzard ($199) is a reasonably lightweight GORE-TEX shoe wrapped in a full gaiter, running over aggressive 7mm lugs pegged with 9 carbide spikes.

The Blizzard is deceptively light given its monster silhouette. Its fat-tire look is attributed to the sock-like gaiter that wraps the shoe, giving it a boot-like presence. It requires some footwork to finagle over the dogs. Fortunately, the Blizzard has huge pull tabs to make that job a little easier.

Once the shoe is laced up, the single-cord lace tucks out of the way of the snow and ice (and hobnob spikes) in a tidy pocket. A few ounces of prevention (and bulk) pay dividends on the trail; nobody likes to run with snowballs in their shoes.

Runners scratching tracks over icy trails will appreciate the carbide spikes. We found there were just enough for traction, but it sort of leaves you wanting more, which you can buy for another $49 through La Sportiva (they come with a tool).

Do-it-yourself runners will probably find it easier to go to the hardware store and sink a handful of extra sheet metal screws into the lugs for a couple of bucks.

Bottom line: At $199, the sticker price will likely put your credit card on ice. But if your winter training requires pushing out into the tundra, the Blizzard is a sure bet to stay on your training plan.

  • Fit: La Sportiva shoes are known to run aggressively narrow. If the shoe fits, this narrowness translates into a pure extension of the foot to the ground and a speedy winter trail trainer. Go up a half size from street.
  • Weight (per shoe): 13.3 ounces
  • Drop: 6 mm (18-12 mm)

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Road to Trail: Brooks Cascadia 15 GTX — Men’s & Women’s

Brooks Cascadia 15 GTX

Look at any list of the best running shoes, and you’ll find Brooks near the top. In fact, Brooks is the number one seller for road shoes in America. The Cascadia ($160) has taken a lot of its success from the road and brought it over into their venerable trail runner, but with trail-worthy additions.

A nice grab loop makes them easy to slip into. The loop ends with a velcro tab on the heel, it’s meant to keep an aftermarket gaiter over the heel. A small clip in the first toe eyelet keeps the gaiter over the laces. This is a nice touch, especially if you plan to occasionally run in snow, but want to use the shoe in drier weather.

The lugs are aggressive, but not overly tall. They transition well on the roads. The waterproof mesh top is wrapped with a lightweight rubber rand that encloses around the entire lower shoe. Running through winter crust can be abusive on shoes (and feet). We found the rubbery layups provides a lot of protection.

Ankle twists are a big concern when running in winter. Brooks has a pair of “roll bars” (which it calls “pivot posts” on the Cascadia) that sit under the forefoot and heel. These help keep the foot riding neutral under stride, and feel really stable on uneven terrain. This stability is also accomplished by how low the Cascadia rides.

Unlike the massive 12mm drop and stack on the Adrenaline or Ghost, the Cascadia sits lower to the ground and has a tamer 8mm drop. This helps keep your center of gravity closer to the ground and hence less likely to twist an ankle.

Brooks bills the Cascadia as a cushion shoe. If you’re crossing over from the Ghost or Adrenaline, this shoe will feel much firmer, stiffer, and lower. But this also makes the shoe really great on technical terrain, where you want that nimbleness to roll with the punches, while still offering protection from underlying, sometimes sharp, terrain.

Bottom line: We’ve run in the Cascadia since its first model. The Cascadia 15 is tamer than it used to be. The toebox, though wide, is a little narrower, the traction is still aggressive, but it feels a little flat at speed on tame ground. But this shoe really sings on the technical stuff including crusty winter road runs.

  • Fit: True to size with a wider toebox.
  • Weight (per shoe): 11.7oz
  • Drop: 8mm

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Best for Technical Terrain: Arc’teryx Norvan VT 2 GTX — Men’s & Women’s

Arc’teryx Norvan VT 2 GTX

With its deep roots in climbing, it’s no surprise that Arc’teryx is listed as our top choice for all-terrain running. The VT 2 (for vertical) GTX ($205) is characteristically at home on the wet, steep, and technical.

To slot within the required terrain, the shoe runs narrow and firm while reserving proper length for the toes. The lacing starts lower than most trail shoes, allowing you to really dial in the fit as terrain bends vertical.

To protect the shoe, the vamp is sveltely wrapped with protective overlays that disappear into the upper, allowing you to jam, smear, and toe the shoe up with confidence it won’t blow out. The chassis rides over a fantastic outsole, which our testers gave the highest marks for wet and wild terrain.

The Achilles heel in this shoe is its specificity, sacrificing flexibility and “trail sense.” It’s just not that cushiony. But for those hellbent on heading off-trail and upward, we feel it’s worth the compromise.

If you’re gobsmacked by sticker shock, the VT 2 is extremely durable and can pull double duty as a lightweight hiker. These would be a fantastic shoe for a “Teton-in-a-day” type adventure.

View the full Arc’teryx Norvan VT 2 review for more.

  • Weight (per pair): 11.5 ounces (size 10)
  • Drop: 8 mm
  • Best for: Neutral runners; run-to-scramble

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Weatherproof Roadrunner: New Balance Fresh Foam 880v10 GTX — Men’s & Women’s

New Balance Fresh Foam 880v10 GTX

Last spring, we got a hold of the New Balance 880v10 ($150) and really liked what the shoe offered. It’s a svelte profile with a touch of a rocker that propels you forward through each stride. Slightly wider (and firmer) than the Brooks Adrenaline (another GJ favorite), the tradeoff is a neutral trainer that feels fast on the road. Hence, we find it a more well-rounded option in our quiver, capable of chasing tempo days, long runs, and all the way through race day.

The upper is an engineered knit, weaving thicker and thinner layups as durability requires. The package wraps the foot cleanly and protects without any hard “exoskeletons” that could wear down the underlying GORE-TEX membrane. The shoe rides over New Balance’s FreshFoam midsole.

Cushioned, yes, but it’s not the kind of shoe that will roll with the terrain. The 880 is stiff and firm, encouraging forward momentum. This stability is carried out back by the generous heel counter, which sucks the shoe to the foot.

Bottom line: The 10mm drop makes this shoe best for runners who grew up running on higher stacked shoes. It’s a great choice for runners who want to maintain their road miles through the winter. We love that New Balance offered the 880v10 with GORE-TEX, but we’re not quite sure why they didn’t do anything to make the traction any better for winter. While the tread on the 880v10 is fairly aggressive, the tread runs more surface than sipe, and is slippery on ice.

  • Weight (per shoe): 11.8 ounces
  • Drop: 10 mm
  • Best for: Neutral runners

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The Best of the Rest

While these aren’t the most recently released running shoes, they’re still some of our favorites from past winter running reviews and worthy of a mention.

Because the perfect shoe varies widely from person to person and depends on your preferences and winter weather conditions, we want to give you the complete rundown.

Our editors and testers have put countless miles on these runners. From icy Minnesota road running to wintry Colorado trail runs, these shoes have held up.

Altra Lone Peak 4 Low RSM — Men’s & Women’s

Altra Lone Peak 4 Low RSMHow do you make one of our favorite winter running shoes even better? Carefully!

When Altra released its fourth version of the ever-popular Lone Peak ($150), it kept the shoe relatively true to the original — minus one key component. Altra swapped out Polartec’s NeoShell outer with a welded eVent shell. The highly breathable fabric is overlaid with TPU bands laminated to the shoe’s vamp, giving it more protection without the weight.

Like a waterproof shell, the material doesn’t wet out and is reputably more breathable than GORE-TEX. After logging 100 miles in wet, sloppy, winter conditions, we’d have to agree. Our feet didn’t wet out from sweat, and our toes remained warm during an off-trail marathon slog across the snowy Owyhee desert in December.

Altra added a few new trims with the release of the 4.0: a pruned-down upper for more flexibility, thinner laces, and a new midsole foam for better rebound underfoot. The shoe is flexible and low to the ground, allowing your stride to quickly respond to uneven terrain, making this one of our preferred go-to shoes for winter trails.

The 4.0 is a low-top. And because the Lone Peak’s low profile puts you closer to the snow, we recommend you batten down on powder days. Snow troopers will want to invest in a gaiter; Altra offers one that locks snug over the laces and around the shoe.

Bottom line: Zero drop can be rough on the calves, but for those that have worked up to it, the Lone Peak 4.0 Low RSM is one of the most comfortable shoes on the list. The addition of eVent makes the Lone Peak 4.0 Low RSM the most storm-worthy and breathable shoe in the review.

  • Fit: Runs wide; otherwise, true to size
  • Weight: 10.9 ounces
  • Drop: Zero (25mm stack height)

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Brooks Ghost 13 GTX — Men’s & Women’s

Brooks Ghost 13 GTX

Snug, grippy, and surprisingly breathable for a waterproof option, the Brooks Ghost 12 provides an excellent option for middle-of-the-road runners. You won’t find the cushion or splay-friendly toebox that some of the competitors here offer. But in its place, you get a stable, reliable, waterproof running shoe with plenty of traction on the occasional ice patch.

It’s not the lightest on this list, but it’s still acceptably svelte — my size 13 weighed 13.4 ounces each (11.4 ounces for size 9/9.5). A road-running option, the lugs aren’t too aggressive, which allows predictable, even foot strike and solid grip.

Bottom line: Brooks’ 3D Fit Print upper with GORE-TEX membrane hugs the foot and provides terrific protection from snow and rain while still venting adequately.

  • Fit: Snug but true to size
  • Weight (per shoe): 11.4 ounces
  • Drop: 12 mm

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Inov-8 X-Talon G 235 — Men’s & Women’s

Inov-8 X-Talon G 235

There is no brand that understands slaying brown pow better than Inov-8. While Inov-8 has a stable of capable steeds for running the fells, we found the X-Talon ($170) an absolute joy in the slop.

The shoe fits like a slipper, inspiring supreme confidence at speed. And 8mm carbon-infused knuckle-lugs cleat the sole, chewing through slick ground like crampons.

Deviating from our list, it’s not waterproof, but it’s totally bombproof. The seamless ballistic nylon upper is wrapped by a thin rubber rand that stretches from the toe to the midfoot. A thin bootie tongue sits under linguini-thin laces to keep the mud from slipping inside the shoe.

Come October and November, this is the shoe we reach for when we want to slip out on wet trails before the sun sets. It’s superlight, the torsion is great, and the midsole is firm. There’s not a lot of cushion to it, so it’s best suited for 45- to 60-minute runs when you want to drop the hammer. And boy, does it deliver. These shoes can rail on swoopy trails.

Bottom Line: The G stands for Graphene, the durable carbon layer on the lugs. But it might as well stand for gravity. If you’re looking for inspiration to get out on those wet, muddy days, the X-Talon G is the most legal fun you can have on two feet.

  • Weight (per pair): 16.4 ounces (size 10)
  • Drop: 6 mm
  • Best for: Neutral runner with narrow feet; mud and soft surfaces

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How to Choose a Winter Running Shoe

Staring at a wall of shoes or endlessly browsing an online retailer can be overwhelming. We’ve broken down some helpful tips to find the right shoe.

Consider Where You Run

These days, manufacturers have dialed shoes for nearly every niche of running. This even applies to winter. A quick way to hone in on the right shoe is to identify where you run.

Winter road running shoes tend to be built off of a brands stalwart training shoe. Brands want to invest in a winner and a winter winner will be a shoe that is also a summer winner. The traction on these trainers will already be more beefy than a racing flat and are suitable for running on wet roads. But they’ve added a waterproof breathable membrane to keep dedicated runners on the road through winter on a familiar last. If you already run in Brooks or New Balance, their winterized road shoes will be a good bet for cold, wet conditions.

Winter trail running shoes have an aggressive lug pattern that bites into dirt, sand, and mud. But not all treads are the same. A blocky, cleat-like tread will shed mud in the Pacific Northwest but can feel clunky on hardpack found in the Southwest and can cause trips and falls.

Some brands, like Salomon and La Sportiva, offer shoes with integrated spikes. These are for runners who live regions prone to ice, like the North East or Columbia River Gorge.

Spikes can be wonderful on ice, but feel sketchy on rocky terrain and god-awful on the pavement. Another option is to buy aftermarket crampons. We’ve paired our running shoes Yaktrax and Black Diamond’s Distance Spike. These aren’t going to feel as stable as lugs embedded with carbide spikes, but they provide more flexibility in your winter quiver, pairing to a variety of shoes. We’ve found these lightweight crampons capable of crossing over into fast and light mountaineering junkets, too.

Best Winter Running Shoes

Trail shoes also have a more durable upper, a robust toe bumper, and a firmer sole or even a rock plate — all to protect the feet from underlying roots and rocks. Trail shoes with lower lugs can be a little more ‘runnable’ on roads, making them a suitable choice for snow-choked road runs.

All of the shoes on this list have a waterproof breathable membrane to keep melting snow and water from creeping in, and keeping the toes warm.

Like spikes, integrated gaiters are a fantastic addition and worth the cost for those who frequently run in deep, snowy conditions. They shed snow weight quickly and keep feet warmer and drier. But because they trap heat, they can quickly become uncomfortable on milder days. Like crampons, gaiters can be purchased aftermarket for $25-50.

FAQ

Break through the overwhelming number of options and get some guidance with the answers to frequently asked questions.

Which Shoes Should I Buy?

With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to choose the right trail shoes. Here are three things to consider as you shop:

  1. Set realistic running goals. If you dream of running a 100-miler one day but realistically will use the shoes for 5-mile training loops around your local park, buy shoes for the latter use first.
  2. Consider shoe width. For folks with wide feet, or those running very long distances, a wide forefoot can be a bonus that lets toes splay. The downside is that wider shoes are less precise, can be a little more clumsy, and won’t fit well on people with narrow feet.
  3. Test out the tongue. Does it fit comfortably? Will it keep rocks out of your shoe? Shoes with gusseted tongues help keep snow and debris from creeping into the shoe.

How Should Trail Running Shoes Fit?

Stack and Drop

Unless you’re running barefoot, every shoe has a stack. Measured in millimeters, the stack refers to how high the insole sits off the ground. Shoes with more cushion inherently have a higher stack. Furthermore, most shoes have a “drop” in stack height from the heel to the toe.

If you’re new to running, experts recommend a lower heel drop; it builds a wider range of motion and strength, which makes you a healthier runner. We also find lower stack keeps your center of gravity closer to the ground. This becomes even more important on unstable terrain, with snow covering hidden obstacles.

Flexibility

Flexibility is your friend on the trails. You need variability to match the variable terrain. Trail runners and those running in winter–where obstacles can be hidden under snow–will prefer a shoe with a firm outsole and less cushion but a firm toe box to push off of. Flexibility and torsion can help the foot adapt to the trail and objects obscured by snow. But too much flexibility can feel unstable. Without stability, the ankle can be exposed to rolling.

How to Choose the Best Trail-Running Shoes: A No-Bull Guide
How to Choose the Best Trail-Running Shoes: A No-Bull Guide

Check out our quick guide on how to buy and choose the best trail-running shoes for you. It's got lots of info, few words, and no marketing jargon. Read more…

How Long Do Running Shoes Last?

The life of a shoe depends on a variety of factors, including running style, weight, and how often they’re used. But in general, 300 to 500 miles is a good rule of thumb.

So if you run 10 miles per week, your shoes could last 8 months to a year. If you’re logging 20 miles per week, plan on replacing your running shoes every 4 to 6 months.

And if you see excessive wear patterns, holes, tears, or notice a decrease in footbed comfort, it’s probably time to grab a new pair of sneakers.

Durability aside, we typically don’t wear our winter shoes daily. Winter specific runnings shoes supplement to our running quiver, rotating into the cue as the weather calls for it. This increases the shelf life of our winter shoes and stretches our dollars out over several years of use.


Have a favorite winter running shoe we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.


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Steve Graepel
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Contributing Editor (and Gear Junkie Idaho Bureau Chief) Steve Graepel is allegedly a crook and a thief, conning his friends to steal away time from their families in pursuit of premeditated leisure, which typically involves a bike, a pack-raft, skis, running shoes, climbing rack, or all of the above.

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