The Best and Worst Trail Shoes of 2021

adidas Speed Ultra

I get to review and test a great deal of shoes and 2021 has been no different. Some shoes really stand out and get used all the time and others fade to a dark and lonely place in my shoe cupboard.

So, what has been the highlights and low points of 2021?

First and foremost, I need to clarify that I haven’t tested ‘every’ shoe that is out there to be tested, so, this is very much an opinion post. Importantly, what I have done is tested shoes from zero drop to 10mm drop and shoes with minimal to maximal cushioning.

For perspective, I am happy to run in shoes with varying drop as I really believe that not only is it good for the body, but I also believe that certain drops and better for certain distances and terrain. A good example being, if I were to be running longer, I’d prefer a higher drop, say 8mm. But if running shorter and faster, I’d be more than happy to be in a lower drop, say 4mm. The same applies for cushioning, I am happy with les cushioning for shorter distances and a little more cushioning for longer distances.

Outsole varies considerably and therefore when considering ‘the best’ one must caveat that the shoe is the best for a typical type of terrain and conditions. However, some shoes can be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and manage to do a little bit of everything.

I am a neutral runner, so, the shoes listed fit in that category. Regarding shoe width, I am fortunate that I can squeeze my feet in most shoes and I accept and am happy to have my toes a little cramped for a very specific shoe that needs to excel on technical terrain. I appreciate that for some people, that is not an option or a choice, so keep that in mind.

Read an in-depth article about How to Find Your Running Shoe Size and Fit.

Finally, you may well agree and disagree with my shoe choices below. Perfectly normal, gladly there are many, many shoes out in the marketplace with different drops, cushioning, fit, outsoles and so on.

THE BEST TRAIL SHOES

adidas Speed Ultra

This shoe has been a revelation in 2021. It has managed to encompass so many key elements that make a shoe stand out. They are light, responsive, fun to run in, offer a great fit, have a wider toe box and are cushioned. Designed in conjunction with Tom Evans, Adidas and Tom wanted a shoe that could excel at Western States. So, the shoe had to be good for 100-miles but did not require an aggressive outsole. The Continental outsole is almost road like and for some, potentially too minimal. However, the grip is superb and for trail running; superb. On dry and wet rock, the grip has never faltered, in mud grip is compromised. The Speed Ultra has been my ‘go-to’ shoe of 2021 and has been on many varied terrains and always provided a superb ride. They have even been an excellent road shoe. There are few downsides to the Speed Ultra, but the lack of a rock plate does mean that occasionally you can feel the ground beneath you a little more than desirable. Read the full review HERE.

Hoka One One Torrent 2

I was the first person to bring Hoka in to the uk, way back in 2009. I used them constantly for many years but in 2012 I defected. It has taken almost 10-years for me to lace up a pair of Hoka’s again and it was actually the adidas Speed Ultra that tempted me to try the Torrent 2. I was told by many that the Torrent 2 was the least cushioned and potentially most ‘normal’ type trail shoe that Hoka made. They were right. Out of the box the Torrent 2 has excelled, and they have been in a constant rotation with my Speed Ultra. The outsole is more aggressive than the Speed Ultra and therefore open a few more options when it comes to varied terrain. However, I will say that on wet rock the grip is bad. I wished Hoka had used Vibram MegaGrip instead of their own outsole. But if you stick with dry trail or even muddy trail, the Torrent 2 performs exceptionally well. Despite the stack height (still low for a Hoka) they give great ground feel and stability. The toe box has good space and the foot hold is superb. Read the full review HERE. I will make a note here that the Zinal was also a consideration. It has many Torrent 2 features but for me a firmer and harder ride. I preferred the Torrent 2 but you may well think the Zinal preferable.

THE BEST MOUNTAIN/ AGGRESSIVE SHOES

VJ Sport ULTRA

When you need grip, no other brand offers an outsole like VJ Sport. The soft and grippy butyl is just superb. Over the years I have constantly raved about their shoes, be them the iRock, XTRM or the MAXx. However, the one downside (for many) was a fit that was too narrow and not enough cushioning. Enter the Ultra. VJ listened and came up with a light mountain shoe that instantly felt like a VJ but with that wider toe box and additional cushioning. Many would never consider running UTMB or similar in a VJ MAXx but the Ultra now gives that option. You get the best of both worlds, cushioning and the best grip on the planet. I will say that the cushioning is not as plush as I would have maybe liked, however, they do bed in a become a little softer with use. Read the review HERE.

adidas Speed Pro SG

The soft-ground terrain that inov-8 excelled and dominated in has now been impacted upon by many brands offering their own incarnations of grippy and aggressive outsoles to tackle sloppy terrain. The VJ Sport iRock is without doubt a consideration when looking for an SG shoe. Constantly, one of the biggest complaints from many runners is that most SG shoes have narrow toe boxes. Step in the adidas Speed Pro SG. This shoe has a wide toe box, lightweight upper, cushioning and 7mm lugs for the muddiest and gnarliest terrain. The fit and feel is excellent and the grip superb. It’s not a shoe you’d want to spend all day in but if moving fast over technical, muddy and challenging terrain is your thing, this shoe is a great addition. Read the review HERE.

THE BEST RUNNING BOOTS

La Sportiva Cyklon

The La Sportiva Mutant has been a long-time favourite for many a trail runner and the Cyklon is very much a development of this shoe. It manages to combine many elements of classic La Sportiva and then push new ground with the addition of BOA. Designed to excel in mountain terrain, they are more than a shoe but not as much as boot. They fit this wonderful middle ground of combining shoe like feel and comfort but boot-like security. It has an aggressive outsole and some stability (not too much) to ensure mountain days pass without problem. The sock-liner fit, and the new BOA dynamic cage has provided me with arguably the greatest foot hold of any shoe I have ever tried. It is superb. All these plus points do come with a couple of downsides: A little extra weight and they retain warmth/ heat. The latter a good point in winter but less so in summer. Read the review HERE.

adidas Terrex Tech Pro

This is a late addition to my 2021 shoe line-up and what an addition! For many, this would just be too much and too specific, but for me with Norwegian winters, it’s a boot to put a smile on my face. It’s almost two shoes as there is an inner Agravic shoe inside the Tech Pro outer all fastened together by a zip and BOA fastening system. Comfort is superb, warmth is excellent, and the outsole has wonderful grip. There is a downside (for me) though… I really wish adidas had added winter studs to this boot so that they could handle ice. Had they done this, it would be the perfect winter boot. However, I do understand why they haven’t, usage becomes very restrictive with studs. As it stands, you have a boot that you can use all year and if required, add a micro crampon to tackle ice. Read the review HERE.

THE BEST WINTER SHOE

Asics Gel Fujisetsu 3 G-TX

I have tested a great deal of winter studded shoes in the last couple of years and VJ and Icebug have provided me with many great runs with excellent grip. However, there was always a compromise to be made until I got hold of the Asics Gel Fujisetsu 3 G-TX. This shoe has been a revelation… A Gore-Tex upper, wider toe box, cushioning and 14 studs in aggressive outsole to handle snow and more importantly ice with aplomb. They have been superb over short distance runs and recently a 6-hour outing in -10. Read the review HERE.

MY WORST SHOE OF 2021

inov-8 Trailfly G300 Max

Normally I would find it hard to pick a shoe to go here as today, shoe technology and development means that most brands make good shoes. It’s fair to say that me adding the Trailfly as the worst shoe will cause controversy as for some it has been hailed a revelation…! Not so for me. It’s a Frankenstein shoe that is a pure horror. They are heavy (mine over 380g!), lifeless, clumsy, and well, just plain awful. There are some positives which I tried to give credit to in my initial review, but the more I have used them, the more I dislike them. This shoe had the potential to be a more cushioned G270 with a higher drop. They are not even close! Even the Graphene outsole doesn’t feel as good? But one of my coaching clients uses them and loves them. I said in my review they would be a Marmite shoe and I don’t like Marmite. In fairness, if you are a bigger and heavier runner, the Trailfly may well offer a level of protection not found before. Read the review HERE.

CONCLUSION

The best and the worst? Fully accept that they are ‘my’ best and worst and you may well agree and completely disagree with my thoughts. Ultimately though, it may well introduce you to a potential new favourite shoe that you hadn’t considered before.

I have seen some brands stand still in the most recent 12-18 months, arguably over 2+ years when you consider how long it takes to develop a shoe. But adidas (never a leader in the trail world) has grabbed trail and mountain running by the horns and pushed forward with some great development and shoes with their Terrex brand.

Scarpa Spin 2

Another stand out has been Scarpa, a well-established mountain brand who with the influence of Marco De Gasperi has started to make some excellent trail/ mountain shoes, the Spin 2 almost making this list. I need to test the Ribelle!

Hoka One One have diversified from the max cushioning and while the Zinal didn’t make my list, it very nearly did and for those who do prefer more ‘cush’ between them and the ground, the Speedgoat (now 4) always gets rave reviews.

But what about Altra, Brooks, Salomon, Nike, Topo and more…

Well, the Nike Pegasus has been a favourite of mine in past years and it’s still a great shoe with a plethora of great features, especially comfort for long trail days. However, my choice was always the Wildhorse. But Nike always had to tweak and change it, we are now on version 7 I think?

Altra unfortunately just don’t do it for me. I know, I know… Some of you will be holding your head in your hands. But the zero drop and super-wide toe box is a no for me. However, I have many friends telling me I need to try the Olympus 4 or the Lone Peak 5.

Salomon have not been on my radar in 2021, I very much feel that as brand they stood still. They released a Speedcross 5 but it’s a Marmite shoe (for me) and the grip although aggressive has always been horrendous on wet rock. The previous incarnations also had arch support which I didn’t like. The Sense Ride 4 with 8mm drop is maybe worth a look?

All shoes were provided for free as test samples. The exception being Asics which were purchased. In addition, many shoes in 2021 were provided for testing that do not appear here.

adidas Terrex Speed Ultra

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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adidas Terrex Speed Ultra Long Term Review

I have just retired my adidas Terrex Speed Ultra shoes…. Looking at the photo above, you may well be thinking that this is going to be a harsh look at how the shoe has lasted long term! For perspective, please read my adidas Terrex Speed Ultra shoe review first.

Look different when new – adidas Terrex Speed Ultra

I received my Terrex Speed Ultra in February and now 4-months on and 834km later they have given up! A recent 5-day trip to the mountains of Jotunheimen in Norway and 168km of rocks, snow, ice, mud and harsh terrain pushed them to the limit and over. Even on the final day of 33km with the right upper torn, the shoes performed perfectly.

Recent fastpacking trip to Jotunheimen, Norway – Perspective on the terrain.

I am reluctant to retire them!

Without doubt, the Speed Ultra have not only been a highlight shoe of 2021, but they are a highlight shoe in my collection of run shoes, and trust me, I have many, many pairs.

Until the recent run trip, the Speed Ultra was holding up really well, the upper showed little deterioration and the Continental outsole, while showing wear on key strike points, was still good.

Outsole after 800+ km

Some may say that they want more life out of shoes than 800km. Not me, I am super happy with 800km and especially when the ride and feel is as good as it is in the Terrex Speed Ultra.

Terrex Speed Ultra in action

I have not found a shoe yet that comes close to the Terrex Speed Ultra that manages to combine grip, comfort, flexibility and pure enjoyment. No matter what terrain, this shoe has been awesome.

On road, they have excelled. Modelled on the Boston 9 road shoe, you can feel the adidas road shoe experience here, but, I would go as far to say that on road, I have preferred the Speed Ultra over the Boston. Alternating them, the Speed Ultra gave me more fun and more bounce – a real winner.

On trails, the Continental grip has been superb offering secure confidence on rocks, roots, and hard trail in the wet or dry. It’s not an aggressive outsole, so if you encounter lots of mud, there is a compromise to be made.

The toe box was wide allowing for toe splay but it did not compromise precision and this is no doubt due to how well the Speed Ultra holds the foot via the lacing and excellent fit. The 8mm drop is just superb for comfort, and the cushioning of 18/26 was perfect in managing long-term comfort with no loss for a feel for the ground.

The upper was extremely breathable and as such allowed feet to remain cool, allows water to disappear quickly, however, running through snow and water, I certainly had less insulation.

GOOD and BAD

GOOD

The Terrex Speed Ultra been a joy to use and without doubt are my favourite shoe. So much so that I have now ordered two pairs to replace the sadly retired test pair. Comfort, grip, great design and a shoe that makes you want to run longer, farther and faster.

BAD

After a complete smashing up, the upper has torn and the outsole has split. However, both these failures came at the shoes life expectancy end and on some of the most harsh terrain and conditions you can put a shoe through. I really have thrown everything at this shoe, plenty of road miles to wear down the Continental grip and then mud, snow, ice and rocks. In all honesty, I used the Speed Ultra for the last fastpack as I knew at the end of it I would be saying goodbye. While the upper and outsole tearing could be seen as bad, I see it as just the end of the shoes. However, had this come early, then without doubt I would be asking questions about life/ durability.

Conclusion

The adidas Terrex Speed Ultra is my shoe of 2021 so far and the shoe I want to use on a daily basis, irrespective of the conditions. Light, responsive, fun, fast and great grip. I want nothing more from a shoe and yes, they look pretty darn good too!

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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adidas Terrex Speed Ultra Shoe Review

I review a great deal of shoes. In the last 12-months alone, I have worked my way through over 20 different pairs and models. In all honesty, running shoes these days are generally all good. Yes, some are better than others but it’s all personal, what works for one, may not work for another. There are so many variables; drop, cushioning, support or the lack of it, toe box width, lacing, upper and I could go on.

Read about : How to find your running shoe size and fit

HERE

So, if the shoes are neutral, I am pretty much always able to run in the shoe irrespective of the toe box width and drop. Actually, I like switching drops and currently, I use 0 drop through to a very rare 12mm (which is. Winter stud) drop. In regard to toe box, if I am running on technical terrain, I much prefer a narrow/ precision fit which gives me an assured control, by contrast, when running longer and on less technical terrain, a wider toe box provides more toe splay and comfort.

I guess what I am saying, no one shoe does all things!

Recently, a couple of shoes have excited and the latest is the adidas Terrex Speed Ultra.

I first heard rumblings of this new shoe well over a year ago, good friend, Tom Evans and adidas Terrex athlete was involved in the design process and it was clear, via his results, that a fast, light and responsive trail running shoe was coming. A win at Tarawera in New Zealand and 3rd place at the iconic Western States set the stage. 

I have to say, I always love getting new shoes. Opening the box of the Terrex Speed Ultra was a real surprise, the colour way and look was really impressive.

Tom Evans

I messaged Tom, “I have got the Speed Ultra!”

“…they are 2 years in the making!! And one of the main reasons I joined Terrex! Hope you like them, I’m SO happy with how they turned out!” was the reply.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The colour way was an instant eye catcher (a black and white version is also available) with a mix yellow, greens, grey, black, white and a flash of pink. adidas list the colour as, Cloud White / Solar Yellow / Matte Silver.

Cloud White / Crystal White / Core Black

On the side is a ‘240’ which signifies the weight (typically for a UK8.5) and trust me, these are the lightest most ‘floaty’ trail running shoes I have had the pleasure to hold. Incredible!

The upper is seamless and like a fine sieve used in a Michelin star restaurant with minimalist overlay at the toe, the side and the heel. The drop is stated in the side, 8mm.

Inside the shoe, there is another layer which adds more structure, it’s super thin and its pattern can be seen from the outside of the shoe, particularly at the front where you see lines that move around to the side of the shoe.

The cushioning is solid at the front and as you move to the rear of the shoe, you get to see the ‘bubble’ like boost. ‘Lightstrike’ is written in the cushioning. Lightsrike provides energy return, cushions every stride and provides comfort over the long-haul of an ultra. Cushioning is 18mm at the front and 26mm rear – this is confirmed on the outsole along with the 2.5mm lugs.

The heel area is well cushioned, and the tongue is minimalist with holes all over to reduce weight and add breathability. It’s not a sock liner fit but it is attached at the sides which provides a more secure hold of the foot and instep.

Turning the shoe over, the outsole confirms the shoes intended use – hard, dry and fast trails. The Continental rubber has multi-directional 2.5mm lugs and in the middle, there is a cutaway for the ‘Torsion System’ which provides a thermoplastic arch bridging the heel and the forefoot assisting them to move independently and adapt to various surfaces.

IN USE

It’s just a wow! It’s been a long time that I have pulled on a shoe, run 12-miles off the bat and not taken the smile off my face because the footwear is just bouncing me and pulling me along and tempting me to run at a pace that I can’t maintain.

The Terrex Speed Ultra is quite simply stunning!

Fitting true to size, (I use EU44 272g) slipping the shoe on the toe box is that wonderful middle ground of having enough width to allow toe splay, but not so wide that you don’t have precision or control. Now of course, how the shoe fits does depend on the individual, but based on all my shoe reviews, the Speed Ultra is a wonderful middle ground.

Foot hold is superb, the thin tongue is padded enough for comfort but still allows for a great tight fit. The 6 eyelets allow for great lacing and hold particularly on the navicular bone. There are two ‘additional’ eyelets at the front to adjust lacing and at the top, there are the two additional eyelets that would allow lock-lacing or similar. The upper is extremely breathable.

The cushioning is immediately noticeable and although neutral, there does feel just a hint of support under the arch. It’s minimal! The Speed Ultra is not soft and squidgy, they somehow manage to balance soft and firm. Maybe this is the mix of boost and Lightstrike? The 18/26 cushioning is superb and still gives feel for the ground.

The shoe needed no bedding in, from the off they were comfortable and just felt superb. They forced me or influenced me to run with good technique and constantly they enticed me to go faster. It has been a long, long time that I have had a shoe that made me want to open up the throttle. Hitting the ground, the cushioning was firm but equally soft enough to propel me forward… Had I been told that this shoe had a super thin carbon plate inside, I would not have been surprised. The heritage of adidas making road shoes can be felt here in the Speed Ultra. After all, hard trail and single-track is very similar to road. The difference primarily comes with the outsole.

The outsole is by Continental and they make great rubber which really provides a secure grip in wet or dry. The 2.5mm lugs quite simply are for hard and dry trail, this is NOT a muddy trail shoe. As Tom Evans has shown, hard, fast and long ultras such as Western States are the terrain for the Speed Ultra. This shoe would be amazing for many US trails.

Road or hard trail, the Speed Ultra switches between the two seamlessly and in all honesty, if I was running a road race, the Speed Ultra would be my shoe. It’s that good! The Continental outsole also provides a little more security and grip. Now of course, I am not ‘competing’ for a win in a road race, so, the marginal gains from a specific road shoe may well prove a better choice. Tom Evans for example, after all he did run 63:14 for a half-marathon and I am sure he used a specific road shoe.

On trail, if it’s hard, rocky, tree routes or single-track, the Speed Ultra performs. The shoes fly along managing to provide precision and comfort all in a great package. The 8mm drop and cushioning provide all the comfort needed for a long day, hence the ‘ultra’ in the shoe title.

Ultimately, the Speed Ultra is one of the best shoes I have used in a long time.

SUMMARY

This is a glowing review. To clarify, the shoes were provided to test, as are all the shoes that I review. But this is not a paid review.

The Speed Ultra is one of the most exciting shoes I have used for some time. They put a smile on my face, and they tempted me to run longer.

Comfortable, secure and pleasure to wear. The Speed Ultra is going to be on my feet for any dry trail or road run for some time. On trail, the drop and comfort are perfect be that on gravel, path, hard pack single-track, rock or tree roots; wet or dry. However, this is not a shoe for mud or sloppy terrain… The outsole is not up to the job of gripping in soft stuff and for me, the cushioning would have me to high off the ground, I prefer to be lower and feeling the terrain when it is more challenging. Not a criticism of the shoe, just a clarification of how the Speed Ultra should be used.

*****

To clarify, the shoes were provided to test, as are all the shoes that I review. But this is not a paid review.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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