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Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip
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(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip on 04/06/2014 13:49:23 MDT Print View

It’s time for my wife and me to replace our current trail runners, and would sincerely appreciate your recommendations for shoes you think would work well for us.

I’m 6 ft tall 175 lbs with an 11 size foot, she 5 ft 6 130 lbs with a 7 size foot. While we’re both normal width, we find many shoes cut too narrow, especially in the toe box (usually just for fashion), to allow room for foot swelling on higher mileage days.

We both have regular width feet, however, I have a bit of a tailor’s bunion on the outside of each foot, which can touch the side of a shoe if the midfoot is cut too narrow.

We put a lot of regular weekly miles on our shoes, typically hiking 3 miles/day on weekdays on hilly local trails, and 8-15 mile hikes on weekends.

We prefer shoes with a nylon rock plate underfoot, good cushioning and toe bumper, so we’re not fans of super minimalist shoes through which we can feel every root and rock and which wear out quickly.

My wife and I have put a lot of miles on our current shoe, the Saucony Xodus 3.0, which has held up extremely well to use (only failure points are tears in the forefoot mesh and cushioning around the ankle opening which has worn away). At 4mm drop it was our first low drop shoe, which we really loved and which eliminated issues we felt with higher drop shoes, though think that a zero drop shoe isn’t for us. While the Xodus has excellent cushioning, you still feel low to the ground and very sure-footed. Probably 4mm drop is ideal for us, max 8mm. Before this we used traditional 12mm drop trail shoes from Montrail, New Balance and Salomon. We found the Xodus 3.0 ran small, so our shoes are 1 ½ sizes above our foot size – me 12 ½, she 8 ½ (in most hiking/running shoes we typically wear at least a size larger).

My only issue with the Xodus 3.0 is that the midfoot is cut just narrow enough that with enough foot swelling the midfoot is cut a bit too close so that it can be a problem with my tailor’s bunion. In general the shoe would be perfect for me with just a tad more midfoot room and toe box. It’s possible that the current Xodus 4.0 would work well if I order it in a size 13 instead of my current 12 ½. Will try it on, but looking for other shoes to try as well.

Richard Reno
(scubahhh) - M

Locale: White Mountains, mostly.
Vasque Pendulum? on 04/06/2014 14:42:12 MDT Print View

I've been happy with my 2 pairs. 4 mm. drop, nice wide toe box, and the uppers outlast the soles. I'm a big guy (6'4", 220#) and get close to 500 miles in the NH White Mountains, which are notoriously tough on shoes. My only issue has been that the insoles don't last long; I just replaced them whe. The fell apart with leftover insoles from my Viobarefoot every-day shoes.

f b
(xxtraloud) - F
. on 04/06/2014 15:05:46 MDT Print View

sounds like you should check out peral izumi and altra.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip on 04/06/2014 15:30:06 MDT Print View


Measure your foot width properly! (Brannock Device)


Wes Kline
(weskline) - F

Locale: Adirondacks
Scarpa Spark on 04/06/2014 16:06:55 MDT Print View

I love my size 48 Scarpa Sparks. I have a wide foot, and enjoy a minimal drop shoe.

I also really liked the fit of the Altra Lone Peak, but in the wet and muddy Adirondacks they slipped all over the place, and were actually quite dangerous. In a dryer climate I'm sure they would be a better choice.

Peter Bakwin
(pbakwin) - F
Sportiva Helios on 04/06/2014 17:22:57 MDT Print View

Try the Helios. Minimal but not too. 4mm drop, rock plate, great traction, super durable.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Re: Re: Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip on 04/06/2014 20:09:54 MDT Print View

Roger, you should know after how closely I followed your writing on shoe fitting that I've always measured with a Brannock device at the end of the day preferably after hiking : )

I've always measured Normal Width with a Brannock device, with foot length about 11 1/4 by end of the day. Like you, I feel most shoe manufacturers put fashion ahead of function and simply don't make the forefoot generous enough to allow for natural foot growth/swelling after hours and days of walking under loads.

Below's a photo of my lovely flippers - you'll see a bit of a tailor's bunion on the outside of my feet where the sock pattern changes from darker to lighter vertical lines. When the midfoot of a shoe narrows too much or too early from the forefoot, the bunion can touch the side of the shoe. So it's less about overall width and more about how soon the shoe narrows from the forefoot.EJ feet

Edited by mountainwalker on 04/06/2014 20:11:14 MDT.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Vasque Pendulum, La Sportiva Helios & Raptor, Scarpa Spark, Altra - any others? on 04/06/2014 20:13:56 MDT Print View

Thanks Richard - I wore some Vasques a few years back and will check out the Pendulum - nice to know they have a 4mm drop model. How much larger than your foot size did you buy them? Insoles on the Xodus have lasted very well. Not a big deal that the Pendulum insoles didn't last beyond 500 miles - you can replace them pretty easily. How's the traction and the durability of the sole? I've done hut to hut trips in the Whites and those trails do chew up shoes [and knees].

Thanks Peter, the Helios looks in the ballpark with their 4mm drop - will check them out. How much larger than your foot size did you buy them? How's the traction and durability of the sole? In the past I thought La Sportiva made a lot of shoes with narrow toe boxes and forefoot. I'm not a fan of La Sportiva SCREAMING loud colors, partly for practical reasons - when traveling it's nice to be able to use some trail runners as casual walking shoes so you don't have to bring another pair of shoes.

Phil at Sectionhiker and others have had good things to say about the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, 8mm drop. Can anyone comment on the fit? Get them how many sizes up from foot size?

Thanks Wes, I'll check out the Scarpa Spark. 6mm drop. How's the durability of the sole? How much larger than your foot size did you buy them?

I agree about the Altras grip - I'll add that I don't think zero drop will work well for us and both my wife and I found the thick mountain logo on the side of the Altra Lone Peak to press in uncomfortably - and according to Zombierunner, one of our local trail running shops, this has been a common complaint.

Fb, which Pearl Izumi model/s?

Edited by mountainwalker on 04/06/2014 21:03:23 MDT.

Peter Bakwin
(pbakwin) - F
Helios on 04/06/2014 21:46:01 MDT Print View

I find the Helios fits true to size. Excellent outsole traction & durability. The upper is also durable. The wavy outsole pattern provides good cushion while remaining very light (8oz in size 9). Toe box seems roomier than some Sportiva models, but obviously you'd need to try them. This has been my favorite trail running shoe for the last 2 years.

Bruce LaBelle
(blabelle) - F - MLife

Locale: Davis, CA or on an adventure
Helios on 04/06/2014 22:20:03 MDT Print View

I agree on the Helios. I've used them for ultras, and for fast packing where I knew there would be lots of talus or wet rock. They have a significantly wider toe box than a shoe like the Vertical K, for example.

Anton Solovyev
(solovam) - F

Locale: Colorado, Utah
+1 on Sparks on 04/06/2014 22:53:11 MDT Print View

+1 on Scarpa Spark. I have wide feet and high arches. I first purchased Sparks for hiking. Now I have switched my running to them as well. I run 4-5 miles 5 days a week, no exceptions, mostly on hard surfaces.

I have climbed Elephant Butte in Arches NP in them, there are low fifth class moves on slickrock on the route. Sparks held fine on high angle sandstone. Not a climbing shoe, but never the less.

Christopher Gilmore
(chrisjgilmore) - F - MLife

Locale: New Almaden
Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip on 04/06/2014 23:06:47 MDT Print View

I use a Asics GT2000 II and love it i have adopted it for my Crossift shoe now too.

It works great and works well for both. Amazing grip in the hills on uneven surfaces and loose dirt and gravel.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
NIke terra kiger/wildhorse on 04/06/2014 23:47:54 MDT Print View

I'd agree that the helios and the sparks are both good bets based on your description. I'd add the Nike Terra Kiger and Zoom Wildhorse (similar shoes) to your list as well. The terra kiger is probably the most anatomical fit that I've found (for my foot). Its cushy and light with good rock protection (not a plate though). Its an extremely smooth ride and the rounded heel works well for walking where you're more likely to heel strike more often.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip on 04/07/2014 05:40:20 MDT Print View

I find it amazing what some people consider to be a "wide toe box". Outside of Altra (whose models post sell-out have unnecessary arch support) and maybe the Nike, nothing mentioned thus far would qualify IMO. You might like the Inov-8 TrailRoc. I have the 235 (zero drop) but you might try the 245 or 255. They don't have a wide toe box IMO, but it's stretchy with no stiff overlays which allows it to work ok.

This is a wide (proper?) toe box:

Edited by simplespirit on 04/07/2014 05:46:02 MDT.

Elena Lee
(lenchik101) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest (USA)
Nike on 04/08/2014 11:31:48 MDT Print View

I have high arch/wide feet "syndrome" and I've been using Nike because of their wide toebox and lightweight materials. Now I use Nike Women's Nike Zoom Wildhorse Trail Running Shoe.

-I believe it's 2.2 mm drop
-good cushion
-good grip

I do want to add that I usually take the inserts out.

Edited by lenchik101 on 04/08/2014 11:33:54 MDT.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: NoCo
Re: Re: Trail Runner Recommendations: generous toe box, midfoot not too narrow, preferably low drop, good cushion and grip on 04/08/2014 15:49:49 MDT Print View

"I find it amazing what some people consider to be a "wide toe box". "

Exactly. I've never seen a pair of vasques that I consider having a wide toe box!

I have one pair of brooks that are wide, else I go with a few nikes...not the best trail runners, but they have a wide toe box at least.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Nike Terra Kiger and Zoom Wildhorse Re: Trail Runner Recommendations on 04/08/2014 23:06:43 MDT Print View

Thanks Chris and Michael, agreed.

Michael, which Nikes do you use, and why don't you think they make great trail runners? Even though the two Nike shoes recommended by the Nike rep below don't have a rock plate, he said their outsoles were protective enough.

Thanks Elena, the Nike rep who replied to my email agreed with you. Don't think I've ever received such a detailed answer from a shoe company before. Sharing for everyone's benefit below. Do you find the outsole protective even though it doesn't have a nylon rock plate, and how's the traction in dry and wet weather?


Hello EJ,

My name is Dave and I am a Nike Running Pro. We currently offer two Nike Running shoes that are trail specific and I would be glad to give you the run down on both of these items. Let's dive right in. These shoes are the Nike Zoom Wildhorse (men's - women's - and the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger (men's - women's - . In addition, both of these shoes share many commonalities. For instance, both models have a 4 millimeter offset, a rounded heel, and aggressive lugs on the outsole. In concert with this, both have Zoom Units built into the midsole for a highly cushioned ride. However, the Nike Zoom Wildhorse only has one Zoom Unit under the heel, where the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger boasts two Zoom Units under the heel and forefoot respectively.

Moving on, both models are extremely lightweight, fall into the neutral category, and fit true to size. I believe that either of these shoes would be an excellent fit for you and your wife based on your description of prerequisites. Ultimately, I would make the final decision between these two models based on your desired level of cushioning. For my taste, I prefer the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger and have run a full marathon in these shoes in complete comfort and happiness. However, while neither of these shoes feature a nylon rockplate, our outsole is very rugged and up any terrain without sacrificing premium impact absorption. EJ, don't hesitate to reply to this email or even call me directly if I can be of further assistance to you. My direct line is 1-877-645-3500 ext 189224. I am out of the office on Thursday and Friday, but the Nike Running Pro team is available seven days a week between 8 and 5 PST. Enjoy your running and stay in touch.

Best regards,

Nike Pro Services

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Saucony Peregrine; @Chris re Altra Re: Trail Runner Recommendations on 04/08/2014 23:13:27 MDT Print View

Anyone wear the Peregrine? While a past model I checked out didn't have one, the current model has a nylon rock plate. 4mm drop and seems like good cushioning.

Chris, how have the Altra models changed? I just took a Spanish friend visiting from Dubai who was suffering from foot issues to Zombierunner, our local trail running shop, and the Altra lone Peak seemed to be just as wide as ever - he bought them as walking shoes.

We adjusted easily to 4mm drop shoes from 12mm, but I think zero drop shoes might not feel good climbing hills and might be too different from our work shoes (even though we try to stick with shoes with very low heels).

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
More models mentioned by Zombierunner; Shoe spreadsheet Re: Trail Runner Recommendations on 04/08/2014 23:29:28 MDT Print View

These are some models the guys at Zombierunner mentioned:

Newton Boco 2mm drop
Topo MT 2mm drop (from ex-CEO of Vibram)
Merrell All Out Rush - 6mm drop
Brooks Pure Grit 4mm (though said they were narrow)
Asics Fuji Racer (though said they were narrow toe box)
Salomon Sense Pro 6mm Rock Plate

While some of the shoes didn't have the widest toe box they had more forgiving and stretchy material on the sides (which might be less durable than harder material).

Might be very helpful to put together a shoe spreadsheet like John Abela's pack and shelter spreadsheets as shoe recommendation questions come up a lot.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Saucony Peregrine; @Chris re Altra Re: Trail Runner Recommendations on 04/09/2014 09:28:54 MDT Print View

Chris, how have the Altra models changed?

My original Instinct (2 pairs) had a flat midsole (no arch). All of the models I tried post sellout (2011) had added an arch (could be felt pretty easily by running your fingers across the interior of the shoe) which became even more pronounced with the insole in. It caused issues for me, but may be of no consequence to others. I don't like a lot of unnecessary support.