Best Zero Drop Trail Running Shoes (Altra, Xero, Inov-8, Topo, Merrell)

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Today, we’re going to go through some of the best zero drop trail running shoes.

The big thing about zero-drop running shoes is they align the ball of your foot evenly with your heel.

These shoes kind of mimic more of your natural bare foot. It’s a substantial variation from your traditional shoe design because you don’t have that extra height difference.

Zero drop advocates strongly believe that when you elevate the heel, it does throw off the alignment of your spine and it forces that unnatural heel strike. This is believed to cause knee, ankle, hip, and lower back issues.

Related: Best Running Shoes for People with Bad Ankles

Without further ado, let’s dive right into it…

Comparison of the best 4 zero-drop trail shoes

Altra Superior

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Altra Lone Peak

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Neutral pronation Neutral pronation
High arch High arch
Very flexible Moderately flexible
Altra Quantic foam midsole A-Bound & EVA midsole
MaxTrac rubber outsole MaxTrac rubber outsole
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Altra Olympus

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Altra King

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Neutral pronation
Neutral pronation
High arch High arch
Moderately flexible Flexible
Midsole & GuideRails
Altra EGO midsole
Vibram Mega Grip outsole
Vibram MegaGrip Litebase outsole
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Related: Best Hiking Boots for Flat Feet

Best Zero Drop Trail Running Shoes

Altra Superior 4.0

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For those of you who are Altra fans and have worn the Superior, you kind of understand the evolution of the shoe over the last several years.

The Superior 4.0’s are responsive so they give bouncy energy back on each step, but they do so with a lightweight low profile.

They provide traction on any surface and are great for training or on race day for anything from a 5k to ultra-marathons.

They’ve been my go-to trail shoes for the past few years and I’m excited to dissect each of the features.

There are a couple of design elements that are consistent across Altra’s line and they’re what initially drew me to the brand.

Related: 18 Things To Expect When You’re Trail-ing.. 

Zero Drop

They have a zero-drop platform which I’m sure you’re familiar with. So, the height of the heel and the height of the forefoot are the same.

This is Altra’s lowest profile shoe with a 21-millimeter stack height. Most running shoes have a higher heel than the forefoot, but Altra feels strongly that zero drop encourages a natural stride.

It doesn’t elevate your heel or manipulate your foot position. This is meant to promote better alignment and posture while running, which lessens the impact of each step.

This is also their lightest shoe and lightest Superior. The Superior is super light and super fast with a lot of sensitivity and ground feel.

If you’ve never worn zero drop running shoes, be sure to slowly add these into your routine to get used to them.

Roomy Toe Box

The foot-shaped toe box is also different than the aggressive taper of most running shoes on the market.

The extra room allows your toes to splay naturally and it means your big toe is not pinched towards the front of the shoe.

This broader cut reduces the risks of bunions, hammertoes, and Plantar Fasciitis. For me, it’s just more comfortable especially after many miles on the trail.

Related: Best Trail Running Shoes for Bunions

Upper

The upper is breathable and it vents and dries quickly. A single panel of fabric covers both the instep and the tongue so it’s a seamless transition. That reduces the number of seams and so there’s less of a chance of hot spots and blisters. It also gives it a better fit around the midfoot.

There are durable overlays that give support to cradle your foot and the gaiter trap integrates with Altra’s gaiters, which are sold separately.

The Superior has a better heel fit overall in the back. So, it is going to fit better back to front than probably any of the other shoes that they have in their line.

Related: Running Shoe Heel Drop Chart

Midsole

The Altra Quantic midsole gives moderate cushioning and a responsive bounce.

The stone guard reduces stone bruising. So, keep it in to protect your feet when running on rocky terrain. But if the conditions don’t call for it, remove it to save weight.

Again, the Superior has a removable rock plate so you can increase ground feel even more by taking that out.

Outsole

The MaxTrac sticky rubber outsole is durable and designed for all types of terrain while the trail claw lugs dig into dirt and mud for confident traction.

These are going to be the perfect trail shoes because you’re going to like the comfortable cushioning underfoot especially if you prefer lighter weight more minimal shoes.

These strike a balance and they fit true to size.

Overall, the Superior 4.0’s are hands down Altra’s best trail running shoes they’ve ever made. I feel like it is a great representation of what they’re trying to do in their line.

Related: Great Hiking Boots For Ankle Support

Altra Lone Peak 4.5

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This is Altra’s signature off-road running shoe and it’s become a mainstay in the trail running community over the last 10 years.

The Lone Peak is adored by a wide range of runners and has become their go-to trail running shoe over the past years.

Related: 7 Great Hiking Trails To Consider (+ 12 Safety Tips For Successful Hikes)

Roomy Toe Box

What attracts lots of runners to Altra is the foot-shaped toe box. This design offers a lot of room for your toe to splay and doesn’t cramp your toe or manipulate them to taper in.

Instead, the extra room lets your big toe and your little toes remain straight. That reduces the risk of developing painful foot problems like bunions, hammertoes, and Plantar Fasciitis.

If your feet are wide just before the toes, this bit of extra room is a blessing, especially during really long outings.

Zero Drop

The other standard feature of the Lone Peak is the zero-drop platform of course. So, the stack height of the heel and the forefoot are identical, which means your feet aren’t pushed forward or positioned unnaturally.

This is intended to promote better alignment and just let your feet do what they’re naturally designed to do.

The stack height is 25mm from the heel to the forefoot for a more natural running posture.

Upper

The upper is breathable but durable. The mesh wicks and dries quickly if it gets wet, but it’s meant to keep dust and dirt out. The tongue is connected all the way up to keep out debris.

The lacing is really streamlined and lets you make easy adjustments.

If you like wearing gaiters, Altra’s gaiters attach to the loop at the end of the laces into the tab in the back for a perfect fit.

The toe cap in the front protects against kicked rocks and there’s a flexible heel counter in the back.

Midsole

The midsole is made of different densities of EVA foam to cushion and

The moderately cushioned midsole is constructed of different densities of EVA foam, which helps to reduce the impact of each step, reduce fatigue, and deliver all-day comfort.

Stone Guard

There’s also an integrated stone guard that lessens the underfoot impact of rocks and roots.

The stone guard mimics the skeletal structure of a foot. That means it flexes with you rather than being boardy and stiff.

So, the Lone Peak protects your feet from stone bruising while giving the dynamic flexibility you need to move fast on the trail.

Outsole

Anticipating varied terrain and conditions, the shoe’s MaxTrac rubber outsole uses a multi-directional pattern to guarantee traction and keep you upright regardless of the weather or what you find waiting for you on the trail.

The trail claw pattern positions the lugs right underneath of your metatarsal heads for confident toe-off in all conditions.

Overall, the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 has a bit of everything. There’s a lot of cushioning, innovative traction underfoot, and a surprisingly responsive ride.

This shoe isn’t just one of my favorites. Go out on a backcountry run, look around at any trail race and you’ll see that the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 is the weapon of choice for many runners. Pick up yours and see why.

Altra Olympus 4.0

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This is a beast of a trail shoe with a lot of cushioning and great traction.

The Olympus is Altra’s max cushioned shoe. It’s a 33mm stack height. They have improved and updated so much about this shoe.

If you understand the way cushioning works, it’s not great for your joints, but it’s very protective for your feet.

So, anybody who wants a lot of cushioning for whatever reason trying to protect their feet, this is going to be a great option for them.

The Olympus 4 is all-new from top to bottom. This is by far the best Olympus Altra has ever built. It’s 33 millimeters thick from heel to toe and it’s 11 ounces.

Midsole

The midsole has the GuideRail for a little bit of additional support. The GuideRail is there when you need it and does not interfere with your gait when you don’t need it, which is a cool feature to have.

Related: 10 Trail Running Essentials for Safe Mountain / Backcountry Adventures

Outsole

The Olympus has a great outsole that is really what separates the Olympus.

The Vibram Mega Grip is in areas where you need it. There’s also some exposed EVA, but the Vibram Mega Grip is soft and flexible.

They have split the shoe in half basically to give it independent suspension. The lugs are able to work independent of each other.

So, if a lug hits a rock, only that one moves in and this prevents any pivoting of the shoe, throwing you, or messing up your ride as much.

There’s a wide stable base which also combines with the way that they put the midsole around the upper. This means you’re less likely to roll an ankle thanks to its wide and stable platform.

Upper

There’s an engineered mesh upper that is really breathable, lightweight, and it drains quickly. The upper is highly abrasion-resistant and reinforced in all the right places for durability.

It’s got a nice protective toe cap on it with drain holes built-in so that every time you take a step, any water that’s coming to the shoe can find its way out.

Then, of course, there’s the Altra gaiter trap that they put on all of their trail shoes as well.

All in all, the Altra Olympus 4 is gnarly, it is tough, it is durable, and it is incredibly lightweight for all the cushioning and lugs it has. It is going to be a beast when you’re going long and far on the trails.

Altra King MT 2

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The King MT 2 is the king of the mud. It is made to handle any of those nasty and gnarly days out there on the mountain.

Altra like to call it the off-trail trail shoe. The King MT 2 really excels and it does great on the trail, but it also does great off the trail.

It’s great for scree scrambling, peak bagging, and particularly mud. In fact, this shoe is fantastic for the Spartan races. The King MT really excels at any of the mud runs and any of those type of things.

Outsole

If we start with the grip end of things, the King has got a Vibram sole. It’s their Mega Grip material which is just staggering in wet and dry and on rocks.

The Vibram Mega Grip is a premium outsole and with the light base, they were able to make it 40% thinner and 25% lighter weight than the previous King.

Midsole

Like all Altra shoes, the King does have their balanced cushioned Altra Ego midsole so you’re going to be level and you’re going to land underneath your body.

Altra Ego is Altra’s premium midsole that provides a lot of energy return and durability.

Stone Guard

They also have what they call a stone guard. It’s not really a rock plate and it’s not as good at blocking bigger rocks coming through and pounding your feet, but it does go a little bit of a way to stopping some of the sharper rocks coming through and hurting your feet if you’re out running with that kind of thing.

There’s also quite a lot of drainage throughout the toe and in the midsole to help the shoe drain quite quickly, which is great.

Upper

On the upper, they’ve got a very lightweight material that dries very quickly. It’s also very wicking and it helps take sweat away when the shoes dry.

They’ve also reinforced the King MT 2 compared to the older King MT with a kind of this plastic crisscross in some key areas just to give it a bit more strength.

The foot-shaped toe box allows those toes to be able to splay, relax, attenuate shock, and stabilize and balance the shoe.

Like all Altra trail shoes, the King MT 2 does have the gaiter trap so you’re able to put a gaiter over the top of your foot to keep rocks, dust, and debris out of the shoe. It does have the little clip right at the very front.

There’s a one-directional high friction liner at the back of the heel to keep that foot in place and locked. It is absolutely fantastic in the way this shoe is able to hold your foot in place and still give you the performance you need out in the mud.

Velcro Strap

The King has a Velcro strap going over the top, which you don’t see on many trail running shoes. The idea is that it keeps things tidy from your laces so your tied laces don’t flail about.

So, with those mud runs and your peak bagging and things like that, the Velcro strap on the upper is made so that rather when you get to the top of the mountain, you can tighten up the shoe without having to relace. It’s a very quick way to really snug up that foot.

Altra has moved this Velcro strap just a little bit further in front of the foot and angled back so it’ll cinch that heel down even faster.

I think the idea generally for the Altra King MT 2 is that it’s for people who want a shoe that’s going to drain quite quickly and that’s very lightweight with absolutely tons of grip.

Also, if you have wider feet and you’re looking for super grip and control on a speedier trail run, these are really good shoes.

If you’re going to run further or spend all day on your feet, then I would suggest you look at something different with a bit more cushioning like the Lone Peak.

Inov-8 TerraUltra G 270

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Inov-8 claims that this shoe has the world’s toughest grip.

Inov-8 took their already popular G 260 model and they made it better. The G 270 is really similar, but there’s a couple of key changes.

Most of you are familiar with Inov-8 from obstacle racing and I need to tell you the TerraUltra G 270 is not an obstacle racing shoe. This is a trail running shoe and if you need it, you can wear it on the roads.

This is an everyday trail shoe which works for most of your trail hikes and trail runs.

Upper

In the previous version, they got something called XterraFit, but on this one, they moved to something called AdapterFit, which they say swells and breathes well when you run, which when you’re running long distance, of course, you know you need a little bit of that extra room.

Inov-8 also improved the mesh on the upper, which makes it more overall comfortable.

Wide Toe Box

First of all, the G 270 is roomy and it fits even wider feet perfectly. Also, it is indestructible and there are fewer trail running shoes that are as tough and durable as these.

I’ve always worn OCR shoes from Inov-8 and I didn’t know they made a nice wide toe box for these guys.

Lots of runners have always gone up a half a size with every one of their shoes and they still got that kind of narrow Salomon feel.

However, the G 270 is nice and wide and comfy that even runners with wide feet can wear it true to size.

Midsole

The midsole is called the PowerFlow Max. In addition to the 3-millimeter stack height, this makes the shoes, more balanced, more forgiving, more comfortable, and even longer-lasting.

Insole

Inov-8 have changed to something they call Boomerang insole, which they say gives you 40% more something or other.

They might be making these names and statistics up, but I think the TerraUltra G 270 is a super comfy shoe.

Outsole

They also changed the lug pattern a little bit and improved the use of the Graphene Grip on the bottom of these shoes. This improves the grip, especially in wet conditions.

The graphene-enhanced rubber and the Kevlar fibers that are embedded into the chute make it even tougher.

The shoe is pretty lightweight, it’s got 4-millimeter lugs, and it’s best suited for paths or harder rocky trails.

Zero Drop

Since it is part of this article, the G 270 is a zero drop shoe, which means the stack height is the same throughout the shoe.

Like all zero-drop trail running shoes, it does certainly promote a more natural foot movement and enhance ground feel.

However, zero drop is not for everyone. If you’re new to a zero-drop shoe, it’s important if you build up your distance slowly that you give your feet and your body a chance to adapt to the change in order to avoid any issues.

Also, the G 270 is really indestructible. From another perspective, a shoe that lasts longer is better for the environment.

Although this isn’t a cheap running shoe, you get what you pay for and you’re going to find that you’re able to wear this shoe for a lot longer than your typical running shoe.

Last but not least, the G 270 is one of the best road-to-trail running shoes.

Topo Athletic Runventure 3

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The Runventure 3 is a great zero-drop platform from Topo. Topo have some other trail shoes that have a little more cushioning, but this is one of their lower platforms in the trail category.

The Runventure 3 is pretty lightweight for a good all-purpose trail shoe.

Outsole

The first thing that you’ll notice that’s an upgrade over the old Runventure 2 is they now have a Vibram sole on the bottom.

That Vibram outsole has very nice spacing through the lugs for good snow and mud release.

You’ll also notice all of the trailing edges on the forefoot lugs are nice and sharp for good uphill traction, which is the same thing for the leading edges on the back good.

So, there are good sharp edges and you’ve got good traction going downhill.

When you’re running fast on mountains or any technical terrain, it’s really important to have a rubber that you trust and that’s going to stick to the rocks and can go through mud and all kinds of conditions.

Rock Plate

This shoe carries an ESS rock plate. The rock plate is there just to protect you against stones and rocks on the trail so you don’t get any stone bruising up in the forefoot area.

They also have some flex grooves there so that that rock plate doesn’t fight you when you’re going uphill.

Footbed

The Runventure 3 has an Ortholite foam footbed on the inside, which is also an upgrade over the original.

Upper

Like all of their trail running shoes, this shoe features a fully gusseted tongue. The upper mesh is a little tighter weave so it doesn’t allow as much dust or dirt inside the shoe as you would find in a typical air mesh.

To further enhance breathability, the shoe has got drainage ports on both the lateral and the medial side. That just lets a little more airflow in and also allows water to escape out.

In the Runventure 2, they had a relaxed heel construction. So, the Runventure 2 had no heel counter and it was designed to give really the most natural feel and sensation.

But by popular request, Topo have actually now added a heel counter into the Runventure 3. This just gives you a little more security and probably a little better fit in the back half of the shoe.

Overall, between just having traction you can trust and having that wider toe box, you’re going to feel you’re more stable and safer running fast downhill or through any type of terrain.

A little bit further on the natural foot movement, I think Topo Athletics took the best of that.

Xero Shoes TerraFlex

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If you’re looking for a lightweight, minimalist, trail-running, and hiking shoe, welcome to the TerraFlex from Xero Shoes.

Before I talk about what’s special about the TerraFlex, I want to talk about what’s familiar about the TerraFlex.

vs Xero Prio

And if you know their products you might say, “Hey, it looks a whole lot like the Prio, the running fitness shoe,” which is their bestselling shoe, and you’re right.

Not only are they built on the same basic base and with the same basic philosophy, but the TerraFlex was inspired by people wearing the Prio and saying, “When I’m on a trail walking or hiking or running, I need something a little more grippy, a little more aggressive, and a little more protection.” And that’s what you have in the TerraFlex.

Like all Xero Shoes, the TerraFlex is built with a foot-first design and their natural movement philosophy.

Natural 

There’s…

  • A nice wide toe box so your toes can spread, relax, splay, and move naturally.
  • A zero-drop non-elevated heel that doesn’t jack up your posture.
  • A low-to-the-ground design for balance and agility.

The TerraFlex is super-flexible in every direction you can think of. You can roll it up into a ball if you like.

And then…

Natural Feel

Your brain is designed to feel what’s happening in the bottom of your foot and your brain needs to know how to use everything at the other end of your body.

So, the sole gives you not only great protection but also that ground feedback that you would like.

Outsole

Talking about the sole, whether you’re walking, running, hiking, this is going to give you an incredibly secure feel – uphill, downhill, fast or slow.

Most importantly for the bottom, you have 4-millimeter lugs. These things are really grippy and believe it or not, Xero Shoes actually offer a 5-thousand-mile warranty on their soles. So, that in and of itself is a great selling point.

Above your 4-millimeter lugs, you have a five-millimeter FeelTrue rubber base.

The sole on the Terraflex is very minimalist and it doesn’t offer a ton of padding. However, some trail runners find this to be a bonus especially those who like to feel what’s going on underneath their feet so they can react.

For those runners, with shoes that have thicker soles, they just can’t feel and react like they can with these Xero shoes.

Upper

The TerraFlex has a rubberized Tough Tek toe bumper for protection and a webbed durable breathable upper. Then around the entire perimeter of the shoe, there’s a leather type material.

It’s not waterproof, so don’t expect to go running through a stream and come out totally dry. But because it’s really breathable, it’ll dry off really quickly.

Like the Prio, the TerraFlex has their huarache-inspired heel, an ankle strap, and an adjustable midfoot strap.

These straps aren’t just for cosmetic value. That means that you can actually tighten the midfoot strap and get a nice secure feeling in your midfoot, which lets your toes relax and move more naturally.

This is a reflective stripe as well so you get great visibility if it’s dawn or dusk.

The Terraflex is pretty light and it dries really quickly, which is key if you hike in a lot of wet environments.

Inside

Then, there are 3 millimeters of embedded bare foam inside the sole and a removable 2-millimeter insole inside the shoe, which means you can have more or less of a barefoot feel depending on what you’re in the mood for.

Merrell Bare Acess XTR

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The Bare Access XTR is the most connected shoe Merrell have ever built.

One of the things that Merrell have been seeking out was a shoe that could get trail runners closer to the ground, give them good comfort, and great traction while being really lightweight and flexible.

The whole idea of being closer to the ground is going to give you a lot more feedback. More feedback just allows you to understand what you’re doing and really understand where you are in space, which allows you to become a better runner.

The nature of nature is always changing. On the trail, you need to be able to feel a good ground connection so you can move as the changing trail moves too. It’s that sweet spot in between great ground connection and comfort.

Merrell’s Know-How

Merrell is one of those companies able to give you only what you need to experience the profound power of the trail.

They’ve got all the know-how from 30 years of making hiking boots. Merrell do understand traction really well and they understand cushioning and protection.

Outsole

The XTR has a brand-new Vibram outsole which is very durable and very grippy with 3-mm lugs on the bottom.

It is zero drop so it’s going to keep you on a neutral platform when you’re connecting with the terrain.

Midsole

There’s also a cushioned foam FlexConnect midsole giving you some protection and cushioning.

The FlexConnect technology is a series of flex grooves that allow the shoe to flex both upwards and downwards to the terrain.

The XTR is very lightweight and very flexible giving you a lot of cushion and a lot of connection.

That’s it for today. These were some of the best zero drop trail running shoes. If you’ve ever run in a zero drop shoe we haven’t covered here, please share your experience down below in the comments.

Stay safe and keep running 🙂

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