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Trail Run Hub: Top 3 Cushioned Trail Running Shoes For 2022

by Sportitude
21 Jun 2022

Trail running presents a unique challenge that doesn’t exist when gliding over the smooth, consistent nature of the road, with the rough debris underfoot and technical terrain being a potential threat to your safety and comfort. Lacing up in the right gear from the ground up makes all the difference - and that begins with trail running shoes.

Trail running shoes can be broken down into multiple categories including cushioned, max cushioned, lightweight and racing trail shoes. Your foot type, personal preference, injury history and the intended purpose of your trail shoe will influence which type will best support your current fitness goals and complement your running shoe rotation.

In Sportitude Running's Trail Run Hub blog series, we'll explore the best trail running shoes of 2022 - starting with cushioned trail running shoes. Sitting just under the max cushioned trail running shoes category, cushioned trail running shoes provide a happy medium. They deliver effective shock absorption to glide smoothly over the trail, without being as plush as their max cushioned cousins.

We'll break down the engineering of our top 3 cushioned running shoes, the Brooks Cascadia 16, New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 and Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 - diving into the outsole, midsole and upper so you can make an informed decision on your next trail shoe purchase. As a huge bonus, each of these models comes in multiple widths to fit a broad audience of trail runners.

Brooks Cascadia 16: Off-Road Versatility

Overview

The Brooks Cascadia 16 is a neutral high mileage trail running shoe that provides the protection you need without interfering with your feel of the terrain beneath your feet. This balance of softness and feel ticks the boxes of many trail blazers looking to conquer the long miles ahead with less fatigue, without going so far as to block the feedback from your feet to navigate trails as you dodge or leap over natural debris.

Upper

The breathable engineered mesh allows heat and humidity to escape during your off-road endurance runs. Some of the Brooks Cascadia 16’s competitors are more breathable, but the trade-off is less durability – and it all comes down to the specific purpose of the shoe.

A durable and structured upper is essential for a high mileage running shoe like this which is designed to handle the twists and turns of the trail while clocking up the kilometres, whereas a trail racing shoe has other priorities – lightness and breathability first and foremost.

Durability versus breathability is a tricky balance to get spot-on, but Brooks have done it in the Brooks Cascadia 16. For extra protection against the elements, the Brooks Cascadia GTX 16 features a Gore-Tex membrane fused to the upper for lightweight waterproofing.

The upper is complete with a gusseted tongue to help keep sticks and stones out, while a solid internal heel counter keeps you locked-in on the platform and offers an optimal amount of foam like other Brooks shoes gone by.

Two additional eyelets are on offer compared to the Brooks Cascadia 15 so you can customise the fit and feel with a heel lock lace. Considering that on your trails you’re going to encounter uphill runs, steep descents and everything in between, being able to tweak the fit like this is a small detail in theory but a game-changer in the real world.

Available in both standard and wide widths for men and women, Brooks are widening the spectrum of runners that can find their ideal fit in the Brooks Cascadia 16. This is a sign that as a brand they trust in the engineering and research behind this trail shoe. Well done Brooks!

Midsole

The new DNA Loft v2 cushioning system comes into play in the midsole for a plusher and lighter experience than its predecessor. An increased stack height that sits at 20mm in the heel and 12mm in the forefoot accommodates this extra protection underfoot, while keeping true to the 8mm heel-to-toe drop that provides a more natural feel compared to more jacked-up trail shoes.

The midsole almost seems to act intuitively – providing targeted compression where and when you need it and offering stabilising pods to keep you sure-footed and secure on the platform of the shoe. It provides an adaptive ride whether you’re heel striking, midfoot striking or forefoot striking, depending on your natural running gait and the slope of the trail as you push yourself up during uphill runs or brake on the way down.

Outsole

The outsole configuration can tell you a lot about the running surface a shoe is best suited for. In the case of the Brooks Cascadia 16, if you flip the shoe upside-down, you’ll see large multi-directional lugs at the forefoot and rearfoot. The Brooks Cascadia 16 is designed for versatility. From densely packed fire trails to soft, muddy grounds, these lugs will bite down for stability and provide a satisfying release to propel your ride forward. Being generously spaced ensures mud doesn’t get trapped between the lugs and bog you down.  

Clever engineering by Brooks gives you the protection of a Ballistic Rock Shield plate without feeling overly rigid - which is a thumbs up for comfort. Strategically placed vertical grooves provide that element of flexibility for smoother transitions. The outsole material itself is TrailTac rubber for consistent, sticky grip on wet or dry surfaces.

SPECS

  • Support: Neutral
  • Upper: Engineered mesh
  • Midsole: DNA Loft v2
  • Offset / Drop: 8mm
  • Heel Height: 20mm
  • Forefoot Height: 12mm

Men

  • Weight: 298g / 10.5oz
  • Width: D (standard), 2E (wide)

Women

  • Weight: 269g / 9.5oz
  • Width: B (standard), D (wide)

Full Review


New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6: Distraction-free Protection & Comfort

Overview

The New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 trail running shoes provide out-of-the-box comfort for new and seasoned trail blazers alike. It’s a worthy trail companion for neutral runners that aren’t necessarily looking for the lightest of the pack or to run their fastest time, but are looking for a luxurious feel to make trail runs easier and more effortless.

Upper

Wrapping your feet in an engineered mesh upper and perforated toe box, the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 keeps your feet cool when your trail runs heat up.

If you run your hand along the forefoot, you’ll instantly notice the reinforced material at the toe. This is New Balance’s Toe Protect technology in action. The last thing you want is to stub your toe on a sharp rock or into solid roots when exploring the great outdoors. This feature inspires confidence that even when this happens, you have the protection you need to avoid injury or pain and run on.

A padded tongue and soft cushioning around the collar hug your feet in snug comfort while the internal heel counter ensures you feel secure on the platform, no matter what challenges the trail unveils before your path. A generous pull tab allows you to slide on your trail shoes easily while a traditional lacing system provides a no-nonsense fit.

There are no surprises here and we mean that in the best possible way because the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 is true to size from heel-to-toe. With multiple widths on offer, New Balance are extending the reach of this adventure-ready ride, creating a more fine-tuned fit for trail blazers.

The upper is accommodating, and there’s been success fitting it to a variety of foot shapes. Spacious without feeling sloppy on the foot, it allows your forefoot to expand naturally during longer runs and for your toes to splay out to provide extra stability without feeling restricted in any way.

We’d never recommend purchasing a shoe purely based on looks (comfort is always the priority), but for the icing on the cake many New Balance Hierro v6 wearers have commented that it’s a head-turning shoe in terms of style and catches the eyes of fellow trail runners - and we're inclined to agree. It's been said that they look just as good paired with your favourite denim on off-duty days, but we’d much rather you wear them with pride on the trail, dirt and all, to keep them living their best life without wearing out early.  

Midsole

As we work our way to the midsole, the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 stays honest to the philosophy behind it – protection and comfort from the ground up. We’ve seen New Balance take their Fresh Foam X technology to the trail before and it doesn’t disappoint, providing the consistent cushioning that loyal New Balance fans crave and expect.

If you don’t want to feel every rock, twig and root beneath your feet it’s a fantastic option. Even running on gravel roads won’t cause you to cringe or hesitate with this level of protection turning challenging terrain into soft and smooth transitions. The midsole is thick, it’s responsive and of course, it’s shock-absorbing – no complaints here. If you’re on the trail to soak in the feel-good vibes of nature without distractions, Fresh Foam X will support that running goal.

Outsole

The Vibram MegaGrip outsole is adventure-ready – meeting the demands of both easy-going trails for new runners to build up confidence off-road and on technical trails where extra grip is a matter of safety.

Unlike the Brooks Cascadia 16 that keeps the midfoot area of the outsole free of lugs to minimise weight, the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 provides full coverage with an aggressive traction pattern on the outsole. The hard-wearing outsole provides sticky grip and stability to conquer your off-road explorations in wet or dry conditions.

However, be aware that the lug size and shape is smaller, broader and flatter than other options, meaning they’re best suited to solid grounds rather than slushy conditions like mud which require trail shoes with a bit more bite and a more spaced-out lug configuration.  

SPECS

  • Support: Neutral
  • Upper: Engineered mesh
  • Midsole: New Balance Fresh Foam X
  • Outsole: Vibram MegaGrip
  • Offset / Drop: 8mm

Men

  • Weight: 317.5g / 11.2oz
  • Width: D (standard), 2E (wide)

Women

  • Weight: 272.2g / 9.6oz
  • Width: B (standard), D (wide)


Hoka One One Speedgoat 4: The Ultimate Ultra-Running Trail Shoe

Overview

The Hoka One One Speedgoat family has an award-winning legacy, earning the badge of “best trail shoe” among many trail blazers and weighs in as the most popular trail shoe from Hoka One One. But being the best is a matter of personal preference and of course, what matters most is whether it’s the best trail shoe for you.

Named after ultra-runner Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 turns technical terrain into your personal gym with the winning formula of stability, cushioning and traction. It has earned a reputation for being rugged and ever-reliable – part beast, part cloud – but what does that mean for your feet?

Upper

A trail-ready upper provides a combination of breathability and support with the 3D overlays – holding your feet securely in place from heel-to-toe. If you want to take a short cut through a creek, the thin, quick-drying mesh allows water to escape for adequate drainage.

The Hoka Speedgoat 4 does have a break-in period, with the upper being quite stiff on first step-in. However, this is easily resolved by lacing up and getting the Hoka Speedgoat 4 doing what it was born to – flying over the trails to loosen up the rigidity a fraction around the forefoot. Keep in mind that this level of rigidity is also a tick for durability – and it’s unlikely your toe will punch through this upper even after miles on the trail.

The toe box is wider than its predecessor, but comparing it to brands like Altra, some runners may still find it narrow. If you prefer a precise and secure fit around the forefoot and midfoot, it’s a fantastic option, but for broader foot types it’s best you either select the wide offering or choose a model that can more easily accommodate you.

The fact that it comes in both a standard and wide width in the men’s and women’s model is a definite win - and as always Sportitude celebrates brands that go the extra mile in providing widths in their popular running shoes to accommodate the variety of foot types out there. 

Midsole

Let’s jump straight to it – the midsole is super soft. Hoka One One is known for stacking thick, shock-absorbing platforms underneath your feet. Hoka midsoles are often described as having marshmallow-like softness, and the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 is no different.

Although it does offer a degree of bounce back, being ultra-plush does mean the responsiveness doesn’t hit the bar of your lighter, faster trail shoes for speedwork – and that’s OK. It’s ultra-runs and endurance runs on the trail where the Hoka Speedgoat 4 shines. This ultra-forgiving midsole means you can run… and run… without your feet screaming for a break.

However, even the Hoka Speedgoat 4 can be rivalled in softness and cushioning. It's the Speedgoat 4's cousin, the Hoka One One Stinson ATR 6 that wears this crown which you can read more about in Top 3 Max Cushioned Trail Running Shoes For 2022.

Being consistently and incredibly soft from heel-to-toe, you may question the stability of the Hoka Speedgoat 4. With a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, even though your feet are stacked up high they remain in a fairly neutral and natural position in terms of the slope between your rearfoot and forefoot.

So far, the stability hasn’t been a point of concern for neutral foot types – coupling softness with sure-footedness to run in comfort and confidence on easy to moderate trails. As terrain becomes steeper, rougher or more technical, stability becomes more critical, particularly for beginner trail runners – so it’s worth keeping your specific trail surface in mind when selecting your trail running shoe.

Compared to trail shoes of a similar stack height and cushioning, the weight (306g in the men’s model and 263g for the women’s model) isn’t at all overkill, factoring in the level of comfort you get out of it. You need to ask yourself, “what experience do I want on the trail?”. If the answer is comfort, pure and simple, then the Speedgoat 4 is certainly worth your consideration.

For runners that want a feel that is distinctly Hoka – you won’t be disappointed. The Hoka Speedgoat 4 has the signature rocker geometry of the brand, with a prominent curve in the forefoot to roll smoothly and efficiently into your next stride.

Outsole

We tip our cap to the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 for its high traction. It’s certainly earned its reputation as an off-road all-rounder. Like its competition, the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6, it features a Vibram MegaGrip outsole for tacky, multi-surface grip. It’s proven to be effective on trails littered with leaves, caked in light mud, in wet conditions and even snow.

Slippery, deeper mud certainly isn’t the Speedgoat 4’s favourite surface to run on and like with any trail shoe, it’s where you’re going to wish you had more traction. However, with the extra height to the outsole, you can keep a bit of distance between you and less-than-ideal terrain. It lacks the rock plate of other trail shoes – but considering the thickness and protection the midsole offers, a rock plate simply isn’t necessary.

Even towards the end of the shoe’s life as it approaches 800km and up in mileage, this aggressive outsole still has a bit of bite. If you’re looking for a trail shoe that gives you bang for buck per kilometre, the durability of the Speedgoat 4 makes it a standout choice.

SPECS

  • Support: Neutral
  • Upper: Quick-drying mesh
  • Midsole: Hoka One One EVA
  • Outsole: Vibram MegaGrip

Men

  • Offset / Drop: 4mm
  • Heel Height: 32mm
  • Forefoot Height: 28mm
  • Weight: 306g / 10.8oz
  • Width: D (standard), 2E (wide)

Women

  • Offset / Drop: 4mm
  • Heel Height: 31mm
  • Forefoot Height: 27mm
  • Weight: 263g / 9.2oz
  • Width: B (standard), D (wide)


If you have any questions, queries or theories about these trail running shoes or any other running shoe, please contact our Sportitude shoe experts. We love hearing your thoughts, sharing our passion and providing our guidance to find the ideal fit for you.

For a more in-depth shoe fitting experience, you can book a free 15 minute video chat in a Live Fit session or make an appointment to discover your RunDNA at Sportitude Running@Hindmarsh.

Happy trail running!


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