Trail Run Hub: Top 3 Max Cushioned Trail Running Shoes For 2022
Whether you’re soaring over a shallow stream in bushland or climbing a mountainous landscape, max cushioned trail shoes are designed to protect you from the world beneath your feet and from the repetitive impacts of long distance running off-road.
Max cushioned trail running shoes are designed for runners that want to feel less of the gnarled roots, sharp stones and sticks that litter their path and explore more. Our top 3 max cushioned trail running shoes for 2022 have been selected for their ability to meet this criteria, as well as their stability, traction and versatility to turn the trail into your personal runway.
However, max cushioned trail shoes aren't for everyone - and what's best for you won't necessarily be best for your trail buddy. Particularly if you're new to running shoes with a higher stack height, you may find max cushioned shoes unstable. As a countermeasure, they are designed to provide extra 'grab' underfoot with wide platforms to balance out the supremely soft cushioning and to stay more sure-footed with a solid connection to your running surface.
Before purchasing, it's important to consider your running shoe history including the engineering of the running shoes you're currently wearing. This will give you an idea whether you're ready to take on a max cushioned shoe, or whether you may be better off gradually transitioning by firstly considering one of our Top 3 Cushioned Trail Running Shoes For 2022.
In this blog - part 2 of the Trail Run Hub series - we'll weigh up the max cushioned Brooks Caldera 5, Hoka One One Stinson ATR 6 and Altra Mont Blanc side by side to identify which is best suited to your trail running goals, running surface and personal preferences.
Brooks Caldera 5: Protection That Goes The Distance
Whether you’re scrambling up a mountainous slope or rock-hopping through a creek, the Brooks Caldera 5 is an honest and reliable neutral trail shoe with the essential combination of stability and protection.
By protection we’re really talking about protection that can go the distance, being a max cushioned ride on a high stack to make easy work of both technical trails and wintry conditions.
When you hear engineered mesh upper the words lightweight and breathable are probably the first to come to mind. The Brooks Caldera 5 with its monoloop engineered mesh upper is certainly breathable, but the upper feels structured, encasing your foot in a durable membrane.
This is exactly what you want out of a trail shoe – a barrier or shell around your feet to protect against abrasions or potential collisions with sharp rocks and roots. It seems every detail has protection in mind, right to the tip of your toes with the TPU toe cap.
You may find it’s a great option to glide over a shallow creek with the stack height raising the platform of the shoe, but we wouldn’t recommend fully submerging them in water if you can avoid it.
They don’t have quick-drying properties of trail shoes like the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 that we discussed in Top 3 Cushioned Trail Running Shoes For 2022. Without this, even when a trail shoe has adequate drainage, when water soaks into the materials your trail shoe can transform from your rugged, off-road protection to heavy, water-logged bricks on your feet. It’s all about knowing the limits of your trail shoes and their intended purpose to keep you running strong.
In terms of the toe box, some runners do find the Brooks Caldera 5 a touch too pointy or narrow at the forefoot so ideally try them on in-store before you buy. Like virtually all Brooks shoes, the heel counter has the level of padding just-right. The gusseted tongue isn’t overly plush – it’s a good balance and complements the overall feel of the shoe.
Your feet stay sturdy on the platform with the lacing system to customise and secure the fit, and trail-specific features like mud guard and gaiter attachment points at the front and back keep you primed to take on the dirt, mud and grit.
If your feet could talk, they’d say “Ahh, pure luxury!” when it comes to the BioMoGo DNA midsole. Trail runners rave about the cloud-like cushioning that provides a consistent feel and adaptive protection on any surface.
Whether you’re running on a bed of sharp rocks or wet leaves, BioMoGo soaks up impact forces and makes you feel invincible for lack of a better word – you simply won’t feel any debris underfoot to distract you from the feel-good vibes and benefits of trail running. If you’re craving a smoother running sensation without compromising responsiveness or an energetic feel, this thick and bouncy midsole material ticks your boxes.
For long trail runs where you’re really stretching the limits of your endurance, the forgiving and plush properties of BioMoGo are all too welcome to unleash your adventurous side.
It may sound contradictory, but even though you can’t feel debris underneath your feet, you can feel the traction at work. In a word, it feels effortless.
Like the Brooks Cascadia 16 that met the criteria of our Top 3 Cushioned Trail Running Shoes Of 2022, the Brooks Caldera 5 uses TrailTac rubber but in an entirely different configuration. Looking underneath the shoe the outsole doesn’t seem particularly aggressive with plenty of smooth rubber beneath the foot surrounding the lugs – but first impressions can be deceptive.
These multi-directional, low-profile lugs provide grip on everything from densely packed dirt to loose gravel and even come out on top when navigating through deep mud. Mud purely and simply sheds away – so you don’t have to carry that extra weight with you as your running surface changes to become more dry and solid.
You may question the durability underfoot in terms of the exposed areas of the midsole to save some weight, but we haven’t encountered any specific wear problems thanks to the strategic placement of rubber. All-up, the outsole is a high-performer and surprisingly effective in providing traction on unpredictable terrain.
- Support: Neutral
- Upper: Monoloop engineered mesh
- Midsole: Brooks BioMoGo DNA
- Outsole: TrailTac
- Offset / Drop: 4mm
- Heel Height: 32mm
- Forefoot Height: 28mm
- Weight: 301g / 10.6oz
- Width: D (standard)
- Weight: 266g / 9.4oz
- Width: B (standard)
Hoka One One Stinson ATR 6: Max Cushioning From Road To Trail
The Hoka One One Stinson ATR 6 are trail running royalty when it comes to cushioning. The most gnarliest, rugged trails have nothing on this off-road workhorse that keeps your stride smooth and your fatigued feet protected.
If you’re a runner that enjoys running straight from your front door to the road then the trail – the Hoka Stinson ATR 6 doesn’t miss a beat. This ‘hybrid’ ride has the versatility to conquer just about any surface you throw at it. If there was any doubt, ATR literally stands for “All Terrain Running”.
For a shoe that essentially is on a slab of luxurious foam, the upper lives up to the reputation of comfort that Hoka fans trust in. Yes, the upper material is thick, but the Hoka Stinson ATR 6 wasn’t designed for record-breaking speed – it was designed to be comfortable and it is exactly that.
The engineered mesh upper wraps your feet in a soft and supple feel. Hoka One One put recycled polyester fibres into play called Unifi REPREVE yarn – ensuring your carbon footprint is lighter on the environment while you explore nature. We tip our hat to brands like Hoka One One that are taking steps to make sport sustainable for the athletes of today and for future generations.
The upper is soft and snug-fitting, with a padded heel collar and precise hold around your midfoot so as the terrain changes in slope or texture (e.g. loose gravel vs packed dirt), you stay secure and confident on the platform. Being slightly wider at the forefoot, it accommodates the natural swelling of your feet and allows your toes to engage fully for extra bite and stability on the trail.
The compression-moulded EVA (CMEVA) foam has the springiness and resiliency you want out of a max cushioned trail running shoe. What you’ll love most is that it’s soft, without being too soft. There is still an element of firmness to ensure the compression qualities don’t hinder your stability.
All facets of the running shoe add up to a harmonious sensation as you roll smoothly from heel-to-toe, guided by the late-stage Meta Rocker.
It really is the 4WD of trail running shoes – you don’t have to hesitate when gnarled roots, sharp twigs or stones litter your path – you can glide right over them without feeling a thing. There’s a freedom in that that many trail runners appreciate, but of course if you prefer ground feel and feedback over shock-absorbing protection, you’ll find your ideal fit outside the max cushioned category.
Running shoes are all about balance in engineering. In the case of the Hoka One One Stinson ATR 6, the outsole is wide to provide stability to a shoe of this calibre. Being stacked up high with a monstrous amount of cushioning and considerable bulk to it, a broader base underfoot is necessary to keep you sure-footed and to reduce your risk of potentially rolling an ankle.
The other benefit of a wide base on the trail is the increased surface area to bite into changing terrain or to conquer steeper climbs. 4mm lugs provide targeted, multi-surface traction.
The versatility is outstanding – whether scrambling on loose gravel, pounding on the dirt or gliding over hard road surfaces. In saying that, the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 has a more aggressive traction pattern to conquer technical terrain and at higher speeds, but it really comes down to finding the best fit for your feet and identifying the characteristics you want out of a trail shoe.
Once you get moving, the bulky aspects of the Hoka Stinson ATR 6 fade away and their more nimble side comes out. Although speed is not their strong suit (they’re much better suited to longer, slower paced runs and easy-going recovery runs), pushing for a little extra pace in these won’t do any harm. They’re unlikely to set any records, but we can say without any doubt that they do have the figurative guts to handle the demands of ultra-running and to soar effortlessly off-road when the wild is calling.
- Support: Neutral
- Upper: Engineered mesh with Unifi REPREVE yarn
- Midsole: Hoka One One CMEVA
- Offset / Drop: 5mm
- Heel Height: 37mm
- Forefoot Height: 32mm
- Weight: 332g / 11.7oz
- Width: D (standard)
- Offset / Drop: 5mm
- Heel Height: 34mm
- Forefoot Height: 29mm
- Weight: 278g / 9.8oz
- Width: B (standard)
Altra Mont Blanc: Max Cushioning, Zero Drop
The Altra Mont Blanc trail running shoes are Altra's flagship trail shoe, offering a max cushioned ride with a zero heel-to-toe drop. At first, seeing those words in the same sentence may seem like a paradox. Essentially what this means is that although this long-distance trail shoe is stacked up high with cushioning, the forefoot and rearfoot of your feet are on a level platform. There is no slope within the shoe that positions your heel higher than your toe off the ground like conventional running shoes.
It isn’t for everyone, but the theory behind it is it provides a more neutral position and natural body alignment that encourages you to activate your Achilles and calves, distributing stress to your body in a different way. Teamed with the mountain of cushioning, there isn’t any sacrifice to your protection.
The Altra Mont Blanc weighs in under the 300g mark, making it an ideal running companion for runners seeking max cushioning without the weight. It's frequently weighed up against its #1 rival, the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4, so we recommend checking out Top 3 Cushioned Trail Running Shoes Of 2022 to read the ins and outs of that trail shoe if you're deciding between the two.
The Altra Mont Blanc provides a snug-fitting hold on your feet while allowing heat and humidity to escape with an optimal balance of stretch and breathability. It’s reinforced in high-wear zones like the sides, keeping the top of your feet free to breathe.
Made of mesh that’s so thin that it’s transparent in areas, the upper is designed to be race-ready, shedding non-essential weight. Altra’s signature FootShape provides a more rounded toe box compared to competitors and plenty of wriggle room to engage your forefoot fully and to reduce risk of blisters. It also allows the natural shock absorption of your feet to kick into gear as your toes splay on landing then push-off – but of course, this is already one cushioned shoe to begin with.
The last thing you want is a pebble stuck in your shoe when you’re chasing your runner’s high, but the gusseted tongue functions well as a barrier to keep debris out with just the right amount of padding.
It's free of a traditional, stiff heel cup, instead conforming to the shape of your rearfoot and providing comfort for runners that suffer from heel spurs. The downside is some trail runners find the fit around the back too relaxed and too unstructured – potentially causing an issue if you’re running through deep mud. There are times where you need that extra lockdown to ensure your feet and shoes move in harmony and to prevent heel slippage. It’s a matter of considering your running surface, your comfort, fit and personal preference.
As we already touched on, the Altra Mont Blanc trail shoes have a zero heel-to-drop or as Altra calls it, Balanced Cushioning. With the thickness of the midsole consistent from heel to forefoot, the trail shoe naturally encourages midfoot striking as opposed to heel striking. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with heel striking when paired with running shoes that cater for this, keeping in mind that most runners are heel strikers. However, some would debate that a midfoot landing provides an optimal dispersion of shock up your ankle, knees and hips. We’d always suggest running in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you, whatever that may be.
If you’re a heel striker keen to transition to a zero drop shoe – we recommend reading Heel-To-Toe Offset & Stack Height Of Running Shoes Explained and introducing lower drop shoes into your running shoe rotation gradually.
The Altra EGO Max midsole has a satisfying snap to it – breaking past the max cushioned shoe reputation of feeling slow, heavy and cumbersome. Don’t get us wrong – it is ultra-soft but it’s also bouncy. As you shift up the pace a gear, your body puts more force through the shoe and the midsole seems to firm up, providing a responsive feel so it doesn’t feel like energy is going to waste due to the compression qualities.
The flexibility of the midsole allows it to absorb any small dips and crests of the trail beneath your feet for a smoother sensation underfoot. It's lively and easy to run in – you couldn’t ask for much more out of a midsole for tackling high mileage off-road.
A Vibram outsole is uncommon among Altra shoes – so you know that when Altra do put a Vibram outsole to work in one of their models, they’re gearing it up to tackle rugged and challenging conditions like slippery rocks and uneven trails.
Specifically, the Altra Mont Blanc features a Vibram Litebase outsole. With Lite in the name, you're right in thinking that Altra have shed off weight so it can handle rough terrain without ever feeling like a burden. 3mm lugs are placed strategically to keep weight to a minimum - saving rubber and providing aggressive traction where you need it without weighing you down.
Thick mud poses the deepest challenge for the Altra Mont Blanc as the lugs aren't prominent enough to get a reliable hold on slushy surfaces. On virtually any track or trail besides unforgiving and deep mud, it's a winning formula. The outsole is soft enough to bite into natural ground and provides adaptable grip to conquer changing, technical trails - even on icy surfaces.
You don't have to second guess the way you run on dry, dirt paths compared to slick, wet rocks, because that consistent traction is there to keep you running confidently. You can flow into your best running rhythm with ease and without distractions.
- Support: Neutral
- Upper: Mesh
- Midsole: Altra EGO Max
- Offset / Drop: 0mm
- Weight: 280g / 9.9oz
- Width: D (standard)
- Weight: 197g / 6.9oz
- Width: B (standard)
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.
Happy trail running!
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