Best Low-Drop Ultramarathon Shoes: Recommendations From Nate Sanel

My perfect trail shoe would be one with a minimal upper that fits like a glove over the forefoot, a wide toe box, excellent drainage, great grip, a soft ride, 0-4mm heel/forefoot differential, and enough cushioning to run 100 miles.

When talking about shoes for an ultra, I think that it’s important to distinguish what distance and what sort of surface the race will be on when picking the right shoe. A shoe that is perfect for a muddy 50k might be terrible for a 100 miler on hard-packed dirt roads. Since I only use shoes with less than a 4-5mm heel/forefoot drop that is all I’ve included in my list.

Note: This list is only based on shoes that I have used myself. If there are other shoes you’d recommend in this niche, leave a comment!

You can also view Pete’s recommendations for cushioned, zero drop road and zero drop trail shoes.


Top Low-Drop Ultramarathon Shoes




Altra Lone Peak 1.5

Stack Height: 17mm, 17mm
Weight: 10.2oz

Quick Take: for burly trails – super comfy with a great, wide toe box, good traction. If drainage was better this shoe would be just about perfect. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s full Altra Lone Peak 1.5 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)



Altra Torin

Stack Height: 20mm, 20mm
Weight: 9.0oz

Quick Take: for road ultras – perfect balance of cushioning without being squishy like a Hoka. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s full Altra Torin review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)



La Sportiva Helios

Stack Height: 20mm, 15mm
Weight: 8.5oz

Quick Take: Burly trail shoe, incredible traction, good drainage. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s Full La Sportiva Helios Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos

Montrail Fluidflex

Stack Height: 21mm, 16mm
Weight: 7.4oz

Quick Take: Super light feel with nice cushioning. Good for distances up to 50 miles.

Read Nate’s Full Montrail Fluidflex Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos


 Hoka Bondi B Speed 

Stack Height: 35mm, 30mm 
Weight: 9.5oz

Quick Take: Road shoe with super soft feel and incredible cushioning. Works better off road than you would expect. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s Brief Hoka Bondi B Speed Review

Buy at Zappos
Buy at Hoka Europe

Hoka Bondi B 2

Stack Height: 35mm, 30mm
Weight: 11oz

Quick Take: Same as Bondi B Speed, with more breathable upper. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.


Read about Pete’s wife’s experience with the Bondi 2

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Hoka Europe


 Hoka Stinson Evo 

Stack Height: 38mm, 32mm
Weight: 11.8oz

Quick Take: Hoka cushioning with the best traction of any of their shoes. Narrow-ish toe box. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.


Read Nate’s Hoka Stinson Evo Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Hoka Europe

Brooks PureGrit 2

Brooks PureGrit 2

Stack Height: 21mm, 16mm
Weight: 9.7oz

Quick Take: Good do-everything shoe with a nice ride. Traction better than the PureGrit 1, but still could use improvement. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s Full Brooks PureGrit 2 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)



Merrell Mix Master II

Stack Height: 18mm, 13mm
Weight: 9.0oz

Quick Take: comfy shoe that is right in the middle of minimal to traditional spectrum. Good for distances up to 50k.


Read Pete’s Full Merrell Mix Master 2 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos


New Balance MT110

Stack Height: 18mm, 14mm
Weight: 7.7oz

Quick Take: The best fitting shoe I’ve ever used. Firm ground feel, decent traction. Uppers prone to ripping. Low price. Good for distances up to 50k.

Read Nate’s Full New Balance MT110 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)


New Balance MT1010

Stack Height: 23mm, 19mm
Weight: 7.7oz

Quick Take: Similar fit to the MT110, but a little bit sloppier. Better cushioning, excellent traction. Good for distances up to 50 miles.

Read Nate’s Full New Balance MT1010 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse (on clearance)
Buy at 6pm.com (clearance)
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)

Skechers GoBionic Orange

Skechers GoBionic Trail

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm without insole, 18mm 14mm with insole
Weight: 8.8oz

Quick Take: Excellent traction, light fast feel, soft cushioning. Good for distances up to 50k.

Read a Full Review by Caleb Masland

Buy at Zappos
Buy at Skechers.com (use code AAA20 for 20% off)

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1

Stack Height: 23mm, 16mm
Weight: 9.8oz

Quick Take: light fast feel, smooth heel/midfoot to toe-off transition. Good for distances up to 50 miles.

Read Nate’s Full EM N1 Trail Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. Brian Roberts says:

    Great write up peter! I wanted to clarify the specs on the two Altra shoes if I could… The stack heights you quoted for those two shoes are inaccurate. The Lone Peak 1.5 is 23mm, and the Torin is 28mm. Just want to make sure your readers can make informed decisions!

  2. Mike Daly says:

    Nate, in the course of searching for the perfect ultra shoe, which has included 5 of the shoes above, I have recently discovered the Nike Kiger. Believe or not, it hits all the criteria you mentioned. Kinda hard to picture Nike making a serious trail shoe, but this thing is no joke. I’m going to roll with them for Iron Mountain 50 next month.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’ve heard good things about the Kiger as well! Seems like a pretty quiet release from Nike, but the are doing some interesting things from what I have heard. Apparently a dramatic reworking of the Free line us coming too…
      Sent from my iPad

  3. RichFrantz says:

    Question, as I’ve never run in anything but minimal shoes(and never ultra distances), but would not those stack heights increase the risk of rolling an ankle, especially as the miles/fatigue build?

    • Andrew Ward says:

      Large stack heights + fatigue + trail = great chance of rolled ankle.
      Stay minimal, Stay low.
      Andrew. :)

  4. Surfing Vol says:

    Pete,
    I bought a pair of Torins after reading this post and the attached review. I just ran my first run in the Torins. I’ve run in Instinct (original) and Superior, so I thought that I understood the Altra “feel.” Boy, was I wrong. I had to remove the insole to accomodate the heighth of my toes. Other than that, same great Altra fit. Once running, I was highly impressed with the comfort of the shoe. It feels lighter than it is, and is well cushioned without feeling like a marshmallow. Well done to Nate and Altra!
    Brad

    • Nate S. says:

      Brad,
      I just bought another pair of the Torins, since I have about 600 miles on my first pair. I went up a 1/2 size to accommodate swollen feet during my upcoming 100 mile race. I have also noticed that the roof of the toe area is a little bit tight, but adding the extra 1/2 size really helped.
      Nate

  5. Emma Nutter says:

    I have a

  6. Julie Moffitt says:

    Nice rundown! I like the Torins, I just wish they would widen out the heel base and go to 4mm drop. That would be about the perfect shoe for me!

  7. I’d include the inov-8 Roclite 243 in here, a good tradeoff between minimal and protection/cushioning.

    • Nate S. says:

      Matt, I haven’t had a chance to run in them yet, that is why they weren’t included in my list.

  8. George Harris says:

    Nate, great review. You might want to look at the new Hoka trail shoe I did a review on here the Rapa Nui Comp. I don’t think it could go 100 miles but 50 yes. Interesting you listed the PI EM N1 for distances up to 50 miles. Guess Tim Olson proved you wrong on that one Ha. I like the N2 trail a lot.

    • Nate S. says:

      Thanks George! I was so close to buying a pair of the RN, but when I finally decided to pull the trigger they were out of stock. As far as the N1′s go, I wouldn’t wear them for a full 100, but Tim Olson has proved (twice now!) that he can do it. Actually any of the distances I put next to the shoes simply reflects the distance race that I would be comfortable using them for. There are people out there that run 100 miles in super minimal shoes. I just wouldn’t!

      • George Harris says:

        Nate,
        Yup agree completely. Normal humans could only do 50 miles in the N1 but Tim Olson is not normal.

  9. I’m late getting into running and really appreciate all the info and comments! So many to choose from.

  10. For two+ years i’ve been only running in varieties of merrell barefoot. Trail Glove, road glove,vapor glove. This year I am branching out from marathons and road 50k into ultra. Ice age 50mile and r2r2r plan to fall 2014. Read enough that my trail glove might not provide enough cushion for that 50m distance. Read what you said about the ascend. I don’t see 100m in my future for. Maybe more 50k/50m trail. Love zero drop, ground feel and flexibility. But don’t want my feet being sore to take me out of an event. Like the prospects of the ascend. Never read much on mix master, but maybe altra. You views on cushioning zero drop for at least I terms or merrell or must merrell like? (Ground feel and flexibily)

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