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Top 3 Hybrid Trail Running Shoes of 2012

Altra Superior TopThis is the last post in my “best shoes of 2012” series. I’ve previously covered the following categories:

1. Top Transitional Road Running Shoes of 2012
2. Top Barefoot-Style Road Running Shoes of 2012
3. Top Cushioned, Zero Drop Road Running Shoes of 2012

In this post I tackle trail shoes, and I’ll do so with a very open caveat: I am primarily a road runner. I do run portions of trails frequently as part of mixed terrain runs, and I have a five mile loop through the woods behind my house that I run frequently, but I am not what you would call a hard-core trail runner (my ultrarunner buddy Nate Sanel will be writing column for me starting this year to fill in this gap a bit). Trails make up probably 10-15% of my current mileage.

Given my running habits, I’m focusing this list on hybrid trail shoes, and by hybrid I’m referring to shoes that work well both on roads and mixed trail conditions. I generally do some amount of running on asphalt or cement to get to the trails that I do run, so ability to handle multiple surfaces is important to me. Given that I live in New Hampshire, I also use trail shoes a lot in winter on slush, snow, and crusty ice on roads and sidewalks, so good traction is important for 3-4 month per year (most years).

With the above made clear, what follows are my top three “hybrid” trail shoes of 2012:

3. Merrell Mix Master 2

The Mix Master 2 ticks of most of my boxes – roomy forefoot, low drop (4mm), comfortable interior, under 10oz in weight. It has a rock plate and provides solid protection on trails and crushed gravel roads, and traction is good via the lugged outsole. I’ve only run one trail ultra (a 50K), but if I had to run one tomorrow these would probably be the shoes on my feet (not sure I could handle zero drop right now over marathon+ distance). You can read my full Merrell Mix Master 2 review here.

Purchase the Merrell Mix Master 2 and Running Warehouse.


2. Inov-8 Trailroc 235

Inov-8 Trailroc 235

Inov-8 Trailroc 235 sole

I could have easily ranked the Trailroc 235 number one here, it’s that good of a shoe. The 235 is zero drop (13mm stack height), lightweight (8.3oz in size 9), and has a very roomy fit as it’s built on Inov-8’s anatomical last (in contrast to the performance last of shoes like the X-Talon and F-Lite 195). The Trailroc 235 lacks a rock plate, but the rubber outsole is hard enough to provide adequate protection on trails and chunky, crushed gravel (I run on chunky gravel a lot). The lugged outsole provides great traction even in fresh snow, and of the three shoes here this is the one I would use if traction was my highest priority. Breathability is also good. Read my full Inov-8 Trailroc 235 review here.

Purchase the Inov-8 Trailroc 235 at Running Warehouse.


1. Altra Superior

Altra SuperiorAltra Superior Sole

The Altra Superior is one of the most versatile shoes that I own. It has the characteristically roomy Altra foot-shaped fit, but combines this with much greater flexibility than in a shoe like the Altra Instinct. It has a removable rock plate, and a finished foot-bed beneath the rock plate and included insole (it comes with two insole options as well). Given this, you can remove or add as much material underfoot as you’d like – with the insole and rock plate removed the shoe is incredibly spacious and I can wear thick wool socks with them without feeling constricted.

The full rubber outsole of the Superior should be very durable, and the upper is very well constructed and feels rugged (I do worry about the stretch cords on the sides though). I’ve been wearing the Superior almost daily for a few weeks since it so darned comfortable, and I’ve run in them on multiple surfaces and they have performed well. If I had one complaint about the Superior it’s that traction is not nearly as good as the other two shoes in this list, particularly on snow covered surfaces. The lugs simply don’t project enough to grab the surface, but that in part is what allows this shoe to also work so well on the road. It’s also a bit on the heavy side with both insole and rock plate installed, but I haven’t found that to be a problem for the type of running I do (could be an issue over longer distances I suppose). Finally, the Superiors are pretty reasonably priced for so versatile a shoe ($95 MSRP vs. $120 for the Inov-8 Trailroc 235). I haven’t reviewed the Superiors fully yet, but should have one soon.

Purchase the Altra Superior at Running Warehouse (if you buy the Superior, I recommend at least a half size up as they run small).

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Tim Takach says:

    Thanks for the continuing GREAT work, Pete!

    I have a question about which shoes you would recommend for ‘walking around town’ in wet conditions. I was thinking that trail shoes might fit this need, but they don’t appear to be waterproof.

    I have some old Altra Instincts (1.0) that I use now, but they (and my feet) get very wet sometimes (breathable isn’t always a trait to be desired!).

    I can’t wear my old ‘day job’ shoes anymore (with the high arches and the elevated heels). I want something with zero drop and mostly flat on the inside….(I do have some vivobarefoot shoes from over a year ago, but they are very hard and inflexible).

    Regards and happy new year!

    • I share your feelings about getting your feet wet; if only Altra would release a Goretexed version of the Instinct (and/or some of their other shoes) they’d have a huge success among those of us who would rather brave a hurricane or snow blizzard with less-than-perfect shoes than run inside on the treadmill.


  2. The Trailroc is a good shoe indeed. If it just lasted a little bit
    longer. It shares this durability issue with its olde silblings the
    f-lite and x-talon 195: after a few more miles the uppers, e.g. the mesh
    disintegrates. I’ve experienced this with all three models now. See
    here for some pictures in the German trail running forum:

    Apparently the black rubber patch cuts into the mesh and creates those tears. What a pity, the outsole is first in its class.

    And of course, happy new year.

    • Christian Eriksson says:

      Stefan, that makes me a bit sad as the Trailroc 235 is on top of my wish list right now. I would like to know how Inov-8 is handling this issue – did they replace any of your models, or were you left with nothing but ripped shoes?

      This problem has been (or is rather) prevalent in certain New Balance models, but at least they are replacing or refunding broken shoes (as far as I know).

      I suppose that Pete hasn’t had any similar problems with his 235’s or he would have said so.

      • I have to admit I never contacted Inov8 on this. I’d say this is simply a general design flaw. The mesh of the uppers is not very durable when actually used as a trail running shoe.

        See here another example for the BareGrip:


        However, I also have to admit that I may get a new pair of Trailrocs. Unfortunately, there is no real alternative to them (e.g. zero drop and that level of cushioning). The outsole is outstanding and almost perfect for my trails in the Bavarian Alps.

        • Pete Larson says:

          I’d recommend contacting Inov-8 customer service as most shoe companies are good about providing replacements if a shoe falls apart prematurely. If nothing e lose, it also helps the to know of the issue so it can be fixed in future iterations.
          Sent from my iPad

        • Christian Eriksson says:

          I have to agree with Pete below; it could not hurt to talk to Inov-8, or rather your retailer, about this problem. Now that we know a bit more about your running specifics I might add that no shoe is indestructible, but Inov-8’s are made for Fell and Mountain running and should be able to take some abuse before falling apart.

          For my – in comparison – rather flat forest runs the 235’s may still be the perfect choice.

        • Gabriel Hopkins says:

          I’ve seen similar tearing in a pair of 195s, but much later – at about 550 miles. At the time it seemed to correlate with some very wet and hilly conditions. The tears are not big, and the shoes are still totally usable. I ran a half-marathon PB with 700+ miles on them. They’re just a little better ventilated!

          I agree it shouldn’t happen, whatever your run circumstances, but would hate to see people put off a truly remarkable family of shoes which have revolutionized my running.

      • Pete Larson says:

        No tears in my Trailrocs so far, but will keep an eye on it for sure.

        Sent from my iPad

    • Ashwyn Gray says:

      How many miles have you run in the Trailrocs you photographed, Stefan? Those tears certainly look bad.

      • I do not log my miles. I do have several 6000 ft mountains behind my house and I use the Trailroc only for one particular mountain that I run about once a week. Since mid September this would make about 140 miles. Add 30 miles for holiday runs. So it comes down to 170 miles as a reasonable estimate.

        I actually wonder if my use/run pattern has accelerated this type of wear. This particular mountain run is quite steep. Therefore, the shoes bend much more when compared to running in the plane. Almost like a sprinter with regard to foot landing.

        But I must repeat my obeservation that appearance of tears in the mesh was already an issue with my f-lites and x-talon 195. But not at the same spot and not “bending related”.

      • Robert Osfield says:

        The uppers on my Trailroc 245’s are starting to wear through in a similar pattern, but so far only have a couple of small holes. I’ve put on 405 miles and 30,000ft of ascent/descent on them so far. I didn’t see much wear on the upper till about 300 miles when I started running in crusty snow which looks to have pulled at the threads of the mesh and accelerated the wear. The upper is significantly less robust than my Roclite 295’s that seem to come with 600+miles without too many issues.

        Given the midsole and the sole still seem to be holding up I’d like to get a few more hundred miles on them before I need to replace them, so it’d be frustrating to have to do this prematurely due to the upper falling apart. I’m planning to patch the upper to prevent them degrading too much further, but will need to find a decent glue.

  3. Urrggh left a long post, then it disappeared.

    The Mix Master is my favorite so far. Nice and light, flexible, low to the ground, and an aggressive outsole. The only thing I don’t like is the open mesh upper. Too much trash/dirt/stickers get through. The parrot color is pretty sexy too. ;-)

    Inov-8s just don’t fit my foot. I really wanted to like the 245s, but they felt tight. I took out the insole, and that helped, but the sole has a very defined flex point and without the insole, it pinched the bottom of my foot. Great out sole though, perfect for my terrain.

    I had high hopes for the Altra Superior. The Lone Peaks fit me very well, but are a bit clunky. I have 2 main problems with the Superiors: they are huge through the midfoot, and the sole isn’t aggressive enough. I had to put in a really thick insole just to get them to lace up tight enough. I never run on pavement, and while the tread is good most of the time, it just doesn’t get enough bite in loose stuff. This shoe has a great combination of cushion and feel. They are thick enough to provide good shock absorption and cushion sharp rocks, but still give good ground feel. I love the shape. With a smaller midfoot volume and a more aggressive sole, these would be my favorite.

    I recently picked up a pair of Saucony Peregrines. I hated
    them until I ran in snow, then they worked great (heavily lugged sole). They were really stiff (better now) but the main problem is my ankle rolls constantly in rough country. I’ve been using NB 110s, Mix Masters, and the Superior, and my ankle doesn’t roll in any of them. I didn’t realize how much the low sole height helps with ankle rolling.

    • Totally agree with you on the Inov8s and the Superior. I also find Inov8’s anatomical last a tad to narrow. In particular around the toes. According to many others on the web we’re apparently not alone. I do not have particulary wide feet either.

      I only use the Superior for fire roads and roads running. Not really a versatile trail running shoe. I find it to loose around the heel.

  4. William Nee says:

    Sad to hear that the Superiors don’t have great traction. I view the Lone Peaks as a great shoe, that with two main tweaks would become almost perfect: 1) decrease the weight a bit, and 2) increase traction, especially for wet rocks.

    For those that live in wet/humid climates (such as Hong Kong or the Eastern US), lack of traction on wet rocks is basically a dealbreaker.

  5. Just moved my durabilty issue to the runblogger forum (didn’t actually that there is one):

  6. Whotrustedus says:

    I have relatively new pairs of both the Superior & the 235. I like them both for different reasons. not many miles yet on either so i can’t comment on durability. One thing surprised about the 235s was the poor quality of the laces. They are very thin, they feel like they won’t last long, and because of their thinness, they are hard to grip when tying. This is especially noticeable compared to the Superiors. Their laces are quite thick & sturdy and they are way easy to cinch up well. Are all Inov-8 laces this flimsy?

  7. Run2live_live2run says:

    Greetings from amherst New Hampshire! I didn’t know that you lived in New Hampshire. Where are you at? ( northern, central, southern?) have you ever run reach the beach? (Its a great race series run in New Hampshire, I’m sure you’ve heard of it at some point or another.)

  8. Mike Wilkinson says:

    How’s the durability on the Mix Master 2? I really want to grab a pair of these bad boys (sliver / black), but am concerned about how many miles I could get of them? Do you think 400-500 miles is plausible?

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