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Recommended Zero Drop, Cushioned Trail Running Shoes

Though I enjoy wearing zero drop, barefoot-style shoes casually and while running on roads, I’ve found out the hard way that running trails in minimally cushioned shoes can sometimes be difficult, especially if pointy rocks are strewn about (a bruised foot during my first 50K made me realize the value of a good rock plate…).

Fortunately, more and more options are popping up in the cushioned, zero drop trail running niche – below are my recommended shoes in this category. All of the shoes listed below work well on roads too and thus offer quite a bit of versatility. However, if you are looking for dedicated zero drop road shoes, you can also view my recommended zero drop, cushioned road shoes here.

NOTE: I’ve only included shoes that I personally have worn or that have been reviewed here on If you think there’s a shoe that should be here that’s not currently included, leave a comment and I’ll look at giving it a try!

Zero Drop, Cushioned Trail Shoes

Merrell Ascend Glove

Stack Height: 10.5mm, 10.5mm
Weight: 8.5oz (size 10)

Quick Take: firm cushion, forefoot and heel rock plate, wide forefoot, drains well, decent traction
My Full Review (click to read)

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Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)

 Altra Superior

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm
Weight: 10.3oz

Quick Take: removable rock plate, very flexible, super-wide toebox, runs 1/2 size small, very versatile shoe 
My Brief Review

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Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)

Inov-8 Trailroc 235

Stack Height: 13mm, 13mm
Weight: 8.3oz

Quick Take: roomy fit, no rock plate but protective outsole, firm ride, decent traction, some have had upper durability issues
My Full Review (click to read)

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Buy at Zappos
Buy at (outside US)
Buy at Wiggle (outside US)

Skechers GoBionic Orange

Skechers GoBionic Trail

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

Quick Take: soft cushioning, rock plate, good traction, removable footbed allows switching between 0mm and 4mm drop
Read a Full Review by Caleb Masland (my coach; my review soon)

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

Other zero drop, cushioned trail shoes that I have not yet run in include the Altra Lone Peak, Inov-8 F-Lite 232, and the soon to arrive Mizuno Ferus.

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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. Traveling Guy says:

    Just FYI: Inov-8 and Sketchers review links go to incorrect review articles.
    Hoping to try out a few of these in the near future. I love the Go Bionic road shoe, so high hopes that the trail version has similar feel. (need the rock plate, and better grip than the road shoe has on slick forest and rocky trails.)

  2. Paul Joyce says:

    Nice recommendations Pete, looking forward to trying out the GoBionic Trail. I ran my first 50 miler in the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and can highly recommend them as another zero drop cushioned option.

  3. The top of the 235 and the 245 from INOV 8, as you mentioned, are sensitive. IT is a thin film layer glued on the mesh. Very easy to rip it off, by small rocks, roots, rose bushes. It is easy to reglue them though. The same lamination process should be used what we see on the structural overlays, not glue.

    • Robert Osfield says:

      I wonder if there has been a batch or batches of shoes which are poorly glued. I kept my pair of Trailroc 245’s going for 800 miles and ran it harsh snow/icy conditions to off trail through tearing heather and didn’t have any problems with the toe box delimanating. My shoes were obvious part of one of the good batches w.r.t the glueing issue.

      I did however had issues wiht the fabric of the upper wearing through around the little toe and around the overlays at the sides. Others have reported this issue as well. My uppers began to wear through from about 400 miles. On the inside of the shoe I glued small sections of material over the holes to re-inforce the upper and this kept them going.

      The midsoles and outer began to fail as I approached 800 miles in the shoes, and in hindsight I should have retired them at 750 miles. This is still more than I’ve put on any other shoe.

      I now have a pair of Trailroc 255’s and the upper is far more re-inforced and expect them to last as long as the mid-sole and sole. The downside for all this robustness is it doesn’t breath or drain as well as the less protected uppers of the 235 and 245’s.

  4. Robert Osfield says:

    While not yet on your list, I’d recommend the new F-Lite 232, it is zero drop and has the same last as the Trailroc 235, but has a different upper and sole. The sole is firm but nice and flexible, more flexible than the Trailroc. The flexibility makes it feel more in tune with my foot.

    The F-Lite lugs are shallower and flatter than the Trailroc series and should make it a good cross over shoe – one works well on roads as much as trails. Prior to the Bare-X and Road-X series the F-Lite was inov8’s shoe most suitable for road running, so I’m guessing this latest addition to the F-Lite series will work well on roads.

    There isn’t a rock plate so there won’t be as much protection as there is on the Trailroc 245 and 255 so I’d guess it’ll not be quite a good as shoe for long distances over really broken terrain.

    The upper has different overlay structure than the Trailroc, and I’m hoping that it’ll be more durable. It is however a similar fabric so I’d expect it’ll get torn if going through bushes and icy snow. For the later I’ll dig out my Trailroc 255’s as the extra overlays make it pretty bullet proof compared to the lighter Trailroc’s and F-Lite.

  5. Ben McDonald says:

    Any idea when you (or a colleague) may get a spin in the Ferus? I’m hopeful that it may be the answer to right the wrongs in the zero-drop translation of the MT10 to the MT00, but curious how the “half wave plate” will actually work. While not the focus of this site, it does also look to possibly be an unintentionally perfect crossfit shoe, too.

  6. Surfing Vol says:

    I like the Inov8 TrailRoc 245 for technical (rocky) trails. The extra prtoection is worth the slight additional weight. I did, however, have to order up another half size to avoid black toenails.

  7. Kyle Norman CSCS, MS says:

    I too found out in a very painful manner that long/aggressive trail running may not be the best idea when done in a strict barefoot-style shoe. I love my NB MT10s for lots of stuff but not for serious runs on Colorado’s Front Range.

    Right now, I’m wild about the New Balance MT110. Love ’em! The padding and rock plate make all the difference in the world. They’re very light. They’re very roomy up front so my feet can spread and they feel great without socks. I can’t say enough about them.

    Admittedly, they’re a 4 mm drop but… what can I say? They’re fantastic!

  8. Stéphane says:

    I know they’re not zero drop, but what about the NB MO80? If they’re similar to the MT10 with added durability and protection, they sound good to me.

  9. How’s the toe box for room on the Sketchers vs. the Inov8?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Both are fairly roomy, neither struck me as being roomier than the other, but the Inov-8 is a bit pointier and the bumper has delaminated on the shoe for some people.

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    • Robert Osfield says:

      I tried on several of the sketchers shoes including the go bionic and found them too tight for me around the mid foot . The inov-8 anatomical last works better for my wide mid-foot.

    • dog runner says:

      My experience was that the anatomic last in the Inov-8 is still too snug in the toebox, but the Skechers was ok. The midfoot was snug, but that is partly a matter of lacing and in anycase, the midfoot does not need to spread with dynamic load the way toes do. I am looking forward to receiving the Go Bionic trail (on order), have been wearing the original Go Bionic as my primary “road” shoe for the past year (I’m on my 2nd pair). Love ’em.

  10. Brad Herder says:

    The Altra Superior and “cushioned” don’t belong in the same sentence. They are hard as a rock.

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  1. […] Recommended Zero Drop, Cushioned Trail Running Shoes – Other zero drop, cushioned trail shoes that I have not yet run in include the Altra Lone Peak, Inov-8 F-Lite 232, and the soon to arrive Mizuno Ferus…. […]

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