Running on wet trails is a messy business.
The otherwise well-behaved surface turns into a sludge fest, and each footstrike splashes mud everywhere. On your legs, running pants, socks, and anything that’s within a meter’s vicinity of the ground.
The shoes take the brunt of it. Even a 30-minute trail run following a rain shower changes the visual landscape of the shoe; the midsole and upper mesh are covered with splotches of clay.
But that’s not the real problem. Any trail running shoe gets dirty very quickly – that comes with the territory. It’s all superficial anyway.
However, if water enters the shoe, that’s when things turn unpleasant. The socks will absorb the water, and there’s nothing worse than wet feet when running.
Though most trail running shoes offer a reasonable level of protection against dust and debris, the same cannot be said of waterproofing.
Trail running shoe uppers have closed, yet non-waterproof mesh to keep the feet ventilated. Sure, a waterproof gaiter helps, but it doesn’t cover the forefoot which happens to be the primary entry point for water.
Therefore, the only option is to buy a trail running shoe with a waterproof membrane. Most brands of note use Gore-Tex, whereas a few brands provide waterproofing through other suppliers.
Here’s a quick overview of the features that make a waterproof shoe better.
Look for a Gore-Tex label
Gore-Tex is the gold standard of waterproofing. There’s something to be said about a company that exists solely to produce waterproof textiles for the footwear and sportswear industry.
That’s their specialty, and they’ve perfected it to an art form since the 70s. The waterproof membrane is also breathable to let the condensation escape. In other words, the pores on the membrane are too small to let the water in, but large enough for the water vapor to exit.
In the old days, a Gore-Tex membrane was relatively thick and usually made the upper fit narrow. Today, that’s no longer true. We’ve reviewed several shoes on this site with Gore-Tex waterproofing, and none of them had a narrow or stiff fit.
As a side note, some of the other Gore-Tex variants are incredibly thin. Pictured here is the GTX Active Shakedry on a bike jacket; this ultra-thin and hyper-lightweight jacket can be crumpled to fit inside an adult palm.
An outsole with wet-grip traction and geometry
With wet trails come slippery terrain. So running on a muddy or puddle-filled trail isn’t just about a waterproof upper. The outsole needs to have the right kind of compound and lug geometry.
Fortunately, many waterproof trail running shoes are shod with wet surface-friendly outsoles and deep lugs. Our guide only includes outsole designs that have an advantage on wet terrain.
For example, Saucony uses soft Pwrtac lugs, and Salomon also uses a similar material for the SpeedCross 5 GTX. Brooks and Nike also do well here.
However, the traction – no matter how good – will suffer on slushy clay, hard ice, or algae-coated rocks.
Lastly, use a gaiter when the weather permits
Unless the trail running shoe has an in-built gaiter that’s also waterproof, attaching an aftermarket gaiter vastly increases the chances of the feet staying dry.
It can get warm with a gaiter, so using a waterproof cover during the summer may not be a good idea. We recommend the Kahtoola Levagaiter Mid GTX for running shoes.
The thin strap makes it easy to wrap around the midsole, and the TPU hook attaches to the D-Ring on the shoe. Not all trail shoes are gaiter compatible; the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 and Salomon Speedcross 5 do not have a D-ring.
Solereview recommends: The Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX
At the time of writing this review, we view the Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX as the best all-around waterproof trail running shoe. The Speedcross’s capabilities extend far beyond its waterproofing.
It’s the only shoe on this guide to have a double-lasted construction. Unlike most running shoes, the midsole isn’t visible from the outside; it’s wrapped by the upper.
This allows the EVA foam midsole to be slimmer and flush with the upper edge, which in turn, improves the stability and fit security.
There’s a separate heel midsole that cups the foot on both sides, and an Ortholite insole creates a softer cushioning layer. This creates a ride character that’s cushioned yet speed-friendly.
Though the midsole lacks a traditional rock shield, a TPU film protects from the rocks and roots. The widely-spaced lugs have excellent traction and minimize clogging.
The upper is generously layered with synthetic – a design that makes the exterior protective, waterproof, and easy to wipe. The full gusset keeps the moisture and debris out; the bungee cord lacing is quick to cinch. A D-Ring is missing on the forefoot, so it’s not gaiter-compatible.
The Speedcross 5 GTX can be hard to find at times, so here are six other waterproof trail running shoes that we think highly of. The list is in the order of our preference.
1) Saucony Peregrine 11 GTX
At the time of writing this guide, the Gore-Tex version of the Peregrine 12 doesn’t seem to be available – yet. Nonetheless, the Peregrine 11 GTX is also an excellent trail running shoe with high levels of versatility.
The firm Pwrrun (EVA foam) midsole absorbs impact and works together with the rock shield to form a protective barrier between the trail and the foot. There’s an e-TPU topsole and EVA insole over the firm midsole that adds some softness. At the same time, the firm and low-profile midsole with the 4 mm offset are also good for speed trail runs.
Here, it’s worth mentioning that the Peregrine 12 gets rid of the ‘Topsole’ and EVA insole and does something better. There’s a new insole made of the responsive Pwrrun+ that adds freshness to the ride.
The waterproof upper has a gaiter D-ring, fused splash guards, and a padded interior that elevates the level of fit comfort. The Gore-Tex lining is the ‘Invisible fit’ variant, which means that the waterproofing does not make the upper stiff or narrow.
2) Brooks Cascadia 16 GTX
The Cascadia 16 has changed. By removing the ‘pivot posts’ on the midsole, it’s a softer shoe than it used to be.
A thick midsole made of Brooks’s DNA Loft (an EVA blend) foam makes the ride comfortable for long trail miles. Its wide footprint, flexible rock-shield, and grippy outsole make the ride supportive and safe on most trails.
However, running on wet terrain requires an abundance of caution, no matter how good the outsole is.
The upper fit is roomy – and as pointed out in our review, perhaps a tad too spacious. So unlike the Saucony Peregrine 11 and 12, the Cascadia isn’t a great speed running shoe due to its relaxed fit. It’s versatile enough to be a regular trail runner as well as long-distance outings.
The interiors are very smooth due to the seamless design and Gore-Tex invisible fit lining. Read our detailed review here.
3) Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GTX
We have an in-depth review of this shoe elsewhere on this site, but here’s an overview of the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GTX.
Rather than being a serious trail running shoe, this Nike product is a road-trail hybrid. In other words, the Pegasus Trail 3 performs well on roads, flat gravel, and chip trails, as well as mild gradients.
Besides the obvious Gore-Tex waterproofing, several features make this shoe an excellent dual-purpose trail runner.
The React midsole has a soft cushioning that wouldn’t feel out of place on a road shoe, so this is what makes the Pegasus Trail so comfortable over flat surfaces. The tacky rubber outsole has well-defined lugs with a flat surface – thus reducing the wear and tear on harder surfaces.
Even with the waterproof Gore-Tex lining, the upper is supple and spacious. Mind you, there’s no gaiter loop on the forefoot.
4) Hoka Challenger ATR 6 GTX
If, for some reason, the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 GTX’s cushioning is found lacking in ride comfort, it’s worth trying the waterproof variant of the Hoka Challenger ATR 6.
The latter is a road-trail crossover like the Pegasus, but with a difference – it’s got a higher level of cushioning that’s favorable for high-mileage trail runs. The outsole lugs aren’t aggressive, so they work on roads and packed trails without accelerated wear and tear.
The upper design makes it obvious that the Challenger ATR prioritizes comfort over protection. Except for the toe and midfoot area, there’s barely any layering – it’s all mesh. So even with the Gore-Tex membrane, the waterproof upper is secure yet supple.
And if you’re wondering why we chose the Challenger over the Speedgoat, that’s because the latter is a much firmer shoe.
5) Our budget pick: Saucony Excursion TR15 GTX
Most of the shoes on this guide are in the $150 price range. So if we had to recommend just one entry-level trail shoe with a Gore-Tex upper, the $100 Saucony Excursion TR15 would be it.
There are not many competent trail running shoes at this price, let alone a waterproof one with the Gore-Tex Invisible Fit membrane. The Excursion TR 15 is well-built for its price; a firm EVA midsole over a thick rubber outsole creates a stable and protective ride.
The GTX-lined upper is traditionally built, yet trail-worthy. The thick overlays and welded details make the Excursion protective, whereas the mesh shell and padded lining make the interiors comfortable.
6) Our icy winter pick: Salomon Snowspike CSWP
Among all the winter shoes with spiked outsoles, the Salomon Snowspike CSWP is in a league of its own.
Sure, there are brands like Icebug and Sportiva that sell spike-fitted running shoes, but the Snowspike is the complete package.
Besides the Carbide-tipped spikes on the soft rubber outsole, the Snowspike has a waterproof gaiter, a secure fit, an easy-to-use cinching system, and a cushioned midsole that works equally well across different speed and distance ranges.
Our detailed wear-tested review has everything that you need to know about the Snowspike CSWP.