With an extra-wide base and a copious amount of cushioning, the XR Mission serves up a stable platform on uneven terrain by creating maximum contact with the ground. Built in the likeness of a softly cushioned road-running shoe, the ride is as soft and plush on dirt roads and smooth rolling trails as it is on pavement. It’s not as light or low to the ground as some of its contemporaries (and it has a relatively high 10 mm heel-forefoot differential), but its additional girth absorbs sharp objects underfoot and fends off sidewall abrasions with ease.
Best For: A less experienced runner seeking extra stability on mildly rugged terrain or smooth rolling trails.
Motorola MOTOACTV Fitness Tracker and Smart Music Player.
If George Jetson were a fitness fanatic, he would have had one of these years ago. For the rest of us, the future has arrived just in time in the form of a do-almost-everything fitness device. MOTOACTV packs music, real-time heart-rate tracking, GPS data collection, and the functionality of a standard stopwatch into a lightweight, compact wristwatch. Synced with wireless Bluetooth headphones, it’s intuitive, easy to use, and hassle-free. Whether you’re running on roads, trails, or track, this all-in-one combo is the only device you need.
Yurbuds Ironman Inspire Pro.
Don’t write off corded headphones as a thing of the past just yet. Yurbuds has taken running headphones to a whole new level with the iPod- and iPhone-compatible Ironman Inspire Pro. With a three-function, in-line control, the Inspire Pro allows quick, one-handed volume adjustments and song changes on the fly. Plus, an in-line microphone allows you to take iPhone calls in stride. But perhaps the best aspect is the secure fit of the customizable ear buds—a variety of sizes are available, and two sizes come with each unit—that snugly and safely fit just outside the opening of the ear and channel sound directly into the ear canal.
At long last, this is a sleek, barely-there racing model from the brand that put the minimalist movement in motion a few years ago. While the zero-drop SeeYa might look a bit ornate and feel strange at first, its glovelike fit, on-the-ground sensation, and independent toe articulation provide the ultimate freedom of movement for a runner’s feet. The SeeYa is one of the very lightest and most streamlined minimalist shoes yet (not counting a few next-to-nothing, slip-on silicone models from Inov-8 and Zem Gear), with a lithe stretch-mesh upper and an ultra-thin outsole/midsole configuration. The only way to run in these featherweight flyers is with a good upright running posture dictated by a midfoot/forefoot running gait, as even a few steps of light heel-striking would be too harsh to bare.
Best For: An experienced barefoot-style minimalist runner who is comfortable wearing next to nothing on his or her feet while running fast on hard surfaces.
Montrail Rogue Fly Shoe.
This low-profile off-road fiend is the ultimate high-speed racing flat for the trails. It has a lightweight, easy-flexing demeanor that promotes high-cadence running on smooth trails and allows a runner to nimbly dance over roots and rocks like a mountain goat. A race-ready snugness, a thin layer of foam cushioning, and a matrix of low-profile outsole lugs combine for a stable connection to the ground underfoot and the ultimate performance-oriented fit. The Rogue Fly has a relatively high 10 mm heel-forefoot height differential, but it’s a performance-enhancing design; the low-to-the-ground forefoot aids in a runner’s ability to feel the ground and run nimbly when high-speed handling and sure-footedness is crucial, while the slightly thicker heel comes in handy for controlled braking on steep descents and an extra layer of comfort for long runs.
Best For: An experienced trail runner who is light on his or her feet and can run nimbly on trails that include rocks, roots, gravel, wet leaves, mud, and roller-coaster profiles.
The Spark is a surprisingly light and agile shoe built for technical mountain trails, one that offers a good amount of protection and durability without sacrificing the flexibility needed for nimble movements and precise footsteps on craggy trails. One of the keys to the Spark’s agility is its moderate heel-forefoot drop (only 6 mm), which helps ensure flat, stable foot placements on unstable terrain. It also has a snug heel and midfoot fit and a slightly wider toe box that allows for the inevitable toe stubbing and foot swelling on rugged mountain routes. The low-profile outsole lugs offer good traction on a variety of surfaces and, combined with a flexible nylon protection plate buried in the midfoot, keep sharp objects from painfully poking the bottom of your feet.
Best For: A trail runner who regularly runs on rugged trails strewn with rocks, logs, and other debris.