The Best Cross-Country Running Shoes for Training and Performance

brooks cross country sneaker
The Best Cross-Country Running Shoes of 2024

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."

There are few pieces of running gear that impact your performance as much as shoes, and the ability to comfortably run long distances across uncertain terrain is of the utmost importance when competing in cross-country. That means wearing running shoes that feel good on your feet, are lightweight, and offer plenty of traction to prevent you from losing your footing over grass and mud.

But there are so many different options out there with of flashy features, from techy midsoles to spikes and studs to stacks of cushioning, that it’s difficult to know how one shoe stacks up against another. Look for shoes that offer outstanding traction, are made of durable yet flexible material, and feel comfy from the moment you first put them on.

Some cross-country shoes have spikes on the soles, while others are flat. The style that is right for you depends on whether you expect to run over slippery or soft surfaces. Unlike running shoes designed for handling pavement, many cross-country shoes do not boast prominent stability elements, so if pronation is an issue, you may need a more traditional road-style shoe with more aggressive stabilization, or a trail shoe. The suggestions below are fairly neutral in that regard, but we have plenty of suggestions if you’re seeking shoes with greater stability.

Running shoes certainly aren’t cheap, with most quality entry-level shoes priced around $120 to $160. Unless you’re competing in a range of track and field events, you’ll likely only need one pair to last through several seasons, so you want to make sure you get the right ones. Never fear—here’s our guide to the best cross-country running shoes including everything you need to know, plus specific recommendations.

Best Cross Country Running Shoes

What to Consider in Cross Country Running Shoes


When it comes to cross-country competition, you typically want your shoes to be as lightweight as possible—definitely under 12 ounces. Not only does this lighten your load overall, but cross-country competitors tend to be somewhat younger, as it’s typically a school-oriented sport and you simply don’t need the added cushioning of heavier shoes. Lighter weight, “minimalist” shoes can also provide better ground feel, lending greater control over your stride and foot placement.


Running shoes should fit without rubbing or restricting your movement in any way. To that end, it’s often smart to wear shoes that have a bit of extra room in them, as your feet tend to swell as you run. Tighter-fitting shoes might prove to be too snug by the end of a long race.


A cross-country course can cover a lot of uncertain terrain, from gravel to slick grass to mud, so you need shoes that provide appropriate traction. If you're a beginner, you may be fine with a more basic running shoe equipped with decent grip— in fact, you may benefit from the more natural ground feel of a flatter sole as you learn the sport. However, as you get more competitive you may benefit from spikes or another form of deeper traction.

Shoes with spikes at the fore-sole are great for mud and soft surfaces, but can hinder performance on pavement. Modern cross-country spikes are typically embedded in flexible spike plates that have a bit of give to them over uneven surfaces, allowing for flexibility.

Another option is the deep studs of “fell” running shoes, which are wider rubber knobs accentuated by high-grip outsoles. These are suited for wet and muddy terrain and offer enhanced foot protection, but they do tend to be heavier and feel more disconnected from the ground.

How We Selected Cross Country Running Shoes

I started running cross-country when I was 14 and have been a lifelong runner ever since, so I know what to look for in a great pair of cross-country running shoes. Over the past several months I’ve tested a wide range of the latest releases from all the top brands, and I’ve taken into account input from the Runner’s World editors. In selecting the recommendations below, I’ve considered weight, comfort, traction, price, and different running needs to determine the best cross-country running shoes across a range of categories.

Peregrine 14 Cross Country Shoe

The Peregrine 14 from Saucony nails it for cross-country largely because it’s such a versatile shoe. While the studded fell-style traction is deep and grippy—with solid outsole grip and protection to boot—it feels surprisingly natural for such thick rubber. The deep 5mm lugs hold reliably on wet, soft surfaces, but the studs are flat and broad, allowing for running on pavement as well.

These are also surprisingly light for trail shoes. I’ve used them across a wide range of surfaces from flat, hard dirt to muddy technical routes, and the Peregrines have handled them all. The upper may be a bit stiff and they don’t do much in the way of energy return, but when it comes to a versatile, surefooted running shoe, these are as good as they come.

Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Peregrine 14 Cross Country Shoe</p><p></p><p>$139.95</p>

Launch 10 Cross Country Sneaker

When you’re starting out in cross country, you typically don’t want aggressive traction or piles of cushioning. Instead, you want a more versatile shoe that lets you feel the ground without slipping on it. To that end, the Launch 10 is an excellent option.

Its modestly cushioned sole delivers a natural stride, and while it doesn’t have spikes or studs, it still has great grip across most surfaces. These running shoes are lightweight and have a comfortable upper, and the balanced midsole is suitable for most running styles.

They’re also relatively affordable and offer outstanding durability. The looks may not be all that exciting, but in terms of performance, it’s a great shoe for taking your first steps into cross-country.

Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Launch 10 Cross Country Sneaker</p><p></p><p>$99.95</p>

Zoom Rival Multi Track and Field Shoes

There are lots of decent spikes on the market, but these days the Nike Rival Multi is setting the standard for all-around quality by doing pretty much everything right. These are all-track heroes— perfect for everything from course running to jumping to pole vaulting.

The aggressive spikes won’t run on pavement, but they’re perfect for soft, wet surfaces. They’re also the lightest recommendation in our roundup, and deliver a decent amount of springiness.

The upper is comfortable and breathable, and these are built to last through years of competition. What’s more, they clock in under $100, offering great bang for your buck.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Zoom Rival Multi Track and Field Shoes</p><p></p><p>$74.99</p>

Draft XC Spikeless Supportive Cross-Country Running Shoe

For great track shoes without the spikes, the Brooks Draft XC Spikeless are lightweight, flexible, and have outstanding ground feel. The lack of spikes allows for running on pavement, yet the soles still have reliable grip on wet and moderately soft surfaces.

This pair of shoes feels great on your feet with a flexible, breathable upper. The responsive midsole helps propel you forward, and they’re nearly as light as can be at 6 ounces.

I’d wear these for almost any track event, and they’re particularly well suited for cross-country in drier climates where soggy mud isn’t an issue.

It can be tricky to find the right color/size combo depending on your timing, but they’re an excellent shoe regardless.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Draft XC Spikeless Supportive Cross-Country Running Shoe</p><p></p><p>$64.95</p>

Shop Now

Draft XC Spikeless Supportive Cross-Country Running Shoe


Ride 17 Cross Country Sneaker

The Saucony Ride 17 is a nearly perfect training shoe—great for speedwork, moderate runs, or even long distances. They’re incredibly comfortable, locking down on your feet and providing plenty of flexibility.

While they have more cushioning than I’d typically recommend for cross-country, when it comes to day-in, day-out training, that pillowy softness is welcome, though it does make them a bit heavy.

Equipped with the brand’s upgraded midsole, these shoes deliver solid energy return. They’re also highly durable, having been built specifically for rough off-road treatment. Combined with their superior versatility and moderate price, this pair is an outstanding value.

Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Ride 17 Cross Country Sneaker</p><p></p><p>$139.95</p>

Shop Now

Ride 17 Cross Country Sneaker


Cloudsurfer Trail Waterproof Cross Country Shoes

Sometimes you want a shoe that’s over the top, and the ON Cloudsurfer Trail Waterproof is exactly that—in a good way. They’ve got more cushioning and waterproofing than you probably need, though you’ll enjoy having it.

The company’s new CloudTec Phase midsole absolutely throws you forward by smoothing the transition from toe to heel, though it can lose some stability over uneven surfaces.

While these were developed for trail running, I’d say they’re more of a road/trail hybrid making them great for transitioning between surfaces. Their traction is only so-so, meaning they’re not ideal in mud, but they handle well on moderately technical trails.

Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Cloudsurfer Trail Waterproof Cross Country Shoes</p><p></p><p>$180.00</p>

You Might Also Like