Best Shoes for Cross Country

Cross country running is no simple feat. Combining the challenge of running extensive distances with the difficulty of navigating treacherous terrain, this sport isn’t for any Tom, Dick, or harrier. In fact, it takes a whole lot more than just endurance and stamina to get through an average cross country course.

Image of the Saucony Men's Kilkenny Xc5 Spike Cross Country Spike Shoe,Purple/Red/Citron,12.5 M US

A pair of hardy, comfortable, supportive shoes is a vital essential that you should make sure to have before you start any cross country run. Are you in search of the best footwear pick to take with you on the track? I might have the answer you’re looking for – and a few alternatives to boot!

I did quite a bit of research on cross country shoes and found that the Kilkenny XC5 Spike Cross Country Shoe from Saucony is the most popular choice for lots of cross country runners. With its flexible, feather-light construction, these shoes are guaranteed to give you that explosive speed and stability you need to make your way to the front of the pack.

Learn more about the Saucony Kilkenny XC5 and find out which designs I found to be the best alternatives with this complete guide.

Feather-light Performance Keeps You Quick on Your Feet

A pair of clunky, clumsy, chunky shoes won’t take you very far on a cross country run. So it’s important to make sure you’re choosing footwear that won’t weigh you down. The Saucony Kilkenny XC5 promises to keep you quick on your feet with its ultra feather-light construction that’s designed to take you long distances.

Image of the Saucony Men's Kilkenny XC5 Cross Country Racing Shoe, Royal/Black/Vizi Orange, 11.5 M US

The design owes this to its brilliant combination of materials, mainly leveraging mesh for its uppers. This makes them extremely light and breathable. Working with the shoes’ performance-driven fit (which I’ll touch more on later), the materials allow impressive flexibility that encourages a very natural gait.

Personally, I find this to be the most important feature in any shoe for long distances. Preventing a lot of fatigue and soreness, the Kilkenny XC5 makes a very reliable shoe that can take you through the track with superb ease.

Four Heavy Duty Studs for Killer Traction

The unique challenge that cross country running presents is the quality of the track. You’d be lucky to find yourself on a relatively even dirt path when you try to complete a cross country run. More often than not, courses that qualify for the sport combine mud, grass, and dirt. So it’s important that your footwear is well equipped to face every kind of terrain you might encounter.

The Kilkenny XC5 features four heavy duty studs located towards the forefoot of the outsoles. The pointy pieces of metal are removable with the use of a wrench that comes included with each purchase of the shoes. This turns the shoe into a standard running shoe that works well on level terrain like cement sidewalks.

Image of the Saucony Men's Kilkenny XC5 Cross Country Racing Shoe, Royal/Black/Vizi Orange, 11.5 M US

The studs are particularly impressive, capable of propelling you forward with killer grip despite their relatively short length. The design also doesn’t incorporate any studs along the heel, which helps keep your stride and step more natural.

Of course, most of us think that more studs means better traction. And while that isn’t always true, some buyers will still shy away from four-studded choices like the Kilkenny XC5 simply because there are designs that incorporate more studs. So if you’re looking for a similar design with a few extra studs, I can recommend the New Balance 700v5 Cross Country Shoe which boasts 6 sharp metal studs for solid traction.

Performance-Driven, Tight Fitting Uppers

Another shining feature of the Kilkenny XC5 is its performance-driven fit. The shoe was specifically designed to cling tightly against the skin to fit more like a sock than a shoe. This allows the XC5 to bend, move, and flex more accurately with your feet so you can enjoy a more natural step.

The uppers are mainly responsible for this adaptive and dynamic fit. The mesh and synthetic come together to create a pliable sheet that easily shifts and conforms to the shape and size of the user’s feet. This effectively reduces restriction, allowing you to step, stride, and run without any resistance on your natural range of motion.

I’m sure there are lots of user’s who aren’t used to this kind of feel, but I was thoroughly impressed with the design’s pliability. It might take some getting used to, but once you do get the hang of the feel, it’s as comfortable as it gets.

Reasonable Comfort for an Ultra-Lightweight

One of the things you’ll notice about sports shoes that are excessively light is that they’re always lacking comfort. That’s because for manufacturers to achieve that lightweight build, they need to sacrifice materials that could bog down on the design’s weight.

For that reason, the Saucony Kilkenny XC5 isn’t the most comfortable, plush padded shoe out there. But then again, it’s not exactly completely lacking. The insoles aren’t anything special, but they do give just enough rebound to make each step a little more comfortable.

Unfortunately, the shoes are too slim fitting to accommodate any extra insoles. And because the insoles on these shoes aren’t removable, that might be a problem for some users who were hoping to equip the shoe with their own footbed.

Pros of the Saucony Kilkenny XC5

  • Ultra lightweight construction helps reduce the burden on your feet for better endurance.
  • Reliable metal studs dig effectively into dirt, mud, and grass, giving you the footing you need for efficient toe off.
  • Tight fitting uppers fit the feet like gloves, allowing more natural movement.
  • Comes at a fairly affordable price point – perfect for every kind of budget.

Some Downsides

  • Insoles are not removable.

Honorable Mentions

During my research, there were a few other designs that almost snagged the crown for this particular list. While they do have their fair share of flaws, these shoes are still decent selections that are guaranteed to meet your standards, especially if the Saucony Kilkenny XC5 just didn’t seem to hit the right notes for you.

Saucony Carrera XC Cross-Country Shoe

Another crowd pleaser from Saucony is the Carrera XC. This shoe design has a bulkier construction compared to the featherweight build of the Kilkenny XC5. Despite this, the Carrera XC is still on the lighter side of the spectrum, especially when compared to cross country shoes from brands like Asics.

Image of the Carrera XC 2

This design boasts an intuitive and adaptive fit made possible by FlexFilm and Pro-Lock which come together to help users achieve a more dynamic tightness that locks the feet down without restricting movement. The shoe also boasts a 6-pin spike pattern along the outsoles, giving it extra grip against a variety of surfaces.

Durable, reliable, and efficient, the downside to the Carrera XC is that figuring out their size can be flustering. Some buyers claim that the shoes run a size larger. Others say it runs smaller. Then there are those who claim the design is true to fit. Once you do figure out which size to order though, they will be some of the most comfortable cross country shoes you’ll ever have.

Pros of the Saucony XC Cross-Country Shoe

  • Durable construction and robust materials give it longer life even with constant use.
  • 6 studs help provide substantial traction that plants feet firmly in the ground.
  • Lightweight and comfortable, reducing fatigue to push you further.
  • Reasonable price tag.

Some Downsides

  • Fit is difficult to figure out – be sure to ask for precise measurements and dimensions to avoid a bad buy.

Adidas Performance XCS Cross-Country Running Shoe

The XCS Cross-Country running shoe from Adidas has to be one of the most sophisticated designs I’ve seen. The shoe uses a Livestrike EVA midsole for unbeatable rebound, Adaptive Traxion outsoles for killer cling, and an asymmetrical lacing system that helps apply the ideal tensile forces across the surfaces of the foot for better fit and mobility.

On the overall, the XCS is a prime footwear design that easily outshines a lot of its competition. But I do want to mention that the shoe’s uppers are completely covered in a rubberized print which was a major comfort killer. The purpose of this was to help prevent the damage from outdoor terrain.

However, the rubberized exterior also prevents air flow, making them extra hot after a certain period of time. Sure, they use lightweight mesh for the base of the uppers, but the rubber coating really just counteracts any breathability the mesh could have provided.

Pros of the Adidas Performance XCS Cross-Country Running Shoe

  • Lightweight construction
  • Livestrike EVA midsole helps generate superb response after each step.
  • Adaptive Traxion outsoles provide stable grip on different terrain.
  • Smart lacing system optimizes tensile forces to reduce pressure on vulnerable areas.

Some Downsides

  • Breathability is almost non-existent.
  • Slightly more expensive than other choices that perform just as well or even better.

The Bottom Line

There’s a lot to love with the Saucony Kilkenny XC5 Cross Country running shoe. The design’s lightweight construction really won me over, especially considering the kind of conditions you might find on a cross country track. With such a breathable, light, and flexible build, it really feels like a second skin straight out of the box.

The Saucony XC and the Adidas Performance XCS are also solid choices. Of course, they’re not quite as polished as the Kilkenny XC5. But without comparison, both these shoes do well on the track, and boost performance substantially with their premium features and intuitive design.


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