Fell shoes are designed for serious off-road running. They are ideal for hill racing, cross country and adventure racing. They are also suitable for Tough Mudder and Deerstalker type events, as well as training on the hills and soft muddy trails.
In effect, if the expected terrain involves anything where grip is important and you value staying upright, a fell shoe is probably the best option. All are available in half sizes, and all have a deep studded sole to give excellent grip.
Like racers and spikes they have a snug fitting upper and are sized a little smaller than road shoes, so you may need a half size bigger than your road shoes. A little tip: the number after the name of any Inov-8 shoe (makers of excellent fell and off road shoes) relates to the weight of the shoe in grams. The shoes can be used for short road or hard trail sections, but if used extensively on hard surfaces the studs will wear down quicker.
Cushioning & Grip
Fell shoes were originally designed primarily for racing. Cushioning is usually minimal to keep the foot close to the ground and reduce unnecessary weight. Having said that they are also used by runners in long distance 2 day Mountain Marathons and 24-hour expeditions, like the classic Lakeland Bob Graham Round.
As with racing flats for road running, not everyone can handle long distances in a light shoe. Your own experience in training and racing will guide you as to how far you can cover in a fell shoe, before you start looking at or comparing some lighter trail running shoes.
If you are running on a variety of surfaces, it is worth bearing in mind the conundrum that has faced off road runners for years. There is no one shoe that is totally brilliant on all terrains, and often a compromise has to be reached between cushioning and grip.
Fit & Comfort
The single most important factor in deciding which fell shoe to purchase is the fit. Despite what rave reviews you might read about any shoe, or an elite (sponsored) athlete extolling the virtues of Brand A or Brand B , it is your own feet that have to feel confident in them. They should feel snug but comfortable and hold well at the heel so they don't come off in the mud! There should be no lateral movement inside the shoe (i.e. your foot shouldn't be slipping from side to side) and not too much space at the front. Most people find that it is this, rather than the exact technical specifications of the shoe, that determines which model will be best.
There is an ever-widening choice of footwear for fell and mountain running.
The classic Walsh PB – the original fell running shoe developed by runners in the Lake District – still has its followers. The Walsh pyramid stud has been emulated by many of its successors and rivals. Inov-8 and Salomon have used modern technology and shoe design to redefine fell shoes for a whole new generation. Models like the Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 Classic or Salomon Speedtrak are great for training and racing.
Then there is the lighter weight and very flexible X-Talon 225, which is basically a racing flat with studs, designed to go fast and light. These are all designed to offer excellent traction on steep and/or rough terrain, but all differ slightly in fit and feel.
Inov-8 have also recently come up with the X Claw 275. This shoe offers better cushioning and is made on a wider last. It is fast gaining a following amongst hill and trail runners who run longer distances and those with slightly wider forefeet who often had to squeeze uncomfortably into standard models.
The deeper studs of the Mudclaw or X-Claw can be better in very wet or muddy conditions, whilst a less aggressive sole will be more comfortable on mixed terrain or for dry summer hill running (see also Trail Running Shoes). Another technical point to look out for is "sticky rubber" (or softer rubber) outsoles, which give good traction on wet rock.