Choosing Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes are designed to handle a variety of surfaces, such as grass, hard-packed parkland, canal sides, forests and woodland trails. They still have plenty of cushioning for a certain amount of road running if necessary, but the outsole has a deeper grip, and the upper is more durable than a road shoe.
Some have more grip and less cushioning, with a lower profile, ideal for softer surfaces and short sections of extreme terrain, off the beaten tracks. For more extreme terrain, consider fell running shoes instead.
The huge growth in off-road and trail running has been reflected in all the major manufacturers, and also some smaller niche brands, now offering a whole range of shoes in this area. This is good for choice, but when it comes to looking for your next pair of shoes, it can be bewildering. So how do you go about choosing a pair of shoes for running off-road? Here are some ideas to help you.
- First thing you have to understand is that there is no one shoe that is perfect for every surface, so you may have to make a compromise. You have to weigh up what is more important to you: cushioning or grip. The most cushioned trail shoes usually have moderate grip. The shoes with the best grip are usually lower profile with less cushioning.
- Next, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. First question is, can you justify buying an extra pair of shoes for the trails, or are you looking for one shoe that can cope by and large with a mixture of terrain.
- Second key question to ask yourself in choosing a trail shoe is looking at what proportion of the terrain is going to be on firmer ground and how much on potentially muddy and slippery or more challenging terrain. Firmer trails can take the form of hard packed trails, like river or canal bank paths, local farm tracks or woodland and forest access roads. More challenging terrain can be muddy fields and hillsides, or coastal paths.
If you can't justify buying that extra pair of shoes just now, but need a shoe that will cope with road, hard packed trail and a bit of mud, you are probably looking at a multi-terrain shoe, or as the Americans say, "a door-to-trail shoe". Multi-terrain shoes are in many ways similar to road running shoes. They have enough cushioning to cope with miles on the road and hard packed trails, but will also have a slightly more aggressive outsole, to offer grip on wet or muddy sections. The material on the upper is usually also a little stronger to give a little more durability.
Dedicated Trail Running Shoes
If the answer to question 2 is that most of your running will be on roads and hard packed trails, with just a little on soft trails, a multi-terrain shoe may still work best for you. The compromise would be with the grip. If however, you are planning to do more running on the trails, and some of your routes will certainly, regularly involve some mud, then investing in a pair of dedicated trail shoes is probably the way to go. This makes sense too if you are planning to try one of the growing number of off road trail events. These shoes have better grip, but less cushioning. However, if you are running most of your miles on softer ground, the cushioning is slightly less of an issue than when you are running on the roads.
So what are the best trail running shoes? As always, it is not just about the best looks or the best review. It is about the fit and feel on your feet, and the type of terrain you will be running most on. A good trail shoe will hold your foot well around the mid-foot to stop it moving from side to side on uneven slopes, and will have a nice roomy toe box to allow your toes to spread naturally, whether you are running 5k or 50k. If you live in striking distance of one of our stores, do come and try few pairs on. There are staff in all three stores with experience of running on the trails and hills, happy to help you with shoe choices. Or you can contact us with any questions.
If you are planning to do some serious off-road hill or fell running, or any muddy obstacle-course style races like Tough Mudder, Mighty Deerstalker or Tough Guy, you may need to consider fell running shoes.
For little feet that want to run on the trails too, have a look at our junior range of off-road shoes.
Q. I have had my gait analysed and I overpronate. I wear a mild-moderate support shoe on the road, should I look for similar over pronation support in a trail shoe.
A. As stated above, if for example 75% of your running is on road or hard packed trails, then yes, some medial or arch support to control the over-pronation could be advisable. If you are for the most part on softer ground, then pronation support is not such an issue, as the soft ground helps to give more natural cushioning with every stride.
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