Over the last several years trail running has grown immensely in its popularity; more and more people move away from the cities and into hills, forests and mountains. They go away seeking new experiences, challenges, peace, meditation and new horizons. Trail running is a very broad term comprising anything from park paths to steep exposed mountain ridges. Given the rise in the popularity of the sport, there have been incredible advances in the gear, especially trail running shoes. They are getting lighter, faster, have better traction and technical ability. There are several things you need to consider, when buying your trail running shoes.
8 Things To Consider
The purpose of the shoe
One of the best ways to get the best shoe for you is to know exactly what are you buying the shoe for and what type of runner you are. Are you an experienced runner with tens of different shoes in your possession and are looking for some specific purpose pair (or are preparing for some race), or are you a casual runner wanting to leave the pavements once in a while? Think about, if you are planning to have several different pairs for different terrains and durations of runs or you need a single pair for all the purposes imaginable?
In the latter case, choose something that fits your feet really well, provides descent support and has some advanced traction; do not buy a pair that is very different to what you are used to.
The terrain will dictate the level of technical capacity you will need from your shoes. Rugged loose terrain requires more toe and foot protection as well as enhanced traction. Milder paths are not very demanding and even most of road running shoes would do.
The fit of the shoes is the most important aspect, when buying any pair of shoes, especially trail running shoes. You need them to fit snuggly around your feet and heels, but there should be enough space in your toe area, especially if you are planning to do any longer runs or attempt some longer downhills. Your feet should not be sliding around in the shoe, and there should be no friction or tightness spots. Take any inserts you would be using with the running shoe and make sure to try them on with a specialized pair of running socks and not just a pair of cotton liners. And do not stick to your own gender; if you are a male, try females’ shoes (given your feet are small enough) and, females, try males’ models. Testing a few different brands, types of shoes and models is also a good idea, as the producers usually produce their shoes with the same fit.
Trail running shoes can be broadly categorized to barefoot, minimalist, low-profile, traditional and maximalist trail running shoes, depending on the height of the heel-to-toe drop. The most popular running shoes are traditional type, with a 6-14 mm heel-to-toe drop and usually quite a lot of cushioning. This is type of shoes that the majority of casual runners will find the most comfortable. However, traditional shoes are often criticized for facilitating poor running technique – heel striking.
Low-profile and minimalist trail running shoes (0 to 6 mm heel to toe drop) are usually chosen by more experienced and technical trail racers, as they allow better step precision, are usually lighter, more agile, faster and enable you to feel the terrain better.
Barefoot trail running shoes have become a movement, especially after the book “Born to Run” came out. These shoes are just a protective, high traction piece of rubber without any cushioning. It is believed that low-profile to barefoot types of trail running shoes encourage better running technique and are more suitable in the long run for most of the runners. However, if you are new to the type, you should take it slow and allow your connective tissue to adjust to avoid injuries.
Yes, running is possible in winter, provided you have an appropriate pair of trail running shoes. You do not need to choose anything highly insulating – a good pair of wool socks will do that, but make sure your winter trail running shoes are waterproof and have excellent traction with deep lugs and maybe even micro-spikes.
Summer trail running prefers lighter, more breathable options, but waterproofness is still a good aspect to consider, especially if you are planning to run in rain, wet ground and do some river crossings.
Excellent traction is one of the major perks of the trail running shoes and what mainly distinguishes them from road running shoes. The looser, wetter and more technical terrain, the more you want to be able to trust your grip. Soft, wet ground, slabby boulders, snow and ice are the most demanding and require aggressive thread and exceptional grip, especially if you are going fast and downhill. Learn to recognise different terrain features and surfaces as you run and know the limitations of your shoes – this does come in handy, when trying to avoid bad falls.
Lightness of the shoe
Weight is of major importance in trail running. You want your steps to be light, quick and sensitive. Heavy shoes will steal away too much of your energy and might even lead to falls, as your feet might get caught on heavier profile shoes. It is also worth to consider the shape of the shoe. Narrow profile running shoes will be more specific and will be easier to run in on uneven ground with obstacles such as roots and rocks.
Trail running shoes for hiking and city use
Trail running shoes are just a comfortable pair of shoes with excellent traction, hence they are perfect for lightweight fast hiking trips (more challenging, multi-day trips with a heavy backpack may require ankle protection) and, provided they are not too smelly, they can be a marvellous choice for your casual city strolls. Some trail running shoes are designed with a walking purpose in mind and contain some more foot protection and structure, still being incredibly lightweight and comfortable.
Trail running is a beautiful sports’ art form with countless opportunities. If you are new to the sport, slowly build your experience and confidence, find the right gear and learn to trust it. Trail and mountain running is a fun way to move quickly and effortlessly through the nature, and is something that majority of the outdoors people will enjoy (provided they have the perfect pair of shoes).
Choose well and have fun!