The popularity of trail running is growing at an amazing rate and it can really help improve your running regardless if you are a seasoned roadie, tackling the hills, or training for enjoyment. Getting off the beaten track mixes up your routine and challenges different muscle groups, as well as giving those tired joints some respite from the impact of pounding the streets. Plus, you can see some amazing places along the way and get a real sense of escapism!
In order to tackle the trails with confidence it might be worth reviewing your current shoe collection to see how they measure up. For some settings, road shoes may still be adequate. However, in many instances, you can really improve your running experience by adapting your footwear. Trail shoes come with an extensive array of features – with some more versatile than others – so it’s important to consider the conditions you are likely to face when taking things off road. Running through forestry tracks requires a very different shoe to tumbling through heather and remote hills.
Trail Shoes vs. Road Shoes
- Better grip
There are several key differences between road shoes and trail shoes. Perhaps the most obvious is the tread. Trail shoes will provide far better traction when the going gets rough. Trail shoes have a stickier compound on the sole to help you grip onto rocky, uneven terrain and have lugs to help grip soft ground. The depth of lugs varies quite a bit, so if you are looking for a shoe to tackle bogs, then the deeper the lug the better. Needing to include a little tarmac? Then better to opt for a shallower lugged sole so that the shoe won’t get excessively damaged on road.
- Greater strength & durability
Another difference is the materials used on the uppers. These will be far more durable and withstand trail terrain and hazards much better than a road shoe. Protection from rocks, tree roots and other obstacles is much appreciated! Most uppers include water repellent fabric to stop water from getting in.
- Lower profile
The final difference is the profile of a trail shoe. Trail shoes typically have a much lower stack height to increase the feel of the ground underfoot. This is often referred to as “proprioception” and the awareness of your foot placement can be a massive advantage. Running off road requires a great amount of trust in your footwear, but if you can increase the feeling of where your foot is landing, then you will have far greater balance. Take it from a guy who is very good at falling down hills! This reduced stack height doesn’t always mean less cushioning, but it does result in a very different running sensation to the feel of road shoes, which for trail newbies may take some getting used to!
Trail shoes tend to have a neutral midsole, so if you are used to wearing a road shoe with some added stability, it’s worth visiting us in store and going through our +runlab shoe fitting process, to determine which trail shoe will support your running style best. Shoes such as the Hoka Speedgoat 2 or the Saucony Xodus ISO 2 have a slightly stiffer sole that will mimic the support of a stability shoe in some cases. Trail shoes are generally made without stability so that the shoe can adapt to the ever-changing foot placement and the added flexibility helps overcome this.
Differences identified. Let’s take a look at the makes and models rated ‘top-notch’ by our resident off-road running experts…
I have numerous pairs of this shoe’s predecessor the 212 with three which I currently run in. As soon as the new shoe launched it was a no brainer, I had to have a pair. The new sticky rubber outer sole compound gives even more confidence on the roughest of terrains than the 212 and the upper is as durable as ever. It is an excellent training or racing shoe for rough pathless or muddy terrain when you need to be confident that every step is going to stick.
Best for speed on soft gnarly trails
Is a stripped out racer version of the 230, it honestly feels like you don’t even have a shoe on your foot and gives the feeling that you can run faster. It has the same sticky rubber as can be found on the 230 and so gives the same levels of confidence with the grip levels of the shoe. It is an out and out fell racing shoe, probably a bit more at home on grass and mud than on the scree of the North West mountains but will certainly be the next addition to my fell running shoe collection.
Best for groomed trails or harder ground
For those unfamiliar with the Altra brand, these guys have redesigned the traditional running shoe for your benefit, replacing the pointed toe box with a FootShape toe box (modelled on the natural shape of the foot) and using ZeroDrop construction, meaning that the shoe is the same height from heel to toe. The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 is a fully cushioned, foot shaped running shoe without an elevated heel. Its construction ensures you’ll stay running with ease and comfort mile after mile.
Its moderately lugged outsole makes this shoe an all-rounder – great on a variety of trails and great for hill walkers and trekkers, as well as runners.
Best for all-terrain – road to trail, beach to bridalway.
When you are just starting out on the trails or if you are looking to cover a variety of terrains then it is crucial that your trail shoe isn’t too specific to one type of surface. By opting for a trail shoe that is versatile then you can cover all bases, from road and forest trails, to beaches and parks.
The Hoka Challenger ATR 4 is a shoe that can tackle almost any surface and it is unsurprising that so many ultra runners opt for this shoe. Its super cushioned midsole can go the distance from 5k to 100miles and its new and improved upper is now fitting much better. If you are looking for a “jack of all trades” the Challenger is really tough to beat. The 4mm lugs will grip when the terrain gets sloppy and the meta-rocker gives a smooth transition on every surface. Time to fly!
The Saucony Peregrine was designed specifically for the UK market and has had phenomenal success over the years. The shoe is branded with the tagline “Run Anywhere” and rightly so – it can handle practically all terrains. The 8th edition of the shoe features 6mm lugs and a sticky rubber outsole that will handle rocky surfaces with ease. Saucony’s excellent EVERUN technology is still present giving a soft, cushioned feel next to the foot and that added bounce.
Best cushioned trail running shoes
The shoe that splits opinion! Thanks to the thick platform-like midsole these shoes have been called “clown shoes” and “moon boots” among other things and if I had been asked a few years ago, I would have said that I’d never wear them. However the day they arrived in the shop I had a run in a pair and was an immediate convert. The Speedgoat 2 comes with the standard maximal level of cushioning and the Metarocker shaped sole which provides a nice smooth toe off regardless of how you land in the shoe. It has the extra benefit of a durable Vibram outer sole for any rougher terrain. The shoe is ideal for any trail running but is more at home on the rougher stuff like the top half of the West Highland Way.
Best support trail running shoes
The ultra-grippy, stiff PWR TRAC outsole will provide excellent traction and mimic the support of a stability shoe. The bouncy EVERUN topsole cushioning keeps a spring in your step. Whislt a tough trail-specific ISOFIT upper protects your feet from from rocks, tree roots and other trail hazards.
Best protective trail running shoes
The iconic Speedcross comes out on top time and time again, in the battle against the elements – great on loose or muddy trails, wet rock or pavement, even snow! A 11mm heel drop paired with highly durable and sticky 5mm chevron shaped lugs gives the Speedcross 4 great traction and good stability on both steep up and downhills. The upper (seamless Sensifit overlays) is a hardy, anti-debris water resistant mesh, engineered to protect your foot in hazardous situations.
Sizing advice: Salomon shoes tend to have a narrow fit and snug feel around the rearfoot and midfoot. If you have wide feet you may have difficulty finding a good fit in the Speedcross and be better opting for a roomier trail shoes from brands like Brooks, Hoka or Inov8.