The Right Shoes for Trail Running

Whether you’ve just signed up for a cross-country race, have started orienteering or simply want to break away from your current routine and try a new challenge off-road, you’re going to want to find the best trail-running shoes for your sport.

Running on trails is a drastically different proposition to running on a treadmill or unvarying tarmac road – your feet must constantly navigate changing terrain and slippery, loose or uneven surfaces. Wearing the wrong footwear puts you at risk of a twisted ankle or a slip.

So, what should you look out for when choosing the best trail-running shoes for women or men?

What makes trail running shoes different?

The best trail-running shoes include a range of features designed to tackle the challenges of uneven, unpredictable terrain. They are not simply ‘regular’ trainers with extra grip. Compared to road-running shoes, which tend to be ultra-lightweight, with most of the cushioning in the heel and a one-directional grip, trail running shoes are a very different kind of footwear. Typical features which differentiate the best trail-running shoes include:

  • Enhanced shock absorption: Trail-running shoes provide shock absorption throughout the sole – not just beneath the heel. The very nature of the sport is such that your feet encounter rough, sharp and hard surfaces throughout the running motion, so you need cushioning to protect you.
  • Extra thick lugs: One of the most distinctive things about trail-running shoes is their thicker, harder lugs, offering you more grip – especially in muddy or slippery paths.
  • Multi-directional grip: When browsing trail-running shoes, look at their soles. The best trail-running shoes have multidirectional grips – this is invaluable when you are scrabbling over slippery or unpredictable ground, because they prevent you from experiencing unexpected slips and falls.
  • Water resistant: Some advanced trail-running shoes use water-resistant yet breathable materials in the mesh uppers – this means you avoid running in cold wet socks, even if you splash through puddles.
  • Rigid exterior: Trail-running shoes often feature a tougher exterior than road-running shoes in order to protect your feet from sticks and stones.
  • Rock plate: Some trail-running shoes – particularly those designed for running in mountainous and rocky terrain – include a ‘rock plate’, which is a piece of tough plastic built into the forefoot to prevent you from stubbing your toes.

Should you worry about pronation?

Many road runners consider their pronation and gait when investing in shoes – if you over- or underpronate, there are certain design elements which can help correct your form. This is especially important when running on tarmac, as your feet follow the exact same pattern of movement over and over – and so the wrong shoes can cause pain and discomfort.

However, with trail-running shoes, this doesn’t tend to be such an important consideration, since the surface you’re running on is likely to be constantly changing, so your feet will change the way they fall all the time. As a result, you won’t experience the repetitive strain that comes with running on a harder, more predictable surface.

How to choose the best trail-running shoes – women’s and men’s

There are many different trail-running shoes out there, and if you’re new to the sport, it can be difficult narrowing down your search. A good place to start is to think about the surface you’ll be running on:/p>

  • Predictable terrain:
  • If you’ll be running along canal towpaths or fairly flat woodland routes or fields, you might want to invest in lighter trainers with less sturdy lugs and cushioning. Since terrain like this is relatively easy, you don’t benefit from extra support – and it may slow you down.

  • Muddy, unstable or slippery terrain:
  • Does your route take you over rocky surfaces, shingle, loose twigs and sticks or muddy paths? Then you’ll benefit enormously from shoes with thick lugs and multi-directional grip – as well as water-resistant uppers.

  • Rocky paths and steep inclines:
  • Do you do your trail running in mountains or fells? Will you be leaping between boulders and climbing hard, stony paths? Then you want to choose trail-running shoes with lots of extra cushioning on the sole, along with rigid uppers to protect your toes and feet from stones and rocks.

More than just running shoes

While shoes are undoubtedly the most important investment you’ll make in your trail running, it’s important to consider other gear to help you make the most of your sport in complete comfort:

  • Socks: Appropriate sports socks keep your toes warm and add an extra layer of cushioning to reduce the impact on your foot muscles.
  • Bags and packs: Carry all your gear in comfort when out on long runs in the woods, mountains and fields in a running bag or waist belt.
  • Water resistant clothing: Lightweight, breathable and water-resistant clothing also makes your trail running more comfortable.

With the correct trail-running shoes and gear, you’ll be ready to take to the toughest terrain with ease.