Is it acceptable to wear your everyday road running shoes on trails, or should you purchase trail running shoes? The answer depends on a combination of factors.
First, how many kilometers do you run off road each week? If the answer is more than a few, or more than one short trail or mixed road/trail run per week, it's a worthy investment. Second, what kind of surface are the trails you usually run? If the soil is soft, frequently muddy, or full of rocks and roots, wearing trail running shoes is worthwhile because they offer better traction and may even prevent a fall. Third, what kind of running shoes do you wear now? If the soles are relatively smooth, providing minimal traction, again, trail running shoes will provide the performance and safety your "road only" shoes cannot.
Now that you understand some of the reasons you may need trail running shoes, let's answer the question: what should you look for when buying trail running shoes? They have come a long way since a few models began appearing on running store shelves about 25 years ago. More than just exhibiting "aggressive" outer soles, they also possess other features that make them more compatible with off road running. Here are four key factors to consider while checking descriptions of trail running shoes online or talking to a running shop clerk when you go off road running shoe shopping.
RUGGED OUTSOLE of shoe
The outsole is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground and is the most important feature that sets trail running shoes apart from road shoes. All the best trail running shoes need rugged outsoles to grip whatever surface you're on. If the local off road trails are fairly smooth, you won't need an outsole with big "lugs," or the extra weight of those protrusions that touch the ground first, but if you run rough trails, you'll need an outsole to match. Also consider the material used; the rubber content should be high to ensure a substantial, durable layer between your feet and the trail.
MUD AND WATER SHIELD
Good trail running shoes will keep your feet dry, increase comfortability and help prevent blisters. This is especially valuable on New Zealand trails where you're more likely to run in mud or through puddles. Look for a shoe that uses Gore-Tex or some other waterproof or water-resistant material to keep the wet away from your foot.
Trail running shoes should have a level of durability to withstand the elements they'll be put against. Make sure to also choose a shoe with the right weight as off road running shoes can range from lightweight to sturdier models.
Keeping rocks, gravel and other trail debris from slipping into shoes, even if they're a snug fit, is another consideration unique to trail running shoes. Good trail running shoes guard against that possibility, one pebble underneath the heel or ball of one foot can ruin a trail run or race. They do this with features such as embedded, hard-plastic plates, which protect the feet against rocks and other sharp objects, and shoelace tongues designed to keep debris out of your shoes.
SECURE off road shoe LACES
Shoelaces come undone more easily on trails because of the twisting, turning and occasional contact with bushes, so ensure that the shoe you choose has laces that won't create problems because they're too long, too short or too slippery. Some trail running shoes even feature pockets that let you snugly tuck your laces inside and out of harm's way.
Need help finding the right footwear? Shop the full collection of ASICS trail running shoes:
Feeling inspired to get outside? Read more about how to start running outdoors and discover some new trails in New Zealand!