How to Choose Trail Running Shoes
So we’ve done the hard work for you by enlisting the help of Columbia Sportswear Footwear Merchandiser Jared Blank. The ultra-runner, who’s also the author of Running the Distance, shared his expert advice on where to start when picking out a trail running shoe, including things like traction, weight, durability, and comfort as key qualities to look for.
Read more of his advice below.
Do I need trail running shoes?
So what makes a trail running shoe different? Trail running is a specific style of running that takes place on natural, unmaintained, unpaved trails, and trail running shoes tend to provide extra support and traction compared to road running shoes. They also typically offer stiffer midsoles and outsoles, with bigger lugs, or cleats to get over rocks and roots easier.
“I remember one of my first trail running experiences being on a trail where I wore regular sneakers,” said Blank. “I was sliding all over the place and hitting my foot on rocks. Trail running shoes have special traction and protective features that are designed for trails. They give you more confidence when you’re out on different terrains, especially when you don’t know what you’re going to encounter.”
What to look for in trail running shoes
One of the best ways to tell if a trail running shoe has good traction is to look at the sole. In addition to being made from tough, sturdy rubber, it should have grippy lugs that are capable of delivering traction across a variety of surfaces. Outsoles with advanced technologies such as Adapt Trax tend to be the best choices, according to Blank.
“Having run in shoes with Adapt Trax technology before, as well as shoes without it, I can say that the traction is much better when it comes to navigating variable terrain, as well as the ups and downs,” he said.
The key is making sure that your shoes are lightweight but also durable enough to stand up to the terrain. And they still need to provide ample cushioning and support, particularly if you’re running longer distances or training on more intense trails. It’s important to find the right balance and keep your end goal in mind.
“Weight matters, but you need to factor in the purpose,” Blank explained. “It can change depending on whether you are racing, training, or exploring. For racing or doing workouts, a lighter, faster shoe is ideal. On the other hand, if you are training, it is sometimes helpful to have more cushioning to keep your legs feeling fresher.”
To ensure that a trail running shoe will stand up to runs of all types, check the materials that go into the shoe. Look for options made with durable mesh weaves and tough rubber outsoles that make them strong and durable.
“Trail runners tend to log a lot of miles and hours on their feet,” said Blank. “Durability is important because you need shoes that will hold up mile after mile.”
Additionally, make sure you get a good fit. Blank recommended taking note of how the shoe feels when you actually put it on. “One of my coaches told me once that if the shoe feels right on, go for it,” he said. You’ll also want to check for a snug fit that won’t allow pebbles or other debris to get in your shoes to irritate your feet and potentially cause blisters.