CHOOSING THE RIGHT TRAIL SHOES
A running shoe is a running shoe, right? Wrong!
When trail running you need to first ask yourself a few questions and then prepare to make a few compromises OR buy a lot of shoes!
Read on to find out more:
Before you look to buy your first (or next pair) of trail shoes, have a think about the following before you even set foot in your local running shop:
WHEN ARE YOU RUNNING?
Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter? Our varied seasons bring with them varying ground conditions, deep slop in winter, ground as hard as concrete in the summer.
WHERE ARE YOU RUNNING?
Are you running through your local park, through fields, on the moors, over rocky mountainous terrain?
HOW FAR AND FAST ARE YOU RUNNING?
5k, 10k, a marathon or a hundred miler?
Now you're in a position to guide your local shop staff in the right direction or start making some decisions yourself on your next purchase.
As a general rule, deeper lugs for winter, shallower lugs for summer. Your road shoes don't have 6mm deep lugs and you don't need them to run on hard ground BUT if you don't want to fall flat on your face in winter then they'll certainly come in handy! Hand in hand with lug depth is lug spacing, a mud shoe will have it's tread spaced further to prevent clagging, this more open tread pattern will inversely lead to lesser grip on rock or drier trails. Higher end shoes may come with branded rubber such as Vibram or Continental...
The harder the ground the more cushioning you may want, just like you enjoy running in a cushioned road shoe. In winter the ground will be so soft that you won't care either way! If you're running on rocky terrain look out for shoes with a rock plate or dense midsole. A thin midsole gives great ground feel on soft or even terrain and will feel more like a racing flat BUT it'll feel like acupuncture if you're running over sharp rocks the size of tennis balls. Horses for courses...
The hotter it is the more you'll want your feet to breath, the muddier it is the more you'll appreciate the ability to hose your shoes off after a run. Summer trail shoes will tend to have a mesh upper, winter shoes will have a close knit nylon upper more akin to rucksack fabric, the former will let in water like a sieve, the latter won't breathe as well.
Just don't... That pair of Goretex shoes may sound like the cure for wet feet but the first time you run through a puddle or stream then water will come in over the top of the shoe and WON'T be able to drain back out. If you only ever run in the park they may help with morning dew, that's about it, as a trail runner accept damp feet in winter, it's part of the experience.
Snug but not too snug, you'll need room in front of your toes so that you don't lose toenails running down steep terrain BUT you want your midfoot and heel securely held so that you're not moving about within the shoe. Poor fit is most apparent when running across a slope/contouring a hill, your foot will feel like it's trying to fall off the side of the sole and that movement will cause blisters...
They don't generally exist as trail shoes, the grounds so uneven that the terrain dictates your footfall, not your shoes. Get stronger ankles...
As always the lighter the shoe the better, more so when running faster, nobody wants to run with a brick attached to their feet.
BRANDS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
If you're British then Inov-8 are the modern trail/fell alternative to the classic Walsh shoes. The Salomon Speedcross is often a trail runners first off-road shoe. Altra and Hoka have their fans in ultras. We're not going to tell you what to buy, you need to have a think about the above and we can't answer those questions for you!
WHERE TO BUY
If you're in the South West we'd highly recommend a visit to RUN VENTURE (our local branch is in Honiton) as they've got the knowledge to help you with your choice.
Pictured: my worn out Inov-8 Terraultras after 500 miles