Trail running is fun, challenging and arguably better for you – but trail running sets different requirements to both to you and your shoes. We’ll show you how you can find the perfect pair of trail running shoes.

Why your regular running shoes won’t suffice

The shoes you need are dependant on the surface. Running on dirt roads, trails, across swamps, up mountain paths – these are all very different running experiences from paved roads. Therefore, what is required of your shoe really differs from your regular running shoes. First off, let’s talk about grip.

Grip

When you’re trail running, chances are that many surfaces on your path will be slippery. Stones, logs, moss, you name it – there are plenty of obstacles requiring a proper grip. In trail running, the proper grip makes a world of difference. Keep in mind that what grip you require depends on where you intend to run. Generally, the more humid and rain-filled the area, the more grip you’ll need.

trail running shoe

Stability and cushioning

Then there’s stability and cushioning. Running shoes for paved roads usually aim to be as stable and with as much cushioning as possible.

You don’t want that from trail running shoe. In fact, the stability will stifle your ankles from moving properly. Surfaces will have different angles and inclinations, this requires your ankles to move around freely. Usually, running shoe cushioning is designed to compensate for the hard, monotone paved roads – the opposite of the trail running experience. In trail running, the surface provides the cushioning. This also enables you to get a better feel for the running surface – which is crucial in running on trails and in the terrain. So to summarize – more grip, less stability and less cushioning.

Trail running shoe profile

When we talk about shoe profile in running, we’re talking about the distance from your foot to the ground with the shoe on. A low profile means that your feet are closer to the ground. Most trail running shoes sport a low profile. This helps you get a better feel for the surface you are running on, and it also helps you land on your midfoot when that is required from the surface you’re landing on. A low profile shoe with good grip is paramount to trail running – and so much more fun.

How should the trail running shoe fit?

The answer: Tight. Most trail running shoes sport a narrow fit. Again, the uneven running surfaces really require your foot to stay in place. Keep in mind that although it should be a tight fit, that doesn’t mean it should feel too small. Your toes should not feel squeezed – or any other part of your foot, for that matter. But a snug, tightly locked in feeling is recommended.

Also, forget waterproofing. Waterproofing like Gore-Tex really weighs the showdown and makes the shoe less flexible. And if you’re running in wet forests or swamps – your feet will get soaked, sooner or later.

Should I downsize?

We mentioned the importance of a snug fit. Does that mean you should buy a size smaller than you’re used to? In our experience, the answer is usually no. Many trail running shoes are made to sport this tight fit at your usual size. However, don’t be afraid of buying a size smaller, if they feel like a better fit. It really does depend on the brand.

Concluding

Much has happened with trail running shoes in the past years. Trail running shoes have gotten lighter, more flexible, and a lower profile – making them more fun, agile and predictable. With a good pair of terrain running shoes, you can run across the trails and swamps, up and down mountainsides without feeling that your shoes are slowing you down. And most importantly – trail running is infinitely more fun.

A good pair of trail running shoes should fit snugly, without squeezing too tight. The grip is important, and you’d want less stability and cushioning than with your usual running shoes. Keep in mind that if you’ve never used trail running shoes before, the shoes might take some a run or two getting used to.

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