The Ultimate Trail Running Shoes Guide

4th April 2022 by

Getting out trail running can take you through and over lots of different terrains, having the right footwear and also that the footwear fits correctly is crucial to having an enjoyable and safe time out exploring the trails. Trail running can often mean running over rough, uneven, and slippery ground that requires a shoe with the right feature set to help keep you upright and moving fast.

Ultimate guide to trail running shoes

1. What features should I be looking for?

1) Grip 

The shape and depth of the grip on trail shoes is one the main things that set them apart from road running shoes, it’s important to think about the type of ground you’ll mainly be running on when deciding on the best type of tread to go for. 

Shallower types of tread lend themselves to hard-packed and rockier trails as the flatter lugs don’t protrude into the foot on hard ground and also allow more surface area of the bottom of the shoe to be in contact with the ground thus increasing friction between the shoe and the ground resulting in more grip. 

Deeper lugged trail shoes shine when the ground is soft and loose, this could be wet, muddy fell paths or loose, sandy coastal routes. The aggressive grip patterns dig into the soft ground to provide more grip and stability and are also designed to shed any picked-up debris or mud quickly. 

There are also trail shoes out there that sit in the middle of these grip types, offering a versatile alternative that performs well across the board and can handle a good portion of the trails out there. 

best grip for trail running shoes

2) Cushioning and stack height  

Typically the harder the ground you’re running on the more cushioning you require, however the more cushioning you have the less ground feel you’ll experience. More cushioning often means a higher stack height too, this can mean a shoe with more cushioning feels less stable as there is more material between you and the ground. This is why shoes designed for soft ground often have minimal cushioning to allow them to sit closer to the ground and be as stable as possible on terrain that can shift underfoot.

cushioning and stack height on trail running shoes

3) Drop 

The drop of a shoe refers to the difference in stack height between the heel and forefoot. This can be mainly personal preference so trying shoes with different drops can be beneficial, just be careful when transitioning between different drops as it can take your body time to adjust to the different angles your foot will hit the ground at. 

trail running shoe help

4) Upper

The upper is what holds and protects your foot, it can also feature a waterproof membrane. Due to the rougher nature of the terrain trail shoes often have, thicker, more durable uppers than road shoes to help protect you from rocks and other debris. Thicker uppers will however decrease breathability and increase the weight of the shoe so finding a shoe with the right balance of durability, weight, and breathability is key.  

what trail running shoe should I buy?

Does it need to be waterproof?

A trail shoe doesn’t need to be waterproof, however, a waterproof shoe can work well when the terrain features shallow puddles and wet grass. Waterproof trail shoes use a waterproof membrane such as GORE-TEX sandwiched between two layers of the upper material, this membrane is what keeps the water out whilst also allowing moisture from inside the shoe to evaporate out. 

In wet and soft conditions however it’s inevitable water will come over the top of the shoe and then become trapped inside the shoe by the membrane, so this is why shoes designed for wet, soft conditions often don’t feature a membrane to allow the water to drain out as quickly as it comes in. 

Waterproof trail running shoes

Where can I wear trail running shoes?

Any running that involves heading off roads and pavements and onto more uneven, looser surfaces where extra grip is required.

Can I wear trail running shoes on the road?

You can wear your trail shoes for short sections of road running however it's not advised for longer use as you may find them uncomfortable as they typically have less cushioning than a road shoe so there isn’t as much protection against the impact of the hard road. You would also start to feel the lugs protrude through the bottom of the shoe into the foot over longer distances too, again leading to discomfort. Using your trail shoes on the road will also wear down the all-important tread much quicker, as trail shoes often use softer compounds of rubber on the sole than road shoes. 

Can I wear trail running shoes on the treadmill?

You can wear your trail shoes on the treadmill but similar to using them on the road they’re not designed for it so it’s best to save them for the trails to help prevent discomfort and premature wear. 

the best trail running shoes

Women's Trail Running Shoes

Soft ground

Women's Adidas TERREX Speed Pro

Terrex Speed Pro SG Unisex
£ 140.00

Women's Scott Supertrac RC 2

Supertrac RC 2 Womens
£ 150.00

Hard ground, established trails

Women's Adidas TERREX Speed Ultra

Terrex Speed Ultra Womens
£ 160.00

Women's On Running Cloudvista

Cloudvista Womens
£ 130.00

Long distrance, ultra marathon

Women's Kinabulu Ultra RC

Kinabulu Ultra RC Womens
£ 150.00

Women's Arc'teryx Norvan LD 3

Norvan LD 3 Womens
£ 149.00

Men’s Trail Running Shoes:

Hard ground, established trails

Men's Scott Supertrac 3

Supertrac 3 Mens
£ 130.00

Men's On Running Cloudvista

Cloudvista Mens
£ 130.00

Soft ground, open fell side, racing

Men's Adidas TERREX Speed Pro SG

Terrex Speed Pro SG Unisex
£ 140.00

Men's Scott Supertrac RC 2

Supertrac RC2 Mens
£ 150.00

Long distance, ultra marathon

Men's Scott Kinabulu Ultra RC

Kinabulu Ultra RC Mens
£ 150.00

Men's Scarpa Spin Infinity

Spin Infinity Mens
£ 130.00
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