How to choose the best trail running shoes for your needs
Outdoor Activities | August 05, 2022
June 03, 2022
When it comes to running, getting started doesn’t require much equipment. However, a good pair of running shoes is an absolute must. So how can you choose the right footwear when there is so much choice available and complex jargon to decipher? Is there a ‘beginner’s universal fit’ option out there just to get you started? Unfortunately not. Every runner is different, and therefore there are quite a few factors to consider in order to land on the right brand and model. SAIL expert Alexandra Healey is here to help funnel it right down to the perfect pair of running shoes for you.
In this article, we will go through what to consider, including:
The first question to ask yourself is where you’ll be running. Do you prefer quiet trails, forest or mountain paths or scenic gravel roads? If so, you’ll need a good pair of trail shoes. For urban runners who prefer to pound the pavement, road running shoes are best.
The lugs on the outsole of trail running shoes give you much needed grip on steep, muddy, or wet terrain. Trail shoes are also stiffer and more durable, and protect you from sharp rocks or branches thanks to a rock plate located inside the shoe. Some shoes use a BOA lacing system (so your shoe laces don’t come undone during your run), have waterproof or tougher uppers to protect your feet from mud and debris, as well as grippier rubber on the outsoles to stop you from slipping on rocks.
Road shoes on the other hand are designed to absorb the impact of repeatedly hitting the asphalt. They are more flexible, with a lighter, more breathable upper to provide you with much needed ventilation. They have cushier midsoles for shock absorption, smooth outsoles (no lugs) and most shoes will use a traditional lacing system.
What about cross-training shoes? While those can be used for short, infrequent runs, they are mostly designed for comfort, not performance. If you’ve already got them and want to give running a try, using your cross-training shoes can be a good way to save money. But once you’ve got the bug, do switch to a shoe that really will truly fit your running needs. On offers a good range of cross-training shoes.
Cushioning is about how much you want to feel the ground while you run. Some runners opt for barefoot minimalist options as this allows them to feel connected to the road and be more responsive. On the opposite side of the spectrum, maximum cushioning is often described as running on clouds. Thick cushioning does absorb the impact of the terrain better. However, some runners dislike the feeling of rebound provided by the shock absorbing foam. Here, it’s all a matter of personal preference, both for road and trail runners.
The shape of the arch of your foot and the movement of your feet while you run will indicate whether you require extra support in the sole of your shoes. Most runners tend to pronate a little (which occurs when your foot rolls inwards when landing). Others will supinate (ankles and feet rolling outwards when your heel leaves the ground). Here is a quick summary to help you figure out the type of shoe you may require:
|Gait||Type of shoe|
|Pronation – Mild
Supination – Mild
|Pronation – Moderate
Supination – Moderate
|Pronation – Severe
Supination – Severe
If you are unsure, start with a neutral shoe and see how comfortable you feel, and whether you would benefit from some added arch support to stop your foot from naturally rolling in or out. Brand Asics offers a good range of both neutral and stability models.
The SAIL store SIDAS machine can also help you find the right insole by mapping out the natural shape of your foot. All that remains is to slip the suggested insole into a neutral running shoe for the perfectly customised level of arch support.
The heel-toe drop is the height difference between your heel and the ball of your foot when standing in the shoe, which is not to be confused with the thickness of your shoe’s cushioning. The heel-toe drop is all about adding an angle to your shoe in order to focus on the right impact zones.
Most road running shoes will have a drop between 5 and 12mm. Runners who tend to land on their heels (heel strikers) should go for shoes with a higher drop (6mm or more) as these should provide more cushioning for your heels, and therefore feel more comfortable on your run. They also shift the impact load to your knees and hips. Brand Salomon offers some great trail shoes for those who require a higher drop.
Those landing closer to their toes can look for a minimalist shoe, with a heel drop between 0 to 6mm. Lower drop shoes will shift the impact load to your ankles and Achilles, as opposed to your knees and hips. Trail runners could look at Altra’s range, while Saucony features several models with lower heel-toe drops for those who prefer to run on the road.
“While this element may seem like a fairly complex technical element, inspecting your old shoes for wear could be a big help,” says Alexandra Healey. “Look for areas that are particularly worn. This could help you determine where your foot lands. Or take your old pair to the store so an expert can work with you to select something that will work with your running form.”
Summer runners will need to look for a shoe with plenty of ventilation, while winter runners could consider using trail shoes for added grip on icy surfaces. If you intend to run throughout the winter, read about what to wear for winter running.
Those running through particularly muddy, dusty or wet terrain could look for a waterproof running shoe. However, these are not to everyone’s taste. They can be heavier than a normal breathable shoe and tend to get a bit warm, which can sometimes feel uncomfortable.
Now that you’ve selected your running shoes, it’s important to try them on. Alexandra Healey recommends having a good walkabout, as well as going upstairs and downstairs to check they are a good fit. Running shoes do not stretch, so if you can’t move your toes freely, you’ll need to go up a size.
Most shoes can be thrown in the washing machine, says Alexandra Healey. Her main maintenance tip? “Make sure you let them dry properly between uses as bacteria can develop inside.” If your shoes are waterproof, the washing machine is a big no no.
You should also replace your running shoes often, every 3 to 4 months for regular runners, or 6 to 8 months for light runners. If training for an event such as a half marathon, buy a new pair once you’ve completed your race (not before!). However, if you can see that the outsole is worn or compressed, or in the case of trail shoes, that the lugs are starting to wear off, don’t wait.