How to choose the best trail running shoes for your needs


August 05, 2022


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You sometimes (or often) run on trails, maybe even during the winter? You’d like to equip yourself with the best trail running shoes so your feet are well protected? Paméla Boucher, kinesiologist and running expert is here to steer you in the right direction.

Article written in collaboration with Paméla Boucher, kinesiologist

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know to choose the best trail running shoes, including:

Trail running shoes

Women trail running shoes

Men trail running shoes

The best light trail running shoes

Shoes and smartwatch for trail running

Light trail running entails running over flat and even terrain, mostly compacted earth or gravel paths such as those seen in parks or along countryside lanes.

For this type of running, which doesn’t usually involve running over natural obstacles or any significant elevation gain, Paméla Boucher suggests that the best trail running shoes should be both light and flexible, so your feet are comfortable during every stride.

The shoe’s upper must be breathable and made in a light fabric such as nylon, or waterproof breathable if you’re thinking going running in the rain from time to time. Gore-Tex is always a safe choice to ensure your feet stay dry.

The outsole can be made of rubber with fairly shallow lugs.

Finally, you should pick a midsole and heel-to-toe drop according to your personal preferences. Some runners opt for a minimalist approach, others prefer maximum shock absorption.

Characteristics of the best light trail running shoes at a glance :

  • Light and flexible
  • Outsole with shallow lugs
  • Waterproof breathable membrane

Beginners looking for some tips on how to get started with trail running should follow Paméla Boucher’s recommendations.

The best rugged trail running shoes

Rugged trail running entails running over uneven terrain, often compacted earth trails or paths surfaced with bigger gravel rocks, or natural trails such as mountain hiking trails.

According to Paméla Boucher, the best trail running shoes for this will adequately support your feet while giving you enough traction, especially as you’ll often be faced with many natural obstacles (tree roots, rocks) as well as more significant elevation gains during this type of running.

You can opt for a more rigid upper to support your ankles as well as a cushioned midsole with an additional layer of foam for shock absorption. Choose thick lugs so you can run over tree roots or rocks without slipping, even when it’s wet.

It is also important to find trail running shoes that protect the front of your foot (look for toe guards) to avoid potentially hurting your toes.

Finally, for an even more comfortable shoe, consider a speed lace system with a tongue pocket which can be used to tuck in your laces, so they don’t get caught on natural obstacles found on the trail.

Characteristics of the best rugged trail running shoes :

  • Support and traction
  • Deep lugs and toe guards
  • Speed lace system

The best off trail running shoes

Off trail running entails running over wild and often rocky (or rocky in parts) terrain with some good elevation gains or steep sections to climb that could take you through some streams or over tree trunks.

For this type of running, Paméla Boucher recommends shoes featuring the same characteristics as those described for rugged trail running shoes, with a few additional ones for an even sturdier shoe with added protection for your feet.

Opt for a midsole with an embedded rock plate to stop your foot from twisting and to avoid sprains. The midsole should also be made of thicker foam to absorb repeated, more extreme shocks.

Choose a shoe with a grippy rubber outsole to avoid slipping on wet surfaces and look for very deep lugs.

You could also consider a Gore-Tex upper to keep your feet dry while also ensuring your shoe remains breathable.

For this type of terrain, Paméla Boucher particularly likes brand Salomon’s range of models.

Characteristics of an off trail running shoe at a glance:

  • Sturdiness and protection
  • A stiff midsole
  • A waterproof upper shoe

The best winter trail running shoes

Trail running in winter entails running over snowy or icy surfaces, with or without elevation gains. Of course, you should try to go out when the weather conditions are good enough and wait for snow to be compacted enough before going out running during the cold season.

For this type of running, the best winter trail running shoes are ones that are well insulated and provide a lot of grip so you can face uneven or slippery terrain, according to Paméla Boucher.

She recommends avoiding uppers with breathable panels, which let the cold and humidity in. She prefers mid-calf (very popular amongst winter runners), well insulated models with a flexible and breathable Gore-Tex membrane that covers the entire shoe, so your ankles and lower calves are protected from the snow.

It’s also very important to find shoes with a good ankle support and enough grip to stay safe as you run over uneven terrain. To achieve this, opt for an outsole with deep lugs which bite into the snow and give you stability as you run over ice.

For this type of winter running, Paméla Boucher enjoys brand Saucony’s range of models, which give her the feeling of running in comfortable slippers.

Characteristics of the best winter trail running shoes at a glance :

  • Insulation and grip
  • A waterproof and breathable upper shoe
  • Deep lugs for snowy or icy conditions

Also, if you are wondering how to dress for winter trail running, read our expert’s advice here.

The right socks for trail running

The right socks for trail running will vary based on your personal preferences. Some people enjoy ‘Second Skin’ type light and fine fabrics. Others, on the contrary, prefer thick socks with reinforced heels. And a few more will opt for compression socks, particularly long-distance runners hoping to enhance blood circulation and speed up recovery.

No matter what your preference is, it’s always a good idea to go for something breathable and quick-dry in a fabric such as Merino wool, or polyester fiber for the top of the foot. Some models also feature a heel tab which stops your sock from sliding inside your shoe. Clever!

For a good range of sock height, thickness and fabric options, brands Icebreaker and Smartwool offer the widest choice when it comes to quality socks.

To discover other essential accessories for trail running, read the article here.

A few pro-tips

  • After purchasing the best trail running shoes for your needs, wear them as often as possible for a few days – during and after your running workouts, at home, on walks, grocery shopping, etc. – so both your shoes mold themselves to the shape of your feet.
  • Think of choosing winter trail running shoes that are half a size bigger than your other shoes. Gore-Tex type insulation tends to be thicker than other materials.
  • When it comes to socks, avoid cotton at all costs, as it tends to absorb and retain sweat, which can cause blisters.

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