Picking the Right Trail Shoe for Your Favorite Trail
Trail running can be a pretty amazing addition to your training program. Not only is it a great way to spice things up and see some really incredible scenery as you run, but moving your runs off of the track also gives you the chance to challenge yourself in new ways. Your body and brain have to work together to compensate for the unpredictable terrain and keep you moving forward.
If you struggle with boredom during your runs, trail running could be the solution. But – just like every other workout – you must be properly prepared. And, as usual for runners, your shoes are going to be your primary training tool when tackling a trail. So, once you’ve picked your trail, how do you know which shoes to wear? How can you select the right trail shoe?
Analyze The Trail
The first thing to do when trying to match your trail with proper footwear is to think about what challenges that trail is going to present. For example, what’s make-up of your favorite trail? Is it relatively flat gravel? Or is it a more rugged, hilly dirt path? The type of surface that you’ll be running on will effect the amount of cushioning and support that you need. This is especially important if you deal with things like overpronation that need to be corrected.
Another factor to consider is the overall condition of your trail. How maintained is it? Are you likely to encounter holes, logs, rocks or other potential obstacles? These features can make your run a lot more interesting but they will also ramp up the intensity very quickly and increase your risk of injury. To protect your joints, then, you’ll need to adequately support your ankles. Cushioning can also be useful on these trails just in case you accidently kick some of those excited challenges.
Finally, how long is that trail of yours? Or, more importantly and to the point, how long will your run be? Obviously longer runs will present a greater challenge – especially if you’re running with big, bulky, heavy shoes. Things will only get worse if those shoes are even slightly uncomfortable. At the same time, minimalist footwear may leave your feet sore after a particularly long trail run. So balance is the key here.
Your Footwear Choices
Now that we know what aspects of your chosen trail to have in mind, what are your options when it’s time to shop for shoes? Generally speaking, most trail running shoes fall into two large categories.
First, there are the so-called “hybrids.” As their name suggests, these shoes are designed to work on a variety of terrains. Closely resembling standard running shoes, hybrid trail shoes have wider treads and typically provide added outsole and midfoot support to help you on harder surfaces. Usually, hybrids will provide some degree of cushioning but still endeavor to keep things light. This class of footwear is best suited for relatively flat, predictable and overall easier trails.
On the other end of the spectrum, we find the conventional trail running shoe. These shoes are designed to handle more challenging, less maintained trails. As such, they generally offer more cushioning and support around the ankles. Conventional trail running shoes will also include features meant to shield your feet from the elements and potentially harmful obstructions. Because of all of these safety features, this category of trail running shoe is typically much heavier than shoes you might otherwise wear.
It’s also important to note that many minimalist shoe manufacturers have started producing trail running options. Because minimalist shoes – by definition – lack any meaningful cushioning or corrective support these shoes usually aren’t recommended for new runners. Still, the decision to leave those options behind means that these shoes are lighter and more flexible. Minimalist shoes designed for trail running will usually have slightly thicker soles to protect your feel and are often made of more durable materials intended to keep the elements out.
But the trail and the shoes themselves aren’t the only things to think about here. It’s also important to realize that aspects of your own training experience and style will have an impact on your selection.
Specifically, more advanced trail runners may be willing to sacrifice some of the safety features of conventional shoes in favor of more lightweight options. Similarly, new trail runners – or those dealing with previous injuries or other consideration – may decide to go with conventional shoes even when running on easier trails.
Like so many aspects of the health and fitness world, then, your choice in shoes is a highly personally decision. Consider the demands of your favorite trail and how these will interact with your personal experience. Taken together, these factors will help you make the best decision for you. If you need guidance, don’t hesitate to discuss your options with a qualified trainer or coach.
Ultimately, the best trail running shoe for you is the one that can comfortably and safely carry you to your goals.