What Are Trail Running Shoes: A Helpful Guide for First-Time Buyers

What Are Trail Running Shoes: A Helpful Guide for First-Time Buyers
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Now that you’ve decided to up your game and embrace the wilderness through trail running, you’re sure to get a lot more than just a regular exercise. You’ll be closer to nature and encounter different types of terrain such as rocky paths, puddles of mud, and big tree roots. Since you’ll be running off-road, it is only smart to invest in a good pair of trail running shoes, but the question is, “What are trail running shoes and do you really need them?”

What Are Trail Running Shoes?

A pair of good trail running shoes will protect you from the craggy road that you’ve decided to take. It should be rugged enough to keep your feet safe and also light enough for you to keep your running pace.

Some people can tread over rocks and cross streams with just their regular running shoes. Others prefer the stability of their hiking boots when running up the mountains. Hiking shoes are tough but heavier, and running shoes are light but not built for rough roads.

With that in mind, trail running shoes are somewhere between the two, and once you’ve tried using them, you will see the difference. Your running shoes and hiking shoes will thank you later as they will last longer.

What to Look for when Choosing Trail Running Shoes?

Aside from knowing what are trail running shoes, it is also essential to understand the theory behind what makes a great pair of trail running shoes. That is because you’ll make a better-informed decision when purchasing and you’ll avoid wasting money over a pair that’s not right for your trail running needs. Your considerations should include the following:

1. Terrain

Where you run is a big factor to consider when choosing trail running shoes. Some trails only have some grass or rocks, and they are easy enough to course through. There are also extreme trails where a runner may encounter mud, snow, wet ground, and sharp rocks.

Finding the right shoes for the type of terrain you’ll run on will give you a smoother running experience. Here are the shoe features that you need to look at:

  • Lug patterns: Short, deep, or sticky?

Lug patterns are cleats found on the outsole of the shoe and have three types: short, deep, and sticky. Trail running shoes with short lug patterns (2mm to 4mm) are closely-spaced, so they are best for those who plan to run both on hard-packed dirt trails and on the road.

On the other hand, deep lugs (5mm to 7mm) are wider-spaced, so they provide better traction against muddy, wet, and slick surfaces. Lastly, if you plan to run on rocky trails with lots of gravel, choose trail running shoes that have a sticky rubber outsole.

  • Protection: Rock plates or foam?

To protect your feet from sharp rocks, twigs, and other hard elements in the ground, you can choose trail running shoes that are lined with either rock plates or thick foam. If you plan to run on roads with many rocks and stones, choose a pair with rock plates.

Rock plates are hard plastic built into the midsole of the shoes. They are thin so that you can feel the ground more naturally and place your feet on surfaces more precisely. Although they are thin, they can be heavy, so if you are only running on smooth trails, it’s better to opt for trail running shoes lined with thick foam.

  • Waterproofing: GTX or breathable mesh?

Trail running shoes are generally not waterproof, but there are those that are made of waterproof GTX or Gore-Tex® material. These are helpful for running on areas that mostly have cold weather conditions, rainy days, and snowy days. However, waterproof trail running shoes are not that breathable.

Hence, if you live in a place with hot weather, you may opt for trail running shoes made of a breathable mesh material. Your feet will not sweat too much while running (a primary cause of blisters!) plus, they dry quickly.

2. Your foot

No feet are the same, and the only sure way to know which fits and suits you best is to try the shoes off-road. You will know that you’ve found the perfect pair of trail running shoes when you’re comfortable running on it.

Unfortunately, for trail running shoes, there are no one-month free trials before deciding to buy or not. This is why it is essential to get to know your feet well.

  • Fit: Narrow or wide forefoot?

Trail running shoes are ideally snug on the midfoot and the heel, and wide in the forefoot to allow the toes to splay and be more stable on various terrains. Some people don’t like wide forefoot shoes because they find it hard to step with precision. These may also not be suitable for people with narrow feet.

Fortunately, there are trail running shoes designed for both wide and narrow feet. Do your research so that you’ll find a brand or model that you think is compatible with the shape of your feet.

  • Heel-to-toe drop: Zero or traditional?

The term heel-to-toe drop was recently added to the running-shoe lexicon. This refers to how much cushioning there is on the heel versus that on the toes.

Shoes with the traditional drop (10 to 12 mm) are perfect for people who tend to land on their heels when running since there is enough cushioning on the heel. On the other hand, zero-drop shoes (0mm to 4 mm) are perfect for those who prefer to “feel” the ground as they run. Some call these minimalist shoes.

Most trail running shoes are designed with low- to zero-drop. This is because it is important to feel the ground when running for speed. Once you decided to go for low-drop shoes, better start slowly. After which, gradually build your pace to avoid injury, especially when running uphill.


Trail running has many benefits for both the mind and the body. If you’re serious about pursuing this activity, investing in a great pair of trail running shoes will make your trail running experience more pleasant and fulfilling.

Look for a pair that suits the terrain where you’ll often run and that fits you comfortably. Remember, trail running shoes are designed to be lightweight so that you can freely run without compromising on materials that protect your feet.

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