A man and a woman runningA man and a woman running

Trail Running Shoe Buying Guide

Trail running shoes are specifically designed for travel across off-road terrain; gripping the loose surface, providing support and protection. The technical nature of their intended terrain means there are plenty of factors to consider and consequently plenty of options available, so it can be difficult to select the perfect pair. This guide will help you understand the different components of trail shoes and how they affect your stride.

When Do You Need Trail Running Shoes?

First up: when do you actually need a trail-specific shoe? A road running shoe will be able to handle occasional dry forays off the pavement, but will provide less stability, strength, and is more likely become clogged with mud and slip around on loose surfaces. The lack of grip will slow you down, impact your technique and might lead to injury.

So, If you've begun to dabble in the murky world of trail running and you're running off-road more often than not, trail running shoes are a wise investment.

Trail Running Shoe Anatomy

Trail shoes borrow many of their features from regular running shoes and walking shoes for an optimal balance of agility and support.

anatomy of a trail shoeanatomy of a trail shoe

  • Upper: covers the foot
  • Heel support: holds the heel in the shoe preventing any lifting or shifting over rough ground
  • Gusseted tongue: stitched to the upper, it prevents stones and other debris from entering the shoe
  • Eyelet: holds the laces in place and secures the upper
  • Foot cradle: wraps around the side of the foot adding extra support
  • Toe box: dependent on the model - a low volume toe box adds stability to the foot where as long distance shoes generally have high volume toe boxes allow the toes to splay upon impact
  • Toe rand: often a rubber coating, it protect toes from rocks
  • Midsole: sandwiched between the upper and the outsole it cushions your foot stride
  • Outsole: sits beneath the midsole gripping the ground
  • Lugs: provide grip on loose surfaces – they come in a variety of lengths (short for hard terrain, long loose soft ground)

How Does Terrain Affect Shoe Choice?

The type of terrain you are planning to run on should influence what you look for in the outsole, fit and general ruggedness of a trail shoe. However the drop and midsole are personal preferences which you should align with your running style.

Hard & Rocky

Gravel, rock & hard-pack trails

  • Low profile
  • Minimal toe box protection
  • Flexible foot cradle
  • Small lugs - grip well on compressed soil and rock
  • Breathable upper
Salomon Sense Ride 2Salomon Sense Ride 2

All - Terrain

Muddy trails, mountain paths, rocks

  • Toe box protection
  • Multi-directional medium length lugs – provides grip in any direction
  • Shank midsole support – protection from roots and rocks
  • Flexible foot cradle
  • Breathable upper
La Sportiva Bushido 2light running shoe

Soft & Muddy

Muddy trails, mountain path

  • Strong reinforced foot cradle
  • Shank midsole support – protection from roots and rocks
  • Tall lugs – dig into deep mud
  • Wide spacing between lugs – removes soil and other debris
  • Can include a weatherpoof or GORE-TEX liner in the upper
Salomon Speedcross 5Salomon Speedcross 5

What is Heel Drop?

This is the difference in height between your heel and forefoot in the shoe. It is normally measured in millimetres and is determined by the combined height of the insole, midsole and outsole under the heel and forefoot.

E.g. 19mm heel, 10mm forefoot = 9mm drop

heel drop diagramheel drop diagram

The smaller the drop the more likely a mid-foot or forefoot landing is. If your heel strikes the ground first, it acts as a brake and increases the shock of your stride, therefore a mid-foot/forefoot landing makes you faster and reduces the bio-mechanical strain on your body.

Why don't all trail running shoes come with a 0mm drop?
Most people's everyday shoes have some form of drop in them and their muscles , tendons and body is used to moving with this drop. If you were to transition straight into a zero drop for trail running then the muscles that support such a running style would be underdeveloped and you may get injured.

Our staff will be able to suggest what drop will suit your running style and you can be guided what feels most comfortable.

8 - 11 mm
Beginner and intermediate trail runners who are looking to increase the amount of trails they run. The reduced strain on the calf muscles will improve efficiency and reduce fatigue on longer runs. It may also suit runners with have issues or a previous injury in their Achilles, heel or suffer from plantar fasciitis.

4 - 8 mm
This would suit runners who hit the trails regularly, run at a fast pace and want ultimate performance for racing over short distances. It may also suit runners with have issues or previous injury in their toes.

How Should Trail Running Shoes Fit?

Trail shoes should be snug around the heel and arch to prevent lifting, whilst the front of the shoe should sit about a finger's width away from your toes. (The size of shoes you wear everyday could well be different for a pair of trail running shoes).

Foot length, width, arch shape, arch length, foot volume are all factors that should influence the shoe you choose. It's also important to remember that your feet will swell when you run, especially on longer routes.

We recommend visiting one of our stores where our highly trained staff assess your feet and recommend suitable models.

Key Trail Running Brands

inov-8 logoinov-8 logo
salomon logosalomon logo
HOKA One OneHOKA One One

When to Replace Your Trail Running Shoes

A new pair of trail running shoes is comfortable, stable and supportive. Over time and many miles the shoe's midsole will compact and the shoe will become stiffer. Your feet, legs and body compensate for this change but over time it may lead to pain or an injury. Anywhere after 500 miles is the time at which you should be looking to replace your shoes.

It is worth noting the type of terrain you are running, your weight, and running style will influence the rate that a shoe degrades.

If you want any more information or have any questions about trail running shoes feel free to use the '‘'live chat with an expert''' (bottom left hand corner of your screen), ring our customer service team or drop in at a shop and have chat.

Take A Look At Our Other Buying Guides

Trail Running Backpacks

A running backpack is ideal if you are looking for something that will stash a considerable amount, whether that is for running to work or running an ultra.

Read More

A man and woman running down a hillA man and woman running down a hill

Trail Running Clothing

When trying to figure out what gear you need for trail running, it's important to consider weight, breathability, and protection.

Read More

A man and woman trail runningA man and woman trail running