Trail Running Shoes – What is best for you?
Finding the right shoes for any type of running can lead you down a rabbit warren. Fit, traction, application, density, support, cushioning, control… dozens of factors can affect the shoe that will end up suiting you best. But when it comes down to it, that’s the key take-away… the shoe that suits you best. We had a chat with Shane Johnstone, esteemed trail runner and organiser of Transcend Trails, to get his thoughts on trail running shoes. Below we’ll outline several key features to look for in a trail running shoe, but at the end of the day, the best option is to try on several different pairs to see what works for you.
The fit of a shoe is made up of many factors. Length, width and depth are the most commonly considered, however other components can drastically affect fit and performance.
Volume of toe box is important, as you need enough room for the individual shape and splay of your forefoot, without having excess room for your feet to slide around in. A wide, balanced and strong forefoot is crucial in any type of running, but the uneven rugged terrain seen in trail running makes the performance of your forefoot even more important. The right shaped toe-box for your foot forms a big part of this.
Try to find the shoe last that matches your foot. A last is a mechanical form or mould shaped like a foot that manufacturers use to model their shoes on. Lasts will typically vary between each make and model of shoe. Specialty shoe stores will have the best information regarding the lasts that may suit your foot, and can offer several types to try on.
Another consideration should be the drop of the shoe. The drop is the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot. Drop varies considerably between different shoes.
- Barefoot shoes will have 0mm heel drop
- Minimalist shoes often range between 0mm and 4mm
- Moderate can be anywhere between 4mm and 12mm
- Maximalist shoes can be anywhere up from 12mm.
Drop can be used to facilitate or support certain foot strike patterns. A higher drop (greater difference between heel and forefoot) will effectively plantarflex the forefoot, and as a result create more of a forefoot strike. Different drops can be used to accommodate previous injury or range of motion issues, both of which can vary between legs and feet, let alone between different runners. The most important thing to remember is that there is no perfect drop. What works for some won’t work for everyone.
Choosing the right drop in trail shoes should start by checking your current running shoes. If the drop in your everyday runners is 10mm, it’s best to consider a trail shoe with a similar drop. Instantly shifting to a pair of trail shoes with a 0mm drop from 10mm will significantly change your biomechanics and has the potential to cause injury.
For many of the trails in WA, a mixed grip is the best bet. Shane finds that shoes with complete plastic or rubber soles can be quite slippery over rocks. Soft soles grip well on slippery rocks, whereas Megagrip (Vibram) soled shoes work well on mud. For tracks with pea gravel, like many here in WA, running technique is more effective than the grip on your shoes.
Naturally, the inconsistent nature of the terrain on trails means that protection is a crucial component of your footwear. For the Ultra runners, maximalist shoes provide large amounts of cushioning and result in less bruising:
For the team runners not quite covering the same distances individually as the Ultra runners, Shane recommends trying these shoes below:
- Altra Lone Peak
- Hoka One One
- Nike Pegasus Trail
- Saucony Peregrine
- Brooks Cascadia
- The North Face VECTIV
All of these models are specific trail shoes, many of which with mixed soles. They all provide adequate protection for trail running, so find a shoe store where you can try on several pairs and decide which will be best for you.
Shane also stressed the importance of drainage. There are 5 creek crossings on the Transcend trail, so if there’s been any rain, you’re bound to get wet. Several models are made with Gore-Tex, which is water repellent, however this can mean any water that gets in the shoe can have a hard time escaping.
To help you through your footwear experience, several sponsors of Transcend Trails are offering discounts for competitors. Codes are supplied via email when you sign up for Transcend Trails.
- 20% off from Altra Running
- 15% off at Tribe and Trail Maylands
- 15% off at Running Works Hilton