Top 4 features to look for in a trail running shoe

Trail running by nature means trading in smooth roads and marked routes for the unknown.

One thing that is known however. And that’s if you’re going to master the sport you’re going to need to be light and quick on your feet.

For this reason, trail runners turn to a specific kind of shoe. Footwear that’s designed to take on the intense impacts of tough terrains, whilst offering a lightweight and ventilated feel.

A solid pair of trail running shoes can be the key to your comfort and efficiency around the trail. Ultimately, they are the difference between a good and great run.

What makes a trail running shoe different?

Whether it’s your first time on a trail or you’re a pro at kicking up some dust, tailored footwear is a must have in your trail running kit bag. Designed to cater to the demands of the unpredictable paths you’ll venture down, they have many unique factors that make them different to the standard training shoe…

Behind the design of each great trail shoe are two key purposes:

  1. Protection: as well as being able to protect your feet from the elements, quality footwear will protect your entire body from the strain of uneven terrains and intense impacts.
  1. Performance: every piece of sports clothing should be tailored to maximise performance, and trail running shoes are no different. Whether it’s speed, power or endurance, a quality shoe will boost your capacity to combat the trail head on.

The testing nature of the trail demands a thicker sole and improved flexibility to ensure the shoe maintains its structure; think heavy duty road running shoe, but with a touch of finesse.

We truly believe that behind every good trail runner is a great shoe. With this in mind, we decided to explore which features you should look out for when perusing the myriad of footwear out there…

1. Superior Fit

When you’re faced with the risk of stubbing your toes on sharp rocks, tripping over hidden obstacles, and generally beating up your feet with the uneven terrains of the trail, making sure you have a shoe with a superior fit should be top priority.

So, forget style and technology – just for a second – and focus on finding a shoe with the perfect fit for you.

Finding footwear with the perfect fit isn’t as simple as buying a regular training shoe. Instead of looking for just a size, you need to focus on an ideal shoe for the style of your foot.

Don’t know what style foot you have? Style is determined by the pronation of your foot… in other words, how your foot rolls when it makes initial contact with the ground and how you absorb the shock.

There are three types, each benefiting from a different style of shoe:

Runners with neutral feet strike the ground with their heel, rolling towards the toes as they move forwards and push off all toes fairly evenly. This natural movement spreads the shock across the whole of the foot, minimising impact and risk of injury.

Over pronators drive off the biggest and sometimes the second biggest toe, without distributing pressure across the smaller toes. This means there is a natural arch inwards which reduces the amount of shock the foot can absorb, demanding a motion controlled shoe.

Supinators have the opposite problem to over pronators – they naturally arch outwards so that pressure is absorbed from their smaller toes when they drive off the ground. This style of foot demands a cushioned, supportive shoe design.

There is a super easy way to work out which style you are too! Simply wet your feet and walk across paper to track which area of your foot takes the largest amount of pressure.

Check out the video below for more information:

Whichever style foot you have, a shoe specifically tailored to you will ensure there are no lapses in support or comfort when you’re enjoying some of the most beautiful and testing landscapes of the world.

Do your research. Comfort is paramount, especially when facing downhill shocks and unexpected obstacles.

The fit of trail running shoes is leaps and bounds above the norm…

“A trail shoe should fit snugly around the midfoot/arch area and provide a locked-down feeling in the heel to eliminate any lifting or shifting over uneven terrain. In the forefoot, make sure there is at least a thumb’s width of space between the tip of your toes and the end of the shoe.” – Mario Fraioli, Competitor

2. Unbeatable outsoles

There is an uphill battle to deliver shoes with  superior traction capable of taking on the uneven, unpredictable and testing tracks. This requires a specific kind of outsole.

To be able to adapt to different terrains, a quality trail running shoe will offer a deeper, more progressive traction to their road running cousins.

For example, designed with a combination of deep x-shaped grooves and 2-step base reinforcement technology – the Mizuno Daichi 2 shoe delivers exceptional traction on all types of uneven terrain from soft mud to hard multi-angled surfaces every time your foot meets the ground.

A superior outsole means you can enjoy and concentrate on the thrills and spills of the trail without distraction.

Investing in the ultimate sole means you can ditch the worries of slipping or losing your footing, and run with confidence.

And, it’s not just about stability!

“Trail shoes provide additional protection for your toes and the soles of your feet with bumpers and reinforced soles to reduce the bruising that can occur on these surfaces.” – Karen Krieg, Livestrong.

Part of the fun of trail running is not knowing what obstacle you’re going to have to take on next. But with this comes the risk of broken toes and harmful impacts on shock sensitive ankles.

Deep treads and thick outsoles will protect your feet against these injuries and drive you to success.


3. Flexibility

Your shoe shouldn’t fight against the natural movements of your foot, but rather move with you for superior comfort and performance.

Trail running tracks are often unmade. Hitting barely trodden routes is part of the thrill; not knowing what obstacle is just around the corner, or what terrain you’re going to have to adapt to next!

So, having a flexible shoe is a must.

The rigidity and stiffness of many standard running shoes won’t cut it on the trail, especially if you’re looking to progress in the sport. Optimum performance is crucial.

Opting for a shoe with a focus on flexibility will bring a versatile edge to your running. You’ll be able to overcome and defeat all manner of terrains at pace, whilst enjoying the stability provided by the exceptional outsoles.

4. Suitable weather protection

As well as preparing for diverse surfaces, you need to brace yourself and your feet for extreme weather conditions.

Sunshine, rain, snow, wind – trail running is about embracing the elements and testing yourself in every way possible. Your shoe should help you to do this.

Some designs are more suited to the dry elements of the summer and the impact your heels and soles will have to endure. Others will provide stability and protection from wet, slippery surfaces.

It’s up to you whether you invest in one shoe to tackle all weather conditions, or two for different times of the year.

And that’s what buying a good trail shoe is – an investment. An investment into your performance.

Combatting yourself with a shoe that can’t protect your feet against the elements increases the risk of injury – not to mention the discomfort!

Consider what is going to be the best option for you – are you likely to experience one weather condition more than another, or are you going to split your time equally?

For wet, cold conditions, look for a shoe that offers a protective waterproof layer. This can be in the shape of a completely protective shell or sieve technology (small holes in the exterior).

A protective waterproof shell over the shoe will prevent water from entering the shoe, and is perfect if you’re running over wet grass or low puddles. However, if water gets into the shoe from deeper puddles or torrential rain, it won’t be able to escape.  

And there is literally nothing worse than having wet feet – well, perhaps running with wet feet?

So, if you’re taking on more extreme conditions, consider looking for a shoe that incorporates sieve technologies. No, your feet will not be kept completely watertight, but any water that enters the shoe will be quickly drained.   

Boost your performance and feel good…

A good shoe is the difference between an average performance and an outstanding one. It can undoubtedly make or break your success!

But not only that, it is the key to your enjoyment whilst you tear up the tracks. With a great shoe, you can move between terrains with ease – allowing you to focus on what matters. That personal best you’ve been trying to beat and the incredible surroundings.