If you’re new to trail running, here’s a insider tip that will pay huge dividends: Purchase a pair of trail running shoes. Better yet, purchase the right trail running shoes. Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered.
Trail running offers an escape from the monotony of paved roads and neat sidewalks. But when you hit the trails, you face changing terrain, mud, dirt, roots and rocks. Your road running shoes won’t last a week out there.
WHY TRAIL SHOES ARE IMPORTANT
Let’s start with what matters most: your safety. Trail shoes have large, multi-directional lugs to dig into mud and dirt for better traction. The last thing you want to do is cruise around a muddy corner and have your feet fly out from under you. Mud doesn’t taste very good.
In addition to providing better grip, many trail shoes have toe guards in the front of the shoe and metal or hard plastic plates built into the sole to protect the arch of the foot from sharp rocks and exposed roots. The uppers are made of stiff, durable materials that won’t tear as you run through underbrush and leap over downed trees. The stiffness also protects against turned ankles and helps stabilize the foot on slanted surfaces.
If you’re exploring the backcountry, you’ll likely come across a water crossing and have to get your shoes wet. Some trail shoes are designed to shed water through drainage ports in the midsole, while others are completely waterproof. Waterproof uppers tend to be a little stiffer, but having dry feet can make the difference between an enjoyable run and blister city.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT PAIR
Even more important than wearing trail shoes is wearing the right trail shoes. The key features of trail running shoes can vary dramatically, depending on the terrain and conditions of your route. And just like road running shoes, you can find options with more or less cushion, zero drop or some drop, flashy colors or a more understated look.
In terms of technical features, here are the key categories you want to watch out for and choose your shoe based on the terrain of your most traveled trails.
Terrain: Parks, rail trails, athletic fields, gravel
Features: Lightweight, shallow lugs, moderate protection, more flexibility
Terrain: Hiking trails, logging roads, mountains
Features: Deeper multi-directional lugs, stiff upper, toe guards, in-sole rock plates
OFF THE GRID/OFF-TRAIL
Terrain: Bushwhacking, mountains, rocky technical trails
Features: Durable materials, rugged construction, rigid, protective, usually waterproof
The category of trail shoe you choose really depends on where you like to run. For example, an off-the-grid bushwhacking shoe would probably be a bit much for a cross country race on a golf course. Generally speaking, it’s best to go with the minimum amount of protection you think you’ll need. Too much shoe will discourage you, and too little shoe will leave you exposed to injury.
Written by Jason Saltmarsh, a competitive masters runner and freelance writer who covers sports, fitness and healthy living topics for several national magazines and websites.
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