How to choose the perfect trail running shoe

IMG_5305Thinking about taking your running off-road this summer? If you plan to stick to relatively flat dirt or gravel trails, your road runners will be sufficient enough to handle the terrain. However, if you plan to traverse rocky, single-track trails through the mountains, you will want some trail-specific running shoes. Aside from having better grip for all-terrain running, a good pair of trail shoes will help prevent falls, stubbed toes and other perils involved with running in the wild. Perils aside, the scenery, views and exhilaration you experience when flying through the trees over a single-track trail (in the perfect trail running shoe) is worth it.

If an off-road adventure is in your future, consider the following criteria when shopping for a pair of trail shoes:

Sturdy outsoles
If you plan on running rocky, rugged trails, hard rubber outsoles with a rock plate are a must. Harder outsoles might not be as forgiving and harder underfoot, but you’ll really appreciate them when you step on a sharp rock on a descent. Trust me.

Good tread
Deep lugs and a grippy tread pattern is essential for mountain trail running, especially in the fall and winter when the trails get slippery. I prefer tread patterns that stick out past the edge of the shoe, which allows for a good grip from all angles.

Snug fit (but with room in the toe box)
Although your feet can swell up during longer trail runs and wiggle room inside the shoe is more comfortable, you don’t want them to be too loose — a sloppy fit can lead to twisted ankles, especially on technical trails. Find a shoe that fits snugly in the ankle and across the width of the foot, but with half an inch or so in the toe box. This will prevent stubbed toes and black nails on the descents.

The right amount of cushioning
Since I like to feel the trail under my feet and run primarily with a midfoot strike, I prefer a more minimalist shoe without a ton of cushioning, like the Saucony Kinvera (my trail shoe of choice for the past 4 years) or Saucony Peregrine (my new trail shoe pick). However, since your feet can take a beating on the trails, you may prefer a shoe with more cushioning and support, like the Salomon Wings Pro or the Saucony Xodus. If you run roads in cushioned shoes, I suggest choosing something similar for the trails.

Tested out my new Saucony Peregrine trail runners on some steep mountain terrain over the weekend. They were awesome!

Tested out my new Saucony Peregrine trail runners on some steep mountain terrain over the weekend. They were awesome!

Make sure you choose a shoe that is a similar weight or lighter than your road runners — when your legs get tired, heavy trail runners can feel like cement blocks on your feet. And heavy feet = lots of trips and falls. Although most trail runners on the market these days are lighter than they used to be, there are still some pretty clunky versions out there — be sure to compare the weight of the shoes you’re considering buying and take them for a little test run at the store.

Do you trail run? What are your favourite trail running shoes? Have you ever bailed on a trail run?