Trail Running Shoes: What To Look For

Features of trail running shoes and how to choose what’s right for you

With Coach Kelvin, Online Running Coach for We Run and the We Run Virtual Running Club, and 1:1 Running Coach for Leeds and surrounding areas

Hi folks, it’s Coach Kelvin here. We’ve had a few questions about trail running shoes, and so I thought I’d do a super quick video to give some ideas on what to look for when you are choosing a trail shoe.

Trail Running Shoes: Terrain

The first couple of things to think about when buying a trail running shoe is what sort of terrain you will be running on. Are you going up in the mountains and off the paths, or is it a gravelly canal towpath? So we need to decide how much grip that shoe has. Then there’s the height of the shoe – so the stack height. For instance, if we’re up in the fells and off the trails, we want something very low and close to the ground for stability. If we’re on the gravel canal towpath, we might have something that’s almost like a road shoe but just with a bit more grip.

Understanding Different Types of Trail Shoe and Their Functions

I’m going to quickly talk you through four different shoes so you can see the differences between them.

The first shoe is the North Face Eminus, which is basically a road shoe with a bit of grip on the bottom. I use this if I’m just going for a run on the canal or super easy trails, and I don’t want to wear out my more expensive trail shoes. This shoe has quite a high stack, a lot of foam, and it’s not very aggressive in the grip on the bottom.

The next one is the Saucony Exodus Ultra. It still has quite a lot of foam, for longer distance, general purpose use as a trail shoe. It’s a little more aggressive in the lugs on the bottom. This one now has nearly 500 miles on it, so it’s quite well worn out, but it has quite a lot of grip so it can be used as a general-purpose trail shoe and even on the fells as long as we’re staying on the main paths and trails, and not venturing off the paths.

Advanced Trail Shoe Options for Specific Terrains

The next one I use is the Hoka Zinal 2, as my racing shoe. It’s much lower profile, much closer to the ground to give me more stability. It still has a really good tread pattern on it, even though it’s not super aggressive – more for drier, gravelly trails. And it’s also exceptionally lightweight for racing, at around 210 grams.

Then, the other one is the Inov8 X-Talon 255, which is my fell shoe. This is the one I use if I’m going to the Lake District, maybe to practice some navigation. So, I’m actually going to go off the paths. It has very little cushioning, is very low to the ground to give me lots of stability, and also very flexible to give me a lot of feel of the ground. The lugs are quite small and quite spiky to pierce right down into the ground. If you compare the amount of cushioning in this shoe against the Eminus, you can see that the North Face shoe has loads more stack height and cushioning, and the Inov8 is much closer to the ground.

Making the Right Trail Shoe Choice

So it’s about deciding what sort of surfaces you’re going to be running on, then working out how much grip you need, whether it’s going to be gravelly trails or muddy, and then how much stability you need. How high the stack height is in the shoe, so how much cushioning you’ve got. And then the other thing to bear in mind is what sort of distances you’re going to be running in that shoe.

Even if I’m on quite rough terrain, I might still wear the Exodus Ultra over the X-Talon 255 if I’m going to be out for something like four or five hours or even longer, in an event.

I hope that makes some sort of sense. If you’ve got any questions on trail running shoes, please let me know. And for now, Happy Running!

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