How to Choose Your Trail Running Kicks

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Shoes are the most essential piece of gear for trail runners, but choosing the right pair can often be a tough decision. There are so many different styles of shoes and selecting the one that best meets your needs isn’t always easy. Listed below are my top ways to help you find the right trail running kicks for you.

Test Shoes at Different Inclines and Speeds
Changes in incline can affect your choice of shoe. If you plan to run on trails that feature hills with 15% slopes or higher, I’d first test your shoes on these extreme inclines. When I’ve run up hills with 30% slopes, I’ve had shoes fly off my feet! Many shoes aren’t designed to secure your heels at extreme grades and they can easily slip off, or create unwanted friction on the back of your heels. You can test shoes on an inclined treadmill at many running specialty stores.

The speed at which you run may also change the way your shoes feel. Notice how your shoes feel when you run fast and slow. Some shoes are designed to be more responsive at higher speeds and others at slower speeds. Personally, I find shoes with responsive midsole materials help me most at faster running speeds.

Match Your Shoes and Training Surfaces
Choosing shoes designed specifically for the types of trails you run most frequently will help you get the most out of your shoes. If you find yourself running easier, less technical trails with soft surfaces and few rocks and roots, I’d suggest choosing lighter shoes with shallow lugs and a more basic level of protection. If you run mostly on technical trails, you may benefit from shoes with a rock plate, toe guard, extra grippy rubber on the outsole, larger lugs and more protection. If you find yourself running both easy and technical trails, consider investing in shoes for each trail type.

Choose Shoes for Racing and Training
In trail running, certain shoes are designed specifically for training and others for racing. Trail racing-specific shoes are usually lightweight, breathable, extremely grippy, and are not designed to handle more than a couple hundred miles. Training shoes are heavier, but more durable and can withstand between 300 to 500 miles. Some shoes can act as both racing and training shoes, however, they often lack features specific to pure training or racing shoes. Ask your local running specialty store which models you should consider for your training and racing needs.

[PRO TIP] If you are considering racing 100 miles or longer you may benefit from more durable racing shoes. These shoes may be heavier and more developed than normal trail racing shoes, but should still be breathable, grippy and comfortable.

Trust Your Feelings
The best indicator of whether or not you should run in a particular pair of trail shoes is how you feel when running in them. Notice the responsiveness of the shoe. How does it respond when your feet strike the ground? Is it bouncy or flat? What is the shoe’s level of cushioning? Do you prefer a cushioned-ride or do you like feeling the ground underneath your feet? Are the materials comfortable? Does the heel irritate your achilles? Do your feet seem hot and sweaty? Are you getting blisters? These are examples of questions you can answer by tuning into your sensations when running in different types of shoes.

Seek Advice from Shoe Experts at Your Local Running Specialty Store
Running specialty store employees have extensive knowledge about running shoes and can help you find shoes that fit your needs. Many stores provide gait analysis to determine which shoes match your personal running style. Inform the store employee you are working with of your racing and training needs and they can help you find the right fit, size and model shoe for you. You can find other resources for selecting trail running shoes on our Find a Trail Shoe Page.

Do you have a favorite local running store? Nominate your local specialty running store for our upcoming Spotlight on Specialty series of articles by sending an email to nancyhobbs@trailrunner.com.