Do You Need Trail Running Shoes?

Trail Running Shoes in a Tree

Thinking of putting in some miles off road but not sure if you should make room in your closet for yet another pair of running shoes specifically for trails? Well, consider this: just as you would wear a different type of jacket depending on the weather (rain, wind, cold, etc.), different shoes are suited for different types of terrain. Running on a paved, gravel, or a flat, dirt trail? Your normal running shoes would likely work just fine. But if you’re talking trails that climb and descend, or have loose rocks, tree roots, twists and turns, well, then you need shoes with better traction, stability, and protection which is exactly what trail shoes are designed to provide. 

3 Big Reasons to Lace Up Trail Running Shoes

  1. Traction - barring an occasional pothole or puddle, running on pavement is far less challenging than traversing a rocky, sandy, uneven trail. Having shoes with traction is key to gripping the ground and staying upright! The outsoles of trail shoes are built to stop, turn, climb, and tackle just about any terrain or obstacle in your way.
  2. Stability - The midsoles of trail shoes are denser, thinner, and lower to the ground compared to the plush and cushy midsoles of your average road shoe. This gives you better stability and responsiveness so you can confidently maneuver over the roots, stones, and winding ups and downs typically faced on a trail. 
  3. Protection - You need more than just stability and traction to take on all you’ll encounter along the way. Without the waterproof uppers and added protective features of trail shoes, your feet are left vulnerable to the elements as well as to injuries from sharp rocks and other debris poking through your shoes. Ouch!

Now we know what you’re thinking: there are waterproof road running shoes as well as those that offer stability features. But take a deeper dive and you’ll see why, even compared to these types of shoes, trail shoes have their advantages.  

Trail Running Shoes vs. Road Running Shoes

Trail Running Shoes

  • Outsoles have deeper lugs and stickier rubber for better traction on soft and loose surfaces
  • Stiffer midsoles provide extra stability over rugged, uneven terrain
  • A built-in rock plate offers impenetrable protection against jagged sticks, rocks, and other sharp objects
  • Durable, often waterproof uppers protect against the elements and rips and tears 
  • Added features such as protective overlays, toe bumpers, and gusseted tongues keep out debris and protect against injury

Road Running Shoes

  • Smooth, rubber outsoles are designed to grip pavement 
  • Flexible, cushioned midsoles provide shock absorption on hard surfaces 
  • Lightweight, mesh uppers offer breathability over durability

 

Anatomy of a Trail Shoe

Diagram of Trail Shoe higlighting the Upper, Midsole, Gusseted Tongue, Toe Bumper, Outsole, Rock Plate

Outsole (the part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground)

Deep, wide lugs angled for climbing and descending and made of soft, sticky rubber for better traction on varied terrain.

Midsole (the area between the upper and outsole)

Stiffer and lower to the ground for better stability, responsiveness, and cat-like control.

Rock plate

Made of plastic or carbon fiber and sandwiched between the midsole and outsole;  provides underfoot protection to block sharp rocks and other objects from penetrating the bottom of your shoe (or worse, your foot!). Step on an acorn barefoot, and you’d find out pretty quickly why this feature totally rocks (pun intended)!

Toe bumper

keeps toes happily unbroken and injury-free.

Gusseted tongue

keeps annoying debris from getting in your shoes and socks.

Upper

Often waterproof, with reinforced overlays for more durability and protection against whatever the trail and Mother Nature dishes out. 

Trail Running Shoes on a Dirt Trail

Finding the Right Trail Shoes For You

Okay, so you can see why having a pair of trail shoes in your running shoe rotation makes sense, and now maybe you’re thinking it’s a good idea to get yourself a pair. Hold on though –  just as with road running shoes, there are different types of trail shoes. So, how do you find which will be best for you? We know some experts who can help (wink, wink), but in the meantime, here are a few tips and tricks you can use:

Trail Running Shoe Tip #1: Match your midsole to your mileage

Though the midsoles of trail shoes are all thinner and more dense than those of road shoes, there are variations of thickness. A good rule of thumb is if you’re just off-roading it for a handful of miles, an average thickness is really all you need. Planning on hitting the trail for a long training run? Then you might want a pair that provides a little more bounce in your step and added stability.

Trail Running Shoe Tip #2: Match your outsole to the terrain

The lug depth and spacing on the outsoles of trail shoes varies, and the type you choose depends upon the ruggedness and conditions of the trails you plan on tackling – the more traction needed, the deeper and wider the lugs.

Trail Running Shoe Tip #3: Match your uppers to the environment

Trails can be muddy and wet, so waterproof uppers are often a good choice. If your route is rocky and rooty, overlays and toe guards can provide added durability as well as protection against tears and injuries.     

Trail Running Shoe Tip #4: Don’t worry about width

For some reason, there aren’t a lot of options in trail shoes for runners with wide feet, but if you can’t track down a pair that comes in wide, don’t throw in the towel just yet. There are a few hacks that might help:

  • Try on a half-size up from your normal size
  • Women can try a men’s shoe  – just subtract one and a half from your size (a size 9 in women’s would equate to a 7.5 in men’s)  
  • You can alter the way you lace your shoe – keep the criss-cross technique but use every other eyelet, or try nixing the criss-cross and lace parallel instead by feeding the laces from underneath every other eyelet. 
Man running on a trail in a trail running shoe

Do You Really Need Trail Running Shoes?

Let’s put it this way: you wouldn’t wear a cotton jacket in the rain nor a thermal coat on a hot day, right? So, why would you wear regular old road running shoes on a rugged trail? Not only will your trusty shoes take a beating, but your body could end up taking a beating too!

Regular road shoes, even stability shoes, don’t have everything it takes to take on off-road terrain. Trail shoes, on the other hand, offer added stability (and confidence!) to cover it all. They’re also durable, yet nimble enough to handle turns, leap tree roots in a single bound and trudge through the mud without a hitch. In short, trail shoes help you feel sure-footed, navigate trails more easily, and protect you from injury. Do you really need trail running shoes? We’d definitely recommend it! So, before you head to the head of trails, head to one of our convenient locations or connect with us online to learn more.