Trail Running Shoe Buying Guide

Find the best shoe for you...

Trail running is simply running off-road, often over hilly and rugged terrain, and sometimes over open ground with no visible paths. It’s a sport impossible not to fall in love with; the sense of freedom, beautiful landscapes, countries and the health benefits (not to mention the guilt free cake you can eat!).


Whether you’re new to the trail and stepping off the pavement for the first time, or a seasoned competitor it’s important that you find the best trail shoe that works for you.


Here’s our handy guide to help you pick the perfect trail running shoe…

How Should It Fit?

A trail running shoe needs to be neat around the heel and ankle, snug but not restrictive around the middle of your foot, with room for your toes. Often people find the extra space around the toes a little strange at first, but when descending steep trails at speed, the extra room is welcome!

What Features Should I Look For?

Each trail running shoe will have its own unique features, from the amount of grip or padding, all the way to the weight and shape. Some of the key things to consider are listed below.




Trail running shoes generally have a deeper, wider spaced grip patterns than their road running equivalents. The size and depth of the grip depends on the intended terrain but the idea is that large, aggressive and often multi-directional lugs will give the wearer the greatest grip and stability.


Lacing System


A good lacing system should hold the foot comfortably in place, without excessive tightening or bagging of the surrounding material. Salomon shoes use their famous ‘Quick Lace’ system (so popular in fact this has now been adopted by other manufacturers), which is a thin Kevlar lined lace and toggle, which quickly tightens the shoe.




Some of the shoes will have a gusseted tongue, which is a thin piece of material that binds the tongue to the shoe. This has the dual purpose of stopping the tongue slip sideways whilst keeping debris from entering the shoe.


Toe Surround


A reinforced toe surround is another common feature. This is a rubber rand which protects the toes from injury, in the eventuality that they come into contact against all the rocks and roots along the trail.


Rock Guard


A big feature, especially in Britain, is the use of a protective layer between the midsole and out sole. Commonly known as a rock guard or rock plate, it stops sharp edges of rocks, gravel and roots from pushing up through the sole and into your foot. This helps increase the comfort on difficult terrain and lessens the risk of injury from impact.

What Style Of Trail Shoe Do I need?

The shoe you need will depend on the type of trail running you intend to do.


Shoes for mountains and open fell style running will have deep lugs and an aggressive sole pattern. This helps you to grip into the mud and to shed the mud from the shoe, so it does not clog up the grip. The rubber itself will also feel softer to the touch, this type of rubber offers greater grip on rocky and slippery terrain. It is not however designed for road running as tarmac is too hard and can wear the shoe out very quickly.


A shoe for hard, well packed trails needs to have a smaller and less aggressive sole unit. As the surface is more compacted and less slippery, the rubber and lug pattern needs to be harder wearing. It may also have a little more cushioning to provide relief from the impacts against the harder ground.


Of course, a trail may include many different surfaces, and some people will choose to run from their front door out to a park for example. But as a general rule; if the ground is wet, broken and slippery, then deep lugs are needed. Dry and compact; shallower, hardwearing lugs are better.


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Does It Need To Be Waterproof?

A waterproof shoe keeps your foot dry, usually by way of an internal sock-like lining. This is a great way to keep your foot dry and allow it to breathe. It can also add some warmth, which is very welcome in the winter, especially when running through wet grass. However if your trails include water deeper than the top of the shoe, it can also keep your foot wet by trapping the water inside and adding a substantial amount of weight to each foot.


The benefits of a well fitted sock should not be underestimated. Most runners will have a ‘go to’ sock that they have tried and tested and found works for them. The Smartwool PHD range is one of our most popular socks amongst our team of staff runners as it is extremely breathable, controls moisture (preventing blisters) and is very comfortable. There is also a range of waterproof socks which can be worn with non-waterproof shoes on the wettest days. These keep your feet dry, whilst allowing any water in the shoe to drain away.


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If you’re headed in store for a shoe fitting feel free to bring the socks you are comfortable with as this will affect the volume and size of your foot, and will help us to fit the shoe correctly.

Posted By

Adam Briggs


Adam started trail running back in 2011 shortly after a colleague suggested going ‘off road’. After completing a 7 mile adventure above Buttermere in the Lake District he’s never looked back! He runs regularly on a variety of different trail types; from lower hard-packed, gravelly trails to mountain tops and across wilderness expanses. Most days he can be found either out on the fell or at the local cake shop. Read Adam’s blog to find out more.

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