Choosing the Right Trail Runners: Part 1

Trail Running for CouplesIf you get a little out of breath by just hearing the words “trail runners,” don’t worry. Trail runners have plenty of uses beyond actual running. These stiff soled, grippy athletic shoes are popular with hikers, joggers, and sometimes even mountain bikers who aren’t ready to spring for clip-in shoes. Trail running shoes have a few specific features that give them an edge compared to sneakers or gym shoes, but they’re quite different from a full-on hiking boot. If you’re wondering how to choose a pair of trail runners, read on.

Grip: Trail runners have very grippy outsoles, usually made with extra traction and designed to be anti-slip. They’re made for running over uneven rocks and loose terrain with extra durability so they won’t wear down as quickly as a rubber-bottom gym shoe.

Support and stability: Anytime you’re in the woods it’s important to prevent against injuries like ankle rolls, but runners are especially prone to them, given that each step is often a bit less planned and secure – it’s easier to step the wrong way when you’re moving faster. So a good trail runner should have some design features in place to keep you stable. For some shoes, that may mean a raised front ankle like the Hoka One On Sky Kaha Trail Running Shoe (with a low cut in the back to enable you to run) and for others, it may mean a wider toe box like the Altra Superior 4 Trail Running Shoe, so you make more contact when you land.

Waterproofing/breathability: As with ski gear, staying dry while on the trails is key. Most trail runners are designed with some degree of outer waterproofing (you’ll find GORE-TEX® on many trail runners) as well as inner air channels to help your foot stay cool and dry while in use.

How to choose:

You need to order trail runners that fit your foot correctly. That goes for every shoe, but it's especially true for trail runners as a good fit is key to your stability: if your foot is sliding around in the shoe or uncomfortably squished, it's going to impact your running ability. You may be able to get away with wearing a flip flop that isn't a perfect fit, but trust me, you want to get this one right. Make sure to order your shoes from a seller with a solid return and exchange policy so you aren't stuck with a pair you can't wear. If you want to say "bye" to blisters, there are a few things to check before deciding on a shoe:

Trail Running Shoe Fit

  • Make sure it fits across your arch: the runner should be tight enough around the arch of your foot that you can't move that part of your foot in the shoe. If you're able to lift your foot a bit when it's tightened, it's too big. And if the top of the laces is cutting into the front of your ankle, it's very likely that your foot is too narrow for the shoe. The lacing should feel comfortably snug around your foot; there shouldn't be any specific pressure points.
  • But give your toes room to breath: when you land during your stride (and especially a running stride), your toes expand as they hit the earth. So if you're continually making that motion, you need to ensure there's space in your shoe. While standing, your toes are narrower than they are during impact sports, so jump around in a potential pair of trailrunners and bend and twist as much as possible when trying them on. Remember that if you have a narrow foot to begin with, a regular-width runner without an expanded toe box may be a better fit.
  • But no wiggle room in the heel cup: Provided that the center part of your foot is secure in the shoe, you don't want your foot to move side to side in the shoe, unless you want blisters and hot spots. You want your ankle to stay in place in the back of the shoe. If you can move your ankle up and down or fit fingers between your ankle bone and the sides of the heel, it's too big or too wide.

There's a lot more that goes into choosing the right trail running shoe, so be sure to check Part 2. And if you're ready to get your new pair, be sure to stop by Peter Glenn Ski & Sports for all your trail running needs!