Trail shoes

Questions about trail shoes pop up regularly in the Lonely Goat community, so we decided to answer a few of them here, with the Lonely Goat guide to trail shoes. Let’s start with the basics

What are trail shoes?

Trail shoes are running shoes that have been designed to offer grip and comfort when running off-road. That is, any terrain that is not paved road or pavement.

Are there different types of trail shoes?

Yes, there are different types of trail shoes to cater for different surfaces. That’s because once you leave the roads there is a massive range of surfaces you could run on. For example:

  • Rock
  • Mud
  • Sand
  • Snow

Then, depending on the weather and other conditions, each of those surfaces can feel different when you’re running on it. For example, a muddy footpath can feel very different when the mud is wet compared to when it is dry.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and buy loads of pairs of shoes to cover all possible terrain and weather combinations, because most trail shoes are designed to crossover and work on a variety of surfaces. However, some will be better suited to certain conditions than others.

How do I know which kind of trail shoes I need?

Think about where you will be running in your trail shoes, then look for shoes with soles that suit the purpose.

If your off-road running is most likely to be firm ground, perhaps as part of a mostly on-road run, then you can probably get away with a standard road shoe.

However, if there are going to be some slippery mud or grass, or firm gravel sections, then slightly raised knobs on your soles will come in handy. Some brands will refer to this sort of shoe as a hybrid or park shoe.

For sharp, hard rock, you might want a relatively stiff sole that is tough enough to protect your feet from spiky stones.

For deep, wet mud, you will want shoes with prominent lugs on the sole, that are spaced wide apart to prevent them getting clogged with mud.

For snow and ice, you can buy trail shoes that have spikes on for extra grip.

Lonely Goat Virtual Runner standing in a muddy puddle
Lonely Goat, Jane Blatch-Gainey, in a puddle

Can I run on roads in my trail shoes

To an extent, you could run anywhere in any pair of shoes – but it might not be very comfortable. Because trail shoes often have stiff, minimalist soles they can be uncomfortable when running on hard surfaces. Plus, some trail shoes use a softer rubber for the outsole, as it provides extra grip, but this can wear down more when used on the road.

What size trail shoes do I need?

In theory, you should be able to switch between a manufacturer’s road and trail shoes and keep the same size. In practice, that isn’t always the case, so you might take a few attempts to find the right size.

Also bear in mind that some runners deliberately get different sized trail shoes than road shoes. For example:

  • Runners taking on races in hot deserts might go up a size because their feet will expand in the heat.
  • Your feet can sometimes slide forward with each step when running downhill, causing blisters. Runners who do routes with lots of long downhill sections may find that a smaller size holds their feet more securely.
  • Also in favour of wearing smaller shoes are people who run through thick mud and don’t want their shoes to get stuck!

Rather than try anything too drastic to begin with, start out with your regular sizing and be prepared to experiment with the tightness of your lacing depending on where you’re running.

What about motion control or stability trail shoes?

If you’re a runner who prefers a ‘motion control’ shoe to deal with excessive pronation when running on the road, then you might be alarmed at the lack of similar options when buying trail shoes.

Don’t be concerned. The reason you don’t tend to see motion control trail shoes (though some do exist) is that they’re not necessarily needed.

Roads are fairly predictable, mostly flat surfaces so your foot will land the same way with each step. In this environment, the design of the midsole has a big effect on how your foot behaves.

Off-road, with all manner of terrain, this doesn’t happen. Your feet, ankles and legs will be making loads of adjustments with each step to maintain grip and balance. A shoe that attempts to control these movements is not just going to be less effective, it may actually cause you more problems.

If you’re worried about the lack of stability in your trail shoes, start off with shorter trail runs to give your feet and ankles time to get stronger. Then, as you get used to them, gradually increase the amount of time you spend in your trail shoes.

Lonely goats running over a field for an ultra marathon
The 2019 Salisbury 54321 by Lonely Goat, Ian Shearer

What about cushioned trail shoes?

Not so long ago, trail shoes were often less heavily cushioned than road shoes. That was for two reasons:

  1. To keep the foot closer to the ground, and improve ‘trail feel’, for better balance;
  2. Because the soft trail surfaces would provide some cushioning.

Both those points are still valid, especially for shorter runs on difficult terrain. However, cushioned (aka ‘maximalist’) trail shoes have come on the market, too.

These cushioned trail shoes are usually designed with harder surfaces in mind, or for very long runs when the cushioning might come in handy. They are sometimes referred to as ultramarathon trail shoes, but you could, of course, wear them for any distance if you want.

Should I buy Gore-Tex trail shoes?

Gore-Tex (aka GTX), or similar waterproof materials, appears in many brands’ trail shoes. On the face of it, this seems sensible: If you’re running through puddles or wet terrain, then a waterproof, breathable shoe sounds like a good idea.

In practice, the benefits are not always so straightforward. A material that stops water getting in will also stop water getting out. If water gets in through the top of your shoe, you’ll be carrying it with you.

Also, even though there are many breathable waterproof materials on the market, they’ll almost always be less breathable than an open mesh fabric. This can result in a shoe that makes your feet feel hotter than a non-waterproof shoe.

Because of this, opinions are divided on the pros and cons of waterproof trail shoes.

Some members of the Lonely Goat community will steer well clear of Gore-Tex trail shoes because they find they make their feet hot, and they don’t want to get water stuck in their shoes.

For others, the benefits of warm, dry feet make Gore-Tex trail shoes perfect for cold, winter days, or terrain such as wet grass – when your feet will get wet from the grass, but it’s unlikely to fill your shoes.

It’s entirely up to you which you go for. The compromise position may be to wear conventional trail shoes, but use waterproof socks in wet weather.

How can I get a discount on trail shoes?

If you want to save money on trail shoes, Lonely Goat have a couple of options available to you.

Using Goat Codes, registered members of Lonely Goat Running Club can save 15% off Inov-8 trail shoes. If you haven’t registered with us yet, head to the registration page.

Who else can I ask about trail shoes?

Though we’ve given an overview here, there are so many different trail shoes on the market that it would be impossible for us to cover all the possible questions here.

To find out more about trail shoes – such as comparing sizing between different brands, or advice on which is the best shoe for a particular event – head to the Lonely Goat Running Club social media channels to ask your fellow members for their advice:

Finally, let us know how you get on with your trail running adventures!

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