By Beth Greer
Photo source: Runnersworld.com
With the sheer amount of trail running shoes available, where does one even start?! Hybrid?! Rock plate?! Lug?! Gortex?! While my trail shoe collection rivals my boot collection (I do love me some boots), I don’t claim to be an expert. The following is merely a guide to familiarize the intrigued reader with the world of trail shoes.
The most important thing for me is comfort. As many of us know, time on the trails is generally longer than time on the road…cough, cough…3 hours to do 12 miles in the Kunigami Trail Race…cough, cough! You may spend tons of quality time with your shoes, getting dirty with them, bounding off rocks with them, splooshing through puddles, streams, and small lakes with them, tripping over roots with them, slogging through scifi quality mud with them.
Starting from the ground up, treads vary among shoes for traction against different types of surfaces. Lugs are little bits of the sole that stick out. Shoes with lugs spread farther apart are better suited for sandy soil and sloughing off thick mud… thus preventing the shoes from being caked in 12lbs of mud. Some outsoles are made of materials that are “sticky”/grippy rather than “solely” (pun intended) relying on tread pattern.
The midsole of trail shoes typically include a rock plate. Even though I have countless pairs of trail shoes and know better, the words “rock plate” still conjures up a picture of a rigid, leaden metal plate running the length of the shoe. I assure you that it is not. It is a thin bit of flexible material placed in key locations in order to provide additional protection from rocks and other hard pointy things on the trail. Bruised feet are no fun!
The uppers are generally more durable than those on road shoes because of the abuse they endure, but they are still quite breathable. On that note, there are trail shoes with Gortex uppers. They will keep your feet warm (or sweltering in a climate like Okinawa’s) and dry. Dry, unless you cross a river or fall unceremoniously into an ankle or knee deep puddle. Then the shoes will promptly fill with water and refuse to drain.
The general types of trail shoes are:
- Perfect for beginning trail runners and casual WOOTers
- They are a melding of road shoe qualities with trail shoe qualities
- Tread is usually less aggressive which could lead to more slippage and less protection against rocks and such
- Perfect for trail runners of all levels
- A traditional trail shoe with more aggressive tread, rock plates, and durable uppers.
- Can be less flexible than road shoes
- Perfect for minimalist runners
- Some still contain a rock plate for added protection without sacrificing minimalist qualities
4. Hoka One One (pronounced o-nay o-nay)…because these shoes are in a category of their own!
- Perfect for trail crazies
- They have about 15 inches of foam in the soles and look more ridiculous than the Sketchers Shape ups. Ok, 15in is a bit of an exaggeration. The sole has some noticeable squish, which is easy on the joints and feet especially over ludicrous distances. Depending on the model, they only have 4-6mm offset from heel to toe. And while the outsole may not look like much, it is very grippy.
- Ok, yes, I am now shamelessly promoting my current favorite shoes! I assure you, they are legitimate running shoes.
Some of the popular brands are Salomon, Montrail, Innov-8, Mizuno, Saucony, Merrell, Altra, Brooks, Asics. The exchanges, NEOS, Sports Depo and Xebio all have very limited supplies of trail shoes. But there are plenty of online running and outdoors stores with great return policies. And don’t forget about zappos.
I hope that this has made selecting a trail running shoe clear as mud (pun intended, again! I am on a roll!!).