Anyone that has tried trail running will tell you that it is a completely different world from your Sunday pound of the pavement. It’s harder: nature throws obstacles at you, the terrain can push you to your limits, and if you’re running in a Tough Mudder style race you’ve got some impressive man-made obstacles thrown in to the mix. The extra challenges of trail running are what make it a great sport; they also mean you’re putting extra demands on your feet and ankles, making a good pair of trail running shoes an excellent investment. There are some features that you’ll want to consider when you’re shopping. One of the most important differences between running shoes and trail runners is grip; when you’re running over muddy terrain or slippery wood and rocks you want a shoe that has traction, achieved through knobby sole designs and grippy outsoles. The deeper and more aggressive tread of trail runners are also clutch for obstacle-course racing as they’ll make sure you stick to the trail or whatever muddy obstacle you’re running, jumping, or climbing over. Trail runners also tend to have stiffer soles that are built to support your feet and cushion the blows. If you’re running on a trail, sharp and uncomfortable rocks, uneven terrain, and tree roots are all itching to beat up your feet, so having shoes that act as shock absorbers will save you from pain in your arches and shin splints that can lay you up for weeks. Gel cushioning, thicker soles, and an ergonomic design are all important features when it comes to absorbing shocks.
A good pair of shoes will also protect your digits; most come with rigid toe counters so you don’t snag your toe on a rock or a root. Nothing is worse when you’re running like the wind than a stubbed toe. It’s bad enough when it happens at home in the kitchen, you don’t want it happening on the trail. Shoes won’t guide you around obstacles or prevent you from tripping up, but they will cushion your toe when it happens so that you can keep running without pain.
Another feature that you want to take into consideration is ankle protection. Uneven terrain, especially when you’re running downhill, can cause your ankles to roll, and even break if you’re unlucky. A good trail shoe will have extra support and padding around your ankle and will support your foot, taking some of the stress off the ankle. The last thing you want when it comes to your ankle is torque.
If you’ve decided to step it up a notch and and hit the trails for a bit of adventure these shoes are excellent options.
Salomon Women’s Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoe
If I had to pick one word to describe these shoes, it would be durable. They’re made to last with a heavy-duty material including nylon ripstop. Aside from doing the obvious (not ripping) ripstop keeps dirt and debris out of the shoes as you run, including that annoying pebble that always manages to sneak it’s way in there. The Speedcross 3’s footbed is made of Ortholite, a shock absorber for your feet that also helps keep your feet dry as you splash through puddles and brave the elements. These shoes are great for those of us that live in colder climates as they keep your dogs toasty warm, but they get pretty hot in the warmer climes, so avoid these shoes unless you enjoy a toe sauna.
Merrell Women’s Barefoot Vapor Glove Running Shoe
As the name suggests, the Barefoot Vapor Gloves make you feel like you’re running barefoot and are great for the minimalists out there. While you might feel like your feet are naked, the Vapor Gloves actually perform a lot better than your bare feet would. The soles of these shoes are extremely grippy, and will keep you from slipping regardless of the surface you’re running on. The mesh netting keeps your feet dry, wicking away sweat and keeping water out. You might be wondering: isn’t running barefoot over rocks and tree branches a bad idea? The good news is that these shoes have outsoles made of Vibram, which lets you feel the ground you’re running on while cushioning your feet from jagged objects and absorbing some of the shocks. Obviously these shoes are light, a nice change from a lot of bulky, heavy trail shoes on the market; they are still sturdy and rugged enough to protect your feet on most trail surfaces, though. They give you that great barefoot feeling without being crazy looking like a lot of similar shoes on the market. After all, it’s not your feet you want people to notice but your crazy speed and endurance, right?
ASICS Women’s GEL-Kahana 6 Trail Running Shoe
These are pretty much the epitome of comfort when it comes to shoes.making you feel like you’re running with clouds attached to your feet. They’re also great for people with knee and shin problems, as the gel cushioning system at the back absorbs shocks. The Gel-Kahana 6’s are very stable shoes; if you’re prone to ankle rolling while running over tree roots and rocky terrain, I’ve got some good news: these ones keep everything in place with some extra support around the ankle. Another plus for these is their level of traction as they come equipped with reversed lugs, meaning you’ve got traction going both uphill and downhill, over slippery rocks, and as you sprint through water.
Reebok Women’s ZigKick Trail 1.0 Running Shoe
The ZigKick Trail 1.0 is a shoe designed for rough terrain. There are some shoes out there that are designed for well travelled trails or for moderate terrain; this is a shoe that is designed for anything you can think of and is a great shoe for people doing trail running races, Tough Mudders, and those who jog up and down mountains. If you’re going to be running Xtrail style races, they are a stellar choice, giving you the extra support you need when dealing with pitches that make skiers wince. They also help your knees and ankles out when running downhill. They have cushioned soles that absorb shocks and prevent you from feeling everything under your feet, which makes them fun shoes to run in. The shoes are versatile, running well in town on pavement or on treadmills for runners who like to mix it up a bit now and then. The ZigKick 1.0 has received a lot of great reviews, with the men’s version of this shoe was named one of Motion Shoe Lab’s Top 10 trail runners. They’re also one of the cheaper options available; you can get a pair of these for under 100$. Who doesn’t love a bargain?
Pearl iZUMi Women’s W EM Trail N 2 Running Shoe
The N2 are super comfortable shoes that require little breaking in before running longer distances in them and are shoes that won’t blister your feet. The N2 have wide platforms, giving them a boost when it comes to traction; they also have a lot of protection underneath. The cushioning in these shoes is stellar, shielding your feet from obstacles and helping prevent shin splints.The N2 have a feature that is unique to the brand, a guidance vein down the middle of the sole which improves the shoes’ efficiency by helping your foot transition from where your toe strikes to where you lift your heel. Another great advantage to these shoes is a thick-lacing system that doesn’t come undone on its own…ever. They tend to be a bit on the rugged and heavy side…if you’re running trails and through the woods you’ll appreciate this but they might be a bit too much if you’re looking to use them on a treadmill on rainy days. But we’ll assume that if you’re reading this, a little rain isn’t enough to keep you off the trail.
Saucony Women’s Peregrine 4 Trail Running Shoe
The Peregrine 4’s are the armored vehicle of trail runners. If you want to just run without worrying about what is under your feet, then these are great shoes. They’re to your feet what a tank is to a soldier; super rugged and tough, they soak up all the bumps and rocks under your feet and let you concentrate on running. They are one of the more protective shoes on the market, with a high, thick sole, a rock plate, extra support around the ankle, and a rubber outsole with super traction. The Peregrine 4’s are designed for harder terrain, the sort of thing seasoned trail runners and adrenaline junkies live for. They are great shoes for Tough Mudder style races thanks to the extra ankle support that keeps your ankles from rolling, and have a mesh that keeps the mud out of your shoes. They might start to feel a bit heavy after a 20k, but are perfect for 5k and 10k runs.