If you're a road runner after a new challenge, a die-hard climber maintaining peak fitness or just missing the call of the wild, trail running is a great way to escape the crowds and go on a real adventure. But to do that, you'll need the right footwear - and that's where this guide to trail running shoes from our friends at Salomon comes in. Here, they share their expert tips on the features to look out for when hitting the trails.

Trail vs road running shoes

Out on the trails, you'll face more challenging terrain than on the road, and the main differences between trail running shoes and road running shoes relate to running surfaces. For trail running, it is best to have shoes with good tread, built-in protection, foot support and stability for uneven surfaces.



The deeper the lugs (cleats on the outsole), the better traction the shoe will give you in muddy terrain, whereas shorter, more closely spaced lugs are better for hard-packed, dry trails as they help improve stability and efficiency. Many trail running shoes have a versatile outsole that you can wear on virtually any terrain.



Trail running shoes generally have built-in protection. Rock plates protect your forefoot from rocky trails, and toe guards and uppers add additional protection against rocks and sharp vegetation. As a result, trail running shoes are generally incredibly durable despite the rough terrain you will encounter off the beaten track.



Your instep needs to be well supported to keep your foot solidly in place when running on rugged terrain or rough, steep trails, so it's a good idea to look out for running shoes with additional support to give you more security.



On the trails, the cushioning and support provided from a stiffer shoe can help increase the level of stability to give you more confidence and allow for a greater margin of error. Plus, pronation support is not such an issue with road running shoes as on uneven terrain, your foot is always adjusting to the surface.

Features to look out for

Having a specially designed trail running shoe for the terrain you’ll be running on can help increase your confidence and skill on the trail. But there are endless options, so knowing which is best can seem daunting. Don’t panic, as all you have to do is ask yourself the right questions:

How will they be used?

You need to ask yourself:


What type of terrain am I going to be running on?

What are my running goals?

What distances will I be covering?



On UNSTABLE OR MUDDY TERRAIN, you’ll need a more aggressive tread with deep and widely spaced lugs so that mud doesn’t get trapped, while a well-supported instep will help you deal with uneven trail surfaces to help you keep your balance.


On ROUGH, ROCKY TERRAIN, you'll need a stiffer outsole for more stability. Reinforced uppers will help protect your foot from stones.


For a VARIETY OF TERRAINS or mainly on hard-packed trails, you'll need lightweight and versatile shoes with shorter (no more than 4mm), more closely spaced lugs. That should give you enough grip on most surfaces and improve efficiency. The thinner outsole will make the shoe light and stable, so it's less likely to wear away the lugs, and your foot is closer to the ground. Lastly, flexible shoes help make foot placement a breeze in fast sections of the run.


If the SNOW and ice don’t deter you, your shoes should have good tread with deep lugs and metal studs. Look for good support and extra protection against the elements. Integrated gaiters and a waterproof membrane will keep your feet warm and dry.



If you're new to trail running and want to run a few times a month, you should choose lightweight and versatile shoes. You should ensure they fit well and are comfortable before you buy them.


If you're a more seasoned trail runner and are looking to improve your performance, your shoes should have built-in protection and provide good support. They will be perfect for long hours of intense training.


If you're looking to be at the front of the field, you'll want to go for the featherweights! Lightweight, technical shoes for precision, performance and specific trail surfaces will serve you best, but look for enough comfort and cushioning to avoid injury.



The distances you pan to cover are another factor to consider. If you're running short distances (less than 15km), lightweight, responsive shoes are best. For middle distances, around 25 to 50 km, all-round shoes are more suitable, while for distances over 50km like ultra-trails, shoes with built-in protection and cushioning offer the most comfort.


The distances you run can influence your choice when it comes to choosing drop and cushioning.

Your physical characteristics

Your physical build also influences your choice of running shoes. People with a bigger build are best looking for shoes with built-in protection and cushioning, while those with a slighter build may want to choose a more lightweight, responsive shoe.


When trying running shoes, if they rub or pinch your feet, you should reject them immediately. Even if the shoes are on offer, if they don't fit well when you try them on, they won't get better when you're running in them. 


Shoe size is also something to consider. It’s best to try shoes at the end of the day due to our feet swelling just like they will during a long trail run, and you should have about a 1cm gap between your toes and the end of your shoe to prevent blisters on your toes or black toenails.


The criteria that you use to choose your shoes will change with experience.  As for the colour, only you can decide!

Produced in partnership Salomon.

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