What Are Trail Running Shoes? | Hikers University

Trail running is a popular activity across the globe that requires special footwear. So, what are trail running shoes, and how do you find the right ones?

Trail running is a sport that has exploded in popularity in recent years. Often seen as a more adventurous alternative to road running, trail running takes runners off the beaten path and into nature. While you can do trail running anywhere, there are trails; some runners enjoy traveling to different parts of the world to experience new and exotic trails.

Trail running shoes provide traction and comfort on uneven surfaces. They have an aggressive tread pattern than road-running shoes and extra support for ankles and heels. Some trail running shoes have waterproofing to protect your feet from mud, puddles, and other trail conditions.

Whether running through the forests of North America or scaling mountain paths in Asia, trail running offers a unique opportunity to explore the world around us. In addition to being a great way to see new places, trail running also provides several other benefits. For example, trail running can be less stressful on the body than road running and can also help improve balance and coordination.

As trail running enthusiasts, we will explain the specs and characteristics of trail running shoes compared to road running shoes.

Table of contents


Differences Between Trail Running Shoes and road runners.

Grip for Rugged Terrains

Trail running shoes are generally distinguished from road running shoes by their rugged construction and superior traction. Most trail runners have lugged soles for better grip on rough terrain, and some also feature protective panels to shield the feet from sharp rocks and other obstacles.

In addition, trail runners typically have a more flexible design than road runners, which helps to minimize the risk of injuries on uneven ground. While trail running shoes can be used for road running, they are not always the best for long-distance events.

Road runners are designed to provide a smoother ride on pavement and may not offer the same level of protection or traction on trails. However, trail runners can be a great option for runners who want to explore new terrain or enjoy a more challenging run.

Tougher Materials

Trail running shoes provide better protection for your feet than road running shoes. They have tougher materials that can better withstand tearing and abrasion, and they often have additional features like rock plates to protect your feet from sharp objects on the trail.

In addition, trail running shoes typically have more aggressive tread patterns that provide better traction on slippery or uneven surfaces.

As a result, they can help you stay safe and avoid injury when running on trails. If you do any amount of trail running, it's worth investing in a good pair of trail running shoes.

Foot Rotation Prevention

Have you ever considered what kind of footwear you wear when you go for a run? It turns out that the shoes you choose can have a big impact on your foot health. Road running shoes are lightweight and provide cushioning for long-distance runs.

However, they generally don't do a good job of preventing foot rotation. This can lead to problems like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and other injuries. Trail running shoes, however, are designed to provide more stability and support.

This helps to prevent foot rotation, reducing your risk of injury. So if you're planning to hit the trails, be sure to invest in a good pair of trail running shoes. Your feet will thank you for it.

Types of Trail Running Shoes

Light Trail Running Shoes

There are many different types of trail running shoes on the market, each designed for different kinds of trails. A lightweight trail running shoe is a good option if you're looking for a light shoe that can handle light to moderate foot protection.

These shoes are usually made with moderately stiff soles and shallow lugs, which make them lighter and easier to run in. They also often have minimal to ample sole cushioning, which provides enough protection without adding too much weight.

When choosing a light trail running shoe, it's important to consider the type of trails you'll be running on and your own personal preferences. But with so many great options on the market, you're sure to find the perfect pair of shoes for your needs.

Rugged Trail Running Shoes

There are a few key features to look for when choosing trail running shoes for a rugged trail. Toe guards can help protect your feet from roots and rocks.

Sturdy materials like leather or synthetic leather are important for trail running shoes because they provide durability and support on the trail. A strong midsole cushioning is essential for trail running shoes because it will protect your feet from the impact of the trail.

Supportive uppers can help keep your feet comfortable and supported on the trail. And finally, thick and multidirectional lugs on the sole will provide traction on slippery surfaces. With all of these features in mind, you'll be sure to find the perfect trail running shoes for your needs.

Off-Trail Running Shoes

Off-trail running shoes typically have a few key properties that differentiate them from traditional road-running shoes. These properties can include a more aggressive tread pattern, additional support around the foot, and a waterproof or water-resistant exterior.

The purpose of these properties is to provide more stability and traction while running on uneven or slippery surfaces. Additionally, off-trail running shoes often have a higher price tag than road-running shoes due to the specialized nature of their design.

However, for runners who frequently venture off the beaten path, investing in a quality pair of off-trail running shoes can make all the difference in terms of comfort and safety.

Things to Consider When Buying Trail Running Shoes


When shopping for trail running shoes, cushioning should be at the top of your list of priorities. Why? Because when you're running on unpaved surfaces, you need extra protection from the impact of each foot strike.

That's where cushioning comes in. It helps to absorb some of the shock, protecting your feet, ankles, and knees from the constant jolting. In addition, cushioning provides a layer of comfort that can help you feel more confident on your runs.

With so many important benefits, it's no wonder that cushioning is the first thing to look for when choosing trail running shoes.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

Heel-to-Toe Drop, also called "ramp angle," is the difference in height between a shoe's heel and forefoot. Most running shoes have between an 8-12mm drop, which means the heel is 8-12mm higher than the forefoot.

A lower heel-to-toe drop (4-8mm) is sometimes called a "mid" or "neutral" drop, while anything less than 4mm is considered a "minimal" or "zero drop." Why is Heel-to-Toe Drop important? It helps determine how a shoe will feel on your foot and what kind of impact each foot strike will have.

A higher heel drop (10-12mm) puts your foot in a more rearfoot striking position, where you land on your heel first before rolling forward onto your toes. This can be beneficial for heel strikers or beginners because it doesn't require as much ankle mobility.

On the other hand, a lower heel drop (4-6mm) promotes a more midfoot or forefoot strike. This requires good ankle mobility and can be beneficial for those who don't heel strike or are looking to build up strength in their calf muscles.

The key is finding a shoe with a heel-to-toe drop that feels comfortable for you and provides the right support for your running style.


Any seasoned runner will tell you that a good pair of shoes is essential to a successful run. But with so many different brands and styles on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. One important factor to consider when shopping for trail running shoes is fitting.

A properly fitted shoe will support and cushion where you need it most, helping you avoid injuries and stay comfortable on long runs. In contrast, an ill-fitting shoe can cause blisters, discomfort, and even joint pain.

When trying on shoes, wear the same type of socks you would use for running. Then, take the time to lace up the shoes correctly and walk around the store to get a feel for them. Pay attention to how they fit across your foot's toe box, heel, and arch.

If they feel too snug or too loose in any area, keep looking until you find a pair that feels just right. With a little time and effort, you can find the perfect trail running shoes to help you reach your goals.

Top 5 Trail Running Shoes in 2022

There are a lot of different factors to consider when choosing the best trail running shoes, such as the type of terrain you'll be running on, your personal preferences, and so on. However, some shoes stand out from the rest as being particularly well-suited for trail running. Here are five of the best trail running shoes on the market today:

  • The Nike Terra Kiger 7 is a great all-around trail running shoe that can handle any type of terrain. It's lightweight and comfortable, with a sticky rubber outsole that provides good traction.
  • If you're looking for a trail running shoe that's specifically designed for racing, the Salomon S/Lab Pulsar is a great option. It's extremely lightweight and has a responsive cushioning system that makes it perfect for long-distance runs.
  • For a trail running shoe that's built for durability, take a look at the North Face Flight Vectiv. It has a tough upper that can withstand any type of terrain, plus an aggressive outsole tread that provides excellent traction.
  • If you're looking for a versatile trail running shoe that can handle any type of terrain, the Scott Supertrac 3 is a great option. It has a robust construction that can withstand any type of abuse, plus a cushioned midsole that provides high levels of comfort.
  • Finally, if you're looking for a budget-friendly trail running shoe, the Atreyu The Base is a great option. It's made with high-quality materials but doesn't cost as much as some of the other options on this list. Plus, it has a comfortable fit and an aggressive outsole tread that provides good traction on any type of terrain.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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