How to Choose Trail Running Shoes In 2023

How to Choose Trail Running Shoes

We believe that getting an effective trail running experience needs you to get equipped with the right gear. Trail running shoe is the most important piece of gear you should have if you want to start dabbling in the murky world of trail running; that’s why we offer this guide to help you choose the trail running shoes.

What are Trail Running Shoes?

Trail running shoes are designed to offer a better grip and durability, boost performance and stability and help prevent bruising from roots, rocks, and other debris on the trail. They have stiffer, tougher soles with a lug pattern on the outsole that provides more traction than road running shoes and extra protection against sharp objects and debris.

In addition, heel height is usually lower in trail shoes than it is in road running shoes because it provides more stability when ascending or descending slopes. Also, it contributes to increased ankle stability and improves proprioception in runners.

Trail Running Shoe Anatomy


How to Choose Trail Running Shoes – A Buying Guide

It might be challenging to choose the ideal pair because of the technical nature of their intended terrain, which means there are many things to take into account and consequently many available options. Our goal here is to ensure that finding a suitable pair of trail running shoes is not that hard. You can find your perfect pair by considering all the following factors.


Lugs or treads are the small, raised bumps on the outsole of a shoe. They provide traction and grip by increasing surface area contact with whatever you’re walking on.

The tread is an essential consideration when looking for trail running shoes. Trail running shoes have a more aggressive tread than regular running shoes because they are designed to handle rougher terrain. This will help keep you safe and stable on uneven surfaces.

Lug spacing is crucial when considering the terrain you’ll be traversing – closely spaced lugs work better on hard-packed, dry surfaces. In contrast, widely spaced lugs offer better grip in wet or muddy conditions.


A trail running shoe upper is likely the first thing you notice when seeing it from above. Simply said, this fabric or mesh makes up the upper. Go for trail shoes with a durable and breathable mesh upper.

On the other hand, Select a shoe with a waterproof upper to keep your feet dry while running on wet trails. This is because many trail shoes have uppers made of non-water-resistant fabrics. With a waterproof upper, you can be sure that your feet will stay dry even if you encounter puddles or rain.

Waterproof shoes are an excellent investment for those who live in wet climates or plan to travel during the rainy season. They are frequently identified by the “GTX,” which stands for Gore-Tex.

Rock Plates

Foot protection should be one of your top considerations when looking for a solid pair of trail running shoes. The rock plate is an obvious and secure option because it can prevent injuries.

Choose trail shoes

Toe guards or rock plates offer additional defense against splintering pebbles and spiky plants on your forefoot. These plates are frequently integrated into the sole of your shoe and are composed of tougher materials like plastic or light carbon (although, with some shoes, they are removable). If you plan on running on very rocky or rugged trails, look for a rock plate for extra protection. Keep in mind, nevertheless, that the weight of the shoe is increased by the rock plates. If you don’t mind the occasional soreness in your foot, you might prefer a shoe that will cushion your step enough to shield you from path dangers. The rock plate, however, is a secure option if you want to be secure.

Stack & Cushioning

Stack height is the amount of material between your foot and the ground. This is a good indicator of how much cushion and protection the shoe offers cushioning. Cushioning is definitely an important factor if you are looking for shoes to run on trails. A shoe with a higher stack height and plenty of cushioning keeps you away from feeling the ground, rocks, and roots under your feet.

If you plan to run on smoother and softer trails, do shorter distances, or simply prefer a flexible shoe that delivers a closer-to-the-ground feel, less cushioned trail running shoes are great.

TypeStack HeightDescriptionBenefits
Maximum Cushioning30- 50mmThese types provide plenty of cushioning in the midsole. Supporters claim running sneakers with maximum padding are much easier on joints and decrease stress on high-mile runs.
  • The shoe absorbs the impact.
  • Provide comfortable and protective running experience.
Moderate Cushioning 14-29mmWe define these as regular trail running shoes, with ample padding to allow you to run easily over rocky and rooty trails.
  • Provide balance between responsiveness and cushioning.
  • Offer versatility.
Minimal Cushioning 9-13mmThese sneakers are a good choice for runners looking for a better feel for the trail but aren’t comfy with the other midsole padding.
  • Provide a more natural running experience.
  • Lower impact forces.
  • Let your body adapt to decrease impact instead of depending on the shoe to absorb the impact.
  • Help feel the ground over the padding of a shoe.
Barefoot 3-8mmAs you may imagine, these are running shoes with almost no padding. Barfoot trail running shoes can help develop a superior feel for your own biomechanics and the trail.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

The heel-to-toe drop is the height difference between a shoe’s rearfoot and forefoot. This is an essential factor to consider when looking for new running shoes, as some runners prefer a more natural movement with no drop.

Trail running shoes can have a drop that ranges from 0-12mm. This measurement is essential to runners because it affects how their foot interacts with the ground.

Most trail shoe models offer a heel-to-toe drop of 4-8mm, providing a more natural stride when running on trails.


The midsole of your shoes comprises components that provide stability, cushioning, and shock absorption, making it a crucial part of trail shoes. As a shoe wears out, cushioning is what compresses the most. Your joints will be more protected from the shock and force that running can have on your body if your midsole is good. Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and polyurethane (PU) are the most commonly used midsole materials that offer shock absorption.

Training Goals

It is best to listen to your body and what it tells you about training goals. If you are looking for a new challenge, increase your training volume gradually over time. On the other hand, take things steady and slow if you are just starting or injury-prone. As always, set realistic goals for yourself and celebrate every accomplishment along the way!

New trail runners who intend to run only a few times per month should choose versatile and lightweight shoes. Before buying them, make sure they are comfortable and fit correctly. Experienced trail runners who are just trying to enhance their performance should have a shoe with support and built-in protection. They will be ideal for long periods of intense workouts.

Competitive runners should wear very lightweight and technical shoes designed for specific trail surfaces to improve their overall performance. Featherweight shoes will be your best bet, with enough cushioning and comfort to keep you safe.


When looking for a pair of shoes to run a short distance -less than 15km- it is essential to find something lightweight and responsive. This will help you move more quickly and efficiently.

If you’re running distances that are between 25 to 50km, a classic all-around shoe should do the trick. This shoe style is versatile and can handle various types of terrain without issue. For ultra-trail running, you will need shoes with more protection and cushioning. This is because you will cover longer distances than 50km, and the terrain can be much harsher. The shoes that will also help you stay safe while running long distances on different surfaces are the ones with a good grip.

Physical Characteristics

Personal physical characteristics often affect the type of shoes they select. For example, it is crucial for those with a bigger build to find shoes with cushioning and built-in protection. This will help to prevent injuries while trail running. In addition, look for shoes that are made of durable materials and have a good grip on the ground.

Choosing lightweight and responsive shoes is recommended for runners with a slighter build. This will give the runner enough cushioning and energy return to make their run more efficient.

Shoes that do not fit well should be rejected right away. The heel should not slip off, and there should be enough space in the toe area so that the toes are not cramped. For example, having a one-centimeter gap between your toes and the end of the shoe will help prevent blisters.

Additionally, the shoes should be tried when the feet are swollen at the end of the day. This is because feet swell throughout the day, and it is important to have a shoe that fits comfortably at the end of the day.

Best Trail Running Shoe Brands

There are a lot of competitive trail-running shoe brands on the market. However, the main points on the most popular trail running shoe brands are here.


Nike shoes are well-known for their cushioning and flexibility, making them popular among runners.

Nike trail running shoes are an excellent choice for those looking for an easy-to-pack, comfortable shoe. They don’t require any breaking in, so they’re ready to wear right out of the box. Additionally, Nike offers a variety of colors and styles to choose from, making it easy to find the perfect pair of shoes for your next trail run.

Nike trail running shoes are designed to provide excellent traction on any surface. They are also durable and provide good cushioning, making them perfect for long runs. Nike sponsors many athletes, including trail runners, ultra runners, and professional athletes.


Salomon trail running shoes are famous for their durability and lightweight. Professional athletes often wear them because they can trust that the shoes will perform well in any condition.

Salomon is a brand that is trusted by professional athletes for its excellent quality and durability. In addition, the shoes are made to last, so you can be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.


Hoka is a running shoe company founded in 2009 by two runners looking for a more comfortable and supportive running shoe. They have since become one of the leading running shoe companies globally.

Hoka shoes are designed to cradle and cushion your feet as you run. The shoes have a thick, bouncy sole that makes them perfect for running on trails. They also come in various colors and styles to find the ideal pair for your next run.


Brooks is a company that specializes in running shoes and apparel. They have made a name for themselves in the running world by creating high-quality, durable products.

They are some of the most durable and supportive shoes on the market. They are perfect for runners who want to take off-road training, as they provide essential stability and cushioning when running on uneven surfaces.

None of the trail running shoes we’ve tested come close to Brooks trail shoes in durability. Even better, they’re supportive and grippy, making it difficult to lose your footing in them. Brooks is known for making shoes for adventurous people. Brooks trail running shoes make a stand to those challenges in various ways, including rock protection in the soles and extra cushioning.

If you are looking for a shoe that will help you tackle any terrain, Brooks is your brand. Brooks has the perfect shoe for everyone due to the wide variety of shoes to choose from.


Adidas is a company that makes shoes for all types of activities- from running to working out. They are known for their versatile, comfortable, and responsive shoes.

Adidas is one of the best trail running shoe brands because it uses two types of foam. Boost foam is used for cushioning, while Lightstrike foam provides responsiveness and keeps the weight under control. This combination makes the shoes durable and fast.

Adidas is a great brand for those who are looking to fly through their running events. However, the shoes might put off people who are not looking for that level of performance.


Inov-8 is a popular brand that takes a ground-up design philosophy when crafting its shoes. This means that they take their time to analyze the traction of each outsole on specific terrain to provide the best performance for runners.

Inov-8 specializes in its trail running shoes. What makes them unique is the firm ride and low to a moderate heel-toe offset of their shoes, which is measured by the number of arrows on the shoe. A lower number of arrows mean a lower drop, and a higher number of arrows means a higher drop.

Inov-8 is one of the best trail running shoe brands because they use a Tri-C outsole. Their shoes have a unique rubber formulation with three different types: sticky around the edges and soft, hard tacky on lugs, and high-abrasion rubber at the heel. This combination provides excellent grip and durability on any terrain.


Here are the most asked questions about trail running:

Can I Hike in Nike Trail Running Shoes?

Yes, you can.

Trail running shoes are designed to provide good traction and stability on uneven, muddy, or rocky terrain. They have a more aggressive tread pattern than traditional running shoes and are often made of tougher materials, making them ideal for hiking.

Anyway, using dedicated hiking shoes for trail running is not advisable. They are too stiff and have too little cushioning to provide comfort and support.

Can I Wear Trail Shoes on the Roads and Pavement?

It is not recommended. This is because trails feature different textures and surfaces that can wear down shoes more quickly.

Trail shoes are designed to provide stability and grip when going over various types of terrain. In addition, they have a thicker tread that can easily handle mud, dirt, and gravel. For this reason, they should never be worn on pavement or roads as they can cause injuries.

You can usually wear your typical running shoes on pavement, but we advise against running on pavement in trail shoes as they are meant for softer surfaces.

How Should I Choose My Size in Trail Running Shoes?

Historically, it was advised to go half a size up when purchasing trail running shoes. However, this is less of an issue today because of the advancements in technology and design.

When choosing a size of trail running shoes, it is important to consider what type of shoe you are starting with. If you already have a pair of shoes, start with the same size. If you are unsure of the size, go smaller rather than bigger, depending on the shoe brand.

Your thumb’s width between the end of your longest toe and the end of your shoe is a good measurement to use. You’ll also want to ensure enough room in the front of the shoe so your toes can wiggle.

Remember that too little space could lead to injury if you kick an obstacle with your toes. But conversely, too much space can cause discomfort and blisters. So, when trying on a pair of trail running shoes, ensure enough wiggle room to move your toes but not so much that your foot slides around inside the shoe.


Trail running is not easy, but it won’t be too hard with the proper gear! With our buying guide and review of the most popular trail running shoe brands, you now have enough knowledge for trail running.

Don’t forget to follow our trail running tips and how to recover after the run for better health. Then, share your experience in trail running with us in the comments section below!

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