Posted in Run

Finding the best trail running shoes for the terrain and distance you'll be running will help you to run faster and with more confidence. Our comprehensive guide covers what to look for in a trail running shoe and how to find the right ones for your off-road running.

Why do you need trail running shoes?

Trail running shoes are designed to give you confidence on rough terrain. Hidden rock plates in the sole and reinforcement around the toes protect your feet from sharp rocks and roots so you'll worry less and probably find you can run faster than if you were wearing your usual running shoes.

The treads on your road shoes are perfect on tarmac but easily pick up mud and rocks. The larger, more spaced-out lugs and tread patterns on trail shoes give you grip and shrug off loose dirt and the outsole will be made from a rubber compound designed for grip on slippery rocks.

The anatomy of a trail running shoe

At first glance, trail running shoes look similar to road running shoes, albeit with more rugged features. Each component is optimised to cope with particular terrain so it's useful to familiarise yourself with the terminology when you're trying to find the right pair for you. 

Here's a breakdown of all the components of a trail running shoe and what to look for.

  • Heel support - This keeps the foot stable as you negotiate uneven terrain. 
  • Gusseted tongue - The tongue on a trail running shoe is often stitched at the sides, preventing annoying stones from getting in.
  • Toe box - If you're running longer distances, you might need a higher volume toe box so your toes have room to spread on impact. However, a lower volume toe box can offer more stability. 
  • Toe Rand - Think of this as a bumper to protect your toes from knocks. It's normally a tough, rubbery coating around the front of the shoe.
  • Rock Plate - Normally made from nylon or carbon-fibre, a rock plate will protect your foot from sharp stones and roots. The extra protection has extra weight so shoes built for softer terrain might not have one.
  • Outsole - This is the outermost part of the sole and is constructed from a rubber compound that has an optimum grip on slippery rocks and loose grit.
  • Foot cradle - A structure wrapping around the side of the foot to give additional support
  • Lugs - The knobbly bits that make up the tread and provide grip on loose surfaces. Shorter lugs are better on hard-packed terrain whilst longer ones offer grip on slippery mud.
  • Midsole - The bit that sits between the upper and the outer-sole where you'll find the cushioning.

How much cushioning do I need for trail running?

If you'll mainly be running on hard-packed or rocky terrain, or running long distances, the repeated impact from your foot striking the ground can put a lot of strain on muscles and joints. Plush cushioning will make a big difference to your comfort and help to prevent injury by absorbing the shocks. 

If you'll mainly be running on soft, muddy terrain, you won't need as much cushioning as the impact from your foot hitting the ground won't be as harsh. A firmer sole will help you to feel more stable as you push off. 

How much grip do I need for trail running?

You'll need to think about the climate as well as the terrain where you'll be doing most of your running. Most trail shoes will have an outer sole that falls into one of two categories, with the exception of 'all-terrain' shoes which are designed to deliver the best of both worlds. 

Micro grip

A shallow tread pattern with small grooves is perfect for gripping smooth surfaces like rocks. Look for a sole with a micro grip pattern if you're running on rocky, hard-packed terrain.

Macro grip

Large lugs dig into muddy terrain and generous gaps in the tread pattern shed dirt as you run. Look for a sole with a macro grip pattern for confidence-inspiring stability in wet climates where slippery mud is expected.

Heel-to-toe drop

Also known simply as 'drop,' heel-to-toe drop refers to the difference between the cushioning in the heel and the toe. The drop on trail running shoes varies from almost nothing at all right up to 10-12mm.

To find the right heel-to-toe drop for you, you'll need to consider the type of running you'll be doing and your own running style. 

Some runners prefer a lower drop of 0-7mm because this facilitates a midfoot strike which is lower-impact than a heel-strike as your foot hits the ground. However, since your day-to-day shoes are likely to have a more pronounced drop than this, diving in at the lower end might actually cause injury as your Achilles will have to work in a way that it's not used to. 

If you're a beginner or intermediate trail runner, or if you've had issues with your Achilles or plantar fasciitis, look for something with a higher drop of 8-12mm. 

A note on waterproofing

There's plenty of trail running shoes available with added waterproofing treatments to keep your feet dry and comfortable in downpours. 

However, if you are planning to run somewhere where you'll encounter fords and streams, water that enters your shoes as you splash along can end up trapped, increasing the chance of blisters. Because of this, some trail runners prefer to wear shoes that are constructed from quick-drying materials if they're going to be running through water.

What are the best trail running shoes for you?

Most trail running shoes will come into one of three categories, according to the terrain they're most suited to. 

Here's our pick of the best shoes available right now.

Hard/rocky terrain

What to look for

  • Plush cushioning to protect your joints on impact.
  • Uppers made from breathable materials.
  • The outer sole has small lugs and a lighter tread pattern which is optimised for grip on compressed soil and rock. 

    Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 Trail Running Shoes

Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm

Lugs: 5mm 'stepped' lugs

Named after Hoka athlete Karl 'Speedgoat' Meltzer, these sturdy shoes were designed for speed and agility on the most challenging terrain. 

The rubber outsole has been engineered to give you enhanced grip on the uphill and confidence as you zip down the other side, even in wet conditions.

Enjoy extra comfort over distance thanks to the generous toe box and there's even a wide option available.

Salomon XA Pro 3D v8 Shoes

Heel-to-toe drop: 10mm

A stable and supportive shoe with a heel-to-toe drop that makes them a great option for beginner and novice trail runners who want a shoe that can be a bit more versatile.

A sturdy toe cap and rigid heel cup offer plenty of protection and Salomon's new 3D Advanced Chassis™ provides plenty of cushioning and stability on hard and rough trails. 

Also available with a water-repellant GORE-TEX® treatment. 

Inov-8 Trailroc G 280 Running Shoes

Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm

Lugs: 4mm 

Push the pace on the most technical terrain in the Trailroc G 280.

Innov8's POWERFLOW+ provides impressive shock absorption whilst the flexible META-PLATE lets you bound across the most rugged terrain without fear of sharp rocks and jagged surfaces.


What to look for

Heel-to-toe drop: 5mm

A confidence-inspiring shoe built for speed. HOKA's PROFLY™ midsole construction provides excellent cushioning and energy return. 

When the terrain gets unpredictable, the multi-directional lugs will help you to stay upright and nimble and if the rain comes down the sticky rubber outsole provides extra grip.

The lightweight upper keeps your feet cool and is constructed in UNIFI Reprieve yarn which is made from post-consumer waste plastic.

Salomon Sense Ride 3 Shoes

Heel-to-toe drop: 8mm

It's the details that make the Sense Ride 3 a perfect choice for those long days on the trail. We love the smart lacing system which makes these shoes easy to take on and off and means you won't need to stop to re-tie your laces. 

Gritty grime and stones are kept at bay thanks to a Profeel Film filter and, if you need added protection, this shoe with a Gore-Tex® waterproof membrane.

Optivibe technology absorbs any jarring shocks on the trail and the breathable OrthoLite® cushioned insole will have you bounding along with a smile every step of the way.

adidas TERREX SPEED ULTRA Trail Running Shoes

The bold design of the adidas Terrex SPEED ULTRA Trail means they'll stand out in any crowd. The printed fade, sock-like upper isn't just there to look good though - it's been designed to allow your feet to flex and expand as you pound the trails.

Featuring the famous adidas BOOST midsole for maximum energy return, the Terrex lets you take the trickiest terrain in your stride. 

As a lover of the outdoors, you'll have the added comfort of knowing that these shoes have been constructed using recycled Parley Ocean Plastic™, so you're helping to keep the oceans plastic-free.

Soft & muddy

What to look for

  • Deep tread pattern with large lugs for grip.
  • Reinforced foot cradle holds your foot steady if you slide.
  • Large gaps in tread pattern so mud doesn't accumulate.

    Salomon Supercross Blast Trail Running Shoes

    Heel-to-toe drop: 10mm

Tackle the muddiest terrain with confidence thanks to the super-grippy Supercross Blast. 

Your feet will be cradled securely in these sturdy shoes with SensiFit™ support and a super-stable heel support.

The chunky, sharp chevron lugs provide extra traction on loose, soft and muddy surfaces.

Like many of Salomon's trail range, you can also find these with an added Gore-Tex® water-repellant finish.

Altra Olympus 4 Trail Running Shoes

Blast off on the trails with these versatile off-road shoes. 

Run on the muddiest terrain with the sure-footed confidence of a mountain goat thanks to the combination of a Vibram® MegaGrip™ sole and aggressive lugs.

Altra's zero-drop construction places your heel and forefoot the same distance from the ground for a more natural running form whilst the FOOTSHAPE™ toe box allows the foot to spread on impact.

La Sportiva Bushido II Shoes

The sole of the Bushido II might look tame at first glance, but La Sportiva say that their FriXion® XT V-Groove2™ technology will give you unbeatable grip on any terrain, wet or dry. 

The lugs extend around the sides of the shoe so, even where the terrain is uneven and unpredictable, they'll keep you upright. 

Despite their rugged looks, the slip-on construction is super-comfy and has plenty of room for the foot to expand on landing.

Shop the La Sportiva Bushido II range at Wiggle