Trail running is very different to road running. It takes you out of yourself and lets you explore the most beautiful places in the world – even if you will have to tackle a few more uphills to appreciate the views.
If you want to enjoy all that the trails have to offer, however, you’ll need the best trail-running shoes – because trying to run on uneven, loose or muddy ground in your normal road shoes is a surefire recipe for a pratfall. Here’s our roundup of the best trail-running shoes for every kind of surface you’re likely to run on, plus a guide to what you should look for in a pair.
How to choose the best trail-running shoes for you
When choosing a pair of trail-running shoes, it’s important to consider what sort of terrain you want to tackle. While roads all tend to have very similar characteristics, trails can be wildly different, and it’s important to choose shoes that are tailored to the surface you’ll be running on the most. The key to this is the sole, which will have lugs of different length to suit different types of surface.
If you’ll mostly be running on muddy trails then a good grip is vital; this means you’re looking for deep lugs of around 8-9mm. These are also good for fell running when you need the grip to hurtle safely down slick or loose slopes.
Really long lugs can be skiddy and uncomfortable on hard surfaces, though, so if you like to mix up your runs then look for an all-rounder with lugs around 6mm deep. If you plan to spend a good proportion of your time running on roads, or only intend to tackle very hard and rocky paths, then a lug depth of 3-4mm will be best – these are often described as road-to-trail shoes.
What other features should I look out for?
One common feature in trail-running shoes is a rock plate – a piece of plastic on the forefoot that protects the underside of your feet from jagged stones. This is a must for rocky trails, but less essential if you stick to muddy forests.
No-tie laces, which you can tighten by simply pulling a toggle, can also be useful on trail-running shoes. They’re easy to do up even when your shoes are caked in mud, and won’t get pulled loose by rogue branches.
If you’re looking for waterproofing, however, you’re in for a disappointment: most trail-running shoes aren’t waterproof, as this would make them heavy and uncomfortably sweaty to run in. Water-resistant uppers offer some protection, but if you’re heading off-road regularly you probably need to accept wet feet as all part of the fun.
How much cushioning do I want?
You normally don’t need as much cushioning for trail running as you do on the road: soft, uneven trails are less jarring for the body than tarmac, so it’s common for trail-running shoes to be relatively minimalist in this regard. However, highly cushioned trail shoes do exist and could be a good pick if you’re contemplating an ultra-marathon, where you’ll want all the support you can get.
How much do I need to spend?
While road-running shoes come at a wide range of prices, the vast majority of trail-running shoes land somewhere in the £70 to £130 bracket. There are some bargain options below £50, however, and you can often find old models of popular lines for around that price too. These are normally just as good as the latest model, so it’s definitely worth checking them out if you’re bargain-hunting.
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The best trail-running shoes to buy in 2020
1. Kalenji XT7: Best budget trail running shoes
Price: £50 | Buy Men’s | Women’s from Decathlon
Despite costing remarkably little, Decathlon rates these trainers as good for trail runs up to 80km long, and durable enough to last 1,000km of running in total. We can’t say we’ve tested those particular claims yet, but it does provide some indication of their quality and durability, which is particularly important when you’re shopping in the budget bracket.
More important, though, is how well the XT7 performs across a range of trails, with the 5mm lugs providing good grip on wet trails, and the sticky rubber keeping you grounded on rocky tracks. The Kalensole EVA cushioning isn’t the softest or most responsive on the market – midsole foams are definitely one area where you can feel the improvement when you increase your budget – but it is supportive and comfortable enough for long runs on mixed terrain.
Key specs – Best terrain: All-rounder; Weight: 340g; Heel-to-toe drop: 10mm
Buy Men’s from Decathlon
Buy Women’s from Decathlon
2. Salomon Speedcross 5: Best trail-running shoes for muddy tracks
Price: £120 | Buy Men’s | Women’s from Salomon
Runners faced with boggy conditions have long valued Salomon’s Speedcross line as an excellent ally against the mud. The latest version offers even more grip on slippery terrain owing to the larger lugs, which are more widely-spaced on the outsole than in p