Three women running on a gravel path through the trees. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Choosing the Best Trail Shoes: Your 2024 Guide

Last Updated on 27 January 2024 by Rebecca

If you’re new to trail running and are seeking to purchase your first pair of trail shoes, you may be thinking where on earth do you start?

There are so many to choose from, all making promises that they are perfect for long miles, speedy trail runs, mud, rain etc. The lingo can get pretty confusing and you may be wondering exactly what it is that you need. 

Well, fear not, we are here to help you cut through all of that jargon and help to demystify the experience of choosing the right trail shoes for you.

Runners on a trail going uphill. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Key Takeaways

  • The features of trail running shoes
  • The different shoes you might need for different types of trail running
  • Some of the best all-rounders
  • Trail running shoes to suit all budgets

Read more: What is Trail Running? Useful Tips to Demystify it in 2024

The Features of Trail Shoes

When you are searching online for a decent pair of trail running shoes, you will see all types of things referred to – the outsole, the midsole, the upper, the rock plate etc. Let’s take a look at the key features to look out for and what you might need in a trail shoe:

Lug Size

This is the size of the lugs on the bottom of trail shoes – similar to studs on a football boot or spikes on a pair of track shoes – they help you get grip (traction), especially on muddy ground. The size and spacing of the lugs will vary according to what their intended use is for. A good pair of mud trail running shoes will have more sizeable lugs than a pair that is designed for dry conditions.

Durable Outsole

Trail running shoes typically have a rugged and durable outsole with aggressive lugs to provide excellent traction on varied surfaces like dirt, mud, rocks, and gravel.

Toe Protection

If you value your toes – look for a shoe with good toe protection and a rock plate. Many trail running shoes incorporate a rock plate or protective layer between the midsole and outsole to shield the foot from sharp rocks and other debris on the trail. They also come with reinforced toe caps or bumpers to protect the toes from impact with rocks, roots, or other obstacles.

Gore-Tex

This is a waterproof material used by most leading trail brands to make shoes waterproof. Word of warning – this is great in wet conditions – but not so good in the middle of summer – essentially they stop water from getting in which makes your feet get pretty hot and sweaty.

Breathable Upper

The upper part of trail running shoes is often made from breathable materials to keep the feet cool and comfortable, especially during longer runs. As mentioned above, GORE-TEX, or waterproof trail running shoes, don’t tend to be breathable. 

Quick-Drying Materials

Trail running shoes may incorporate materials that dry quickly to prevent discomfort in wet conditions and to reduce the risk of blisters. Choosing a shoe that drains quickly is key. Most leading trail running shoes are designed to drain the water away quickly so you can continue running in comfort. 

Lacing Systems

Trail running shoes may feature special lacing systems to ensure a secure fit and prevent debris from entering the shoe. Trail shoes such as those from Salomon have a quicklace system, providing fast and easy lace adjustment for a secure and customised fit.

Different Types of Trail Running Shoes

A close up of a trail shoe on a gravel path. Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

There are many different types of trail running shoes suitable for different events and different types of terrain.

What might be perfect for a relatively dry, long-distance run on moderate terrain such as the Hoka Speedgoat 5 may not be suitable for a very muddy run when you want to look to a shoe such as the inov-8 X-Talon 260 V2.

Different types of trail running shoes include:

  • Trail running shoes for mud – shoes specifically designed to stick rather than slip over in the mud 
  • Road-to-trail shoes – a kind of hybrid shoe that works well when there are sections of tarmac in between off-road terrain
  • Waterproof trail running shoes – usually made from Gore-Tex material 
  • Long-distance trail running shoes – designed with more cushioning to see you through longer distances of 50 to 100 miles 
  • Carbon-plate trail running shoes designed for shorter distances and speed – these are relatively new to the world of trail running and preferred for shorter, faster terrains. I had a pair of Hoka Tectons when they were first released – I didn’t realise how much quicker they made me until they were no longer fit for purpose
  • Cross-country spikes (I have recently discovered the joy of running in these over shorter cross-country distances) 

Some people, those who tend to be trail running enthusiasts, will have pairs to suit different types of terrain and conditions. We don’t wear the same pair of shoes in the summer as we do in the wet season for example.

Best All-Round Trail Shoes

Trail runners running through a forest using walking poles. Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

You will see many names featured in many blogs when you start searching online – Hoka Speedgoat, Salomon Speedcross, Inov-8 X-Talon, and Hoka Challenger – which all have different benefits for different occasions.

Many of them are the preferred choice as an all-round shoe; however, this doesn’t mean they will always serve you as well as a pair intended for a specific purpose. 

Much of the time it is a personal preference – we rate the Hoka Speedgoat 5 for road-to-trail and longer, drier distances. While they drain well in wet conditions, they don’t fair well when it comes to mud! 

Trail Shoes to Suit All Budgets

Purple trail shoes resting in a pile of brown bark. Photo by Florian Kurrasch on Unsplash

If you’re new to trail running and aren’t even sure if it’s something you want to pursue, you don’t want to splash out loads on a new pair of off-road kicks.

I completed my first cross-country race recently, but I didn’t buy a pair of spikes; I borrowed them. I loved them and now I’m looking to purchase a pair for my next race; however, I don’t do more than three or four cross-country events per year so I won’t be looking to spend a lot. 

Where I do spend a lot is on my all-round trail shoes – the ones that I can train for long distances in and race in. I have a pair of Hoka Speedgoat 5 for my everyday trail running and prefer the inov-8 Mudclaw (not currently available) as my mud shoes. 

There are some great-value trail running shoes for those who just want to run off-road occasionally. Much of the time you can pick up cheaper shoes if you look at last seasons. They don’t always have a full range of sizes, but if you look carefully, you can pick up a bargain.

Final Thoughts

When you have established that you love trail running, then you can look at great all-round trail shoes such as the Salomon Speedcross or the Hoka Speedgoat 5. Be warned though – you will want every pair of trail shoes once you get the bug for it. 

TOP TIP – Don’t select your trail shoes based on colour – they never stay that colour. Also, don’t expect them to stay clean and don’t get upset when they are covered in mud. It’s a sign of a good trail runner when your shoes are muddy! 

Guest Post by Sheryl Selway, Running for the Hills
Sheryl is a keen trail/ultra runner as well as a UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CIRF) and Digital Marketer.

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