When choosing trail running shoes it can all seem so confusing. Often you can end up with more questions than before you started, including:

  • Which brand of trail shoe should I buy?
  • Where should I buy them from?
  • What should I be looking for?
  • What size should I get?
  • Which trail shoes are the best for wide feet?
  • Do I need trail shoes for specific terrain?
  • What is zero drop?

Well, we can help! From losing toenails to suffering with blisters and sore feet, we have learnt the hard way what works and what doesn’t so, can pass on the benefit of our experience. Before we start with our top tips, lets look at the jargon and what it all means:

  • Lugs – these are positioned on the soles of the feet and are what provide grip
  • Zero drop – this is the distance between the heel of the shoe and the ground. Some will have a 10mm drop for example while other trail running shoes have zero drop
  • Terrain – when it comes to trail running, this refers to the type of ground that you will run on – tarmac, rocky paths, grassy trails, mud, soft, hard…
  • Rand – this is the thin layer of rubber that wraps over the toe of the shoe
  • Heel counter – the reinforcement around the heel to support it. Placed on either the outside or inside of the shoe. Also known as a heel cup
  • Outsole – the part of the shoe that touches the ground
  • Midsole – the middle part of the sole between the outsole and the upper mesh. This provides cushioning and padding
  • Upper – as the name suggests, this refers to the upper part of the shoe and is usually mesh. There are all kinds of mesh, some of which is waterproof or anti-debris
  • Toe box – the part of the shoe where your toes sit
  • Cushioning – you will find all different types of cushioning and support. The cushioning is found in the midsole and absorbs the shock. Different levels of cushioning suit different types of terrain and distances.
    trail running shoe diagram

Now that we have explained the language of trail running shoes, let’s take a look at what else you need to know when choosing the right shoes for you.

Which Brand of Trail Shoe Should I Buy?

Different brands suit different people. For a long time, I was convinced that I should wear the off road version of my road shoes as they would be the best fit. This didn’t transpire and I ended up wasting money on the wrong shoes that were a completely different fit.

Take brand out of the equation. You will find lots of useful help and information about different trail running shoes online, in articles which advise on the best shoes for cushioning, zero drop etc. You are looking for the right fit for the right terrain – not the most popular brand.

Some people prefer a brand like Salomon and use these as their go to shoe. Others favour the Hoka Speedgoat, while some prefer brands such as inov-8. I personally love the inov-8 Roclite because that’s what suits me. Once you find a brand that works for you, you usually end up sticking with it. Different ultra athletes are sponsored by different brands therefore you will only ever see them wearing these brands. They may get the shoes as part of their deal but they wouldn’t wear them if they were uncomfortable. The trick is to do your research and find a shoe that is suitable for your feet whether that be a shoe for wide feet, narrow feet or something with a wide toe box. Try not to spend too much on your first pair and look for last season’s models which are usually cheaper.

Salomon speed cross trail running shoes

What Size Should I Buy?

If you go up half a size in your road shoes then go up half a size in your trail shoes. Some people prefer to go up a whole size. As a 6.5 in day to day shoes, I have found that a 7.5 is a good fit. If you are completely new to running you may not have heard this particular piece of advice before but speak to most runners and they will tell you the same.

Sizing is important. You need to ensure that your feet have enough space but not too much that your toe slides forward and bashes against the front of the shoe. Another factor is the width of the shoe. Some runners have wide feet and need something with more room. The Salomon Speedcross is a shoe that is rumoured to be a narrow fit however they do a wider foot version. Finding a shoe that is comfortable is particularly important on the trails, especially with uneven terrain and long distances.

Where Should I Buy Trail Running Shoes?

Before the pandemic, it was pretty much the norm to go to a local shop that specialises in running shoes to have a proper fitting. This involved getting on a treadmill and having your gait filmed while running. The footage would then be analysed to see how you run, how your feet land, whether you over pronate etc. You would then be recommended a bunch of shoes to try on to see which then felt best on the treadmill. Of course, Covid-19 put paid to that and we had to switch to buying shoes online. That said, running on a treadmill is not going to help you try shoes that can handle tough terrains or rocky climbs so many prefer the ease of ordering online with the knowledge that they can send them back if required.

inov-8 roclite trail running shoes

When it comes to buying trail running shoes online, while some prefer shopping direct from brand websites such as inov-8 or Hoka, others prefer to go to an online discount shoe store such as Sportsshoes.com. Here you will find the latest models from a whole range of brands as well as last seasons models too. The returns policies make it easy for you to return a shoe if it is the wrong size and you can read comprehensive reviews from others that have purchased the same. The beauty of a website like this is that you can pick up last seasons models at a fraction of the cost of the latest models meaning you don’t have to spend a fortune.

What Sort of Trail Shoes Should I Buy?

This is your next consideration. There are so many different types of trail running shoes. Take inov-8 for example. You have the Roclite, the Mudclaw, the Parkclaw, the Terraultra – what does it all mean? Well, essentially each pair is designed for a different terrain. Some are suited for all terrains. We find the Roclite is good on the tarmac and on the trails but not so good in the mud. The Mudclaw however are great in the mud but not very forgiving on the road. The Salmon Speedcross offer great grip and transfer well from road to trail over long distances. in fact, you can check out our review of this shoe here. The Hoka Challenger and Hoka Speedgoat are both great shoes but serve entirely different purposes.

hoka speedgoat shoes

When deciding which to buy consider the following:

  • What time of year is it? If it is summer, you can get away with something that hasn’t got as much grip. In winter, you need to consider wet, slippery conditions and mud
  • What type of terrain will you be covering? Rocky, muddy, grassy, a combination…
  • What distances will you be covering? You will want to choose different shoes for long distances than you would for shorter runs

Ideally, you want to try and get a pair that suit multi terrain and distance however, you may find that you need a pair for short distances and a pair for longer runs that can cope with different types of runs. The time of year often plays a part with mud shoes for the rainy season and a less aggressive pair for the summer. I have collected a few pairs for different circumstances and in the summer months I often find I can get away with an old pair of road shoes.

Which Trail Shoes are Best?

This is the hardest part of choosing off road shoes. It is a balance of recommendation, reviews, reading the profile of the shoe and weighing up which tick the most boxes on your wish list.

Listen to Friends/Running Buddies

I have lost count of the times I have admired a pair of trail running shoes on another athlete only to find that they are too narrow, too tight or just uncomfortable. I would love to be able to run in every pair of trail shoes but unfortunately I have to accept that they aren’t suitable for me. They might rave about them and tell you that they are super comfy but that doesn’t mean that this will be the same for you. Ask them questions about the fit, what sort of terrain they cover, what sort of distances they run etc.

Read the Online Descriptions and Reviews

To get a feel for a pair of shoes before you buy them, in the absence of running shoe shops, you have to read the reviews. You can find lots of reviews and in depths descriptions on sites like Sportsshoes.com and get a good idea whether the shoes are narrow, suitable for mud, good for all surfaces, comfortable for ultra marathons and much more.

Use this information to get a feel for those that are billed as cushioned, those that have deep lugs for running in mud, those that specify they have good grip etc. Nowadays, so many people turn to online first that there has to be enough detail to allow people to make an informed decision.

How Much Should You Spend on Off Road Shoes?

You can spend anywhere between a few pounds and £150-£200 on a pair of trail running shoes. of course, those that are new to running may not want to spend too much, especially to discover that they don’t really like off road running. You may be hesitant to spend money on something that you haven’t tried on before.

If you don’t have a lot to spend you can have a look at brands such as Scott, Merrell and Higher State, all of which you will find on Sportshoes.com. You can pick up a pair for as little as £29.99. When you feel more comfortable running the trails and you feel it’s something you want to pursue, then you can look at investing more in a pair of shoes. Alternatively, you can try one of the leading brands and see how you get on but be sure to do your research first.

Don’t Worry About the Colour

We love the many funky colours and styles that are available and have fallen into the trap of choosing shoes based on colour in the past. This is fine for road shoes but do not let this form part of your decision with off road shoes. They are not going to stay this colour for long. Even my bright red Mudclaw managed to stay red for about half a mile. Now they are a sorry state of brown and that’s OK. Trail shoes are supposed to be dirty – in fact, are you even a trail runner if you don’t have dirty trail shoes?

We are always happy to offer our advice should you have any questions. Just drop a comment below.

Disclaimer: Many of our posts may contain affiliate links. We may earn commissions if you shop through the links on this page although we only ever recommend products that we genuinely believe will enhance your trail running experience.