As trail runners, we can choose the perfect trail shoes for the conditions based on experience, by learning from the mistakes we have made and the triumphs. We recently entered a local cross country event though and were less experienced when it came to choosing running spikes. It wasn’t quite so easy for us and we had to do our research. Here’s what we discovered (including the difference between track spikes and cross country spikes). 

Cross country running demands a unique blend of endurance, strength, and strategy as athletes traverse varying terrains and challenging landscapes. Whether you’re a seasoned cross country veteran or a newcomer to the sport, selecting the right pair of running spikes can significantly impact your performance. In this guide, we’ll explore the key factors to consider when choosing cross country running spikes.

Terrain Considerations

Cross country courses vary from grassy fields to muddy trails and even rocky terrains. Consider the primary type of terrain you’ll be running on and choose spikes that are designed for optimal traction and performance on that surface. Spikes with aggressive, well-spaced studs are often ideal for handling diverse conditions.

Distance and Cushioning

The distance of your cross country races is a crucial factor when selecting spikes. Longer races may require more cushioning to provide comfort and reduce the impact on your feet. However, keep in mind that cross country spikes generally have less cushioning than road running shoes to maintain a lightweight design conducive to speed.

Fit and Comfort

A snug and comfortable fit is paramount in cross country spikes. Your shoes should provide a secure feel without being overly tight, ensuring stability and preventing blisters or discomfort during extended runs. Consider trying on multiple brands and models to find the one that suits the unique shape of your feet.

Weight of the Spikes

Cross country races demand agility and speed, so the weight of your spikes matters. Look for lightweight options that don’t compromise on durability. A lighter shoe can contribute to a more efficient stride and reduced fatigue during longer races.


Some cross country courses may present a mix of terrains, requiring spikes that can handle various conditions. Versatile spikes with a balance of grip and comfort can be a wise choice if you frequently encounter different surfaces.

Spike Length

The length of the spikes determines the level of traction. Shorter spikes are suitable for harder surfaces, while longer spikes provide better grip on softer terrains. Some spikes come with multiple spike lengths, allowing you to customize your footwear based on the course conditions.

Budget Considerations

Running spikes come in a range of price points. While it’s tempting to go for the latest and most expensive model, consider your budget and how often you’ll be using the spikes. There are many excellent, budget-friendly options that deliver reliable performance as well as being top end shoes for those that are more serious. 

Nike Dragonfly are priced at £127.99 and are built for the cross country runner who knows no barriers.

nike cross country spikes

ASICS Resurgence XC Cross Country Spikes – Black – retail at around £75-£90.


cross country running spikes

Brand and Model Reputation

Established brands with a history of producing quality athletic footwear are a good starting point. Additionally, seek reviews and recommendations from fellow runners or coaches to gain insights into the performance and durability of specific models.

What is the difference between running spikes and track spikes?

Running spikes and track spikes are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they can have slightly different meanings depending on the context. Let’s explore the distinctions:

Running Spikes

General Term: “Running spikes” is a broader term that encompasses footwear designed for various types of running events, including track and field, cross country, and road racing.

Versatility: Running spikes can be versatile and used for a range of distances and terrains. Cross country spikes, for example, are designed for off-road courses, while track spikes are optimized for track surfaces.

Track Spikes

Specific to Track Events: “Track spikes” more specifically refer to shoes designed for track and field events, which typically take place on well-maintained, oval-shaped tracks.

Optimised for Track Surfaces: Track spikes are optimized for the smooth and consistent surface of a track. They have a plate on the sole with spikes or pins that provide traction and grip on the track surface.

Specialized for Speed: Track spikes are designed to be lightweight to enhance speed. They often have a minimalistic design to reduce weight and maximize performance in sprinting and middle-distance events.

In summary, all track spikes can be considered running spikes, but not all running spikes are specifically designed for track events. Track spikes are a specialized subset of running spikes tailored for the unique demands of track and field competitions. They prioritize factors like lightweight construction, traction on track surfaces, and efficiency in straight-line sprints or curved track races. On the other hand, running spikes in a general sense can encompass a wider range of shoes suitable for various running disciplines, including cross country, where the terrain and distances may vary.

What is the difference between cross country spikes and trail running shoes?

Cross country spikes and trail running shoes are both designed for off-road running, but they serve different purposes and have distinct features to address the unique demands of their respective terrains. Here are the key differences between cross country spikes and trail running shoes:

Cross Country Spikes

Traction and Performance – Spikes: Cross country spikes typically have a specialized sole with metal or hard plastic spikes. These spikes provide optimal traction on grass, mud, and other soft surfaces found in cross country courses.

Aggressiveness – The spikes are often more aggressive than those found on track spikes, designed to provide stability and prevent slipping on uneven terrain.

Lightweight Design – Cross country spikes tend to have a minimalist design to keep them lightweight. This is crucial for the often fast-paced nature of cross country races.

Distance Consideration – Cross country spikes are commonly used for short to mid-distance races, where speed and agility are crucial. They may not provide as much cushioning as shoes designed for longer distances.

Flexibility – The sole of cross country spikes is usually more flexible to allow for natural movement and adaptability to varying terrains.

Specific for Racing – Spikes are primarily designed for racing rather than training. They may lack some of the comfort features found in trail running shoes since they are optimized for speed during races.

Size of Spikes – Do your research – the size of the spikes range from 3mm – 15mm and will give you varying levels of traction. 15mm are hardcore. 12mm are probably what you want for a muddy event – the longer the spike, the more traction you will experience. Note that spikes are also replaceable on most models too.

Trail Running Shoes

Versatility – Trail running shoes are designed for a variety of trail conditions, from rocky and root-covered paths to dirt and gravel. They offer versatility for different terrains encountered in trail running.

Cushioning and Support – Trail running shoes often have more cushioning than cross country spikes, providing additional comfort and support for longer distances on unpredictable terrain.

Traction Design – Trail running shoes have lugs and treads on the outsole, offering traction on uneven surfaces without the aggressive spikes found in cross country spikes.

Durability – Trail running shoes are built to withstand the rigors of trail running, with reinforced uppers and durable materials that protect the foot from rocks, roots, and other obstacles.

Distance Consideration – Trail running shoes are suitable for various distances, from shorter trail runs to ultramarathons. They provide the cushioning and support needed for longer outings.

All-Weather Performance – Trail running shoes often have features like water resistance or quick-drying materials, making them suitable for various weather conditions encountered on trails.

While both cross country spikes and trail running shoes are designed for off-road running, their focus and features differ. Cross country spikes prioritize speed, agility, and traction in short to mid-distance races, while trail running shoes are more versatile, providing comfort, support, and durability for a broader range of trail conditions and distances.

My Experience of Wearing Spikes

While the above talks a lot about the theory and best practise for choosing cross-country running spikes, we recently had the chance to enter a local cross-country event. It was absolutely phenomenal. The photo below shows me in full flow on a descent wearing spikes. I had 9mm spikes. I probably could have got away with 12mm as it was quite muddy. Even so, I was scared of wearing them at first. They were alien to me. I had worn them to walk from our tent to the start line. I tentatively ran the first few hundred metres bumbling along. I then realised pretty quickly that they were comfortable and they were helping me! I loved them and pretty soon I was speeding up. Fabulous on mud, great on descents.

cross country spikes

The only time they make you grit your teeth is when they hit a bit of rock. You wouldn’t want to wear them on concrete or tarmac – they would soon wear flat. I inadvertently put them on on my patio to try them all – and scratched the paving slab. Also, make sure you wash them after the event and stuff them with newspaper to dry.


Choosing the right running spikes for cross country is a personal process that involves considering various factors, from the terrain you’ll be running on to the specific features of the spikes. By taking the time to evaluate your needs and trying out different options, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle the challenges of cross country running with confidence and speed. So, lace up those spikes, hit the trails, and let your journey in cross country begin on the right foot.