How to: Choose the best sneaker for trail running

Here's how to pick a great shoe for trail running.

If you're new to trail running or running in general, you should know that the sometimes rough and uneven nature of the terrain requires specific footwear that will stand up to the unpredictability of trail running and protect your ankles in the process – road-running shoes just won't do the trick. As spring is just around the corner, here are some helpful tips for purchasing your perfect pair of trail-running kicks:

Traction

Trail-running shoes are great for muddy conditions and wild paths that are covered with potential tripping hazards. The outsoles on trail shoes are stiffer than road shoes, and they also have deeper lugs – the raised rubber parts on the bottom of your shoes. Additionally, the tread is made of a stickier material that adds an extra layer of traction. The most important thing to know about trail shoes and their traction elements is that you should not use them on pavement for long periods of time because the lugs and entire tread will wear down very quickly.

Protection

Shoes for trail running typically have a stiffer sole as well as protective toe counters at the very front of the shoe to protect you from toe injuries, so keep an eye out for this element, which is easy to overlook. Good trail shoes do not have a mesh toe, which can be easily punctured. 

Comfort

Of course, it's very important that your trail-running shoes are comfortable and have some cushioning. However, it's a good idea to look for a shoe that has a thinner midsole than what you might expect. Yes, cushioning for support and comfort is important, but too much could keep you from sensing irregularities in the trail, which could actually cause your ankle to wobble and experience less stability. By having some sense of the brush, twigs, rocks and uneven trail surface underfoot, you'll be more able to adapt.

Weight

In general, people prefer lighter shoes. You might expect trail shoes to be a bit heavier due to the added structure necessary for protection and support. But do your best to find a shoe that is just light enough while still having the necessary toe protection, traction and other elements to be stable and supported on the trail. This is because the heavier a shoe is, the more energy you expend running.

There's a new trend in all types of running shoes known as minimalism. The point is to allow your foot to move in a more natural way, as if you were barefoot. These shoes are typically almost feather-light, and many people suggest this is better for your body because the sneakers are very flexible. However, regarding running on trails, minimalist shoes – even if marketed for rugged terrain – really are not ideal as they have less stability, ankle support, foot protection and durability than standard trail-running footwear.

Waterproofing/breathability

If you'll be trail running  in hot or dry climates, go for a breathable mesh upper portion of the shoe to reduce the likelihood of blisters. But try to find a weatherproof upper with a tight weave, which will keep out debris when you're running in environments with loose rocks, sticks and brush. A waterproof upper is good if you're running in very wet climates so as to avoid blisters caused by the rubbing of wet socks against shoes.

Fit

Mid-foot, trail shoes should be pretty snug. However, toward the front of the shoe, you want a space about the width of your thumb. And, when your foot lies flat, there should be no pinching along the sides. This is very important because during long runs, our feet usually swell. It's good to have al little room for that or you will be very uncomfortable. Also, pick trail shoes that fit well in the heel so your foot doesn't slide around.

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