What are the best trail running shoes?

Here’s a question that gets asked a lot. And there are some things that make the best trail running shoe.

In my opinion the best trail shoes should:

  1. Fit you
  2. Instil confidence in your feet
  3. Be well made

Now, because of the difference in trails there is always a compromise. Here in the UK we have a variety of different styles of trails, and these throw heaps of challenges to shoes. Consider the difference between hard pack, dusty, dry forest fire road trails  and sloppy, boggy, marshy trails after rain and you’ll start to see the fact that no one “foot tyre” can fit. Tractors have big aggressive tyre patterns compared to a formula one car. I dislike “waterpoof” shoes, instead I prefer quick drying shoes, which allow water to drain from the inside out. Think if you will about filling your wellies up with water and then walking 10 km. Your feet will be soft and broken. This is what having a liner in creates in UK conditions. There are places where it’s useful, but in my opinion, not on UK trails.

In the same way, everyone feet are slightly different. High arches, wide forefoot, bony heels the list of “I’ve got’s…” is impressive. Get the right length shoe, and then learn how to lace you shoe up properly.

Trail shoes aren’t a one trick pony – I have three shoes that I run trails in. I can run any trail in these three, but my speed will be massively affected by what I have on my feet.

I’m looking at three shoes (L-R)  Inov-8 Roclite 315, Salomon Crossmax Neutral and Asics GT2000. At the time of being pictured I have racked up, collectively, 2700 km on these shoes, split as follows:

  • Inov8 Roclite 315 – 700 km
  • Salomon Crossmax neutral – 620 km
  • Asics GT2000 – 1,380 km

I primarily use the Roclites when I’m heading off the beaten track, mountain, forest and although not this pair, these were the shoe I chose for Marathon des Sables, Trail Marathon Wales, Brecon Ultra and some other off road races. The sole is, in my experience pretty spot on for UK trail running. The rubber is soft enough to give good traction on rock, wet and dry as well on wet tree roots. As the pictures show, despite this soft rubber, the wear has lasted well, bear in mind my running weight is a minimum of 85 kg, sometimes 90+ depending on how much water and kit I am carrying. The upper too deserves credit, these have smashed new paths through heather, run down scree, kicked big rocks in slate fields as well as pottering through Skye’s vicious Gabro rock. There is a bit of material damage inside the heel cup of one shoe, but that is my fault not the shoe, and after 700 km I think that this is a massive success for a shoe that often gets sodden!

The Salomon Crossmax I use when I know I have a large amount of tarmac and hard pack and when I know there are not steep grassy slopes involved. I love these shoes for running alongside canals and rivers. I haven’t raced in these, primarily because I’ve not entered a race where the terrain has suited, but I would use them for any of the Thames path races, or at this stage, something like Ring o’ Fire. These also get a fair hammering through the undergrowth. Though I don’t think this is the reason for the failing upper over the bridge of the toe. The speed lacing system is very effective, and I do like this very much where I don’t need to tension the shoe in a non standard way (swelling feet, steep terrain). The rubber compound is very solid, sometimes at the detriment to grip in the wet. I don’t trust the soles much on wet rock, or tree roots, but this is perhaps because I’m acutely aware of this where I run the majority of my routes.  

Whilst the Asics get used mainly on tarmac, I’ve added them here for a specific reason. I use these where I’m running fire trail, or prepared trails where the surface isn’t broken. I also think the Asics demonstrate how it is possible to make a very long lasting shoe. Whilst these upper do not get abused anywhere near as much as the Inov8’s these do get wet and mucky fairly regularly and I’m really impressed how well they look after 1400 km’s. The sole rarely gets anything more complicated than some big pebbles, and some pretty steep tarmac that I have locally but the sheer volume of footstrike these have experienced (nearly half a million) with my 85kg on top of them are a massive testament to the build quality of these shoes. The grip side of things is never an issue for me, but that is because they are never pushed in a position where I ever really test it. The major win for these is the sheer contact area that they have available without knobbles!

Which are the best trail shoes? Well they’re the ones that work for you. I consider that I’ve tested these three shoes reasonably extensively in UK conditions. Is one of these the best pair of trail running shoes? For me yes, I could pick one pair for all my trail running. I’d prefer to have all three pairs, and I will probably keep on experimenting over the coming shoes. Technology is still evolving in trail running and that will bring about better shoes. Which should you choose? You should choose a shoe that suits the majority of the conditions that you run in.

If I had to choose one pair of shoes from these three, it would be the Inov8’s. In fact I have a few pairs and would happily run any route that went off road in them.

Trust the shoes on your feet, and go run exploring. The best kit in the world does no good sitting on the shelf!

A couple of inspirational videos

After the OMM last weekend, I’m really fired up by running off tarmac.

I’ve come across a couple of videos that to me, explain the joy and freedom of why trail, mountain or off road running is such a great sport.

Whether you compete at the elite level or just with yourself, it really offers the same challenge to everyone. You don’t need hundreds of pounds worth of equipment, just the motivation and dedication to get out there. If you haven’t run for a while, then try and remember that feeling as a kid where you run without thinking about it down hills and round corners.

Take a few minutes and watch these two videos-then grab that pair of trainers that you bought with all good intentions and get out there!

The first is a round up of this years OMM, some great footage and some nice words from the top competitors.

The second video is from Salomon Trail Running, and whilst some of the voice over I don’t understand there are a couple of quotes which I think are really powerful. The best for me is right at the end!

 

Last long run

50 year storms rolled across the UK last night. Summer hasn't come yet, we had some warm weather but nothing long enough to call a season. I was out the door this morning for my last long run before Trail Marathon Wales. I've really enjoyed coming away from
50 year storms rolled across the UK last night. Summer hasn’t come yet, we had some warm weather but nothing long enough to call a season. I was out the door this morning for my last long run before Trail Marathon Wales. I’ve really enjoyed coming away from “the” training programme. Todays run wouldn’t have been on the schedule. I left the house just before 0545 in a bright patch between showers. I wanted to run slow and steady but somewhere new. I headed roughly NE out of Dolgellau on to the side of Rhobell Fawr. Then tracking round on a bridleway that follows the 300m contour round the West side of the hill. My one whinge with this bridleway is the fact there are ladder stiles crossing stone walls. Bridleways are usable by bicycles and horses, the latter, I suspect would find this “countryside furniture” a little tricky. Anyway, when Victor (Meldrew) quietened down in my head the run passed quite quickly. The main memory on this run was the beautiful sight of a Doe with her Fawn just short of Abergeirw before I climbed up onto mountain bike trails for the run back towards home. My legs felt good when I got back to Glasdir copper mine, so I chose to climb steeply up to the precipice walk. From here it’s a nice fast road run home, though by now the rain was heavy, the wind strong. Longer strides were the order of the day! A good stretch and foam roller relaxed my still slightly tight calf, but overall a great last long run. My new trail shoes are still brilliant, absolutely no complaints! This week will be one run. I really want to do more, but I won’t. Lots of roller work and stretching. Race report next!

Salomon XR Crossmax neutral

In two other posts (here and here) I've written about the problems I've been having with my trail shoes and damage to my feet. Choosing shoes for Marathon des Sable is something that is making me think carefully about what I need. I need a comfortable shoe, that is something I can forget about. About 12 years ago I had a pair of Salomon trail shoes that I used for an approach shoe, but never as a running shoe. I remember the last being really comfortable. I had a few reservations about the width of the heel before buying as I'm used to a narrow fell shoe and the Crossmax is more like a road shoe. I picked a mixed 8 miles for my first run in the neutral version of the shoe. About 3 miles of tarmac, 2 miles of forest track and about 3 miles of singletrack. It was wet, really wet. So wet that the area made the news for evacuations due to flooding. The quicklace system tighten the sensifit system, is a quick system, There is quite a lot of lace on the system, but it all tucks away nicely into the lace pocket. I'd say on the sizing that this shoe comes up a bit smaller than I'm used to, but not to a point of being uncomfortable. I think I'd pick a metric size up next time round. Out the door and into a slow warm up on the road. The shoes feel exactly like a road shoe, Good cushining and light and it wasn't wrong before I wasn't thinking about the shoe at all. After a little climb up to the start of the fire trails, nothing really changed, the sole unit has enough protection that big rocks don;t penetrate at all, making for a comfy ride. The singletrack starts with a downhill that loses about 100m in 500m, and here I was thinking about the shoe again. The reason is that trail shoes always have a lower profile tread pattern and I was expecting to slip and slide a bit on the really wet top surface on the singletrack. Pretty quickly I built confidence in the sole and it was biting nice through and finding loads of grip. I quickly got back to picking lines and not thinking about the shoe. So first impressions- the Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral trail shoe is pretty forgetable, and that is a massive compliment! I've added the shoe into my miCoach so I'll be able to keep an accurate log of the distance I do with the shoe.           
In two other posts (here and here) I’ve written about the problems I’ve been having with my trail shoes and damage to my feet. Choosing shoes for Marathon des Sable is something that is making me think carefully about what I need. I need a comfortable shoe, that is something I can forget about. About 12 years ago I had a pair of Salomon trail shoes that I used for an approach shoe, but never as a running shoe. I remember the last being really comfortable. I had a few reservations about the width of the heel before buying as I’m used to a narrow fell shoe and the Crossmax is more like a road shoe. I picked a mixed 8 miles for my first run in the neutral version of the shoe. About 3 miles of tarmac, 2 miles of forest track and about 3 miles of singletrack. It was wet, really wet. So wet that the area made the news for evacuations due to flooding. The quicklace system tighten the sensifit system, is a quick system, There is quite a lot of lace on the system, but it all tucks away nicely into the lace pocket. I’d say on the sizing that this shoe comes up a bit smaller than I’m used to, but not to a point of being uncomfortable. I think I’d pick a metric size up next time round. Out the door and into a slow warm up on the road. The shoes feel exactly like a road shoe, Good cushining and light and it wasn’t wrong before I wasn’t thinking about the shoe at all. After a little climb up to the start of the fire trails, nothing really changed, the sole unit has enough protection that big rocks don;t penetrate at all, making for a comfy ride. The singletrack starts with a downhill that loses about 100m in 500m, and here I was thinking about the shoe again. The reason is that trail shoes always have a lower profile tread pattern and I was expecting to slip and slide a bit on the really wet top surface on the singletrack. Pretty quickly I built confidence in the sole and it was biting nice through and finding loads of grip. I quickly got back to picking lines and not thinking about the shoe. So first impressions- the Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral trail shoe is pretty forgetable, and that is a massive compliment! I’ve added the shoe into my miCoach so I’ll be able to keep an accurate log of the distance I do with the shoe.