The benefit of shopping online is that you aren’t limited with selection. But with over 150 trail and road running shoes to choose from, it can be hard to narrow down your choices to the right match for you. We’re hoping this buying guide will help you do that. We have broken it down into 6 sections: road vs trail, matching your foot type to the right shoe, terrain/conditions, anatomy of a shoe, personal preference, and tips and suggestions.
Road vs Trail
A common mistake is assuming your road running shoes (mens/womens) will perform well on trail and your trail runners (m/w) will perform well on road. We understand that you are trying to save some money by purchasing one pair of shoes for both types of running, but by doing so you will wear through your shoes much faster and end up having to buy a new pair sooner.
Road running consists of any paved or well packed surface. Common trail running conditions are snow, loose dirt, debris (rocks, sticks, etc.), mud, rivers, and much more. It depends on the season and area. Shoe brands take these environments and conditions into consideration in the design process. Take it from us that you would be better off buying two pairs of shoes to accommodate both road and trail (and you’ll probably save money because they won’t wear out as fast).
Matching Foot Type to the Right Shoe
Just because there’s a cool, new shoe out that everybody loves does not mean that you will love it too. Best practice is getting to know your foot as much as possible, and then narrowing down the selection based off that information. Let’s talk pronation (this is for your reference only, please consult your medical professional for additional information).
Pronation is the natural inward rolling motion of the foot after it lands on the ground. Knowing your pronation type is great for buying both road (m/w) and trail shoes (m/w), but it’s more vital for road running. Because road is generally on harder surfaces (pavement and concrete), and the ground is flat. Trail is on softer terrain and the ground is rarely flat. To know how your feet pronate, squirt the bottom of your bare foot with water and step on a paper towel. Examine the footprint to see where the most amount of pressure is applied, and compare it to the following:
• Under Pronation - Also referred to as supination. It is when your foot rolls more to the outside. On the paper towel the print will show mainly the outside of the foot, with little to no inside. This is the least common. Under pronators can wear neutral shoes but benefit greatly from a lot of cushioning and flexibility.
• Neutral Pronation - This is the normal amount. Your footprint shows a good balance of curve between the outside and the inside. Neutral runners can wear a wider variety of shoe types and still be comfortable. Shop neutral pronation road running shoes: mens | womens. Shop neutral pronation trail running shoes: mens | womens.
• Over Pronation - When the inward rolling motion is excessive. On a paper towel you will see that more of the inside of your footprint shows. This is the most common. Shop over-pronation road running shoes: mens | womens. Shop over-pronation trail running shoes: mens | womens.
• Severe Over Pronation - The inward rolling motion is extremely exaggerated.
Terrain and Weather Conditions
Consider shoes that will perform best on the terrain you plan on running on and the weather conditions you will be in. Not only that, but also consider the time of day you plan on doing most of your running. If early morning or night is your time, then try some shoes that reflect for better visibility, like the Asics Kayano. If you do a lot of running in the early spring or late fall chances are you will come across slick surfaces. Check out the winter versions of shoes that have grippier soles.
If you’re running on trail, is the dirt loose or packed? We have tread styles to match both types. Do the trails you run on have a lot of elevation changes? Do yourself a favor and get a shoe with aggressive traction and a more technical fit (snug). If you plan on encountering a lot of debris (rocks, twigs, bushes, etc.) then you’ll definitely want to look for a shoe with a rock plate in the midsole (more on this in the Shoe Anatomy section).
If you are in a wet place (i.e. dew, puddles, creeks) then treat yourself to shoes that have water protection features (trail - m/w). If you are in mud and snow a lot then look into getting shoes with studs. And for the intense trail runner that doesn’t even use a trail and lives in the mud and snow, check out our shoes with built-in gaitors like the Salomon Snowcross or La Sportiva Crossover.
• Outsole - This is the outermost layer of the sole of a shoe. The very bottom. This defines the tread pattern and aggressiveness.
• Midsole - This is found between the insole and outsole. It’s main purpose is for absorbing shock, so the majority of the cushioning is found here.
• Insole - Also known as the sockliner, this is the removeable pad placed on top of the midsole. A popular brand is ortholite. Your insole will probably wear out and need replaced before the shoe itself.
• Rock Plate - This is found in the forefoot of the midsole. It is additional protection against rocks, sticks, and other trail debris. The materials it’s made out of ranges from plastic to carbon fiber.
• Lasting - The mold upon which a shoe is constructed. This affects the overall fit of the shoe.
• Tongue - This runs up the top-center of the shoe and along the top part of the foot.
• Heel Collar - This forms the top part of the shoe and provides support for the heel and Achilles tendon.
• Heel Counter - This is a hard material that provides structure and stability to the heel of the shoe. It is often marked by a different color material on the heel of the shoe. It is not found in all shoes.
• Upper - This is the top part of the shoe. It provides the structure to firmly hold your foot in place, provide breathability, and support.
With all of that information fresh, here are some more questions to ask yourself to narrow down your personal preference. We have also provided the links for easy access.
• Do you prefer a moderate (road-m/w | trail-m/w) or maximum (road-m/w | trail-m/w) amount of cushion? If you plan on using your running shoes for an everyday use (running laps on the track and in wal-mart) then consider getting maximum cushion, cause who knows how long you’ll be standing in line. If you want maximum air flow then look into maximum breathability (road-m/w | trail-m/w) shoes. If you want a shoe that will protect you against moisture from the outside then look into our moderate breathability (trail-m/w) shoes. If weight is an issue then you can sort by weight range (for single shoe).
• One of the best filters is the drop range. The drop is the difference in two distances: the heel of foot to ground and the ball of foot to the ground. For example, traditional shoes have a 12+ mm drop. That means that the heel of the foot is 12+ mm distance from the ground than the ball of the foot. A lot of people confuse a zero drop shoe (both the heel and ball of foot are equal distances from the ground) means that it’s a minimalist shoe. But that is wrong. A zero drop shoe can have large amounts of cushion, like Altra shoes. It’s also important to note that lower drop shoes will promote mid foot striking.
Tips and Suggestions
• EU sizing is not the same from brand to brand.
• Technical trail running shoes are meant to fit snugger in the heel and forefoot.
• Leave enough room between your longest toe and the front of the shoe so that your toes doen’t smash in the front when running downhill.
• If you run in a dry, summer environment then consider closed mesh, like the Salomon S-Lab Wings. Closed mesh is weaved tight enough to keep out dirt and dust compared to opened mesh.
• How often should you change out your shoes for a new pair? There is not a universal answer for all scenarios. It depends on your mileage, body type, and terrain. Those factors are different for everyone. Some say that every 450 - 500 miles. If you notice a substantial drop in comfort compared to the shoes early days, then either try changing out the insole or get a new pair. A good sign is seeing if the outsole has worn down to the midsole in any area of the shoe.