5 Tips to Pick Your Trail Shoes
By Isaac Walker and Will Lind
Online shopping dominates the retail market, and this goes for trail shoes too. Everywhere you turn there seems to be another online store selling cheaper and cheaper shoes. This is good in the sense that prices are low, but what about figuring out what to actually buy? And what size? Well, on the other hand, those brick and mortar shoe stores are still there! Not your large chain shoe stores so much, but the small independent stores with staff who have tons of knowledge and experience and can provide invaluable individualised advice for you. Whichever you choose it’s best if you go into your shopping experience armed with the right intention, approach and a little know how.
Here are 5 tips to help guide you pick your next pair of trail shoes:
1. Get the right fit for you: This is so very important with any running shoe; the correct fit for you, which might not be the right fit for anyone else. The sizing chart could be wrong. The 10x ultramarathon finisher giving you advice could be wrong. The barefoot runner might be wrong. Your mate who loves that new European brand and the large shoe company who tells you that the pretty and colourful shoes with ‘double whammy pronation movement controlling power flexing fairy dust’ are for you, could both be wrong. At least, they could be wrong when it comes to your foot and your new trail shoes. Figuring out what works could take time and yes, some experimenting. The whole mess of shoe choices out there is actually yours to figure out. This might cost money but pays off in the end when you figure yourself out.
Obviously the best place to start is to go into a store and get some advice off someone who is experienced and actually try shoes on.
Still, here’s the big tip for online shoppers of trail shoes; find a site with the ‘shoefitr’ software. Basically you find an existing shoe you own and hopefully that you like, then find the shoe you want to buy and it will report to you how well your proposed shoe ‘fits’ compared to your old shoe. The only thing is you have to find a website with the shoe brands you want to compare and with the shoefitr software also available.
(Don’t Be Uncool: We’re not for or against online retail versus brick and mortar stores either way. We just think that it isn’t cool to go purposefully go into a small, independent, brick and mortar running store, get all the advice, take up their time, try on their shoes then go buy the cheaper alternative online. Sometimes it happens that way as a natural consequence of you learning more about the shoes you are interested in. But if that was your intention from the outset, that’s just not cool. If you go in and they are genuinely helpful, at least buy that first pair from the store and then you can purchase follow up pairs online).
2. Grip: You will need to evaluate the ‘grip requirements’ for your trail shoes. How much grip will depend on the trail surfaces you plan to run. Don’t kid yourself, grip matters. When it rains does it get super muddy? Is it hard-packed and fast? Is it technical with lots of rocks etc? Some shoes have lots of hard ‘lugs’ and others have a densely packed grip. Can you afford trail shoes for different terrain? That would be wonderful, but that brings on the next point…
3. Price: As a general rule the price of trail shoes does not automatically equal good fit for you. However, as in most things in life you tend to get what you pay for, and price is an indicator of whether your pair will last hundreds of kilometres or will start to fall apart on your second run. Spending money on a good pair of shoes is normally (not always) worth the investment. If you can make the investment, it is quite the luxury to have a pair for to more common, firmer, lunch break escape trail running, and something else for the really aggressive stuff you might get up to every now and again.
4. Fashion (or not): Trail runners know that we have the best running fashion out there. But we are usually intelligent enough to look at function before fashion when it comes to buying trail shoes. Yes, that fluoroscent pink pair of shoes with green flames may look hot as donuts, but are they the best pick for you out on the trails? If you are a dedicated trail-runway king or queen then try and at least find a middle point – the ‘ok’ looking pair of shoes that also fit fantastic and have the attributes you are looking for. Our advice is definitely lean toward function first.
5. Breathable/Drainage: Something that may not cross your mind when buying a new pair of trail shoes is the breathability and/or drainage. Feet get hot when we run. If they get too hot then bad things can happen, including friction leading to blisters but also excessive sweat giving you stinky and wrinkled feet every run. Feet enveloped in a shoe like glad wrap can cook away like sous-vide chicken (that’s cooking in a bag for all you non-Masterchef lovers). Drainage is also very important, even for the mildly adventurous. If you run on the beach, in the rain, through streams or wade rivers then wearing shoes that allow the water to easily seep out is important. You may have heard that squelching sound of the guy wearing road shoes in a trail event who has just ran through a creek. You don’t want that. Your feet stay wet for longer, they stay heavy and coupled with heat can lead to blisters and other nasties once again.