trail running shoe

How to Choose the Best Trail Running Shoes

What is trail-running shoe?

Trail running shoes have some characteristics which differentiate it from other running shoes.

Trails-running shoes have lugged soles to improve traction on the surface of the ground which help you move in a more stable and supported position.

The internal and external parts of the shoe are designed to protect feet from impact of rough surface of the ground.

The upper parts of the shoes are normally made with durable materials to withstand abrasion and tears.

These shoes are stiff which are built to prevent excessive foot rotation. Generally, trail-running shoes are more stiff compared to normal running shoes.

Types of trail running shoes

There are a few types of trail-running shoes in the market. You should know what type of trail running shoe that best fit your feet before make a purchase.

Shoe type depends on the type of trail you plan to run.  Basically we could divide this into 3 categories – light trail shoes, rugged trail shoes and off-trail shoes.

Light trails shoes

Light trails shoes are for normal non-rugged trail. To simply put, these shoes are built for road-running shoes with the following characteristics.

  • Normal protection
  • Lightweight for swift running pace
  • Moderately stiff for comfortable foot placement
  • Soles are with shallow lugs for easy traction on soil
  • Midsole cushioning built from minimal to ample to give comfort to foot when you run.

Rugged Trail Shoe

Rugged trail shoes are designed for running on hiking trails. This type of shoes cover the broadest types of terrains.

  • Toe guard up front and hidden plates underfoot to protect against rocks and roots
  • Made of more sturdy material and extra overlays to protect foot against thorns and brush
  • Midsole cushioning are normally thicker to absorb footfalls during hard landing
  • Diverse lug patterns for better grip and stopping power
  • Soles are normally with multi-directional lugs and thick for better traction on mud and soft soil. The shallow lugs allow to drop-off mud freely.

Off-Trails Shoe

Off trail shoes comes with all the characteristics of rugged trail shoes with more enhancement.

  • Constructed with material that are more resilient e.g. polyurethane foam midsole instead of EVA foam midsole found in rugged trail shoes.
  • The structure are more solid to prevent severe twist force.
  • Most of these type of shoes are waterproof and fit for remote running through streams and bogs in any weather conditions.

How do I choose the best trail-running shoe?

There are a few considerations you need to know upfront before choosing a trail-running shoes.


Fit is the most important element you need to consider when choosing a shoe, regardless the type of shoe you wish to buy.

It does’t matter how great is a shoe, if it does not fit your foot, do not buy it.

Getting a ‘good fit’ shoe is more than about the length and width but also involves other elements such as arch shape and length, foot volume and many more.

  1. Shoe lasts: Shoe manufacturers design shoes based on a complex foot measurement called a ‘last’. Ideally go for a shoe brand that has a last similar to your foot. If you have found one brand or manufacturer that meets this, you don’t have to worry about finding your ideal shoe even through shopping your shoes online.
  2. How do you know what is your real shoe size? Don’t assume you know your shoe size as it may change according to age. Always get measured. Get shoes that provide the right length and width in the toe box. Also, take into account that your feet swell when you walk briskly or run.
  3. Fit Assessment: Many stores provide a footwear specialist who can make a thorough assessment on the shape and size of shoes that is ideal for your feet. Mostly, this service is free when you shop at their outlet. You need to inform the staff at the store that you want to have an assessment on your feet.Normally a footwear specialist would let you to walk out with shoes that alleviate a wide range of foot issue such as bunions, hammertoes, plantat fasciitis and similar problems. He can also suggest a premade insole to meet your needs.


Cushioning level or referred as ‘stacked height’ comes in different level from barefoot (no cushioning), minimal, moderate to maximum.

Barefoot: No padding. This is great if you want to develop the feel for the trail and your own biomechanics.

Minimal: These shoes are for runners who want to have a better feel of the trail but not comfortable with the excessive midsole padding.

Moderate: These are the characters of traditional trail runners with sufficient padding to let you run comfortably over rocky and rooty trails.

Maximum: These shoes offer maximum padding in the midsole. Pros of these type shoes prefer this model that the cushioning are supportive on joints and help reduce tiredness over long run. On the other side, people who feel this type of shoe is not for them as the super-soft cushioning makes a less-efficient toe-off as you run.

Heel-to-toe drop

Heel-to-toe drop is a measurement of the cushioning height. It’s normally ranging from 0mm to 12mm or more. It is the difference between the height at the heel and the height as the forefoot.

Heel-to-toe drop impacts the running mechanics

  • Barefoot shoes have 0mm drop
  • Minimalist shoes normally have a drop between 0 to 4mm
  • Moderate and maximalist shoes offer a wide range of heel-to-toe drops.

So, how you decide what heel drop for you?

Here are a few considerations you can apply:

  1. Always check the heel drop when purchasing a new trail-running shoe and try to match with your current running shoe. The reason you want to do this is that shoe manufacturer can sometimes change the heel-to-toe drop when they update shoe’s design. So even you buy the same model of shoes, the heel drop might different.
  2. If you don’t have a running shoe, look at your other sport shoe or your casual shoe. Most of these shoes have moderate heel drop. Avoiding the extreme end 0mm or 12mm. Go for low heel drop if you are comfortable wearing flats or flip-flop in your daily activities.
  3. A low heel drop promote a midfoot or forefoot strike. This normally results in a more stable landing, better balance and engagement to muscles. It may sound beneficial and appealing to barefoot and minimalist shoe, not everyone benefits from it.
  4. If you plan to shift to barefoot or minimalist shoes, do it gradually. A drastic change to these type of shoes may get you feel not comfortable. So plan the shift for a few months.
  5. Another option is choosing shoes with moderate or maximum cushioning that have a low heel drop. Again, the transition should be gradual to avoid any discomfort feeling.

Can I use trail shoe for hiking, trekking and backpacking?

Can you buy trail-running shoes for hiking backpacking or thru hiking? Yes, some hikers do this. How comfortable are these shoes for that purposes are depends on loads pack, trail conditions and foot toughness. We recommend go for off-trail shoes for these shoes are more durable and supportive compared to light-trail or rugged-trail shoes.


Regardless how expansive or great looking a shoe is, if it doesn’t fit your feet comfortably, it’s not your ideal shoe.

Following the above tips, you should be able to choose the most suitable trail-running shoe for your feet.



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