Trail running has increased in popularity in recent years. More runners are moving from road running to trail running for better scenery, softer running surfaces, or just for additional variation from running all of your miles on the road. Running shoe companies have taken notice and produced a bewildering array of shoes geared toward trail running. Runners are asking themselves, “Do I really need a pair of trail running shoes?”
While trail running shoes are not technically necessary, they do have some additional features that are intended to make trail running easier and more comfortable when the terrain warrants these extra features.
Most trail running shoes have a more aggressive tread than is found on a road shoe. The amount of tread will vary greatly between models, from only slightly more aggressive than a road shoe to extremely knobby with lugs similar to some hiking boots. These treads are great for running rocky, technical trails where greater grip on the trail surface allows runners to waste less energy sliding around on tenuous surfaces like loose dirt, rocks, or mud.
Trail shoes also have hard protective rubber bumpers on the parts of the shoe most likely to get kicked into a rock or boulder, like the toe box . This feature is especially useful when running trails that require lots of hopping on or over obstacles and when the runner is likely to kick objects in the trail. Some models also feature additional hard rubber bumpers along the sides of the shoe.
Some trail running shoes feature hard plastic inserts in the midsole of the shoe to protect the wearer from sharp rocks and sticks poking through the bottom of the shoe. Shoes with these inserts are best suited for very technical, very rocky trails.
The best course of action is to match the features of the trail shoe to the type of running terrain. A trail running shoe with a very aggressive tread and plastic midsole inserts will only be heavier than necessary for a nice, flat, forest trail. On the other hand, very rocky, technical trails would likely warrant a very aggressive trail shoe with lots of bumper protection. Trail running shoes can be purchased from all of the major running shoe companies, Brooks, Asics, Saucony, New Balance, Nike, and Adidas, in addition to companies which traditionally serve the hiking/backpacking market such as Merrell, Montrial, Salomon, and North Face. Always remember to try on lots of shoe models from a variety of companies as fit will vary dramatically from one shoe to another.