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Date Posted: 23 December 2022
Thrilling, beautiful and sometimes dangerous, exercising on trails nevertheless requires some forethought and preparation. This guide will help you select the type of shoe that’s best for you and your chosen activity.
The great outdoors is a source of challenge and inspiration that few athletes can pass up. There’s an allure to navigating through deep bushland or running along ridges that speaks to the primal instinct in us all.
Trail shoes are the most important gear you use when hiking and trail running. The right shoe can help prevent blisters, bruises, rolled ankles and other accidents. You wouldn’t use rollerblades to go for a road run or use a road bike on an unpaved trail; similarly, it’s inadvisable to use road shoes for trail runs or hikes as they simply don’t have the required grip and support.
The first and most obvious distinction to make is the difference between a trail running shoe and a hiking shoe.
A trail running shoe is ideally a lighter weight shoe, with an aggressive tread to keep you safe without slowing you down on varied terrain. On the other hand, a proper hiking shoe or boot should be stable and supportive enough to offer you all-day comfort and keep you balanced when carrying heavy loads, so you don’t end up stranded with a rolled ankle.
Read on for Trail Running shoes or click here to skip down to Hiking shoes.
Inov-8, Altra, Salomon, Saucony, Merrell & More (Men's/Women's)
More and more runners are hitting the trails, taking advantage of natural slopes and obstacles such as tree roots to increase their fitness and agility. Trail running is a hazardous sport, however, and requires a specialised shoe to keep you safe on the terrain.
Terrain Type (Grip & Structure)
You will often encounter uneven terrain, muddy patches, and loose surfaces on the trails, all of which need an aggressive grip to combat. A shoe’s sole is ‘aggressive’ if its lugs are long, angular and sharp. Aggressive soles are better on uneven terrain, but much less grippy on road surfaces – which is why you shouldn’t use the same shoe for both road and trail runs. Aggressive soles also allow mud and dirt to fall off the sole so soil doesn’t get wedged in and hamper the lugs’ grip.
Shoe soles are usually made from rubber. Softer rubber (e.g. Salomon) grips better but is less durable than harder rubber (e.g. Vibram).
Minimal vs. Maximal
The running community is rife with arguments about whether minimal or maximal cushioning is better for your feet. It’s still up for debate, so feel free to go with whatever feels better to you. Just remember:
Vasque, Salomon, Merrell, Keen, SCARPA
There’s nothing like the feeling of having conquered a treacherous hiking trail or a multiday backpacking trip. Hiking is an ideal way to improve your fitness and connect with nature, but you do need to invest in stable and supportive hiking shoes or boots so you don’t end up stranded with a rolled ankle.
Your hiking boots’ upper will affect how well your boots handle abrasion, water and break-in. Hiking boot uppers can be made from:
Stability & Protection
Hikers are at risk of rolling their ankles, bruising their toes on rocks or tripping due to uneven surfaces. Look for shoes that feature ankle support, load-bearing stiffness and a sturdy structure to reduce the risk of accidents. Remember that when carrying a heavy pack, you need additional support since there’s more strain on your ankles. Here are some features you may need for full support on the trail:
Whether you’re running or hiking, your feet are unique and may require some extra consideration when purchasing your shoes.
Is it more important for you to have a quick-drying or a water-resistant boot? Nobody likes having wet feet. It’s uncomfortable and can lead to a bundle of blisters, which will make your next run that much harder.
Don’t automatically choose full waterproofing on your trail shoe, though. A waterproof shoe won’t be able to drain out the water as efficiently as a breathable shoe. It’s hard to prevent water from getting into a low-cut shoe - for example, you might cross a stream, your feet could sweat heavily due to exertion, or there could be an unexpected rain shower. You’ll then be running in muddy or wet shoes until you can take them off and leave them to dry. Waterproof membranes often can’t keep up to the rigours of trail running and low-cut shoes. For this reason, you may want to consider a shoe that uses breathable materials to keep your feet both dry and cool. Look for shoes with small drainage holes in the sole or vents of fabric close to the sole for quick drainage.
Consider these options:
Each shoe brand has a slightly different fit: wide, neutral or narrow. Many brands will even offer a range of fits within them. Find out which brands fit your feet better by looking at online measurements or heading instore to try on different brands.
If you’re buying hiking shoes, try them on in the afternoon when heat and exertion has swollen your feet slightly. You don’t want to be stuck with boots that are too small on the trail. Remember to try hiking boots on with hiking socks, which are thicker than normal socks.
Outdoor sports generally require more planning and specialised gear than indoor activities. Outdoor enthusiasts would agree, however, that the feeling of blazing the trails is well worth the time it takes to select appropriate footwear.