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Why wear trail running shoes?

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Trail running is booming, and with good reason! With only minimal gear and a sense of adventure required, trail running gets you out of the grind and into the wilds.

The development of trail running has spawned a whole range of new footwear designed for the special demands of running efficiently and safely on a variety of surfaces : loose dirt, muddy tracks, rocky shelves, and hardpack fire trail. The design paradigms of trail shoes are in constant evolution, and over the last ten years we have seen trail running designs expand to cover practically every niche. Whilst original trail running shoes were definitely based on a trimmed down hiking boot design, today it seems companies spend more time on research and development of trail shoes than any other footwear category. The result is the sleek and comprehensive range of trail running shoes on the market today.

We regularly are asked why we should wear trail shoes instead of just our normal road running shoes, so here are our top ten reasons for bush running in trail shoes instead of road running shoes.

1. Specific rubber = better grip. Road shoes designed for pounding out the miles on asphalt generally have a very durable rubber compound for long wear, but lack the “stickiness” that provides reliable grip on rocky terrain (especially wet rock). Given the inherently softer underfoot terrain on trails, specific trail running shoes will generally utilise a stickier rubber compound. Most companies will offer a variety of rubber compounds across their range, with some shoes exhibiting super sticky soles, and other models offering greater durability and longevity.

2. Specific sole and lug pattern = better traction. A road running shoe is like a road car tyre; it is designed to offer adequate traction and low rolling resistance on asphalt. Conversely, a road car tyre may lose traction on loose dirt roads. A trail running shoe is more akin to an SUV or 4WD tyre, aiming for good performance on hard pack, but with plenty of bite when things get loose and muddy.

To summarise these first two points: the holy grail of a trail shoe sole design is super sticky rubber, that is very hard wearing. You also want a deep lugged sole that bites in the mud and loose stuff, but feels like a racing car tyre on the hardpack. You obviously can’t have all these things in the one shoe, but it is great fun figuring out where your running style places you amongst these competing needs! 

3. Rock plates. Many decent trail shoes have very thin, flexible and strong membranes inserted into the sole structure to limit the feeling from rocks pushing back through the sole. This technology isn’t limited to the ‘heavier’ style of shoes; many minimalist shoes like the Salomon S-Lab Sense feature this technology. It doesn’t weigh much and the shoe retains good flexibility, but you really appreciate the extra protection after a few hours on the trail.

4. Trail running shoes wrap around your foot. One of the most overlooked facets of fitting trail shoes is what we call “foot wrap” . This encompasses:

  • a secure heel cup;
  • a continuous and secure fit through the arch, wrapping around the middle of the foot (with good contact on the instep);
  • adequate width and security across the ball of the foot (the widest part of the foot).

The secure foot wrap is what allows you to step sideways, change direction quickly, and jump between rocks, whilst feeling like the shoe is in sync with your foot and movements. Customers often comment that a trail shoes generally feel ‘neater’ than a road shoe. It may take a couple of runs to adapt to the secure fit of most trail shoes, but there is no doubt that it is a vital design component for quick and confident running on uneven terrain. 

5. Made to last. The uppers on trail shoes use reinforced materials that are designed to handle the rigours of running through tough country. It may add a few grams to the shoe but that extra protection is well appreciated.

6. Support and cushioning for all runners. The trail running scene is booming, and footwear designers are working overtime to keep up with current thinking on optimum running biomechanics. Walk into any store selling a good range of trail running shoes and you’ll see all variety of models offering different levels of cushioning and support, heel drop, pronation control, widths etc. Ten years ago you’d be lucky to get a trail running shoe on your foot, but the shoe range now available has grown and matured to the point where everyone can get comfortably fitted in trail shoes that suit their running style.

7. The last 5%. A local runner with a lot of experience with footwear argues that normal road running shoes are adequate for 95% of trail running, and he is probably right. Except that last 5% is where things are fun! It is the feeling of bombing down through the bush with your mind and body wholly engaged in the trail. Trail running shoes will allow you to push just a little bit harder, with a bit more confidence. Or it could be that moment when you are tired and not focussed: a trail shoe gives you the added security that means you may avoid a stumble and potential injury. It is that ultimate 5% that makes it an adventure.

8. They cost the same as road shoes. All good quality trail shoes seem to be between $160 and $240 (Australian pesos). This generally the same that you will pay for a top level shoe from one of the major road running brands.

9. They sponsor events. Trail running races in Australia are all sponsored by ‘trail running shoe’ companies, and the retail shops that sell their products. By buying trail shoes from your local store you are investing in events that you or your mates may enter some day. I’d rather be putting money into the marketing budget of a company that is investing in cool events and inspirational outdoor athletes, than to a company who sponsor mainstream sportspeople with whom I feel no sporting connection.

10. They just look better. The road running shoe market is dominated by US companies, and with that comes a traditional and conservative approach to footwear colours and styles. Trail running is leading from European design, and that’s why the shoes just look so tres chic!

We stock a great range of trail running shoes and gear in store, and the range is about to expand even more later this year. You can click here to check out some of the range online, but even better is to come into the shop and get them on your feet!

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