How to Choose Trail Running Shoes

Hitting the trails is a great way to ramp up your running routine: it's typically more challenging, and the change of scenery can easily get you out of a training rut. And while jumping over rocks and ducking tree branches provides a more rigorous workout, running on something other than pavement can actually reduce your risk of injury. In order to protect your feet from the sometimes treacherous terrain, though, you'll need to invest in a good pair of TRAIL RUNNING SHOES.

Why Trail Running Shoes?

Technical terrain and long runs can leave your feet in bad shape if you don't have the correct footwear. Trail running shoes, as opposed to road running shoes, provide better stability, traction, and protection on rugged terrain without the weight or bulk of hiking boots.

Midsole Cushioning

Having some midsole cushioning in your trail shoes, though less than road shoes, will keep you comfortable on rocky terrain and help prevent your bones from bruising. If you’ll be running on groomed trails (think bike paths or access roads), you can consider trading cushioning for a lighter shoe. But regardless of the terrain, remember that the soles of your feet require more protection on a trail run.


The soles of trail running shoes usually have lugs that are deeper than road shoes, but not quite as deep as those of hiking boots. Similarly, trail shoes will feature a shank underneath to provide protection from roots and rocks, but one that is smaller than the shank found in hiking boots.


In muddy conditions or on wild trails, you'll be grateful for the extra traction that trail running shoes provide. In addition to deeper lugs, the tread is usually made from a stickier material than on road shoe soles. Since trail shoe outsoles are not made for extended use on pavement, they will wear down quickly if used on the road so be sure to only use your trail running shoes on the trail.

Waterproof Uppers

For someone who's looking for the kind of wet, muddy exercise that most people categorize as crazy, trail running in rainy conditions may be exactly the activity you seek. However, you should get a shoe with waterproof, breathable uppers in order to preserve your feet.


Like road shoes, trail running shoes should be as light as you can get away with while still offering the necessary protection. Shoes that are too heavy will hasten muscle fatigue and may coerce you into cutting your run short.

Hybrid Running Shoes

If you're going to be running on asphalt before getting to a trail, you may want to consider getting a pair of hybrid running shoes that work for both kinds of terrain. Otherwise, you'll wear out your trail running shoes in no time.

Fit is Everything

When trying on trail running shoes, pay attention to how the toes feel when going downhill (our stores have footwear ramps specifically for this purpose) and whether the shoe keeps your foot firmly in place. You want to make sure your foot has enough room to swell a bit during your run, but not so much room that your foot slides around (which will eventually lead to painful blisters).

The most important part of choosing any athletic shoe is making sure it fits properly. If you're ordering online, consider getting a few pairs in different sizes, and returning the ones that don't fit. But if you have the time, stop by your local Eastern Mountain Sports and ask to speak with one of our awesome Foot Gurus and they’ll be sure to get you set up with the perfect shoe for your trail running adventures.