Author: Michael D'Aulerio - Personal Trainer and Ultramarathon Runner
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If you’ve ever run on a trail, then you know how critical the right shoe can be. Hitting a sharp turn on muddy terrain without trail running shoes has the potential to end your run fast.
Slipping and losing your footing is common for those with the wrong shoes. If you are reading this, then you may have experienced something similar.
Trail running shoes provide significant benefits like extra traction and springy cushioning. When you hit the trails with a trail running shoe, you can run with confidence. No more timid strides. No more trying to stay on your feet the whole time.
After the summary table below, we discuss the key things to keep in mind when shopping for trail running shoes, followed by reviews of 5 of the best trail runners currently on the market in Australia.
How to find the PERFECT Pair of Trail Running Shoes
Now that you are ready to find a pair of trail running shoes, you may be wondering where to begin.. Whether you are preparing to run your first trail, or millionth, the criteria below will guide you through the decision making process.
Before focusing on the specific features, it's critical to decide on the general type of trail running shoe you require. When we say “type”, we are referring to either a "light trail" or "rugged trail" shoe.
A "light trail shoe" is less aggressive. Their design is more geared towards open tracks and rolling hills. A light trail shoe is typically lightweight and provides moderate traction and protection.
Don't think "light trail" means "beginner." Although light trail shoes are beneficial for beginners, they are not solely for newcomers. Many experienced runners prefer speedy fast trails over technical ones where a light trail shoe is ideal. In other words, shoe type is based on trail type.
On the other hand, a "rugged" type trail running shoe is best for more technical trails. Whether you plan to race up a steep climb or glide down the side of a canyon, if you're facing difficult terrain, a rugged shoe is the way to go. They provide superior performance in adverse weather conditions, especially when things get slippery.
Rugged trail shoes provide extra traction, extra protection, and extra cushion. They are more reliable yet heavier. Overall, they put a runner's mind at ease when facing even the most demanding conditions.
When running trails, you face steep hills and quick turns. The more firm the trail running shoe, the more stability it has on uneven terrain.
Without a stable shoe, it's easier to lose your footing, or even worse, roll an ankle. That's where a stability shoe comes in. It keeps your feet and lower legs secure and balanced.
Although less stable shoes are faster, shoes with more stability offer better protection. So find the level of stability that suits you best. If you are a beginner, we recommend a pair with stability over speed.
A trail running shoe rated as “firm” is likely to be more stable.
Besides a firm shoe, supportive designs focus heavily on a secure upper section. A well-constructed upper section secures your foot for quick directional changes and uneven surfaces.
IMPORTANT: most trail running shoes offer a scale of support.
Here's the scale:
- Light Stability
- Motion Control
The more you pronate, the more motion control you want. The less you pronate, then you'll be better off with a neutral shoe.
If you have flat feet, there's a higher chance you over-pronate and would benefit most from a motion control shoe. If you have high arches, you will lean closer to a neutral shoe.
So depending on your experience level and personal preference, decide on your stability.
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What amount of traction do you want? Are you planning on running light trails in decent weather? Technical trails in the pouring rain? Or something in between the two?
The outsole is what makes a trail running shoe a trail running shoe. The term "outsole" refers to the bottom of the shoe. It's the part that makes contact with the ground.
The "lugs" are a part of the outsole. They are the spikes that dig into the surface of the trail. They come in different shapes, sizes, and patterns.
If you plan on running easy to moderate smooth trails then it’s best to find a shoe with shallow lugs. There’s no need for the extra weight if it's not necessary, it will only slow you down.
As you branch out into rougher trails, you'll want to consider more diverse traction patterns with deeper lugs. Reverse lug patterns with larger lugs are best for technical and/or muddy trails. If you are considering deeper lugs, then make sure there's adequate space between them. This will prevent mud and dirt from caking up under the outsole.
The comfort of a running shoe is a direct reflection of the amount of cushion and the placement of that cushion. Trail running shoes typically come equipped with extra cushion, and it’s not just due to the long miles.
What takes a toll on your feet most is the rocks and roots you run over. If you’ve ever run a trail race with a pair of road shoes, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Comfort levels rank by the following: minimal, moderate, or maximum. You can determine comfort levels in the shoe's product description. Minimal comfort will absorb the least amount of shock while maximum comfort will absorb the most amount of shock.
The more cushion, the more shock absorption, the less chance of discomfort and injury. However, the more comfort, the more weight, and less responsiveness thus making the shoe slower. So, find a comfort level that’s best for your style of running and your personal goals.
Most of the time, a cushioned trail running shoe will put a lot of emphasis on responsiveness. Adding a springy toe-off will help compensate for some of the loss in speed. So if you choose a more comfortable shoe, make sure it's one that accelerates quickly.
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If you wear a pair of trail shoes, you can be pretty confident they will protect your foot. But by how much?
Trail running shoes are designed to protect your foot, but the level of protection can vary significantly.
Do they provide a modest amount of protection for small rocks and sticks? Or do they offer toe guards and plates on the bottom of the shoe for superior protection from the elements? Some trail shoes even come with rock plates in the outsole, helping relieve some of the force from running on top of hard objects like rocks.
As a trail runner, your feet are your most important asset. Clip a rock enough times with the same big toe, and you’ll be wishing you bought a shoe with extra protection. You'll have the black and blue toe nails to remind you.
The material of the upper section also contributes to protection, particularly from bushes and thorns. So if you plan on running in the thick brush, make sure you consider a rugged shoe with a solid upper section.
Simply put, make sure a reputable company makes your trail shoe. Trail shoes take a beating and so will your feet if not adequately protected. The miles add up fast, and so will the pain caused by a poorly designed shoe.
When you buy a trail running shoe from a top manufacturer, you can be more confident they will last. Also, you know they have a solid warranty. Some of the best trail running shoe manufacturers are Altra, Brooks, Saucony, Salomon, Asics, Hoka One One, Inov-8, Nike, and New Balance.
Now that you know how to pick the best trail running shoes, read on for the 5 best trail running shoes in Australia for 2018. Within each review are pros & cons to help make your shoe selection even easier. Let's begin.
trail running shoe reviews
#1 Saucony Peregrine review
Best for Speed
If you are looking for a neutral trail running shoe designed for speed, then check out the Saucony Peregrine. It’s a firm fit built with a springy toe-off. Saucony’s EVERRUN technology provides a responsive feel while still offering a decent level of cushion.
The result: A fast shoe with smooth landings. What more could a trail runner ask for?
Well, if you are asking for traction, then this shoe has grip too. Its high traction PWRTRAC outsole provides excellent grip even during wet conditions. If you are a trail runner looking for a neutral shoe to increase speed, then the Peregrine 8 is worth considering.
- Fit to size
- Superior breathability for hot days
- Reliable traction
- Fast for a trail running shoe
- Tight for some
- Lacks cushioning for beginners
#2 Altra King MT 1.5 review
Best for Rugged Trails
The Altra King MT 1.5 is best for rugged, messy, technical trails. It’s for the trail runner who likes to explore and dig deep into the fun stuff. And by "fun" we are referring to wet, muddy, and steep.
Rest assure trail dogs, this shoe comes with Altra’s signature TRAILCLAW technology. With canted lugs, it provides superior traction throughout your entire gait cycle.
This shoe also incorporates VIBRAM MEGAGRIP which is a sticky rubber compound. It's an extra add-on to an already diverse tread pattern. Now you have some extra grip to keep you moving uphill when the weather gets intense.
Even with its extra grip and support, Altra still finds a way to make it comfortable. Users rave about how roomy it feels. If you are looking for reliability for when the trails get wicked, then consider the King MT 1.5’s. They are a top choice for trail races and tough mudders alike.
- Run small
- Little support for pronation
#3 Salomon Speedcross 4 review
Best for Protection
The trail brings a lot of bumps and bruises. Clipping your feet on rocks and roots is far from fun, especially with missing toenails. Well, with the Salomon Speedcross 4, you do not only receive excellent cushion and breathability, but you stay protected as well.
The shoe features toe cap guards to protect the front of your foot, an aggressive lug pattern, a midsole designed for support, and the Salomon Quicklace System for a secure and custom fit.
Overall, if you are looking for a trail running shoe to slam through the sludge, but keep you safe at the same time, then the Speedcross 4’s got your feet covered.
Protection is essential. As an ultra runner, I rarely have an even amount of toenails. Ever clip a rock with a missing toenail?! Talk about PAIN.
- Aggressive grip
- Heavy protection but still a lightweight shoe
- Rugged design for outstanding traction
- Exceptional comfort & support
- On the slower side
- Run small
#4 Brooks Caldera 2 review
Best for Comfort
As you now know, a comfortable shoe is beneficial for trail runners. After a while, running on top of rocks, roots, and other hard objects can take a toll on your feet. That’s where the Brooks Caldera 2’s come in. They are designed with Brooks BioMoGo DNA midsole cushioning for a soft and comfortable ride.
Constructed for mid-to-high arch feet, this shoe is built to absorb some serious shock. Then add in its grippy traction, springy toe-off, and fast drainage system, and you have an excellent option for long distance running.
No, it's not the best choice for rugged trails, but a unique combination between lightweight and durability for smoother dirt. It's an energised trail shoe comfortable for the long haul. It also comes with an integrated tab for your gaiters.
- Excellent comfort but remains firm
- Stylish design with fun colour options
- Adequate traction for light trails
- Wide toe box
- Gaiter tab included
- Geared only to those with high arches
- Small lugs
#5 Asics GEL Sonoma 3 review
Best for Beginners
When you first dive into trail running, you don’t know what to expect. That’s why we recommend going with a less expensive option at first. Start with a pair of entry level trail running shoes, and invest in something with more features down the line.
That's why we love the GEL Sonoma 3’s for beginners. They are perfect for newcomers and at an excellent price. A top choice for running on light trails too.
And speaking of beginners, most tend to heel strike. In the beginning, heel striking feels more natural. Well, the GEL Sonoma 3’s come with a rear foot GEL technology cushion system to help. This system is designed to absorb shock from heel striking while providing smooth transitions.
The traction isn't bad either. It comes with a reverse lug pattern for extra grip and high abrasion rubber to provide increase durability.
Overall, the Sonoma 3's are a practical trail running shoe. So even if you are not a beginner, but plan on keeping it light, then this shoe is worth considering.
- Foam provides optimum comfort and a longer lifespan
- GEL technology helps with shock absorption
- Low price
- A popular design
- High arch support
- Snug fit
- Better for underpronators
As you can see, when it comes to trail running shoes, a comfortable, firm, and responsive shoe with excellent grip will be best for the majority of runner’s. That’s why we picked the Saucony Peregrine 8 as the top choice for 2018. It has everything a trail running shoe should have, in addition to speed.
Remember, don't forget to allow time for your body to adapt to your new shoes. Oh...and Happy Trails!
What are the benefits of wearing trail running shoes?
Many benefits come along with wearing trail running shoes. Sure, you can attempt to use road running shoes. But if you want to get the most out of your trail runs, a quality trail running shoe is the best way to go. Here are their advantages:
- Provides reliable protection from rocks, roots, and other hard objects, reducing pain during long distance runs.
- More firm then average running shoes. A firm shoe provides stability and better foot placement, especially on technical trails.
- Excellent traction through diverse tread patterns and deep lugs to prevent slipping.
- Increase in cushioning providing ample shock absorption for any size runner. Extra cushion absorbs shock and provides a smoother landing.
- With the extra cushion, they tend to have excellent responsiveness. With trail running shoes you get the best of both worlds: comfort and speed.
- Constructed with stronger material to hold-up in adverse conditions. Also, helps provide a longer lifespan.
- Top shoe companies manufacture trail running shoes, so they come with excellent warranties.
- Darker colours to prevent your shoes from looking dirty.
A quality trail running shoe becomes particularly advantageous when racing too. No more "spinning wheels" from a lack of traction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Personal Trainer and Ultramarathon Runner
Michael is a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist.
He is also an ultramarathon runner and in 2018 finished a 200 mile ultramarathon, one of the longest running races in the world.
He is the best selling author of three books, and maintains a personal blog at LongRunLiving.com. Contact him on social media at twitter.com/longrunliving and Instagram.com/longrunliving.