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Choosing the best trail running shoes

Trail running has become more and more popular over the past few years with it being the fastest growing running segment of all. And just like with any kind of specific running, be it on the track, the road or inside, having the best shoe makes all the difference when it comes to trail running training or taking it that little step further.


Some people say you can trail run in any running shoe. The truth is though, just like you wouldn’t play basketball with a soccer ball, you shouldn’t run through the wilderness with a shoe made for the road; it’s not what it was made to do. You have a huge chance of injuring yourself, especially when it comes to technical trail running, if you choose the wrong shoe.


The way to choose the best trail running shoe is to understand the point of each main characteristic that makes it up. Below, we’ve outlined some of the main details and points you need to consider for an ideal trail running shoe in terms of what’s in it, as well as what you will be using it for to help you find the perfect type for you.  



In the shoe – what to look for in the best trail running shoes


This refers to the amount of support your feet and ankles receive from the shoes. In trail running, you want to have some level of stability in your shoe (so you do not roll your ankle) but at the same time, a level of freeness to allow for footfall to adapt to uneven terrain below.


Sole stiffness

Rocks and twigs and stones (oh my). Sole stiffness has to do with two main factors: the main one is protection (from all the things you’ll step on when trail running) and the second is give, meaning how much spring the sole packs. While protection is important, if you’re looking for speed on the trail, a shoe with springy elements not only makes for a faster run, but often a more comfortable one at that.



The amount of padding technology the shoe provides on impact is often tied together with stability. The more cushioning, the less impact on the body and often more comfort the shoe provides the wearer. In trail running, cushioning is most needed on the decent, protecting against repeatedly hard foot strikes.



Fit is how close the shoe sits to the foot enclosed within it. Ideally for trail running, the overall fit should be tighter than that of other running shoes, sitting quite close in the heel and wider in the toe area (to allow for motion and stability on varied terrain.   



Lacing system

Trail running shoes tend to have longer laces and eyelets higher up the shoe than traditional road running shoes. This is because trail running shoes need to fit closer to the foot (see fit above) and longer laces tied high allow for this.



A no brainer when it comes to the trail, grip (part of the shoe tread under the sole) is usually broken in to two types: macro grip (larger rivets that can easily be seen) and micro grip (smaller grip, often that looks like a pattern). These grips work together to provide a “stickiness” of the shoe to wet trails or to help find purchase on different terrain.


Heel-to-toe drop

A detail that has only really been picked up in the last few years, hell-to-toe-drop refers to the difference in size off the ground your heel sits compared to your toes. The thicker the sole, the greater the numbers. Trail running shoes tend to have quite small heel-to-toe drops as needing to feel the ground underneath is important, especially when it comes to speed.



In use – questions to ask yourself when looking for the best trail running shoes


Where will you be trail running? Will the ground mostly be wet, dusty, muddy, grass, have small rocks or sharp rocks? Will you also be running on concrete? Where you run affects more than anything else the lifespan of the shoe, so choosing the wrong trail running shoe for the terrain you’ll be using it on can greatly reduce its lifespan.


Race type

Is this shoe to be used for training or racing? Generally, racing shoes have lower heel-to-toe drops and less cushioning as they are made for speed over everything else. Though a training shoe can, of course, also be used in a race, when hunting down a personal best, often a trail race shoe is the push you need to get you there.



Though it also falls under terrain, water is one of the things that can most effect a shoe. If you will constantly be running in the rain or through puddles, making sure the trail running shoe you choose is waterproof is a must.



5 tips on how to test a trail running shoe (in store)

With something built for the outdoors, it’s often tricky to know from the store how it will perform where it’s meant to. To help with that, here are 5 quick and handy tips when trying on a trail running shoe.


1. Bring bigger socks. When trail running, you will usually wear slightly thicker socks than when road running, so make sure you bring the right ones in store that represent what you will be wearing in practice – that extra thickness matters when choosing the right size!


2. Grip you can see is real grip. As we mentioned earlier, grip can be a life saver on the run. The easiest way to make sure there is grip is to flip the shoe over and see it on the sole. Some trail shoes have micro grip or adhesive, but great ones should also have clear grip patterning that looks substantial underneath.


3. Roll your ankle. Well, simulate it. Making sure that your ankle can move, yet is supported when you trip (as you will when trail running) is crucial. A few paces on the side of your foot (carefully) should let you know whether you will be supported by the shoe or not. 


4.Run backwards. Running up and down hills probably isn’t a possibility when you’re in the store, so simulate it by running forwards and backwards with the shoe on. This is to have your foot feel what it is like with different areas of the shoe engaged. Running backwards puts more emphasis on your toes as though you were running uphill (counter intuitive but it works).


5. Ask the staff “What can’t this shoe be used for?” Often the difference between trail shoes lies in their use. Ask the team working there and make sure the shoe you’re testing matches the goals you’ve set to be sure.


The On Cloudventure

Understanding the theory behind what makes a great trail shoe is one thing, but at On, we’ve put all that knowledge in to an end result. Actually, we’ve put that knowledge to four end results to help every kind of trail runner find the perfect fit for their trail run. Let’s go in to the details of each.



The verdict

The Cloudventure models have fast become some of the most popular on the trail running scene, winning awards and races worldwide. Of course, there are plenty of trail running shoes out there to try and to see which is best for you, your unique running style and unique running trail. Remembering the details of what to look for in the best trail running shoes is one thing, but feeling them for yourself is another, so get out there, try them on, and let us know what you think (or how we can help you) anytime throughout in our live chat below.

The Cloudventure
Award-winning lightweight trail running shoe made for protection and speed.
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The Cloudventure Midtop
With added stability, this shoe supports the ankle while remaining lightweight.
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The Cloudventure Peak
Lower cut and the lightest Cloudventure made for trail racing and competition.
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The Cloudventure Waterproof
Protection against the elements in a lightweight, durable waterproof model.
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