Here’s What You Need To Know Before Buying Your First Trail Shoes

Plus, three trail shoes to buy now


Amy Hopkins |

Whether you enjoy taking leisurely strolls in your neighborhood forest, exploring the bush at the weekends or really legging it up a mountain, regular takkies just don’t cut it when it comes to protecting those tootsies off-road.

Designed for all kinds of rough conditions, jumping over roots and clambering up rocks, trail shoes give you the right amount of support and grip for all your outdoor adventures.

Just like the growing popularity of mountain biking, more and more people are heading out of the city and into the bush to get their running and nature fix. In South Africa we’re blessed with epic floral diversity, awesome landscapes and a growing list of accessible trail-running events and obstacle course races, from the more serious Warrior Race series to the fun 5km Muddy Princess events.

It’s not the niche sport it used to be and the shoes don’t have to cost the earth either. Depending on how often you like to head out and the types of terrain you’ll be traversing, here are some key things to consider before buying a pair of trail shoes…

The Feel

Trail shoes are meant to fit slightly differently to road-running shoes. For example, they should fit snugly around the mid-foot area and feel secure in the heel, so that there won’t be any lifting or shifting over uneven terrain. There should also be at least a thumb’s-width of space between the tip of your toes and the end of the shoe. If you’re running long distances or for three or more hours, remember that your feet can swell to half or even a full size bigger.

READ MORE: Your Essential Black Diamond Trail Running Headlamp Round-Up

The Cushioning

With road running, a very cushioned shoe is necessary for long-distance running and a firmer, lighter shoe is better for speed work. The same rule can apply for trail shoes, but you also need to consider how much you want to ‘feel’ the terrain you’re running on. Cushioning reduces the impact on the body, so consider that when feeling out your shoes and take into account the types of distances you want to be covering.

The Lugs

If your trails cover lots of gravel, loose dirt and sloppy, wet terrain, consider knobby lugs on the outsole. For these kinds of technical trails, you’ll need to look our for shoes that provide good traction and stability – this often means a heavier shoe. Lower profile outsole lugs are ideal for less-technical smooth dirt paths. If you’re running over rocks and boulders, look for sticky rubber outsoles.

READ MORE: A Beginner’s Guide To Trail Running In Winter

We tested three new women’s trail shoes

1/ Reebok All Terrain Craze 
From: R850
Perfect for: Beginner to intermediate trail runners
Highlights:
H2O drain vents and gusseted tongue helps shed water and debris for those damp runs.
CRTek high abrasion rubber outsole provides traction and gives rugged protection.
Low-cut design for freedom of movement.

Here’s What You Need To Know Before Buying Your First Trail Shoes

“I was running in normal running shoes – cue gasps of horror – ’til I laced up these Reeboks, so it was a welcome surprise as to just what a difference a proper pair of trail shoes made to my run. They’re super grippy and offer really good foot and ankle support, plus there’s fabric to withstand any condition and drainage vents at the toes if you’re tripping the light fantastic through water, which is pretty likely. I went from someone whose sock kept sliding down the inside of her shoe to someone who could comfortably enjoy a 5km trail run overnight. Winning.” — Danielle Weakley

2/ adidas Terrex Two Boa W  
From: R1999
Perfect for: longer distances
Highlights:
The boa lace system (that you often find on cycling shoes) means no tricky lace loops begging for a branch or root to get stuck in them.
The shoe is quite stiff and grips the foot nicely. It might feel bulky on, but it provides a lot of cushioning so you can go for long distances.
Breathable mesh upper equals quick drying.
Continental rubber sole for good grip.

Here’s What You Need To Know Before Buying Your First Trail Shoes

“My first impression was how well-cushioned the shoes are. I felt like I could really run in them for a long time. They’re very comfortable and very grippy on the trails. A lot of people commented on the fact that they’re white, which is unusual for a trail shoe. Here’s why: adidas created these shoes sans any artificial dyes, so they’re more environmentally friendly. They white shoes then act as a canvas to be marked by the trails you cover.” — Amy Hopkins

3/ Under Armor Horizon KTV 
From: R2160
Perfect for: increased speed over shorter distances
Highlights:
Ultra-light rip-stop upper.
Charged cushioning for a responsive heel, giving you good bounce.
Michelin outsole for excellent traction and Michelin Wiild Dig Decent‘R outsole lug pattern designed for shedding mud & debris in all conditions.

Here’s What You Need To Know Before Buying Your First Trail Shoes

“I normally regard trail shoes as quite heavy, so I was surprised at how light these felt. If you’re more of a trail runner, but also occasionally trot on road, you’ll find that you can easily leg a 5-10km road run and won’t be put off by the fact that these are trail shoes. The front of the foot and toe box are quite stiff, which takes getting used to initially, but it means that water won’t seep in easily. Plus, no worries about kicking those toes by accident – you’re super protected. I ran my fastest trail run ever in these shoes and that included 4.5km of beach sand as well as steep soily descents and loose, rocky terrain. They’re also very easy to clean, which is a bonus for me.” — Amy Hopkins

READ MORE ON: Fitness Fitness Advice Fitness Gear Running Trail Running