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What makes a Trail Running Shoe and which should I choose? By Leann Geach

September 29, 2021

La Sportiva Helios III. © La Sportiva

A road running shoe doesn't have a difficult job to do. It just has to protect your foot from the repetitive impact from a hard, flat surface. But when it comes to running off-road, the demands on a shoe are far more complex and finding the correct shoe is essential for comfort, protection, traction and stability.

Road running shoes are generally made with breathable and lightweight materials that encourage speed and responsiveness.

A trail shoe must deal with many different surfaces and, most importantly, the lateral and torsional forces that the uneven terrain you find in trail running will throw at you. So, durable compounds for the sole, and stiffer materials for the upper.

So; a good trail running shoe will keep your foot stable inside the shoe. It will give you traction when you need it on mud or snow as well as grip on a smooth wet rock. It must be comfortable and also offer some protection from rocks and sharp objects. Taking a road running shoe off-road soon reveals its shortcomings as you start to struggle with stability, traction and protection, with the risk of slipping or twisting your ankle. In addition, the upper materials and your feet are far more likely to get damaged by roots and rocks.


Runners looking to run shorter distances will sacrifice a little bit of cushioning for a trail feel that allows you to run faster over technical terrain by being lower to the ground and feeling the surface.


Longer distance runners should look for more cushioning to keep the foot comfortable for the hours and many kilometres that you might be doing, for example in a trail ultra.


This is really a personal preference and can also depend on how you run. Heel strikers typically go for a more cushioned heel and most likely will be happy with a higher drop, such as La Sportiva Akasha.

While mid or forefoot strikers are more likely to look for lower drop shoes, such as La Sportiva Helios SR.

Just to be clear on what the term drop means. The drop is the difference in height from the back (heel) part of the shoe to the front part (forefoot) and is given as a measurement in millimetres.

Outsole construction:

The lugs are a giveaway sign that the shoe is suitable for off-road running. If the lugs are high and widely spaced, it means that they should perform well in particularly gravelly or muddy conditions, such as La Sportiva Mutant or Kaptiva.

The material mixture of the rubber outsole is really important, and a good sticky outsole compound will help you maintain traction on the wet smooth surfaces (wet wooden bridges or tree roots can be treacherous!) There is often a compromise between having great sticky traction and durability. A specific trail shoe that will work hard to make sure you get both the traction and durability you need on technical trails is the La Sportiva Bushido.

Protection and stability

A heel counter and mid-foot lace structure are features that will help to make the shoe stable. It’s important that your foot doesn’t rotate inside the shoe. The shoe should feel secure but not tight.

For technical trails, a shoe that sits lower to the ground with less mid-sole height will also most likely be more stable as your foot lands closer to the ground surface and gives a lower centre of gravity, such as La Sportiva Bushido.

By Mont Shop Manager and footwear expert Leann. Shop at Mont for all your trail running gear needs, expert shoe fittings, and trail knowledge.

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