The Gear Trends our Editors are Watching in 2023

The Running Event is the largest in-person running tradeshow of the year, and the entire Outside Run team was present. Here are five 2023 trends we picked up on.

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Last week, the editors at Trail Runner, Women’s Running, and Outside Run went to the largest running expo of the year, The Running Event, in Austin, Texas. For three days we walked the floor of an enormous convention center, talking with companies, learning about new products, and picking up lingo that we think will be taking the trail running community by storm in 2023. 

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We’ll be showcasing the tech specs of individual products throughout the spring, and we’ve highlighted some of the hot shoes we saw elsewhere, but here we’d like to share a few of the trends that kept surfacing, to help you know what to expect to see on the market soon.

Road Tech Filtering Down to Trail

In the past few years, we’ve seen a revolution in road running technology with towering stack-heights of mega foams and propulsive technology in the form of plates (TPU, carbon, etc) and even springs (looking at you, Adidas). With The North Face’s launch of the Flight Vectiv in 2021, some of that speedy technology began filtering down to trail. Now, there are multiple carbon (or other) propulsive plate options for the trails, and we saw more on the way showcased at TRE. 

With more money and attention on the line (for now) for road running performances, it’s not a surprise that road tech has to trickle down to trail. Not all technology adapts particularly well to trail shoes — rigid carbon plates, for example, work well on the flat road where they can direct the rebounding energy of the foams in one direction, but are too wobbly and prescriptive to be helpful on any uneven trail surfaces. So, we’re excited to see the evolution of split plates and rods. These thinner carbon elements follow the shape of the foot in the foam, so that no matter what part of a foot the runner lands on or pushes off from, some amount of energy is still captured by the plate fingers or rods. . The Hoka TectonX uses a split carbon plate that functions like parallel skis in the shoe, as a way of addressing the instability problem. The Brooks Catamount uses a three-pronged, flexible Pebax plate as a different approach to the same issue, while Saucony’s Endorphin Edge has a split carbon plate that also bends upward (but not down) to adapt to the terrain on landing while still adding rigidity to the pushoff. 

Superfoams, split plates and rods were all born on the roads but are starting to pop up in different brands offerings, and we’ll be excited to see how else road tech can be incorporated into performance-oriented trail shoes.

Super Specificity

In describing their specialized, niche footwear, we heard several brands refer to their trail shoe lineup as a “quiver.” The idea being that  their line-up can be viewed as a collection of shoes, all specialized for different nuanced types of trail conditions, and that you want to have them all to cover all your trail adventure needs.

Solomon’s 2023 line is a perfect example. Known widely for their mountain trail footwear, expect the company to pivot more toward road in the coming years. (They already have.) But their not backing away from the trail, as  they showed off their fleet of trail shoes, lined up on the wall, following a meandering trail that varied from short, fast technical runs to smooth long outings. To have a full quiver, you can collect the Thundercross (all terrain), Pulsar Trail Pro (smooth, fast terrain), Sense Ride 5 (all-terrain) and Ultra Glide 2 (smooth to rough terrain). 

RELATED: The Best New Running Shoe for Every Type of Trail

In Brooks’ 2023 lineup, there’s an approachably priced beginner or road-to-trail shoe, an update to the do-it-all Cascadia, a new ultra cush Caldera and a shiny new Catamount, meant for going fast on trail. Hoka, too, is catering to a wider range of runners with road-to-trail options like the updated Challenger, burly rock monsters like the Speedgoats, and the more performance-oriented TectonX (update coming in early 2023). Not every shoe can do everything, so these and other brands expanding into the growing trail sector are looking to cater to the ever-more-specific demands of their customers.

Not every trail runner is going to need, want or have access to a full quiver of shoes. But, the availability of a wide range of shoes from a particular brand (or spread across a couple) indicates that more and more athletes want the best shoe for the specific adventure they’re on, not just a do-it-all workhorse. If you’re scrambling the flatirons in Boulder, or running a 100-miler in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want the specific tool for the job, and trail runners are starting to approach their footwear in much the same fashion. For our part, we’re hopeful brands will continue to mint kicks that speak to first-time or beginner trail runners, and continuing to convert them into die-hard fans with a wider selection of specific tools. You wouldn’t cut a flank steak with a paring knife, so why would you run an ultra in a speedy short-distance racer? 

Supercritical Foam 

With a few exceptions, carbon plates, at least for trail, were not the thing people were talking about at TRE this year. There was a healthy dose of skepticism around carbon and trail, as efficiency gains just haven’t been as clear on trails as they have been on roads, and the presriptive roll of plates doesn’t play well in an ever-changing context where adaptability is the key virtue.  We did, however, swivel our heads at talk about alternative composite plates and foam upgrades, including several EVA-blended materials, TPU or TPE blends, and numerous versions of Pebax. Many of these are  made using a supercritical foaming process. Briefly, a base material is saturated with heated and pressurized liquid CO2 and/or nitrogen, then, when the liquid returns to its normal gaseous state it expands the foam by creating thousands of gas-filled bubbles trapped within the midsole. Bottom line, the resulting material is lighter, bouncier, and more resilient than previous materials.These super-light, high-rebounding foams not only provide lively rides but maintain their properties in extreme heat and cold, and promise to be more durable over time as well. 

Gravel and Transitional Shoes

Another big category we’re seeing brands expand into is that of the “gravel shoe”. Piggybacking off the success of gravel road cycling, running brands are making accessible trail runners that can boogie on and off the trails. 

“The outdoor industry is growing massively,” says Keith Stern, senior product manager at Reebok in an interview with Outside gear editor Jonathan Beverly. “But most people aren’t going for super-heavy trails. Most are doing light hiking, and a mix of road and light trail running.”

Gravel shoes will feature shorter lugs that provide a bit of traction for non-technical trails, but won’t wear down as quickly or feel as cumbersome and uncomfortable on the roads. Reebok’s Floatride Energy 5 Adventure (coming in 2023), or Hoka’s Challenger (an update coming in 2023 as well). The Brooks Divide is also an approachably multifunctional road-to-trail shoe at an entry-level price point that might capture new and multi-surface runners. 

Craft recently released their take on a gravel shoe with a performance twist. The CTM Ultra Carbon 2 is a high-stack, carbon-plated gravel grinder – and our reviewer gave it top marks for running fast on gravel

Hoka is also set to release a new shoe with gravel vibes, the Transit. A multifunctional commuter shoe to provide a comfy walk to work, an easy hike, a bike ride, and design-oriented enough to wear to work or getting a post-hike brew. While most of us here are die-hard runners, shoes like this are more oriented towards capturing a new, adventure-curious outdoor consumer. Shoes like Reebok’s adventure series or Brooks Divide If approachable, multifunctional shoes help bring more people outside and onto the trails, we’re all for it!

RELATED: The Trail Running Shoes We’re Most Excited to Try in 2023

Trail is a Growth Category

A lot of these trends are perhaps best summed up by the meta-trend that many brands are doubling down on their investment in trail in 2023 and beyond. Even post-pandemic, more and more folks are hitting the trails than ever before, and more current runners might feel comfortable getting outdoors and off-roads because of the accessibility, community, and ability to disconnect from performance-oriented metrics. 

We’re seeing brands like Mizuno, On, New Balance, Brooks and more add trail to their line ups, and trail brands like Salomon and The North Face expand into even more trail running shoe offerings. We’re biased, but good gear with a range of pricepoints and performance options is an important way to grow the sport—we’re psyched to see where it goes. 

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