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No matter what you’re trail-running goals are, picking the best shoe for you is an important step toward your perfect race or adventure day. There are dozens of options out there, made for every type of trail and foot imaginable, so what matters most is that you select shoes based on what you’re looking for, not what the internet or your running partner recommends.
We haven’t tried every shoe out there, but we take a lot of pride in putting every pair of shoes that comes across our desks through its paces. That means taking them up Colorado 14ers, running in snowstorms, traipsing around the sandy Moab desert and ripping flowing singletrack to see what shoes work best where.
What kind of trail will you typically be running? Steep? Loose? Muddy? Long?
All of those factors can guide what pair of shoes you pick.
Trail shoes differ from road shoes in a few key ways. One of the biggest differences is the tread,or the grippy bottom part of the shoe. Trail shoes will often have sticker, heartier rubber and deeper, more aggressive lugs, which are small, strategically placed protrusions that work like little fingers to provide better grip on uneven and soft surfaces.
Trail shoes also tend to be built with burlier materials in the upper than road shoes for support and durability—if you take your road-racing flats up a 14er, don’t be surprised if they, and your feet, don’t survive the journey. To protect your feet from the rocky, rougher terrain of trails, many trail shoes feature a rock plate in the midsole, and some offer more plentiful cushioning than you’ll find in road shoes.