How to Choose Trail Running Shoes

How to Choose Trail Running Shoes

Trail running is an exciting way to explore hiking trails or mix up your urban running routine. But to do it right, you need the right shoes. Trail-running shoes differ from road-running shoes in several important ways:

Grip on Rugged Terrain: Lugged soles improve traction on dirt, mud, gravel, roots, and rocks.

Foot Protection: Durable uppers and protective features shield your feet from impacts with rocks and roots.

Stiff Construction: Designed to prevent excessive foot rotation, offering stability on uneven terrain.

Shoe Types

Choosing shoes starts with understanding the type of trails you’ll be running on. Your trail-running shoes will likely last four to six months, giving you a chance to try different options.

Light Trail Shoes

Ideal for relatively uniform surfaces like fire roads, gravel paths, and rolling hills. These shoes offer modest protection, lightweight designs for a brisk pace, and moderately stiff builds for stable foot placement. They feature shallow lugs for traction on packed soil and can have either ample or minimal midsole cushioning.

Rugged Trail Shoes

Perfect for hiking trails with varying terrains. They include toe guards, hidden plates for protection, sturdy materials, resilient midsole cushioning, supportive uppers, and diverse lug patterns. Some have soft, grippy rubber for wet surfaces, while others have harder rubber for durability.

Off-Trail Shoes

Designed for extreme terrains with resilient materials, stouter structures for torsional rigidity, and often waterproof features. These shoes are suitable for remote runs through streams and bogs.

Trail runners can also be used for hiking, backpacking, or thru-hiking, though they may need to be replaced more often. Off-trail models offer more durability and support compared to light-trail or rugged-trail shoes, making them a better choice for these activities.


Cushioning level, or "stack height," ranges from barefoot to maximum cushioning. Here’s what you need to know:

Barefoot: These shoes have no padding, allowing you to feel the trail and your biomechanics.

Minimal: Light padding provides some comfort while maintaining a close-to-trail feel.

Moderate: Traditional trail runners with enough padding for comfort on rocky trails.

Maximum: Shoes with thick midsoles offer substantial cushioning for long runs, reducing joint stress but may feel "mushy" to some.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

Heel-to-toe drop is the difference in height between the heel and forefoot, affecting running mechanics:

  • Barefoot Shoes: 0mm drop.
  • Minimalist Shoes: 0-4mm drop.
  • Moderate to Maximalist Shoes: Varied drops up to 12mm.

Choosing Heel Drop:

  • Match the drop of your current running shoes to avoid biomechanical issues.
  • If you don't have running shoes, look at your athletic or casual shoes. Most have a moderate drop.
  • Low drops encourage a midfoot or forefoot strike, promoting stability and muscle engagement.
  • Transitioning to low-drop shoes should be gradual to avoid discomfort.


Fit is the most critical factor when choosing trail running shoes. A well-fitting shoe considers length, width, arch shape, and foot volume. Here are some tips for getting the right fit:

  • Brand Lasts: Each brand uses a unique foot form called a "last." Find brands whose last matches your foot shape.
  • Regular Measurement: Your feet change over time, so get measured regularly.
  • Account for Swelling: Feet swell during runs, so ensure there's adequate room in the toe box.
  • Professional Fitting: Get a fit assessment from a footwear specialist who can also address foot issues and orthotic needs.

Explore our trail running shoe collection at Monod Sports or visit us in-store for expert advice. Happy running!