What are Trail & Approach Shoes? Buying Guide

what are trail shoes

If you go running and you want extra grip or to go through the woods, you’ll need some trail running shoes.

Sometimes called “approach shoes”, these versatile trainers are worn by climbers and runners who prefer to go off the beaten track. By what are they? Well, Winfields is here to explain everything about trail running shoes and why they could be your feet’s best friend.

From telling what they are, we’ll also detail how they differ from standard road running shoes and what you can use them for. We’ll also persuade you why trail running is so much fun. This is your complete guide to trail shoes, ideal for all-weather and seasons.

Read on to find out more about trail running shoes…

What are trail running shoes?

What are trail running shoes?

Trail running shoes are traditionally heavier than normal running shoes and are designed to support and protect your feet on rugged terrain.

These shoes offer durable soles with a much more aggressive tread pattern and grip to defend against rocks, sticks, slippery surfaces and other obstacles you might encounter on your run. While you can use trail shoes to run on pavements, they are built differently.

We’ve explained the structure and anatomy of trial shoes below, some you’ve likely heard of from normal shoes and trainers...

trail shoe anatomy

Trail Shoe Anatomy & Key Terms

From the top, we have:

  • Upper: the upper part of the shoe that covers the foot and is very breathable
  • Heel support or cup: holds your heel in the shoe and prevents any lifting or shifting as you run over rough ground. Much more structured than road running shoes with additional padding
  • Heel counter: designed to help lock your foot in place and anchor the shoe to the midsole for support on changing ground
  • Gusseted tongue: this means the tongue is stitched to the upper which prevents stones and other debris from entering the shoe as you move
  • Eyelet: these hold the laces in place and secures the upper layer
  • Foot cradle or overlay: this is part of the upper and wraps around the side of your foot to provide additional support
  • Toe box: this adds stability to the foot whereas and can be a deciding factor in comfort and fit. It must be spacious enough to allow your foot to move naturally but not so much as to overwork your muscles
  • Toe rand, cap or bumper: a rubber coating, it protects your toes from being stubbed, bruised, or broken
  • Midsole: sitting between the upper and the outsole, it cushions your foot stride. Trail shoes feature a foam midsole that promotes sure-footedness on uneven ground
  • Cushion: part of the midsole, it absorbs shock and provides an energy rebound
  • Rock plate: located between the sole and midsole, it helps protect against sharp objects
  • Drop: this is the midsole’s height difference between the heel and toe
  • Outsole: this is the shoe’s sole and sits beneath the midsole. Trail running shoes use deeper lugs and stickier rubbers for better grip
  • Lugs and depth: lugs provide grip on loose surfaces - they come in a variety of lengths. Tread and lug depth enhance traction as they are the shoe’s contact patch.
  • Lug pattern: the direction and pattern of lugs on a trail shoe enhances its stability and grip

Tip: Lugs are different depending on how you use your trail shoe. Bigger lugs are best for grip on loose, slick ground. However, smaller lugs, that are closer together, are better suited for smooth dirt trails.

Why do I need trail running shoes?

Why do I need trail running shoes?

While road running shoes can provide some stability if you run across a field, trail running shoes are for when the going gets wilder. Trail shoes are extremely helpful on steep inclines, technical terrain, or when trails are wet and muddy. Trail shoes protect your feet in ways that road running shoes don't or can’t. Simply, they allow you to run smoothly over rough surfaces.

How are trail running different from road running shoes?

The main difference between road and trail shoes is that trail running shoes are much sturdier and grippier, because you’re running over rocks or woodland.

Running shoes designed for road running are often made of lightweight material to encourage speed and responsiveness. Plus, the need for extra grip on paved roads is minimal, so the treads of road shoes are usually much thinner.

You may experience this difference if you’ve run over fallen wet leaves in autumn or winter and slipped.

Trail running shoes, however, are traditionally heavier and designed to support and protect your feet when running on rugged terrain. These shoes offer much more durable soles with aggressive tread patterns for grip and to defend against rocks or harmful debris.

Structure & Upper

trail running shoes structure

In trail running shoes, the upper is made of sturdy and tough materials to protect your feet while standing up to trail terrain and hazards at the same time. Not only will you appreciate the protection, but the tightly woven mesh on a trail shoe helps to prevent rips from debris. Most uppers include water repellent fabric to stop water from getting in.

Road running shoes, however, feature a generally light and thin upper to provide better breathability so that your feet stay cool during runs. A lot of shoe brands now create one-piece uppers that stretch and support in the appropriate places. Lightweight is also extended to the shoe itself, road running shoes are often much lighter.

Soles & Protection

The outsoles on trail-running shoes typically have bigger, softer lugs for better grip on trails, whereas road-running shoes have flatter, smoother soles for running on pavement. A stickier rubber also offers better traction to get you over and through dirt, mud, and rocks on trails.

Road running shoes are designed more for flexibility and speed. So, as a result, they are lighter to help you to push off of even surfaces quickly and efficiently. Their sole construction is often segmented to offer a smoother transition from heel-to-toe for speed.

Trail running shoes have built-in protection. Rock plates protect your foot from rocky trails while toe guards and durable uppers add additional protection against rocks. You don’t have such protection on road runners, being designed for grip. If you tried to use road running shoes on a trail, you could hurt yourself.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

trail running heel-to-toe drop

An important but overlooked difference is the drop in footwear. In most road running shoes, the drop is higher to protect your achilles and legs from the impact of running on tarmac and pavement. This is not the case for trail running shoes.

In trail shoes, the drop is often lower to keep you lower to the ground and provide better ankle stability and body position. This then brings responsiveness and more awareness on uneven surfaces, such as a trail. Knowing where your foot will land will improve balance.

How Should Trail Running Shoes Fit?

For the ideal fit, trail shoes should be snug around your heel and foot arch to prevent lifting. The front of the shoe should be about a finger's width away from your toes. It means that you could be a different size compared to everyday shoes or running shoes.

It's also important to remember that your feet swell when you run and exercise, especially on longer routes. So, try on your shoes in the afternoon and try different makes and structures.

What is trail running?

what is trail running?

Trail running is a form of green exercise - exercise done in nature. Running on pavement is a high-impact exercise and improves your cardiovascular system. However, trail running is less intensive on your joints as you are on a softer surface - the trail.

Like hiking, trail running gets you out into nature and experiencing various terrains. You can improve your physical performance and mental wellbeing at the same time. Trail running is easier on your joints and muscles - avoiding injury - but you need to be aware of rocks, ruts and roots, which is where trail shoes come in.

Trail Running Shoe Buying Tips

Here are a few tips to remember when you’re buying and trying on approach and trail shoes:

  • Ask yourself ‘what type of terrain am I going to be running on?’
  • Try trail shoes on in the afternoon
  • Consider the distance you’ll be running
  • Running ambitions
  • Your build
  • How the shoe fits - snug at your heel and on your arch
  • Bring your running socks with you for a fitting

Take a look at our full range of footwear and our running collection including:

Running Jackets | Running Tops and Baselayers | Running Tights & Shorts | Running Gloves & Hats

Read more from the Winfields Blog to set you up for 2020...

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Don’t forget to take a look at our camping blog for more posts like these and buying guides

The Best UK Campsites To Stay At in 2020 | The 10 Best Family Camping Tents 2020 | What will Camping in 2020 Look Like?

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