What trail running shoes should I buy?
If there's one thing that's common to any running forum, it's shoes. It could be a casual outing on the trails with friends, a meetup over beer, a race WhatsApp group, a club or community - it's the one question that unites us all. It's a question, answering which can elevate you to an instant trail running guru, and it's a question you can never answer enough times. Drop, lugs, mesh, arch, stack, minimalist, upper - it's a vocabulary that's as diverse as can be paraded as a party trick. Yet, does it answer the basic question?
In this article, we try and make an honest attempt at answering the question. We'll try to stay away from using jargon (as much as possible) in the hope that this will help you in answering the question yourself.
However, if you do wish to go down the rabbit hole of this wonderful lexicon of the world of trail running shoes, you're most welcome to check out the intermediate or advanced editions of the definitive guide to trail running shoes.
Why Do I Need Trail Running Shoes?
Trail running shoes are significantly different from their road or other running counterparts. Trail running shoes, most commonly, will a) be heavier, and, b) carry deeper lugs on the outer surface. Lugs are nothing but the patterned indentations on the shoe's thick rubber sole, designed to give a good grip on soft and/or irregular surfaces. Think of lugs as the treads on a vehicle's tyres - the more 'offroad' your vehicle is, the deeper the treads are. Same is the case for trail running shoes.
While lugs offer the necessary grip and traction on trails, they come with the added disadvantage of extra weight. Since most shoe soles (more specifically, outsoles) are made of solid rubber, the added weight is unavoidable and you might even feel like you're running with ankle weights. Yes, there are non-rubber outsole materials as well, but that's a more advanced consideration.
Back to the question, if you're going to be running (a lot, say, more than 20% of your weekly mileage) on soil, mud, rocks, gravel, sand, wet surfaces, slippery surfaces, mountains - anything that's not a road, a pavement or a track - you should invest in a pair of trail running shoes.
Trail Running Shoes Makes Better Runners, Right?
You wish, we wish!
Trail running shoes are only designed to perform on trails by providing grip, traction and protection against (some) natural elements - not to make you run faster or better.
Better runners are made by better training. If you train with a focus on improving your technique, skills and strength needed to tackle a day out on the trails, the trail running shoes will act as a faithful companion on that journey, as they'll give you the comfort and sense of stability on uneven and irregular terrains and surfaces.
Can I Run Fast In Trail Running Shoes?
Of course you can. Maybe not as fast as on the road, but pretty close to that.
The thumb rules are the same for road and trail running shoes. They always need to be broken in to. Unless you're an advanced runner who understands their running dynamics well, it's always a good idea to take out your new pair of trail running shoes on 2-3 easy runs before starting the hammering with speed sessions and downhills.
However, it is important to understand that trail running shoes will often require you to modify your running form, even if very slightly. Road runners usually carry longer and uniform strides, while trail running involves shorter and non-uniform strides (for the most part). This slight change in running mechanics is an important bit to consider while breaking in to a new pair of shoes, as trying to replicate a road workout on trails without getting used to the running mechanics is an injury waiting to happen.
Easing in is the best way to break in.
Where Do I Buy Trail Running Shoes From?
Being in India, this is often the most difficult question to answer. Most popular sports shoe brands (you know, the big four or five - Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Puma, Asics), technically, have at least one trail running shoe in their portfolio - but the reality is quite far from that. Going to any of these brands' physical stores and asking for trail running shoes will only result in very confused looks.
Outdoor brands (the likes of Wildcraft, Columbia), on the other hand, are slightly better as you might find a lightweight hiking or trekking shoe that can get you started with your trail running needs. They'll just be heavier, but will tick most of the other boxes around protection, traction and the likes.
Online is the best bet, maybe along with getting it via a friend or contact coming from abroad. Brands like Saucony, Brooks, Salomon and Hoka, which are known for their diverse repertoire of trail running shoes, are currently testing the Indian market by retailing online on the Indian marketplaces. Decathlon has also recently introduced good trail running shoes in their catalogue which can be bought online or in their stores. You might also get lucky with the big (4 or 5) brands' trail running shoe models on their websites.
The last option is to buy them from international marketplaces (e.g., Runnerinn) where a lot more options will be available, but might involve very long shipping times and also incur heavy Customs charges.
So, Which Trail Running Shoes Should I Buy?
You got us. There's no right answer to this. As a beginner, it's best to just go with what works the best given the time and money you have. We aren't expecting Kilian or Courtney level running with your new pair of trail running shoes, and neither are you. If there's a pair of trail running shoes that's fitting your budget and you're getting it in time for your next bug trail run, race or event, then that's the right pair for you.