There is as much fun as a child tracking a race. You go through the woods, you jump logs, you pollute with the joy of your heart. The mental benefits of being out of nature can make you a runner to the next level.
But for those who are more accustomed to running on concrete than dirt, all that is needed is to slip with a few rough slides in your regular shoes to realize you may need to find a stable pair of running shoes.
What should you look for in a good pair?
“Influence seems to be the most important factor,” says Phil Kochik, owner of Seattle’s Seven Hills Running Shop, which specializes in trail shoes. But really, he says, it only comes three on his list when he helps customers buy their first pair. “If you have a comfortable shoe, then it does not matter if you have good traction – that will not save the experience.” And, he adds, any shoe with a slight grip will feel like a victory once you move for the first time from street shoes.
Instead, Kochik suggests focusing mainly on fit and stretch, then consider pulling like a cherry on top.
The best running shoes for only one way
If you want a familiar feeling: Brooks Cascadia 16
If you want something for the road, also: Exterior Altra Road
If you want to handle all types of land: Adidas Flow TERREX Agravic 2
If you have thin legs: La Sportiva Akasha II
If you do not want to feel the shoe too much: Hoka Speedgoat 5
If you want a simpler version of your favorite mountaineering shoe: Moab Kasi GORE-TEX® X Sweaty Betty
If you are looking to go the distance: Salomon Pulsar Way
If you want a spring in your step: Saucony Peregrine 12
First, look for a fit
Most road runners first follow the path as they seek to increase the distance of 26.2 miles (i.e., a distance of more than 26.2 miles). But even if you want a moderate amount of miles, keep in mind that you will probably be standing on your feet longer than you are used to — your speed will be much slower as you go through the technical ground and steep changes. The 10K loop can take twice as long on routes as on the road.
“You have to get a fit for a long time,” says Kochik.
Don’t overdo it: There is a good chance you will succeed in something that feels like your regular street shoes. And no matter what surface you use, a recent study suggests that the best shoes for you are probably the ones that are most comfortable for you. Road shoes can have more sophisticated soles (to help you run on rocky ground without feeling too much) and more comfortable (keeping your foot on the arm regardless of the angle you land).
Decide how many cushions you want
As running styles have evolved from minimalist shoes to high heels and everything in between, there are now many options to choose from. Kochik says it depends on preference, with one caution: If you are a stranger on the trail, you may want to choose something that has little rivers so you can feel the ground beneath your feet well until you find “your feet.”
“You will feel a little worse for the first few months,” he says. Until the memory of your muscles gets used to the roots, rocks, and steep slopes, “a shoe that helps you feel more comfortable is the best way to go.”
Keep in mind that the dirt method may be more forgiving to your joints than concrete roads. Consider your local routes, and whether they are more likely to be covered with soft pine needles, or are made of thick rock.
And if you like your high heels with high heels, there are many similar options that way, too. Just know that these designs can feel weird at first until the pad wears off and forms your foot after a few runs, says Kochik.
Consider the details: traction, finger protectors & GORE-TEX
Once you find the shoes that feel comfortable and provide the right amount of cushion, then you can focus on walking. Larger strips (coatings protruding from the sole of the sole) will help you take the most muddy trails – and even slippery city streets after a snowstorm. If you are running on soft and moist trails, Kochik says the gold standard of sticky rubber soles is the Vibram Megagrip, a permanent lower part found in several different brands.
For those of us who are, ahem, a little more, one bonus of many trail shoes is the toe protection in front of the shoe, which will help protect you against getting stuck in your foot. See how thick the ball is in front for that extra protection.
One feature you will notice in some running shoes is the waterproof GORE-TEX. Know that, when you wear these, your feet will still get wet if you pass through streams or in the rain (water will come between the laces and around your foot), and GORE-TEX will mean it really takes a long time for your feet to dry. But Kochik says the material can help you keep your feet warm if you are running in the snow or in very cold temperatures. Just know that the upper part will feel harder.
You can try a few pairs of trail shoes at your local store and run a little along the road just as you would with any road shoe. But you will never know how trail shoes work until you take them for a spin off-road. Fortunately, these days, most stores — online and IRL — have many return policies. Kochik only recommends trying on the shoes two or three times before returning them, especially if your body is not yet accustomed to the feeling of running.
Don’t worry, he says, “You can even return them dirty.”
Pairs recommended by experts and editors to check
If you want a familiar feeling
Brooks Cascadia 16 – $ 130.00
A common and real test, Kochik describes Brooks Cascadia as “A long shoe that started it all.” Now in his 16th edition, he says these were the first shoes that felt good at once, like a street shoe — and they still deliver that magic today. They often recommend following the beginners. “They’re like the rest of the Brooks, but in the lower parts they’ve added strength.”
If you want something for the road, too
Altra Outroad – $ 140.00
I’m still not sure if you are willing to volunteer to buy a shoe tu by the way? Check out this style, which will be launched any day now. Designed for people living in cities, but hitting the road all the time, this shoe changes from asphalt to dirt and a completely natural feeling on any surface. Altra is known for lowering the heel to zero, so your heel and toes are in a straight line — this is designed to promote good posture, but it can be difficult to get used to if you have never tried it before.
Altras also have a wider front so there is plenty of room for your fingers to scatter as you pass your step, which is still true here. However, this style is a little snugger, fits a little better than others and brands. Generally, the shoe runs on the smaller side, so you may want the size.
If you want to deal with all kinds of land
Adidas TERREX Agravic Flow 2 – $ 140.00
Designed to run a variety of routes, the aggressive sticks in this style hold the ground wide open — moist rocks, leafy hillsides, dirt trails — and still feel calm. The solid center pole made of EVA foam easily accommodates technical means (stone and root-covered), but it does not feel like a shoe so much that you cannot feel the ground beneath you. The spine rests slightly above the ankle, which can help prevent bruising, but if you have a short heel, it can dig into the Achilles tendon slightly.
If you have thin legs
La Sportiva Akasha II – $ 150.00
Kochik says this model is a proposal to go for customers with thin legs. Designed to handle subtle technical themes, these are done on a hard day in the big mountains. The upper part of the net with fresh air provides a good, well-positioned posture for added protection, thus creating a breathable — but permanent — feeling that is not very relaxing, even as the miles go up.
If you do not want to feel the shoe too much
Hoka Speedgoat 5 – $ 155.00
The latest version of this shoe is not as dull as the traditional Hoka style known for the first time — it is not far off. But it is lighter than the previous versions of this model, and also the heart with the upper mesh. Kochik says there is a good chance of working well on most people’s feet. Bonus: Contains a Vibram Megagrip ball outsole for the ultimate attraction.
If you want a lighter version of your favorite mountain climbing shoe
Moab Speed GORE-TEX® X Sweaty Betty – $ 160.00
Well + Good business co-editor Francesca Krempa swears by Merrell mountaineering boots — the only brand she will wear. “I I was so happy to see them team up with Sweaty Betty (someone I love), “she says. I also like that they are made from the most durable material. It fits, considering they are created to be natural. These kicks are as tough as any other pair of Merrell, with strong treads and great toned support, but airy and more vibrant.
If you are looking to go the distance
Salomon Pulsar Trail – $ 130.00
Let’s be honest: Part of what we all love about shoes is the statements they make — what a certain style tells the world about who we are. And when you wear a Salomon pair, you declare yourself a legitimate runner of choice. The French brand has the reputation of being one of the best athletes Courtney Dauwalter and Rickey Gates.
Although Salomon considers this pair to offer a moderate amount of foot protection, it feels like a small castle with higher pillows, a sharp grip and a ball around the lower edge to protect your teeth against kicks and any adverse steps. It also provides a fast rope-like rope system that allows you to avoid the need to tie rough ropes that can be twisted in the middle of the run. Warning: They are only slightly on the narrow side.
If you want a spring in your step
Saucony Peregrine 12 – $ 130.00
These fan-favorite shoes can be an indication of the good condition outside the box. Without any “breaking” required, they have that excellent supporting balance but not too hard. This trip has a satisfying step to touch the toes, whether you are looking for an easy loop or cutting a big mile in an attempt to run in your next race.
Would you like to be the first to hear about the latest (and larger) versions of SHOP products, special collections, discounts and more? Sign up for intel to be sent directly to your inbox.
Our editors select these products independently. Buying through our links can earn a Well + Good commission.