Start by asking yourself some basic questions:
Q: How will I most often use these trail-running shoes?
Q: Where will I use them?
Q: Should I consider minimalist trail-running shoes?
A: Minimalist trail-running shoes allow you to run with a more natural "barefoot" motion. Advocates believe this is a healthier way to run, if it's approached gradually. The downside of such shoes is that you give up some stability, protection and durability to achieve the weight savings.
Q: Should I get a shoe with a waterproof/breathable liner?
A: Waterproof/breathable liners—such as Gore-Tex® or eVent™—make sense in wet conditions. For warmer or drier climates, consider shoes without liners. Why? Non-lined shoes offer better breathability and quicker drying times.
Tip: For shoes with waterproof/breathable liners, you usually need to get a half-size larger than normal due to their extra padding.
Fit trumps all other considerations. A proper fit will keep you from getting black-and-blue toenails or heel blisters. Other criteria, such as technology, reviews or style, comes second.
Q: How do I find a trail-running shoe that will fit me?
A: Shoes are built around forms known as "lasts." Each manufacturer uses a last that it believes best represents the shape of the typical human foot. Shoes of the same size routinely vary in depth, width and volume, indicating shoemakers have differing views on what is a typical foot shape.
Because of these sizing differences, it's always best to work with an REI footwear specialist. If you can't visit an REI store, contact REI customer service (by phone at 1-800-426-4840 or live chat online) to discuss your options. They'll ask you to describe your feet in as much detail as possible:
The latter is more subtle but is often characterized by shoes causing pain in the heel and by the little toe.
Q: How can I tell what type of feet I have?
A: Here is a quick test: Look at your footprints after swimming or showering and compare them to the diagrams below.
Some trail-running shoes cater to certain foot types, due to the last used in their design and their type of sole construction. Share your fit information with your REI footwear specialist for help.
Q: What do you mean by a "good fit"?
A: It can be defined as snug everywhere, tight nowhere, with room to wiggle your toes. Functionally, a good fit should prevent blisters or bruised toenails.
Q: What should I look for when trying on shoes?
A: If possible, try these 2 tests:
Downhill: With shoes laced up snugly, walk down an incline. As you do so, stomp and scuff your feet. Do your toes feel smashed into the front of the shoes? If so, you could end up with black and blue toenails—or worse. If you don't pass this test, try another pair.
Uphill: Now climb some stairs, taking them 2 at a time. Are your heels are lifting off the insoles more than about 1/8" consistently? Try relacing the shoes, changing socks for ones with more heel padding or substituting an insole like those from Superfeet or Sole. It's important to stop the up-and-down movement of your heels since this can lead to blisters.
Q: I have some foot issues. What help is available?
A: Bunions, hammer toes, Morton's neuroma, plantar fasciitis, orthotics, blisters: There are many foot problems that can potentially interfere with your running. REI carries solutions and preventative products such as aftermarket insoles, absorbent socks and sock liners, moleskin and silicone toe caps.
Q: If online reviewers all say that a certain trail-running shoe is great, then shouldn't I just buy that one?
A: You can often glean useful information from reviews, but approach fit advice with caution. If all the reviews state that a certain shoe runs wide (or narrow), then it's probably true. Just keep in mind that the shoe fit you experience when trying on shoes trumps all other considerations.
Q: What's the best way to order shoes from REI.com?
A: It's best to order the 2 sizes closest to what size you think you are. You can return what doesn't fit to an REI store or by shipping it back.
Q: Can't I just wear my road-running shoes on trails?
A: This is not recommended. Think of it as using a road bike on a mountain bike trail—it's not designed for this task. Road-running shoes offer little support, stability or grip on rough terrain. Their ventilation, which is so nice on road runs, collects dirt and debris on trail runs. Trail runners, by contrast, excel in all of these areas.
Q: Can I use trail runners for backpacking?
A: Yes, this is common among experienced hikers who know their limitations and what is safe for them. For example, long-distance "thru-hikers" often use trail runners. But there are many factors you should consider first:
Q: What goes into the foundation of a trail runner?
A: In between the shoe's upper and the outsole is the midsole. It provides cushioning, and many trail runners include additional support materials for stability.
Trail-runner midsoles consist of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), an open-cell foam. Some use a single grade of EVA; others feature double- or triple-densities of EVA, placing firmer foam sections under specific sections of the foot. A few shoes also add polyurethane—closed-cell foam that is firmer, slightly heavier and more durable than EVA.
Many also include a thin thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) plate or insert sandwiched between the midsole and the outsole (below the balls of the feet) for added protection.
For added support, trail runners may use one or both of the following:
Contributors: Pete Smith, REI Seattle footwear specialist; Michael Oliva, REI Arcadia (Calif.) footwear specialist; Chris Mahoney, REI Denver footwear specialist; T.D. Wood, REI Expert Advice writer.
By Steve Tischler
Read Author Bio
Last updated: 11/27/2013
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