A guide to buying Winter trail running shoes
At this time of the year, conditions underfoot are changing fast. Surfaces which were dry and hard baked are slowly turning to mush, with trails and paths becoming more slippery, and the weather getting colder and wetter. Whilst road running shoes work pretty much the same all the year round, running on the trails requires a bit of investment in a suitable trail shoe that will keep you protected and increase your enjoyment.
The right shoe for the right trail
The first question to ask when choosing a Winter trail running shoe is where do you run? My regular trail runs take me across fields and vague paths through farmland, often churned up by tractors, so wet and muddy! Once or twice a week I also run in Bedgebury Forest where the main paths are firmer and the overall grip of the surface is good. Depending on where you live in the UK, most trails are short and connected by stretches of road, so you may be mixing in some necessary road running along with the trails.
The best solution is to go for a shoe that suits the surface you are spending the most time on. For muddy trail runs a shoe with plenty of grip and minimal cushioning such as the Innov8 Mud Claw is best, whereas for running on a more stable surface such as the forest paths around Bedgebury a crossover trail shoe with more cushioning and less grip, such as the Brooks Cascadia, may be more suitable.
This may mean owning more than one pair of trail shoes depending on where you are running, but since when has that been a problem for runners!
Try something new
There are many different styles and options out there, with some exciting innovation in the world of trail running as the sport increases in popularity. Bear in mind that different shoes will load the foot and ankle in different ways. This variation can be a good thing but may also cause problems if the change is too radical. That said, don’t be afraid of trying new things. Our bodies are stronger than we think and change can often be beneficial, particularly if you are getting a bit stale with your running routine.
Waterproof or not?
This can be quite a polarising subject amongst runners! Gore Tex type running shoes can certainly keep the moisture out if you are running on grass or through a few puddles, but if you are running through deeper puddles or thick mud where the water gets into the shoe regardless, it may stay in the shoe, leaving you to finish your run with wet soggy feet. If your running is mainly along firm paths or grass, it is certainly worth considering if getting your feet wet on a run bothers you. Regular trail shoes tend to have quite light porous material in their uppers which allows water to escape from the shoe and dries quite quickly, so even on a long muddy run I find my feet don’t feel too wet and cold.
How far are you running?
Trail shoes classically have less cushioning and are lighter than regular road running shoes, the concept being to keep your foot closer to the ground to increase stability, relying on the softer trail surfaces to provide cushioning. This is fine where the trails are soft and the distances short, but if you are running long distances along harder paths or in a hard winter where the ground is frozen, this can make for a hard ride over a long run distance, increasing fatigue. Some running shoe manufactures such as Hoka One offer lightweight trail running shoes with increased cushioning which may be worth considering if you are starting your Winter training for those longer races in the Spring.
The nature of Winter trail running, with running surfaces changing from being muddy and slippery to frozen solid sometimes on a daily basis, can present a challenge in picking the right shoe that has sufficient grip, whilst also having enough shock absorption for those frozen days. This means possibly investing in more than one type of running shoe to get the best out of your Winter trail runs depending on where and how far you want to go.
So more running shoes then. Is that going to be a problem? Nah, thought not!