If the Shoe Fits, Hit the Trail! With Great Trail Running Shoes, Of Course

Trail running is a sport on the move, if you’ll pardon me for opening with a pathetic pun. It’s challenging, exhilarating, satisfying, and highly effective as part of your training regimen. From the casual jog along a wooded path to the charged world of competitive trail running, the activity can be casual and relaxing or serious sport.

Ditching the gym, track, or streets for the trail is great for myriad reasons, not the least of which is a trail run’s remarkable cross-training potential: when you run on a boring ol’ treadmill or flat city streets, you’re not engaging nearly as many muscles as you can when vaulting roots and fallen limbs, when deftly leaping from stone to stone across a rushing brook, and when generally navigating the ups and downs and twists and turns that come with a great nature trail.

Related: Keen the boots of summer

Then of course there’s the another big bonus that comes with a trail run: nature! Or at least the outdoors, assuming you’ve chosen a trail of an urban/suburban nature (which abound in cities ranging from Los Angeles to Barcelona to DC and beyond). Getting away from that job of yours at the desk/drill press/docks for an hour or two of bucolic aerobics is a great way to recharge your mental and emotional batteries while staying fit and trim. But unlike with treadmill or sidewalk running, where most any running shoe that fits you comfortably will do just fine, with trail running, you need to carefully pick the right footwear both for your own feet and for the conditions you’re likely to encounter  on the trail.

Which trail running shoe is right for you? Only you can prevent forest fi–er… rather… only you can decide that. But here’s a primer to get you thinking!

First let’s talk about…

The Cross Over Hiking/Running Shoe

Patagonia Drifter A/C Hiking Shoes ($56 – $155)

Patagonia Drifter AC Trail Shoe

The Patagonia Drifter AC Trail Running Shoe is something of a hybrid. It’s closer to a hiking shoe than it is to a running shoe, but it’s closer to a running shoe than it is to a hiking boot. Still with me? The defining factor of a good, rugged hiking boot is its sole: you choose a stiff, solid sole for use on snow, ice, or loose/varied trekking conditions. With running shoes, you want more flexibility and response from the soles. With trail running shoes, you need the elastic response of a good running shoe but the tread of a hiking shoe/boot. In other words, something is going to be sacrificed (firmness or responsiveness) because no piece of footwear can be all thing to all people!

The Drifter has good treading for the varied terrain you’ll likely encounter, it’s waterproof so the occasional puddle or small stream is no big problem, and it offers a soft but secure fit thanks to plenty of padding. The shoe is a bit heavy for real distance running, though. It’s at a great midrange price point, and is overall a good choice for the sportsman whose activities bridge the gap between hiking and trail running. If you’re going to lope across many miles of land, look for a lighter shoe. If you blend jogging with hiking, consider the Drifter.

Next we have a unique choice…

The Trail Running Sandal

Akita Orbital Running Sandal ($20 – $30)

Not Quite Shoe...

Let’s be honest with ourselves: the Akita Orbital Running Sandal is not going to win you many points for style. But on the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who chooses their outdoor gear based on how fashionable it is, then you don’t belong out on the trails in the first place. Here is what the Orbital has going for it:

– Lightweight

– Highly Breathable

– Sturdy Sole

On the other hand, this decidedly unique take on a trail shoe doesn’t offer as much support or protection as a shoe that fully encloses your foot. And of course any puddle, brook, or even light drizzle will wet your foot with alacrity. The Orbital is a great choice for shorter jogs on well established trails or to strap on in camp after a long day wearing a pair of heavier hiking boots. This probably isn’t the right choice for long-haul trail runners. But these babies are priced to sell!

And finally, our top choice…

A True Trail Runner

Salomon Speedcross 3 Trail Runner Shoe ($83 – $235)

The Speedcross 3 Trail Runner

You’ll notice something right from your first glance at the Salomon Speedcross 3 Trail Runner Shoe: it looks more like a regular running shoe than most options that bill themselves as trail/hiking shoes. It’s not brown or beige with leather and/or canvas accents. In fact, this shoe comes in more than a dozen colors and patterns, and none of them are that standard “hiking boot” brown or beige (or olive drab and so forth).

Ah, but look underneath at the Speedcross 3’s tread:

Treads Made for Trails

Now that’s a tread designed to help you get a grip! So on top, the Speedcross 3 looks and fits more like a running shoe; on the bottom, it’s ready for loose rocks and soft soil, knotted roots or slick stones. The shoes also have a sturdy, protective toecap, which is another fine feature you won’t find in a running shoe. Now, the Speedcross 3s cost more than double what you’d pay for Drifter ACs (and quintuple the Orbitals!), but if you’re a committed trail runner, you need the right shoes before you hit the trail.