Probably Not My Last Thoughts on Trail Shoes

When I wrote Thoughts on Trail Running Shoes, I did not anticipate going on and on like this. The title seems fairly innocuous, just some thoughts, but it also doesn’t hint at four more posts on the same topic, assuming this is actually the last thing I’ll say about trail shoes. It isn’t.

So you can read this post (or just click away to something more interesting), or you can read that first post, then read this one, this one, and this one, before coming back. I mean, it’s the not the Lord of the Rings. You’re not going to feel lost if you just keep reading now. I’m just pointing out that I have rambled a LOT on this topic and expressed a lot of only partially-baked opinions that I am continually revising based on experience.

As some say here in New England…iregardless.

Here are two more things to consider when you’re trying on (for the love of all that’s holy, try shoes on before you buy them if at all possible) new trail shoes.

Because of the way most shoe stores work, you don’t get a chance to run in a pair of shoes before you buy them. The best running stores have treadmills for sample runs or even let you out onto the street for a quick test. If you have a store like that near you, only buy shoes from them. They’re the ones investing in getting you the right equipment, not the on-line retailer whoring out footwear at a discount. I’m not saying I don’t buy shoes online. Retail stores can only stock so much inventory, and if you’re buying a shoe that isn’t well represented in your market, you might not have a choice.

Still, try to buy from running stores that do it right.

What was I saying? Oh, yes. The reason you want to run in a shoe instead of just trying it on for fit and maybe walking around the store in a jaunty fashion meant to mimic the feel of running, is that there is a difference between standing comfort and moving comfort. As a specific example, the Salomon Sense Ride 3 feels ok on my foot when I put it on. Nothing special. Not particularly soft or comfy, but not bad. When I run in that shoe though, it comes to life. As it turns out, running shoes aren’t standing shoes, and many of them only come to life when they’re moving.

If you have not read this whole series (I don’t blame you, TL/DR), then the first and most important point I expressed is this: I believe strongly, and it’s the reason I don’t recommend any particular shoe as a good choice for every runner, that you need to find the shoe that fits your foot. Every shoe is built on a last, a 3D template, that dictates the foot shape the shoe is intended for. Not all lasts match all feet. Not even close. This goes beyond wide vs. narrow, or high arch vs. low. Brooks, Saucony, Salomon and La Sportiva feel good on my feet. Altra and Topo and other do not. That doesn’t at all mean that those brands don’t make great shoes. They do. It just means they don’t make shoes for my feet. Or if they do, I haven’t encountered them yet.

If someone asks me to recommend a shoe to them, I never tell them what I like. I ask them what shoes feel good on their feet, and then, understanding a bit about their foot shape, I might mention a couple models that do some of the things they want from a new pair of shoes. Anyone who tells you to just run in what they run in is doing you a disservice.

The other thing I wanted to mention in this entry is Weight vs. Durability. Like in the bike business, weight sometimes becomes a red herring, a characteristic given outsize importance, because it’s the one easily quantifiable thing you can say about a shoe. And don’t get me wrong, a light shoe can be nice to run in, but there are trade-offs.

Light shoes will not wear as well. What I’ll call their fatigue life is usually shorter. They also offer less protection from rocks, roots and other trail nonsense. Lighter shoes tend to me more minimalistic, and more minimalistic shoes put more stress on your lower-leg stabilizer muscles. You will roll more ankles and strain more calves, exacerbate shin splints, and stress the joints in your feet.

I like to run in light, minimalist shoes. It feels great sometimes, but I also make sure I have more stable, more cushioned, more robust shoes in my arsenal, too.

As always, your results may vary.