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There’s never been a better time to trade the tedium of tarmac for the miles of verdant, muddy and gravelly trails which intersect the cities and towns of the UK, or escape civilisation altogether and tackle the awe-inspiring woodland, mountain and coastal trails.
When tackling technical terrain, however, it is essential that you are equipped with a confidence-inspiring trainer that can provide you with grip on your surface of choice and offer you cushion and stability for the inevitable rocky obstacles that you encounter.
What to look for in a trail running shoe?
There’s no one standout shoe - it’s all about finding the right equipment for you.
“It depends where you’re running,” explains Get Active Running coach Donnie Campbell.
A trail shoe is made up of three key components : an outsole (the grippy bit); a midsole (the cushioned area); and the upper (the lacing system and the mesh which protects the foot) - Campbell explain that you may need to: “sacrifice performance in certain parts of the shoe”.
For example: “In winter you might look for a shoe with more aggressive lugs on the outsole.
“If you were running on a harder surface you might use a less aggressive shoe with more of an emphasis on cushioning.
“I personally have three or four pairs of shoes depending on where I am running. “
Ultimately, Campbell says it’s about “finding a shoe that you’re confident in and comfortable in.”
How much do I need to spend?
Trail running shoes often utilise state-of-the-art technologies to offer runners the maximum amount of protection and that does come at a cost.
Runners might be tempted to don a worn pair of running shoes suitable for the gym or a neighbourhood run when tackling a mountain ridge or a muddy of slopes, but this is akin to running into battle without a shield or suit of armour - protecting yourself is a worthy investment.
All of the following shoes cost between £100 and £150 and this price is par for the course for newly released trail shoes.
Read more: 8 best running shoes for men 2021: men’s trainers from On Cloud, Hoka, Salomon and Saucony
Key specs — Material: Mesh and TPU upper, EVA foam midsole, Vibram MegaGrip outsole; Weight: 560g Colour options: 5
American brand Merrell teamed up with Ragna Debats and Anna Frost to produce this versatile trail shoe, suited for all manner of terrain from muddy British forest floors to rock-strewn ridges.
The Vibram MegaGrip sole combined with Molded TPU heel counter allowed our reviewer peace of mind when tackling steep gradients. Despite the stabilising technology, the shoe remains competitively lightweight making it suitable for race day.
We particularly liked the snug fit of the internal-bootie, which gave a locked-in feeling, providing comfort and protection no matter the distance.
Key specs — Material: Breathable mesh, Powerflow Max midsole, Graphene outsole; Weight: 540g Colour options: 4
When Cotswolds ultra-runner Damian Hall set a new record for the 268-mile Pennine Way he was wearing a pair of inov8’s Terraultra G 270, but there’s no reason these boundary-pushing trail shoes should be reserved solely for the pros.
The British brand teamed up with the University of Manchester to utilise Graphene - the strongest material on the planet - producing an ultra-grippy and long-lasting outsole which thrives on gravely trails.
Some may baulk at the product’s price tag, but the toughness and durability of the shoe make it a worthwhile investment.
Key specs — Material: Mesh with 3D printed overlay, GORE-TEX, EVA foam midsole, Vibram MegaGrip outsole; Weight: 360g; Colour options: 8
Our mood wasn’t dampened when we tested out the Hoka Speedgoat Mid 2 in sleety conditions.
The brand have developed a lightweight GORE-TEX waterproof bootie which ensured our reviewer’s feet remained dry, while the Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole provided grip on both wet and dry rock.
Despite their prominent lugs the Speedgoat fared well on road which was a pleasant surprise.
Key specs — Material: Synthetic textile upper, Optivibe midsole, Contagrip MA outsole ; Weight: 560; Colour options: 4
Those wary about the transition from tarmac to trail would do well to find a better option than the Salomon Sense Ride 3 - the contratrip outsole performs well on both surfaces, making them ideal for city slickers prone to dirty weekends.
Like its predecessors the Sense Ride 3 utilises a Optivibe midsole which reduces vibration and provided our reviewer with comfort on varied terrain.
Though style shouldn’t be prioritised when picking a trainer, we love the look of the Sense Ride 3 which avoids the garish fluorescent colours preferred by the majority of brands.
Key specs — Material: Mesh upper, PWRRUN midsole, PWRTRAC outsole Weight: 620g; Colour options: 2
Agile and adaptable, the Saucony Peregrine range has long been a popular choice with trail runners looking for a reliable trail shoe.
The main change to the 11 is the fortified upper design which ensures for a durable and secure companion on most terrains.
Other than that, it’s a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it with the PWRRUN midsole making for a comfortable, bordering on bouncy ride, while the aggressive lugs provide sure footing on unsure terrain.
Key specs — Material: Mesh and 3D printed overlay, BioMoGo DNA midsole, TrailTack Rubber outsole; Weight: 620g Colour options: 3
The Cascadia 15 is a hardy option, which offers additional protection to the ankle rollers among us.
A built in rock plate will see the Cascadia provide the protection from whatever the trail throws at you from sharp rocks to protruding tree roots.
The monoloop mesh and 3D Fit Print saw the Cascadia emerge as one of the more breathable options during our testing runs, meaning runners can focus on the trail ahead without any sweaty distractions.