What do you need to consider when choosing the amount of grip on your trail shoes and what are the best choices for different conditions?
With off-road running one of the most important things you need to consider with regards to your footwear is the amount and type of grip that you need for the terrain you run on. Too aggressive and the studs can hurt your feet, too little and you risk slipping, sliding and falling over! So what are the best choices you can make?
Things to consider when choosing the level of grip on your trail shoes…
The time of year and weather conditions have a significant impact on the level of grip you’ll need. In winter when the ground tends to be muddy and wet you’ll want a shoe that has significantly more grip than in summer when the ground tends to be drier and hard.
WET & MUDDY CONDITIONS...
With mud the main consideration is a depth of the lugs on the outsole and the spacing between them. The deeper the lugs the greater the level of traction, but these also need to have sufficient space between them so that the mud doesn’t simply collect and turn the sole into one slick surface.
As the name suggests the Inov-8 Mudclaw has been specifically design for these conditions providing superb grip in the most demanding conditions. The Mudclaw is in our view an excellent fell running shoe with huge lugs giving you maximum confidence ascending, descending and contouring. An alternative would be the La Sportiva Mutant which provides well-spaced lugs that shed mud quickly maintaining grip in sticky conditions.
Similarly, the Salming Elements, Icebug Acceleritas4 RB9X and Inov-8 X-Talon 212 also provide superb grip in muddy conditions but with slightly less prominent studs compared to the Mudclaw these shoes are equally capable of taking on hard packed conditions and mixed terrain.
If you are looking for a more cushioned shoe to take on muddy conditions then the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac offers a comparable level of grip but with a slightly more cushioned midsole, perfect if your planning on longer adventures over variable terrain.
DRIER, SUMMER TRAILS...
When summer comes (occasionally!) and the ground dries up or you tend to run on hard packed trails such as forestry roads or canal towpaths your choice of footwear needs to change too. No longer do you need the super aggressive lugs of the likes of the Inov-8 Mudclaw but you still require a certain amount of traction for confident running on uneven, loose terrain.
The outsole of the La Spotiva Bushido has a really sticky rubber compound making it perfect for rocky conditions and sufficient depth of lugs for excellent grip on rough uneven surfaces. From the same company the La Sportiva Akasha also excels on a range of terrain but provides a little extra cushioning and lugs that grip excellently on grass and gravel.
If you have wider feet or simply like more room in the toebox then the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 has an excellent ‘Sticky-Rubber TrailClaw’ grip for mixed terrain and a ‘trail rudder’ on the heel which combine to provide stability and grip on steep terrain. With similar levels of grip and versatility to the Lone Peak the Inov-8 Roclite 280 is a well-established favourite for training and racing on harder trails and summer tracks.
MIXING IT UP, ROAD TO TRAIL...
If your runs involve any notable amounts of road and trails that is relatively tame then you need a shoe that is equally at home in both conditions and also offers slightly more cushioning than a pure off-road shoe.
The Salming Trail T2 is design to fit this category perfectly offering a nicely cushioned midsole with an outsole that is more akin to a road shoe than many other trail offerings. There is still enough grip to hold you securely on the ground but not so much you will feel the studs through the sole unit.
With slightly more grip but still equally capable of enduring significant stretches of road is the Scott Kinabalu 3.0 which is an excellent choice if you are looking to maximise your shoes versatility. The outsole design is such that the lugs are deep enough to grip on wooded, stone or grass trails but are close enough to feel comfortable on harder underfoot conditions.
If you are looking for additional comfort and protection on your road to trail runs then the Hoka Stinson ATR and Altra Olympus 2.0 are well worth a look. Both provide ‘oversized’ cushioning in the sole with the Stinson ATR giving 31.5 mm under forefoot and 37.5 mm in the heel and the Olympus 2.0 an equally impressive 36mm heel-toe. Grip wise both models will happily venture both on and off-road in less demanding conditions, perfect if you are undertaking ultra runs.
THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE....WET ROCK!
We have many customers who are looking for a shoe that provides better grip on wet rock and we have to say that this is the most difficult terrain to conquer! Generally speaking it’s the compound of the rubber that makes the biggest difference between gripping and slipping on rock. From the feedback we have received the Icebug Acceleritas4 RB9X has proved to be excellent in these conditions and all the Inov-8 models have a strong reputation for keeping you upright in these most challenging conditions.
Finally, there are racing specific shoes to consider. Here weight is important, but so is grip, you need confidence to hit every footstep with confidence.
For dry, hard summer trails the Scott Kinabalu RC is perfect; light, fast, responsive and just enough grip for excellent traction. If ultra-distance is your think then the Hoka Speedgoat provides all the benefits of Hoka’s oversized cushioning and rocker mechanism for efficiency with lightness and an outsole that can take on all but the wettest and muddiest conditions.
In the mud of winter then the Inov-8 Mudclaw is hard to beat as discussed above, but the Dynafit Feline SL offers an exciting alternative in rough, challenging conditions with a little more structure to support the excellent lugged outsole.
Finding the perfect trail shoe grip is difficult but hopefully this insight has given some food for thought and although some compromise may be needed as the truly do-it-all shoe seems to be somewhat elusive there is definitely a trail shoe to meet your demands. This review can’t cover all the options we have available so check out our full range here with something for different foot shapes and running preferences.
As always we are runners ourselves and have tried most of the shoes we stock so feel free to give us a call to discuss the best options available for your needs...