TRAIL RUNNING SHOES – What you need to know!

Outsole, rockplate, lugs, lace garages, tread?? These are all words that get thrown around when looking into trail shoes. But what does it all mean?

Buying running shoes can be an adventure on its own and tends to get a bit more in-depth when buying trail shoes which is why it’s a great idea to head to your local running store to get fitted properly for them.

Here are some things to consider and questions that might arise:

  • The sizing of trail shoes is, more often than not, quite different from the sizing of road shoes! (Some brands run an entire size smaller than others). Don't be alarmed if your shoe is a different size!
  • Some trail shoes are designed for the most rugged of rugged trails while others are to be used on smoother trails.
  • Where and when are you going to be using them? What types of conditions will you go out in (dry, wet, muddy, winter, etc.)?
  • What distances are you looking to do?

How Trail Running Shoes Differ From Road Running Shoes:

  • Outsole - The rubber material on the bottom of the shoe. Can be classified as high-abrasion-rubber or sticky-rubber to name a couple.
  • Lugs/Tread – The depth, location and pattern of the rubber material that protrudes from the outsole. Shoes with deep lugs (5mm+) are best on technical trails with poor footing, but they’ll also be far less forgiving, even uncomfortable, on road runs. Shoes that have shorter lugs (2 to 4mm) will have a softer on-road feel than their burly siblings.
  • Rockplate – A plastic or fibre plate that is usually embedded into the midsole of the shoe to add protection to the foot when running on rocks, roots and uneven terrain.
  • Lace Garage – A mesh opening on the tongue of the shoe for extra laces to be tucked into. Some shoes have an elastic piece on the tongue to tuck your laces under.
  • Upper – This is a term used for both road running and trail running shoes. On road running shoes, the upper can be quite thin and breathable as there is a very minimal chance of it needing to act as protection for the foot. On trail shoes, the upper is often made of a slightly thicker, more durable material. This helps protect your toes and feet from rocks and sticks and helps them stand up to the tough conditions in challenging terrain.
  • Gortex or Waterproof Upper - a waterproof upper can be a great way of keeping your feet dry when you are running in a wet climate (Vancouver) but when your environment is dry (Alberta), a waterproof upper will not be as breathable and can make your feet uncomfortable and very, very damp. Waterproof uppers are a good idea in the winter if you have cold feet or if you do travel into wet climates. If you do think your feet will get wet occasionally, pair your trail running shoe with a merino wool sock. They will keep your feet warm when wet and allow the moisture to wick away from your skin. 
  • Toe Guard- reinforced toe area to protect the end of your digits if you kick something.

How Should Trail Shoes Fit?

When you try on trail or road running shoes, both should fit as naturally as possible on your foot. Make sure that you have space at the ends of your toes to accommodate for swelling - ideally half a thumb width of space from the end of your toes when you are standing in them. This room is critical for trail running shoes for when you are running down hill so your toes don't hit up against the end of the shoe!

Trail shoes will feel stiffer on your feet, this is in part because of the rock plates underneath and because shoe companies use a firmer foam to give the runner more stability on the trails. That being said, dirt is a softer surface than pathways so when you hit the trails, they will feel softer.

How To Pick An Outsole?

Where are you going to be running? Strictly trails or are you bombing down the urban trails where there might be some pathways that you have to use as well? Are you running in muddy areas or on trails with lots of wet roots and rocks?


If your adventures are in urban centers where you might be on pathways for sections, choose a trail shoe with more abrasion resistance grips and less deep lugs. This will help save your traction and be more comfortable on pathways. While these trail shoes seem less aggressive, a lot of them do very well on all surfaces that you can take them on in Alberta!

A deeper, more aggressive lug is great for wet and muddy conditions and on technical trails as they give you more of a sticky surface to grip on wet surfaces with. They also shed mud quite well. These are also great options for winter traction as they tend to stay sticky in colder temperatures (think of winter tires for your car).


Us running shoe geeks in your local running shoe stores are ready and excited to help you navigate this world of trail running shoes. We’ll find you the perfect pair for you.


Happy trail running!