Off-road running shoes

What to look for when buying off-road running shoes

Off-road running has become more popular in recent years, with softer ground reducing runners' chances of serious injuries. This rise in off-road running has been matched with an increase in the types of off-road running shoes that are on the market. Here's the guide of what to look for in a pair of off-road running shoes.

Over the last few years, there has been a big switch from road running to off-road running. This could be due to the greater freedom that this type of running gives the athlete, but also, off-road running is better for injury prevention, as the ground is often more forgiving and softer; good for an impact loading sport like running.

Due to the nature of the terrain and under-foot conditions, there has been a radical rethink about the type of running shoes needed to tackle often wet conditions.

Existing road shoes were not suitable, as grip was minimal in wet, slippy conditions. The uppers of the off-road shoe were made to be more hard wearing, as the terrain often causes more wear on the outside of the shoe compared to road running. The outer of the shoes were made more rugged looking and often had extra protection around the toe area (to stop stones hitting the toes and bruising them).

Laces were changed to offer better grip when wet and the placing of the lacing system has been changed slightly to offer a better, firmer grip on the foot.

Colours have also changed. Gone is the uniformly white running shoe and in have come more mountain colours and darker tones. This has created a very different looking shoe that offers the manufacturers more scope to personalise their brands.

As the ground is often softer and there are more obstacles to avoid, for example stones and branches on the ground, shoes have been designed to be lower profile and hug the ground more. Cushioning is still important, but not as important as for hard road surfaces, when extra shock absorption is needed. Off-road shoes need to offer cushioning linked into grip and ground hugging capabilities. The cushioning has been reduced only by a few millimetres but the look suggests a much sleeker, low profile shoe.

Grip is an important factor in the success of off-road shoes. There needs to be plenty of grip when you venture onto the trails or hills or even just on wet grass. This is usually in the form of bigger and more aggressive studs, or grooves on the soles of the shoe. The heel strike area also will be more rugged compared to a flat road shoe area. This is because the heel is the first area to hit the ground when running (for most people anyway), so needs to offer good grip and a smooth transition through to the forefoot toe-off. Again, larger groves, or more aggressive studs are usually found here, but they are normally closer together to offer even more grip.

Off-road shoes can be worn on the roads, but the reduction of conventional cushioning means they feel hard and the extra grip offered on the grass and mud doesn’t work well on roads. For short runs across roads they will be fine, but you need to think of off-road shoes as a different type of shoe for a different terrain.

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