Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Buying running shoes for off-road and the fells

The main things to bear in mind when shopping for shoes for off-road and fell running are:

1) they have decent GRIP - compare off-road with road shoes and you'll see the amount of grip you need. Off-road trail and fell running challenges your feet because of the uneven ground and slippy nature of mud, grass, heather etc.

Comparison of the grip on fell shoes - Inov8xtalon 212s (left) and Inov8 Roadx 238 shoes (right)
Grip (and mud from today's run!)
No grip
Mudclaw 300s with more aggressive grip
2) they FIT *YOUR* foot.
You will only know this if you try them on.
Unless you've worn a pair or tried on a reasonably new pair from a friend, avoid buying online. Some shoes suit narrow feet, others are broad fitting, but our feet are unique. It's also worth looking in the other gender's shoe section too...many men wear 'womens' shoes, and vice-versa. There really isn't any need for the separation, with the exception that 'most' men have larger feet than women, and vice-versa, there isn't a biomechanical need for the separate departments. This can be especially useful to know if you are a 'small' shoe size man, or a 'large' shoe size women. The cross-over tends to be around size 6-7. I know a few small shoe sized friends who also find shoes that fit them in the kids section.

Buying in a shop ***beware of the sales person***
Ask them what running they do....do they in fact run? Do they give you confidence? Do they they know what they are talking about? If not, trust your instincts.

Also, ***do not get baffled by anatomy and science***
As I said above, the key things for off-road shoes - grip, and fit. When the assistant starts talking about pronation, over-pronation, neutral fit, etc....remember one thing - they are a SALES person, NOT a biomechanical specialist (unless they actually do have a degree in that subject - it is worth asking). I'd go as far as saying you should avoid running on their treadmill to have your gait assessed unless they are actually qualified (eg degree/PhD level) in biomechanics - most sales people will have been trained in-house, by someone else trained in-house....and their job is TO SELL you things. That means it's in their interest to baffle you with the fancy words and scare you into thinking you need custom made orthotics. The vast majority of people don't need them. I'm not saying everyone working in shops are out to get your money, but they are there to make a profit, and sometimes commission.

Key thing to remember - everyone's foot pronates - yes, that's right. Pronation is a natural part of the gait cycle and you'd have a bit of difficulty walking/running if the bones in your ankle and feet didn't pronate.
"the body absorbs the impact of the foot by rolling in pronation" http://www.physio-pedia.com/Gait_Cycle
"Pronation is a normal part of the gait cycle"  Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine,  edited by Lyle J. Micheli, M.D.

The trail shoes I've used and been happy with for comfort and grip are the Adidas Kanadias. I know a lot of people who wear them, and you can probably grab a pair for about £40, or less maybe.

My current trail shoes are the New Balance WT110 LD33 NB Trail. so far so good after 80km in them.

Any questions?
Drop me an email and I'll do my best to help you or point you to someone who can answer better than me. All information in this post is obviously my opinion based on my experience.


  1. nice, concise post Lynne. I went to a running shop today to try on some road shoes which would suit my preference for a shoe with a smaller drop than most road shoes. The sales assistant , whilst being very obliging and friendly, didn't quite get there in terms of inspiring my confidence. She did use the 'pronation' word haha! I am now going to start asking around friends to see what they think.

    Hey Lynne, what are your inov-8 roadxs like? Could they stand up to a few half-marathon ish type road runs? how cushioney are they? :)

  2. Thanks Zoe, the inov8 road shoes have been great for me, there isn't much drop (9mm I think) but as I've done some barefoot running they do feel on the cushioned side.....but that is my opinion after running in fivefingers and lots of kilometres in xtalon 212s. In fact, Inov8 say "A great introductory shoe for beginners to minimalist running with a cushioned midsole and 9 mm heel to toe drop".
    Just checked and I've done nearly 500km so probably not a good idea for you to try them. You can have a look at them though next time you're passing