How To Buy Trail Running Shoes

Looking to replace your worn out trail runners? Are you making the switch from pavement to dirt? Just looking to get a new pair of shoes? Here at Tahoe Mountain Sports, we are dedicated to getting you into a pair of well-fitting shoes that will help you perform at your best. If you want to prepare before coming into the shop, take a look below at some useful advice for getting into the right pair of shoes.

Happy Feet


The first thing that most people think of when they think footwear is size. Length is easily measured, and is a good starting point with sizing a shoe. Don’t get hung up on the exact number, some brands run differently and may vary by a full or half size.

Width is equally important to length, and making sure that your forefoot has enough space is extremely important. Squishing your toes can result in pain and discomfort, or over longer periods of time lead to bunions. Some footwear brands specifically focus on this; one of our favorite shoes for runners with wider feet is the Altra Timp 4.

women's altra timp 4
Women’s Altra Timp 4

Not all runners have wide feet though, and conversely, if your heel or midfoot are sliding around in your shoe, you will feel less stable and run the risk of getting blisters. For runners with narrower feet, our staff has found great success with Salomon running shoes.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Tahoe Mountain Sports will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate commissions help fund the content for this blog.


If you’ve been running lately, you will most likely have noticed that the trend has been towards higher cushioned shoes. Cushioning in shoes is extremely important for people who have a history of injuries, or for runners going longer distances. One potential downside to a higher-cushioned shoe is lower running efficiency, as the cushion absorbs a lot of the energy in your stride upon impact. Running shoe companies have learned to overcome this through advances in shoe design, including both rocker and plated shoes.

Shoes with a rocker design feature a significant drop-off in the midsole under the toes. What this does is effectively “rock” your foot forwards, putting you in position to toe-off into your next stride. A great example of this shoe is the new Vectiv Infinite from The North Face, which some of our staff has been trying out extensively for the past few months.

Another design feature to increase stride efficiency is a plated shoe. What this means is there is a plate, made either of carbon fiber or plastic, which is added to the midsole of the shoe. This plate acts like a spring, and helps to propel you through your stride. All shoes from ON Running are built with this technology, which is partly why they remain a staff favorite!

On Cloudventure (left) and Cloudvista (right)

In addition to ON Running shoes, this year we will have the brand new Tecton X from Hoka. This is a fully cushioned trail racer featuring a carbon fiber plate in the midsole. Thanks to the springy nature of carbon fiber, shoes such as this have been reported to give runners a significant boost in speed.


Traction is one of the biggest reasons that runners reach for a trail shoe when they ditch the pavement. A useful exercise in figuring out how much grip you need is to focus on where you do most of your trail running. If you run through your neighborhood to connect to some dirt roads, you won’t need as much traction as when you run the PCT from Sugar Bowl to Squaw. Or, do you ditch the trails altogether and just go scramble up whatever rockpile you can find?

Lighter duty trail runners will feature lower lug height which feel smooth when running on stretches of pavement or dirt roads, but have enough grip for when you hit the singletrack. For these missions, one of our favorite shoes is the Hoka Challenger ATR 6, which will float across smoother surfaces, while also feeling at home across the rocks and gravel of a trail such as the Emigrant Trail.

If steeper, rockier terrain is your M.O., consider a shoe with more aggressive lugs. Shoes such as the Saucony Peregrine 12 feature deeper lugs that are arranged to have both uphill traction under the toes and downhill traction under the heel. This will help you feel more secure in these situations.

Saucony Peregrine 12 vs Hoka Challenger 6


Drop is the difference in height of the cushioning between the heel and forefoot. Many everyday shoes feature a drop of around 12 mm. This gives a little relief to the Achilles tendon, making these shoes more comfortable for everyday wear. Many running shoes, on the other hand, have lower drop heights to encourage a faster turnover. Because the Achilles tendon acts like a spring in the back of the foot, having a lower drop height loads the tendon more, resulting in a more powerful toe-off.

Most trail running shoes range from 4-8mm of drop. Many variables factor into what will make a comfortable drop for you; we recommend trying on different shoes to feel the difference firsthand. Some runners prefer a higher drop height for longer distances, as it provides some relief to the Achilles caused by the repetitive miles. Other runners prefer the more natural gait cycle encouraged by a shoe with a low or no drop height, such as shoes from Altra.

Measuring Drop

Perfecting the Fit

In addition to finding a shoe that fits and has the features you are looking for, we can’t forget the importance of socks and insoles!

Socks are the interface between your shoe and foot, and are therefore incredibly important! Your 12 pack of cotton socks from Costco just ain’t gonna cut it! Our feet sweat, and they sweat even more when we run. It’s important to wick this moisture away using a quality sock. We offer a variety of socks from brands such as Darn Tough, Smartwool, and Drymax so that your feet stay dry and blister free.

The final touch for your shoe is a quality pair of insoles. Our feet contain lots of muscles, and over the course of a run, these muscles get tired. When this happens, we increase the risk of acute injuries (ie. tripping over a rock) as well as long-term injuries (ie. plantar fasciitis or tendonitis). A drop-in insole such as Sidas or Superfeet will go a long way in help to prevent these issues from arising. Or, go the extra mile and schedule an appointment with our staff to build a custom running insole from Sidas to provide the best-in-class support based on the shape of your feet.

Making Custom Insoles

Remember, the best advice we can give you is to come into the shop and try a pair of shoes on before making a purchase. Our employees are excited to answer any questions you may have, help you find the perfect fit, or simply find a new trail for you to explore. We are well stocked with shoes for the summer, and have more models arriving daily! We are determined to help you find the shoes for you, and we stand by that with our “Happy Feet Guarantee”.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Tahoe Mountain Sports will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate commissions help fund the content for this blog.

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