By Cameron Sullivan
(Cameron Sullivan, a member of Alabama Outdoors’ eCommerce team, has been an avid trail runner since high school.)
I came to love Birmingham’s trails in college when I ran cross country at Birmingham-Southern College. I love it so much, in fact, that I want to share some tips and tricks for beginners.
Normally at this time of year, the weather warms up and our local walking trails get crowded. Most of the time it’s fine; a crowded trail really just means bikers get a little too close or you have to keep a closer eye on the kids. But, with social distancing requirements, many runners find themselves looking for off-the-beaten-path routes. Pavement pounders and casual runners alike know that a crowded run isn’t fun, so why not take this opportunity to try trail running?
This isn’t a comprehensive head-to-toe guide to trail running. It’s a complicated sport just like any type of running, but I hope this info will help beginners take to the trails and feel confident. So, let’s start with the toes, or, more specifically, the feet.
My picks for trail running shoes
Trail running is a great way to mix up arduous runs and shake up your routine. Whether you’re training for a PR or just trying to run the whole 5K, getting on a local trail can make a huge difference in your running, both physically and mentally. Just make sure to start with good shoes.
The key difference between your average running sneakers and a good trail shoe is going to be the sole, specifically the outsole and midsole. Quality trail shoes have grippy outsoles that handle a variety of surfaces and keep your feet where they belong — under you.
Really heavy-duty trail shoes can even have a rock plate in them to prevent rocks from puncturing the midsole and hurting your feet, but most have tougher EVA-foam in the midsole to provide similar protection in a lightweight package. The easiest way to tell if a shoe is built for the trail is to look at the tread, it’ll be a grippy, knobby tread with wide channels to prevent debris from getting caught in them. Some of my favorite shoes that we carry are:
The Salomon is a personal favorite for its great trail design and phenomenal running features. Little things like full Gore-Tex waterproofing and the lock-tight quicklaces make these shoes functional and durable on the trail. The quicklaces anchor all the way down from the toebox to the top of the tongue for maximum control from the top of your foot, planting your foot exactly where it needs to go.
The midsole’s 3-D chassis provides a bouncy energy return that springs you forward while controlling motions prevent excessive pronating. This is a great shoe for any trail runner, but it is best for those runners already comfortable with speed and distance who want to tackle new terrain.
The Hoka is another great option that’s perfect for beginners. Hoka’s chunky outsoles may look odd, but their lightweight and supportive design structure are unrivaled. Runners who prefer support and cushion will love the springy and responsive feel They still maintain impressive grip thanks to the podular outsole and 4mm lugs that grip for you. This shoe would be best for beginners looking for more comfort and support than aggressive racing features.
The Cloudventure is another unique trail option that puts speed and performance at the core of its design. The Cloudventure features the most aggressive tread of these three options, with heavy-duty, slip-resistant rubber maximizing grip in wet conditions and targeted lugs to provide evenly spread control. Try these if you’re looking to set a PR on a trail that’s more water than dirt.
Best socks for trail running
Next up is socks. Running socks have gotten pretty fancy in recent years. You can find lots of options with various compression, materials, padding, and heights. There’s never a perfect sock, only socks that fit you perfectly, so try several!
A lot of features can be complicated or confusing, but socks come down to a couple of key features on the trail; moisture-wicking, compression, and fit. Moisture-wicking is the most important because moisture buildup causes a lot of issues, from chafing to blisters to swelling and toenail damage. The best moisture-wicking can be subjective, as some runners prefer a certain feel. All-wool socks like Smartwool can be great, but don’t manage temperature as well as others.
Here are three of my favorite socks for trail running. All three are worth a try, as they provide different levels of compression, warmth, and moisture-wicking.
The Smartwool is a great option for both the quarter crew height and the ultra-lightweight. The super-thin material gives you maximum control in the shoe and keeps moisture away while maintaining airflow. The ankle height helps compress the blood vessels around your hardest-working joint and makes recovery quicker while providing protection from stray sticks, grass, and barbs. I’m always partial to quarter crew height running socks as they provide the best balance of comfort, breathability, and compression with the additional protection and full range of motion. These are best for dedicated runners looking for quicker recovery and a more technical wool option.
The Fits light runner lows are another great option. While they’re the least technical, their patented blend of wool and lycra provides superb cushioning in hot spots while wicking away moisture and maintaining temperatures. The ultra-soft hand feel is incredibly comfortable despite how durable it is, and while they feel heavy for their size, the breathability and moisture-wicking of this wool-blend is unrivaled. These are best for runners looking for a great everyday running sock that can handle the rigors of the trail or the street.
The Swiftwick is the most technical option on this list, with an all-synthetic construction and a specialized compression. I personally run in these and love them, Swiftwick has been the choice of runners for years due to their incredible moisture-wicking and lightweight, almost threadbare design. The ultra-light material maximizes breathability and control throughout the shoe and makes runs more comfortable than ever.
These are just the first steps, there are plenty more to make sure you safely and comfortably enjoy your run. Don’t let the gear stop you, check out a local trail, find a running group (maybe wait on that though), and take the first step. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trail you know or one you’ve never seen before, a good run is a great way to break up your routine and get more out of your time outdoors!
Find all your trail-running gear at Alabama Outdoors! We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or shop online and take advantage of curbside pickup and free shipping for orders over $69.99. #BeOutdoors