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Ask Mario: Do I Need Trail Shoes?

Your footwear needs often depends on the terrain you're running on.

Q.

Mario,

I’m training for the Bandit 50K in Simi next year and pretty new to trail running. Do I really need shoes with rock plates?

Thanks,

Sam M.

A.

Sam,

Your question is not an uncommon one amongst newbie (and even some veteran) trail runners. The short answer is: it depends on the terrain.

While I’m not familiar with the Bandit 50K course, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into ahead of time so you can make the right decisions regarding your choice of footwear (as well as apparel, nutrition, etc., but those are topics we’ll save for another day). Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of excellent options available to you.

If the course is relatively tame with smooth, packed dirt that resembles a road, most traditional road shoes—perhaps even a racing flat depending on your experience using them—will work just fine. On such a course, having a rock plate in your shoe isn’t necessary and won’t provide any additional benefits.

Say the layout of the course isn’t so consistent, however, and features a blend of smooth singletrack and some rocky, root-strewn stretches of trail. In this case, a traditional road shoe might be OK, but a hybrid model with a slightly sturdier outsole and a little more cushion offers you more versatility and may be a better choice for tackling an off-road 50K. Many popular shoe brands such as ASICS, Nike, New Balance and Brooks make off-road versions of some of their popular road models, a few of which may feature a rock plate, and provide better protection over varying terrain.

Lastly, if the course is super technical with a ton of rocky terrain, steep climbs and out-of-control downhills, it’s important to protect your feet and minimize risk of injury. In these scenarios, a beefed-up trail shoe with aggressive outsole lugs, a reinforced toe box, extra cushion and rock plate will provide you a ton of protection over the long haul.

Happy trails!

Mario

Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.