Trail Runners: The ultimate replacement for your conventional trekking shoes
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
The endless confusion around big, heavy thick soled trekking shoe as a recommendation for treks was discussed when 4play shed light on the practicality of a trail running shoe as a better option. Here we help you choose the best shoes to pick for trekking.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Why trail runners are your best companion on a Himalayan trek?
If you are in the market to pick up shoes for trekking the Himalayas, look no further than trail runners. Yes we have jumped straight to the crux of the matter. Trail runners and lightweight hiking shoes beat every other heavy trekking boot hollow. Trail runners have slowly evolved to become the choice for pro trekkers on all kinds of terrain ranging from wet trails to rocky courses. And the shift from high ankle trekking boots to trail shoes is not without reason.
1-Light feet are happy feet
For a wide range of outdoor pursuits and not just treks, trail runners are an essential trekking gear. Scientifically speaking, weight on feet saps 4-6 times more energy than the weight on one’s back. Trail runners are much lighter than traditional hiking boots and reduce overall weight on your feet, thereby tiring you less. Besides bulky hiking shoes are difficult to break into and slow your pace down if you happen to choose brisk walking. So common sense it is then, choose light weight trail runners over obese trekking shoes.
2-Ankle support is a gimmick
Not too much evidence exists around the additional support that ankle length shoes supposedly provide, so that’s a gimmick to sell hiking boots for sure. Also ankle length boots are naturally heavier and restrict movement in many ways. They make you clumsier and in fact increase your chances of blisters through reduced footwork. Trail runners allow a high degree of flexibility, keeping natural movements intact and also strengthen foot muscles.
Strengthened ankles safeguard against injuries much more than ankle support shoes do. This, in the long term increases general muscularity of the foot and increases resistance towards sprains and strains while trekking the Himalayas
3-Waterproof is a grossly misused term
Sellers of heavy hiking boots stress on this feature ever so often. But the fact of the matter is that waterproof boots also prevent the sweat inside your shoes from drying up, causing blisters and fungal growth. Trail runners on the other hand, if shod with Gore-Tex grade material will be more water resistant on the outside while still being breathable on the inside. If wet, they also dry up fairly quickly and don’t feel like lead around your feet. Hiking boots, however waterproof they promise to be eventually develop holes in the long run, allowing water to seep inside.
There are more reasons to pick trail runners over trekking boots, cost being a very important one. Bulky trekking shoes cost way more than trail runners, owing to the increased input costs for the additional material used. Trekking boots are also notoriously difficult to maintain and need more care. They cannot be left damp if they are made out of leather since fungi grows quickly in such shoes. Leather ones are also difficult to keep clean.
How to pick the right trail runners? Now that it is established why trail runners are a better bet, let’s move on to how one should choose trail running shoes. Depending on your style of trekking, surfaces and weather conditions you would most likely encounter you could chose from a variety of different options. Let’s dive deeper.
Trail runners are typically divided in three broad categories:
Light trail running shoes: Used on even gravel and rolling hills, they offer modest protection and are close to road running shoes. These aren’t recommended for hiking.
Rugged trail: They offer increased underfoot protection and are often used on a variety of hiking trails, from rocky to muddy. They offer toe guards up front and under plates hidden below for protection against sharp surfaces. The material used is sturdier than those used in light trail runners and many varieties boast of stiff builds and supportive uppers to absorb footfalls on lose, slippery descends. The lug patterns vary according to usage and manufacturer but usually offer increased grip and traction over all kinds of surfaces. If extreme terrain is unlikely to be encountered, pick these.
Off trail: If hardcore is how you would describe your trek in terms of terrain, nothing beats off trail runners. These brag about their aggressive outsoles to tackle extreme terrains. Mostly utilizing polyurethane foam midsoles instead of EVA foam midsoles, they provide greater protection and structural support to feet. Crossing streams, traversing light snow and muck are made easy using off trail running shoes while trekking the Himalayas.
You could consider two uber new categories too: maximalist and minimalist shoes.
Maximalist shoes have ultra padding, are thick soled and offer a very high stack height designed to reduce impact during faster movements and now have trail versions available. Hoka’s trail runners are an excellent option given their durability, comfort and great traction.
Minimalist shoes are a hybrid of running and barefoot running shoes. The hiking minimalist shoe category too is sure to impress a fast trekker who loves keeping it light and simple. They are low profile, offer good flexibility and have an added layer on top for water resistance and strength. But not too many options are available in the market currently and they offer limited support on rugged terrain.
- Heel-to-drop measurement
There is more to picking a shoe for trekking the Indian Himalayas than just type. Heel-to-drop determines the cushioning height between the heel and the forefoot height. A higher heel to drop indicates increased cushioning and are the preferred choice for tackling rough terrains.
This is an extremely important consideration. Measuring length, breadth, arch shape while picking a shoe will significantly improve your chances of finding the right shoe. A good fit assessment serves as a safeguard against picking a wrongly fitting shoe and prevents injuries. Under extreme conditions of snow or while crossing creeks, while trekking the Indian Himalayas, a hiking boot might have a slight advantage over trail runners though but the umpteen advantages of trail runners easily offsets that.
- Trail gaiters
Snow is usually the norm while trekking high up in the Indian Himalayas and hence the chances of snow entering shoes is high. Gaiters which are plasticised synthetic clothing strapped above the shoe, come to our rescue here. Gaiter (low or high) ready trail running shoes are a must in snowy conditions. Additionally gaiters protect against thorns and mud from entering the shoe. Salomon offers some pretty good trail running shoes with gaiters.
When the going gets really tough and traversing route muddled with thick snow is the need, crampons need to be attached under the shoes. These are spiky underpinnings which mount to the bottom of your shoe and provide enhanced traction on slippery surfaces. For usage on trail runners, flexible crampons (strap on type) with an appropriate mounting system are recommended.
4Play suggests a few good trail runners which are durable and comfortable like the LaSportiva Ultra Raptor (which retails for around INR 8-9000). Another one could be LaSportiva Bushido 2/1 or the Salomon Wings pro ⅔ both of which retail for roughly around 7500 INR. These are highly recommended because they come shod with Gore-Tex grade material.
For snowy conditions our picks would be the Salomon Snowcross and LaSportiva’s Crossover 2.0 which boast of a waterproof membrane, anti debris mesh, mud guard protection and toe guard.
To conclude then, shoes are the most essential trekking equipment and must be picked carefully. While 4Play’s top pick is trail runners, keeping in mind all the above points, you must research well, try out our recommended shoe options and hear from the experts before plonking your money on bulky trekking shoes.
If you too have had experiences where trail runners have trumped trekking shoes, do tell us below.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.