By Louise Ramsay
We all like to get out and about in nature. Driven by a need to escape the modern world, innumerable studies show that doing so makes us happier and healthier - but it’s no longer just about enjoying the country air.
The latest Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey shows increasing numbers of people are using the natural environment to get fit, with an estimated 1.3 billion visits to non-urban spaces for exercise purposes made between March 2013 to February 2014 - the highest number since records began.
Mountain biking, bouldering and triathlon are among the myriad sports people enjoy in the great outdoors, but coming up fast as a firm favourite is trail running. Enjoyed up hills and down dales, not only does it allow for a more immersive nature experience than road running, but the more forgiving surfaces gives an athlete’s body a break too.
Trail running differs from cross country in that there are less rules and regulations. As long as a race is run off road, it counts - there are no restrictions, for instance, in terms of how rocky or steep the terrain can be - though they tend to be less arduous than fell runs.
Races can vary from ultra running marathon jobs such as the Hardmoors 110 Ultra. which is a 110-mile race circling the North Yorkshire Moors that’s completed in 36 hours, to the more manageable six-mile West Yorkshire Woodland Challenge.
Indeed, trail running offers something for everyone, as do the slew of brands out there catering to every trail runner’s needs - with shoes the big driver in the market.
This brand caters for all off-roaders, whether it’s general walking or jogging on trails to more technical racing requirements.
Stephen Gildea, PR, events and athletes at 2pure, which distributes Topo trail running shoes in the UK, says: “In comparison to a road shoe, a trail shoes offers better traction on the soles and a more robust upper, lugs and rock plate for more technical terrain.
“The shape of a Topo shoe means there’s plenty of room for the toes to spread and splay. A secure fit through the heel and midfoot allows the shoe to move with your body.
“We also use a neutral platform with light cushioning, so athletes can feel the trail underneath, but are still protected by the rock plate.
“Finally, the materials we use are ultralight and because our shoes are constructed with reduced seams, limits the likelihood of developing blisters out on a trail.”
Gildea says niche brands like Topo are particularly suited to the trail shoe market because it’s a sport where everyone is looking for something different: “All of us have our unique running style and ethos, but within that there are so many different kinds of races and trails.
“Unlike the huge manufacturers, niche brands can target different audiences and cater to the likes of ultra running.”
Topo’s MT-2 is an ideal trail shoe that offers comfort, performance and versatility. The upper boasts a breathable mesh, stronger midfoot overlays, a fully gusseted tongue and a roomy toe box. The outsole uses multidirectional lug traction, forefoot flex grooves and mud release features, while optimising the rubber surface area for durability and grip.
Its new Hydroventure combines lightweight durability with a fully waterproof and breathable upper and a 3mm drop, so athletes can still feel the ground beneath their feet.
Gildea adds: “The EVA midsole with flexible rock plate protects against sharp rocks and roots, while delivering a smooth, responsive ride.”
SCOTT trail shoes are aimed at every level of runner and are built to endure all types of off-road running.
“Tour shoes excel in mountainous terrain and in ultra distance marathons like the Tor des Geants and the Skyrunner World Series,” Scott Ritchie, sport marketing co-ordinator at SCOTT Sports, says.
“This is where the SCOTT shoes feel most at home and are certainly more than capable.”
SCOTT Sports’ best-selling trail shoe in 2016 is the Kinabalu Supertrac (pictured). “It offers great protection, maximum grip with an aggressive lugged outsole and excellent comfort for long days spent out on the hill,” Ritchie says.
“We use Aerofoam in our shoes for comfort and durability, which is combined with eRide technology to create a unique rocker shape that enables a stable mid stance, promoting the faster and more efficient running style that runners strive for.
“Regardless of running gait, eRide works with the body to promote a more dynamic running position, reducing heel strike impacts and increased running efficiency.”
Internationally, two of the best known athletes sponsored by SCOTT are six-time world mountain running champion Marco De Gasperi and ultra runner Andy Symonds.
In each country where it has a presence SCOTT supports athletes from the top level down to grass roots clubs, as well as sponsoring events and running series to help promote the brand and provide support for its partners.
“We also provide dedicated support both in-store via training and also to our retailers for events and demo days that they wish to hold,” Ritchie says.
Salming focuses on lightweight, durable trail shoes that offer secure footing and bold colours.
Charley Newall at Salming’s UK distributor, Smash Sports, says: “With our trail range, we have a simple choice between an all-round trail shoe or a more serious fell shoe to allow our customers to easily select which one best suits their needs.
“Both our trail shoes feature RocShield on the lower part of the shoe to increase durability and runner confidence. However, the Elements trail shoe (pictured) features this only at the front and back, so water can escape more easily at the sides.
“While you can still run on pretty much any surface wearing it, this makes it particularly suitable for wetter, muddier runs - and you can swim in it too.
“In comparison, the Trail T2 is more of an all-round, versatile trail shoe, which can also be used for road running.”
In terms of retailer benefits of stocking Salming, it’s all about the brand being niche, according to Newall.
He says: “The benefits of stocking Salming is that we’re not easily available online. This not only helps to give retailers more of a specialist feel, but because there aren’t any huge clearance offers, our prices are better protected.”
New Balance has a range of trail shoes for men and women.
The cushioned men’s Vazee Summit Trail (pictured) offers lightweight cushioning, flexibility and protection to help ensure wild and rocky trails can be circumnavigated safely and in comfort.
A RockStop plate and Toe Protect feature aim to keep trail debris at bay, while the lugged outsole help runners tackle challenging terrain.
The Minimus 10v4 Trail works for men and women, combining a sleek fit and increased cushioning with a Vibram outsole for traction and control on rugged terrain. No-sew overlays reduce weight, while internal construction is barefoot friendly, with only a 4mm drop from heel to toe, and is designed to be worn with or without socks.
The rugged men’s Leadville 1210v2 has a Vibram outsole for traction and REVlite cushioning for comfort and outdoor-ready features.
The BOCO Sol was inspired by the dramatic summertime mountain landscape of Boulder, Colorado. Perfect for off-roaders, they’re designed to work equally well on groomed tracks or out in the rough.
Multidirectional lugs use Action/Reaction technology to enable ground feel and traction, while an open weave, highly breathable mesh upper is teamed with a durable rubber toe bumper to protect toes from impact on rocks, roots and other trail hazards.