Not sure what off road shoes to buy? Here’s an extensive list of reviews of fell and trail running shoes.
Based on over 1000 reviews from trail and fell runners worldwide. Courtesy of RunRepeat.com
Based on over 1000 reviews from trail and fell runners worldwide. Courtesy of RunRepeat.com
Runners have 7 days to cover the entire 268 miles of the Pennine Way.. in the depths of winter. This film by Summit Fever Media follows the 2015 event and gives an insight into how tough the race really is.
The film follows a number of competitors on their adventure and captures their raw emotions; from despair at having to drop out due to injury, the sense of serenity at being alone in the bleak, wild landscape and the relief and elation on completing their epic journey through remote terrain in harsh, winter conditions.
Interviews with competitors, race organisers, medical and safety crew along with footage from the film crew and competitors (carrying Go Pro cameras) give a behind the scenes look at the logistics and planning as well as showing the extreme conditions that the runners encounter. For some there is camaraderie as they assist and accompany each other. For others there is isolation; alone, battling against the elements, their own emotions and sleep deprivation.
It might inspire you to do the race or it make you say “never”. Either way it gives a fascinating look at the men and women who plan, organise and compete in arguably Britain’s most brutal race.
The Montane Spine Race Film is available as a DVD or a download from Summit Fever
Well maybe that’s so for some socks but others are a little bit more technical. Take the1000 mile Ultra Performance sock. Not only do they have extra padding at the toe and heel where most impact occurs, and airflow channels on the top to help let your feet breathe, they are also made with Cupron copper fibre technology.
So, what’s that? Basically, copper oxide is integrated into the fibres of the sock in order to combat bacteria and fungus and so keep your feet healthy and odour free!
Is it a gimmick? Well fell running comes with the inherent risk of damp or wet feet. I spend a lot of time with feet that are moist at best, soaking and muddy at worst and no doubt in an ideal climate for bacteria to thrive! Anything that can help keep my feet healthy is worth considering and at a tenner a pair they aren’t going to break the bank.
The 1000 milers are comfortable and easy to put on (unlike some other brands!) They also have a clever little touch; the toe seam is a different colour for different sizes – great if you have similar pairs for different members of the family. I’m not sure if I’ll actually get one thousand miles out of them and I doubt they’ll make me run any faster but at least I won’t have smelly feet!
Ok, simple but not very helpful! That's because there are a number of things to consider before making a purchase so you need to ask yourself a few questions.
What is the terrain like?
The term "Fell Running" covers a wide variety of terrain including rough mountains, steep grassy slopes and hard packed trails. Different shoes will be suited to different types of terrain.
What will I use them for?
Are they for for training or racing? Your day to day trainer can afford to be a little bit heavier than your racing shoe where you might be concerned about saving weight. Likewise with grip; a steady run requires less grip than when you're going eyeballs out with your nearest rival breathing down your neck!
What's the weather like?
We know what the British climate is like and a firm, dry path can change into a quagmire after a week of heavy rain. Shoes that were perfectly adequate one week can have you slip sliding away the next.
Quite often a run or race will include several changes of terrain. The Moelwyns fell race in Snowdonia starts and finishes with a long section of hard quarry track where road running shoes would be fine, however the seven miles in between involves steep, wet, grassy descents where a shoe with an aggressive grip is vital. The 3 Peaks Race swaps between fell and road and runners have been known to change shoes for different sections.
Unfortunately there is no one shoe that is best suited to all types of terrain so you need to compromise. A heavily studded shoe is not ideal for a hard, dry track but it will cope but a road or trail shoe with little tread won't cope with wet or muddy conditions. If in doubt go with the worst scenario. (or mix your trail and fell shoes, one on each foot!)
So it seems that you probably need more than one pair of shoes, in fact you could convince yourself that you require several. Personally I classify the type of running I do into 3 categories with a type of shoe for each one:
Winter training and racing.
This requires a shoe with the most aggressive grip. Weight is less of a concern.
This still requires quite an aggressive tread but I look for something lighter in weight.
This requires less grip and weight is not as important. It makes up the majority of my running so needs to be comfortable,
There are several shoe manufacturers to choose from. The once ubiquitous Walsh is nowhere near as popular as it was although some runners still swear by it. Inov-8 seem to have taken over as the leading brand and have a huge range of shoes to choose from. Salomon have also appeared on the market and have a range of models to suit different conditions.
Personally I use Inov-8 shoes for the majority of my training and racing. The Mudclaw is my weapon of choice for winter running and racing, it's super aggressive sole is what I have found copes best with the Peak District bogs.
For most other races out of the winter season I opt for Inov-8 X Talons. The 212 are a good lightweight shoe with an aggressive grip that work well in a range of conditions. I find these too lightweight for day to day training so they are saved as my race shoes.
For the majority of my running I need a comfortable shoe that can cope with a mix of terrain and I am currently on my third pair of Roclites. These are my favourite workhorses and have served me well for a number of years. I used them for the Paddy Buckley Round as I needed a shoe that would cope with the mountainous terrain yet provide a reasonable amount of cushioning and comfort. I liked them so much that I literally wore them until they fell off my feet!
If I could only have one pair of shoes it would be the Roclites, for me they are the best all rounder.
Much depends on personal preference and I do have other shoes including less aggressive trail shoes and even a pair of road shoes for the odd run from home. However these are my top three:
So the best shoes for fell running? It depends on a number of things and you're most likely going to need more than one pair. One thing I'm sure of; there's always room in the cupboard for another pair!
Note - I am not sponsored by Inov-8, this post is based on my experiences of shoes that I have purchased myself.
My only experience of wearing Salomon shoes is their XA Pro trail running shoe which aren’t really designed for most of the running I do so I was keen to get my feet into a pair of their dedicated fell shoes and put them to the test.
The Fellraisers aren’t the lightest fell running shoe on the market, my pair of size 6.5 tipping the scales at 542g but then they aren’t designed as a stripped down, super light race shoe and they look and feel like they are built to last. The uppers have a tough, stitched rand with a breathable mesh which lets water in, but also allows the shoe to drain and dries quickly. A substantial toe cap gives good protection for when running quickly over rocky ground. The 6mm drop from heel to toe makes them a lower profile alternative to Salomon’s more established Speedcross shoe.
The outsole sports aggressive, multi-directional lugs that feel like they are made of a harder compound than the Speedcross’ chevrons. Hopefully this means a good amount of mileage before the lugs wear down and grip is compromised. The lugs extend all the way to the toe giving grip even at the “toe off” phase of the running stride.
The Fellraisers use the Quicklace™ system that allows the lace to be quickly pulled tight with the excess then tucked away into a little pocket on the tongue. An OrthoLite® liner gives added cushioning whilst claiming to keep the feet healthier due to its fungus resistant properties!
How did they perform?
First impressions were that the Fellraisers were a little narrower than I was used to, not uncomfortably so and in fact giving a reassuring responsive feel but maybe a little too tight for very long races. However I took them straight out of the box and onto a 13 mile, multi terrain run with no ill effects.
The most essential feature of any fell running shoe is how well they grip in a range of conditions. The Fellraisers gave a secure grip on short grass and felt very reassuring in the peaty Peak District mud. In wet conditions I didn’t have any problems running over rough gritstone but on limestone I found them to be pretty slippy to say the least!
The Quicklace system kept the shoes tight without needing any adjustment and whilst it worked well in dry conditions I found it to be a bit tricky to undo when the lace was muddy or gritty when it tended to clog up.
The Fellraiser makes a good training or race shoe over soft ground. They perform particularly well in muddy conditions and so would make an excellent choice for winter training and racing. As with most fell shoes care needs to be exercised if running quickly over wet rock! They come up a little tight on me so definitely try before you buy.
The 6mm drop is a good compromise; close enough to the ground to feel stable but offering some elevation for runners who don’t want a “barefoot” structure. Aesthetically the shoes looks good (I particularly like the women’s purple model!)
Most of my running is done on terrain that requires a good grip, especially in winter when even some of the less arduous paths and trails are still muddy. That means wearing a full on fell running shoe but with spring, and hopefully some warm, sunnier days on the horizon, some of the trails will dry up enough to warrant wearing a trail shoe.
Mammut isn’t the first brand that springs to mind when thinking of trail running but they are becoming more recognised by trail runners, as testified by their sponsorship of the Dig Deep Peak District races including the Ultra Tour of the Peak District. So I was keen to see how their MTR 201 Tech Low shoes coped with some fast running on the Peak District trails.
Fell running shoes tend to be pretty lightweight so I was expecting the 201’s to be heavier than I am used to and indeed they are, although at 540 grams for a pair of size 7’s they aren’t too heavy and certainly didn’t have me thinking I was wearing lead boots!
Straight out of the box they felt comfortable and not too “clunky”, something I’ve found with trail shoes in the past. Mammut haven’t gone down the “barefoot” road and the 9 mm heel drop is slightly more than the 6 mm of my fell shoes but to be honest wasn’t too noticeable on undulating ground. I’m usually size 6.5 but needed a half size up, the 7’s fitting fine. The upper is a mesh construction which should breathe well and hints at being good for summer training. A rubber toe cap gives some protection from stones and stubbed toes.
The Gripex™ sole has a much shallower tread than all my fell shoes and whilst it coped well on short, dry grass and hard packed trail it did have me sliding around on the odd muddy patch that I encountered so I would only want to use it for dry conditions.
My first run in the 201’s was a fast paced 20 minute effort on hard packed trail and I was pleased with the level of comfort and response. In particular I liked the fact that I didn’t feel any pressure on my Achilles tendon as I find some shoes are too high in the heel cup.
One thing I don’t like is the Speed Lace system. This is a small plastic toggle designed to allow you to pull the laces tight and stow the excess away without tying a conventional knot. I found that once you’d pulled the laces tight you couldn’t then tuck them away and needed to tie the usual bow (which was made more difficult by the plastic toggle!) On top of that the toggle is fiddly to release, even indoors with brand new shoes let alone with a bit of grit on the laces or with cold hands. It’s not a major issue, you can just take the toggle off the laces and tie them normally.
The RRP for the 2o1’s is £120, roughly in line with the likes of Salomon and Inov-8 and although not the most commonly seen trail shoe, Mammut are stocked by Outside in Hathersage.
A comfy, breathable shoe with a moderate heel to toe drop. Ideal for trail running or racing in dry conditions.
Some types of trail and fell running only require a modestly bright head torch giving a couple of hours battery life. For more serious ventures you need a torch with a bit more power and one that gives you several hours of battery life on a bright setting. For example an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon requires runners to spend upward of 8 hours in the dark during which they must navigate across the notoriously difficult Bleaklow, whilst 24 hour rounds such as the Bob Graham require route finding in the high mountains during the hours of darkness. In these situations, having a powerful head torch to see the route and not having to stop to change batteries saves both time and hassle. So is there a head torch that is up to the task? Step forward the new Petzl Nao 575 lumen.
The first version of the Nao got good reviews for its brightness and Reactive Lighting feature but fell short of expectations on battery life. The 2014 model not only has an upgrade in brightness from 315 to 575 lumens it also gives a much better battery life. I tested Petzl’s claim of 8 hours on constant lighting at 120 lumens and the battery lasted 7 hrs 50 mins before the torch flashed a warning and dropped to Reserve Mode (a dim light of about 20 lumens which should last for an hour)
Reactive Lighting – is it a gimmick?
When I heard about this my first thoughts were yes. However I then found myself navigating on a night run and being dazzled by the glare from my laminated map and having to manually adjust my torch’s brightness. When I tested the Reactive setting on the Nao I didn’t think it was working – the change in brightness was instant as I looked down to open my bum bag and then looked up again to continue running. I also realised the other benefit of the Reactive Lighting function; improved battery life. As you look at close objects such as the ground immediately in front of you the torch dims, thus saving battery life. Only when you point your head to the distance does the torch illuminate on full power. If you don’t want the feature you can simply twist the switch to turn it on to constant lighting with a choice of two brightness settings (the default settings are 480 lumens or 120 lumens but can be altered using the OS software)
I’ve heard stories that the reactive lighting gets confused in foggy conditions or by your condensing breath in cold, damp conditions. I haven’t really found this to be a problem although the torch was affected by the glare from the reflective trim on someone’s rucksack when I was following them and it kept flaring from bright to dim. I don’t feel this is a major problem because if it annoys you then you can simply switch to constant lighting mode.
A clever feature of the new Nao is that you can customise the brightness using Petzl’s OS software. You simply plug the torch into a computer with the supplied USB lead and you can change the torch’s settings. For example if you know that you are going to need the torch for five hours you can tweak the settings to allow this. The software allows you to set up different profiles for different activities. To be honest, unless you are going to be in darkness for over 5 hours you probably won’t need this feature. However for an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon it is really useful to know how long your battery is going to last! Many people won’t use this software but the techie minded may love it!
How easy is it to use?
Some torches can be quite confusing to operate requiring a sequence of press, double press, press and hold etc to select the desired light but not the Nao. One big button needs a single twist to turn on (from the locked off position which prevents accidental turning on) and another twist to change between brightnesses. A long twist changes from constant to reactive mode. One thing I really like is that the big button is easy to find and twist even when wearing bulky gloves. This is a huge advantage that the Nao has over Petzl’s other Reactive torch the RXP which is terribly fiddly to use.
A feature that is missing is a flashing / strobe. It’s probably the least used function on your torch but considering that the Nao is the type of torch that you are most likely to take on remote runs I’m surprised that it is missing.
The Lithium Ion battery pack is easy to disconnect and recharge, it simply plugs in to a USB charger (so can be recharged via 12v socket in a car). A full recharge takes around 5 hours and three green LED’s indicate battery level. These also illuminate briefly when the torch is turned off so you know how much battery is left. In an emergency the battery can be replaced by two AAA’s but this gives reduced brightness and no Reactive Lighting functionality.
The Nao is comfortable to wear and well balanced. The whole unit weighs 185g with the head and battery units being connected by a simple elastic and cord system. An additional over the head strap is supplied but I didn’t feel the need to use it.
I’ve been using the Nao over the winter for both guided running and training. I was particularly impressed when on a trip to an unfamiliar forest I was able to run on wet, technical, narrow trails at full pace; it was leg speed rather than illumination that was the limiting factor! As much as the brightness it is the wide pool of light that the Nao gives off that is impressive. Some torches give a narrow beam but the Nao allows you to use peripheral vision rather than you having to turn your head to see objects at the side.
I chose the Petzl Nao for my Charlie Ramsay Round. I needed a torch with enough power to illuminate the rough steep terrain (especially the descent off Chno Dearg) and yet enough battery power to last through the night with no faffing with battery changes. The reactive function also really came into its own, dimming every time I looked at the map then seamlessly brightening as I looked back at the terrain. I also pre-programmed the torch to give me 5 hours of battery life so I knew that it would last until dawn.
The power and spread of the Nao’s light is really noticeable when you compare it with other torches. When running in a group one thing you need to consider is that if you run behind someone with a dimmer torch you will put them in their own shadow!
Is it worth it?
Over £100 is a lot to pay for a head torch especially as there are some decent torches around for less than half the price. But having used the Nao and got used to how comfortable and easy to operate it is and how it literally outshines the opposition I’d say it is definitely worth it. For serious winter fell running or for anyone considering night runs where both brightness and long battery life are important factors, the Petzl Nao is a great choice.
Pros: Great battery life, easy to use whilst wearing gloves, simple sequence functions, reactive feature is excellent when map reading.
Cons: Expensive, no strobe function.
For me they are the shoe for winter training and racing in boggy conditions (and there are quite a lot of those in the Peak District!) My present pair, the yellow version of the 300 have served me well having done almost 1400 km and so I was interested to see that Inov-8 had introduced a new version for 2015.
Well straight away the garish yellow has been replaced by a sporty blue / red colour scheme but this isn’t just the same shoe in a different colour. Closer inspection reveals the main difference; the sole and heel design. The latest model shares the same platform as the Mudclaw 265, having a flatter sole profile and without the flared heel of the yellow 300. The distinctive bulge under the heel has gone.
The heel cup is less rounded and slightly lower and I found that that it doesn’t extend quite as high up the achilles tendon. This could well be good news for runners who suffer from achilles pain.
The rand around the lower part of the upper is now stitched rather than glued / bonded as on the 265 and previous 300 model and I wonder whether this will stand up to abrasion from rough Gritstone boulders and abrasive heather as well as the bonded upper does. Time will no doubt tell.
What’s Not New?
The legendary grip from the distinctive 8mm lugs remains as does the 6mm drop as indicated by the double chevron. The synthetic uppers are again treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating and the precision fit (ideal for runners with a narrower forefoot) of the previous Mudclaw 300 is retained.
The shoe gets its name from its weight, the standard size 8.5 weighing 300g hence Mudclaw 300. On the scales my pair of size 6.5s weighed 483g (does that make mine Mudclaw 241 and a halfs?)
The shoes felt comfortable straight out of the box and reassuringly grippy on my first run with them over waterlogged, muddy fields (noticeably more so than my well worn current pair!)
To me the new Mudclaw looks more like the 265 than the existing 300. It has a different sole and thus feels a little more stable particularly when descending. However I felt that the previous rounded heel was a bit better for steep contouring – I suppose you can’t have both. To wear, it feels like the 265 too. The 6mm drop is the main thing that sets it apart from its lighter stable mate and more in common with the previous 300. I guess in reality it sits somewhere between the two.
Whatever version it is, whatever you want to call it, it is undoubtedly a Mudclaw. It gives great traction allowing you to keep going on steep, slippery, muddy climbs and the confidence to tackle muddy and wet, grassy descents at race pace.
Cloudless, blue sky days with lying snow make running a joy. But what about when the snow gets compacted and icy or melts and then refreezes over night; aren’t these conditions dangerous for running? If just wearing your normal fell shoes then you will definitely need to slow down and alter your running style to avoid slipping. There is also a higher chance of picking up an injury due to slipping, even if it isn’t due to a full on fall.
So in conditions like this I use a type of running crampon or micro-spike. Snowline Snowspikes are Stainless Steel spikes which are attached by chains to an elastomer cradle which simply fits over your normal running shoe.
Snowline Snowspikes Light (there is a heavier version) weigh only 235 grams a pair (UK shoe size 4 – 7) and come with their own small travel pouch which means there’s no risk of the spikes piercing your bum bag whilst carrying them.
They can be put on in seconds simply by stepping into them and pulling the stretchy elastomer over your shoe. 8 one centimetre spikes on the forefoot and 4 on the rear give a reassuring grip on icy ground and if you find that conditions underfoot improve they can be taken off in seconds. They’re not just for trail and fell running either, they’re fantastic when the streets and pavements are covered in frozen snow.
This video shows how easy they are to put on:
We’ve been blessed by some fantastic winter running conditions in the Peak District over the last few days. If we get any more icy weather this winter, don’t stop running because of the conditions underfoot, get a pair of Snowspikes and enjoy the snow!
Snowspikes are available from Amazon:
Steve Chilton’s excellent book, It’s A Hill, Get Over It gives a detailed history of the sport; from the early shepherds’ meetings in the 1800’s through to the rise of the Brownlee brothers and the possibility of Kilian Journet tackling the Bob Graham Round! It describes the expansion of the fell race calendar including how some of today’s classic races came into being and also details the development of the Fell Runners Association.
With chapters devoted to Ladies fell running, Joss Naylor, and the Bob Graham Round along with interviews with some of the greats of the sport past and present, It’s A Hill, Get Over It is a must read book for anyone interested in the sport of fell running.
It’s A Hill, Get Over It is available from Amazon and all good bookshops including Outside, Hathersage.