What are the best shoes for Fell Running?

One question that I'm often asked is "What are the best shoes for Fell Running?"  The answer is simple; "It depends..."

what are the best shoes for fell running?

what are the best shoes for fell running?

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.

fell shoe grip comparison

different grips for different trips

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!)

trail and fell shoes

mixed terrain? you could always try this!

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.

Summer racing.
This still requires quite an aggressive tread but I look for something lighter in weight.

Summer training.
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.

inov8 debris sock

Mudclaws for winter running

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.

X Talons for summer racing

X Talons for summer racing

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!

inov-8 roclite

Roclites, my faithful workhorses - they didn't look like that for long!

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:

Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

my top 3: Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

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.

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Salomon Fellraiser Review

Salomon’s Fellraiser is a recent addition to the ever growing fell running shoe market.

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.

Salomon Fellraiser fell shoes

Salomon Fellraiser fell shoes

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.

Salomon Fellraiser

substantial toe protection

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.

Salomon Fellraiser outsole

good lugs!

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!

Quicklace system with tongue pouch

Quicklace system with tongue pouch

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.

Trail running with Salomon Fellraisers

Fellraisers on test

Verdict

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!)

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Inov-8 Roclite

Inov-8 Roclite have been my shoe of choice this year.

I’ve used them for working, training and racing.  Unfortunately the rough gritstone, coarse heather and acidic peat of the Peak District have taken their toll and after 878 kilometres (I know thanks to SportTracks training software which calculated it!) the uppers have given up the ghost!

Inov-8 Roclite

oops!

Interestingly, compared to the uppers the sole has fared pretty well with quite a lot of tread remaining.

Inov-8 Roclite

there’s miles left in them lad!

The shoes have done me well and have had some great adventures:

steep running on boulders

Roclites doing what they were designed for

Inov-8 Roclite

getting wet

And have seen some stunning running conditions:

Inov-8 Roclite

blue sky running

Ennerdale fell race

struggling on Ennerdale fell race – me, not the shoes!

So I reckon that I’ve had my moneys worth out of them and whilst I’m always reluctant to throw my favourite bits of kit away, the good news is….

I’ve got a shiny new pair!

Inov-8 Roclite

ooh – new shoes!

For out and out bog and mud I wear Inov-8 Mudclaws but for mixed fell and trail running I don’t think you can beat Inov-8 Roclites.  So I’m off to hit the fells with my new shoes – it will be a shame to get them dirty!