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
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.
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.
For a shoe that has to put up with the harshest of treatment; the acidic peat of the Peak District and the abrasive gritstone and rough heather moorland that’s some going! Not to mention being left outside the back door on winter nights.
I use SportTracks software that automatically clocks the mileage (kilometre-age) so I know it’s an accurate count.
I’ve had them since October 2010 (again thanks to keeping a training diary with SportTracks) and remarkably the shoes have still got a good amount of tread left on them, particularly the heel studs which can be prone to coming off. Admittedly they’re not quite as yellow as they once were – but who wants bright yellow shoes! The only real sign of wear is in the heel cup.
I do have a new pair put aside for racing but I reckon I’ll get a good few months more out of these as my winter training shoe and for running guide work.
Do I have a secret for getting such a good life span from my shoes? Well warm soapy water works – and I suppose only being 8 stone helps too!
However I do run on trails and wearing a more aggressive sole is sometimes overkill so with Salomon’s good reputation for their range of running shoes I was keen to put these to the test.
First impressions on opening the box were good, a nice bright green colour to contrast with the leaden winter skies! The fit seemed fine, with my usual size 6.5 comparing similarly to other shoes and the asymmetrical laces ensured a snug fit. One thing I did notice was that they felt very stable, almost as if they had a wider, flatter base than I was used to. The Quicklace system is easy to tension but then a bit fiddly to tuck the end away.
I first wore them for a regular 8 mile training run over a mix of terrain including hard packed trail with some muddy sections and puddles, uneven stony trail and a wet, grassy uphill stretch. The XA Pros felt comfortable straight away and gave a reassuring grip on all but the muddiest sections where a pair of Speedcross or Fellcross would have been more at home. The protective rubber toe cap would be a good feature on looser, rockier trails where there is a risk of stubbing your toe. The extremely breathable upper did let the water in but that’s an accepted hazard of British winter running – it will be ideal if we have another long hot summer!
One feature that I did really like is the flush tongue which means that mud and grit stays on the front of the shoe rather than getting in down behind the laces. This makes cleaning the shoe easier than with a normal tongue.
Satisfied with their performance on trail terrain I decided to try them out over more fell running type ground. They performed reasonably well although I found it hard to contour on steep ground due to the stiff foot-bed and wide base whilst running downhill on wet grass was interesting! This is a bit of an unfair criticism as they aren’t designed for this type of terrain.
They did however cope well with a dusting of wet snow that fell during my run.
I wasn’t keen on the Quicklace system, the laces were covered with gritty mud at the end and I had difficulty releasing the lace. I prefer good old fashioned laces but I’m sure it’s something I would get used to and maybe isn’t as much of a problem in dry weather.
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!
Interestingly, compared to the uppers the sole has fared pretty well with quite a lot of tread remaining.
The shoes have done me well and have had some great adventures:
And have seen some stunning running conditions:
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!