How Should My Off-Road Shoes Fit ?

Trail Shoes 30+ Years Ago

When I first started fell running, British brand Walsh was the dominant force. They have always been small-fitting shoes and as such, you used to buy them snug and ‘customise’ them to your foot. You would put them on and stand in a bucket of water! The upper would stretch and take the shape of your foot (they also turned your feet and socks blue!).  You did this because it was believed that you needed a tight fitting shoe to allow you to better feel the ground.

Unsurprisingly the understanding of how the foot needs to function and shoe technology has changed in the 35 years since my first fell race. Although Walsh shoes look similar, the upper is a more foot-shaped construction now and made of a tougher material so it doesn’t get as easily cut on the rocks and scree. There are many more brands who make off-road running shoes in a range of shapes and even widths. So now days you can get the perfect fit no matter what your foot shape.

Getting the Right Fit

So, what is the perfect fit for an off-road shoe? As with your road running shoes, you still need some room in your off-road shoes for your feet to function properly. In reality though, the off-road fit does need to be a touch snugger. This is so your foot doesn’t move around inside the shoe when you are running on a camber or really broken ground. The midsole will also be thinner and more flexible in shoes designed to be used more on soft ground. This is so you have more of a feel for the floor and your foot can respond to this. The firmer the trail you are running on, the thicker the mid sole needs to be, to offer a bit of protection including from protruding rocks. Many trail running shoes have a rock plate. This is a thin piece of nylon or plastic inside the midsole that will help prevent pointy rocks bruising your feet.

“As with your road running shoes, you still need some room in your off-road shoes for your feet to function properly.”

To recap you need a snug fit at the heel and the midfoot of the shoe. In the toe area you still need room for your toes to wriggle and function. Your toes spreading out is the way your foot gives you stability, cushioning and propulsion. In a road running shoe it is advisable to have a full thumb width between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe when you shoe is fully laced up and you are stood up. In an off-road shoe, particularly one used on soft ground you will only need half as much room as your feet don’t get quite as much pounding on the softer surface and subsequently expand less. You should never be able to feel the end of a shoe even after a long run on a hot day. If you are running an off-road ultra on soft ground you might find that you need that extra space again but, how much a runner’s feet swell varies from runner to runner, so you will have to do a few test runs to decide what works best for you over the long haul.

The socks you wear will affect the fit of your shoes. So make sure you try shoes on with the socks you intend to use most. A thicker sock will take up some of the wriggle room, as will socks with toes like Injinji.

Bunions, corns and patches of hard skin are often caused by poorly fitting footwear. Not just your running shoes, but your everyday shoes should also have enough wriggle room for your toes to function properly. Even after a long day on your feet you shouldn’t be able to feel the end of your shoes and they shouldn’t feel tight.

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