Should Trail Shoes Be Thicker Than Street Shoes? Maybe Not...
Do you wear different shoes for walking on streets than you do for walking on trails? Do you find your trail shoes are more rigid and bulky? If so, then you're not alone.
Common sense says that trails require bigger, sturdier shoes. After all, there's a whole world of twigs and rocks out there that can damage your feet and you probably want protection from them. And after spending most of the day on surfaces that are smooth and flat, how would it feel to suddenly step on a sharp rock or uneven ground? Many people believe soles should be thick and tough to block those sensations, and that the structure of the shoe should brace the ankle in an upright position. Sometimes it seems as though the whole idea of stepping on a trail implies the need for shoes that are thick, rigid and impenetrable.
The growing interest in minimalist footwear and natural foot function has shed new light on this idea. After all, our ancestors spent a lot of time on unpaved surfaces, and bulky shoes were not an option for them.
An article by one of our favorite foot experts, Dr. Ray McClanahan, DPM, recently caught our attention. Co-written with Glenn Ingram, Jr., ND, and originally published in Walkabout Magazine, the article explores the different ways our bodies respond to walking on trails as opposed to walking on paved surfaces. Instead of recommending more supportive shoes for the rougher, unpredictable surfaces, McClanahan and Ingram suggest the opposite: less shoe is better, especially on trails.
Photo courtesy of Mikko from Helsinki, Finland
The explanation is quite simple. Walking on a flat paved surface uses the same muscles the same way for every step. Your body quickly learns how to do this, the range of motion is not challenging and there are little, if any, surprises concerning what you step upon.
On a trail, however, everything changes. Take a step off-road and your feet are now twisting every which way as they land on varied surfaces of rocks, twigs and uneven ground. This information is sent to your brain, which is then challenged to keep your body upright. At this time, it is very important for your feet to have a wide range of natural movement to adapt to surface changes. Rigid footwear not only blocks signals your feet may receive from the ground, but it can also restrict the range of motion in your feet and ankles. By inhibiting your natural foot function, you may be missing out on an opportunity to strengthen your feet while increasing the chance of injury.
For trails, the good doctors say barefoot is best, although people who have not been raised barefoot are recommended to find flexible barefoot-like shoes that allow their feet to bend and stretch naturally. And just like with minimalist running, anyone accustomed to sturdy, conventional shoes is advised to transition slowly to prevent injury; if you haven't used your muscles in this way before then they need time to strengthen and adapt.
Of course, trails do require certain needs. Most people will want some protection from those twigs and sharp rocks, and shoes that lack traction will invite slipping on loose or wet surfaces. The trick is to find shoes that have these features without restricting foot movement or weighing you down.
We're happy to share with you the original article, which includes the docs' specifications for qualities to look for in a good trail-walking shoe:
Trail Walking Footwear
(as printed in Walkabout Magazine, Issue 24)
By Ray McClanahan, DPM and Glenn Ingram, Jr., ND
Walking on blacktop or concrete is a generally predictable experience, as far as the foot and ankle are concerned. Since these surfaces are mostly flat, the numerous joints in the foot and ankle become aware of moving within limited ranges of motion.
However, the foot and ankle undergo a different, less predictable experience the moment a walker decides to go off-road. Here, these same body parts will be called upon to keep the walker upright and moving forward while simultaneously adapting to ground surfaces that at one moment will require large amounts of pronation, and in the next step require large amounts of supination.
Here is where we believe a problem exists. Many walkers are going off-road in their street shoes. And we don’t mean their dress shoes. They are often going off-road in footwear that is holding their foot in a manner that does not allow the many joints of the foot to spread out and adapt to an ever-changing ground structure.
Experiencing the full capabilities of the foot and ankle adapting to non-linear surfaces takes practice and time. It also requires wearing no footwear, or choosing footwear that does not restrict foot and ankle motion.
Unless you have grown up completely barefoot — which we are fairly certain most of you have not — then we recommend the latter. The challenge is finding appropriate shoes. Many footwear companies are capitalizing on the walking boom and making trail versions of their urban walking shoes.
The problem is that instead of making shoes that are more flexible and foot-shaped, they are making them more stiff, sturdy, and over-designed.
Off-Road Footwear Should Offer the Following:
- Protection: Ideally this should involve a covering that goes over the entire foot and is snug over the ankle to keep rocks, twigs, and other trail debris from getting into the shoe.
- Traction: Soles that are smooth will be dangerous on loose and wet surfaces. A contoured sole with ridges and grooves will generally help provide better traction. The problem here is that these materials add extra weight, which is undesirable.
- Lightweight: Footwear that is light allows the walker to respond quicker to a changing ground surface.
- Flexibility: The closer a walking shoe is to a moccasin or a slipper, the more likely that shoe’s design will allow the joints of the foot and ankle to adapt to the trail surface. Most walking shoes currently available are not flexible.
- Foot-Shaped: There are three features built into footwear that stray from the natural foot shape, and they should be avoided:
- Heel Elevation: Soles should be completely flat.
- Toespring: The ends of the toes should be flat and level with the ball of the foot.
- Tapered Toe Boxes: The space allotted to the ends of the toes should be wider than the ball of the foot.
About Dr. Ray McClanahan: Dr. Ray's practice, Northwest Foot & Ankle in Portland, Oregon, allows him to care for those who find their highest joy when in motion. In his 17 years as a podiatrist, he has learned that most foot problems can be corrected by restoring natural foot function. He is also the inventor of Correct Toes, silicone toe spacers. His professional goal is to provide quality natural foot health services with an emphasis on sports medicine, preventative and conservative options as well as education on proper footwear.
About Dr. Glen Ingram: Dr. Ingram and his wife, Marty, work as a team of naturopathic doctors in Brevard, North Carolina. They provide natural, holistic health care to patients of all ages and all levels of health. For more information, visit the website for Through the Woods Natural Health.
- ►June 2016 (3)
- ►May 2016 (4)
- ►April 2016 (1)
- ►March 2016 (5)
- ►February 2016 (2)
- ►January 2016 (3)
- ►December 2015 (4)
- Finally, a STUNNING, Eco-Friendly Alternative to Disposal Wrapping Paper!
- We're Breaking-Up with Grippy
- Pumpkin Shoes for Harvest Season
- The Best Slipper Gift Guide Ever!
- Families Visit FREE at America's National Parks!
- Wrap-Up Your Little Ones for the Holidays in Our NEW Very Merry Moccasins!
- Progress Update on New Soft Star Workshop - Fall 2015
- ►October 2015 (4)
- ►September 2015 (3)
- ►August 2015 (5)
- ►July 2015 (5)
- Top 10 Balance Games for Kids... of All Ages!
- Time to Play! Elves Have Fun and Get Creative at Spring 2015 Playday
- Snazzy New Colors for Buttercups and Ballerines
- GIVEAWAY: Diapers, Blocks and Shoes... Oh My! Enter to Win Our New Baby Prize Package
- Soft Star Style Bulletin: Chukkas Are Coming!
- We're Staging a Flip-Flop Intervention!
- ►May 2015 (4)
- Work Hard, Play Harder…Run Hardest?
- Transitioning to Barefoot Health PLUS RunAmoc Giveaway!
- UFC Champion Carlos Condit Tries Soft Star Shoes
- Mom and Career Elf
- Earth Day Giveaway: Celebrate Your Favorite Planet with Sustainable Goodies!
- Every Day is Bike-to-Work Day
- Happy National Pet Day! Can You Guess Which Pets Belong to Our Elves?
- ►March 2015 (6)
- ►February 2015 (2)
- ►January 2015 (5)
- ►December 2014 (5)
- Introducing One of a Kind Shoes - Same Day Shipping with No Design-Your-Own Fees
- More Than Meets the Eye: Tim's Handmade Transformers Shoes
- Help Families in Need by Sharing What Makes you Thankful!
- Travel GIVEAWAY: Win a Free Pair of Rogue Shoes + a Travel Bag from RAGGEDedge Gear!
- Shopping Online? Finding Your Shoe Size Just Got Faster, Easier and More Accurate!
- 22-Year-Old Leather Moccasins Still Looking Good!
- Show Us Your BEST Soft Star Halloween Costume!
- Mindful Running Interview with Barefoot Guru Michael Sandler
- Show Your Team Colors! Tim's Special OSU Beaver Football Shoes
- Treatment and Removal of Plantar Warts - Kids' Foot Health
- Introducing SUPER SWATCHES for Local Soft Star Customers
- The History of Tassels—Fitting Tassels Now Available on the Soft Star Website
- Time for Our HALLOWEEN CONTEST: Win Handmade Shoes to Match Your Costume!
- BIG NEWS: Soft Star's New Website and New Shoe Visualizer
- "Boss of the Moss" Mick Dodge Wears Soft Star Shoes on National Geographic Series
- Need Spectacular Shoes for Fall? Introducing Autumn Moccasins!
- BATTLE FOR THE INTERNET: Help Small Businesses by Speaking Up for Net Neutrality
- ►August 2014 (3)
- ►July 2014 (4)
- ►June 2014 (3)
- ►May 2014 (5)
- ►April 2014 (3)
- ►March 2014 (3)
- ►February 2014 (3)
- ►January 2014 (2)
- ►December 2013 (6)
- Happy Thanksgiving! Holiday Shopping Tips and Ideas from the Elves
- GIVEAWAY! One-of-a-Kind Green Merry Mocs
- 2013 Holiday Shipping for Soft Star Shoes
- Tips for Choosing Minimalist Boots and Winter Shoes
- GIVEAWAY: Win a Free Pair of Very Unique Merry Mocs!
- We Have a Winner for Our Halloween Costume Contest!
- Help Us Pick a New Leather Color
- Shoe Artisans Share New Ideas at the Soft Star Workshop
- Heartfelt Obituary for Red Dash
- Monkeys and Elves Unite! Soft Star Teams Up with Luna Sandals
- Soft Star Halloween Costume Photo Contest… and a Secret from the Elves
- Knee Arthritis? Change Your Shoes for Prevention and Treatment
- We Have a Sweepstakes Winner! And More to Come...
- ►September 2013 (5)
- ►August 2013 (5)
- ►July 2013 (5)
- ►June 2013 (4)
- Should Trail Shoes Be Thicker Than Street Shoes? Maybe Not...
- Soft Star Survey: Receive a Free $5 Gift Card and a Chance to Win $100 Cash!
- Elves Getting Dirty! Soft Star Volunteers at SAGE Community Gardens
- First Sneak Peek at the New Soft Star Ballet Flat!
- Maker's Wild Documentary: Go Behind the Scenes at Soft Star Shoes
- Are High Heels Giving You Hammer Toes? Tips for Prevention and Treatment
- Intrigued by Barefoot Running? Start this Weekend with International Barefoot Running Day!
- Are Those Shoes Made of Wood?
- Wikler's Quest for Healthy Children's Feet
- Michael Sandler Visit and Workshop – Barefoot Walking Book Review and GIVEAWAY!
- Thinking of Boston
- How Fast Do Children's Feet Grow?
- Barefoot Pioneers: the People Who Taught Us "Barefoot is Best"
- Caballo Blanco's Legacy Lives On: Tom Norwood Returns from Copper Canyon
- Book Review: Overthinking the Marathon by Ray Charbonneau
- Reinventing the Hammer: OSU Students Bring Their Skills to Soft Star
- An Olympic Thank You! Help Missy Franklin Swim for MS
- The Mighty Arch, Part 2: Strengthen Your Arches to Treat and Prevent Foot Pain
- Running Green: Soft Star Shoes at the Portland Shamrock Run
- Winter Playday at the Soft Star Workshop
- The Mighty Arch, Part 1: A Natural Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?
- ►February 2013 (4)
- ►January 2013 (1)
- ►December 2012 (5)
- A Barefoot Running Book for Kids (Includes Free Lesson in Consumerism) + GIVEAWAY!
- Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey Shoes and Small Business
- Infographic: How to Choose Barefoot Shoes
- Rally 4 Jillie!
- Gifts for Her this Holiday Season - Fitting Tassels
- Sneak Peek at New Shoes for Women and Men - Vote for a Name!
- ►October 2012 (6)
- ►September 2012 (3)
- ►August 2012 (3)
- ►June 2012 (3)
- ►May 2012 (2)
- ►April 2012 (2)
- ►March 2012 (1)
- ►February 2012 (3)
- ►January 2012 (2)
- ►December 2011 (4)
- ►November 2011 (3)
- ►October 2011 (3)
- ►September 2011 (4)
- ►August 2011 (4)
- ►July 2011 (5)
- ►June 2011 (3)
- ►May 2011 (5)
- ►April 2011 (3)
- ►March 2011 (2)
- ►February 2011 (4)
- ►January 2011 (3)
- ►November 2010 (4)
- ►October 2010 (2)
- ►August 2010 (2)
- ►July 2010 (1)
- ►May 2010 (3)
- ►April 2010 (4)
- ►March 2010 (3)
- ►February 2010 (9)
- ►January 2010 (1)
- ►December 2009 (3)
- ►November 2009 (2)
- ►October 2009 (5)
- ►September 2009 (3)
- ►August 2009 (3)
- ►July 2009 (2)
- ►June 2009 (3)
- ►May 2009 (3)
- ►April 2009 (2)
- ►March 2009 (6)
- ►February 2009 (2)
- ►January 2009 (4)
- ►December 2008 (3)
- ►November 2008 (4)
- ►October 2008 (4)
- ►August 2008 (4)
- ►July 2008 (2)
- ►June 2008 (4)
- ►May 2008 (4)
- ►April 2008 (7)
- ►March 2008 (2)
- ►February 2008 (2)
- ►January 2008 (4)
- ►November 2007 (2)
- ►October 2007 (5)
- ►September 2007 (1)
- ►August 2007 (2)
- ►July 2007 (3)
- ►June 2007 (2)
- ►May 2007 (2)
- ►April 2007 (2)
- ►March 2007 (4)
- ►February 2007 (2)
- ►January 2007 (2)
- ►December 2006 (1)
- ►November 2006 (4)
- ►October 2006 (3)
- ►September 2006 (4)
- ►August 2006 (5)
- ►July 2006 (4)
- ►June 2006 (5)