While there are no cast in stone categories of trail running shoes, they may be defined according to the four basic genres of trail runners, and based on the shoes’ degree of cushioning and heel-to-toe drop, which is the difference between the heights of the cushioning under the foot at the heel and at the toes. In general, heel-toe drops measure 0-14 millimeters.
- Minimalist & Barefoot
Designed to keep the natural shape, function and instinctive motion of your feet as you run on trails, barefoot or minimalist trail running shoes are generally characterized by 0mm heel-toe drop and a mere slab of rubber on the sole to serve as underfoot protection. While the advantages of running barefoot are still being debated upon, it’s still good to know that you can find shoes intended for this genre of trail running.
Recommended for more experienced trail runners with strong foot muscles and swift and light strides, the low profile shoe offers less protection but more sensitivity since they have less cushioning. As such, this type of trail running shoes is great for making fast and light strides, and is conducive to natural running motions. They usually come with 0mm to 6mm heel-toe drop and are quite popular among elite trail runners.
- Standard or Traditional
Outfitted with the standard features of trail running shoes, traditional trail shoes generally look like typical running shoes and come with lugged traction, rockplate in the midsole as well as water-draining meshed upper. With heel-toe drop ranging from 6mm to 14mm, standard trail running shoes can provide enough cushioning and protection, which makes them great for everyday training and even for long running adventures.
Whereas minimalist trail shoe models are characteristically low on cushioning and protection but high on sensitivity, maximalist trail running shoes, which generally exhibit high stack heights, low heel-toe drop, and relatively high amount of cushioning, come high on foot protection but low on underfoot sensitivity.
So depending on your need and preference in terms of protection and sensitivity, you may opt for a minimalist, low profile, traditional or maximalist pair of trail running shoes.