Trail Shoes From Road Running Companies, What Do You Think?

Hello iRunFar.com readers!

The idea for this post came from a conversation Bryon and I were having via email about each other’s blogs (mine being RunningShoesGuru.com).

We are both runners, we both beat up our lower body articulation on a regular basis. But why do we run in completely different shoes, all made by completely different brands? Actually Bryon asked me two very interesting questions: why do road running brands produce trail running shoes and why trail runners would want to buy trail running shoes produced by a “road” brand.

Why do road running companies produce running shoes?
The most logical answer here is the right one. They are businesses and like every other business they need to grow. When you are successful in bringing products to a market then you can do three things in order to grow further:

  1. You can try increase the total size of the market. It is of course the hardest approach and basically only the Nikes and Adidases of these world can go after such ambitious goals.
  2. You can try can gain an even larger share of the market. Competition, competition, competition…
  3. You can try and modify your products and go after side-markets that are similar or complementary to your main market. Nike started as a running shoe brand, and then expanded into basketball shoes and then later into sports apparel and so on.

Road running shoes companies produce trail running shoes because it’s a different, but very similar market to the one they compete in already, they have a product that can be adapted to the new market without having to re-invent the wheel and they have a brand that is strong enough to gain credibility almost immediately. This of course can backfire: there will be as many people appealed by a big brand entering a niche market as there will be people horrified by a potential “corruption” of their world.

Why would trail runners buy trail running shoes produced by big, not outdoor brands?
There are brands that have been producing outdoor gear and outdoor shoes for decades. Brands that trail runners love because they are born from the same passion and because they have been consistent for all those years. What can a road running company do to a shoe better than an outdoor company? What do running companies know about the outdoor/trails that specialized brands don’t know already?

The answer here is also quite simple: not all runners are trail runners, but, for sure, all trail runners are runners. And big brand running companies have been dealing with runners and their issues for as many decades. In short, We could say that while an outdoor company will have a perfect understanding on what is _outside_ a runners’ shoe, a big brand company will have a (probably) better understanding of what’s _inside_ the running shoes.

Road running companies based their fortune in addressing cushioning, stability, chaffing, irritation, weight reduction… for an extremely large number of runners. They can apply the same solutions to trail running shoes very easily and very effectively. Further, these companies have the size that allows them to create many many version of shoes for the many different biomechanics and needs of different runners. A company needs to sell approximately 50,000 units of a shoe (this is just a reference number!) to break even the development costs of a new shoe. Nike, Asics, and Adidas can all afford to create many different shoes each targeted to different types of runners. A smaller brand will have to compromise and make their shoe fit a wider number of people. Or price their shoe relatively higher in order to return their investments earlier.

So should trail runners buy trail running shoes from road running companies? Like for every other piece of equipment the answer is just subjective: by trial and error you will find the best shoe for you.

Before closing this article, I would like to add a note: the easiest way road running companies transform a road shoe in a trail shoe is by a) adding a rock plate; b)changing the rubber compound on the outsole; c) strengthening the toecap; and d) adding to the upper a layer of weather resistant material. All these changes can change the feel of a running shoes so when buying be careful: don’t take for granted that the trail version of the road running shoe you use will fit exactly the same!

Call for Comments
Do run in tend to run in trail shoes developed by companies that come from a road running history or by more outdoor-oriented companies? Why do you think you make that choice? Is it because of shoe performance? Marketing? Friends’ recommendations?

Ruggero, a dad and very slow runner/triathlete, writes on RunningShoesGuru.com website where you can find reviews of running shoes and various news/curiosities about the industry. We hope you enjoyed the guest post and will come and visit us at Running Shoes Guru !