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With More People Getting Outdoors, Here’s Why Trail Running Shoes Are the Next Big Thing

Outdoor footwear has long been influenced by the athletic industry. Now as the two worlds continue to merge, could trail running shoes become the next must-have style? Industry insiders believe it’s likely.

“There are lots of new runners and walkers coming into the space, and a lot of folks are walking off road. They’re looking for a product that is light and flexible and water resistant, and that typically is how you would think of a trail runner,” Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser at The NPD Group Inc., told FN. “There’s a real opportunity for trail running shoes to grow in 2021.”

According to NPD Retail Tracking Service, which tracks retail point-of-sale and e-commerce data, trail running footwear sales grew 2.5% for the 6 months ended February 2021.

NPD data also revealed that the top five brands in trail run, in dollar rank order, for the 12 months ending February 2021 were Asics, New Balance, Salomon, Saucony and Hoka One One. And the styles that sold the most, NPD said, were the Asics Gel-Venture 7 and four looks from the New Balance: the 481v3, the Fresh Foam Arishi Trail, the FuelCore Nitrel v4 and the MT410v6.

Saucony Peregrine 11 ST
Saucony Peregrine 11 ST.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Saucony

Anne Cavassa, president of Saucony, said last week during FN’s “Community Spirit: A New Inclusive Era in Women’s Running” webinar that trail running has specifically resonated with the brand’s female consumers, presenting a huge opportunity.

“Coming into 2020, pre-COVID, female trail runners were growing two times the rate of men, and trail race participants had doubled since 2013 through 2019,” Cavassa said. “I think with the COVID boom, that’s just going to grow even more.”

But women alone aren’t fueling sales. Jon Zalinski, owner of Treadz Shoes in Colorado, said everyone in the family is buying them for casual outings.

“They’re not carrying heavy weight or backpacking. But they want something more than just a Nike Free, a squishy running shoe. Right now, trail running shoes are hitting the mark,” said Zalinski, who noted that the nearby Moab in nearby Utah is a popular place for his customers to go on hikes or walk to the arches.

Top selling trail runners at Treadz, according to Zalinski, include the La Sportiva Raptor and the Brooks Cascadia. Also, the storeowner said his On sales have been “off the charts,” and the brand’s trail runners are a hit.

Zalinski said trail running footwear has consumed more shelf space at Treadz, especially since COVID-19 landed stateside. Looking ahead, he said he expects this trend to continue even as normalcy takes hold again.

Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra
Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Adidas

With recent releases, leading brands in the market have bolstered the energy surrounding trail running shoes. For instance, Adidas Terrex revealed the tech-loaded Speed Ultra late last month, which will drop via Adidas.com on April 25. Also last month, Hoka One One brought to market an adventurous collaboration with Cotopaxi on the Torrent 4 silhouette.

However, the energy isn’t solely around performance-focused product.

Last month, Hoka One One delivered a trail shoe for the fashion-focused: a collaboration with South Korean streetwear brand Thisisneverthat on the Speedgoat 4.

Thisisneverthat Hoka One One Speedgoat 4
Thisisneverthat x Hoka One One Speedgoat 4.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Hoka One One

Although outdoor’s rugged aesthetics and performance tech permeating streetwear and high fashion isn’t new — FN documented it in June 2019 — the trend continues to surge.

In the two years since the report, trail runners have continued to hit on style points, and sneaker boutique owners — including Ankur Amin, CEO of TGS (the parent to Extra Butter and others) — have benefited from the demand.

“Today’s customer doesn’t really think in terms of category or genre anymore. They want what’s trending or what’s being hyped by a prominent designer or celeb,” explained Amin, who has historically stocked the market’s most stylish trail runners, including Virgil Abloh’s take on the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 5.

Amin said looks from Solomon and Nike are best-selling trail runners in TGS stores, and styles from New Balance, On and Hoka aren’t far behind.

Looking ahead, Amin expects trail runners to consume more TGS shelf space.

“Trail shoes, from a design standpoint, offer a great point of difference with their aggressive outsoles and durable materials. We see the category as a one that has lasting power for the next few years,” Amin said.

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