When To Replace Your Trail Running Shoes

Knowing when to replace your running shoes is part science and part knowing your own body. Everyone has a unique running style that impacts how your running shoes wear down. It’s important to know when to replace your running shoes to prevent injuries and protect your feet.

Mileage and Age Matter

Replacing your running shoes every 300-500 miles or every 18 months (whichever comes first) may help prevent shin splints, tendinitis, and other injuries.

300 to 500 Miles: Most running shoes are designed to last between 300 and 500 miles depending on how you run. Every runner has a unique foot strike, weight, and running schedule. All of these factors impact how quickly your shoes wear out.

For example, a heavier runner who lands primarily on their heels will compress the foam cushion quicker than a runner of the same weight who lands more toward their toes.

When you run, you land with the force of nearly four times your body weight with each step. Most running shoes use EVA foam for cushioning and shock absorption. Over time the foam compresses and collapses the cushioning air cells.

18 Months: The foam also breaks down with time, whether you run in the shoes or not.  Most manufacturers agree that foam cushion has about 18 months of life before the shoes should be retired, regardless of mileage.

EVA foam loses its rigid “cell” structure naturally over time even if the shoes are just sitting on the shelf. Once the foam compresses or breaks down and loses its ability to absorb shock, the risk of overuse injuries increases.

PERSONAL PREFERENCE: I have found by tracking my mileage with a fitness tracker app that I typically need to replace my shoes every 300 to 400 miles. I am prone to knee pain due to an old soccer injury if I don’t have enough shock absorption in my shoes. I usually reach that mileage before the 18-month mark so time is not a concern for me. Some brands and specific models I use last a few more miles than others, but the variation is pretty minimal.

Signs You Need to Retire Your Running Shoes

The “Press Test”: The midsole is the part of the shoe that gives support and cushion. It usually wears out before the tread, fabric, or other parts of the shoe show signs of significant wear.

Press your thumb into the midsole of your shoe. If the midsole feels hard and there is little or no cushiony give, it is probably time for a new pair of kicks.

Look for Creasing: Study the midsole on the side of the shoe around areas of high load—under the heel and around the ball of the foot. A worn out midsole will look compressed and have a lot of horizontal creases and wrinkles in the foam rubber.

Look At the Tread: The tread on trail running shoes gives traction and stability. Typically the tread lasts longer than the cushion and shock absorption so, if the tread is worn out your shoes are probably overdue for retirement.

The Twist Test: Hold your shoe at both ends (heel and toe box) and try to twist it. It should feel firm and relatively difficult to twist. An old shoe that has lost its support will twist easily.

Listen To Your Body: If, after a typical run (normal mileage, pace, and route) you feel more sore than usual, your running shoes might be the culprit. If you are feeling pain in similar places on both legs–shins, knees, hips, hamstrings, etc.–that is often a sign your shoes have lost their support.

If you think your shoes are suddenly uncomfortable or not as cushy, you’re probably right! Go to the store and try on the exact same pair of shoes. If you notice a big difference, it’s probably time to replace your running shoes.

Ways to Extend the Life of Your Running Shoes

Quality trail running shoes are not cheap but there are some easy ways to extend the life of your runners.

Take them off correctly: Untie and loosen the laces each time you take off your shoes. Don’t use the other foot to pull the shoe off by the heel. Instead, use your hands. This will help preserve the structure of the shoe and prevent excess wear on the outside rubber.

Only run in them: It’s tempting to wear your trail runners around the house or out on the town. This will wear your shoes down quicker. Keep your running shoes for running. Once your shoes have reached the end of the trail, so to speak, designate them as house, lawn, or around town shoes. Often, shoes reach their running mileage limit but still have a little life left.

Rotate shoes: Rotating between two or three pairs of running shoes helps extend the life of the foam because it gives them more time between runs to regain their shape and decompress (literally).

Rotating between different models or brands of shoes also prevents your feet from developing small weaknesses. Each shoe is designed slightly differently, with strengths and weaknesses. If you run in the same brand and model of shoe for an extended period of time, your feet may develop small weaknesses where the shoes are strongest. Rotating brands and models gives your feet a better workout and helps prevent injury.

Avoid the dryer: The heat of the dryer and the tumbling around breaks down the shoe materials. If your running shoes are soaked or extra dirty, rinse them with clean water and scrub them with a soft brush to get the dirt off. Use a towel to dry them off as much as possible then stuff newspaper or paper towel inside them and leave them in front of a fan to dry.

Avoid extreme temperatures: Leaving your running shoes in the hot or cold car, out in the sun, or in the garage during cold winter months takes a toll on your shoes. Extreme heat or cold temperatures will cause the foam to break down faster.

PERSONAL PREFERENCE: I try to have two different models of running shoes in circulation. I typically purchase a new pair every 3-5 months so I have one new pair and one in the middle of its life. That way I can space out the cost of shoes and not be breaking in two new pair of shoes at the same time.

Do you have a favorite pair of trail running shoes or a preferred way to rotate your shoes? Share in the comments.

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