While the term Zero Drop is quite familiar to both trail and road runners now, that was not so much of the case then. It was only in the last five years or so that the shoe brands started featuring heel to toe differential after the barefoot running trend came about in the running world in 2009.
The term Zero Drop is used to describe a running shoe that was designed with no heel drop. It basically means that there is a zero measured drop from the heel cushioning to the forefoot. A great example of this is the popular zero drop trail running shoe, the Altra Lone Peak 4.0. Also, having a balanced zero drop platform promotes a more even and less harsh bent knee landing, which creates a more balanced natural feeling shoe.
Zero drop trail running shoes start with aligning the ball of the foot evenly with the heel. The heel and the ball end up the same height from the ground, whether that is directly on the ground or sitting above a cushy midsole. The term "zero-drop" literally means that there is no drop from the heel to the toes just like there is no drop when you are barefoot.
A typical trail running shoe is designed with a heel drop between 5mm and 12mm. While running shoes are meant to help with performance, comfort, and stability, running shoe brands believe that Zero Drop trail running shoes do not only help with this but also with injury prevention and ailments runners often encounter.
Types of Zero Drop trail running shoes
When it comes to zero drop, minimalist, or barefoot running shoes, there are three different types of builds or categories of shoes.
Silicone Rubber. Silicone rubber zero drop running shoes are naturally thin and typically suggested for runners who are training. Silicone Rubber designed shoes are not optimal for trail running, or any other rough terrains.
Most professionals will refer to silicone rubber as barefoot running shoes with zero drop. The only downside to silicone rubber built zero drop shoes is the lack of breathability, which can increase odors, moisture, and irritation.
Rubber Composite. Rubber Composite zero drop running shoes are known as the "performance" shoe. This is attributed to the sole rubber technology that is utilized to build the shoe. On top of this, rubber composite build shoes are naturally more flexible than any other design.
Anyone who purchases rubber composite shoes will be required to undergo a training and break-in period.
Synthetic. Synthetic zero drop running shoes are best for individuals who are seeking protection and control when running. These shoes are designed with patented materials that make runners feel as if they are in control and balanced, while at the same time, grounded and not bearing any shoe weight.
Like Rubber composite, synthetic zero drop shoes may require a period of training or break-in, especially for first-time zero drop runners.
Zero Drop Trail Running Shoe Buying Advice
The best Zero Drop trail running shoes for men and women, as with all types of shoes is exceedingly personal. It all depends on a variety of factors that a trail runner faces and these factors do not make picking out a proper pair of running shoes not that simple as finding shoes that look visually appealing and that does fit well. This is why it is essential to take the time to evaluate and research all of the important factors of a Zero Drop trail running shoe.
In order to figure out what shoe is best, it is always important to consider one’s personal preferences and running style. Below helps in finding the best Zero Drop trail running shoe by discussing the important characteristics to consider and what to avoid.
It is important to consider one’s running mechanics which could be under pronation, pronation, overpronation, and forefoot running. Considering this makes a great deal of significance on whatever type of running style the zero drop shoe will be used for, may it be for high-performance sport running, and trail running.
Different sole technologies are used by all shoe brands, depending on shoe’s specific function. Before a runner can pick out a zero-drop trail running shoe, it is important to consider a runner’s specific wants and needs.
Determining what the shoe will be used for is an essential process that can help one in finding a zero-drop running shoe with the matching midsole, outsole, and insole technology. This could also help in preventing the need for having to buy extra padding or insoles in the future.
Runners know that a heavy-weight shoe can affect the their performance. Whether for training, professional running, or for just the enjoyment of it, a lightweight shoe is vital for peak performance and fitness activity. When picking out a zero-drop trail running shoe, typically, they should all be very lightweight.
It is known that due to the nature of a zero drop trail shoe, it may be challenging to find one that focuses only on flexibility. This is because running shoes are usually a balance between the stability and flexibility feature, but with zero drop trail running shoes, its flexibility depends on the upper materials used on the shoe and the rubber on the outsole.
Zero trail drop shoes that are not built with proper upper materials can cause humidity inside the shoe making it harder for the runner’s foot to breathe.
For warmer climates, the shoe’s breathability is a priority to consider when picking out a zero drop trail running shoe. In the process of doing so, it is important to gauge the ventilation of each shoe and what type of material is used in the construction of the upper.
The shoe’s support speaks volumes about an athlete’s running performance. Finding the best zero drop trail shoe requires a keen inspection at the material used on the shoe and how it supports the essentials of a great running experience.
Questions about the shoe’s support and protection should be the main basis when looking for a zero drop trail shoe.
Typically, most zero drop trail shoes are designed to be used without wearing socks. With that stated, it is recommended to bring a pair of thin socks when trying on different zero drop trail shoes.
It also proves beneficial to walk around in the shoes with both wearing socks and without it to feel how the fit of the shoe actually feels in both cases. Also take into consideration that the shoes will feel relatively different after wearing it for a few miles.
Irregardless what type of shoe one is planning to purchase, it is always a good idea to take into account the type of terrains and surfaces the running shoe will be used on.
For example, there are zero drop shoes for rocky mountains and also zero drop shoes for road runs and indoor training. Choosing the right terrain to run on makes it more easier to find the perfect fitting zero drop shoe with the best traction. This will also help in extending the shoe’s lifespan and durability.
In zero drop trail running shoes, the quality is the one that takes precedence while the design is the last factor to look for in finding the best shoe.
Besides the shoes elite technology, the unique design and color ways it comes in are factors to consider a good shoe. Doing a research on brands what different brands are offering when it comes to designs that speak to the user’s taste. Also keep in mind that zero drop trail running shoes with flashier designs will tend to cost more the minimalist and basic ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
What shoe brands make zero drop running shoes?
Many companies have already started to manufacture and design zero drop running shoes. The very pioneer in this field is Altra, and they are even the brand that coined the term "zero drop." Some of the best companies that manufacture zero drop shoes are Altra Running Shoes, Xero Running Shoes, Inov Running Shoes, Vibram FiveFingers, Vivobarefoot, Topo Athletic, and Merrell Running Shoes.
How does the shoe drop affect running?
The shoe drop represents the difference between the heel and the toe height. The drop primarily affects how the foot strikes the ground upon impact, and it is also possible to have cushioned shoes that still have a zero or low heel to toe drop.
What is the best zero drop trail running shoe available in the market?
Currently, it is both the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 and the Merrell Trail Glove 4 which are the best zero drop trail running shoes in the market. Both trail running shoes are known for their efficient grip on different trail surfaces and their versatility in switching between trail and road runs.
15 best trail zero drop running shoes
Altra Timp 1.5
Altra Superior 4.0
Merrell Trail Glove 4
Altra Lone Peak 4.0
Topo Athletic Runventure 2
Altra Lone Peak 3.5
Altra King MT 2
Merrell Vapor Glove 4 3D
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 RSM
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Mid Mesh
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Mid RSM
Merrell Bare Access XTR
Inov-8 TerraUltra G 260
Merrell Trail Glove 5
Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG
Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob is a fan of short distances with a 5K PR at 15:58 minutes. Based on 35 million race results, he's among the fastest 0.2% runners. Jens Jakob previously owned a running store, when he was also a competitive runner. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and the likes as well as peer-reviewed journals. Finally, he has been a guest on +30 podcasts on running.
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