Trail Running Shoes VS Road Running Shoes
Posted by on 16th Sep 2022

Trail Running Shoes VS Road Running Shoes

Difference between Trail Running Shoes and Road Running Shoes

Very often questions arise in the mind of many trail runners: can I use trail shoes for road running or is it necessary to have both a road running shoe and a trail running shoe? In terms of looks and feel both road and trail running shoes differ a lot. The general differences between both shoes are that trail shoes have added rock plates for shock absorption while off-road running shoes have no rock plates. Increased durability features like added rock plates, thick upper mesh, and thicker outsole are present in the best off-road running shoes while the best road running shoes for a road do not have so many durability features. They are specially made lightweight to boost performance on man-made tracks. 

Trail-Running Shoes vs Road-Running Shoe Outsoles

One of the most noticeable differences in both shoes is the bottoms or outsoles. The outsoles of off-road running shoes are thicker to provide better grip to runners on rocky or uneven terrains. The best trail shoes are those which have an adequate amount of thickness in the outsole according to the surface you are running on. Best off-road running shoes also have softer rubber in the outsoles than the best road running shoes to increase the shock absorption rates of these shoes.

Road-running shoes have a flatter, less-knobby soles to create a stable, consistent surface for running on paved roads. The rubber on the best running shoes for road generally holds up better to frequent friction with paved surfaces than the rubber on even the best trail shoes. Both shoes have outsoles with a thickness range according to the needs of the surface on which these shoes will be used to run.

Trail-Running vs. Road-Running Shoe Midsoles


Today cushioning in off-road running shoes has revolutionised the whole industry. The midsole which is the part between the insole and outsole is the centralised source of cushioning in a trail shoe. Generally, trail running shoes are more cushioned than road running shoes because off-road running shoes are made to run on hard or uneven surfaces. However, some of the best running shoes for the road have the same amount of cushioning as trail running shoes.

Heel-to-toe drop 

The heel-to-toe drop is basically the difference in thickness at the heel and toe end of a shoe. Generally, both adventure runners and best road running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop. In road running shoes, this drop is usually higher to protect your Achilles and legs from the pounding impact on the tarmac. In off-road running shoes, the drop is lower to provide better ankle stability and an enhanced sense of movement. With an optimised sense of movement comes great responsiveness and awareness on rough surfaces.

Medial Post 

A running shoe with a medial post has a hard density foam inserted inside the shoe's midsole to control excessive pronation. Usually, off-road running shoes have no medial post to let the natural motion of the feet work freely. Because on uneven terrains you constantly need to adapt according to the uneven terrain and the medial post does not allow you to do that.

Trail-Running vs. Road-Running Shoe Upper 

In the best running shoes for the road, the upper is made with thin and light material to provide breathability. In off-road running shoes, the upper is made with a sturdier or thick material to protect your feet on rough terrains. Rocks and roots can easily damage the upper of the shoe. A thick upper protects your feet against these obstacles. The upper trail shoes are also water repellent to protect the feet from bruises. Once moisture gets inside the shoe on rough terrains, it can lead to bruises on the feet. In best trail shoes, the colour of the upper is dark to hide the patches of dirt on the shoe. Best road running shoes have lighter colour upper options.

Trail-Running vs. Road-Running Toe Box 

The toe box of off-road running shoes is made wide and is covered by rubber for maximum comfort while running. These are often called toe bumpers, which are designed to protect your toes from rocks and other debris. On even tracks, there is a high risk of injuries and to avoid this risk toe bumpers are designed wide enough to make enough room for the toe to absorb any kind of shocks on rocky or uneven terrains. Running shoes have a not-so-wide toe box to help runners not compromise their speed. It is just wide enough to help you perform your runs easily with comfort.

Can you run in trail shoes on the road?

You should almost always avoid using off-road running shoes on man-made surfaces like concrete or asphalt. The pavement of those surfaces can erode the rubber lugs. The rubber lugs provide a strong grip on the trail shoes and when you return off-road, you will find out that you have compromised your grip. Also for doing fast running workouts off-road running shoes are not recommended. You should always use your best running shoes for the road as they will provide you with the much-needed comfort and because of their lightweight will provide speed on tracks.

To avoid your feet from getting really sweaty, you should avoid using trail shoes on roads in very hot humid weather. In some exceptional cases, when the road is slippery due to rain, off-road running shoes might prove to be helpful in providing you with the much-needed grip on those slippery surfaces. But overall your performance might drop in a trail shoe on concrete surfaces. To run faster on the road you would always need lightweight running shoes.

How to choose the best road running shoe?

Choosing the right fit

The fitting of the best road running shoe matters a lot as it heavily impacts your performance on the road. If you buy a shoe that is too tight, it may lead to blisters and black toenails on the foot. The perfect fitting shoe will not only protect your feet from any kinds of injuries but also boost your performance on the road.

Your running shoes must be close-fitting with half an inch of space. Always try on your shoes with a sock to acquire a perfect fit. The fitting of the running shoe also varies according to different brands. Each brand has its own proprietary foot model.

Level of Comfort 

The amount of cushioning determines the level of comfort the running shoe will have. In the best running shoes for the road, the cushioning is mid-level. Many people don't like maximum cushioned shoes but if you prefer to run for long distances, maximum cushioned shoes may prove to be the best choice for you. Minimally cushioned running shoes for the road are preferred by many runners because they allow you to run in a more natural gait.

Amount of Support

Pronation is the natural way your foot rolls inward when it strikes the ground and then propels forward. The best road running shoes support your pronation. There are three levels of pronation, basic pronation, over-pronation, and supination.

Basic pronation is when your foot rolls inward typically. Over pronation is when your foot tends to roll inward too much. When your foot tends to move outward excessively, then it's known as over pronation. It would be best if you determined your pronation level in order to find the right support.

How to choose the best off-road running shoe? 

The Terrain 

Before choosing the best trail shoes, you must be able to decide the type of terrain you will be running on. Different terrains require specific trail shoes. The trail shoes that you may choose must be able to provide the most optimal grip and protection on the surface that you will be running on.

On a soft surface go for a flexible midsole with less underfoot protection. On muddy or slippery terrain, you’ll need shoes designed with a more aggressive tread with deep and widely spaced lugs so that the mud doesn’t get stuck underneath the shoe.

On rugged terrains, you need a trail shoe that has an aggressive tread and lugged soles to help improve traction and balance over mucky sections, sticky rocks, and steep sections.On rocky and harsh terrains, you should go for a stiffer outsole for more stability and better protection from impact.


The tread in off-road running shoes is way more aggressive than in-road running shoes. The more the depth of the trail shoe (the “cleats” on the outsole), the better the traction on slippery and muddy surfaces.

2 to 4 mm is the optimum lug depth if you plan to run on hard-packed surfaces. Go for an outsole tread pattern with a range of deeper lugs, 5 milli meters, if you plan to run on soft, wet, or sloppy surfaces. For technical surfaces, you need lugs with a depth of more than 5mm.


On rough surfaces, your trail shoe might need protection from rock, roots, mud, branches, and water. Most trail shoes have toe bumpers and extra durable upper for protection of the feet. But you need to remember that extra protection means extra weight. So you need a trail shoe with the perfect balance of protection and weight.

When running on snow or in wet conditions, you also need waterproof shoes. Its upper protects your feet from moisture.

Perfect Fit

While buying trail running shoes, it’s key to go for a pair that fits well. The shoe must be a locked-down fit in your heel. Make sure that the shoe is not too tight around the middle of the foot and is neat around the ankle.

To avoid toe-stabbing that occurs when tackling technical trails, choose a trail shoe that has extra room between the end of your longest toe and the front of the shoe.

Best of both the worlds 

There is another category of running shoes that is now very popular among runners is hybrid running shoes. Hybrid shoes have the qualities of both the best road running shoes and the best trail shoes. If you are an avid runner and sometimes go on adventure runs, then hybrid shoes can be the perfect pair of shoes. But be careful, if you run very often on off-roads and the trail is very uneven, then preferably you should buy a separate shoe for trail and road.

Hybrid shoes are perfect for road running, but on off-roads, if trails are very rocky or uneven, then hybrid shoes might not prove to be the best. And also if your off-road runs are for a longer time length, then also you must buy separate trail shoes specifically. You can check out some of the best hybrid shoes from the Tribe&Trail website.