Trail Running Shoes VS Running Shoes

Trail Running Shoes VS Running Shoes

Avid runners often have a strong love of shoes. If your passion for running has only been done on roads and treadmills, you likely have only needed one kind of running shoe. If you find yourself pulled to complete some off-road training or racing, you may want to invest in some quality trail shoes. Do you actually need shoes specific to trail running? What if I run trails with my regular running shoes? Great questions. When it comes to trail running shoes vs running shoes, the answers depend on some variables.

What Is The Difference Between Trail Running Shoes And Road Running Shoes?

Let’s start with trail running shoes. Trail shoes tend to be stiffer. They need to be durable for unexpected twists, turns and bumps in the path. You also don’t want to feel every single rock, stick and stone that your feet could come into contact with, so a stiffer and more durable shoe helps to avoid that.

Trail shoes often have an added layer of protection at the toes and heels in order to be sure you are not bothered by anything your feet may encounter. Understand that no matter how careful you are, you may be impacted by things along the way.

Added to trail shoes is often improved drainage. While you may not realize it, many trail runners often find themselves encountering a stream that they cannot help but go through. As they say, “the best-laid plans of mice and men…” and trail runners. While you set out to avoid water, it is not always possible.


When you flip over a pair of trail shoes you really get to see a big difference. Trail shoes will have lugs on the bottom specifically made to improve traction. You do not want to risk a fall on a trail where you could be miles and miles from medical attention, so having these special shoes can help alleviate that concern. Made with a thicker sole and off-road traction power, these shoes are made for the long haul on rough terrain.

A trail running shoe might even have an additional layer of protection to keep you safe against anything that might penetrate the bottom of the shoe. Called a rock plate, this layer of protection is built into the midsole. It may seem hard to believe, but sticks and rocks have been known to cut right through the bottom of a regular running shoe, rendering the athlete unable to continue on. The rock plate of a trail shoe prevents this problem.

Just like a regular running shoe, you need to find shoes with a good fit. The last thing you want is your shoe to slip while navigating technical trails.

In a regular running shoe made for road running, all of these things are missing. Running shoes are more flexible. Running shoes also tend to weigh much less than a trail shoe because you don’t need all of that protection you are getting in a trail shoe.

Made to grip the asphalt or concrete, a shoe made for running on the road has an entirely different grip on the bottom.

When To Wear A Trail Shoe

On the one hand, it should be rather simple: trail shoes on trails. However, not all trails are created equally. For example, some people will call a recreational path a trail. If the rec “trail” is paved, you don’t need a trail shoe.

In addition, a recreation trail that is all sand likely does not require a shoe specific to trails. In some places, there are paths that are used for all-terrain vehicles in the spring, summer and fall that double as snowmobile trails in the winter months. These are well-groomed and don’t require a special shoe.

Some parks have trails that are also well-groomed and you really can choose if you will wear a regular running shoe or trail shoe. If the path is generally clear of rocks, sticks and other obstacles, you can probably make the decision yourself. However, if it is a technical trail with a lot of literal bumps in the road, you want a trail-specific shoe.

Do I Really Need A Trail Shoe?

If you are running on a short recreational trail that is very well-groomed, probably not. I have done multiple trail races where I just used my regular old trainers. However, in these situations, it is a 5 or 10-kilometer race and these are on trails that are clearly used well and often.

While running sometimes I peer down the adjacent pathways. When I look off of the groomed trail is when I notice the trails that trail shoes are meant for. These trails, little more than deer paths, tend to have fallen trees, rocks jutting out and sticks poking every which way. On these trails, you need a trail shoe to protect your body as best you can.

Can You Run On The Road With Trail Running Shoes?

I guess the first thought that comes when asked if trail running shoes can be used on the road is why would you want to? If you are taking a short run to get to the beautiful trail that is your happy place, you sure can do that. After all, if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint, taking a car to get to your trail seems counterproductive.

Since trail shoes are a specialty shoe, however, you probably should stick to using them on an actual trail. Your body won’t prefer the stiff trail shoe if you are logging long mileage runs on the road. Also, since each pair of running shoes is only good for so many miles, why not stick to the shoe made for what you are doing? In that way, you are saving your shoes wear and tear.

Trail Running Shoes VS Running Shoes

If you were thinking you would find that one is better than the other, you will be disappointed. It is not a matter of which is better. Rather, the question is what kind of running you are planning to do: trail running or road running. If you’re running technical trails, get trail shoes. If you are running on the road, stick to a normal trainer.

Your feet will thank you for investing in specialty shoes!