You’ll notice a few differences between a trail-running and a road-running pair of shoes. What does this mean for performance? Do you really need both? We’ll help you understand the differences between trail-running and road-running shoes.
Trail shoes are more comfortable than road-running shoes.
- Beaffer outsoles: Trail-running shoes have larger, softer soles that provide better traction on trails. Road-running shoes have more durable, flatter soles that are easier to run on pavement.
- More stable midsoles: Trail running shoes have typically stiffer midsoles that road-running shoes in order to provide a more stable platform for uneven terrain. They may also include rock plates to protect against sharp rocks or sticks. Road-running shoes often have soft midsoles to cushion the impact of running on hard pavement.
- Reinforced Uppers: Trail-running shoes have reinforced uppers to protect against rocks, roots, and sticks. This is not required for road-running shoes, so they tend to be lighter and more breathable.
Trail-Running vs. Road-Running Shoe Outsoles
The outsoles, the bottoms of the shoes, are the biggest difference between road and trail-running shoes.
For better grip on uneven terrain, trail-running shoes have larger lugs to provide greater grip over rocks, roots, and uneven trails. The lug pattern and size of the shoe’s lugs will vary depending on the terrain. It’s important to match your shoes with the terrain you’ll be running on. The rubber on trail shoes is usually softer than road shoes, so it can grip and bend around obstacles. Trail-running shoes worn on roads, where they will pound on concrete and rub against hard surfaces, can cause the rubber to wear out faster than those that are used on trails.
Road-running shoes feature a flatter, more consistent sole to ensure a smooth, stable surface when running on paved roads. Rubber on road shoes is more resilient to friction with paved surfaces than rubber on trail shoes.
Trail-Running vs. Road-Running Shoe Midsoles
The midsole, which is located between the upper and outsole of a shoe, provides cushioning and stability.
For more support on uneven terrain and rugged trails, trail-running shoes have stiffer midsoles. Trail-running shoes can have rock plates placed between the outsoles and midsoles. These plates provide protection from sharp objects like rocks and sticks without affecting the feeling of the trail. The shoe’s intended performance and feel can affect the height and drop of the midsoles. Your personal preference will determine the right amount of cushion and drop. However, terrain and anatomy also play an important role.
Road-running shoes do not require as stiff a midsole as trail shoes, but they still have to protect the feet from the pounding of the pavement. These shoes often have softer cushioning than what you will find in trail-running footwear. Sometimes, road shoes include medial posts or torsion bars. These bars are found on the sides of shoes and help to control excessive inward or outside motion. These are for the supinator or over-pronato.
Trail-Running vs. Road-Running Shoe Uppers
Shoes’ uppers are all that is visible above the midsoles. They are typically made of breathable materials such as nylon, nylon mesh and polyester.
To protect your feet and shoes from the elements you might encounter while running, trail shoes are more durable than road shoes. The uppers of trail shoes are often reinforced with synthetic overlays at key points, such as around the toes and heels, or along the sides.
Some trail-running shoes’ uppers have waterproof linings and coatings that help keep out moisture. While waterproof shoes are great for wet conditions it is important to remember that waterproof shoes won’t allow moisture to escape as quickly as non-waterproof shoes.
You’ll also find lace pockets on your tongues, and gaiter attachment points at the heels and/or feet on some trail-running shoes. Lace pockets, also known as lace garages, are useful for stuffing your laces in so that they don’t get caught on rocks or roots while you run. Gaiter attachment points allow you to attach gaiters securely to your shoes to keep snow, dirt, mud, rocks and water out.
It’s unlikely your shoes will get caught on any obstacles when you run on a paved road. Road shoes do not require much reinforcement and instead feature lots of mesh to keep them lightweight and breathable.