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Trail Running Shoes vs Road Running Shoes, What Is Difference?

Each type of running has its own appropriate type of shoes. From materials to styles, all are designed for certain purposes. So is there any difference between trail running shoes and road running shoes? Which feature can impact your performance and comfort during long-distance? Let us show you.

a trail running shoes and a road running shoes

Trail running shoes differ from road running shoes in many ways:

  • High grip on rough terrain: The outsole of trail running shoes is generally larger, softer to apply traction or friction on transitional terrain while road running shoes tend to have flatter soles, quieter and more durable.
  • Foot protection: A range of internal and external features that help shield feet from the impact of rocks and roots. Durable materials in the upper body help withstand wear and tear.
  • Sturdy design: These shoes are designed to prevent the foot from excessively rotating. In addition, when running on trails, you will walk with shorter and more variable strides. Therefore, the inward tilt of the foot (pronation) is not that important.

1. Different outsole 

One of the most noticeable differences between trail running shoes and road running shoes is the outsole.

  • Trail running shoes have larger claws for better grip when traversing rocks, tree roots and uneven trails. The rubber is generally softer than road shoes so that it can grip and curl around obstacles in the road for good grip. 
  • Road running shoes have flatter, less spiky soles for a stable surface, suitable for running on paved roads. Rubber generally holds regular friction with a better-paved surface than rubber on trail shoes.

2. About midsole

The midsole is the cushioning and stabilization of the shoe between the outsole and upper.

  • Trail running shoes are typically stiffer in the midsole for more support on rough trails and uneven surfaces. 
  • Some trail running shoes include stone slabs between the midsole and the outsole that help protect against sharp rocks and sticks, without losing too much of the trail feel. 
  • The height of the midsole and the slump (the height difference between the heel and the toe) can vary quite a bit based on how the shoe is intended to perform and how it feels on your foot. 
  • The amount of cushioning and the right drop for you is largely based on personal preference, but your anatomy and topography also play a part.
  • Road shoes sometimes include things like the midsole and torsion bars.
  • They are located on the sides of the shoe to help control excessive in or out movement.
  • They are designed for bypass or support.

3. The uppers

The uppers are anything above the sole and are usually made from breathable materials like polyester, nylon and nylon mesh.

  • Trail shoes are sturdier than trail shoes to protect your shoes and feet from things you’ll encounter while running, like rocks, roots and clubs. This means that uppers are often reinforced with synthetic coatings at key points, like around the toes, heels, and the sides of the shoe.
  • Road running shoes do not need a lot of reinforcement on the upper and instead, have plenty of nets to keep the shoe light and breathable.

thru-hiking range

Read about all the things you should prepare for runs: Essential Running Gear List That You Need for Training


Differences between trail running shoes & road running shoes – An overview

Quick comparison

Feature Trail Running Shoes Road Running Shoes
Heel-to-Toe Drop Lower Higher
Medial Post No Yes
Midsole Harder Softer
Outsole Stinkier compound

Various depth of lugs

Blown rubber compound

The lugs can be shaped

Upper Made of sturdier & tougher materials Generally light & thin


How to choose the best trail running shoes?

Now you have an overview of the difference between the two types of shoes. Are you wondering which is the best suitable shoes for each type of them? Take these notes.

1. Shoe Type:

There are 3 options for trail runner: light trail, rugged trail or off-trail.

  • Light trail (running shoes for easy terrain): The light trail is designed with a relatively uniform upper body. Suitable for red soil, gravel roads and gentle hills. These shoes will be about the same weight and will be quite similar to regular running shoes.
  • Rugged trail (running shoes for rough terrain): Rugged trail is primarily designed to run on trails for the more extreme, including from the trails where engineers study. to an abandoned mining tunnel. Therefore, this shoe is suitable for many different types of terrain.
  • Off-trail (waterproof trail running shoes): If you plan to run in a place with no trail, then you should opt for off-trail shoes. This shoe has all the features of a rugged trail shoe. Besides, there are some additional aspects such as increased elasticity or adding waterproof lining.


2. Cushion:

From no padding to maximum cushioning:

  • Barefoot: These are shoes without padding. The strength of these shoes is that they allow you to get a sense of reach on the trail and your body’s biological mechanisms.
  • Minimal: Suitable for runners who want a smoother feel but are uncomfortable with too much / no cushioning in the midsole.
  • Moderate: This type of cushion is used for traditional off-road couples. Allows you to comfortably run on winding and rocky trails.
  • Maximum: These shoes with maximum cushioning will reduce joint swelling and reduce fatigue on long distances. However, there are conflicting opinions that too much buffer will make you run less efficiently.


3. Heel-to-toe drop metric:

This metric affects your running ability.

The heel-to-toe drop is the difference in thickness between the heel and the toe – a parameter closely related to the height of the cushion. It can vary from 0mm to more than 12 mm, which varies from height in the heel to height in the forefoot.

  • Barefoot shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of 0mm.
  • Shoes with minimum cushioning typically have heel-to-toe drops between 0 and 4mm.
  • Moderate and maximum padded shoes offer a wide range of different heel-to-toe drop levels.

Choosing a pair of shoes with the right heel-to-toe index will keep you balanced and protect you from injury when exposed to other types of terrain.


4. Shoe size:

The most important factor when choosing to buy any type of shoe.

Fit is not only related to the length and width of the foot. It is also related to arch shape, arch length, foot volume, etc.

Each brand produces its own shoes based on an elaborate foot mold. You should find out what kind of shoe has the same mold as your foot.

salomon trail running shoes

We have differentiated what distinguishes two types of shoes. Hope these comparisons can help you make the best decision whether you are choosing trail running shoes for men or women.


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