Can You Wear Trail Running Shoes on Roads?

Young woman jogging through the fall park, rear shot.
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Trail running shoes offer more traction and stability, which is exactly what you need when running on rugged terrain and nature trails. Though they are designed for off-road runs, trail shoes are generally safe to wear when running on a road or pavement as well. There may be times when your road shoes may be a better choice, but your trail shoes are likely versatile enough for various road conditions.

Road vs. Trail Running Shoes

Many runners have a favorite pair or two of running shoes. Choosing between road and trail running shoes is going to depend on a number of factors, particularly where you enjoy running the most.

When making the best choice for running on pavement, it is helpful to understand the features of a running shoe and how those features are different on a trail shoe.

Trail Shoes
  • Thick uppers

  • Heavier soles

  • Stability features

  • Usually heavier

  • Darker colors

  • Gusseted tongue

  • Protected toe box

Road Shoes
  • Breathable uppers

  • Flexible soles

  • Some stability features

  • Often lightweight

  • Range of colors

  • Various tongue styles

  • Airy toe box

Uppers

Running shoes usually have uppers (the part of the shoe above the midsole) that are made of breathable materials so that your feet stay cool during runs. Trail shoes, on the other hand, are usually made of thicker materials in the uppers. The tightly woven mesh on a trail shoe helps prevent rips from trail debris.

Soles

The soles of trail shoes are designed to grip an uneven trail surface. Large lugs, teeth, and a stickier rubber offer better traction to get you over and through dirt, mud, and rocks. Most also have a rock plate made out of hard plastic and located in the mid-sole area to protect your foot from rocks and sharp sticks.

Many road shoes are designed more for flexibility and speed. As a result, they are often lighter weight and help you to push off of even surfaces quickly and efficiently.

Stability

Both trail shoes and road shoes may have stability features. Almost all trail shoes include stability features to help prevent tweaking an ankle on uneven surfaces. These support materials are often along the sides and under your foot.

Road shoes are likely to have fewer stability features for running on unstable surfaces as they are designed for running on even surfaces. But you may find stability features to promote proper foot alignment and running form.

Shoe Weight

Trail shoes are often heavier than road shoes. However, within the trail shoe category, there are different weights available. Light trail shoes provide support on well-groomed trails. Rugged trail shoes protect your feet on different types of terrain. And off-trail shoes provide the most protection and support for running on rocky or extreme terrain.

Shoe Color

Running shoes come in a wide range of colors. It is not unusual to find bright, colorful shoes or light-colored shoes. It is not as common to find white or light-colored trail shoes. They're often produced in darker colors to hide the dirt you'll be running through.

Tongue

Trail shoes are usually designed with a gusseted tongue to help keep trail debris and gravel out of the shoe. Running shoes may have a gusseted tongue, but they often have a tongue that attaches only at the forefoot.

Toe Box

The toe box of running shoes tends to be tapered, lightweight, and breathable. Trail shoes, on the other hand, often have a toe box that is often wider and covered by rubber. Toe bumpers are designed to protect your toes from rocks and other debris. Stubbing a toe is never fun and even a well-groomed natural trail may have obstacles that you can hit.

Trail running shoes are designed for more foot protection and stability. As such, these shoes are slightly bulkier and heavier than a typical road running shoe.

Keep in mind that You can also find hybrid shoes. These are designed to give you the best features of both trail and road shoes. It's definitely a style to consider if you enjoy running on a variety of surfaces.

When to Wear Trail Shoes

Rocky, muddy, and uneven surfaces usually demand a trail shoe. The sturdy design will help to keep your ankles stable, your feet protected, and your body safe from falls on trails. But there are times when you might choose trail shoes on the pavement.

For example, you may find that wearing trail running shoes on the road is safer when running in rainy or snowy conditions. The traction can be a big help on slippery surfaces.

Additionally, trail shoes are often more water-resistant and are likely to keep your feet drier. These shoes may be more comfortable in adverse conditions. You can even find waterproof versions, which are often labeled with GTX (for Gore-tex).

There are times when you should not wear trail shoes. Try to avoid wearing them on tracks (where they may damage the surface) or on hard surfaces like asphalt. The stiff sole of the trail shoe can cause mid-foot discomfort.

When to Wear Road Shoes

Even though newer versions of trail running shoes are lighter in weight and more flexible, there are some situations when you want a dedicated road shoe.

For example, you should not wear a trail running shoe on the road if you are doing faster workouts such as tempo runs or interval workouts. You'll likely feel more comfortable and faster in a lighter road shoe.

Also, if it's very hot and humid, you may prefer lighter road running shoes over trail running shoes, so your feet don't get too sweaty.

Lastly, track workouts demand a specific shoe. Some runners wear a road shoe for track workouts, but track shoes (with or without cleats) are also available.

Try to avoid wearing lightweight road shoes on very rocky or slippery surfaces. You won't get the traction you need, making slips and falls more likely.

Trail Running Shoe Tips

There are a few features to look for when buying a good trail runner. Once you invest in a pair, there are some tips you can use to make the most of your purchase.

Get Expert Help

Visit a sport-specific running store to buy trail running shoes or road shoes. Experts at these stores are usually runners and can make recommendations based on how and where you plan to run.

There are different styles of trail running shoes and different features to look for. Experts advise that you consider four features when shopping for the best pair:

  • Cushioning: If your road shoe is heavily cushioned, you might prefer a trail shoe with more cushioning.
  • Fit and comfort: Be sure to try several pairs and spend some time walking and jogging around to make sure you get the best fit. Have the expert measure your foot and watch your stride in each pair.
  • Heel-to-toe drop: If you're used to running in a minimalist or barefoot road shoe, you'll probably want less of a drop in your trail shoe.
  • Shoe type: Consider a light trail running shoe if you want to wear it regularly on the road. Rugged trail running shoes or off-trail shoes may not be the best option for the road.

Running store experts can also make recommendations about accessories that can make your workouts safer and more efficient. For example, it's smart to wear trail running socks when wearing trail shoes. These socks are usually thicker and taller than socks that you might wear with road shoes.

Get the Right Fit

When you're at the running store, consider getting a gait analysis. This will help a running shoe expert recommend the right shoes for you. Even if you've had a gait analysis for your running shoe, a trail shoe is designed differently and it may affect your stride.

You'll notice that the feel of a trail shoe is different from the fit of a road shoe. Shoe experts advise that a snug fit around the midfoot is needed to keep your shoes from slipping on uneven terrain. Additionally, a wider toe box in the forefoot allows your toes to spread out and grip the trail, especially on hills.

Lastly, remember that trail socks will affect the fit, so you should wear them when shopping for shoes.

Trail running shoes should feel different on your foot from a road runner. Speak to an expert at a running store to make sure you get the right fit and features for your running style and environment.

Consider Two Pairs

You might find that you need more than one pair of running shoes. A good pair of trail shoes and a lightweight pair of road shoes will keep you covered in nearly all conditions.

For example, you may want a pair of trail running shoes solely for trail and bad weather running, and a pair of regular running shoes for treadmill and road running.

If you can only buy one pair of shoes and you run on multiple surfaces, it may be best to get a versatile pair of hybrid shoes so you can run on a variety of surfaces.

Alternate Shoes

If you can afford to invest in more than one pair of shoes, consider alternating the pair that you wear from day to day. Runners who train several times a week rotate two pairs of running shoes to increase the life of each pair. Alternating shoes gives them a day or two to decompress and dry out between workouts. If you also alternate workouts (trail and road), you also train your body to become more versatile.

If you run on multiple surfaces, you can buy a hybrid running shoe to accommodate your runs. But many athletes choose to have two or more pairs of shoes to keep their workouts safe and enjoyable.

A Word From Verywell

Trail running shoes are quite versatile and a great choice if you're interested in running through nature from time to time. But you can also wear trail running shoes on the road under certain circumstances.

The most important factor, however, is finding the best fit and features for you. No matter where you choose to run, if you're excited about your workout and you feel good, you are more likely to stay motivated and keep running.

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