Trail Shoes vs. Road Shoes: What Should you get?


Trail Shoe? Road Shoe? Both??

Choosing between a trail shoe and a road shoe can be a conundrum. Will a road shoe work on the trails? Will a trail shoe work on the roads? The simple answer is yes; but they do have their caveats. Let’s dig in!

What’s The Difference?

The most important factor designating a shoe either “road” or “trail” is the design of the outsole. A road outsole is usually less lugged and aggressive than a trail outsole, with a flatter rubber design which creates more ground contact when on cement and asphalt.


More ground contact > More friction > More traction.


A trail outsole is typically more lugged or studded, which digs into soft uneven terrain providing better traction/grip when on dirt, grass, or gravel. This “digging” effect is what provides the increased traction.


                   Trail Outsole                                   Road Outsole


Will a trail shoe work on the roads? Will a road shoe work on the trails?

A road shoe will work just fine on dirt, grass, and gravel. Most road shoes have outsoles which are segmented for the purpose of shock absorption and to create a feeling of smoothness. These grooves can act as mini lugs, giving you a sort of “medium” traction when on looser surfaces. You’ll no doubt get a little less traction than with a pure trail shoe, but this difference in most situations won’t be too severe.

For the 2016 Western States Endurance Run, ultra runner and future course record holder Jim Walmsley wore the Adidas Boston Boost, a dedicated road racing flat. We’re talking about a 100 mile trail race, in road shoes.

Similiarly, trail shoes will have no problem performing on the road. The only issue you may run into is the factor of “softness”. Road/asphalt/cement is substantially less forgiving than dirt or grass so you may need a little more cushion than you would on the trails. Some trail shoes are built more firm and rigid, some are super soft and squishy, and some are inbetween. You’ll have to decide whether your  shoe is soft enough for YOUR comfort level.