Running on the road is a much different experience than running on trail. Road terrain is smooth and hard asphalt or concrete. It’s an unforgiving surface. But when it comes to trail running, you’ll encounter anything from a flat and dusty path to a steep and rocky climb.
Running on road vs. trail provides two unique experiences. Road running tends to be fast and convenient. Roads are everywhere so it’s easy to get a run in pretty much anywhere.
To find trails, most of us have to seek them out. Trail heads are often far from urban and suburban areas. Once you are there, many find trail running to be a more peaceful experience. You are surrounded by nature with no cars in sight. Trail running tends to be slower paced, often with hiking interspersed on steep climbs.
To accommodate for these differences, road and trail shoes are uniquely constructed. Road shoes focus on providing excellent cushioning and support to protect your feet from the road. Trail shoes emphasize traction on the outer sole for added grip in dirt, mud, and rock. Many trail shoes also offer extra protection in the midsole to shield against rocks, roots, sticks, and other sharp objects found on the trail.Many runners run on both road and trail.
Road runs provide a convenient way to get in a workout. While trail running offers a unique experience that breaks up the monotony of roads. Ideally if you do both, it’s best to have a dedicated shoe for each type of run. But since many runners don’t want to commit to buying two pairs of shoes at once, there are shoes that can do double-duty for both.
In this article, we’ll review the best shoes for road and trail. We’ve divided it into two sections. This first section covers road shoes that also work well on trail. If you plan to run more road and trail, take a close look at these shoes. They are made for road but have enough traction and protection to perform well on trail.
In the second section, we review the best trail shoes that work well on road. These trail shoes are perfect if you spend most of your time on trails, but venture on road a couple times a week.
Keep reading to see which road shoes work well on the trail, and which trail shoes are great on the road.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Brooks Ghost 15
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Salomon Ride 4
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Asics GT-2000 11 TR
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Road Shoes Ideal for Trail
The first five shoes we’re going to review are designed for road use. But they feature enough cushioning and traction to make them suitable for trail.
The uppers are light and breathable but tend to do a poor job at keeping dirt and mud out. That being said, they’ll be fine for dry trails or trails that aren’t too technical.
1. Brooks Ghost 15
The Ghost has remained one of the most popular running shoes favorite for the past several years! This versatile shoe finds the perfect balance between cushioning, support, and weight.
The engineered mesh on the upper provides a soft, yet secure fit. The Ghost 15 has great cushioning along with a responsive ride. It’s ideal for speed work, training runs, and marathons. Unlike other road shoes, the Ghost has great traction on dirt and trails. And it’s soft cushioning helps protect from rocks and roots.
The Ghost 15 was a popular shoe. It won the Runner’s World Editor’s Choice numerous times. The Ghost 15 expands on version 12’s success. It keeps the perfect fit but adds a new lighter, more flexible upper.
We can’t say enough about the Ghost 15. At the running store I owned, the shoe sold itself. Runners only need to put it on to see how awesome it feels.
- Awesome traction for a road shoe
- Great shock absorbing in midsole
- Works well for beginners and experienced runners
- Comfortable yet secure
- Wide toe box may feel too big if you have narrow feet
Top for Stability
2. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 23
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 23 is the go-to shoe for many runners. Cushioning and support wrapped in a lightweight package make this one of Brooks’ most popular shoe.
The BioMoGo and Loft DNA midsole provides a soft, balanced, and comfortable ride. The Adrenaline has extra support to help runners who overpronate. It uses guide rail technology to provide support only when you need it. Overpronate a lot and get tons of support. Overpronate a little and get a touch of support. The guide rails also reduce the weight of the shoe. And it increases the overall wear and durability.
And like the Ghost 13, the Adrenaline has great traction on the outsole. You’ll be able to dig your feet in on dirt and trails.
The streamlined upper gives a firm hold without irritating your feet. Brooks changed the top of the shoe to be more flexible as well. You won’t have to worry about hard laces digging into your foot while you run.
- Soft and comfortable
- Great traction on trails
- Some runners find it’s too wide in the toes
3. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield
The tough, weather-resistant uppers on the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield make them ideal for road and trail.
In addition to rain and water resistance, the upper features reflective detailing. Snug lacing in the upper keeps your feet locked into the shoe.
Nike’s Zoom air technology provides responsive cushioning. The shoe conforms to your foot, so you’ll feel supported regardless of the shape of your feet.
The rubber out sole comes equipped with waffle tread. This provides great traction road and trail running.
- High visibility
- Good traction
- Water resistant upper
- Sizing runs small
- Some runners find the shoe too narrow
Top Lightweight Shoe
4. inov-8 Roadclaw 275 Knit
The Inov-8 Roadclaw 275 is a lightweight road shoe featuring Inov-8’s iconic grip. The shoe’s claw cleat lug design delivers solid grip on road and trail.
The POWERFLOW midsole provides 10% more shock absorption than other shoes. And it gives back 15% more energy return for fast, zippy ride.
The knit upper cradles the foot for a custom-like fit. Breathable lining lets your feet breath and helps keep your shoes dry.
The Roadclaw 275 is a great option for a lightweight, trail and road-ready shoe.
- Fits well
- Smooth ride
- Wide toe box
- Shoe is overall a bit stiff
5. Salomon Sonic 4 Balance
The Salomon Sonic Balance provides a firm and responsive ride. It features enough cushioning and traction for trail use. Although it works better on the road than trail.
VIBE technology in the midsole helps absorb impact and increase support. Rubber on the outer sole boosts the grip on slick roads and trail.
The Sonics are perfect for everyday use. They are lightweight but have enough cushioning for long runs on road and trail.
The women’s and men’s versions come with different amounts of cushioning. The men’s model has more padding concentrated around the heel. The women’s is plusher all around, with a soft forefoot and heel.
- Fits well right out of the box
- Comfortable support
- Extra wide tongue provides a snug fit
- Not very flexible
- Some users have said the shoe doesn’t last long
Trails Shoes Ideal for Road
The next five shoes we’ll review are designed for trail. They feature heavier lugs and more protection from rocks and roots. But they are lightweight for road use. The tread – while heavier than road shoes – is still light enough to take on road without the lugs wearing down quickly.
6. Hoka One One Challenger 7
The Hoka One One Challenger is like the popular Clifton, but with bigger lugs that do well on trails. It’s lightweight but has the max cushioning Hoka One One is famous for.
The lugs on the sole provide grip and traction on dry and wet trails. But they are not overly aggressive and also work well on road. The Meta-Rocker design in the sole helps the heel-to-toe transition.
The midsole foam on the Challenger provides a balance of cushion and responsiveness. You’ll find less pounding and wear on your legs during longer road runs.
Between the mesh layers of the upper shoe are overlays that keep your foot in place. They also provide some protection from rocks, sticks and other trail obstacles.
The signature cushioning in the Challenger makes for cushioned, comfortable shoe. And the lugs work well on trail and road.
- True to size
- Max cushioning
- High stack height (thickness of soles) might be hard to get used to on trail
Best Grip on Rocks
7. Salomon Sense Ride 4
The Salomon Sense Ride 4 is a great option if you’re looking for an affordable shoe for road and trails. Sticky rubber and moderate lugs provide traction on rocks and trail, but won’t wear down on road.
Unlike other Salomon shoes, the Ride 4s have a nice fit and wide toe box. Foam in the midsole provides support and enough cushioning. A lightweight and flexible film embedded in the shoe add protection from rocks and roots.
Many users have said that the Ride 4 comes with the spring and bounce of most road shoes. They do a nice job giving you an extra boost of speed on long runs. There is also added cushion for improved comfort on pavement.
The Ride 4 comes with an internal sleeve for a sock-like fit. Some runners even wear these without socks.
The laces on the Ride are Salomon’s QuickLace system. Frictionless eyelets make it easy for you pull on the lacing for sizing and be on your way.
- Awesome traction on rocks
- Feel as good on roads as they do on trail
- Upper wears through quickly
Made With Recycled Materials
8. ASICS Fuji Lite 2
ASICS has taken what worked in their road running shoes and put it into the ASICS Fuji Lite. This lightweight shoe combines the freedom and flex of a road shoe with beefy lugs for hitting the trails. It’s perfect for a afternoon 5 miler on the roads or a long haul trail run on the weekend.
FlyteFoam technology used in midsole provides cushioning and energy return in a lightweight package. The Fuji Lite comes with a sticky rubber lugs on the outersole to improve traction and grip on rocks.
The seamless upper cuts back on friction during long runs. The tongue works to keep debris out of the shoes. A pocket built into the tongue stores excess lace from catching on sticks on the trail. It’s also made with recycled materials, taking a step towards a more eco-friendly design.
This model works best for runners who don’t require extra support, neutral and runners who supinate. Check out the ASICS GT-2000 Trail if you need extra support.
- Great traction on outersole
- Upper made from recycled materials
- Pocket to store laces so they don’t untie
- Lacks cushioning that other shoes have
9. ASICS GT-2000 11 TR
If you need extra stability, the ASICS GT-2000 11 TR is a great shoe for trail runners who overpronate. It’s a lot like the road GT-2000 but with added tread for trail. But for runners who venture onto the road, the tread is light enough for running on pavement.
The GT-2000 11 TR is a complete redesign from previous models. This version is more supportive, has a wider forefoot, and is lighter than the last model.
Unlike other trail shoes, the GT-2000 TR is lightweight and responsive. The gel cushioning reduces shock allows for a smooth heel-to-toe transition.
This model also comes with the Flytefoam Midsole Technology. This keeps the shoe light and supportive, while providing energy return and responsiveness.
It lacks a rock plate found in other shoes – so it’s not ideal for technical terrain. But it works fine for dirt, light trail, and road.
- Lightweight and breathable
- Stability and support for overpronators
- Few color options
Top Brooks Shoe
10. Brooks Caldera 5
The Brooks Caldera is another trail shoe with the cushioning and light tread needed to make it appropriate for roads. The shoe provides great grip on trail with a flexible design, perfect for running and road and trail.
The upper comes with double-layered mesh to let your feet while keeping dirt out. Overlays help keep your foot secure without weighing the shoe down. The Caldera comes with improved protection in the upper around the toes and heels.
The Caldera’s midsole works to adapt to your stride. It’s also nice and cushioned for protection on trail and road.
You can also take advantage of the added lace garage to secure your laces out of the way. This keeps them from snagging on sticks and branches.
Rubber in the outsoles provides sticky grip. This superb traction makes for secure grip no matter what surface you’re running on.
- Sticky traction
- Comfortable out of the box
- Nice cushioning
- Loose midfoot fit
- No wide sizes
Is it ok to use trail running shoes on the road?
It’s not recommended but generally speaking, yes, you can use trail running shoes on the road. The reason it’s not advised is because you’ll decrease the life of your trail shoes by running on pavement. Trail shoes have lugs that increase traction on dirt, mud, and rocks. Those lugs will wear down much quicker on roads than on trails.
If you use stability or motion control shoes while road running, most trail shoes don’t offer that level of support. Having enough support is less of an issue when trail running because you likely won’t have an even, repetitive gait. But on roads, you will, and the lack of support could lead to injury.
But if you don’t mind your trail shoes wearing down faster and aren’t concerned about less supportive shoes, then take your trail shoes on roads as much as you like.
In our article, we’ve found the best trail shoes with minimal lugs that are ideal for using on both roads and trails.
What is the difference between trail and road running shoes?
The biggest difference between trail and running shoes are the lugs found on the bottom of the shoe. Traction is key in trail running shoes, so they have lugs and grippy soles that prevent slipping while trail running. This isn’t a problem running on pavement, so road shoes have a smoother outer sole.
Trail shoes also have stiffer midsoles, often with a thin piece of plastic called a rock plate sandwiched in the middle. The rock plate offers additional protection against rocks and roots.
Road shoes focus more on cushioning and support. They have plenty of cushioning to protect against the repetitiveness of hard roads. And there is more variety of support levels for runners who overpronate.
Road shoes often have more breathable uppers that keep your feet cool and reduce weight. Trail shoes will have more durable, sometimes waterproof, uppers to protect your feet against tears and water from sticks, mud, and rocks.
Can you wear trail shoes casually?
Yes, absolutely. They can be worn as everyday shoes. Salomon has even repurposed some of their trail shoes for the fashion industry by introducing unique colors and styles that look better on the runway than on a trail.