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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.
The first five shoes we’re going to review are designed for road use. But they feature enough cushioning and traction to make the 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 12
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 12 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 11 was a popular shoe. It won the Runner’s World Editor’s Choice 6 times. The Ghost 12 expands on version 11’s success. It keeps the perfect fit but adds a new lighter, more flexible upper.
We can’t say enough about the Ghost 12. 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
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 is the go-to shoe for many runners. Cushioning and support wrapped in a lightweight package make this one of Brooks’ most popular shoes.
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 new 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 11, 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.
The Salomon Sonic RA 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 Sonic RA’s 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.
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 ATR 4
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4 is like the popular Clifton 5, 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 ATR makes for cushioned, comfortable shoe. And the lugs work well on trail and road.
True to size
High stack height (thickness of soles) might be hard to get used to on trail
The Salomon Ride is a great option if you’re looking for an affordable shoe for roads 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 Rides 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 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.
The Ride 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.
Asics has taken what worked in their road running shoes and put it into the Asics Gecko XT. True its name, the Gecko has rubber that sticks to rocks and trail. But it’s lightweight and flexible with moderate lugs – perfect for road runs.
FlyteFoam technology used in midsole provides cushioning and energy return in a lightweight package. The Gecko comes with a rock protection plate to protect against the trail.
The seamless upper in the Gecko XT 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.
This model works best for runners who supinate. If you have high arches, the Gecko is designed to provide support you as you run.
If you need extra stability, the Asics GT-2000 6 Trail is a great shoe 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 6 Trail is a complete redesign from previous models. This version is more supportive, has a wider forefoot, and is lighter than version 5.
Unlike other trail shoes, the GT-2000 Trail 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.
The Brooks Caldera 3 is another trail shoe with the cushioning and a light tread 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 3 comes with improved protection in the upper around the toes and heels.
This Caldera 3’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.
New in version 3 are improved rubber in the outsoles for sticky grip. This superb traction makes for secure grip no matter what surface you’re running on.