Do I Need Trail Running Shoes?


More and more people today are running. Registrations for races are at an all-time high, sales of running shoes are booming, running specialty stores are thriving. New runners often get into the sport by joining a friend or a local running group, or maybe latching onto a co-worker to complete their first charity 5k. Running is a great way to achieve fitness goals and expand your social circles.

But with all those miles logged on roads, it might start to seem repetitive. You might start to look for ways to mix up your running routine, and trail running can be one answer to that problem. This raises the question, “Do I need trail running shoes?”

We completely understand where this question comes from. A good pair of running shoes is not cheap at all, and if you have a different pair of shoes for each type of running you do, your shoe closet can get very expensive.

So, if you keep alternating between regular running and trail running, is it honestly worth investing in two different types of shoes? Or can you just use your running shoes on a trail run? Let’s find out.

What Is Trail Running?

Trail running differs quite a bit from regular running. Simply put, trail running centers around running on natural surfaces. This can include uneven terrain, trails chock-full of roots and rocks, slippery paths, mud, puddles, and so on.

In fact, in recent years, trail running has become so popular that races are proliferating, and in many cases, very difficult to gain entry into. But you don’t need to be running Western States or Hardrock to be a trail runner. You just need to get off the paved path.

Trail Runs vs. Road Runs

Trail running and road running are very different from each other. The biggest defining factor between them is the surface. Running on roads is fairly consistent. These surfaces are flat and hard and allow for consistent running. You can switch your mind off and let the body do all the work for you. Implied in this is that fact that road shoes don’t need to be rugged–just light, fast, and comfy.

Trail running, on the other hand, is more technical. It involves running on varying surfaces, from gravel and stone to dirt and moss, and so on. This type of run requires more mental focus and some extensive footwork in order to dodge, duck, and jump your way down the trail. In this, the running is in no way consistent, but it allows you to enjoy your surroundings more. Implied in this fact is that trail shoes need to be ready for anything–rugged build and grip take precedent over weight and speed.

Another difference between the two is the pace. Road running will obviously offer you a more consistent pace. It also gives you the ability to increase and decrease your pace as and when you feel like.

This isn’t the case with trail running though. Typically, your pace will be at least 25% slower on trails, due to the hillier, more technical terrain. The flow on a trail is very different, and is not at all rhythmic for most of the run.

Do I Need Trail Running Shoes?

If you are regularly running on trails, yes.

But when it comes to answering this question, we have to admit that “need” is quite a strong word. This largely depends on the conditions of the trail. If you think about it, any kind of off-road running can be considered trail running.

However, when the path you run on becomes much narrower, steeper, and more technical, then having a pair of trail running shoes will definitely offer some more valuable features and with them, more benefits.

The materials in the upper section of a trail running shoe are made to be more durable and robust, and will have a higher ability to withstand water, dirt, and abrasion. You will also find additional material where the upper meets the midsole and the toe, thus providing more protection.

Let’s discuss in greater detail why trail shoes are better.

Some Top Benefits of Trail Running Shoes

Now that you have a fair understanding of why trail running shoes are better than regular running shoes for trail running, we will list some of the top benefits of investing in a pair of trail running shoes.

  • Water and Mud Shield

Since the conditions in trail running can be both unpredictable and highly variable, having shoes that will keep your feet dry is essential. Good trail running shoes will not just keep your feet dry, but in doing so, they will also prevent blisters and increase comfort. This feature becomes imperative when you are running on trails that have puddles or mud. Which is to say, when you are running on trails.

  • Pebble Protection

Gravels, rocks, and other debris are something you are bound to find on a trail run. Keeping these from slipping into your shoes is important if you don’t want any injuries. A good pair of trail running shoes fits in a way that helps prevent debris from entering the shoes.

In order to guard the shoe against grit invasion altogether, many trail shoes will come with gusseted tongues. These are connected to the shoe along their full length, providing a more complete barrier.

These shoes will guard better against the possibility of even tiny pebbles entering your shoe. Furthermore, these shoes also feature hard plastic plates, which protect the feet from sharp objects and rocks from underneath.

  • Shoelaces

It is very common for shoelaces to come undone easily when you run. This gets worse when you are on trails, as there is constant turning and twisting, and occasional contact with bushes, shrubs, and other trail hazards, which sometimes pull out the laces.

In order to avoid this occurrence, you will find that some trail running shoes come with pockets that will allow you to snugly tuck your shoelaces out of harm’s way.

  • Outsole

One of the most important differences between a trail running shoe and a regular running shoe is the outsole. This is the part of the shoe that makes constant contact with the ground.

You will find that trail running shoes have a rugged outsole that will grip the surface, no matter what it is. There are multiple outsoles you can choose from when buying trail running shoes. Almost all of them are grippy and aggressive, featuring lugs instead of the grooves you find on road shoes. For smoother roads, you don’t need an outsole with lugs.


So, do you need trail running shoes? Our answer would be a yes. As mentioned earlier, any kind of off-road running could be considered as trail running. So, if your definition of trail running is walking on a path with almost-firm ground and very few obstacles, then trail running shoes are probably not necessary, and you can continue using your regular running shoes, or look into hiking shoes.

However, if the trail is filled with uneven terrain, and obstacles such as gravel, single track, puddles, mud, and so on, then investing in a pair of trail running shoes becomes imperative.

If you are still unsure, think about where you like to run. The more different your favorite trails are from road running, the more  your performance will benefit from trail running shoes.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.

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