Is Trail Running Harder Than Road Running? | Hikers University

Looking to step up your running game to trail running? While it is an exciting challenge, many runners wonder if trail running is harder than road running?

There’s no denying that running is a great way to get a cardio workout. But is trail running really any harder than pounding the pavement? It turns out that there are a few key ways in which trail running is more challenging than road running.

Trail running often takes place in challenging terrains, such as uphill sections, loose sand, or rocky paths. This can make it more challenging to maintain a consistent pace and lead to more fatigue. In addition, trail runners often have to deal with obstacles that can trip or slow them down.

However, the challenges should not stop you from stepping up your game to trails. You can make your transition safer and trail running more convenient by considering important factors such as getting the right trail running shoes, taking breaks, eating the right food, etc.

As trail experts, we understand the doubts one may have when thinking about going from road running to trail running. So, we have put together this guide to help you understand the differences between trail running and road running.

Table of contents


What is Trail Running?

Trail running is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise while enjoying the beauty of nature. It can be a bit more challenging than running on a flat, paved surface, but it’s also more rewarding.

Here’s everything you need to know about trail running, from what to wear to where to go.

What is trail running? Trail running is simply running off-road, on trails, or on other natural surfaces like dirt, grass, and rocks. It’s a great way to explore the outdoors and get some fresh air while getting a good workout in at the same time.

What are the benefits of trail running? Trail running has many benefits, both for your mind and body. For one, it’s a great way to get some fresh air and Vitamin D. Running on trails also forces you to pay more attention to your footing, which can help improve your balance and coordination. And because trail running typically involves hills and other elevation changes, it’s a great way to build strength and endurance.

What do I need to start trail running? You don’t need much to start trail running - a good pair of shoes is really all you need. But a few other things can make your experience more enjoyable, like comfortable clothes and a hat or sunglasses to protect you from the sun. If you’re going to be running in the dark, it’s also a good idea to bring along a headlamp or flashlight.

Where can I go trail running? There are trails all over the world, so you’re sure to find one near you. Check out your local park or forest reserve if you’re not sure where to start. Many of these places have maps of their trails that you can use to plan your route.

What should I be aware of when trail running? When you’re trail running, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to where you’re going. Look out for roots, rocks, and other obstacles that could trip you up. And be sure to watch out for wildlife - especially if you’re running in an area with bears or other predators.

What is Road Running?

Road running is a type of long-distance running that takes place on paved surfaces. It can be performed on roads, sidewalks, or trails. Road running is a popular form of exercise and racing, and many runners enjoy the challenge of competing against others.

Road running offers several benefits over other forms of exercise. First, it is a low-impact activity, which places less stress on the joints than activities like jogging or sprinting. This makes it an ideal choice for people looking to avoid injury. Second, road running is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness.

Running regularly can help strengthen the heart and lungs and reduce the risk of heart disease. Finally, road running can be a great way to meet new people and make friends. Many runners enjoy being part of a running club or group, and the social aspect of the sport can be a great motivator.

If you’re thinking about taking up road running, there are a few things you’ll need to get started. First, you’ll need a good pair of running shoes. It’s important to find a shoe that fits well and provides adequate support. You’ll also need comfortable clothing that won’t chafe or restrict your movement. And finally, you’ll need somewhere to run! There are likely plenty of sidewalks and trails to explore if you live in a city. If you live in a rural area, you will probably have wide and empty roads but only a few sidewalks and trails.

Trail Running vs. Road Running?

Trail Running is Higher Impact

There are a few reasons why trail running tends to have a higher impact than road running. First, the surface of trails is often uneven, leading to more jarring and impactful movements. Additionally, trail running often involves hills and other inclines, which can also contribute to greater impact. Finally, trail runners typically go at a slower pace than road runners, meaning that each footfall has more time to contact the ground and create an impact. All of these factors add up to make trail running a slightly more impactful activity than road running.

Surface Hardness

The hardness of the surface you’re on can make a big difference when it comes to running. Softer surfaces like grass or dirt trails are easier on your body and can help reduce impact-related injuries. Harder surfaces like concrete or asphalt are more difficult to run on and can increase your risk of injuries like shin splints or stress fractures.

So, if you’re wondering whether you should stick to the roads or hit the trails, it really depends on your goals and preferences. If you’re training for a specific race or event, you’ll want to do most of your training on the same type of surface that you’ll be running on during the race. This will help your body get used to the impact and reduce your risk of injuries.

If you’re just running for fun or exercise, it’s really up to you. Try out different surfaces and see what you like best. Just be sure to listen to your body and take it easy at first if you’re trying a new type of surface. Start with shorter distances and gradually increase your mileage as you get used to the impact.

Terrain Difficulty

While road running is a relatively straightforward affair, trail running can be more challenging due to the changing terrain. This is because trail runners not only have to contend with natural obstacles like roots and rocks but also elevation changes.

The main difference between trail running and road running is the terrain difficulty. This means that trail runners must be able to navigate difficult terrain, which can include things like roots, rocks, and mud. Additionally, they often have to deal with significant elevation changes, making the run even more challenging. Because of this, trail runners need to be prepared for a more challenging run than their road-running counterparts.

Despite the challenges, many runners enjoy trail running because it provides a change of scenery and a more adventurous experience. Additionally, the increased difficulty can make the run more rewarding. If you’re looking for a new running challenge, consider giving trail running a try.


There are a few key differences between trail running and road running, one of which is the obstacles you’ll encounter. You’ll mainly just have to worry about traffic, potholes, and the occasional sidewalk or curb on the road. But on the trails, there’s a whole host of different obstacles that can trip you up - literally.

P roots, rocks, and other uneven terrain are common obstacles on trails. And while they might not seem like much at first glance, they can actually be quite dangerous if you’re not careful. A tripped root can easily lead to a fall, and a fall on the trails can be much more serious than a fall on the pavement. There’s often no soft surface to land on - just hard dirt or rocks.

Another thing to watch out for on trails is low-hanging branches. These can easily smack you in the face, and they can also be quite sharp. A low-hanging branch can easily slice open your skin if you’re not paying attention.

Then there are the animals. Trail running often takes place in more remote areas, which means you’re more likely to encounter wildlife. While most animals will simply run away from you, there is always the possibility that you’ll come across a more aggressive animal - like a bear or a mountain lion. So it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and make noise if you see any animals.

Weather Conditions

Another main difference between trail running and road running is the varying weather conditions you’ll encounter. On trails, you can expect anything from hot and humid weather to cold and snowy conditions, depending on the time of year and location. This can make for a more challenging run, as you have to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

Hot weather can be tough on runners, as they can quickly become dehydrated or overheated. Cold weather can also be difficult, as runners may need to dress warmly to avoid hypothermia. However, both hot and cold weather can offer advantages to runners.

On the other hand, road running is mostly done in more predictable weather conditions. You’ll rarely encounter extreme weather conditions when running on roads, although there may be occasional exceptions (like if you’re running in a city with high pollution levels). Overall, though, road running is less likely to be affected by the whims of the weather.


One of the main differences between trail running and road running is the elevation. When you are out on the trails, you will often run uphill, downhill, or even on uneven terrain. This can have a big impact on your body and how you run.

The first thing to consider is that running uphill will be more difficult than running on flat ground. Your heart rate will increase, and you will likely be out of breath faster than usual. It is important to consider when you are planning your runs and make sure that you are not overdoing it.

Another thing to remember is that running downhill can actually be harder on your body than running uphill. When you run downhill, your body is constantly trying to slow you down. This can lead to joint pain and other issues over time.

Finally, running on uneven terrain can also be tough on your body. You constantly have to adjust your stride and footing, which can put a lot of strain on your muscles and joints. Again, it is important to consider when you plan your runs and make sure that you are not overdoing it.

Overall, the elevation of the terrain can have a big impact on how difficult a run is. Keep this in mind when choosing between trail running and road running. If you are not used to running on hills or uneven terrain, it is probably best to stick to the roads. But if you are up for a challenge, definitely give trail running a try!

How to Start Trail Running

You can shift from road running to trail running with these steps.

  1. Start by gradually adding some trail running to your regular running routine. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can increase the amount of trail running you do.
  2. Be sure to wear the proper trail running shoes for trail running. They should have good traction and be comfortable.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings and watch for obstacles.
  4. Be prepared for changes in weather and terrain.
  5. Bring plenty of water and snacks with you.
  6. Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

After all that, we can safely say that trail running is harder than road running, but it also depends on your preference. If you are looking for a more challenging workout, trail running is definitely the way to go. Just make sure to prepare yourself for the different terrain and weather conditions you may encounter. And don’t forget to have fun!


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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