What Is The Difference Between A Running Shoe And A Trail Running Shoe? | Hikers University

Whether you're a seasoned runner or just starting out, you've probably wondered the difference between a running shoe and a trail running shoe at some point.

Although it is common knowledge that running is an excellent way to maintain one's physical fitness, not everyone is aware that there are various footwear options available for runners.

The main difference between a running shoe and a trail running shoe is its level of support and stability. Running shoes are designed for use on pavement or other surfaces, while trail running shoes have extra features to protect your feet and help you keep your balance on uneven terrain.

When it comes to running shoes, there are two main types - running shoes and trail running shoes. Both have distinct benefits that can help you make the most of your run, but what are the differences between them? Let's take a closer look.

After running for years, we ourselves are experienced with running shoes, but don't worry; we did thorough and educated research to provide you with the most accurate information. So keep reading!

Table of contents


Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe - Key Differences

When choosing the right running shoe, it can be tricky to know whether to go for a standard running shoe or a trail running shoe.

It's important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The type of shoe that works best for you will depend on several factors, including the surface you'll be running on, your foot type, and your personal preferences.

Let's take a closer look at the key differences between running shoes and trail running shoes to help you make the right choice.

Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe: Outsole

One of the most important things to consider when choosing trail running shoes is the outsole. The outsole is the bottom part of the shoe that comes into contact with the ground. It's responsible for providing traction and stability and can vary widely from shoe to shoe.

Trail running shoes provide more traction and stability on uneven terrain than their road-running counterparts. The outsole is the most important difference between the two types of shoes.

Trail running shoes typically have a lugged outsole, made up of multiple small protrusions or lugs, that helps grip the ground and provide traction on slippery or loose surfaces. Road running shoes have a smoother outsole, which helps them move more easily over smooth pavement.

If you're planning on doing any serious off-road running, you must invest in a good pair of trail running shoes. The right shoes can make all the difference when tackling tough terrain.

Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe: Cushioning

When it comes to your feet, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on your foot type, the terrain you're running on, and your personal preferences, you may prefer a different type of shoe.

There are two main types of cushioning in running shoes: shock absorption and energy return. Shock absorption protects your feet from the impact of each step, while energy return helps you maintain a consistent pace by providing a little extra "bounce" with each step.

Trail running shoes tend to have more aggressive tread patterns and thicker soles than their road-running counterparts. This extra material helps to protect your feet from sharp rocks and roots and provides additional traction on slippery or muddy surfaces.

However, the trade-off for this extra protection is that trail running shoes are often heavier and less comfortable than road running shoes. They also typically don't provide as much shock absorption or energy return.

If you're not sure which type of shoe is right for you, it's best to consult with a professional who can help you find the perfect fit.

Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe: Heel-to-Toe Drop

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing running shoes is the heel-to-toe drop. This is the difference in height between the heel and the toe of the shoe, and it can greatly impact your running style and comfort.

Most running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of around 10-12mm. This means that the heel of the shoe is higher than the toe, which can help to promote a more efficient running stride. However, it can also lead to a heel strike, which can be uncomfortable and may increase your risk of injury.

Trail running shoes, on the other hand, have a much lower heel-to-toe drop - typically around 4-6mm.

This helps to evenly distribute your weight across the entire foot, which is important for stability when running on uneven terrain. It also encourages a midfoot or forefoot strike, which is thought to be gentler on the joints and may reduce your risk of injury.

Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe: Upper

The debate between running shoes and trail running shoes has been around for years. There are die-hard fans of both types of shoes, and each has its distinct advantages.

In this section, we'll take a closer look at the upper portion of both types of shoes to see how they differ.

First, let's look at the typical construction of a running shoe. The upper is usually made from a lightweight, breathable mesh material.

This helps to keep your feet cool and dry during long runs. The downside to this type of material is that it doesn't offer much protection from debris or rocks on the trail.

Trail running shoes, however, often have a more durable upper. This is because they need to withstand more abuse from the elements. The trade-off, however, is that these shoes are often heavier and less breathable than their road-running counterparts.

Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe: Lacing

There's a big difference between running shoes and trail running shoes - it all comes down to lacing. Here's what you need to know about the different lacing types and how they can affect your run.

Traditional running shoes have a simple lacing system that goes straight across the top of the foot. This offers a secure fit but doesn't allow for much adjustability.

Trail running shoes, on the other hand, have a more complex lacing system that wraps around the foot for a more customized fit. This not only provides a more comfortable ride but also helps to prevent blisters and hot spots.

So, which type of shoe is right for you? It really depends on your personal preferences and needs. A traditional running shoe may be the way to go if you're a runner who likes a more secure fit.

However, a trail running shoe is the better option if you're looking for a little more adjustability and comfort.

No matter which shoe you choose, lace them up tightly - but not too tight! This will help to ensure that your shoes stay snug and comfortable throughout your run.

Running Shoe Vs. Trail Running Shoe: Price

There are two types of running shoes: trail running shoes and regular running shoes. While both have their pros and cons, the main difference between the two is price. Regular running shoes tend to be much cheaper than trail running shoes.

Trail running shoes are designed for use on off-road terrain. They typically have more robust construction, better traction, and more support than regular running shoes. This extra support and durability comes at a higher price tag, however.

If you're mostly going to be running on paved surfaces, then a regular running shoe will suffice. However, a trail running shoe is worth the investment if you plan on doing any significant amount of off-road running.

When Do You Need A Running Shoe Vs. A Trail Running Shoe?

It's a question that has stumped runners for years - when do you need a running shoe, and when do you need a trail running shoe?

The answer, unfortunately, is not as straightforward as we would like it to be. It depends on several factors, including the type of terrain you'll be running on, the distance you'll be running, and your personal preferences.

Here's a quick rundown of when you might need each type of shoe:

Consider the Terrain

If you're primarily going to be running on paved surfaces (like roads or sidewalks), then you'll probably be fine with a regular running shoe.

However, if you're planning on doing off-road running (on trails or in the woods), you'll need a trail running shoe. Trail running shoes have special features that make them ideal for running on uneven terrain, including extra traction and support.

Consider the Distance

The distance you're planning on running is also an important factor to consider. If you're only going to be running short distances (5 miles or less), then a regular running shoe will probably suffice.

However, if you're planning on running longer distances (10 miles or more), you might consider a trail running shoe. Trail running shoes are designed to provide extra support and cushioning over long distances, which can help prevent injuries.

Consider Your Personal Preferences

Finally, it's important to consider your own personal preferences when deciding between a running shoe and a trail running shoe. Some runners prefer the extra support and cushioning that trail running shoes provide, while others find them too heavy and bulky.

Ultimately, the decision of which type of shoe to buy is personal, so it's important to try on both types of shoes before making a purchase.


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.

Read More About Peter Brooks