Can You Wear Trail Running Shoes on Road (Pros, Cons, Tips)

Trail running shoes are often seen gracing the feet of hikers as they traverse rocky, uneven terrains. But what about pounding the pavement? Can these trail shoes transition from rugged trails to the smooth tarmac of city streets?

As a team of avid hikers, we’ve put many a pair of running shoes to the test on both trail and road. We’re donning our trail running shoes to dive into this question and bring you the most accurate insights. 

Now, let’s lace up and dig into the specifics. How do trail running shoes typically perform on the road? What do these trail runners offer when they venture off the beaten path? Read on to find out.

Quick Summary 

  • Trail running shoes can be worn on roads, but their performance varies compared to road shoe models.
  • They differ in construction and cushioning from a road running shoe as well as in features like thread, weight, and waterproofing.
  • Hybrid trail running shoes offer a compromise between trail shoes and road shoes, but road-specific shoes may still be more comfortable for road running.

Do Trail Running Shoes Work on Roads?

Trail running shoes can be used on roads, but they are designed for off-road terrain. They may provide less cushioning and stability on hard surfaces, so they may not be as comfortable for long road runs as road-specific running shoes.

We usually avoid wearing trail shoes on the road when we know it’s going to be a long run because they can easily become uncomfortable. However, occasionally, a pair of lightweight trail shoes can do the trick, assuming that they have good cushioning.

Can You Wear Trail Running Shoes on Pavement?

While you can wear trail running shoes on pavement, it’s not ideal for extended use. Trail shoes are designed for off-road terrain, featuring rugged soles for grip and protection.

On pavement, they may feel less cushioned and less responsive due to their stiffer design, potentially leading to discomfort or faster wear. If your runs frequently mix trails and pavement, a hybrid shoe or a road-running shoe with versatility might be a better choice.

However, for occasional pavement segments, trail shoes will suffice, but be mindful of potential discomfort and quicker wear compared to dedicated road-running shoes.

Key Differences Between Road Running and Trail Running Shoes 

Road Running vs Trail Running Shoes side by side comparison

As you venture out on your favorite trails or hit the pavement for a long road run, the type of shoe you choose can significantly impact your experience. Let’s delve into the key differences between road and trail running shoes: 

1. Soles

Trail shoes often have rugged soles with large lugs for better traction on muddy trails and rocky terrain. They also have rock plates for extra protection against sharp stones and sticks.

On the other hand, road running shoes feature less aggressive treads and softer padding for shock absorption on hard surfaces. 

2. Uppers

The uppers of trail running shoes are generally made from thicker and heavier material, such as tightly woven mesh, to keep debris out and feet drier. Conversely, road running shoe models usually feature lightweight or mesh material for ventilation and less added weight. 

3. Traction and Stability

Trail shoes are designed with superior grip to tackle challenging terrain and slippery surfaces. They also offer greater stability features to keep your foot aligned on uneven terrain.

In contrast, typical road running shoe models require less traction, focusing more on a smooth ride on pavement. While also providing stability, they prioritize flexibility for smoother transitions on flat surfaces. 

4. Comfort and Protection

Both types of shoes aim to provide comfort but in different ways. Trail shoe models focus on providing trail runners with support and protection on tough trails, featuring a gusseted or attached tongue to keep out debris, while road shoes offer softer cushioning for longer runs on hard pavement. 

5. Weight

Due to their rugged construction and protective features, trail shoes tend to be heavier than road running shoes, which are designed to be as light and responsive as possible.

This study aimed to assess how wearing heavier footwear compared to regular shoes affected the energy expenditure of women trail runners during walking and running.

The results revealed that for every 100-gram increase in footwear weight, there was a corresponding increase in energy cost ranging from 0.7% to 0.9%.

6. Waterproofing

Some trail running shoes offer waterproofing or water-resistant capabilities to handle wet conditions on trails. In contrast, road shoes often prioritize breathability over being waterproof.

Since waterproofing also adds weight to the trail shoes, we noticed a slight decrease in performance on the road, more precisely, our team got tired faster while wearing trail shoes with waterproofing on city streets compared to regular road shoes.

7. Tread and Toe Box Design

Trail shoes typically have aggressive treads for better grip and a wider toe box that ensures stability for the trail runner. Road running shoes, on the other hand, have less aggressive treads and a narrower toe box to streamline the shoe’s shape for speed.

If you use trail running shoes on the street – we tested this during a marathon – the toe box feels bulky. While it is comfortable, we constantly felt we could run faster with a pair of road running shoes.

Similar Article: Can Trail Running Shoes Be Used on a Treadmill

Drawbacks of Wearing Trail Running Shoes on the Road

shoes on pavement

While trail running shoes are great for hiking and the uneven terrain of the great outdoors, they might not be the best choice for pounding the asphalt. Here’s why: 

  • Wear and Tear: The rubber lugs on the soles of trail running shoe models, designed to grip onto soft or slippery terrain, can wear down quickly on concrete or asphalt.
  • Uncomfortable on flat surfaces: Trail shoe models often have a stiffer upper sole and a rock plate to protect the foot from sharp sticks and stones. This makes them less comfortable for long distances on flat surfaces than road running shoes.
  • Stability: Trail shoes are designed with uneven, technical terrain in mind. This means they often have fewer stability features for flat surfaces than road running shoes, which could lead to less proper foot alignment.
  • Breathability Issues: Trail running shoes are usually made of more durable, less breathable materials than road shoes to withstand the elements. The reduced breathability could lead to uncomfortable heat buildup when running on the road.

Should You Consider Hybrid Trail Running Shoes

When it comes to choosing the right footwear for your running routine, the debate between road running shoes and trail running shoes is common. But what about a middle ground? We tested hybrid trail running shoes to see if they were a good match.

A hybrid trail shoe, as the name suggests, is a blend between a road shoe and a trail running shoe, designed to offer the best of both worlds. 

Here’s why we think hybrid shoes could be a good fit for you: 

  1. They can handle both well-groomed trails and uneven terrain.
  2. They often come with extra cushioning to handle rough terrains and yet are lightweight for comfortable road running.
  3. The upper material is usually a mesh, offering breathability while still protecting from sharp rocks or trail debris.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Trail Running Shoes

3 people hiking using trail running shoes on a rocky mountain

Whether you are an avid hiker or a newbie, figuring out the best footwear can be a daunting task. Trail running shoes are becoming an increasingly popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts.

However, the question remains: Is it OK to wear trail shoes on roads? The short answer is yes, but there are some guidelines to consider to make the most out of your trail running shoes. 

Proper Fit and Socks

A snug fit is crucial for any type of running shoe. There should be enough room for your toes to wiggle but not so much that you risk slipping. Also, do not underestimate the importance of the right socks. They can provide added comfort and prevent blisters. 

Break Them In

Never use trail running shoes for long runs when you’ve just bought a new pair. Break them in with shorter runs or walks to avoid discomfort.

Also, if you are transitioning from road runners to trail running shoes, do it gradually. Start with shorter runs and gradually increase the distance. 

Regular Maintenance

Regularly clean your shoes and remove any dirt or other debris. This not only extends their lifespan but also maintains good grip and traction.

Also, protect your shoes from adverse conditions when not in use. Store them in a dry, cool place and avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures. 

Rotate Your Shoes

Have several pairs of trail shoes and road running shoes and use them alternately. This gives each pair time to regain its cushioning and also reduces the risk of injury. 

Replace When Worn Out

Running in worn-out shoes can cause injuries. Replace your shoes every 300-500 miles. Moreover, make sure to replace your insoles when they lose their shape or become uncomfortable. 

Trail-Appropriate Lacing

Tie your shoes in a way that prevents the laces from becoming untied during your run.

According to this study, a secure connection between the foot and the trail running shoe achieved through proper lacing enhances the utilization of trail running shoe functionalities, potentially lowering the likelihood of lower limb injuries.

Here are several techniques you can explore. 

Wrapping Up: Are Trail Running Shoes Good for Roads?

Trail and road shoes are built differently, so we recommend buying the right one for your type of activity. However, there may be some occasions, when you can use trail running shoes on the road.

If you’re planning to alternate between trail running and road running, then a pair of trail running shoes might be a good option.

They offer similar features as a good pair of regular running shoes, but with added protection against sharp stones and uneven surfaces typically found on normal trails. 

On the other hand, it’s essential to note that trail running shoes are designed for softer surfaces. Hence, they often feature less cushioning than road running shoes.

While many runners do use trail running shoes on the road, others might find them overly aggressive for pavement and may prefer a lighter-weight option. 

Before making a decision, we recommend you read our article on the top recommended trail running shoes for more insights. Remember, your favorite pair of shoes for interval workouts might be different from the pair you prefer for long road runs.

It’s always best to have different shoes for different activities to ensure comfort and prolong shoe lifespan.


Christina Utz

Christina Utz

Christina Utz is a professional writer, mountain addict, and hiking enthusiast. She successfully finished a rock climbing class and a wilderness survival course, and by the age of 24, she hiked more than 1800 miles and finished over 260 different trails! Her expertise in hiking and outdoors helped numerous people to fulfill their adventurous spirit!

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