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What’s the Difference Between Road and Trail Running Shoes? 

Road and Trail Running

If you have recently taken up running as a hobby, then it is likely that you are interested in testing out your newly acquired skills in a number of different environments on a number of different surfaces. Road running is the most accessible form of the activity for most people, but those who live near to accessible and appropriate woodland can also enjoy an entirely different kind of experience in what is termed as trail running.

Something that you need to make sure you have depending on which surface you are running in on is the correct kind of footwear. Just like a footballer needs different boots for grass versus AstroTurf, so too does a runner need different shoes for their preferred surface.

Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between shoes for road running and shoes for trail running.

  • Midsole

There are a couple of differences in the all-important cushioning midsole in both types of shoe. Road running shoes tend to have a much more cushioned midsole than shoes for trail running, because the theory is that you are going to be pounding much harder surfaces like pavements.

The thickness from heel to toe of the midsole also varies. In road shoes, the ‘heel to toe drop’ is usually higher in order to protect your Achilles and your legs from impact on super hard surfaces like tarmac and concrete. In trail running shoes, the heel to toe drop is lower to better provide ankle stability on a potentially uneven woodland or countryside surface.

  • Medial Post
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A medial post is an insert of harder density foam that is positioned inside a shoe on the medial (or inside) of the midsole. Its purpose is to control excessive pronation of the foot when running.

Trail running shoes do not have a medial post, with the theory being that you don’t want to restrict the natural motion of your feet when running on a potentially uneven surface.

Shoes for road running do tend to have a medial post, because the repetitive motion of pounding a pavement or other hard surface can lead to the kind of excessive pronation that makes running harder and less comfortable. The medial post can act as a shock blocker when you need it the most.

  • Outsole

This is the part of the shoe that makes direct contact with the ground. In road shoes, the outsole tends to be made of blown rubber that provides excellent grip in both dry and wet conditions. It will often be segmented in order to give a smooth transition from heel to toe when running as is demonstrated by the examples here.

With trail running shoes, the outsole is usually made from a much slicker compound that is able to grip onto a wider range of terrains and surfaces like grassy rock and anything that is more uneven than a flat pavement.

  • Upper

The upper segment of a trail running shoe is always going to be made of much more sturdy, tough material, and this is for the simple reason of offering protection to your feet against the possible hazards of a woodland trail. You need to be safe from things like tree roots, stray rocks and other natural obstacles.

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For road running, the list of obstacles and hazards is much shorter, and therefore shoes for roads have a much lighter and thinner upper. Things like breathability and speed performance are more important in road shoes, and the more streamlined, lightweight upper reflects this.

Choose your running shoes based on the surface you run on most often. If you do both road running and trail running, it would be preferable to have different pairs of shoes for each.


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