Dive into the differences between trail and road running shoes to help you make the most informed decision for your needs.
As a running enthusiast, one of the most important decisions you'll make is choosing the right pair of shoes. Runners come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the surfaces they run on. Some prefer pounding the pavement, while others prefer hitting the trails. The right pair of shoes can make all the difference, but not all running shoes are created equal. Both trail running shoes and road running shoes are designed to provide support and cushion your feet while running. They also both come in a variety of styles and models to accommodate different foot shapes, arch types, and running styles. Additionally, many of the same materials are used in both types of shoes, including synthetic fabrics, mesh, and rubber. While there are many similarities, it is important to recognize the many distinct differences which should influence how you choose the right pair for your next run.
Trail running shoes are designed to handle rough, uneven terrain. They typically have more aggressive treads to provide better traction on rocks, dirt, and other surfaces: deeper rubber lugs which are also softer to flex around uneven ground and debris. They also tend to have more durable materials and protective features to shield your feet from sharp rocks, roots, and other hazards on the trail. The upper of a trail shoe is often reinforced with overlays to protect against debris and abrasions, and sometimes also include features like a gaiter trap to keep out dirt and rocks. Some trail shoes also come with a built-in rock plate in the midsole to protect the foot from sharp rocks or roots. It should be noted that all of these additional features can make the shoe heavier and less breathable than a road running shoe.
Some people will opt for a trail shoe in the Winter months to give them a bit of extra grip on the slippery snow. Shoes that include a waterproof layer like Gore-Tex also help keep your toes dry and toasty in the colder months.
Another important fact about trail shoes is that they are all inherently neutral, meaning they are not designed to help correct over-pronation or over-supination. This is because you want to have the best proprioception of the uneven ground you may be running on, and having something alter your feet mechanics can throw you off. There are many runners that absolutely need some type of correction in their running shoes, so if you fall into this category, I would consider either a pair of orthotics or over-the-counter supportive insoles to add to your trail shoe.
In contrast, road running shoes have a smoother tread pattern that provides better traction on flat surfaces like pavement, asphalt or the treadmill. They tend to be lighter and more breathable than trail running shoes, making them a good choice for speed work and long-distance running on the road. They can be more breathable because the upper doesn’t need to include the extra overlays and can be more streamlined. The midsole is typically made of a lightweight foam for a responsive ride and good energy return. You may also find features like a carbon fiber plate or extra thick midsoles for additional cushioning and support.
Many of the trails in Guelph and the surrounding area are groomed and very well maintained so you can often get away with a more “road-specific” option. Once you get into more technical areas like Starkey Hill or certain parts of Preservation Park (think lots of rocks, roots, hills and sharp turns), a more trail-oriented running shoe might become more appropriate.
In terms of durability and lifespan, you should get roughly the same number of kilometers out of a comparably cushioned trail shoe as a road shoe. Provided you’re using them on the surfaces they are designed to tackle. Road shoes may wear out faster if used on rough terrain, similarly, a trail shoe won’t last as long on harder surfaces.
In conclusion, choosing the right running shoe depends on your personal preferences and the type of terrain you plan to run on. Trail running shoes are best for rough, uneven terrain, while road running shoes are ideal for pavement and other flat surfaces. Both types of shoes have their own unique features and benefits, so it's important to try on different options and see what feels best for you. Investing in a good pair of running shoes can help you stay comfortable and injury-free on your runs, and improve your overall performance as a runner.