What is the difference between trail running and road running?
When you love running it doesn’t really matter much where you do it, on the road or trail, as long as you’re running. But what are the differences between road and trail running? Is one better for your health than the other? What are the differences in equipment, especially shoes?
To begin, we should really try to define the two activities. We fully understand there’s a whole lot of grey area between trail and road running but for the sake of argument, we’ll call road running any kind of running that’s done on a paved surface while trail running takes place on uneven terrain (including a jog along a mellow path in the middle of a city).
Having said that, we also want to emphasise that these days, advances in equipment have come so far that runners can pretty much run anywhere with anything. Clearly, some running shoes are designed specifically for particular uses but the point we’re trying to make is that it’s more a question of comfort and what kind of experience you’ll have. So, if you find yourself in the middle of a city with the time to do a quick loop around downtown but all you have with you is a pair of trail shoes then dude, lace those puppies up and go!
Without a doubt, running shoes are where some of the biggest differences between road and trail are most apparent. Trail shoes have evolved from road shoes as a way to better adapt to the trail environment. For instance, while road shoes feature relatively flat outsoles for increased speed and traction on smooth surfaces, trail running shoes feature lugged outsoles to increase grip on loose, uneven, and slippery terrain.
In addition, road shoes usually have a wider, more comfortable toe box, while trail shoes generally fit closer to the foot to maximize precision and control when trying to move quickly over technical, uneven terrain. However, it’s also true that shoe brands have heard the demands of trail runners with wide feet and are supplying more models in a wide-width option. Again, it’s all about what works best for you so if you prefer a snug toe box in your road shoes or more wiggle room in your trail shoes, then that’s definitely what you should do.
Trail shoes also generally feature more protection including toe protection, stiffer soles, and ripstop or reinforced uppers in many models. And while water drainage is important in trail shoes due to the likelihood of stream crossings and splashing through puddles, Gore-Tex and other waterproof technologies are often found in trail shoes as a means of protecting against the rain, snow, and cold.
At its core, trail running has always been about getting out for an adventure, which has made the equipment more critical. Ingenious advancements have been made in increasingly comfortable carrying systems that accommodate the extra water, food, and clothing layers required to be self-sufficient for longer periods in the backcountry regardless of what happens with the weather. Running poles are increasingly being used for added stability and security for all distances, and increasingly used for propulsion for short vertical runs. Having said all that, there has been a recent trend towards less equipment, especially as the definition of trail running is growing to include more casual runs.
For more tips on how to choose your trail running shoes click here!
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Jackie, from Salomon