Trail Running vs. Road running

Trail Running vs. Road Running [How To Pick the Best One]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.

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Here’s a breakdown of trail running vs. road running. Discover the best option for your fitness routine and goals based on what you enjoy!


Could a change of scenery be the secret to falling back in love with running?

Road running is a fantastic foundation. But after countless miles on the same routes, the boredom can set in. You might crave adventure, challenge, and connection with nature.

It may be time to explore the thrilling trail running world if that sounds familiar. And that’s what this guide is here for. I’ll break down road running vs. trail running so you can decide what’s right for you.

So, here’s what you need to know before hitting the dirt.

Trail running vs. road running breakdown

The pros and cons of road running

Roads are a runner’s reliable companion.

They offer a smooth, predictable surface that is perfect for beginners to learn how to start running and experienced runners alike. It’s where countless miles are logged, races are conquered, and a solid foundation for running is built.

A man runs in a road race with earbuds in while giving the cameraman a thumbs up

But there are downsides to it as well. From injuries to repetitiveness, many runners look elsewhere if they lose motivation to run.

Here are a few of the pros and cons of road running:

Road running pros

  • Accessibility: Sidewalks and paths make it easy to squeeze in a run almost anywhere.
  • Predictability: Ideal for pace-focused workouts and precise distance tracking.
  • Beginner-friendly: Helps new runners focus purely on building fitness.
  • Requires less gear: A pair of shoes (and clothes, of course!) and you’re good to go

Road running cons

  • Repetitive: The lack of scenery changes can lead to burnout.
  • High impact: Hard surfaces stress your joints, increasing injury risk.
  • Traffic & crowds: Obstacles can disrupt your flow and add stress, depending on your location.

The pros and cons of trail running

Trails offer stunning scenery, build total-body strength, and deepen your connection with nature.

Plus, you can explore places you’d never see if you stick to road running. Beautiful viewpoints, epic mountains, and serene flatlands. Trail running truly has it all in the views department.

A man runs on a trail at night with a headlamp on

But expect a challenge: uneven terrain, hidden obstacles, and the need for careful foot placement demand focus and agility. Plus, finding trails requires some extra planning.

Here are the pros and cons of trail running:

Trail running pros

  • Scenery & exploration: Discover breathtaking natural beauty and the thrill of finding new routes you’d never see from the road.
  • Mental boost: The combination of nature’s beauty and the focus required for navigating the terrain offers a unique mental recharge.
  • Functional fitness: Build core strength, improve balance, and increase agility by adapting to the varied terrain.
  • Reduced impact: Softer surfaces are easier on your joints, helping prevent injuries and making running more sustainable long-term.

Trail running cons

  • Injury risk: Roots, rocks, and elevation changes require careful foot placement, especially for beginners. Start slow and choose easier trails initially.
  • Slower pace: Initially, focus on effort and enjoyment over speed.
  • Accessibility: Finding suitable trails may require research and some travel, so factor this into your planning.
  • Requires more gear: Trail shoes, a running pack, a first aid kit, and more are all great trail options.

Things to consider when choosing

Now, I want to make one thing clear.

You don’t have to like trail running or vice versa. You’re not a “real” runner if you do one but not the other. It comes down to your preference, what you get the most out of, and what keeps you running.

So, before you lace up your shoes, ask yourself a key question:

What are my running goals?

Here are a few common answers:

  • General Fitness & exploration: Trails are perfect! Mix in roads for the occasional tempo workout or when time is short.
  • Faster paces/racing: Roads are likely your primary focus, but trail runs build strength that translates to faster race times.
  • Stress relief: Go with whatever makes you happiest! Both offer mental benefits, so prioritize what you enjoy most.

You should also consider if you’re injury-prone. For example, if you suffer from joint pain, then softer trails may help relieve that. But, if ankle rolls are a serious problem, the trails may be your worst nightmare.

You also must get a pair of trail running shoes if you run on more technical trails outside. That involves having a pair of road and trail running shoes, which is expensive for many.

Last, ask yourself if you even enjoy trails. As one person said to me on Instagram, “I’ll stick to roads. Nature scares me.” And that’s perfectly fine!

It’s all about what you enjoy the most.

Is one better than the other?

My honest answer? No.

Both offer things that make you a better runner on the opposite terrain. While road running is great for tempo workouts and hitting faster paces, it lacks the muscle workouts you get from the trails and running uphill or running downhill.

My recommendation is to try both. Choose the one you enjoy more, and stick with it. Occasionally mix in the opposite terrain for variety. Or, if you flat out dislike running on one (like me with roads) stick to the one you enjoy and keeps you running!

Ultimately, there’s no right answer except what works best for you.

What’s your opinion on the trail running vs. road running debate?

You’ll hear members of both sides saying their choice is better.

Trail runners swear that sticking to running trails is the ultimate solution. And road runners can’t fathom how trail runners run so slow in training!

But, with this guide, you’ll determine which works best for you. So, I’m eager to hear from you. Which one do you think is better: trail running or road running? Let me know in the comments and why you think it’s best!

And, if you’re interested in trail running, check out all my trail running tips to help you start!

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.

11 responses to “Trail Running vs. Road Running [How To Pick the Best One]”

  1. Life...One Big Adventure Avatar
    Life…One Big Adventure

    I had better go and dust off my sneakers! Thanks for the inspiration…

    1. Kyle Cash Avatar
      Kyle Cash

      Haha, thanks for the comment!

      I always count on running for some of my ideas. I don’t know what it is about running, or maybe running through the forest, but it gets my mind in a creative setting.

      Have a great day.

      1. Life...One Big Adventure Avatar
        Life…One Big Adventure

        Hmm, I am not sure I can relate as I am focused purely on not dying during the run! 😉

        1. Kyle Cash Avatar
          Kyle Cash

          Not dying is a pretty important part of a run, so you’re doing something right!

          1. Life...One Big Adventure Avatar
            Life…One Big Adventure

            I like your optimism! 🙂

  2. Image Earth Travel Avatar
    Image Earth Travel

    Great informative post. I’ve never been a runner and don’t really like it but do like power walking.

    1. Kyle Cash Avatar
      Kyle Cash

      I can easily understand why people don’t like running, trust me haha.

      Power walking is just as good. I’ve even read some things about how power walking may be better than running because of the lower impact with the ground.

      As long as it’s movement, all that’s important 😀

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar
        Image Earth Travel

        Exactly! As long as we’re not stagnant, that’s all that matters. 😉

  3. Patrick Avatar
    Patrick

    Road running is all I’ve ever done really, but I’d like to do some trail running some time in the future!

  4. Sweeeeeet Avatar
    Sweeeeeet

    Great insightful article.. thanks so much for this. On safely I do have 2 specific questions you may be able to help with (perhaps you have experienced them yourself?) and hope its not too weird to ask:
    1: If running the trails and a 3 legged dog suddenly attacks from out of nowhere then what would be your recommended actions.
    2 : If running the trails and suddenly at your feet there is a very big black cobra on the trail what would be the recommended height one should jump in order to avoid the snake and make a safe getaway.
    Looking forward to more articles and keep safe out there…

    1. Kyle Cash Avatar
      Kyle Cash

      Hey Sweet,

      Thanks for the great comment.

      To answer your first question, three-legged dogs present a unique problem. They’re already disadvantaged, so you don’t want to do them any harm. So the best course of action is usually to run away (if able) or just give it a nice tap across its face with an open palm – this last part is very important.

      Your second question is more difficult. But I’ll answer it like this, jump as if you were an Olympian, and run as if you were Eliud Kipchoge.

      Hope these help!

      May the datés be ever in your favor, and not too dry.

      Kyle, The Travel Runner

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