What Are Trail Running Shoes?

What Are Trail Running Shoes?: Trail Running 101

What are trail running shoes? You may be a little confused if you’re new to trail running. But I’ll answer all your questions here.

If you’re new to trail running, you have a ton to learn.

How big of a running pack do I need? Do I need running poles? Did that guy just drink a Coca-Cola mid-run?

And, of course, you need to know what trail shoes are.

But worry not. By the end of this post, you’ll be that annoying person at the party who can’t stop talking about the new Salomon shoes.

What are trail shoes?

Trail shoes are shoes explicitly designed for trails and their features.

For example, trails have uneven surfaces that are less stable, rocks and roots, plus different types of terrain.

What are trail running shoes? Well, shoes for the trail!

So, the shoes are built to handle all of these things.

We’ll get into the features of a trail shoe more in a bit, but here are a few examples:

  • Deep lugs for better traction
  • Durable materials offer more support
  • Rock plates protect your feet from rocks and roots

Shoes offer different features, which is why so many are on the market. So, it’s essential to consider what you’ll need when finding one.

So, let’s have a look at what features trail shoes have.

👉 Want even more trail info?: 15 Best Trail Running Blogs to Follow for the Best Trail Advice!

What features do trail shoes have?

Each shoe company invests TONS of money into its shoe technology.

So, each shoe is often very different. Some focus on better traction, and others focus on comfort. But every shoe will have the following:

  • Lugs/Outsole
  • Midsole
  • Upper
The breakdown of a trail shoe

Let’s look at each of these.


Lugs? You mean like on a car tire?

Not quite.

Lugs are the pieces on the bottom of the shoe that dig into rugged trails and give you the stability you need. If you didn’t have lugs on the bottom of your shoes (the outsole), you’d quickly be on your bottom on the ground.

Lugs help you get traction

Every shoe is different, though.

Some offer deeper lugs built for muddy trails or loose terrain. Others focus on speed, so they have shallower lugs that are great for flat trails. And you’ll find every depth in between.

It all comes down to preference and what the trail requires.

👉 Want to wear your running shoes casually?: Is it Okay to Wear Running Shoes Casually? [A Quick Q&A on Wearing Running Shoes for Everyday Wear]


The midsole is where you get all the lovely, comfortable cushioning.

It sits above the outsole and under the upper to give you a nice pillow under your foot.

Just like lugs, there are different sizes. Some shoes have enough padding also to be your bed pillow. And others have less padding than a slab of concrete.

The midsole gives you cushioning

There’s no one-size-fits-all here. Some people like little padding, and some love it in bunches. 

Plus, some shoes have different heel-to-toe drops. So, how much higher does your heel sit than your toes?

But, this decision is all preference.


The Upper is the part that wraps around your foot and holds it tight.

What kind of upper is best? Well, that’s up to you!

The upper keeps your foot locked down

Some people want something breathable that cools their feet and dries quickly if they run through some water. And others want protection or water resistance, so the Upper is thicker and less breathable, like with Gore-Tex.

As trail runners, we comb through shoe after shoe, experimenting with each one until we find a shoe that works. Then, when we find one, we buy 30 of them, so we never lose the shoe.

Okay, a joke (kind of), but it explains why people are so loyal to the shoes they wear.

What are trail running shoes used for?

I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but trail shoes are used for trail running!

But that’s not all they can do.


You can use a nice pair of trail shoes for hiking or wear them as a pair of walking shoes on the pavement. Trail shoes are versatile, and that’s what makes them great.

But it’s also important to remember the features each shoe has depending on how you use them.

What’s the difference between running shoes and trail shoes?

The difference between trail shoes and road shoes is its own article, to be honest.

But, some quick differences are easy to highlight. So, using the abovementioned features, let’s look at some simple differences.


Generally speaking, road running shoes don’t have lugs, or they’ll be minimal.

Trail running shoes are designed to dig into dirt or mud, but road running shoes don’t need stability.

Road shoes lugs vs. trail shoes lugs

At most, you will see a small set of bumps that provide better traction. 

But they’re not as noticeable as on trail shoes.


Because road shoes don’t need as much protection, they require fewer materials.

Road shoes upper vs. trail shoes upper

And this means road shoes usually have more breathable uppers. They hug your foot and provide proper security, but they are much lighter than trail shoes.

So, a road shoe is usually much lighter than a trail shoe.


Road and trail shoes don’t differ much in how much padding they offer.

You can find road shoes with minimal padding (like barefoot shoes) and ones with clouds in their midsoles (like Hoka’s).

Road shoes midsole vs. trail shoes midsole

But, a recent innovation has been carbon plates in road shoes. This gives you more energy with each step and propels you forwards. Trail shoes, however, don’t usually have a carbon plate. Some recent models have started using it, but it’s not nearly as popular.

So, to summarize, the most significant differences are road shoes don’t have lugs and are lighter.

Trail Running Shoes FAQ

Is it OK to use trail running shoes on the road?

Trail running shoes are excellent to use on the road, depending on your shoe.

If you have a trail shoe with deeper lugs, it won’t be a comfortable experience, and you will also degrade your shoe much faster.

So, opt for a shoe with shallower lugs that has more road running shoe features.

Some great options are:

  • Nike Pegasus Trail
  • Brooks Catamount
  • Hoka Speedgoat

When should I use trail running shoes?

Trail shoes are best when the terrain becomes unstable, or there are many rocks or roots.

You need deeper lug trail shoes in unstable terrains to give you better traction. Also, if there are many obstacles, you get more protection for your feet from trail shoes.

So, if you risk injuring your feet or ankles, choose a pair of trail runners.

Can you use trail running shoes for walking?

Trail running shoes are great for walking!

They offer a lot of support and comfort for your feet. Plus, they make a great pair of hiking shoes if you’re on trails.

So, by buying one pair of shoes, you get them for three different uses!

Can you run trails in regular shoes?

You can run trails in regular running shoes when the trails are flat and free of obstacles.

Because road shoes don’t have deep lugs, they’re not built for unstable terrain. So, if it’s not uneven terrain and you don’t have to worry about traction, they’re great!

But, if you may injure yourself, find a pair of trail shoes.

Can I wear trail running shoes on a treadmill?

You can wear trail running shoes on a treadmill.

But, if they have deeper lugs, it’ll be very uncomfortable, and you could damage your treadmill.

So, if you can, wear a pair of road shoes on the treadmill or find a pair of trail runners with shallow lugs.

Should I size up for trail running shoes?

Size up with your trail running shoes is usually a good idea.

The extra space you get is excellent to account for any swelling of your feet and protection.

But you want to balance the space and your fit. If you size up and the shoe doesn’t fit properly, it isn’t the size for you. 

You face much more risk by getting a shoe that doesn’t fit appropriately than your foot swelling or kicking a rock.

Wrapping up

So, you’ve learned the basics!

Now that you’ve learned what a trail running shoe is, you may wonder what some of the best trail running shoes are. And I’ve got the best guide to trail running shoes for you here.

So go have a look.

Last, if you aren’t already, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok!

Looking to start your trail running journey?

First Steps on the Trail — The Travel Runner eBook

Everything you need to hit the trails today in 20 easy pages. And completely free.

Click the button below to get it 👇


The Travel Runner Portrait

Hi, I’m Kyle, and I’m The Travel Runner.

I’ve been traveling and running in exotic locations worldwide for the last five years.

And I want you to be able to do the same.

Join my adventure-filled newsletter and discover the perfect blend of travel and running inspiration. Sign up now!