Road to Trail Running Shoes | What Are They | Best Road to Trail Running Shoes

A Quick Guide to Road to Trail Running Shoes

In addition to all you regular off-road runners out there, many Northern Runner customers, once the summer is over and the weather is on the turn, start putting in the endurance building, longer runs. Most do these runs off-road.  They’re more interesting and tend to be kinder on the body. However most of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to step onto the trail from their front door!

So you need a shoe that feels comfortable and avoid heavy wear on the few miles on-road and then have enough grip and stability to function well off road. Aka Road to Trail.


Road shoes usually have lots of cushioning, optional overpronation support models if you need it and a lightweight, breathable upper. Trail or off road shoes have less cushioning typically, as you don’t need it as much on softer ground. Also less cushioning puts you closer to the floor, which adds stability and a feel for your terrain that can help avoid twisting an ankle or knee. For road to trail we’ll need adequate cushioning for a few miles on the road, but want to feel what we’re getting into on the trail!

Grip & Protection

Off-road shoes’ lugs/studs are made of a softer rubber, in order to grip better on wet rock or wood. The upper tends to be tough to avoid tears from brambles and help avoid gradual wear from grit/debris. Some shoes also come with a removable rock plate, to help avoid bruising when things get rocky.  We’re going to need some grip to remain confident off-road, but firmer and durable so as not to wear out on the concrete.

A Note on Overpronation

For most runners who pronate mildly, an anti-pronation device isn’t required off-road because your foot moves slightly differently each time it touches the uneven floor. If you took a road shoe designed to reduce overpronation, the harder material in the inside of the mid sole can also causes problems. If you stand on a rock or tree root the shoe won’t flex and will move the whole foot, which can twist and ankle or knee. If you still have pronation related problems when running in road to trail shoes on mixed terrain then the solution is to use an orthotic insole inside the shoe. 

Finding a Winning Road to Trail Combination

Any shoe designed for this type of running is, naturally, a compromise. Different runners will be happy to compromise in different areas. For some people less cushioning for more stability off road is a good trade off, but for others they need the comfort on the road and spender a shorter time off road, or on firmer, reliable off-road terrain.

Our Road to Trail Picks

Inov-8 Parkclaw GTX (GoreTex)

This is a beefed up version of the popular Roadclaw 275. The fit of the upper and the midsole is the same and it still has Inov-8’s Powerflow cushioning in the midsole. The outsole lugs are a little longer but still feel fine on the road surface. They are also a little further apart so they don’t get clogged up with mud as easily as they might on the Roadclaw. The outsole is made of three different density’s of rubber. You have more durable rubbers at the points of the outsole that will wear quickly and more sticky rubber where you need the grip.

The upper of the Parkclaw 275 GTX is made of the latest version of Goretex waterproofing. It is lighter, softer, more flexible and more breathable than the previous versions. That means they may well be a little warmer than shoes with an open mesh upper but shouldn’t be too hot on a mild day, which some GoreTex shoes are. After all though, you have the very useful advantage of keeping your feet dry in the rain or when you run through the long wet grass. These shoes have a firmer more responsive feel to them which Inov-8 customers love.

On Cloudventure

On’s unique CloudTec cushioning means that they are perfect for road to trail. The ‘clouds’ on the bottom of the shoe provide independent cushioning and then propulsion, so On shoes are all quite low to the ground. That means compared with a thick, inflexible and cushioned outsole, they provide great stability without losing any of the road cushioning. The Cloudventure has a tougher upper than road versions and the clouds (lugs) also have less of a gap between them and the midsole, to prevent grit/stones etc getting in. These shoes still feel encouragingly springy and bouncy like a lot of road shoes.

Altra Zero Drop Timp

The Altra Timp is a new shoe in Altra’s range of shoes. They are trademarked Zero Drop and have a wide FootShape Toe Box like all the other Altra shoes. Familiar with Altra shoes? The cushioning level on these sits just below the maximum cushioned Altra Olympus but above the popular Lone Peak. The shoe has a more rounded shape to it at the toe, which gives it a nicer and less clumpy feel than the more cushioned Olympus. It also feels springier on harder surfaces than the Lone Peak.  It could be the ideal shoe for a mixed run!

Hoka Challenger 3

For those who like to feel total comfort we have the Hoka Challenger. This is very similar to the Hoka’s popular road shoe the Clifton, with its same level of (ridiculously lightweight) cushioning but, a tougher upper and a more grippy outsole. Northern Runner customers are constantly surprised by the weight, considering the depth of cushioning! Plus there is only a modest drop.

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