The best road to trail running shoes reviewed (2022)

You can't always pick a route that's completely trail-based, but off road shoes aren't always the best on the tarmac. Here's our list of the best road to trail transition shoes.

Trail shoe splashing in a puddle

by Trail magazine |

This category speaks for itself; you’ll need cushioning for the road, but you’ll also need grip, rock protection and all manner of other trail related items for your off-road adventure. We look for cushioning, a degree of stability but a trail shoe that truly feels at home in slippery conditions. Yes, out and out road shoes will cope with the summer perfectly, but come autumn, winter and back into spring you’ll need a pair that offers security as you corner or take on ascents and descents.

What to look for in a road to trail shoe

Carbon: For many of us, the road is all about running that bit quicker and there’s no argument carbon provides runners with more response harder, more uniform trails. Some will run faster, while some will benefit from the reduction in impact carbon provides. Yes, there’s a cost but it’s well worth the investment.

Breathability: In the same way you’d look for fabrics that breathe in t-shirts, go for materials that allow air and water vapour to escape from inside the shoe, while also allowing cooler air from outside to enter.

Weight: Of course, there’s no definitive weight in a running shoe as more than any other product, it’s very much individual. But, as a general rule, summer shoes are lighter and swifter feeling, so you’ll be thinking of shoes that weigh less than 300g for that rip roaring 10km PB. If you’re thinking long distance though, think about additional cushioning and therefore in some, but not all, additional weight, bringing the shoes into the mid-300s.

Toe box: The rocks will be there summer, or winter so look for protection in that department year round.

Drop: There’s almost a generational gap here. Older shoe models work off an 8mm-12mm drop for a higher, more cushioned ride while many of today’s shoes come in at around 4mm-6mm for a closer to the ground, faster feel. As with any shoe advice, it’s always about what feels good personally. In theory, it’s worth progression to lower drop shoes as they do feel quicker (half the job), but it can be at a cost for your calf muscles. There are lower drops as well with 0mm replicating barefoot. The jury is out at the moment as to what is best!

Midsole: EVA, PU, TPU or Pebax are the foams of choice for most brands. All offer softness and flexibility to different degrees.

Fit: There’s the traditional lacing system of course, but the Salomon system and the Boa fit in a variety of brands including La Sportiva and Adidas do offer superb stability on rough, steep terrain. Consider the surfaces you’ll be running. Tough descents and contouring lend themselves to this new fit system.

Lug length: Summer shoes will offer less in the grip department, so lugs around 3mm at the most, while winter shoes go all the way up to 6mm and even beyond on occasion. Rubber, of course, wears quicker so longer lug length shoes need to stay strictly off-road!

The best road to trail running shoes

Pros: Cushioning that rivals any armchair
Cons: Hoka shoes can rock and roll over

Hoka Zinal

This is a (for Hoka) low- profile trail shoe that offers a good balance of light weight, grip and comfort. What it doesn’t offer too much of is cushioning. Think of it as an ideal shoe for a tarmac/trail Parkrun – there’s certainly some snap in the toe-off, and a 5mm drop is just on the right side of pacy. Where these won’t be welcome is anywhere near deep mud, but you knew that as these are for trail and road. The 4mm lugs aren’t the most aggressive, nor grippy. The Zinal does score points for employing an upper made from recycled yarn, though.

Weight 199g (men’s 6) | Lugs 4mm | Midsole Molded EVA sockliner | Outsole Vibram Litebase Litebase | Men’s sizes 6.5-12.5 | Women’s sizes 3.5-9

Pros: Trail tech meets the road; Salomon’s fit is superb
Cons: A little slack in the

Salomon Ultra Glide

Looking for an all-day- comfortable pair of shoes for all terrains? You’ve some to the right place, at a great price. Not only does their weight compare favourably, but also their versatility shines through.

Working off a 6mm drop, they’re on the neutral side when it comes to the ride. The upper is comfortable and cradles the foot nicely, but the real benefit is in the outsole. Salomon’s Contragrip tech has a grippy rubber compound that keys into wet rocks with confidence.

The cushioning is also worth shouting about – good enough for an ultra, but equally adept at short distances – while the transition from footstrike to toe-off is smooth.

Weight 260g (men’s 8) | Lugs 3.5mm | Midsole EVA and OBC foam | Outsole Contagrip MA Outsole | Men’s sizes 7-14.5 | Women’s sizes 4-9

Pros: Soft, cool and breathable, yet they offer great protection from rock and the road;

Brooks Cascadia 16

Heritage is always a risky word to use when talking about favourite models. Runners of a certain vintage will fondly recall the Cascadia 1 and frown upon any alterations. But come on, what's not to like about this cushioned, 16th version of an old favourite?

It feels wonderfully soft and the type of shoe that moves from road to trail effortlessly. The new midsole and outsole construction lets the shoe mould easily to the ground, improving the stable ride, and is certainly up to the job for most everyday surfaces. There's also an updated Ballistic Rock Shield for protection on the gnarly stuff. And an 8mm drop.

Weight 294g (men’s 8) | Lugs 4.3mm | Midsole DNA Loft v2 | Outsole TrailTack Sticky Rubber | Men’s sizes 6-14 | Women’s sizes 3-10

Pros: Very responsive; very fast feeling. You’ll need a different excuse than your shoe’s

Adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra Trail Running Shoes

Interesting. Stand still in these shoes and you feel a little clunky. You’re elevated on what appears to be the most unforgiving shoes you’ve ever worn. And then you take a stride. The shoes introduce carbon plate road-running technologies to the trail, and it really does propel you and reduces impact forces.

It does take a few miles to bed them in, but once you have, oh boy. Stable, breathable, and offering more than enough protection they add one vital element to your running; they actually save you some energy, particularly when descending as they absorb shocks. Fabulous. They work off an 8mm drop.

Weight 299g (men’s 10) | Lugs 4mm | Midsole Boost | Outsole Continental rubber | Men’s sizes 7-14.5 | Women’s sizes 4-9

Pros: Soft, cushioned and pretty light
Cons: Come on, there must be a way of stopping

On Cloudsurfer 6

These are tagged as road shoes, but we were keen to get them in as traditionally On provide smooth running mountain path shoes. So, who will like these? Runners looking for a faster paced workout on reliable surfaces. That does include off-road, but it’s got

to be uniform, if you catch our drift. The grip is minimal, but the cushioning is superb so it’s your call. On shoes are always about the ride thanks to the Rebound Rubber Cloud elements. The outsole includes a fast-tuned Speedboard while there’s a Zero-Gravity midsole. Steer clear of stones, though; these shoes love picking them up. These have a 6mm drop.

Weight 335g (men’s 8) | Lugs Flat | Midsole Zero Gravity | Outsole Rebound rubber | Men’s sizes 7.5-12.5 | Women’s sizes 4-8

Pros: Nice shoe that gets about its job unflustered
Cons: A little too rigid for some?

Scarpa Spin Infinity

Tested in the Dolomite mountains in all seasons and conditions – making it a great choice for year-round running. Perfect for mixed terrain, it is all about stability and cushioning, so it’s no surprise to learn the shoe was developed with the help of Marco De Gasperi.

Marco is one of the world’s best mountain runners and his knowledge and experience shines through in the shoe’s design and performance: The mesh and welded PU upper with sock-fit construction is light and breathable but still provides foot-wrapping support and a secure fit. Both the upper and the outsole of the Spin Infinity work hand in hand (or foot in foot?) to offer an ideal combination of light weight, shock absorption, traction and – crucially – support.

Once you’ve experienced the grip afforded by the sticky 4mm lugs on the Vibram outsole, you’ll no doubt be won over, as we were when we tried a pair for size especially given the price tag.

Weight 305g (men’s 8) | Lugs 4mm | Midsole Compressed EVA | Outsole Vibram Megagrip | Men’s sizes 7-13 | Women’s sizes 3.5-7

Pros: Great grip and precision
Cons: Zero cushioning so only suitable for barefoot style

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail

This inclusion comes with a caveat: you'll need to already run with a forefoot strike to appreciate them. Don't know what that means? Move on to the next shoe. But if you're a barefoot-esque runner, these vegan-made off-road runners are designed for firm-ground and ensure a smooth ride on both road surfaces and trails.

An ultra-thin but puncture-resistant sole allows your feet to feel the ground as you move, and a lightweight grip is indiscernible on road but keeps you moving at speed when the terrain gets slick. If you're comfortable with minimal shoes - these have a 0mm drop - they're ideal for moving between surfaces seamlessly.

Weight 260g (men’s 8) | Lugs 4mm | Outsole Firmground rubber compound | Sizes 6-14

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