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Best road to trail running shoes 2022: all-terrain shoes for smooth transitions

Best road to trail running shoes
(Image credit: Martin Novak / Gerry Images)

As the name suggests, the best road to trail running shoes are designed for a mix of terrain. Like the best trail running shoes, they have cleats to help you keep your footing when roaming off the beaten path, but they're also cushioned to absorb the force of hitting the pavement when you move onto the road.

Finding the pair that’s perfect for you can be tricky, but the the key is to find the pair that fit you best, personally. However good the grip is, whatever fancy technology the brands shout about and whichever elite athlete swears by a particular shoe, if it nips your little toe, digs in at the arch or rubs at the heel, you can guarantee those features don’t matter one jot when you’re DNFing a race with a massive great blister.

To help you find exactly the right pair, we've gathered our recommended road to trail running shoes into groups. If you've got the cash and want something truly versatile, our list of the all-round best road to trail running shoes will have something for you. Alternatively, if you're sticking to a budget, check out the best value road to trail running shoes.

We've also picked out the best road to trail shoes for long distances, and the best cushioned road to trail running shoes for training and racing on hard surfaces. The best fair-weather road to trail running shoes will serve you well in the summer months.

To find a brand and model of shoe that fits your hoof perfectly, you’ll ideally want to try them on with your best trail running socks for a few days, running around your lounge, doing quick turns in the kitchen and sprinting up and down the stairs. Check out the returns policy of your chosen store to make sure this will be OK. Only when you’re completely happy with the fit and feel of your running shoes can you start to focus on those extra features – see how to choose trail running shoes for some tips.

All-round best road to trail running shoes

Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 road to trail running shoes

(Image credit: Inov-8)
A super robust pair of comfortable, cushioned running shoes with grip that lasts a lifetime

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 510g / 18oz
Colors: Men’s: Black / Blue / Yellow; Women’s: Blue / Red
Drop: 8mm
Compatibility: Rough roads and trails where durable grip is required

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent, durable grip
+
Light
+
Grippy laces
+
Cushioned
+
Comfy straight from the box
+
Snug fit

Reasons to avoid

-
High price
-
Laces tricky to pull tight (re-lacing solves this)
-
Toe box not super wide
-
No recycled materials/production mentioned

The incredibly durable grip of the Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280s is thanks to the inclusion of graphene, one of the world’s strongest materials, in the rubber outsole and foam midsole. This is a bombproof road to trail running shoe – light and comfy straight from the box, with padding from the gusseted tongue and a secure heel. 

The outsole is studded with deep cleats for muddy tracks and trails, combined with a good amount of cushioning for roads and pavement. The grip really is excellent on all surfaces, which you would expect from trail and fell running shoe experts Inov-8, and the rebound is also good, thanks to an especially bouncy footbed. 

However, in certain types of especially sticky field mud, this shoe does like to hold on to gloop between its plentiful but narrowly-spaced 4mm deep cleats. This adds weight for the rest of that run, but it does all drop out before your next outing if you give them a satisfying bang together once dry. 

The toe box is not super wide compared to some of the others here, which is interesting as it is 4/5 for wideness on Inov-8’s fit scale. The laces are very grippy and stable making for a wonderfully secure fit throughout, but they do take some hoiking as they are laced the opposite way round to most shoes.

Read our full Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review

Salomon Sense Ride 4 road to trail running shoe

(Image credit: Salomon)
Light-feeling, quick-lacing and designed for tackling soft, muddy trails at speed, with a bit of road thrown in for good measure

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 526g / 18.6oz
Colors: Men’s: Black / Blue / Orange / Gray; Women’s: Peach / Turquoise / Maroon / Blue / Red / Purple
Drop: 8mm
Compatibility: Softer trails with not as much road or rock beneath the feet

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent, durable grip
+
Reasonably light
+
Quicklace system
+
Large range of colors

Reasons to avoid

-
Lace lock housing covered by laces
-
Shaped footbed may not suit everyone (but you can swap it easily)
-
Fit slightly big
-
No recycled production/materials mentioned

The Salomon Sense Ride 4s appear even lighter than they actually weigh, with a breathable upper and a slim, bendy Optivibe foam midsole that allows your feet to feel more of the terrain than a more cushioned road to trail running shoe would do. 

This means that, for most runners, this shoe is better suited to softer terrain – like grassy, muddy trails – more so than huge expanses of rock and road, especially with the excellent all-terrain Contagrip outsole with wide-spaced 4mm lugs. 

The fit of the shoe comes up around a half size big, which is actually a good size for those after an even roomier toe box, and the padded tongue and gusset are very comfortable too. 

Salomon’s trademark Quicklace system works really well for most runners. However in this model the top laces criss cross the lace lock housing making it very tricky to stow away quickly. Doh! 

Also, the OrthoLite footbed may not work for every foot shape as the arch curve could sit in the wrong place for your foot; if this happens simply replace the footbed with one from another shoe that works for you. 

The wide range of colors for men and women is another bonus for this shoe. 

Read our full Salomon Sense Ride 4 review

Best road to trail shoes for long distances

On Running Cloudultra road to trail running shoe

(Image credit: On)
A versatile, durable all-rounder with some unique, innovative features for long-distance running and ultras

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 565g / 20oz
Colors: Men’s: Olive / Black / Yellow; Women’s: Lavender / Black / Turquoise
Drop: 8mm
Compatibility: Long-distance runs on every terrain type

Reasons to buy

+
Unique front lace quick-widening clip
+
Elastic lace keeper
+
Wide toe area
+
Snug, wrap-around sock-style fit

Reasons to avoid

-
High price
-
Skinny laces
-
'Cloud' holes gather dirt

On Running Cloudultras feel wonderfully snug and securely-fitted with a wide, rounded toe box. The website advises to go half a size up, and this is good advice to ensure the best fit. 

Most obviously, the unique feature about On Running’s shoes is their CloudTec pockets in the sole unit – a series of oblong holes that absorb the impact of foot strike and provide rebound. 

Having tried On Running’s earlier road running shoes back in 2017 / 2018, the Cloudultras really did not seem to have the same dramatic – almost illegal-feeling – bounce to them. They felt very much the same as all the other running shoes in this test despite the radically different sole unit. They are pleasantly bouncy but no more so than the rest (perhaps an indication as to how much dynamic cushioning in the midsoles of all shoes has improved), and when you’re running on trails, mud and grit finds its way into the holes and can get stuck there. 

They are also the heaviest in this test at 565g / 20oz for a women’s size UK 6.5, despite them being full of holes! 

An innovation we found much more useful was the FlipRelease towards the toe-end of the laces. Turn this to expand the laces at this point when your feet swell during longer runs; it’s a very useful feature, especially for ultra runners. 

Annoyingly, the extremely comfortable but non-adjustable stretchy-wrap-fit around the ankles does make the shoes harder to get on if your feet have swollen up.

Read our full On Running Cloudultra review

Best cushioned road to trail running shoes

Arc’teryx Norvan LD 3 road to trail running shoe

(Image credit: Arc’teryx)
A monochrome statement shoe that truly delivers in lightness, rebound and fun

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 492g / 17.4oz
Colors: Men’s: Black / Red / Dark Teal / Blue; Women’s: Blue / Light Blue / Red
Drop: 6mm
Compatibility: Long distances on a wide variety of surfaces

Reasons to buy

+
Very light
+
Comfy straight from the box
+
Bouncy ride
+
Great grip

Reasons to avoid

-
Surprisingly narrow toe box
-
Very small lace keeper

A lovely light, springy, bouncy-feeling shoe from Arc’teryx, the Norvan LD 3 is designed for long distances and it certainly gives enough rebound to propel you along the trails in comfort. 

Despite the lightweight design, the fit is roomy, great for the larger volume foot, but we wouldn’t advise going down a half size as the toe box is not overly wide. The fit is similar to the Brooks Cascadia 16 but the Arc’teryx InFuse midsole feels bouncier, especially in the heel area. This is good news for heel strikers, especially as the 6mm drop is noticeable compared to the 8mm drop on the majority of shoes here. As a result, the Norvan LD will best suit runners whose Achilles tendons and calf muscles can cope with less of a heel stack.

The traditional lacing allows you to get a good, snug fit. The tongue is breathable yet padded enough to make the top of the foot feel very comfortable, and the gusset attaching it to the shoe is comfy also. There is a small pocket at the top of the tongue to pop the laces into, but it would benefit from being larger and stretchier to easily fit the whole lace inside (it’s a great idea for keeping the laces safe from brambles though). 

The Vibram MegaGrip sole with 4mm-deep lugs is superb in both rain and shine, and durable too. But our blue version with white sole is not going to stay white for very long. 

Read our full Arc'teryx Norvan LD 3 review

Columbia Montrail Trinity AG road to trail running shoe

(Image credit: Columbia)
A unique, asymmetric lacing system, great rebound and good grip make for a shoe at home on both roads and trails

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 531g / 18.7oz
Colors: Men’s: Red / Blue; Women’s: Teal
Drop: 8mm
Compatibility: Slippery, wet runs when maximum bounce is required

Reasons to buy

+
Asymmetric lacing
+
Very bouncy
+
Good grip
+
Wide-ish toe area
+
17 per cent recycled material in OrthoLite Eco insole

Reasons to avoid

-
High price
-
Tongue lists to the outer side 
-
Inside tongue-gusset seam can rub

The Montrail Trinity AG road to trail running shoe from Columbia is unique in its asymmetric lacing, which is fantastic if you’ve tried regular straight-up-the-front lacing and it isn’t working for you. 

This is called the NavicFit system as it fits over the mid-foot navicular bone, which keeps your heel in place. Cool, but this is a problem we didn’t know needed fixing as we’ve never felt our heel was not in place in other running shoes…!

The padded tongue and debris gusset works in the same way as the other shoes, but we unfortunately found the high, bulky seam attaching them together created a hotspot for blisters when worn for over an hour, especially in the arch area. Double-layer socks would go some way to mitigating this problem if you find the same thing happening to you. 

This is a great shame as the ride is super bouncy with their Techlite+ cushioning and the AdatTrax grip is excellent in the rain. The gaiter velcro at the heel and corresponding loop on the front lace make this shoe great for gritty and sandy trails, and the stretchy laces are ideal for swelling feet. 

If the Trinity AGs fit you nicely, they’re amazing. 

Read our full Columbia Montrail Trinity AG review

Best fair-weather road to trail running shoes

Scarpa Golden Gate ATR road to trail running shoes

(Image credit: Scarpa)
A good-value shoe that’s comfy and padded enough for roads and still grippy on trails with breathable uppers perfect for summertime

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 509g / 18oz
Colors: Men’s: Acid Lime & Black / Military & Deep Green; Women’s: Aruba Blue & Black / Oasis & Deep Green
Drop: 4mm
Compatibility: Roads and trails in all weathers for runners wanting a lower drop shoe

Reasons to buy

+
Very breathable
+
Quick draining
+
Good grip
+
Comfy wrap-around sock-style fit

Reasons to avoid

-
Lower drop may not suit some runners
-
Harder to get on
-
Firm midsole
-
Cold in winter
-
No eco-friendly production/materials mentioned

The Golden Gate ATR is a highly breathable road to trail shoe with a minimalist heel-to-toe drop of just 4mm. It’s important not to lower the drop of your running shoe too quickly from what you’re used to, so do be aware if your current trainers have a higher heel stack (see additional buying info below). 

The fit is small, so we advise going a half size bigger if you’re on the cusp of a size, and the feel is very comfortable thanks to the wrap-around Sock-Fit LW, which hugs the foot seamlessly without the need for a stitched tongue and gusset combination. This does make the shoe harder to get on, though. 

The ride of this shoe isn’t so much bouncy, as firm and propulsive – the lower drop heel combined with the i-Respond rocker work to push you forward making you feel light and speedy. And who doesn’t want that? 

The sole is interesting, with Scarpa’s Presa rubber in widely spaced 4mm lugs, but there is an unprotected softer section in the middle of the heel that surely will wear down after a few hundred miles on trails. We’ll keep wearing them to see happens…

Read our full Scarpa Golden Gate ATR review

Best value road to trail running shoes

La Sportiva Karacal road to trail running shoe

(Image credit: La Sportiva)
A great value, robust trail running shoe with great grip and enough padding to take care of your feet on an impressive range of terrain types

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 530g / 18.7oz
Colors: Men’s: Black Goji; Women’s: Black & Red Plum
Drop: 7mm
Compatibility: Long distances on a wide variety of surfaces

Reasons to buy

+
Robust
+
Comfy padded tongue
+
Good grip
+
Great value
+
20 per cent recycled rubber in the footbed

Reasons to avoid

-
Slim tongue gusset needs smoothing pre-lacing
-
OrthoLite footbed may not suit all feet

The La Sportiva Karacal is a very durable, robust-yet-breathable shoe, fantastic for long distances on both roads and trails. 

One thing that stands out is the super beefy tongue, which is flexible and padded to provide extreme comfort. This is a major plus – having used the old La Sportiva Jackal, I did find the tongue slipped to the side and allowed one of the lace hole liners to dig in on one side. 

In the Karacal there is no such issue. However, this large tongue is held in place only by very narrow gussets further down the shoe and these do have a tendency to wrinkle up and need to be sorted out by poking a finger down there before you continue with the lace up. 

Once laced up the fit is super secure and comfortable straight from the box. The toe area is wide and roomy, great for those with hobbit feet, and the FriXion Blue durable grip is excellent in both wet and dry conditions and for a wide variety of trails. 

The OrthoLite footbed does have a pronounced rise at the arch that not everyone will get on with; this is the same as in the Salomon Sense Ride 4, so do try this shoe with your previous shoe’s footbed if you find this happening. At this price, the Karacals are a definite must-buy for road to trail running.

Read our full La Sportiva Karacal review

Brooks Cascadia 16 road to trail running shoe

(Image credit: Brooks)
A roomy, grippy road to trail running shoe that likes the trails more than the roads

Specifications

Weight (pair UK 6.5): 560g / 19.7oz
Colors: Men’s: Black, Fiery Red & Blazing Yellow / Titan, Peacoat & Nightlife / Black, Ebony & Nightlife / Yellow, Black & Grenadine / Mykonos Blue, Peacoat & Lime; Women’s: Pink, Flambe & Cobalt / Porcelain, Blue Coral & Pink / Black, Ebony & Yucca / Basil, Duffel Bag & Coral
Drop: 8mm
Compatibility: Any distance, all terrains

Reasons to buy

+
Wide toe box
+
Large range of colors
+
Elastic lace keeper
+
Velcro gaiter attachment at heel
+
Partly recycled upper

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy
-
Not that bouncy

The Brooks Cascadia 16 is the latest in a long line of Cascadias and it seems to be the brand’s widest version yet. We would advise going down a half size, as the whole shoe is very roomy, which is great for those with wide feet (if that’s you, perhaps stick with your usual size). 

Going down a half size would also offset the relative heaviness of this shoe compared to the others in this test. The traditional, wide, grippy laces around the padded tongue secure the foot perfectly, and the elastic lace loop halfway down is great for those with narrow or low volume feet that have plenty of lace spare, or for trail runs through overgrown summer paths. 

The feel is a little like putting your foot into a slipper: comfortable straight from the box, you sort of sink into the DNA Loft v2 midsole cushioning. It’s not the bounciest of midsoles but the idea is that the shoe molds to the ground underfoot – it’s purposely not so padded that you lose touch with the terrain under your feet, yet it has enough protection to guard you from rougher roads and rocks. 

The TrailTack outsole grips works nicely on both wet and dry trail and road; it seems durable too. The velcro gaiter attachment at the heel is a nice touch, as is the packet of wild flower seeds that comes with every box – “Seed the trails,” Brooks call it. 

Read our full Brooks Cascadia 16 review

Best road to trail running shoes comparison table
Road to trail running shoePriceDropWeight (per pair)
Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280$180 (US) / £160 (UK)8mm510g / 18oz
Salomon Sense Ride 4$120 (US) / £120 (UK)8mm526g / 18.6oz
On Running Cloudultra$180 (US) / £160 (UK)8mm565g / 20oz
Arc’teryx Norvan LD 3$165 (US) / £150 (UK)6mm492g / 17.4oz
Columbia Montrail Trinity AG$150 (US) / £135 (UK)8mm531g / 18.7oz
Scarpa Golden Gate ATR£125 (UK) / $139 (USA)4mm509g / 18oz
La Sportiva Karacal$130 (US) / £115 (UK)7mm530g / 18.7oz
Brooks Cascadia 16$130 (US) / £120 (UK)8mm560g / 19.7oz

Testing

How we tested the best road to trail running shoes

All of the best trail and road running shoes included in this guide have been worn on numerous road-running training session and trail-running outings in various conditions, and on routes where the tester began on one surface and later transitioned to the other.

What to look for when buying the best road to trail running shoe

Best road to trail running shoes

The best road to trail running shoes give you the freedom to run on any terrain with confidence (Image credit: Petri Oeschger / Getty Images)

Achieving a comfortable fit is the absolute priority for any kind of footwear, so this is your first priority when looking for the best trail and road running shoes. After that, consider the following factors: 

Fit and sizing

We have tried to give an impression of the sizing and foot-shape suitability of each shoe in our reviews to help you select one or two pairs that might fit you the best. Try out two or even three different sizes and run around the house wearing them with your favorite running socks, to find out which fit the best (one of the advantages of internet shopping and generous returns policies).

Drop

This is the height difference between the heel and toe of the shoe, usually expressed in millimeters. Many more traditional road running shoes have around 10mm heel-to-toe drop, so you’re running on a sort of squashy heel. If you’re used to this, suddenly running all your mileage in a 4mm drop shoe loads your lower leg differently and puts a strain on your Achilles tendons and calf muscles, which can lead to injury. Find out what drop your current running shoes have and don’t lower the drop by more than a few mm at a time. Rotating new and old shoes, with lower drop shoes worn for a gradually increasing number of miles is the safest way to do this.

Best road to trail running shoes

The drop on the best hybrid trail road running shoes is significantly less than on dedicated road running shoes (Image credit: Mike Harrington / Getty Images)

Grip

The best hybrid trail road running shoes are often quite like road running shoes but with a bit of beefier grip to cope with some of the squelchier, rockier and slippier moments as you move over to trail running. Often the lugs are 4mm deep and fairly widely spaced so that pesky mud can’t hitch a free ride by clinging on between them.

Cushioning

The best road to trail running shoes will also have a bit more cushioning than your all-out bog-hopping, mountain-munching fell running shoes (fell means mountain, particularly in the UK’s more northerly parts such as the Lake District). This is to protect you against the pounding of pavements and provide you with a good bit of bounce for hard, gravel trails. Mud running shoes traditionally have less cushioning to increase your foot-to-ground stability, balance and response (proprioception). 

Lacing

Most of the best trail and road running shoes have a traditional flat or semi-flat lace with a small amount of give to achieve a secure fit. Some now use skinny laces (not as easy to use with running gloves on), some have stretchy laces (some love them, some hate them) and Salomon shoes in particular use a Quicklace system with a slim cord pulled through a toggle. Most people get on well with the Quicklace system, but some can find it more difficult to achieve the correct fit. 

Weight

As with all running gear, it’s a fine balance between the benefit of super-light materials, which enhance speed and reduce effort, and the durability of such gear for the many miles you want to bang out of your running shoes. It’s quite a good idea to train in a heavier pair and then whiz along in a lighter shoe come race day – provided you know they fit just as comfortably. 

Woman running on trail

The best trail and road running shoes are a balance between lightweight materials and durability (Image credit: The Good Brigade / Getty Images)

Breathability

The more mesh the shoe has, the more breathable it is likely to be, which is great if you generally run in hot places or get very sweaty feet. It will also drain well after running through puddles. A very breathable upper is less welcome in the cold and snow, when a more water resistant material is good. 

Why don’t I want a waterproof running shoe?

Usually the water just gets in over the top and then can’t get out, resulting in trench foot and a very heavy, squelchy shoe. For most situations it’s best to have a non-waterproof road to trail running shoe so the water can drain out. Instead, waterproof socks are a good idea for cold or snowy weather, but these aren’t always as comfy as your fave running socks. 

Eco-friendliness

It’s really fantastic to see the current upsurge in eco-friendly sports products and great to see some of the brands in this test using recycled materials in their shoes (see also: the best eco-friendly outdoor brands). We have indicated where brands have stated as such when it comes to the best trail and road running shoes, and highlighted when they’ve not mentioned it. This doesn’t mean the brand is not doing anything environmentally friendly, we just want to encourage this as something brands should be proud of and list as part of the benefits of their products so we can all make a more informed choice.

The co-founder and former editor of Trail Running magazine, Claire now runs the YouTube channel Wild Ginger Running, creating films packed with trail- and ultra-running content. An award-winning journalist, writing for outdoor and adventure sports magazines and websites, her first book The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running 5k to 50k is out in January 2021. Claire also speaks and presents at events and races.