Trail Shoes From Road Running Companies, What Do You Think?

Hello iRunFar.com readers!

The idea for this post came from a conversation Bryon and I were having via email about each other’s blogs (mine being RunningShoesGuru.com).

We are both runners, we both beat up our lower body articulation on a regular basis. But why do we run in completely different shoes, all made by completely different brands? Actually Bryon asked me two very interesting questions: why do road running brands produce trail running shoes and why trail runners would want to buy trail running shoes produced by a “road” brand.

Why do road running companies produce running shoes?
The most logical answer here is the right one. They are businesses and like every other business they need to grow. When you are successful in bringing products to a market then you can do three things in order to grow further:

  1. You can try increase the total size of the market. It is of course the hardest approach and basically only the Nikes and Adidases of these world can go after such ambitious goals.
  2. You can try can gain an even larger share of the market. Competition, competition, competition…
  3. You can try and modify your products and go after side-markets that are similar or complementary to your main market. Nike started as a running shoe brand, and then expanded into basketball shoes and then later into sports apparel and so on.

Road running shoes companies produce trail running shoes because it’s a different, but very similar market to the one they compete in already, they have a product that can be adapted to the new market without having to re-invent the wheel and they have a brand that is strong enough to gain credibility almost immediately. This of course can backfire: there will be as many people appealed by a big brand entering a niche market as there will be people horrified by a potential “corruption” of their world.

Why would trail runners buy trail running shoes produced by big, not outdoor brands?
There are brands that have been producing outdoor gear and outdoor shoes for decades. Brands that trail runners love because they are born from the same passion and because they have been consistent for all those years. What can a road running company do to a shoe better than an outdoor company? What do running companies know about the outdoor/trails that specialized brands don’t know already?

The answer here is also quite simple: not all runners are trail runners, but, for sure, all trail runners are runners. And big brand running companies have been dealing with runners and their issues for as many decades. In short, We could say that while an outdoor company will have a perfect understanding on what is _outside_ a runners’ shoe, a big brand company will have a (probably) better understanding of what’s _inside_ the running shoes.

Road running companies based their fortune in addressing cushioning, stability, chaffing, irritation, weight reduction… for an extremely large number of runners. They can apply the same solutions to trail running shoes very easily and very effectively. Further, these companies have the size that allows them to create many many version of shoes for the many different biomechanics and needs of different runners. A company needs to sell approximately 50,000 units of a shoe (this is just a reference number!) to break even the development costs of a new shoe. Nike, Asics, and Adidas can all afford to create many different shoes each targeted to different types of runners. A smaller brand will have to compromise and make their shoe fit a wider number of people. Or price their shoe relatively higher in order to return their investments earlier.

So should trail runners buy trail running shoes from road running companies? Like for every other piece of equipment the answer is just subjective: by trial and error you will find the best shoe for you.

Before closing this article, I would like to add a note: the easiest way road running companies transform a road shoe in a trail shoe is by a) adding a rock plate; b)changing the rubber compound on the outsole; c) strengthening the toecap; and d) adding to the upper a layer of weather resistant material. All these changes can change the feel of a running shoes so when buying be careful: don’t take for granted that the trail version of the road running shoe you use will fit exactly the same!

Call for Comments
Do run in tend to run in trail shoes developed by companies that come from a road running history or by more outdoor-oriented companies? Why do you think you make that choice? Is it because of shoe performance? Marketing? Friends’ recommendations?

Ruggero, a dad and very slow runner/triathlete, writes on RunningShoesGuru.com website where you can find reviews of running shoes and various news/curiosities about the industry. We hope you enjoyed the guest post and will come and visit us at Running Shoes Guru !

There are 35 comments

  1. Brian

    "Do u tend to run in trail shoes developed by companies that come from a road running history or by more outdoor-oriented companies?"

    I am scatching my head on this one. I always thought most roads were outdoors as well.

    On a side note…it seems like faster folks prefer more of a road type shoe for trail runing anyways. Look at NB and ADIDAS for example. I think people just want the best shoe available and do not care if it is from a small niche companies like Montrail or Inov8 (now trying to cross over to roads).

  2. Jeff

    I tend to prefer the shoes from road-running companies. Trail runners seem to come from two different angles – built-up running shoes or pared-down hiking shoes. For me I find that running shoes adapted to the trail wrok better for me than hiking shoes adapted for running.

  3. Phil

    I'm also sort of scratching my head over this one. "Why do road running companies produce running shoes?" Is that supposed to be "Why do road running companies produce TRAIL running shoes"?

    I guess I'm not sure what a "road running company" is. It seems like most running shoe companies make both road shoes and trail shoes. I do agree with Jeff, though. I don't like running shoes that look or feel like hiking boots. Road shoes modified to a trail design are preferrable to me.

  4. briderdt

    I think your premise that companies exist to grow is a little off the mark. Companies, especially publicly traded companies, exist to make a profit. Growing is just one tactic to do so.

  5. Clint Wells

    To address Bryon's questions "1.)why do road running brands produce trail running shoes and 2.)why trail runners would want to buy trail running shoes produced by a “road” brand?" I've been working in a specialty run shop for years and I think I can add a little bit to the orginal post

    1.) Running shoe companies are going to produce trail shoes b/c they can make money doing so. They understand there is a chunk of money to be made in that niche especially with athletes such as Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka backing up the product. It's a lot like the recent minimalism swing. Damn near every shoe company is coming out with a minimalist shoe to bank on the movement (thank you Chris McDougall and FiveFingers).

    2.) We have a strong customer base and the majority of those runners are, or started out as, road runners. Through years of road running, these people have typically latched onto a brand and model and have been in that shoe since the beginning of their running careers. Recently we have seen a slight surge towards trail running. Typically what happens is the customer comes in, mentions that they are getting into trail running, and want to try on shoes that can help them achieve that goal. A good chunk of these guys/gals tried out a trail running specific brand but weren't satisfied and wanted something that felt more like their road shoes. It's all about what they have grown accustomed to. I believe that if the runner started out running in trail shoes, and that is all that they know, they will always gravitate towards that shoe. But the roadies turned trail runners will often stick to what feels like "home."

  6. The swede

    Every company that makes a product in a different field than they are used to(ie asics making trail shoes) want to make the best product they can for the specific clientele they are aiming at. A huge shoe company like asics will therefore create a branch in the company who exclusively work on ie trail shoes, and since they have bigger budgets than smaller shoe companies they will be able to hire better people and "buy" bigger athletes who will give their input on the shoes being made(ie Scott Jurek(brooks) and Anton Krupicka(New Balance).

    Using this logic I belive that asics has a better shot at making a good trail shoe than ie montrail would have making a good roadshoe.

    The only negative thing I can think of in buying a "road shoe brand" trail shoe is that they need to give in to the demands of a wider consumer base which prob means that they wont dare release too much innovative products.

  7. Justus Stull

    You guys all make a good point. 1) A corporations goal is ALWAYS to maximize profit (growing is not always the best option to do this) 2) It is very interesting to me that many trail companies are now making more road like shoes

    I think Clint got it right, or at least right for me. I stated as a road runner and it was natural for me to go into that companies trail shoe. I hate the feel of built up trail shoes (think Montrail Hardrock). I have run in tons of shoes including both traditional road company and trail company shoes.

    The other issue at hand the author hits well is specificity. Most of the time I require a stability shoe. I have a minor tarsal coalition and neutral shoes do not work for me. Most trail shoes are inherently neutral. A few have some medial posting and work ok for me.

    Lastly I pose the question – do we really need trail shoes? I see more and more people running the trails in road shoes. I think you just need to go with what feels right. Let these companies keep producing and the best will rise to the top.

    On another note I have been wearing Hoka One One Bondi Bs. I would consider Hoka a trail company, but I am using and loving there road shoes for both trails and road. GO FIGURE?

    1. Clint Wells

      Do we really need trail shoes? I often ask the same question. I've been running trails in my Brooks Adrenaline's for years now. Tried out the Cascadia and liked it, but when I'm logging a seriously long run I'll gravitate right back to my road shoe. I don't feel like there has been a sacrifice in performance by using the road shoe on the trail. And often, when the trails here in Illinois are sloppy wet and muddy, I prefer a road shoe with minimal lugs. My Adrenaline's, Saucony Kinvaras, and Saucony Grid Tangents all attract less mud than my Cascadias.

      1. Justus

        I too run roads on Brooks Adrenalines. I find myself running trails in them a lot and have logged a ton of miles and races in their trail brother the ASR line. I do not like the newer version of that shoe so I have moved on, but still love the Adrenalines for both road and trail. The Hokas may be a game changer. I love everything about them…..

        1. Clint Wells

          Yeah, I wasn't a fan of the Adrenaline 11's either. So when I got the opportunity I snatched up 5 pair of the 10's when they went on closeout. We don't have anyone around here that sells the Hokas. I might have to go out of my way to find some to try on. Are they true to size when comparing them to the Brooks?

            1. Justus

              For me they are pretty true. I have a pair of the Bondi B. I bought the same size as my adrenalines, but I wear my road shoes at least .5 size bigger than they should be. So I would go up .5 or as trevor says maybe even a size.

    2. Stephen

      Do we really need trail shoes? Ask my friend who busted his toe up on a stump wearing regular road runners. Was lucky enough to land on the water bottle tucked into his waist belt to cushion the fall but if there had of been a toecap he'd have been running out of the bush smiling instead of hobbling out like an old man in pain and out of commission for a couple of weeks! Kinda like wearing gardening gloves to play hockey… proper equipment counts if you're serious, in my eyes anywho! lol!

  8. Ned Barrett

    For the first 20 or so years of my running, I mainly raced on roads, but trained mostly on trails. I wore road shoes all the time because "trail" shoes were clunky, heavy and stiff. With my neutral-supinating gait, I need a more flexible shoe. In the past five or so years, I have found more flexible trail shoes as trail running has become more popular. I was very excited this spring with all the new shoes coming out–Saucony Peregrine (many of my road shoes were Saucony with trail friendly outsoles), Montrail Rogue Racer (my shoe of choice), New Balance Minimus, LaSportiva Crosslite and the like. I feel like we're in a real expanding period of trail shoe development. I'm not making (much of) a distinction between trail shoe companies and road shoe companies. I do think that there are companies that are innovating, and companies that are not; some of them are "road shoe companies," some "trail shoe companies." I prefer the innovators.

  9. Kim Neill

    I think it's pretty hard to separate what company is what anymore, as larger companies buy up smaller companies. An example would be Montrail being bought by Columbia several years back (and there are probably others that I don't even know about). And even though Columbia is an "outdoor" company, they make a lot of cheap, poor quality products too. What it really comes down to is finding the shoe that works for you, whether that's a road, trail, minimalist, uber-cushioned, or huarache, regardless of the brand or who made it. It's quite possible that trail shoes can benefit from some road characteristics and vice-versa.

  10. solarweasel

    If the shoe fits… wear it!

    I've run in shoes from trail niche companies like Inov8 and La Sportiva to shoes from the big guys — namely Asics, New Balance and most recently Saucony. I wouldn't say I've had more consistent luck with one over an other.

    Will I go out of my way to support "the little guy"? In some cases yes, but not typically with running footwear. When I find something comfortable that doesn't cause issues, I stick with it.

    I used to loathe Saucony's shoes in the past, but this year I am a self-admitted Peregrine fanatic. The Peregrine/Smartwool combo has done me no wrong.

  11. mylesmyles

    Not to rain on the Montrail comments about it being a small brand, but it is owned by Columbia Sports, which is a publicly traded company. I run in "road" brand trail shoes as they fit my style of running better. If you look at most of the brands out there, all but a few are part of some bigger brand. Soloman is ownded by Adidas and TNF is owned by VF and Saucony is owned by Stride Rite (so the person making my Sperry Topsiders is also making my Kinvaras). Although they do a good job of creating a niche, it is as much a good marketing tactic as anything else.

    1. Justus

      Great point on parent companies! They all do a pretty good job with branding and driving consumer perception. I remember when Columbia purchased Montrail and the fuss about Montrail shoes being of less quality. I think the opposite is true as some of the new Montrails are popular and a far far cry from the old school Hardrocks of yesteryear. I would argue that Columbia has made Montrail a better brand. Not sure of there sales, but I would be surprised if they have not risen since the buyout.

    2. NOTU

      This may be a little bit on the knit picking side. But Adidas does not own Salomon. Salomon is owned by a Finish company called Amer AG which also owns many other sport related brands (Adidas not being one of them). Salomon owns Bonfire Snowboarding, Mavic and Arc'teryx. Hope I din't get too nerdy for you (I did push up my glasses while typing this).

      On to your point. Even though these company are owned by larger ones, many of them operate independently. For example; Amer AG does not design or even produce shoes, Salomon does. What they do share is technology. Such as the stitch less construction used on the XT Wings S-Lab was developed by Arc'teryx and the tread design and gluing method Mavic uses was developed by Salomon. They also share some very expensive resources; Salomon and Atomic (which is owned by Amer AG) use the same presses and Mavic and Salomon use the same shoe lasts. So in these situations some companies can design/develop as if they were "a small company" but can produce at the price and level of consistency of a large company.

  12. Martha

    I just don't have the budget to try out different trail shoes, so fortunately I've found that the trail version of my road shoes (Asics 2160 & earlier versions) works for me. Just finished a 100-miler wearing Asics 2160 Trail's with no shoe or sock changes during the race. (Socks were Drymax Maximum Protection.) I am intrigued by the Hokas, though, after talking to people wearing them at Vermont.

  13. Tony Mollica

    I run in New Balance road shoes. I settled on NB because I needed wide shoes and they provide those. So I tried them and liked the shoe; and I still like their shoes. I mostly wear NB trail shoes because they also come in wide sizes. I haven't had much luck trying to find trail shoes in wide sizes.

    I am surprised that their aren't more trail shoes that come in wide sizes. There have to be a lot of trail runners out their whose feet have gotten wider as they have aged; like I have.

      1. Go Longer

        I third the call for more wide sizes. Salomon has a few models with a wide option. I hope more trail focused shoe companies follow suit.

  14. Jeff Halsey

    I can understand why it's easy to write-off the question with the "If the shoe fits…" response. That said, I chose to support a trail specific shoe company (Montrail) simply because they support trail running. They sponsor races & athletes, advertise in trail specific magazines & websites, and overall help move forward a sport I love and the community around it.

    1. Brian

      Montrail is now making road shoes. They are like all shoe companies and all about making money. They support and sponsor races because it is in their best interest. It is called an advertising budget. I like Montrail but dont kid yourself. It is all about the bottom line.

      Do you think Columbia would let them lose money on the race and athlete sponsorships if it did not fit with their strategic goals of growing the company?

      1. Jeff Halsey

        I agree with all thee above. There is no such thing as an altruistic corporation. Money is their God (or is it god), but I still have to put something on my delicate leg hands. Don't I?

  15. Jeannie

    I have such specific needs in a running shoe…especially a wide toe box & narrow heel. I've been running in Asics for years, because they have a shoe that fits me perfectly, so I would be more inclined to purchase their trail model.

  16. Jared Friesen

    I just ran Crow Pass Crossing (24 miles) in a pair of Adidas trail shoes. I started running in them honestly because they were on sale, I still haven't purchased a true pair of trail shoes by a reputable company. I did try a pair of trail Asics that were their off road version of the 2130, not very comfortable and they fell apart with only about 100 miles. The Adidas I have now are much better but the insole on the right shoe drifts pretty heavily inside the shoe. Also the cushion isn't great, and they don't drain very well. I have one more trail race next month plus a few runs then over the winter I will invest in a good pair, most likely go all out and try Soloman or Montrail.

  17. Ben Nephew

    The question as to whether or not trail shoes are necessary seems to depend on the specific usage. On easy trails at an easy pace, many shoes will work. As the trail gets more challenging and/or the runner starts pushing their limits, trails shoes can make a significant difference. I have all sorts of shoes that I will work on regular daily runs, but I chose my shoes very carefully for workouts and races.

    I used to race trails in road shoes. When I first start racing in trail shoes, it took me quite a while to find the traction limit of the shoes on downhills. When I finally realized how hard I could run downhills in trail shoes, I soon realized that my legs were failing me before my shoes were. I had to modify my training to take advantage of the traction.

    My two favorite recent examples that highlight the value of trail shoes would be the US Mountain Running Championships and the IAU World Trail Championship in Ireland. At the US race in NH, there were a few runners (some who made the team for the World Championships) sponsored by one trail shoe company that were wearing shoes from a different company. It seems like one would really have to think that the shoes are going to make a difference to not use the shoes of your sponsor. In Ireland, the course was very slippery, and some runners were wearing road shoes. These runners had to slide down some of the hills on their butts, where those with trail shoes could actually run down.

    With so many trail models now available, you are more likely to pick the wrong shoes than the right shoe. Hopefully retailers listen to reps that are trail runners, or listen to experienced trail runners themselves when selecting models. Even within a single company, it is difficult to get a significant number of miles with each new or updated model that comes out, and miles on the trails are the best way to evaluate a trail shoe.

    In terms of the size of companies, a potential advantage of smaller companies is not just innovation, but targeted and rapid innovation. One of the best trail racers I have ever seen was the Nike Tupu. It was a very fast shoe, but it only last about 100 miles before the upper would tear apart at the midsole. Nike never fixed the issue, and just dropped the shoe.

  18. Chris

    I have used Adidas trail shoes for the last couple of years and have found them to be excellent. Prior to that I used Saucony trail shoes that were awful. The main issue I have with the Adidas (AdiZero XT) is that there isn't much cushioning for very long runs, so going to experiment with Brooks Cascadia and some more 'Trail' specific brands such as La Sportiva

    1. Tom C

      I had been running in LS Fireblades for years but recently gave them up for Adizero XT and have been very happy so far with the XTs (although I haven't tested them on a long run). The Fireblades are great shoes but my joints couldn't take the pounding any more. Cushioning in them is very minimal.

      To me the main thing is just to find a well-crafted shoe that works for you regardless of the brand or company philosophy.

  19. Swiler Bob

    One other thing to keep in mind with most sports shoes, most sports shoes are sold to people who don't actually do that sport, i.e., they are essentially a fashion accessory. This means that they first need to look like a trail shoe for most buyers, especially for the big shoe brands.

    My own favourite trail running shoes are actually orienteering shoes. I like them because they are generally well made and last, they are minimalist, they are made to dry out quickly, and they can be had with metal studs in them for winter running (we have icy conditions here often) and for running on slippery, wet rocky and root infested tracks. I have used Jalas/Olways.

  20. jayjay

    I never think of running shoes in terms of trail or road companies. Maybe this is just me being naive, but I let my body, more specifically my pesky knees, decide what works best for me.

  21. Puskas

    Good discussion.

    I tested Trail shoes for years for Adidas (when they still owned Salomon). I think it's safe to say that they understand a LOT about running in general and had dedicated a significant amount of resources to better understanding the unique demands of trail running as well. Simply put, they are large enough to cover the full spectrum effectively (when they want to).

    Ultimately, I buy Adi/Salomon because they fit well, perform, are easily available, and are "reasonably" priced (which eliminates some "boutique" brands like Newton–on the road–for me).

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