Best Road To Trail Running Shoes | From Hoka to Altra

best-road-to-trail-running-shoes

In today’s hefty article, we’re going to be reviewing some of the best road to trail running shoes.

For a lot of runners like me, an issue that we encounter is that we don’t necessarily run on just one terrain on a given run.

If you run 3 to 4k’s on the road before you reach your local trails, this can make footwear selection tricky.

Do you go for a road shoe or do you go for a trail shoe?

The good news is there are some hybrid shoes that provide a solution to this by giving you dual road and trail characteristics so that you can enjoy both the off-road and road component of your run.

Without further ado, let’s dive right into it…

Best Road To Trail Running Shoes

First off, I think if you do like 80% of your runs on the road and some of your runs on the trail, probably just get a road shoe.

If you’re a person that’s training for a trail event and most of your runs are on the trail then there are lots of great trail-specific options for you.

Let me start with two great examples of hybrid shoes from Nike, Hoka, Altra, and Mizuno, and then finish off with some other good options.

Nike React Pegasus Trail 4

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Nike-React-Pegasus-Trail-4

Nike did it. They took a really famous road shoe, put some outsole tread on it, and boom you’ve got yourself a hybrid shoe.

The new Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 is a solid option for those looking for that perfect road-to-trail shoe. The real standout is how much this shoe has changed from the previous Pegasus Trail 3.

While the Pegasus Trail 3 kind of confused me on where it fit in the Nike trail line, the Trail 4 is much clearer. It does a good job of showing us what a hybrid shoe could look like.

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Why the Pegasus Trail is a good for you

The Pegasus Trail is good on gravel surfaces, dirt surfaces, and rooty rocky terrain but nothing too technical or too extreme.

The decent though busy outsole is what keeps the Pegasus Trail from leaning too far into the dirt realm and will feel familiar on road surfaces.

The midsole is cushioned and comfy but not as squishy as some and it is not as snappy as others. But it does do a good job of providing the same experience you would get in the Pegasus 38 road shoe but on the trails without changing too much to make it something different or something that it is not.

So, if you run through neighborhood streets to get to a local single track, you do a loop around the lake and then you get back home on roads, this is that shoe that can get you through all those conditions in comfort on those different surfaces.

There are a lot of road shoes that can do well on trails and there are a lot of trail shoes that do pretty good on the road. But the Nike Trail 4 seems to be the first shoe in a while that does a great job of both.

I guess the phrase is jack of all trades master of none.

Overall, the Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 is the hybrid shoe that I think a lot of runners who mix their weekly runs with road and dirt have been craving.

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Jump down to more details + pros & cons

Hoka Zinal

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Hoka-Zinal-trail-running-shoes

Hoka calls the brand-new Hoka Zinal a nimble trainer and I call it a trail Mach 4. I really like how Hoka is paying attention to some of these shorter trail distances.

The Zinal is a stripped-down trail shoe that is great for shorter distances, speed, and agility.

It is supposed to be a little bit of a trail racer and something that you’re supposed to use for those shorter faster days where you’re really trying to move your feet quickly rather than being out there for really long runs.

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Why the Hoka Zinal is a good for you

Again, the Zinal is going to be great if you really just want to be able to do more frequent racing and have a lot of fun in your trail shoes going a little bit faster.

In terms of fit, I feel like the amount of volume in the toebox really works for what this shoe is intended to be, which is that shorter-distance speed/agility road-to-trail shoe.

It is definitely a great option that I think can handle technical terrain decently and also feels pretty speedy at the same time. I had it on some dirt roads and some gravel roads and it did really fine there.

Also, the Vibram Litebase, which is 50% thinner, makes the shoe comfortable for road running.

The grippiness of that Vibram Litebase is really nice and you’ll just feel super secure you won’t really have to think about the slipperiness of anything that you’re going to be stepping on.

It’s really nice to have that security.

In terms of the midsole, the Zinal feels a little bit of a stiff shoe to run in.

So, if you’re looking for something that’s a little bit more responsive and a little bit more firm so that you can keep moving a little bit quicker along the trails, then I think that this is exactly the kind of shoe that you should be looking at.

But if you’re used to super cushioned all-day wear type of trail shoes, this is certainly going to be a little bit of adjustment.

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Uphill vs Downhill

Going uphill, the Zinal is light, and it kind of tucks itself in and out of the way so that you could charge up the hill without having to really worry about the shoe.

Going downhill, it feels really nice as well because the heel foam is nice and fat, which gives you a nice kind of crash pad to land on, and you’re landing right on the rubberized EVA midsole foam which is a little bit thicker a little bit firmer.

It is able to absorb that impact well, and then as it’s bouncing back, it’s picking you up and helping you keep those feet moving nice and quick.

I just felt quite confident that I was going to be able to do what I wanted to do without having to worry that I was going to turn an ankle or that I was going to do any sliding.

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Hoka Challenger ATR 7

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HOKA-Challenger-ATR-7-road-to-trail-running-shoe

Hoka is one of the few brands that try to cater to those people who want to run out their door but still have a little bit of grip on the trail.

They have been working on their ATR line for 7 years and now the ATR is a shoe that is designed for runners who need to run on the road to the trail or vice versa and need decent traction and security on both surfaces.

The Challenger is going to be giving you that signature Hoka ride and it’s basically the SUV you can commute in.

So, how is the Challenger comfortable on the road and on the trail?

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Why the Hoka Challenger ATR is a good for you

The Challenger is that hybridized road-to-trail model that they say is a Clifton wrapped in a trail exterior.

It’s got all the things that you’d want in a daily trainer and that kind of cushioning you’d expect from a Clifton, but it’s got a little bit more trail body and some great lugs to it that run really well both on road and trail.

The lugs are set up closer together directly under the main pressure pass of the foot.

Then when you get off onto the trails and you’re on some uneven surfaces, you’ll have some of those more gnarly lugs around the edge to give you that extra bite.

The Challenger ATR is a great option if you want to run on lighter trails, gravel roads, and paved roads, and you just want to enjoy your run and not think about pace or distance.

I have taken the shoe on trails where I wanted to go fast, but this shoe wasn’t for that type of technical terrain.

But when I was moving a little bit slower, the shoe was really comfortable and I thought it held up surprisingly well.

So, on slower recovery runs, the ATR was super comfortable and even more runnable and smoother compared to the previous versions.

Overall, I think the Hoka Challenger ATR 7 does a lot for a lot of people where your runs probably call for a shoe that is a little bit varied in terrain and can keep you comfortable on longer runs.

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Altra Outroad

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The Altra Outroad is another comfortable road-to-trail shoe from Altra which is known for their zero-drop shoes.

The Outroad sits on a plush bed of EGO cushioning which gives it a soft and smooth ride, a durable lugged outsole, and Altra’s signature balanced cushioning.

Make sure you check out these great zero-drop trail running shoes.

best-zero-drop-trail-running-shoes-

Why the Altra Outroad is a good for you

The Altra Outroad features unique multidirectional lugging and a durable outsole, which helps with grip and traction when you’re on the trails.

But, these features aren’t as aggressive and so they won’t get in your way when you’re running on the road.

Altra designed this outsole so that when you do take it on the road, it’s not going to feel like you’re rolling around on a mountain bike tire, but it’s also got enough where if you take it out on some single track or some smoother trail you’re not going to feel like you’re missing the trail aspect of the shoe.

The shoe feels a lot lighter and softer than other trail shoes I’ve tried, which is why it works well on the road as well as the trails.

Plus, it is topped off with a breathable mesh upper that feels lighter and more flexible than most trail shoes, which is a win in my book.

However, it does still have a protective toe cap and plenty of ankle padding, so you can still feel supported when you’re on the trails.

If you’re doing something on a trail that’s maybe a little more fast-paced but still a little bit of undulating stuff, I think this is going to do well for that.

The shoe has got enough midsole to really pancake any sharp rock there, but if you want something smooth, it’s not going to feel like it’s too much shoe either.

Overall, the Altra Outroad is a great do-it-all trainer. It offers enough cushioning to feel comfortable on the pavement, but it also offers enough grip and traction to carry you through the trails.

It’s definitely that kind of transition shoe for people who are doing a variety of different surfaces and aren’t going to be changing the shoe on the fly.

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Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280

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The G 280 is finally a shoe from Inov-8 that I feel like I can run some road sections if I need to to get to the trail, run those trails, run home, and have it all be in a comfortable package.

While their big Inov-8 Trail Fly Ultra works well in the fells, deep mud, or really wet sloppy surfaces, the Parkclaw G 280 is an all-terrain shoe that does a great job of working kind of in all of those realms, and that deserves a good old thumbs up.

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Why the Parkclaw G 280 is a good for you

This shoe has a lower stack of Inov-8’s G-Fly midsole atop their Graphene outsole and plenty of small 4mm lugs to get the grip that you need.

The grip offered by the outsole does really well in a variety of conditions like wet surfaces, dry surfaces, gravel, pavement, etc. It just does a great job of giving you the grip you need on the road and trail.

I think it’s this combination of Graphene, the shape of the lugs, the number of them, and the depth of them that does make the shoe exactly what it is intended to be and that is an all-terrain shoe.

Also, the soft comfortable upper and unique upper shape set this shoe apart from other Inov-8 offerings and make it a super comfortable and fun door-to-trail one-stop shop shoe.

Overall, the Parkclaw G 280 is a shoe that I will keep in my rotation for those days where I’m not going super long, I’m not going at any particular clip, I don’t need a lot of speed, and I just need a shoe that’s going to get me from point A to point B.

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Mizuno Wave Rider TT 2

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Mizuno-Wave-Rider-TT-2

Mizuno is a really understated brand at the moment.

They’ve been developing some really fantastic shoes including the Mizuno Wave Rider TT 2. The TT stands for total terrain and the TT 2 is essentially an all-terrain version of Mizuno’s pride and joy, the Wave Rider.

The runner that will enjoy the TT as their one and only training shoe is someone who’s doing both road and trail running but probably spending the majority of the time on lighter tracks, green belts, etc.

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Why the Wave Rider TT is a good for you

In terms of road features, the Wave Rider TT has a nice soft cushioning design thanks to Mizuno’s Enerzy cushioning. It’s not ultra-cushy, but it’s certainly comfortable on the road.

Then, Mizuno’s signature Wave Plate helps provide some support to the shoe.

Keeping true to the design you get from a typical road shoe, the TT has a very comfortable heel counter and tongue. It’s soft, it’s padded, and has no rough or tough material.

In terms of the shoe’s trail characteristics, the outsole has a nice trail-specific multi-directional lug pattern. This isn’t as aggressive as other trail shoes because that ruggedness would definitely be super cumbersome on the road.

The shoe has a nice toe guard up front to protect your foot against the inevitable rocks and roots that you may kick. This toe guard isn’t as pronounced as other trail shoes, but it certainly will do the trick.

Overall, the Mizuno Wave Rider TT 2 is a good option if you want a hybrid 12mm heel-to-toe drop shoe that’s comfortable and comes with the comfort of the road shoe but with some of the benefits of a trail shoe.

The shoe’s sweet spot will be medium-distance running (10 to 15 kilometers or thereabout). It’s more distance than speed-focused but won’t hold you back should you wish to pick up the pace a little bit.

However, the shoe doesn’t offer that extra bit of protection on the forefoot that I’d like when I run long distances off-road.

If you want something from Mizuno that can handle long and treacherous trails, they actually have two other capable shoes, the Mizuno Wave Daichi and the Wave Mujin.

The only real con I could find is there’s no rock plate. This does benefit road running, but the downside is that if you are running for long distances over trails with loose rock, the shoes are not going to offer you that extra bit of protection.

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Nike Pegasus Trail 4

I think the Pegasus road shoe is so popular and so many people are familiar with it.

The Pegasus Trail series have sort of veered a bit more towards like a Nike Kiger or a Wildhorse hybrid, but the Trail 4 feels like a road shoe with an outsole tread.

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Fit

Fit is a strong suit of the Pegasus Trail. There’s solid fit across the midfoot and a little bit of room up in the toebox to let the toes move a little bit, which I can’t say about all trail shoes and I can’t necessarily say about all road shoes either.

The shoe is not super precision or narrow. It has a little bit of width, but the upper with the Flywire system is comfortable and it definitely locks down quite well across the midfoot.

Nike-React-Pegasus-Trail-4-heel-counter

Traction

Nike-React-Pegasus-Trail-4-outsole

While the Pegasus Trail does road and trail equally as fine, the tread is not its strongest place on technical trails.

“Well, why would I get a trail shoe for that?”, I hear you say.

If it’s going to be a hybrid, some of the trails you run tend to have loose dirt and rock and so it would be nice to have a tread that works fine.

I think just a bit of redesign or reconfiguring of the lugs could work again as a hybrid shoe but provide you with better grip on the trail surfaces.

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Build

The Pegasus Trail is actually built quite well. I think all these material elements combined make for a shoe that is holding up really well after 80 miles.

There’s a thicker comfier mesh upper that does a great job hugging your foot. Below the Flywire system is a padded and gusseted tongue.

Below that is the Nike React midsole, the heart of this shoe, that I’ve really come to enjoy as it provides a resilient and comfortable ride while providing some additional structure and protection.

This brings us to our conclusion…

Conclusion

The Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 was a surprise for me. I really liked the Pegasus Trail 3 which was super fun. But one thing that stayed true with the Pegasus Trail 3 is that it kind of confused me on where it fit in the trail line.

It was sort of like a Kiger or a Wild Horse, and it kind of made me just want to stick with that versus the other shoes. I was confused as to where the Trail 3’s place was in the Nike line.

But the Trail 4 is much clearer now. I really would just call this the perfect door-to-trail shoe because I think it works in both realms.

Overall, while I don’t think the Nike Pegasus Trail 4 is a master of either, I think it does a great job of bridging that gap.

I think the Pegasus does a lot of things quite well. It is designed with a purpose and it executes on that purpose.

Pros

  • Great road-to-trail features
  • React midsole is well-cushioned for buffed/light trails
  • Great for uphill runs (forefoot lugs)
  • Sustainable comfort in long distances
  • Great traction on road and trail
  • Heel gaiter for debris
  • Solid toe bumper offers protection up front
  • Really lightweight

Cons

  • Not for very muddy terrain
  • Not wide-foot friendly
  • React midsole might stiffen in freezing temperatures
  • Not very grippy on downhill runs with loose dirt
  • No D-ring for gaiter attachment

Zinal

Midsole

Hoka-Zinal-midsole

The midsole foam is ProFly which we’ve seen in the Mach 4.

It’s that nice two-foam combination where you have a little bit of a softer and lighter foam that’s going to give you a little bit more comfort underfoot.

Below that, there is rubberized EVA that is going to provide a little bit more springiness and responsiveness.

So basically with the ProFly system, you do get some of that softness from that top layer but that bottom layer keeps you from getting too squished into the foam and it keeps things moving very quickly providing a very snappy ride.

There is no rock plate in this shoe, but from loose sharp rocks all the way down to buffed-out dirt roads, I haven’t felt like it needed a rock plate at all because that outer layer of ProFly is pretty dense and has been able to protect my foot from feeling any sharp rocks underfoot.

Outsole

Hoka-Zinal-outsole

As far as the bottom goes, they’re using Vibram Litebase which is their lighter outsole material. The outsole is supposed to still provide just as much grip but just with a lot less rubber.

It still has 4mm lugs that I found to be surprisingly grippy.

The outsole might feel a little bit rugged for paved surfaces, but once you get onto gravel paths or even things that were hard-packed, then the shoe is going to be fantastic.

Upper

Hoka-Zinal-upper

The Zinal has a 100% vegan upper.

There are some TPU overlays along the toe cap, but it’s not very strong. So, for people that tend to kick a lot of things as they’re on the trails, I would like to see just a little bit more kind of rigidity up front.

However, the lack of a structured toe cap hasn’t been a problem for me.

Really it’s more like a layer that’s going to keep a lot of the moisture and some of the dust and other kind of debris out of the toes, but it’s not like a super protective layer.

It’s very floppy up front, but that’s because overall this upper is geared for speed and breathability.

Talking about breathability…

For a trail shoe, the upper is very breathable but it’s not waterproof. It’s probably one of the more breathable uppers that I’ve encountered.

I did also get it wet and it seems the shoe is designed to let air and water in and also let that water drain out quickly.

Tongue

It looks like they pulled the tongue right off of the Mach 4.

The tongue is nice and minimal and pretty much stays out of the way. It’s just a bare piece of mesh with a little bit of TPU overlay on top to help keep some of the grit and dirt out of the shoe.

Heel

Hoka-Zinal-heel-counter

Around the heel collar, there’s a little bit of padding and just a little bit of structure.

The heel cup is relatively floppy, which is what you want in a shoe that you’re going to be a little bit faster in, which I think fits with the intended use case for this shoe.

Fit

The fit is really well dialed in on this shoe. I just felt like the material is strong enough to withstand some of those turning forces that you might see on a little bit more of a technical train, especially on some of those descents.

However, the precision fit of the upper that’s required for a precision shoe like this might get a little bit tiresome for you in longer distances.

The upper certainly does not stretch over time. It’s going to be a little bit tight when you first get the shoe and it’s probably going to stay that way and so you want to make sure you’re getting a good fit right out of the box.

Overall, I love this shoe from the trail half marathon towards maybe a light closer to the trail marathon. I think that’s kind of the sweet spot for this shoe and that’s because of the way they set up the ProFly on this shoe.

I’m not the most advanced and technical of trail runners, but for anywhere that I’ve gone and everything that I’ve asked of this shoe to do, I feel like it’s risen to the task.

Pros

  • Great road-to-trail features
  • Super lightweight, nimble, responsive 
  • Built for speed & transitions are fast
  • Great ProFly cushioning setup
  • Offers a great comfort & ground feel
  • Protective upper
  • Gusseted tongue
  • Grippy on road and trail
  • Really breathable

Cons

  • Not great for technical terrain (snow, mud)
  • Not great for long distances
  • Outsole is not very durable
  • No lace loop
  • A bit pricey

Hoka Challenger ATR

Again, the Challenger ATR is a great hybrid option if you’re looking for something that you can wear on the road if you need to, but you can also take it out if you like getting a little bit of dirt on your feet. 

It’s also great for a runner who wants to dip their toes in the trail waters but isn’t necessarily a diehard trail person.

While it doesn’t have some of the really aggressive bells and whistles that you’ll find on some of the other trail shoes, it has enough that it can get the job done right.

So, if you’re going to do like 80% of your miles on the trail and it gets really bad where you are, or maybe it’s super technical, this shoe isn’t for you.

And I don’t think it’s going to be the shoe that you reach for where you want to work on speed on the road or trail.

Upper

HOKA-Challenger-ATR-7-upper

One of the big changes that we found on the ATR 7 compared to previous versions is the 7 has a new upper. It might not seem or look all that exciting, but the material is a big improvement.

The upper is a dual-layer engineered mesh upper, which gives you a little bit more of that protection and adds a little bit of warmth.

Tongue

That similar feeling goes throughout the tongue which is really plush and cushioned.

It’s got a little bit of that breathability, but it’s still pretty thick. It’s not one of those single-layer really thin tongues that some of the Hoka road shoes have.

So, the upper is really going in the direction of more of the Hoka trail line, which is kind of exciting.

Heel

HOKA-Challenger-ATR-7-heel-counter

The Challenger has that signature heel that Hoka’s got a lot where it’s kind of flipped up a little bit more.

It’s not super high but still gives you more of that trail feel on the upper with that stiff heel cup that’s going to keep you secure on the trail.

Overall, the upper feels more protective and it’s got that longer gusseted part of the tongue. It’s got more structure in the heel and it just feels a little bit more reinforced.

In terms of fit, the Challenger accommodates my foot especially if you’ve got a slightly wider foot.

Fit

The engineered mesh upper is softer and it fits the foot a little bit better giving you no heel slippage.

In terms of the lacing system, I had to play with the lacing a lot more in the Challenger ATR 6 than I do with the ATR 7.

Midsole & Outsole

HOKA-Challenger-ATR-7-midsole

The midsole is going to give you that signature Hoka ride with the rocker that kind of takes you throughout.

HOKA-Challenger-ATR-7-outsole

On the bottom, there’s some exposed Eva to give you a little bit more of that comfortable ride on the road. This is really nice because sometimes if you’re on a trail shoe on the road, you can feel a little bit less comfortable.

However, if you did get on to some dirt, you do get some braking traction in the back from some of that trail tread.

It’s not super sticky or rubbery. It’s just you can get a little bit more of that secure traction up at the top with that green outsole.

It’s not a Vibram outsole, but it just has some tonal nice grippy proprietary blend with 4mm lugs to give a little bit more protection underfoot.

Overall, while the outsole looks a little bit more “traily”, which is exciting for a trail shoe, running out my door and hitting my local trails (about 3 miles), it was comfortable.

Weight

Another nice benefit on the Challenger 7 compared to the Challenger 6 is the 7 shed almost an ounce on both the men’s and women’s. So, the Challenger 7 is getting lighter even when the stack height is getting higher.

It seems Hoka did the same thing in terms of fit with the Clifton 9 compared to the Clifton 8.

Overall, I’ve always viewed this shoe as a road shoe that can get you on some lighter trails. But the Challenger ATR 7 now feels like a trail shoe that isn’t uncomfortable on the road.

Last but not least, this is also going to be what we call a great vacation shoe.

You can wear it:

  • to the airport
  • to do a little bit of hiking
  • go for a little bit of a run on the road.

Pros

  • Great road-to-trail properties
  • Great fit & lockdown
  • Very comfortable
  • Well-cushioned, soft, comfortable midsole
  • More stable than its predecessors
  • Decent traction
  • Improved upper
  • Breathable & lightweight
  • Relatively affordable

Cons

  • No loop
  • A bit narrow through the toebox
  • Lacks traction & stability for technical terrain (more details below)

If there’s a really technical terrain and you’re a really big midfoot striker and you’re kind of landing on the exposed EVA area, I would say that this shoe might not be the shoe for that.

Outroad

Zero Drop

If you’re new to Altra, while most of your running shoes have some sort of lift in the heel, all Altra shoes across the board are staying true to that zero-millimeter heel-to-toe drop.

Zero drop simply means that your heel and your forefoot are sitting at the same distance from the ground.

altra-zero-drop-technology

Foot Shaped Toebox & Width

altra-outroad-heel-counter

Like all other Altra shoes, the Outroad has a foot-shaped toebox to give you a little better natural feeling and better splay.

But although their shoes are generally known for their wide toeboxes, the new Outroad features Altra’s slim foot shape last.

If you have wide feet, you may want to go up a half size or at least try these shoes on in-store before purchasing.

If you have medium-width or narrow-width feet, you’ll likely enjoy the fit of the new Altra Outroad.

One thing about the Outroad is that if you want to have the midfoot and heel areas not moving and still be able to flex your toes up front, the upper is going to accommodate that.

Overall, if you’re new to Altra, their shoes fit pretty darn wide compared to some of the other models that you have, but keep in mind if you’re somebody who loves Altra for that extra wide toebox, the Outroad on the Altra standpoint is going to be a slim fit feel to it.

So, this is going to be great for people that have a slim or a more narrow foot or just sort of a traditional foot.

But where does the Outroad fit within the full line of Altra?

Outroad vs Rivera vs Timp

The Outroad fits between the Altra Lone Peak and the Timp and I think the Outroad kind of fits as a trail or a multi-purpose version of the Altra Rivera. The reason I say that is they’re built on the same slim last.

However, the Outroad has less volume. So, someone who wants to really lock that shoe down is going to have a lot of luck with the Outroad.

The ride is still that soft step-in feel kind of between that moderate to max cushion category.

While the Timp is sort of the trail version of the Torin road shoe which also has an EGO Max midsole, the Outroad is sort of the trail version of the Rivera road shoe.

Talking about the Timp…

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Outroad vs Timp

What I like about the Outroad is it sort of filled the void of another model that got a big update this year which was the Timp 4.

The Timp used to be a hybrid shoe from that you could do some road and some trail in.

However, the Timp 4 now is much more “traily” in that it has much more drainage through the outsole and a much more durable upper to protect you against some gnarly thorns.

So, now we’ve had a shoe that’s a little less stack height and a little bit narrow cut, which means the Outroad isn’t as bulky and you can actually kind of do a little bit of everything in.

So, if someone feels like the Timp is maybe a little too much shoe, the Outroad is a little bit slimmer compared to the Timp. It just seems the Outroad is taking the place of what the Timp used to be.

The Outroad is also this great vacation shoe that you could…

  • be great to do some off-road running in
  • do some road running in
  • wear to the airport
  • do some sightseeing in

Midsole

Unlike the Timp which has the EGO Max midsole, the Outroad has the standard EGO midsole which has that plush cushioned feel and a lot of responsiveness but less stack height.

altra-outroad-outsole

Upper

The upper is a little thinner up front so you’re going to have that breathability.

It’s going to maintain that protection but also gets a little more thicker around the heel collar so that you’re able to feel soft as you tighten it back there.

Pros

  • Great for roads and trails
  • Comfortable on long runs
  • Pliable upper
  • Surprisingly durable through the outsole
  • Good traction & grip
  • Comfortable padding all throughout
  • Less bulky compared to other Altra shoes
  • Can double as a traveling shoe
  • Drains really well

Cons

  • Not for wide feet unlike other Altra shoes
  • Break-in period required

Parkclaw G 280

The Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 fully surprised me. Right out of the box, the shoe felt as I feared lacking protection and comfort that I was hoping for, but the more I ran in it, the more that this shoe came alive.

The name is long and it’s a bit cumbersome to say, but the shoe does exactly what it is intended to do, which is get you from your door to the trail across whatever surface you might need to run across in a way that is fun, fast, and slightly comfortable.

Fit & Shape

This is something that I noticed right out of the box. The Parkclaw just feels a bit different than a typical Inov-8. It’s not quite as narrow and the toebox has a wider more squared-off edge.

Right out of the box, the Parkclaw looked like it was going to fit better on my foot and I’m happy to report that is exactly what happened.

The foot shape, the upper, the materials, the padded tongue, the heel counter, and the lacing help the shoe lockdown really well.

I didn’t have to size up or down and I didn’t run into a bunch of vertical volume issues that I’ve run into in the past with other Inov-8 shoes.

It fits exactly how I would hope that it would fit and it locks down quite well and it stays on my foot no matter the terrain.

In terms of the laces, they are a little short and so you might have a little bit of trouble getting a really good solid lock on there or doubling up the laces.

The strange thing is the shoe really came laced the other way to how I would usually lace a shoe. It makes them harder to pull tight, but it does lock them in place. I re-laced them the traditional way and the problem was solved.

Insole & Comfort

Really, the star of the show for comfort is in the new Boomerang insole which has got these little TPU beads inside that compress and spring back.

I think it’s nice and bouncy and soft and does a great job of adding that comfort to the shoe where the G-Fly foam might cut it a little bit short.

The G 280 is not the most comfortable shoe for longer efforts like 10, 15, 20 miles, or more.

However, once your foot muscles begin to kind of work with the shoe and you understand how the shoe is going to act on different terrain, it opens up and becomes a totally different shoe rather than what it was right out of the box.

Protection

The minimal stack of G-Fly midsole and that Graphene outsole don’t provide a lot of protection between you and the ground if you’re running on really technical terrain.

There’s no rock plate in the shoe, but it’s not necessarily designed to be a super rugged mountain shoe.

Midsole & Outsole

While I did mention that the grip in the shoe works well, I think it’s in part due to the shape, the depth of the lugs, and the number of them.

I don’t necessarily think Graphene is the best rubber in the world. If you get onto one of those surfaces that is inherently slippery like wet wood logs, roots, or rocks, the shoe is just going to slide out from underneath you.

The G-Fly midsole is also very dense and very responsive but not overly propulsive, but the more I ran in it, the more it opened up and I truly think that it was fun to run in the shoe.

Build Quality

Inov-8 does a great job of just building their shoes to last. They do break in, and once they do, they become more comfortable and they become one with your foot.

The materials they’re using across the upper are also great.

Price

The Parkclaw is at a pretty hefty price point for a shoe that is supposed to be an all-in-one shoe that’s supposed to be sort of like a road-friendly shoe, a gravel-friendly shoe, or a trail-friendly shoe.

For a couple of bucks more, you could step up to the Trail Fly Ultra.

Again, I think that’s a pretty high price point to pay for this particular shoe, but the benefits you get on roads and trails might be worth it.

Wrap-up

Overall, for a more reduced and responsive all-terrain offering, the Parkclaw G 280 became a stable and trustworthy beast that worked in tons of conditions and proved its place in my running shoe rotation.

This shoe ended up really surprising me. And while it’s not without its flaws, I think this is the first Inov-8 shoe that really showed me what Inov-8 fans love about the brand.

If you have not run in an Inov-8 shoe, this might be a good sort of gateway Inov-8 because it might get you into the brand and help you understand what they’re doing in the shoe department.

I had a lot of fun in it and I think you might as well.

Pros

  • Amazing grip especially for steep downhill runs
  • Comfortable on road and trail
  • Very protective & secure on all surfaces
  • Flexible & agile
  • Midsole is cushioned & responsive
  • Durable outsole

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Runs a bit short
  • Not the greatest on technical terrain
  • No rock plate

Alright, these are 4 more great road-to-trail running shoes from Brooks, Inov-8, Las Sportiva, Arc’Teryx, Merrell…

La Sportiva Karacal

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La-Sportiva-Karacal-trail-shoe

This shoe feels so comfy in all areas. This is a comfy rugged road-to-trail shoe for wide-toed runners. However, the sizing is spot on and the fit is wonderfully snug around the midfoot and the heel.

Grip-wise, the FriXion Blue outsole works really well with 4mm deep lugs, and it seems durable as does the whole shoe really.

The midsole is dual-density EVA with shock-absorbing injection. This gives a stable padded yet responsive ride with enough protection for rockier parts of the trail.

It’s a good balance of support, cushioning, and trail feel.

You really feel like the foot is securely in place with this wide beefy tongue. While the toebox is really nice and roomy, it’s actually one of the widest in this test without being a Topo or an Altra.

There’s a slight issue with the Ortholite sole. It rubs my arch after about an hour or so, but a quick swap to a different insole solves that problem really quickly.

Pros

  • Reliable traction
  • Fits comfortably on your feet
  • Provides a cushioned ride
  • Very protective (underfoot and on top)
  • Great ground feel
  • Good in technical terrain
  • Roomy toebox
  • Very breathable
  • Very stable

Cons

  • A bit stiff ride
  • Not great for colder pursuits

Arc’Teryx Norvan LD 3

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Arc'Teryx-Norvan-LD-3

This is an interesting and fairly astonishing shoe from Arc’Teryx because it comes up quite roomy volume-wise.

The Norvan LD 3s are great runners with high-volume feet wanting a roomy toebox and to feel the ground beneath their feet but with still enough cushioning, protection, and bounce.

Midsole & Outsole

In terms of the midsole, the Infuse cushioning is also a nice balance of bounce without so much padding or stiffness that the ride doesn’t feel responsive.

Your foot can feel the trail beneath you, but there’s still enough protection there. This is thanks in part to the Vibram Litebase outsole…

The outsole is a 50% thinner and 30% lighter version of their usual Megagrip outsole with 4mm lugs. I’ve always found Vibram to provide better traction on wet and dry roads and trails.

The toebox is quite wide and good for people who like a bit of toe splay. The shoe feels big when on and it comes up quite high around the ankle if you have a low-volume foot.

I didn’t find this uncomfortable but just different to most of the others in the test.

Pros

  • Excellent grip
  • Lightweight & breathable
  • Really comfortable
  • Midsole foam is great for hard-packed trails
  • Roomy toebox

Cons

  • Midfoot might fit tight for some
  • Expensive

Merrell Agility Peak 4

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Merrell-Agility-Peak-4

The Agility Peak 4’s are a simple cushioned and robust pair of trail shoes that will suit a great many runners on all terrain including both roads and trails.

Outsole & Midsole

The Peak has our old friend Vibram Megagrip outsole with 4mm lugs. It’s one of the best for traction and durability on wet and dry roads and trails and so it’s unlikely to go extinct anytime soon.

In terms of the midsole, the Agility Peaks are nice and bouncy with a good energy return thanks to the FloatPro foam midsole cushioning.

Your feet are protected with a rock plate and the ride is padded and bouncy but with a good level of feel for the ground underfoot.

The Agility Peaks are slightly on the heavier side though, but they do come up a half size bigger.

Despite the large size, the fit feels comfy with the laces pulled well in, and the toebox is quite roomy too.

The drop is 6 millimeters, which is a good transition down from the 8mm-drop shoes and useful if you’re looking to transition gradually down to the lower-drop shoes or the popular 4mm-drop options.

Pros

  • Great protection & ground feel
  • Amazing traction & grip on different surfaces
  • Glove-like fit & great lockdown
  • Comfortable underfoot and through the upper
  • Weather-proof

Cons

  • Not great for fast runs
  • Not very breathable due to padding

Features of great road-to-trail running shoes

Balance & Cushioning

What you should be looking for is a nice balance of cushioning and trail feel.

You want enough cushioning and protection from the hard road surface but not so much that you can’t feel any of the lumps and bumps of the trail beneath your feet.

You want to feel a little bit to allow your foot to respond quickly and efficiently to the trail.

Grip

You’ll also want more grip than a road running shoe but not so much that when you run on the roads it squashes around underfoot causing instability and a loss of energy.

Drop

Drop or offset is the height difference between the heel and the toe of the shoe.

While most road running shoes have quite a high heel stack possibly around 10 to 12 millimeters, a lot of trail running shoes have a lower drop to create more of a natural running position.

However, if you lower the angle of your heel really quickly, you might run into some Achilles tendon and calf muscle issues.

Road vs Trail vs Road-to-trail Shoes

If you’re a road specialist, you would want something that’s good for going fast and something that’s got the right cushion for doing just that like the Altra Rivera.

In contrast, if you’re someone who wants to run through the mountains 10 miles, 20 miles, 50 miles, you’re going to want a shoe that has more durability to it and something that’s got bigger lugs on the bottom and maybe even a rock plate in the sole for a little bit more support like the Altra Lone Peak.

But, if you were to take that road shoe out on the trails, it’s not going to turn and change directions very well. It’s just going to wear down really quickly.

Conversely, if you take that Altra Lone Peak on the road, it’s just going to feel a little clunky because the lugs aren’t meant to handle the pavement.

So, why would you need a hybrid shoe?

Perhaps you’re someone who likes to run from your house but needs to run a mile or two on the pavement before you hit your trailhead.

Perhaps you’re going on vacation and you want to bring one pair of shoes with you but you want the flexibility to maybe explore trails and roads you don’t know.

Or, maybe you’re in a winter environment and you want shoes that are going to give you a little bit more confidence and grip on some snow or ice conditions.

That’s where the whole road-to-trail category in this hybrid-style shoe comes in.

These shoes can handle a little bit of everything.

  • They’ve got the upper of a road shoe
  • They’re a little bit more breathable
  • They’re a little bit lighter
  • They have the outsole support of a trail shoe with unpronounced lugs

Wrap Up

Trail running is a little bit of a paradox. It is one of those sports compared to others that we don’t need a lot of gear for.

But it’s really helpful to have the right gear, especially when we get more specialized and focused on the specific running that we’re trying to do.

If you’re new to running and you’re just getting into trail running for the first time, road-to-trail shoes are great to have in your running shoe rotation because they can do a little bit of everything you’re looking for.

The ability to run everywhere represents freedom, and that changes everything, especially when you’re able to go from road to trail and back and you have the right shoe for it.

That’s it for today. If we’ve missed your favorite shoe, please let us know down below in the comments.

I hope you’re staying safe out there and see you in the next one 🙂

About Jamal Tasmamat

Eric Barber is a happy father of two little angels, a husband, and a runner. He eats, sleeps, and dreams anything foot related: running shoes, walking shoes, sneakers, you name it. It all started when Eric was a shoe store specialist watching and fitting people's feet day in and day out.

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