Hiking boots are clunky, heavy, and generally no fun to hike in. I know I’m not the only one to wonder, “Are trail running shoes good for hiking?”
After all, trail running shoes are more comfortable. They’re lighter, and they still offer plenty of protection and stability.
Why not save yourself from having two pairs of shoes and combine them into one?
But can you use trail running shoes for hiking?
The quick answer? Yes. Trail running shoes are excellent for hiking as long as you know a few things beforehand.
First, let’s look at the difference between trail running shoes and hiking shoes.
👉 Wondering what trail running shoes are?: What Are Trail Running Shoes?: Trail Running 101
Trail running shoes vs. Hiking shoes
One of the first questions you probably have is, “What’s the difference between a hiking shoe and a trail running shoe?”
And it’s a good question.
There are a few areas to consider when deciding on hiking shoes or trail runners:
Depending on what you think is more important, there are pros and cons to both types of shoes.
With that said, let’s compare.
Stability is important. That much is clear.
When the terrain gets unstable, and things start going slippy-slidey, you want something that has your back (er, feet).
Here, hiking boots have a strong advantage.
Foot and ankle support
A hiking shoe rises above your ankle, locking it and keeping your lower leg secure. You know your ankles and feet are safe when you put on a pair of hiking shoes.
There are some hiking shoes that have a lower profile (like the Merrell Moab), but most hiking shoes opt for a higher profile to protect better.
On the other hand, hiking trail runners usually stop right around the ankle.
This allows your ankle more freedom to rotate, which can be good and bad on hiking trails. You want to avoid rolling your ankles on the trail, so protecting against that is critical.
But, some people prefer the freedom of movement trail runners give them, so it’s largely down to preference.
Just as important is how well the shoe grips the terrain it’s on.
Both shoes were built to handle mixed terrain that shifts as much as my pinky while writing this post.
Hiking shoes come with deeper lugs and sticky rubber that grip more than a car at the Daytona 500. It’s very rare for a hiking boot not to have good traction unless you’re on some unsure terrain.
Trail running shoes are similar, except to a lesser degree.
Trail runners worldwide would love to have the sure footing hiking shoes provide. But that comes with a huge weight cost (we’ll get to this).
So, trail running shoe companies had to slim down the form of their shoes. And part of that came with smaller lugs.
The best trail running shoes for hiking have tried to bridge this gap by using better materials and experimenting with lug size.
There are trail running shoes that have deeper lugs and provide surer footing. So, that’s a consideration depending on the terrain you’ll be hiking.
One thing is clear when you’re on hiking on the trail. A simple injury can ruin the rest of your plans.
So protection is a top priority when deciding on a shoe to protect your feet.
Hiking boots are built strong and durable. They’re ready to have sticks jabbing them, rocks scraping them, and mud splashing on them. They’re prepared to eat some technical terrain.
They’re our horses out on the trail.
And that’s why hiking boots are built with excellent protection. Padding, thick leather, rock plates, and other features.
Like other areas, trail runners are similar, just to a lesser degree.
They have plenty of built-in protection (some shoes come with rock plates) and are sure to protect your feet.
But not like hiking shoes can.
Like a boxer preparing for a fight, weight has to be cut from somewhere. And protection is one of those areas.
Be aware of this when choosing the best trail runners for hiking.
You’re out on the trails for a long time. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right…you get it.
Depending on how long you’re spending out there, that can be a lot of steps. And the weight on your feet adds up over time.
You’re 60% through your hike and feel like a Looney Tunes character with weights on your feet. You just want it to end.
This is why weight is such an important factor when considering a shoe.
Hiking shoes are heavy. There’s no getting around it. The materials and protection features add up, which comes at a cost.
Trail running shoes, however, are light.
The average trail running shoe weighs between 6.5 to 13 ounces.
The average hiking shoe? 2-3 pounds.
That is a huge weight difference and one that can make or break your hiking experience. So consider this factor when choosing hiking or trail running shoes.
You want something that’s going to last, right? Making frequent trips to the shoe store isn’t fun for anyone (except the shoe store owner).
So having a durable, well-built shoe is important.
Naturally, hiking shoes are durable machines that eat trails for breakfast. It’s their only purpose, and they’re damn good at it.
Hiking boots have an average life of about 1-2 seasons for an average hiker, so a few years depending on how much you hike.
Trail running shoes vary in their durability. Some shoes excel and are strong into their old age, like the Queen of England.
Others seem to fall apart faster than Bitcoin.
If you use your trail runner shoes for hiking (and nothing else), the durability will come close to what you see out of hiking shoes.
But, if you’re using them for more (like long runs), they’ll naturally degrade much quicker. Some trail shoes excel on both trail and pavement, but others struggle.
It just depends on how much life you want out of your trail runners.
Contrary to popular belief, nature’s not just trees, rocks, and beautiful butterflies floating around.
It’s rough. It’s rugged. It’s…wet.
Whether it comes from outside or inside your shoe, moisture is something you’ll have to deal with. And you want a way to handle it quickly.
Blisters are a nightmare on the hiking trail, so avoiding them is important.
Therefore, having airflow through your shoe helps dry them and avoid blisters (yay!)
Hiking shoes are more enclosed. The same system to trap your foot and lock it in place also keeps moisture inside, allowing it to build up.
If you’re not stopping to air your feet out often, that can be a big problem.
However, trail running shoes are more breathable.
Air flows freely in and out of the shoes and keeps your feet dry from sweat. The best way to avoid blisters.
Plus, when you’re in wet conditions, they dry quickly. No sitting and waiting for your feet and shoes to dry. You can continue walking, and they’ll dry naturally.
Blister avoidance is one of the top priorities, so factor it into your shoe choice.
Some trail running and hiking shoes offer Gore-Tex, a waterproof material to keep water out. You’ll know it’s a Gore-Tex shoe with the GTX title.
One thing to keep in mind, this is for trail running shoes. Let’s cover road running shoes quickly.
Can you hike in running shoes?
No. You cannot hike in normal running shoes. At least, it’s not advised to hike in running shoes.
Hiking and trail running shoes have specific features that make them more suited to trails and hiking. Running shoes don’t have these features.
Most of all, you don’t have the protection you need for your feet. So, you’re risking injuring yourself.
Next time someone asks, “Can I wear running shoes for hiking?”
Your answer should be simple.
Are hiking boots necessary?
So, after considering everything, this leads us to the ultimate question, “Why do I need hiking boots?”
And the answer is simple: you don’t.
Trail running shoes are perfectly fine for hiking. The mix of support, stability, protection, and weight make them a top choice whenever someone goes on a hike.
I personally only use trail running shoes for hiking.
But keep in mind what you’ll be using your shoe for:
- Are you doing day hikes or thru-hiking?
- Do you need a shoe with a higher or lower heel-to-toe drop?
- How much support and comfort do you need?
These questions and answers should guide your shoe decision.
Good shoes for trail running and hiking
Many brands make shoes excellent for hiking: Salomon, Topo Athletic, La Sportiva, Merrell, and many more.
So choosing just one is difficult.
It also depends how long you plan on hiking.
So, we’ve broken this section into two parts:
Trail running shoes for hiking
Here are some of the best trail running shoes for hiking. Short hikes, long runs; these shoes can do it all.
Trail running shoes for backpacking
If you’re going longer distances, you may want something a little different in comfort and features.
Here are some of the best trail running shoes for backpacking.
Ready to hike in trail shoes?
So there you go. Next time someone asks, “Are trail running shoes good for hiking?” You can refer them to this post.
If you’re looking for more on trail shoes, you could check out the best trail running shoes for hiking Reddit, or you can just check out my ultimate guide to trail running shoes.
If you want to know about a shoe, it’s here.