If you’re looking for reasons to use trail running shoes for hiking, you’ve come to the right place.
To buy hiking or trail running shoes (sometimes referred to as trail running trainers or sneakers) for hiking, that is the question. Right? 😉
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Hiking Boots or Trail Running Shoes for Hiking
If you’ve ever struggled with the question of whether you should buy hiking boots or shoes or trail running shoes for hiking, you’ve come to the perfect discussion. Read on for the 5 Reasons To Use Trail Running Shoes for Hiking.
How Hiking Boots are Different From Trail Running Shoes
Hiking boots or hiking shoes are the traditional choice for hikers. However, since trail running shoes have come onto the trail scene, and with rapid advances in shoe construction technology, they have revolutionized trail footwear options for hiking.
Can I Use Trail Running Shoes for Hiking? Boots vs. Trail Running Shoes
Boots are generally thought of as good for slow hiking or for wearing when hiking carrying a heavy or loaded back pack. They generally offer good grip, waterproofing, ankle support, and can last a really long time (sometimes years) because of their durable construction. More on this below.
Trail running shoes though are highly versatile. They are especially good for hikes without heavy or loaded back packs and for faster moving hiking. Popular brands offer amazing traction, grip, breathability, and even waterproof trail running shoe options.
When You Plan to Hike
Though trail running shoes can be a good choice for hiking, when you plan to hike during the year should weigh into your consideration of trail running shoes vs. hiking boots choice. Read more on this below.
While price is probably a consideration in your decision, you should be aware that hiking boots or shoes can cost more, less, or the same as quality trail running shoes.
5 Reasons to Use Trail Running Shoes for Hiking
There are many reasons to opt for trail running shoes for hiking instead of hiking boots or hiking shoes (sometimes referred to as approach shoes).
1. Trail running shoes are more than durable enough to wear hiking.
Trail running shoes are built for trails. They are built to withstand and handle navigation on uneven terrain, roots, rocks, dirt, water, mud, and slippery conditions.
Top trail running shoe manufacturers use materials that are designed for miles and miles of use by endurance-minded athletes and ordinary people looking to enjoy and make the most of trails.
When it comes to durability and choice of shoes for hiking, the exception to wearing trail running shoes is if you’re carrying a heavy or loaded back pack, such as on a long-distance thru-hike.
Although there are always exceptions to the exceptions. Ultrarunning athletes carry gear on their backs over long training and racing distances, sometimes up to a 100 miles or more at a time while wearing trail running shoes.
And even the Crawford family (mom, dad & S-I-X, yep, 6 kids) who hiked the entire Appalachian trail apparently wore Altra trail running shoes during their 161 day hike of the 2,190 mile route.
2. Trail running shoes are super lightweight compared to hiking boots.
Trail running shoes generally offer a serious weight advantage over hiking boots. They are typically much lighter than hiking boots–a factor that is often appreciated on the trail after long hours or miles and step after step. Hiking boots are generally sturdy and rugged, with deep lugs, and these features give hiking boots heft.
Quality trail running shoes do offer lugs, traction features to help stick to a trail, and support, but trail running shoes tend to strike a balance between these features and weight.
The lighter weight nature of trail running shoes means that trail running shoes often make moving around and navigating trails easier, giving the wearer more control, agility, and flexibility to move on the trail.
While trail running shoes may not have the sturdiness, such as ankle support and really deep lugs, that hiking boots typically feature, the lighter weight nature of trail running shoes can offer big advantages, including minimizing hiker fatigue.
For example, without the bulky weight, trail running shoes may make a hiker feel less “tired” wearing them. When you’re hiking distances with kids, they are often quick to notice the weight difference between hiking boots and trail running shoes–and by quick to notice, I mean quick to complain. 😉 I don’t think children are the only ones though who appreciate hauling less weight –whether in backpacks or on feet–while hiking.
Keep in mind, sometimes the weight of hiking boots and beefiness of the shoe construction is ideal or necessary for some hikers, including those requiring extra support or shoe/foot stability.
3. Trail running shoes generally offer excellent moisture and water management.
Trail running shoes are breathable and generally offer excellent moisture and water management features or materials.
Depending on the time of year when you plan to hike, as well as how much your feet tend to sweat, moisture may be more or less of a concern–but it is nevertheless something important to consider in hiking shoe selection.
Hiking boots often feature waterproofing and some degree of insulation (although you can get boots that aren’t insulated or with little insulation). You can also find trail running shoes that are waterproof and insulated.
In the summer, there’s not a lot of point of having waterproof trail running shoes. This is because so much moisture comes from your feet itself. If it rains or you cross a stream, trail running shoes are designed to drain and dry while you’re moving.
However, in the winter or if you’re spending a lot of time on snow, that’s a different story. That’s when a Gortex, waterproof, and insulated trail running shoe makes a lot of sense–as well as the value of insulation and waterproofing that is often offered in hiking boots. In winter (or in harsh weather or environments, such where your trail running shoes won’t dry out anytime soon), where keeping feet dry and warm is critical, hiking boots may be a better choice for hiking.
4. Trail running shoes have no break-in period and/or take significantly less time to feel comfortable.
Trail running shoes are typically ready to wear from the get-go. Hiking boots, on the other hand, can require many miles of wear (a ‘break in period’) before they even feel close to what you’d call truly comfortable.
5. Trail running shoes can offer a greater connection to the trail.
Trail running shoes can make you feel more connected to the trail, as the overall greater flexibility of a trial running shoe can allow your feet to better feel the ground below and increase ease of movement, such as making quick moves over roots or loose trail.
Here are the Leading Trail Running Shoe Brands
There are some key brands that have established themselves as the leaders in the trail running shoe market (in both International and North American markets). While this list is not exhaustive, these are some of those brands that have serious trail cred.
Altra Running. Altras are a hit in my family. My three oldest kids wear Altras for training, racing, and hiking. They have hiked in Altras around the globe, including in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and the Alps.
Favorites for hiking (and trail running) include Altra Lone Peaks and Altra King MT. In my experience, the King MT’s have awesome, tough grip thanks to a Vibram sole, but the upper part of the shoe seems to wear out a lot faster than other Altra Trail Running Shoes, like the Lone Peaks.
ALTRA King MT
Hoka. As Hoka fans can surely attest (I love my Hokas – I’m currently running in Hoka One One Speed Goats), once you wear Hokas, you may never want to wear any other trail running shoe again. The cushioning is s-w-e-e-t!!!
New Balance. Another competitor in the trail running scene, New Balance offers popular trail running shoes, like the Fresh Foam Hierro, which has an 8mm drop and innovative sole that gives a comfy, more natural ride.
Salomon. A trail running leader around the globe, and popular in North America and Europe, Salomon offers several trail running models, some of which keep rocking the trail running market year after year, like the Salomon Speedcross. I’m a fan of Salomon because they make trail shoes for kids, like the Pro 3D which my youngest kid loves, that are good for trail running and hiking. For years, I had a love affair with Salomon’s Mission Trail shoes.
Saucony. Another big name in running shoes, Saucony has sold trail running shoes for years, including its popular Saucony Grid Excursion.
Nike. Not everyone thinks of Nike and trail running in the same breath, but Nike does have a trail running collection and some trail runners swear by them. Nike Trail shoes include the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus and Wildhorse.
Adidas. Adidas also offers trail running shoes, which some top mountain runners are known to wear. Adidas Trail Running shoes include the Adidas Response.
Ice Bug. If you’re looking for unbeatable traction on the trail while hiking, there’s no doubt Ice Bug offers killer grip, including studs on some trail running shoes. If you’re all about the grip (and want a lightweight shoe), check out Ice Bugs trail running shoe lineup.
On Running. On Running makes some lightweight, comfortable trail running shoes, including the On Running Cloud Cloudventure. My teen and I love the comfort and ride of Cloudventures, but we haven’t had the best of luck with shoe longevity.
Where to Buy Trail Running Shoes for Hiking
If you are buying trail running shoes for the first time, it’s worth your time to go into a store and try on different trail running shoes. All trail running shoes fit differently. Some have roomer toe boxes. They have different heel-toe drops. They have different traction/grip that can feel different when you walk or jog over the surface beneath you. Some offer different lacing systems.
At first, you really should try to try on trail running shoes before you buy them or buy from a company that allows you to make exchanges for free.
If you find a pair of shoes you like at a store, but find the same pair online for significantly less, you can always buy online later or ask the store if they can price match or offer a more competitive price.
I’m a fan of shopping and supporting local whenever possible. However, I am also not afraid to ask a store if they have a coupon or can try to price match an online price when a trail running shoe price is significantly less online.
If you can’t get into a store to try on trail running shoes, look to buy shoes from a place online that offers free or no hassle returns or exchanges.
If you order a shoe online after trying it on in a store, there is a caveat: make sure you’re getting the exact same shoe and model. Sometimes a brand may make changes to fit or materials between versions or years of the same model and sizing could be slightly off.
It has also happens that sometimes a shoe company has multiple manufacturing sites, and the same shoe could be produced ever so slightly differently.
Where to look for additional shoe research
The Trail and Ultrarunning Facebook page is a good forum to read up on people’s experiences with trail running shoes or to ask questions about other people’s experiences with shoes.