Durability Advantage: Hiking Shoes
When deciding between a hiking shoe and a trail runner, durability becomes a very important consideration. Hiking shoes have a tougher buildtheyre often made with leather or durable nylon fabrics as opposed to mesh or thin nylonand generally feature protective toe caps and medium-stiff midsoles. Compared to trail runners, hiking shoes will hold up far better under a heavy load and are designed to withstand rugged, abrasive terrain. On the other hand, the lightweight fabric that makes trail runners so nimble sacrifices a good amount of durability, reducing their lifespan significantly. As a result, hardcore backpackers who swear by the lightweight comfort of trail runners will often go through multiple pairs each year.
Best Waterproof Lightweight Trail Running Shoe: New Balance Women’s 910 V4 Running Shoes
For brisk walks on the trail or even around town in rainy weather, the waterproof New Balance 910v4 is a great choice. Trail shoes dont have to be heavy and clunky to perform well. These shoes are lightweight but supportive and cushioned from the sole to the upper. They are also flexible so you can get a good walking stride with a roll through your step from heel to toe.
When you are on the trail, you need protection from rocks provided by a toe cap and a rock plate in the sole. You wont have an excuse to skip your trail walking plans if it is rainy, and you wont fear crossing streams. These shoes work well against all the elements. They are available in both regular and wide, so that you can find your best fit. They come in versions for both women and men.
Salomon Mens Speedcross 4 Trail Running Shoes
If you still want to tackle trails at a good pace, there are a variety of trail running shoes that you can try. One of the most highly rated shoes is from the Salomon Speedcross lineup. These are light, comfortable, and durable shoes.
Theyre made from synthetic materials that repel water. They are also outfitted with strong rubber treads on the bottom, which provide an aggressive grip thats perfect for mountainous terrain. You can learn more about the Salomon trail running shoes by visiting their product page here.
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When Does It Make Sense To Hike In Trail Running Shoes
Putting this all together, youre a great candidate for hiking in trail runners if:
- You want to hike longer miles with less discomfort
- Youre day hiking, or your backpacking gear is at least moderately lightweight
- The weather is not too cold
- Youre hiking mostly on established trails
- You have reasonable strength and balance, or are willing to start training to improve it
You can certainly get away with trail runners in other conditions too, and the more skill and strength you bring, the easier that will be.
How To Choose Trail Running Shoes For Hiking
When looking for a trail running shoe for hiking, we need to change our criteria a little compared to running.
With running, you want a shoe that stays in place with the increased force of the foot strikes. While hiking, we want the shoe to remain in place but give more room in the toes and across the forefoot.
We will generally be hiking longer, so the shoes will need to handle the foot swelling for long days on the trail.
Below are the factors we look at when choosing a trail running shoe for hiking.
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Knowing When To Wear Hiking Boots
Like I mentioned before, there are times when to wear hiking boots and when you shouldnt. So lets focus on that for a bit.
When is it a good time to pull on a set of hiking boots?
- If the trail is rugged and rocky
- If you plan to make your own trail
- If you plan on crossing through a stream
Hiking boots are great for gripping the ground, but if the ground is very loose then a trail runner will be a better choice.
Boots will, well, sink straight into the ground if its soft enough. And of course, running in boots isnt very comfortable. So if your hiking just involves level ground, you likely wont need boots.
But what about climbing rocks? And I dont mean actual rock climbing, but bouldering or just some really light rock climbing. In this case, hiking boots arent recommended and you can get away with working with trail runners or even running shoes!
This is because gripping the surface of a rock is much more different than gripping the surface of the ground. Boots may even weigh you down.
All said and done, this is still my opinion on which shoes are the best for hiking. As I said at the start of this article, Ive seen people argue for and against boots, trail runners, running shoes, etc.
I just feel that trail runners work the best as they keep you stable and are suitable for just about any sort of hike! Of course, there are exceptions.
Trail Runners Vs Hiking Boots: A 30 Year Perspective
From the late 1980s through to the end of the 1990s, I exclusively used hiking boots on all of my backpacking trips. They were waterproof, durable, grippy on slippery surfaces, and provided protection and stability for my feet and ankles. At the time, it was what everyone used for extended excursions into the backcountry.
As the 20th century drew to a close, I decided to try backpacking in running shoes. Inspired by Ray Jardines, The Pacific Crest Trail Hikers Handbook, I did so as part of an overall strategy to simplify and lighten my approach to spending time in the woods. The change worked out better than I could have imagined, and since the early 2000s, I have worn low-cut, non-waterproof footwear on almost all of my backpacking journeys around the world.
The following article is divided into five parts:
1. Why choose trail running shoes over boots for three-season conditions?2. When are boots preferable to trail runners? 3. Wearing Your Fears Examining the commonly-held belief that boots provide a greater degree of protection for your ankles than low-cut footwear while backpacking.4. A Piece in the Puzzle Why your choice in footwear should be considered an integral piece of an overall lightweight backpacking strategy.5. A list of 15 of the top trail running shoes in todays market.
Note: For an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of hiking footwear see the revised and expanded, Hiking Footwear Guide.
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Hiking Shoe Upper Materials
Hiking shoe upper material is not the most exciting topic, but checking the construction can give helpful insights into its performance. The type of material used will correlate directly with a shoe’s durability, water-resistance, and ability to breathe. Most often, hiking and trail shoes are made with a mix of nylon, mesh, and leather to balance cost and longevity. Below, we spell out the pros and cons for the most common materials used for hiking footwear.Synthetic Nylon and MeshWoven synthetic as well as open synthetic mesh panels are commonly used to aid breathability. These materials are not as well known for their durability, but they do a great job of cutting weight. Exceptions include the Salomon X Ultra 3, which is made of tightly woven synthetic upper that has comparable levels of durability to some Nubuck leathers.
Nubuck LeatherMade of full grain leather, but given a brushed finish that has a suede-like feel, Nubuck leather is a common sight on heavier duty hiking shoes. The softer touch leather is lighter and more flexible than traditional, glossy full-leather options, and is more durable than most nylons. It does fall short in breathability, however. As a result, its common to find a mix of leather and nylon mesh for abrasion resistance and breathability, including the Merrell Moab and Oboz Sawtooth.
Whats The Difference Between Hiking Shoes And Running Shoes
Choosing to use running shoes for your hikes will work for you in the short term but over the long term, you will slowly see the differences between the two types of shoes in their fundamental build.
Where the two types of shoes differ the largest is in the soles and the tread used and the main fabrics of the outer shell. On running shoes, they are built lighter and to help you run and pad hard impacts. For hiking, you need durability over rough terrain that can tear shoes to shreds.
For many hiking trail runners, you see a merge of the best of both worlds with a very lightweight shoe but built from more durable materials and featuring tread that tends to long outlast the shoe lifespan, like the Altra trail running shoes, are game-changers.
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What To Look For
When choosing trail running shoes for hiking, look for shoes that are:
- Designed for training or ultra-distance racing, not short-distance racing .
- Moderately cushioned. Avoid shoes described as minimalist unless youre making a slow and careful transition and know what youre looking for.
- Intended for rugged terrain if youll be hiking on rough trails or cross country .
- Not labeled GTX this is a water-resistant design that doesnt breathe as well and most hikers dont need.
Ankle Support Just A Myth
Well, there is the issue with ankle support that is worth noting, too.
How many times have you heard of boot brands claiming that their product offers ankle support? Far too many times? We assume so.
It has been embedded in consumers brains that boots are the way to go for ankle support. However, it is not always the case.
In fact, there is no real science that proves it to be true. If you want to prevent painful ankle injuries, you need to strengthen and stretch your ankles. This is just the way to do it.
If you are active, healthy, and fit, you should not even worry about ankle support from your shoes. You can just hike wearing lighter and grippy shoes without any problem at all.
Want to know what to look for in the best trail running shoes? This video should help you pick out the right pair for you:
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How Much Support Do You Need
Every person has a different body type. This is why you will find that some people have weaker ankles perhaps you fall into this category. If so, you may find that you tend to twist your ankle when walking. The problem may get much worse when youre trying to cross uneven ground.
Here, trail running shoes dont offer the kind of support you need. This is because they have a low ankle profile. A hiking shoe or boots on the other hand, have higher ankle profiles. As such, they will ensure that there isnt too much side-to-side movement when you are walking. In this way, the boots can prevent injuries.
Of course, if this isnt an issue for you, then trail running shoes will be more than enough to get you across most trails.
How Light Should You Pack
As far as how light your backpack should be before you can safely switch to running shoes, theres really no magic number. Its totally a personal preference thing.
For me, Id still wear running shoes even if I carried a 50-60 pound pack. The biggest negative impact of wearing lightweight shoes with a heavier load is that your shoes will wear out faster.
That said, hiking lighter has TONS of great benefits, starting with simply enjoying the wilderness more, so I recommend lightening your backpack no matter what footwear you plan on using. If youre new to going light, I recommend reading through our Ultralight Backpacking Basics post for tips. Then, head over to our CleverHiker Gear Guide, which features all of our favorite equipment.
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Trail Running Shoes Are More Comfortable
If you want to forget all your other troubles, wear too tight shoes. ~The Houghton Line
This is where trail running shoes start really coming into their own on snow-covered trails. Boots give you a snug fit all the way up the ankle. The trace off for this extra support is a restricted range of movement. In fact, you will have hardly any wriggle room at all.
Trail shoes are nowhere near as restrictive. Due to the softer materials, you will have a much greater range of motion as well as flexibility. Every year that I have walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain it seems that almost all the blisters and other foot problems are suffered by those who were wearing boots. True, the Camino is far from a snow trail, but as a long distance trail it shows up the comfort of trail shoes.
Hiking boots are more rigid, and generally, the only way your foot muscles can flex is when your feet move around inside the confines of the boot. When you add the wet socks you will have from hiking in the snow there is only one obvious outcome blisters. For me, blisters negatively impact my level of enjoyment out on the trail. That is especially true on multi-day through-hikes.
Running Shoes Vs Hiking Boots
If you want to forget all your other troubles, wear too tight shoes. ~The Houghton Line
I get asked about backpacking footwear all the time and the question is almost always the same. Hikers want to know if its really okay to backpack in running shoes and how light their packs need to be before they can make the switch.
For many of us, its been drilled into our heads since day one that backpackers wear boots. Thats just what you do. You need the toughness and the ankle support and the water protection, right?
Thats why it blew my mind a few years back when I learned that thru-hikers cover thousands of trail miles every year in running shoes!
When I get asked this question now, after many years and thousands of my own trail miles , I feel very confident in saying: Ditch the boots and dont look back.
Here are five reasons why:
LOOKING FOR A NEW PAIR OF KICKS?: Check out out footwear guides to learn about critical considerations and our favorite recommendations.
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Video: Boots Vs Trail Runners
Here are the key questions for choosing between boots and trail runners:
Does Trail Running Help Hiking
For the most part, trail running is a great way to improve your hiking skills if you arent an experienced hiker. An article from Trail Runner Magazine detailed this by mentioning how its a great way to start improving your endurance thanks to the higher-intensity activity on lower-intensity trails.
That being said, its unclear if trail running will usually help experienced hikers improve their hiking skills since the rough terrain is often the main challenge in traditional trail running.
However, its still a great way to stay in shape, and it can potentially be a more engaging way for experienced hikers to explore paths that might be easier than their usual preferences.
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Explore The Great Outdoors With The Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoes
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Verywell / Sabrina Jiang
Trail walking offers different challenges than walking on flat, even surfaces like a track, sidewalk, or treadmill. Trails are uneven, rocky, and bumpy. Wearing proper trail shoes can keep your feet dry , provide good traction for walking over rocks, and offer thick cushioning to protect your feet.
Can I Hike In Running Shoes
Yes, you can hike in running shoes. But, for a good hiking experience, you need to wear the right shoes for hiking. Also, you need to ensure that your ankles are strong enough to prevent twisting, and your backpack doesnt carry more than 45 pounds. If you have more stuff in backpack, it would result in your foot fatigue in running shoes.
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Best Overall Hiking Shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz.Waterproof: Yes What we like: Great mix of lightness, on-trail performance, and durability.What we dont: Gore-Tex model runs warm.
The Salomon X Ultra 3 is our top hiking shoe for 2021, combining a feathery feel with impressive on-trail performance. As with each iteration of this popular model, the third edition puts it all together: the shoe is competitively light at 1 pound 10 ounces , the tread design offers impressive grip in just about all conditions, and the stable chassis and cushioned interior are great for long trail days. All told, we highly recommend the X Ultra for day hikes, quick summits, and even lightweight backpacking.
Salomon drew heavily from their trail running expertise with the X Ultra 3s design. The single-pull laces are fast to use and provide a secure fit, and the shoe is far nimbler than traditional hikers like the Merrell Moab 2 or Keen Targhee below. But you dont sacrifice protection like with a trail runnerSalomon includes a substantial toe cap and enough cushioning underfoot for hauling a pack. We found the fit runs narrow in the toe box, but the good news is that the low-top GTX version is offered in wide sizes. Tack on the non-waterproof Aero model, and the X Ultra 3 stands out as the best all-around hiking shoe line on the market. Finally, its worth noting Salomon recently released the X Ultra 4 GTX, which we break down below… Read in-depth review