Hiking Shoes vs. Boots vs. Trail Runners

Here we take a close inspection of hiking shoes, boots and trail runners showcasing their advantages and disadvantages to know the right pick for your adventure.

This is a hiker adjusting his hiking shoes while on a trail.

Hiking is an excellent way to be one with nature and explore hidden gems. However, knowing which footwear to choose can be daunting when there are so many options out there. Does it matter which footwear to wear when hiking?

Are you confused about whether you should be wearing hiking shoes, boots, or trail runners for your hiking journey?

Hiking boots offer more ankle support than hiking shoes, and trail runners do. Although hiking boots are heavier than regular hiking shoes and runners, they are more durable and provide better water protection. Trail runners offer more comfort and are more breathable.

It is important to choose the correct footwear when going hiking so that your feet have the right support. When selecting which footwear you want to wear, you need to consider your objective, what the weather will be like, and what the terrain will be like.

Here is a guide that will save you time and make choosing easy.

Table of Contents

Which Shoes are Lighter and Breathable?

This is a woman hiking up the steep rocky hill.

Trail runners, as the name suggests, are mostly meant for trail running. However, they are also good for hiking, and many hikers tend to prefer trail runners over regular hiking shoes. Apart from looking better than hiking shoes, trail runners are lighter and a bit more breathable.

Hiking shoes triumph, trail runners, when it comes to comfort but not by that much. One of the downsides to hiking boots is that some are much heavier than trail runners and hiking shoes.

Therefore, one of the reasons trail runners or hiking shoes may be more appealing is that there is no extra effort as you are not lugging around the extra weight that you do with boots.

Which Shoes are the Most Durable?

This is a close look at a trail runner on a path by the water.

Hiking shoes are more durable than trail runners because, generally speaking, trail runners will last about 500-700 km, while hiking shoes will do 800-1000 km. Yes, the kind of brand and model you go with may change those numbers slightly, but the bottom line is that you will need to frequently replace trail runners more than you would hiking shoes.

Hiking boots are incredibly durable even when you put them through the wringer, as they will last about 805 to 1610 km. The tread on the boots will remain in good condition for longer than hiking shoes and trail runners, making them the preferred choice for people that frequently go hiking.

The Protection and Support Offered by Each Shoe Type

This is a close look at a hiker wearing hiking boots while relaxing at the top of the mountain trail.

The toe box material of hiking shoes does a great job of protecting your toes when you’re out there kicking stumps and roots. Hiking shoes are appealing because of their water-resistant capability, much like trail runners.

Trail runners also tend to dry out quickly because there isn’t a ton of material to them, so when they get wet, you can expect them to dry out much quicker than boots. In contrast, hiking boots dry out slowly because of all the fabric and material inside of them.

Although your feet will be nice and dry, hiking shoes lack ankle support which could lead to injuries and a lack of protection from water spilling into your shoes. The same can be said about trail runners as they are lightweight, so they can’t afford to have the extra weight and stability required for ankle support.

The high support gear offered by boots prevents any water from spilling inside your shoes. This makes them the best option if you are doing creak crossing or will be regularly stepping into puddles. There is sufficient stability and ankle support due to the higher ankle padding that boots have.

Suppose you have ankle issues or have had an ankle injury; being able to tie off the boots up high offers the additional needed support. The last thing you want to run into while out in the country is rolling or twisting your ankle and aggravating an old injury.

Hiking boots are a great option when it comes to colder weather or hiking in winter. The extra padding inside the boot does a great job of insulating your feet, keeping them nice and warm when the temperatures start to drop.

Hiking boots also tend to have a great tread at the bottom that gives you added traction when it starts getting snowy, or you’re hiking on ice.  

Things to Consider with Either Footwear

These are various hiking shoes on a wooden flooring.

There are many different variations, but certain things apply to all the footwear that you should pay attention to when shopping for a new pair.

  • Ensure to get fitted by a professional expert to ensure that you get the right size. Ordering your shoes online may be less hassle, but getting the wrong size will leave you with aching feet. Go to the fitting with the socks you plan on wearing when you go hiking to get an accurate representation of what size shoes you need.
  • Look at the thread on the sole and how slippery it is. For rocks and mountains, you want pointy things sticking out because it will provide more friction and give your feet a better grip.
  • Also, consider the flexibility of the shoe’s sole. A sturdy sole that does not bend is very good for rocky trails because the rocks won’t puncture through, and should you slip; your ankle will not get damaged.
  • Make sure that your shoe has a sturdy toe box to prevent smashing your toes into rocks.
  • Other things to take into account would be water resistance and breathability of the shoes, so shoes with fabric mesh funnels work best.
  • The last thing you want after a fun day of hiking is blisters all over your feet or even something more serious like tendonitis. So make sure to break in the shoes before going hiking or backpacking to ensure that everything checks out. 

Conclusion

The choice in footwear is entirely a personal decision. What works for one person may not work for you. However, knowing your objective, what the weather will be like, and the terrain will give you the answer to your footwear issues.

Usually, all three different types of footwear are used at different intervals, depending on the climate, whether you’re day hiking or backpacking, as well as the kind of terrain you will be going to.

References:

REI: Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners

Switchback Travel: Hiking Shoes vs. Trail Runners

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