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People hike with all types of footwear from sneakers to basketball shoes to even sandals. Out of all types of shoes, running shoes seem to be the closest alternative to hiking boots. But are they good for hiking?
I’ve tested out both road and trail running shoes and compared them to hiking boots based on performance in the trail. Here’s what I observed:
Yes, running shoes are good for hiking. But it would have to be trail running shoes. They are softer and more comfortable than hiking boots while still providing enough protection and grip for harsh terrains.
Ahead, we will find out the key differences between trail running shoes and hiking boots and why trail running shoes are good for hiking. We will also look at how road running shoes perform on the trail and if they can also be used for hiking.
Running Shoes Vs. Hiking Boots: What’s the Difference?
At glance, running shoes and hiking boots could never be mistaken as one and the same. They differ on the upper, the midsole, and the outsole (I summarized their differences in the table below).
Running shoes offer speed, versatility, and breathability while hiking boots offer protection and overall stability.
There are two basic types of running shoes. Trail running shoes and road running shoes.
Road running shoes are designed to be used on pavement. So they are lighter, less protective, and have less traction than trail running shoes.
Trail running shoes, on the other hand, are more protective and provide more stability than road running shoes.
Below, I listed the differences between running shoes and hiking boots. For the sake of this discussion, I put together trail and road shoes under running shoes.
Related post: Trail Running Shoes: How Are They Different?
DIFFERENCES ON COMPONENTS
|Components||Running shoes||Hiking boots|
|Upper||Made with light and breathable materials. Has a low-cut collar||Made with thick, often waterproof materials. Usually has a high cut collar|
|Midsole||Softer and more flexible||Firmer and rigid|
|Outsole||Trail running shoes have a similar outsole to hiking boots.|
Road running shoes have shallow lugs
|Has a thick and highly protective outsole.|
Trail running shoes and hiking boots have similar outsoles. They have deep lugs and some of them offer a rock plate – a plate to prevent sharp rocks from poking.
However, they differ in the midsole and the upper. Running shoes have thicker and more flexible midsoles while hiking boots have a firmer and more rigid one.
The upper of running shoes are also made with a thin and breathable material like engineered mesh. While hiking shoes have a thicker, more protective upper usually made out of leather. Some of them are even waterproof.
HOW EACH OF THEM PERFORM ON THE TRAIL
|Performance metrics||Running shoes||Hiking boots|
|Cushioning||Both road and trail running shoes have a softer cushioning than hiking boots.||Hiking boots feel firmer than running shoes.|
|Fit||Running shoes fit perfectly well from the get-go.||Hiking shoes need a little bit of a break-in period before they start feeling comfortable.|
|Comfort||Most running shoes feel soft all around.||Hiking boots also feel soft inside the foot.|
|Breathability||Wearing running shoes keeps your feet feeling cool. It’s a lot more breathable than hiking boots.||Hiking boots feel humid and might not be desirable for summer days. |
On the brighter side, most hiking boots are water-resistant.
|Protection||Trail running shoes have enough protection underfoot but lack in the upper. |
Road running shoes lack protection all around for harsh terrain.
|Hiking boots have complete protection from the uppers to the outsole. Your feet will be safe against poking, sharp rocks, and the likes.|
|Flexibility||More flexible||Very stiff|
|Speed||Because it’s so much lighter than hiking boots, you’ll be able to move faster and farther in running shoes.||The extra protection makes this shoe heavy and slow.|
|Ankle Support||Provide very little ankle support. Some trail running shoes have a wider platform to provide a little bit more stability but harsh terrains could still make you twist an ankle.||Because the uppers are high-cut, it provides a great amount of ankle protection that will basically make it impossible for you to twist an ankle if you make a misstep.|
|Grip||Trail running shoes provide the same grip as hiking boots. |
Road running shoes, however, lack traction of muddy, wet, and loose terrain.
|Hiking boots provide grip for all types of terrain.|
|Versatility||You’ll be able to run and walk in running shoes without any problem.||Running in hiking boots is a little harder compared to running shoes.|
|Durability||It’s safe to say that trail running shoes are more durable than road running shoes if you use both of them on the trail. However, running shoes are nothing if you compare them to the durability of hiking boots.||Hiking boots are probably one of the most durable footwear on the planet. You can walk it on any terrain and expect to still be using it for the next 5 years.|
To keep this section short, running shoes are lighter and more breathable than hiking shoes but it sacrifices protection.
Hiking boots, on the other hand, are heavy and less breathable but they are also more protective, supportive, and durable.
Pros and Cons of Using Trail Runners for Hiking
Because of their close similarities, a lot of hikers use trail running shoes when they’re hiking. Let me share with you the pros and cons I’ve experienced when I used trail running shoes for hiking.
- It’s cooler on the feet
- It’s versatile, you can decide to run or hike depending on the terrain
- It doesn’t have a break-in period, it just feels comfortable the moment you put them on out of the box
- It’s easier to remove and put on
- It dries faster if the water gets inside the shoe
- It’s so much lighter than hiking boots. It will allow you to go faster and farther.
- It doesn’t help in preventing the rolling of the ankle. I rolled my ankle one too many times at one point that I just had to sit down and ice them to prevent them from swelling
- It has a shorter lifespan. I already changed my trail running shoes twice and my hiking shoes are still in top condition.
- It doesn’t prevent water from getting inside the shoe at all
- If I’m carrying a heavy load, I twist my ankles more than usual
I, personally, have been using more of my trail running shoes for all my hikes. Simply because I love to run on trails whenever I get the chance. And, they’re lighter and much more comfortable than hiking boots.
If you decide to use trail running shoes, I do recommend that you regularly do ankle exercises to help strengthen your muscles which will help add ankle support and prevent injuries.
By the way, I’m using the Brooks Cascadia for most of my hikes. I love them because they’re light, well-cushioned and they come with a rock plate that protects my foot from sharp rocks or branches. If you’re still thinking about what pair to buy, I recommend the Brooks Cascadia 15. You can buy them on Amazon.
Using Road Running Shoes for Hiking
I see this quite often, beginners using road running shoes for hiking. And that’s okay. If you don’t want to spend some extra buck on a pair of trail shoes, you can use road running shoes for hiking on buffed-out and dry terrain.
But it will be quite a challenge to keep using road running shoes on technical, muddy, and slippery terrain. Road running shoes don’t have enough protection and grip to be considered ‘safe’ to use in such conditions.
Deciding on What To Use for Hiking
Deciding what you should wear really depends on what you do most of the time.
If you’re a fan of day hikes or trail runs where you travel light and want to go far fast, then you should go with trail running shoes.
If, however, you’re more of a camping type of guy who likes to hike deep into the forest for days with a lot of loads to carry, hiking boots will give you the support you need to safely get there without any injuries.
Another scenario would be if you just want to try hiking for the first time and don’t want to spend money for a pair of trail running shoes (which you might never use after) and you have a pair of running shoes lying around, then you can use that for as long as the terrain isn’t too technical or slippery.
Just be extra careful if you do that.
Hiking is a good way to develop your strength in running. And while a specific type of shoe is made for hiking, trail running shoes are a great and more versatile alternative.
I’ve tried it a lot of times and I love the versatility, the lightness, and the breathability it brings.