Compared to trail runners, the hiking shoes can handle heavy loads much better and is designed to work on rough and abrasive terrain. On the other hand, a lightweight fabric from which trail runners. But with so many options to choose from, how do you decide what is the difference between trail running and hiking shoes?? Below, we detail the key differences between walking shoes and trail runners, including weight, support and protection, durability, traction, breathability, and more. For our top choices, see our articles on the best mens summer hiking shoes and the best mens lightweight trail running shoes.
Hiking shoes, like the Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator, are a modern style of hiking boot similar to a boot, but with a lower ankle fit. In general, they offer as much stiffness and support underfoot as a hiking shoe, but without the bulky and awkward feel. The generally rugged construction, often in durable leather or nylon, is designed to withstand mile after mile on the trails while providing good protection against obstacles like roots and rocks. Look for generous toecaps, chunky outsoles with sharp lugs for traction, and medium-stiff midsoles that isolate you from rough terrain. Many hiking shoes are also available in waterproof versions, but keep in mind that a low shoe (compared to a mid-high boot) is inherently more vulnerable to water ingress through the opening at the bottom. ankle.
Trail runners are a type of footwear used by runners who – you guessed it – ride the trails. They are designed to allow easy and bouncy movement, but with the added protection, support and traction needed for off-road riding. But trail running shoes are no longer just worn by runners. In recent years, they have been adopted by climbers, ultra-light enthusiasts, and even everyday hikers who like to travel quickly and easily. Some shoes in this category are primarily running shoes (like the Brooks Cascadia 15) while others are specifically designed for quick and easy hiking (but not necessarily for running), like the popular Altra Lone Peak 5. Within this broad category, look They are light weight, strong cushioning, stiffer midsoles and stronger toe caps than a standard running shoe (but still less than a hiking shoe) and a mesh upper. Like hiking boots, there are also some trail runners in waterproof models.
Hybrid trekking / trail running shoes
The distinction between hiking shoes and trail runners isn’t always clear, and it’s getting cloudy by the day with recent models like Arc’teryx Aerios FL GTX, Salomon OUTline, and running shoe-inspired mid-tops like the Vasque Breeze. LT Mid. Most of these shoes take a trail runner and build on it, adding stiffer, stickier soles and a little more protection in the upper. These shoes are outliers in their own categories and probably wouldn’t be our first choice for either trail running or traditional backpacking, but their combination of support, breathability, and weight makes them ideal for fast, lightweight endeavors and favorites among -hikers. In this article we will divide hiking shoes and trail runners into two distinct categories, but keep in mind that you can get the best of both worlds (depending on your needs) in some of these models.
1. Weight advantage: trail runners
Reducing weight is one of the main reasons hikers switch from high-top hiking boots to low-top hiking shoes, and many shave even more ounces by switching to lightweight running shoes. To illustrate this: The average pair of hiking boots weigh well over 2 pounds, while most hiking boots weigh around 1.5 pounds per pair. Meanwhile, one of the most popular trail running shoes among hikers, the La Sportiva Bushido II, tips at 1 pound 5 ounces. Obviously, choosing a lightweight hiking shoe – or better yet, a trail runner – keeps your legs and feet from lifting heavy loads throughout a day on the trail.
If all other factors were the same, we would always choose a lighter shoe over a heavier one. However, the weight of shaving comes with significant sacrifices in terms of support, protection and durability. Ultralight trekkers or those who walk more than 20 miles a day with a very light load might find the weight savings of a trail runner worth the compromise, but for a few more grams, hiking shoes offer a nice improvement in terms of performance and durability
2. Support and protection advantage: hiking boots
Everyday hikers usually tend to wear hiking boots over trail runners, especially because of the support and protection they offer. With a stiffer and firmer midsole, a stronger outsole and a thicker upper material as well as features such as a toe cap and a rubber edge, hiking boots offer support on a par with hiking boots (minus the high ankle protection). We like the added security of carrying a heavy night load, especially when you’re on poorly maintained trails or scrambling off the beaten track. On the other hand, trail running shoes are designed for fast and agile movements and therefore give up a little in terms of protection and support in order to remain flexible, sensitive and light.
That said, support also varies significantly within each category. For example, one of the lightest hiking boots we’ve tested, the Salomon X Raise, is a good option for day hikes and short backpacking hikes, but it lacks the support needed for heavier loads . In comparison, the Arc’teryx Norvan VT 2 trail runner performs well when moving over a variety of terrain and provides sufficient cushioning and stiffness for a lightweight multi-day backpack. Due to the variability within categories, we recommend that you do your research and try on shoes before purchasing to ensure you get enough support. To help you, our hiking shoe and trail running shoe collections have detailed descriptions of the fit, support and ideal use of each pair.
3. Durability advantage: hiking boots
When deciding between a hiking shoe and a trail runner, durability becomes a very important consideration. Hiking boots are built to be sturdier – they’re often made of leather or durable nylon as opposed to mesh or thin nylon – and generally have protective toe caps and medium-stiff midsoles. Compared to trail runners, hiking boots hold up much better under heavy loads and are designed for rough, abrasive terrain. On the other hand, the lightweight material that makes trail runners so manoeuvrable sacrifices a good level of durability and significantly shortens their lifespan. As a result, hardcore backpackers who swear by the lightweight comfort of trail runners often go through several pairs per year.
4. Advantage of traction: hiking shoes
In general, the soles of sneakers and runners differ significantly in tread pattern, rubber composition and stiffness. The outsole of hiking shoes is usually quite stiff, like those of thick boots, which provides additional support when moving on uneven and potentially dangerous terrain (a great example is the Merrell Moab 2). On the other hand, the outsole of a trail runner usually has a lot more flexibility to increase comfort while running. Many seasoned hikers and hikers prefer the greater freedom of movement and increased sensitivity of the trail running shoe, although it takes little time to develop strength, balance and confidence over long distances and on choppy surfaces. For this reason, if you’re just starting out, we usually recommend a stiffer hiking shoe before moving on to trail running.
When it comes to rubber in particular, there are great variations in the depth and pattern of the tread between hiking boots and trail runners. Again, the tread of a hiking shoe is similar to that of a boot: very characteristic for excellent grip on many surfaces including rock, mud, sand, tree roots. slippery and snow. As for trail runners, it’s common to see a variety of sole patterns, each excelling on certain types of terrain. For example, shoes with a deep tread (also known as crampons) – like the Salomon Speedcross 5 – offer safety on muddy or loose ground, while shoes with a shallower tread (and sometimes even a climbing patch smooth on the toe) will grip better on rock. For this reason, choosing the right trail running shoe can be a complex and confusing endeavor. Unless you are sticking to a particular type of terrain, we recommend a more versatile hiking shoe.
5. Comfort advantage: tie
First, we will say this: if the shoes are uncomfortable, you should not wear them. Whether you are hiking 20 miles in hiking shoes or jogging the trails, you better make sure it’s good for your feet. With this disclaimer in mind, our approach to the most comfortable hiking shoe style is: It depends on the circumstances. For those who carry light loads and move quickly (especially on groomed trails), trail running shoes are likely to offer the best combination of cushioning, flexibility and agility. For those with heavier backpacks (around 25 pounds or more) or more technical, the rigidity and support of hiking shoes will be the most comfortable choice. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your goals – like how fast you want to move and what terrain you hope to navigate – and what suits you.
6. Breathability benefit: trail runners
Since trail shoes are made with thinner materials than hiking shoes, it’s no surprise that they are inherently more breathable as well. That said, there are a good number of hiking shoes that give trail runners a run for their money, and especially those with generous mesh panels like the Merrell MQM Flex 2 and the Salomon X Raise. On the other hand, hiking shoes with a more robust leather or nylon upper will sacrifice a good deal of breathability in the name of durability and protection. On summer hikes or in areas where river crossings are unavoidable (like on our recent trek to Parque Patagonia), we love the ventilation and quick drying time of mesh shoes (a waterproof or leather model will take a lot. more time to dry). But for an offseason or winter hike, it may be better to favor a thicker upper (and therefore less permeable to air), or even a shoe with a waterproof membrane.
7. Advantage of waterproofing: tie
Many sneakers and some trail runners are available in both waterproof and non-waterproof versions (for example, the Merrell Moab 2 comes in both a standard mesh / suede model and a waterproof version). Overall, we found waterproof trail runners provide protection on par with waterproof hiking shoes, and the variation is more due to technology (our favorite is Gore-Tex) rather than shoe style. If you go for hiking shoes, you have significantly more waterproof options, which can increase your chances of finding a shoe that works for you. And keep in mind that leather has some natural waterproof properties, which means that some leather hiking shoes will be able to prevent raindrops, puddles, and light snow at no additional cost or weight penalty through waterproofing technology.
That being said, waterproofness means less breathability (for both hiking shoes and trail runners), which can lead to uncomfortable waterlogged feet, especially on warm, dry days and under heavy loads. As we mentioned above, we love breathable shoes for summer hikes or when wet feet are inevitable. But in snow or shoulder season, when keeping your feet dry becomes a matter of comfort and safety, we go for waterproof shoes. And if you’re looking for true waterproof protection, hiking boots are your best bet, as the mid-height shell doesn’t let in significantly more water than low-top shoes.
What about approach shoes?
In addition to the hybrids mentioned above, there is one more category of off-road shoes worth mentioning: approach shoes. As lightweight hiking shoes became popular, many people have adopted approach shoes as another option for longer hikes and backpacking trips. Typically, this style of footwear is used to “climb” rock climbing, where the climb itself can be steep and rocky. However, the sole is much less effective when navigating dusty trails, mud and snow, which can make approach shoes quite slippery on these surfaces. The overall design is also quite comfortable – perfect for added safety when climbing rocks, but often too restrictive to walk longer distances on flat trails (as your feet start to swell). Moreover, the flat, stiff soles of some approach shoes can lead to sore feet after miles, while the soles of trail running shoes and hiking shoes are more cushioned and flexible for extra comfort.
However, approach shoes are a bit of a dark horse in the world of light hikers. In fact, we consider a shoe like the La Sportiva TX3 to be the best combination of hiking support, breathability for trail running, and traction for climbing. We’ll probably recommend approach shoes for routes where climbing steep cliffs can be the main obstacle – for example, the canyons in southern Utah. We will also choose this type of shoe again and again for technical climbs. But for longer backpacking tours that are not particularly steep or rocky, we still opt for the comfort, cushioning and traction of a hiking shoe or trail runner.
The final decision
There are certainly a number of factors that go into deciding whether a hiking shoe, trail runner, or approach shoe is the best tool for the trail, and the details can be overwhelming. But for the day-to-day adventurer, we’ve found it’s best to keep it simple: we recommend a hiking shoe for hiking, a trail runner for trail running, and an approach shoe for climbing. Of course, for many hikers, there are exceptions to the rule – many of which we mentioned above. If you’re a light load-carrying hiker or a long-distance hiker, it’s worth considering a light, agile trail running shoe or a hybrid trail/walking shoe. If your hikes feature peak packing, class 3-4 climbs, or ridge crossings, a tacky approach shoe might be your best bet. But if you’re an avid hiker or backpacker looking for the best combination of comfort, support and protection, durability and traction, look no further than a lightweight hiking shoe.