Can You Hike In Running Shoes?

You’re ready to hit the trails but upon inspecting your hiking boots, you notice that they’re not quite up to standard. There’s no time to head to the shops to buy a new pair, so is there anything else you can put on your feet? Yes! Your running shoes; they’ll be OK, won’t they? Can you hike in running shoes?

The truth is that it is more than possible to use your running shoes for hiking. In fact, while there is a lot of debate on the subject around the internet, many would agree that ditching your hiking boots and going for trail runners is an excellent idea.

Of course, it pays to keep in mind that not all running shoes are made equal so you will need to ensure that your specific pair is up for the challenge. One of the key things to look out for is whether your runners are road running shoes or trail running shoes. In this guide, we’ll cover this and much more telling you all you need to know about hiking in running shoes.

Can I Use My Running Shoes For Hiking?

The short answer to this question is yes, you can. However, since there are different types of running shoes, you will need to make sure that you have trail runners if you want them to give you everything you need when hiking rugged trails.

The truth is that you can really hike in any kind of footwear you like; not all of it will be protective and supportive so that’s something to keep in mind. But whether your old hiking boots have had it or you just want something a little more lightweight, trail runners offer a great alternative to the traditional hiking boot.

Hiking Boots vs Running Shoes

Before we start talking about how wonderful trail running shoes are when it comes to hiking, we must point out that the humble hiking boot is the obvious choice since it is perfectly designed for this type of activity. These are incredibly strong boots that are designed to stand the test of time, even when you’re navigating rough or rugged terrain.

Hiking boots are also designed to limit the pressure on your joints and absorb shock when walking over uneven ground. But they still offer a good degree of flexibility; you could say that they give the best of everything.

You’ll notice that the soles of your hiking boots have a very deep lug pattern and are made from solid rubber, giving you great traction regardless of the conditions. But despite this, modern hiking boots are also very lightweight and so don’t make you feel as though you’re wearing a couple of breezeblocks on the ends of your legs.

One of the most obvious benefits of the hiking boot is that most are waterproof and so are ideal for going out in all conditions and types of weather. The downside to this, of course, is that this makes the boots far less breathable so the feet can get hot, sweat can build up and this can cause the boots to chafe. But then, there are some that are vented which does go a long way in eliminating this problem.

On the other hand, most running shoes are totally different to the hiking boot which is why a lot of people would consider them to not be suitable for this type of activity. They are very lightweight and offer superior breathability. After all; they’re designed for running which is a very high-intensity activity.

However, while they’re great for this, some styles aren’t built for the demands and challenges of rugged terrain since the materials are not as robust. This means that, if you use your trail running shoes for hiking, you’ll probably end up replacing them more frequently.

You’ll find that most running shoes have a decent tread on the sole but this isn’t quite up to the same standard as hiking boots. That said, unless you’re planning on scaling Everest, your trail runners should have enough traction to withstand a variety of conditions and keep you stable. The only real problem is that the sole and midsole might not be able to absorb shock as effectively.

With all this in mind, it’s easy to see why running shoes could be a viable replacement for your hiking boots, provided that you’re not going on a Bear Grylls style adventure. For your casual weekend hike; go right ahead.

Reasons Why You Should Ditch Your Hiking Boots?

Now that we understand how running shoes compare to hiking boots, you might be considering making the switch. However, if you need a little more convincing then let us share some helpful insights with you.

Feel Less Weighty

While a lot of modern manufacturers are making leaps to ensure that hiking boots are not as clunky and cumbersome as they once were, there’s no getting away from the fact that they are heavier than trail running shoes. This is because of the materials from which they are made (leather with solid rubber soles.) When you’re out exploring the trails, you need to have as little weight as possible as the more you have, the more energy you expend.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that carrying weight on your feet can fatigue you much more quickly than if you were carrying, say, on your back. It can use up between four and six times more energy so switching to a lightweight running shoe could mean you are able to complete that trail you’ve been trying to conquer more easily.

Stop Blisters In Their Tracks

Have you ever been in the middle of a lengthy hike only to feel the pain of a blister beginning to develop? There is nothing more painful and nothing that can make a mile feel like ten than a blister. But those who wear hiking boots will know that this is a common complaint.

One of the main reasons that blisters are an issue for hikers is that the boots are so rigid they aren’t as easily able to flex when the feet move. Plus, as we mentioned earlier, the lack of breathability means that moisture will build up much more quickly which can cause your hiking boots to rub.

You might think that breaking your boots in will reduce this issue and it will, to an extent but wearing a good pair of trail running shoes will eliminate the problem pretty much entirely.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, while your hiking boots will be advertised as being waterproof, that doesn’t mean the feet won’t get wet. Yes, you’ll have adequate protection from external factors like rain or walking through a ford but internally, that sweat build up is still going to be a problem.

Do Your Ankles Really Need All That Support?

One of the things that hiking boot manufacturers will shove in your face is that their boots offer superior ankle support. This is true to an extent and the high top design and rigidness will keep those ankles in place and prevent you from having a nasty twist. However, it might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

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There has been a lot of research into the benefits of hiking boots in terms of ankle support and while there is a degree of it, protecting those delicate joints is more about how you take care of them. For example, you’ll be far less likely to sustain an injury by regular strengthening exercises and stretching before going on a long hike. Do this, and wearing running shoes will see you with just as much protection.

It’s also worth thinking about the fact that the added weight of your hiking boots will tire out the legs more easily which could result in clumsy footwork; and that’s a shortcut to sustaining a foot or ankle injury.

Get Out And Explore More Quickly

One of the biggest problems with hiking boots is that you have to break them in. You can’t simply buy a new pair, whack them on and head out to your favourite hiking spot. Do this and those mid-hike blisters we talked about will be the least of your worries. So, before you can go and explore the great outdoors, you’ll have to spend time breaking the boots in. That isn’t the case with trail runners.

Moreover, you will need to keep in mind that hiking boots cost a lot more and they require much more maintenance than running shoes. You’ll need to ensure that they keep their form and remember to reproof them so they continue to keep your tootsies dry. Being able to buy a pair of comfortable trail running shoes and wear them straight out of the box is amazing.

The Importance Of using Trail Running Shoes

We have mentioned that you cannot simply wear any kind of running shoes when hitting the hiking trails. Shoes designed for road running on concrete and flat surfaces will not offer the right kind of comfort, support or protection to the feet so right off the bat, we would say do not use these. Instead, always opt for trail running shoes, and here’s why.

  • Trail running shoes have far greater grip than their road running counterparts making them suitable for the demanding terrain you will find on the hiking trails. If you use road running shoes in these conditions, you will find that the minimal tread will wear down very quickly making them slippery and almost impossible to hike in safely.
  • Road running shoes assume that the wearer isn’t going to be in any serious danger when it comes to hurting their toes so there isn’t much in the way of toe protection. On the other hand, trail running shoes are equipped with a toe guard which, while it might not be as robust as those found on hiking boots, it will offer greater protection on rugged ground
  • Trail runners are designed for well, running on trails, so manufacturers know that the conditions will be a little more testing. For this reason, these shoes are designed to withstand a certain amount of rough use and testing weather conditions whereas road running shoes simply aren’t cut out for this wild way of life.
  • There are some trail running shoes that have a high top which is excellent when hitting the trails as this prevents small pieces of debris from being kicked up into your shoe. You won’t find this feature on road running shoes and there is nothing more annoying than having to repeatedly stop because of a stone in your shoe.


Trail running shoes are a good alternative to hiking boots for many reasons. They offer much of the same protection and have many of the same features but without the bulky design. However, it is important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t replace your hiking boots with running shoes that are designed to be used on concrete as these won’t have suitable features and will likely be uncomfortable and unprotective.

Hiking Shoes vs Hiking Boots | Which Are Better in Different Terrains?

Whether you’re a weekend hiker or a die-hard hiking fan, you know how crucial it is to wear proper footwear while you’re hiking. A lot of casual hikers quickly learn that they just can’t use their regular sneakers for a serious outdoor adventure. When the terrain that’s not flat, manicured or groomed, you need a pair of quality hiking boots or hiking shoes.

Fortunately, today’s market offers a number of different types of hiking footwear. These include mountaineering boots, approach shoes, low hiking shoes, barefoot shoes, trail runners, thru-hikers, and lightweight hiking shoes for day hikers. While all of these different types can make anyone’s head spin, all of them fall into one of two main categories – hiking shoes and hiking boots – though I have also written a comparison between Trail Runners and Hiking Shoes.

However, for newbie hikers, it can be fairly difficult to make a choice between boots and shoes. Remember – the wrong footwear is guaranteed to lead to an uncomfortable day trekking or even debilitating black toenails and painful blisters. While the right boots or shoes make it easy to walk hundreds of miles without any of these problems. So, should you get yourself a pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes?

Note: it’s all to do with your feet, the terrain, and the weather.

To help, I’ll break down the key differences between these two and by the end of the article, you should be able to make the right decision and get yourself a pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes that will last.

Table of Contents

What Are Hiking Boots?

what are hiking shoes

best hiking shoes, or trail runners, are made out of premium materials that make them more flexible and lighter than your standard hiking boot. These improvements do not compromise their efficiency on hiking trails. Some of the high-performance features found on a modern trail running shoe include a sock-like bootie, a waterproof coating, a high-grip lug pattern, a protective upper material, and similar hiking-specific components.

In short, hiking shoes or trail runners are nimbler, lighter, easier to pack, and also easier to break in. In addition, they’re the best trekking buddies for those who often hike in warm weather. When it’s hot outside, moving in trail runners is much easier, and your feet will stay dry and cool.

As expected, the biggest disadvantage of trail runners is their durability. In other words, an average pair of trail runners will have to be swapped for a new one after some five hundred miles of use. Of course, this number totally depends on the wearer’s definition of “this shoe can’t be used anymore”. We’ll talk more about the differences between hiking shoes vs hiking boots in terms of durability later on.

Hiking Boots vs Hiking Shoes – The Differences

In terms of durability and comfort, both types of footwear provide good endurance and cushioning. The best backpacking boots and trail running shoes offer protection from trail hazards and can withstand most weather elements. In addition, both types look much more stylish than their predecessors.

However, there are still some key differences between them, and that is precisely what so many hiking newbies want to know more about. In the next part of the article, we’ll be comparing hiking shoes and boots in a number of different categories.

Ankle Support & Stability

Many hikers agree that ankle support is one of the most important factors to keep in mind if you’re a hiking beginner who is not yet accustomed to trekking rugged terrain. In addition, ankle support plays a huge role when you’re carrying a heavy backpack. In such circumstances, boots are usually the best choice.

In fact, comparing hiking boots vs trail running shoes in terms of ankle support doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. This is because most trail runners and hiking shoes don’t come over your ankles, they’re “low-cut”. For that matter, it’s pretty safe to say that a hiking boot will always provide better foot and ankle protection – it’s as simple as that.

Things become a bit trickier when it comes to stability – it all depends on the midsole found in a particular piece of footwear. For example, trail runners with quality polyurethane midsoles are exceptionally stable. However, most hiking shoes will feature lightweight and soft EVA midsoles – wearing such a shoe will never make you feel as stable as wearing a regular boot.

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So, in terms of stability and ankle support, boots are a better choice. If you still want to buy a pair of trail runners but don’t want to compromise on stability, look for the ones with polyurethane midsoles.


Obviously, most trail running shoes will sport a lighter weight than most boots. Keep in mind that the weight of your footwear is vital – it has a huge impact on the comfort of your outdoor adventure, whether it’s a day hike or a thru-hike.

Another important thing to keep in mind here is that heavier gear also has an effect on your heart rate. When you’re trekking, you want to keep your heart rate somewhere between 40% to 70% of its maximum capacity, since staying in this range helps endurance. If you’re setting out on an 8-hour outdoor trekk, you certainly don’t want to get tired in just one hour because you’re carrying all that extra weight.

Unlike most boots, hiking shoes are made out of light materials and are, therefore, a clear winner in terms of overall weight.


If a particular piece of footwear is well-made (i.e. with high-quality glue and sturdy stitches), its longevity will mostly depend on the materials. And when it comes to hiking footwear, almost every boot and shoe will be made either out of leather or synthetic materials.

Unlike boots, hiking shoes are almost never made out of leather. This is because leather is too heavy for trail shoes, which need to be flexible and nimble. For that matter, a hiking shoe is never a good choice for exceptionally rocky terrains, where it could easily be subject to abrasion.

However, a lot of hiking enthusiasts only walk smooth forest trails (which are sometimes even paved). For these, a regular hiking shoe or a trail runner is a better choice due to its lower weight. Still, boots provide unmatched durability and are your best option if you need footwear that you’ll be able to use for years to come.

When talking about the longevity of boots and shoes for trekking, we also have to pay special attention to the durability of their midsoles. If you often hike with a heavy backpack, you’ll want to wear quality boots – with time, the extra weight increases wear and tear, which is something a boot will be able to handle. The midsoles found on trail runners quickly lose cushioning (they’ll become flat), as they’re not engineered to withstand heavy loads.

Waterproofing & Breathability

As it turns out, breathability and water resistance are quite interconnected when it comes to hiking footwear.

Waterproofing is undoubtedly a concept that looks wonderful on paper. However, in reality, it doesn’t do as well. This includes Gore-Tex, which is often advertised as the best type of waterproofing technology. I have written more about the differences between Omni-Tech vs Gore-Tex Technology.

As far as we’re concerned, the only individuals who genuinely need a waterproof hiking boot or shoe are thru-hikers who often go on long-distance adventures in cold weather. For all others, our advice is to simply get wet instead of trying to keep the water out. (My exception to this, there is always one, is boggy ground)

If this sounds like nonsense, keep in mind that shoes with breathable uppers may allow your feet to get wet more easily but they will also dry faster. In practical terms, this translates to your feet being dryer and, therefore, less susceptible to blisters when you’re out on the trail.

Unless you really need a pair of waterproof shoes, you’re better off without them. Always keep in mind that the Gore-Tex membrane can drastically decrease the breathability of trail shoes. Also, don’t forget that trekking boots come higher on your leg (going over the ankle) and it, therefore, covers more skin.

In summary, choosing a boot or shoe that’s breathable rather than water-resistant is a much better decision for most people. If you’re doing a lot of winter hiking, on the other hand, get yourself a pair of waterproof boots – these will keep your feet protected from freezing wind and rain.


Unlike shoes, hiking boots offer excellent traction – with soles made out of rubber, they grip rocky surfaces like no other type of footwear. In addition, a good trekking boot will have deep and thick lugs, and they will bite well into almost all types of soil.

On the other hand, standard trekking shoes aren’t that great when it comes to traction. Since they’re primarily designed for flat nature trails and forest trails, they feature outsoles that are less sticky and have less aggressive lugs.

Even though they’re designed for running in rough terrains, trail runners are even worse in terms of traction during regular hiking adventures. This is because they’re designed to provide sufficient traction only when a large force is applied, which is not something that takes place when you’re hiking instead of running.

Heal, Sole, & Arch Support

The heel on hiking boots provides far better support and cushioning. This can make a huge difference when hiking on rocks or down a mountain that is mostly from rock to rock – the support makes little difference when you are walking on soft dirt paths – see image below.

boots for mountain and rain

After 20 miles up and down this mountain I needed a rest, my 7 year old was still skipping along

The sole and arch support are far better on boots than on shoes. It is best to think of hiking shoes as fair-weather hiking. That does not mean it needs to be short, I have hiked 500 miles over 30 days in shoes. Personally, I do not feel the arch support with shoes, and with boots there is a noticeable difference.

Hiking Shoes vs Hiking Boots – The Verdict

It goes without saying, that hiking boots are a better choice when it comes to technical terrain. A shoe will never protect your foot as well as a regular boot – these are much more rugged and protective. They protect one’s feet with a mixture of metal, rubber, and leather components. This also makes them more durable – with proper care, a pair of hiking boots can last for years.

In addition, this type of footwear features tougher uppers and higher tops. This, in turn, makes them more stable than trail runners. Hiking boots are a particularly good choice for folks who need additional ankle support, as well as for first-time hikers, many of whom are still in the process of developing their foot skills.

Hiking shoes, on the other hand, are more flexible and stretchier due to their mesh components and lower tops. Not only does this make them more breathable, but also lighter on one’s feet. However, remember that waterproof shoes take longer to dry – you don’t need a pair if you’re not into winter hiking.

While a shoe can’t really give your foot the same stability and protection as a regular trekking boot, it is far more versatile – the stylish look of modern hiking shoes allows outdoor enthusiasts to use them both inside and outside the city.

Recommendations Based on Hikes

This is what I wear for the following routes or day hikes:

  • Camino de Santiago – hiking shoes, it is mostly paths and Crocs for the evenings
  • Wicklow hills – depends, if I know it is a boggy route then boots, otherwise shoes – boots, it can get boggy – though many disagree with me here – boots, it gets wet
  • Ben Nevis – boots, it can be fairly rocky and I really need the ankle support on the way down
  • I walked all over the Canadian Rockies with only trail shoes.

Most of the time I will be wearing hiking shoes and only wear boots when I know it is going to be wet underfoot or rocky – I don’t care much if it is raining either is fine.

More Comparisson Questions

Since I first wrote this I have had a few questions, here I will do my best to answer them.

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Are Walking Shoes the Same as Hiking Shoes?

Yes. In the UK people refer to them as walking shoes and in the US they are called hiking shoes. They are both exactly the same shoes, it is just cultural differences.

Are Hiking Shoes Good on Pavement?

It depends on what material the pavement is made from. If the pavement is made from cobble or granite then hiking shoes will slip a lot, but for all other materials, they are okay on pavements. Bear in mind your shoes will wear quicker as they are designed to be used on dirt paths.

I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.

Are trail running shoes good for hiking? It’s the big debate for runners and walkers

Wouldn’t it be great if your favourite trail running footwear could double as a hiking shoes, too?

trail running footwear versus hiking footwear

Can you wear trail running footwear for hiking, or are hiking boots better? (Image credit: Getty Images)

There has long been a debate among trail runners and hikers about the right footwear. Many trail runners prefer to wear their trail running footwear for running and hiking, while hikers will argue that walking shoes and boots are a better bet.

There is no definitive answer to the question but there are plenty of points to consider. It’s also worth noting that there is a variety of style and types across the best trail running shoes and walking shoes and the best hiking boots, so this is a general overview of the differences and suitability.

Trail running footwear versus hiking footwear

There are many points to consider when choosing the right footwear for hiking.

Terrain and stability

While trail running shoes are designed to give traction and stability, when hiking you will move in a different way and most likely carry a hiking backpack, too. Walking shoes and boots tend to have a wider and thicker sole to provide a stable base for every footfall.

Traction will also be different when you compare trail running shoes to hiking shoes. When you run, your foot lands and rolls in a different way to when you walk. Runners will take shorter and lighter steps, too, as they move faster.

It might seem obvious, but the designers of running and hiking shoes will consider footfall and speed when creating shoes for specific activities and this can often be seen in the sole of the shoe. The sole is usually wide, stiffer and more durable. Subsequently, it is usually a heavier shoe.

This is not to say that a walk in your favourite trail running footwear won’t be a success. Because the sole is narrower and thinner, you will feel more nimble and closer to the ground, and as a result, there is a decreased risk of tripping on uneven terrain.

But if you are hiking a longer distance, carrying a heavy pack and on rougher terrain, you might end up requiring footwear that offers more stability.

Good support

Trail running shoes are designed to be lightweight and easy to wear while running. Some will offer greater foot support than others, but if you compare a trail running shoe to a hiking shoe or boot, you’ll notice that the upper gives lower levels of support.

Hiking footwear is designed to give higher levels of support for the foot over longer distances and it is likely to be a more robust and heavier design. A walking boot will support the ankle much more than a trail running shoe or walking shoe.

Look at the materials in trail running shoes, too. The uppers are usually a lightweight fabric, while hiking shoes and boots are made with heavier and more robust materials, including leather.

Protection needs

Because hiking shoes and boots are usually manufactured from thicker materials and generally have a tougher sole, they also offer greater protection from the terrain. The style of a hiking shoe or boot is also to give a larger coverage of the foot and ankle.

This means that the foot is more protected from vegetation, stones, roots etc. If you are going to be hiking in rough terrain, such as rocky mountains, muddy hills or rough forest trails, hiking footwear is likely to provide better protection.

It really does depend what the terrain will be like because if you plan to walk on the type of trails that you usually run on, then your favourite running footwear will suffice.

Comfort levels

The chances are your trail running shoes will feel more comfortable than a walking shoe or boot. But is that because you were your running shoes more frequently and so they seem more comfy?

Many styles of walking shoe and boot these days can be very comfortable. There are plenty of choices and you will discover hiking shoes and boots that look a lot like running trainers.

Again, it depends on where you will be hiking and for how long. A lightweight summer hiking boot or shoe, which looks a bit like an enhanced running trainer, will be ideal for some lower level trails and hills in summer but probably not for mountain hiking or walking in winter.

In general, hiking boots are a lot stiffer and made from more durable and thicker materials so they might not feel as comfortable and flexible as a trail running shoe. They will probably fit the foot more neatly and stiffly, too. But there is a good reason why hiking shoes and boots are like this and it’s because of the type of terrain that you will hike compared to trail running.

It shouldn’t take long for you to “wear in” a hiking boot or shoe thanks to modern materials and if you find they rub or they are too stiff or uncomfortable, the chances are they are not the right footwear or fit for you anyway.

Seasonal changes

Trail running footwear might well be fine for summer hiking because you are less likely to end up with wet feet. In addition, the lightweight design of running footwear allows your foot to breathe more easily when it’s a hot and sunny day.

But other seasons bring a greater chance of wet weather. In winter, there will be snow and ice to deal with while hiking, too.

Some running shoes have Gore-Tex waterproof linings, but there is a greater chance of hiking shoes and boots keeping your feet dry because they are made from more robust materials. There are vey few hiking shoes and boots that are not waterproof – and you can also check out our guide to waterproofing hiking boots.

The thicker and heavier hiking footwear will keep your feet warmer, too, and protect from the cold, wet and muddy ground.

Weighty matters

There is the weight of the shoe and also your own body weight to consider. Trail running shoes are likely to be lighter in weight compared to hiking footwear. This can be an advantage in terms of comfort and energy use when walking in trails.

People who are a bit heavier themselves will probably be better off in a heavier walking shoe or boot because it will give greater foot and ankle support and durability when walking longer distances. This is especially true if you will be carrying hiking pack.

There is a lot to consider when choosing between trail running shoes or hiking shoes or boots for a walk. Points to think about include terrain, distance, the weather, weight and durability. At the end of the day, you can try both and see what you prefer.




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