X
Walking

Hiking Boots vs Trail Running Shoes

There has been a growing trend in recent years of hikers replacing their sturdy walking boots with lighter trail running shoes, otherwise known as walking shoes. This trend has been brought on by the continuous development of trail running shoes, transforming them from a specialist option to the go-to choice for a wide range of outdoor pursuits.

We’re going to take a look at some of the advantages trail running shoes have over traditional hiking boots to help you make an informed decision on what is right for you and your chosen activity. We’ve broken our comparisons down into protection, durability, comfort, climate, weight, water and breaking in, so you can see where each style excels and understand what will be right for you.

Protection

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are manufactured from thick material and generally have a tough sole providing protection for your whole foot. What sets hiking boots apart from trail runners, most notably, is the high ankles that help provide support and prevent you from spraining or rolling your ankles. However, the thick soles mean you are higher from the ground and as a result, may be even more likely to lose your footing.

Trail Runners

Trail runners are made from much lighter materials and generally have lighter soles too. They won’t stand up to the same rigours as hiking boots, however, so protection from debris and damage won’t be of the same level. Trail runners don’t feature high ankles either so the protection against sprains offered by hiking boots will be lacking in these. However, the sole is narrower so you are closer to the ground, and as a result, there is a decreased risk of tripping.

Durability

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots, when treated effectively, should last you for up to 1,000 miles of hiking. They are made with sturdy materials and – depending on the styles – will have a waterproof exterior layer that will prove effective for some time until it needs to be reproofed for further usage.

Trail Runners

Due to their lighter weight and design, you won’t get the same amount of wear from your trail runners as your hiking boots. On average, you should replace your trail runners every 500 miles to prevent excessive wear that could damage your feet.

Comfort

Hiking Boots

As we’ve previously noted, hiking boots are made from thick materials that don’t offer a whole lot of wiggle room. You’ll need a snug fit for effective use so they won’t yield much space and due to the ankle support, you won’t have a wide range of movement. While this helps for protection against external elements, it can also feel restrictive, so it really depends on your taste and personal preferences.

Trail Runners

Trail running shoes are more compact so they won’t feel as restrictive on your feet. The material will also offer much more flexibility, so you’ll have a better range of movement and flexibility. One downside to the trail runners is the narrower sole, which means you’ll feel the bumps and rocks underfoot leading to potential pain after a long day on the move.

Climate

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are best suited to the autumn and winter months when the weather is colder. The thick material and bigger build mean that moisture vapour can’t escape properly so your feet will sweat easily. Sweating, in turn, causes blisters, so wearing heavy hiking boots in summer can prove both uncomfortable and painful.

Trail Runners

Trail runners are designed with multiple mesh patches and have the low cut ankle to ensure you get maximum breathability in warm conditions. The lighter construct of trail runners also means they dry faster, so if you do work up a sweat, that moisture won’t stick around. If you’re hiking in winter though, trail runners won’t offer the warmth you need to get through a long day of hiking.

Weight

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are heavier by nature, although there are different material choices to diversify this. Naturally, leather boots will weigh more than suede or lightweight synthetic materials; however, they will all generally be heavier than a pair of trail runners. It’s said that weight on your feet expends up to 6 times more energy than weight on your back, so it really does make a difference.

Trail Runners

Designed for runners who are used to very lightweight running trainers, their greatest benefit is that they weigh less and are ideal for those who like to keep light on their feet and go for an overall lightweight kit. While this is the perfect fit for many, some people enjoy the feel of a weightier boot underfoot.

Water

Hiking Boots

Most hiking boots will be made with waterproof materials to keep water from leaking in. Styles with mesh patches and other openings won’t offer the same level of defence but predominantly, hiking boots are designed to avoid taking in water. This is great for trekking in the rain and across damp ground, but if they are fully submerged and steeped in water, they will stay wet for a long time.

Trail Runners

Trail running shoes won’t offer the same level of waterproof protection. Although the material may be somewhat waterproof, water will get in far easier than with hiking boots. Despite this, however, if your trail runners get submerged in a river crossing, they will dry out much quicker than hiking boots. As a result, many hikers prefer trail runners for long hikes when river crossings are likely.

Breaking in

Hiking Boots

Your hiking boots will need to be broken in before you take them out for any serious hiking. It’s advisable to start them off in your home, simply walking around in them for a couple of hours. You can then progress to a short walk before working up to a full-length hike. If you don’t do this, you’ll be setting yourself up for a painful day on the trails.

Trail Runners

Trail running shoes require almost no breaking in and can pretty much be worn straight out of the box. Their less sturdy, more flexible design makes them easier to move around in, so they don’t need to be worn-in before a hike (though we might still recommend it). This offers advantages for backpackers clocking up huge numbers of miles as you can change pairs on the fly if your shoes wear out.

At the end of the day, the decision between wearing hiking boots or trail running shoes is down to what you personally prefer. A basic rule of thumb to follow is to use hiking boots if you’re just starting out and subsequently graduate to trail runners when you feel comfortable working with less protection.