Best Trail Running Shoes for Hiking: Our Top 10 Picks

best trail running shoes for hiking

It is no secret: many people have converted to using trail running shoes as opposed to hiking boots. Why? The reasoning is simple: hiking boots are tight, painful, heavy, and stuffy. And, let’s get real here, breaking them in does not necessarily help. 

How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, you have excruciating, bloody blisters on your sweaty, sore feet? That’s because your hiking boots haven’t broken in yet, silly!” I like to call this “boot shaming”. The act of boot shaming is unnecessary, and beyond that, untrue

The real reason backpackers end up with feet that look like they have been chewed up by a vicious pack of wolves is because hiking boots… well, they suck. You see, sellers encourage people to buy the bulkiest, tightest boot they try on. This combination leads to a lack of breathability and rubbing, causing the feet to sweat and eventually get fat, juicy blisters.

What’s more, hiking boots weigh a lot. So, not only are your feet demolished, but you are also adding the equivalent of an extra 8-12 pounds on your back!  

Many serious backpackers have turned to trail running shoes as an alternative to hiking boots, and I am proud to say that I am one of those backpackers. Once I decided to denounce hiking boots and go for trail runners, I immediately noticed a significant change, for the better. No longer was I getting blistered, sweaty, or sore feet. I was hooked on trail runners, and became their number one advocate.

Now, I am using this space to inform the general public on how to find trail runners that are right for you and your precious feet. Read below to find out more!

Top 10 Best Trail Running Shoes For Hiking

Here are my choices for the Best Trail Runner shoes for hiking, based on extensive research from multiple sources and personal tests that myself and friends have done:

1. Best Bang for your Buck – Saucony Peregrine 8

Pronation: Neutral

Arch: Normal

Water Resistant: No

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm

Weight: 10 oz

This award winning shoe is hard to resist, especially with it’s cheap price tag. Some companies like to overprice shoes, because they feel as though this makes people trust their brand. However, the reality is that you can find a shoe that is affordable and does exactly what you want it to. Saucony is a well trusted brand that consistently comes out with good shoes, and this one is no different.

Take it on a well groomed trail for optimal performance – you will get to see the effectiveness of the cushion ad responsiveness immediately.

Pros:

  • Really grippy traction
  • Relatively Stable
  • Decent cushion to keep you going for longer hikes
  • Good responsiveness

Cons:

  • Relatively Heavy
  • Not water resistant
  • Not very protective 
  • Early wear and tear

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

2. Best Zero Drop – Altra Superior 4.0

Pronation: neutral

Arch: normal

Water Resistant: yes

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0 mm

Weight: 7.9 oz

These shoes make you feel like you were born to run– without shoes on (once you get used to the ultimate calf burn that zero drop invokes). If you are ready to transition to zero drop, try these shoes on for size.

Remember to start slow with these puppies: you don’t want to injure yourself by going to hard if you have never worn zero drop shoes before. Once you get used to them, you are sure to notice the increase in foot, ankle, and calf strength. Trust me, this is how people’s lower halves were meant to move. 

Pros:

  • Big, foot shaped toe box so you can use your feet to their fullest and stay comfy all day, even when your feet swell
  • Tighter heel keeps your foot from sliding forward when you send it downhill
  • Soft, cushioned feel but still great bounce back
  • Water resistant: great for snow
  • Has removable stone guards

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have great traction when traveling downhill on a slippery surface
  • Not very breathable
  • 0 mm drop means that you have to be prepared for the calf burn
  • Weirdly long laces

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

3. Best Traction – Salomon Speedcross 5

Pronation: neutral

Arch: normal

Water Resistant: no

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10 mm

Weight: 320 g

Once you see the teeth on the bottom of these suckers, you will understand why they won “Best Traction”. No matter whether you are on a muddy, slick trail or traversing across a snowy high alpine field, these shoes will keep you from sliding. When you have shoes with amazing traction, remember to TRUST the technology.

Many inexperienced hikers and backpackers have trouble with this. You need to put all of your weight on your foot and remain directly above it in order for the shoe to do its job. Many times, people will not fully put their faith in their shoe, and thereby not fully put their weight in their shoe, causing it to slide out from under them. And then they trust their shoe even less, and around and around we go. 

Pros:

  • Insanely grippy lugs. You will not slip. Seriously. (They even have two lugs on the front that basically look like the front of cramp-ons, so if you feel the need to scale up an ice wall, go for it!)
  • Cushiony feel
  • Offer both a wide and narrow version
  • Sleek, snug feel built for speed

Cons:

  • Slightly pricey
  • Tread gets easily worn down by asphalt and turf
  • Some customers complain of a loose topside that can lead to your feet sliding when descending, causing blisters. Make sure you get them in the right size!

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

4. Most Comfortable – Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5

Pronation: neutral

Arch: average

Water Resistant: yes

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5.0 mm

Weight: 9.4 oz

If you have never tried HOKAs and often have foot pain, they are definitely worth the money – you feel like you are walking on a cloud. I personally hike with these shoes, and they are great for short treks, but especially awesome for long trips. With many shoes, I get serious knee pain, but not with these suckers. They keep me supported in any condition, so that my feet can feel comfy all day long. 

Pros:

  • Comfortable, yet responsive shoe that you can run on for miles without foot pain
  • Enough room in the toe box plus neutral design allows for your foot to strike at it’s natural tendency
  • Comes in both regular and wide
  • Surprisingly light for how much cushion the shoe provides

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • The toe box is not quite as wide as the Challenger ATR 4
  • Although the shoe has a textured reinforcement toe to help with wear and tear, multiple customers complained that the shoe wore out quickly or got a hole in it quickly.

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

5. Best for Backpackers – Altra Lone Peak 4.0

Pronation: neutral

Arch: normal

Water Resistant: yes

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0 mm

Weight: 10.2 oz

This shoe is a favorite among backpackers because it lasts for a long time and the traction is phenomenal. If you have gone your whole hiking career with a narrow toe box, be ready to revolutionize your foot experience. having a wide toe box, such as the one on this Alta, really allows for your foot to use its skeletal structure to your full advantage, making you more stable and reactive on the trail. 

Pros:

  • Wide toe box keeps your feet comfy all day long
  • Decent amount of cushion to help support that extra weight
  • Sticky tread to keep you from sliding
  • Multi directional lugs allow for insanely great grip
  • Resembles the skeletal structure of the foot, in order to keep you running the way mankind and womankind were meant to run
  • Has a gator attachment so you can really protect yourself from the elements

Cons:

  • The sole is a little hard, and the cushioning does wear out (But some people like this, because it allows them to feel the trail!)
  • The zero drop takes some getting used to: be ready for a calf burn at first, that will eventually pay off in the long run (no pun intended). 

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

6. Best for Speed Hikers – Saucony Peregrine ISO

Pronation: neutral

Arch: normal

Water Resistant: no

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4.0 mm

Weight: 10.5 oz

If you want to fly without losing an inch of ground, this is the shoe for you. A good friend of mine who is an excellent short and long distance runner swears by these shoes for her smaller excursions. They keep her foot feeling stable, so that the can be reactive to the trail as quickly as possible. The stiffness allows for her to really feel the dirt as she leaves it in the dust. 

Pros:

  • Sleek and aggressive feel to help you go fast over any terrain
  • Known to have mega traction (with toe traction as well) that keeps you from losing an inch of distance
  • Resilient fabric that lasts for hike after hike
  • Great design
  • Cradles your shoe

Cons:

  • Narrow toe box, which can lead to tired feet after a long day of hiking
  • This shoe is very firm and not flexible (which some people like), but make sure your foot is ready for that impact.

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

7. Best Minimalist Shoe – Arc’teryx Norvan SL

Pronation: none

Arch: minimal

Water Resistant: yes

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 7 mm

Weight: 6.5 oz

If you are looking for a lightweight shoe that still provides some support and protection, then look no further. If you are looking for a shoe that works well for approaches to, let’s say, a climbing crag or a river, then look no further. This shoe is great because you can carry it on your feet, but also carry it in your bag if you have to transition to another shoe, without gaining that much extra weight. Plus, it packs well. 

Pros:

  • This shoe is very breathable and malleable, while still providing protection from terrain and elements
  • Extremely light and easy to pack
  • Although minimalist, still has a great Vibram sole with 3.5 mm lugs to help you keep your grip on the trail
  • One reviewer says “shoes made from air”

Cons:

  • The Carabiner loop in the back of the shoe digs into your heel if you prefer your minimalist shoes without socks
  • Because the shoe is so lightweight, there is limited cushioning and the shoe feels stiff
  • This shoe fits better on a narrower foot
  • Definitely not the shoe for those who pronate or supinate

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

8. Best for Thru-Hikers – Topo Athletic Terraventure 2

Pronation: neutral

Arch: normal

Water Resistant: no

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 2.6 mm

Weight: 10.8 oz

I can’t tell you how many times I saw this shoe on the Colorado Trail, and for good reason! You can keep your feet protected while still fully utilizing their natural strength, movement, and balancing abilities. Plus, these shoes last for a while, meaning that you don’t have to buy a new pair of shoes every 100 miles, as some people tend to do when they thru-hike. 

Pros:

  • With upward of 20-30 miles per day, thru-hikers need a shoe that will allow for their foot to move naturally, no matter what conditions. The roomy toe box, minimal heel-to-toe-drop, and lightweight, breathable materials means that you can keep this shoe on all day, for many recurring days. Plus, the Ortholite Footbed stays squishy no matter how many miles are put under its belt, and it has antimicrobial properties that keep your foot and shoe from getting stinky
  • The Vibram sole leads to spider-man like grip
  • The shoe has a rock protection plate built in, meaning that, no matter the terrain, you won’t have to endure foot bruising

Cons:

  • If you are a heel striker, then this shoe may not be for you– The cushioning in the heel wears out quickly
  • The shoe is not as cushioned as its previous model

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

9. Most Stylish-Yet-Functional – Nike Zoom Wildhorse 5

Pronation: neutral

Arch: normal

Water Resistant: yes

Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8 mm

Weight: 9.9 oz

Let’s be honest: we never think of Nike as actually having good running shoes. Normally when I see someone wearing Nikes, I think of them as a fashion statement more than anything else. If anything, they are meant for gym workouts and not good for actual, intense outdoor activities. But it’s time to put those prejudices aside, because this trail runner can hang with the best of them. 

Pros:

  • Has really well rounded traction that seems to bite into any surface, keeping you super stable
  • The exterior is just water-resistant enough (without feeling stuffy) to keep most unwanted liquids and solids out of your shoe
  • A rock plate and firm underfoot keep you protected from rocks and roots

Cons:

  • The responsive cushioning does not extend to the forefoot (it is only at the heel), so longer hikes are most likely going to be met with a bit of foot pain.
  • Runs small

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

 

10. Most Waterproof – Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R2 GTX

Pronation: Neutral

Arch: Normal

Water Resistant: Yes (Obviously)

Heel-to-Toe Drop: Unknown

Weight: 12.3 oz

Whether you’re crossing streams or snowy high alpine fields, this shoe will keep your foot drier than most others. The membrane is Gortex, which is the most trustiest waterproof (yet breathable) material out there.

Pros:

  • Protects your feet from getting wet (especially if you have gators to pair with the shoes)
  • Still breathable, in spite of the waterproof exterior
  • Durable and supportive
  • Speed lacing (you know, where you tighten the laces with a synch) to keep your shoe tight and laces from getting tangled

Cons: 

  • Early wear and tear
  • Buy a half size bigger than normal
  • Small toe box
  • You can’t easily replace the laces
  • The shoe is stiff

Cost: (check price on Amazon)

How to choose the best trail running shoe for hiking:

Size: The size of your shoe might seem intuitive. Wouldn’t you just get the size that you normally wear for other shoes? Wrong! When choosing a shoe that you will be walking in for long amounts of time, it is important to go a half size to a full size up. Why? Because your feet will swell as you stand on them and use them throughout the day.

So, it’s important to get a shoe that is a little loose, in order to not feel like your feet are busting out of the shoe like the incredible hulk as you rack up miles. When you try the shoe on, make sure that your toes don’t touch the top of the shoe. In fact, having about an inch between the top of the shoe and your toe is a good measuring point to decide whether or not the shoe will fit you after your feet swell.

Cushion: There is a lot of controversy out there regarding how much support a person needs in a shoe. Some people say that they want the comfiest shoe out there (hellooooo HOKAs) because it will provide them the support they need to carry weight and go for long distances. Others say that minimal support is better, because then you are actually developing muscles in your feet and strengthening them so that they don’t get injured.

Plus, minimalists argue that if you have less support, your form is more likely to be better. (Check out the book, Born to Run if you want more info on this.) My personal opinion is that if you are carrying a heavy backpack, then you need to have at least some support and cushion because you have extra weight that your feet aren’t used to.

This doesn’t mean you should put your foot in a cast, though (cough-hiking boots-cough), make sure that your feet are still doing some of the work in order to have proper form and development of foot muscles. 

Traction: It should go without saying that not all running shoes are created equal. In order to use a trail runner as a hiking shoe, it needs to have fantastic traction, just like a hiking boot. Fortunately, most trail runners have more traction than other types of running shoes. When looking for a shoe, check the bottom of the sole and see how aggressive the lugs (ridges that keep you grippy) are.

They shouldn’t be rounded, but rather, almost pointed plastic teeth-like grips that can keep you pretty stable on any surface, be it rock, dirt, gravel, snow, or mud. Most shoe stores have a place where you can try the traction out on a simulated uneven surface, so be sure to test out your shoe in real time. 

Breathability: One of the reasons why trail runners work well as a hiking shoe is because many of them are so breathable, keeping your feet cool even when you aren’t. If you get sweaty feet, like me, then this is especially important. There is a common misconception that hiking and backpacking shoes have to be airtight, so that if your shoes get wet, your feet won’t.

This simply isn’t true. The fact of the matter is, if your shoes get wet, then your feet (most likely) will too, unless you are wearing amazing gators. Therefore, it is better to find a shoe that is breathable, so that your feet, and shoe, will dry more quickly. Be wary of shoes that have a lot of plastic on them or are super stiff – oftentimes these will not be as breathable. 

Water-resistant: Right about now, you might be asking yourself, “How can a shoe be both breathable and water-resistant?” Well, my friends, shockingly enough, it is possible. Even if your feet are inevitably going to get wet, you want a shoe that will air you out but also dry off quickly itself.

Look for shoes that have a waterproof, but breathable, coating on them. You can always look the shoe up online or ask a retailer about it if you are unsure. 

Stability: If you overpronate (aka, your foot rolls inward when you walk or run) then you need to get shoes that have more stability, meaning that the inside arch of your foot is receiving extra support. Don’t know if you are prone to overpronation? Go to your local running store.

Chances are they have a treadmill, and would be more than happy to watch you walk and run and analyze your stride to see if your foot goes inward. If this is the case, look for shoes that either minimize or control the movement of your foot with extra support. 

Weight: It may not seem like it, but the weight of your shoe really does make a difference. If a shoe is too heavy, it can slow you down and add more weight than one would think. Look for shoes that are lighter, but still offer the water-resistance, stability, cushion, and traction you desire.

Remember, it is all about balance and finding what is best for you. You can get a barefoot-type shoe that offers minimal support and is extremely lightweight, but only opt for this if barefoot travel is in your wheelhouse. A shoe that is too lightweight might cause you to injure yourself if you aren’t careful about introducing your body to that type of shoe.

(Its like, imagine if you wore casts on your hands your whole life, and then all of a sudden you tried to do pull ups. Bad idea. You need to ease into it.) 

Toe Box: The size of a toe box is totally preference based. Some people prefer to have a larger toe box, because that allows for their feet to have room, not experience any rubbing of shoe to foot, and gives their toes some space to spread out and be fully utilized as the stabilizers that they were meant to be.

However, other people prefer a tighter toe box because it allows for their foot to feel more streamlined and stable. Figure out which one is right for you. Many running stores will allow for people to return their shoes within 30 days, so you can try out different types and give them back until you find your perfect Cinderella trail runner. 

Heel-to-Toe Drop: I have said it once, I have said it 100 times. The type of shoe you choose is really based on your personal preferences. Your friend may have a shoe that she loves, but it does nothing for you. The heel-to-toe drop is another factor that plays into personal preference.

Essentially, the higher the back of the heel, the more naturally you land on the center or front of your foot (where you are supposed to land when walking and running.) If you have zero heel-to-toe drop, then your body needs to work harder to push your weight forward. This means serious calf burn, people.

If you have never used a shoe with zero or minimal heel-to-toe drop, then do some calf lifts and get ready to feel it in your achilles. Some people prefer the zero drop because it is how our gait naturally are meant to be, but it does take some time for muscles to get used to this difference in shoe. 

In Conclusion

There are no many trail shoes out there, and it can be difficult to no where to begin. Be sure you are well informed to the features these shoes have to offer, and what features work best for your individual feet. Just because a shoe works for your friend of family member, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you.

Make sure you find a running store that has educated employees who are willing to work with you, check out your gait, and don’t be afraid to test out different shoes until you find the right one. If a store isn’t willing to let you return the shoe, do not buy from that store. Remember, no four feet are the same. You need to find your very own Cinderella trail slipper.

 

Read Next:

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49 Ways to Lighten Your Backpacking Load

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