I’m going to be honest. I’ve never considered myself to be a runner. I’ve always been a dedicated hiker and backpacker. I have no idea what got into me the day that I burst into a jog and then took off in a run on a trail. Maybe I had a lot of extra energy to burn. Maybe it was because I found myself without a pack. But something happened in my brain, something clicked, and I felt like there was no going back.
I jumped headfirst into trail running. My quick evening hikes became evening runs on the trail. Pretty soon, I was racing through all my regular haunts. As I started building up endurance, I started looking for longer trails. I ditched my backpack and invested in a hydration backpack. Heck, I even got special leggings. Now I find myself at a crucial point in becoming a trail runner…
Do I need to buy trail running shoes? I love the versatility of my trusty hiking shoes. The trails I tend to hit are pretty tame. But now that I’m running these trails, I’m starting to wonder if I should get running specific shoes.
So, can you run in hiking shoes? Yes, you can run in hiking shoes occasionally but it is not recommended for regular run training. Most runners are putting in 5 to 25+ miles a week on their running shoes. Hiking shoes are not built for this much running mileage. Your foot impacts the ground in a much different way when running vs hiking and the shoes are designed accordingly. If you want to run several miles a week and avoid injuries, you’ll want to transition to a running specific shoe.
There are actually quite a few things that one should consider when deciding whether to invest in a pair of hiking shoes or trail runners. Let me share with you some of what I learned in my research.
Differences Between Hiking and Running Shoes
If you are considering making the switch in footwear, you are probably wondering, what are the main differences between hiking shoes and trail running shoes.
There are a few fundamental differences that set the two apart.
- Weight: Trail runners typically weigh between 1 lb and 2 lbs give or take a few ounces. Lightweight hiking boots or hiking shoes can weigh over 2 lbs and up to 3.5 lbs.
- Breathability: Trail runners win on breathability. Running shoes are typically made of synthetic mesh, letting your foot breathe and dry quickly if you run through creeks or puddles or sweat a lot. Hiking shoes, on the other hand, are often made of more durable materials. They also tend to be waterproof or have a waterproof lining. They are more breathable than hiking boots but generally take longer to dry than running shoes.
- Durability: Hiking shoes are the way to go if you want a durable, long-lasting shoe. Trail running shoes have a useful life of around 4 – 6 months of regular use. Blame it on the ultra-lightweight materials. Neither hiking shoes nor trail running shoes can be resoled.
- Foot and Ankle Support: Trail runners and hiking shoes both tend to lack the ankle support you might want for tough backcountry trails. There are some models available that come up around the ankle, but you have to shop around to find them. For solid foot support, you will be better off with hiking shoes. These are specially designed to support the foot while carrying a backpack over rough terrain. Trail running shoes have a certain level of support in models that feature a thicker sole or cushion. In more lightweight and minimalist models, foot support can be missing altogether.
- Weather Appropriate: Hiking shoes are better for cold or wet weather. Trail runners are better for warm or hot weather.
- Traction: Traction on a hiking shoe tends to be more rustic with thicker soles and deeper lugs. Certain trail running shoes do have specialized traction features. In general, though, they don’t have the same level of traction for those parts of the trail you may want to walk through.
When to wear a hiking shoe:
If you are into trail running, when is a hiking shoe better?
The number one reason why you may choose to stick with a hiking shoe is that you need more foot protection and support. If you are a heavier person, you will be running through very rough terrain or have previous foot injuries, the sturdier materials and build of a hiking shoe will serve you well.
Other considerations that might make you decide that a hiking shoe is better include:
- You don’t care about weight. That extra pound or so strapped to your feet doesn’t make much of a difference to you.
- You value durability. You want a shoe that will take you farther and last longer before needing to be replaced.
- You prefer one shoe for all seasons. You want to be able to run through snow and wet or muddy conditions.
- Better traction. You value the better traction for tough parts of the trail you may want to walk through.
When to switch to a trail running shoe:
So if hiking shoes are so great, why might it be better to switch to a trail running shoe? The answer to this question really depends on what kind of trail running you are doing. Trail runners are great for many reasons. In my opinion, the best thing about specialized trail running shoes is that they are super lightweight. I feel like this helps increase my agility on the trail.
Where I live, most trails are dry and I tend to only head out in fair weather. It can also get quite hot here. For me, this means that I value a highly breathable shoe that my foot can sweat in. Basically, you need to analyze what kind of running you are doing on what kind of trails and in what kind of weather to know if switching to a trail running shoe is the best option for you.
Can you hike in running shoes?
So now that we know you can run in hiking shoes, it is worth asking if you can hike in running shoes.
The answer is surprising.
In fact, there is an increasing number of long-distance hikers who swear by ultra-lightweight trail running shoes to carry them over long distances.
Why would you want to hike in running shoes? One of the most common reasons is the freedom from blisters. Unlike hiking boots or more flexible hiking shoes, running shoes need no break-in time. If you buy a shoe with a great fit, you can put the shoe on and hit the trail. This means practically no blisters. For serious hikers, this is an important consideration.
There’s also the quick-drying and breathability factor. You can slosh through a creek and count on your shoes drying pretty quick. If your hiking boots get soaked, you’ll have damp feet all day. Hiking shoes dry a lot quicker, but trail running shoes cannot be beaten.
For short hikes, long day hikes, or serious backpacking adventures most people can comfortably use trail running shoes. If you tend to carry a heavy load or have had previous foot injuries, it might not be the best option for you – but otherwise, why not give them a try?
How to choose a trail running shoe for hiking:
If you want a multipurpose trail running shoe that you can use on a good hike, here are some features you should look for when shopping around.
- Durability – look for ripstop material and reinforced mesh zones.
- Sole Construction – opt for a model that offers a protective rock plate and at least moderate cushioning and arch support.
- Ankle Support – consider high-top models. These are lightweight and breathable but with the ankle protection and the support you may want for carrying heavier loads through rough terrain.
- Wide Toe Box – wide toe boxes allow for the foot to swell, a very important feature when covering long distances and long days on the trail.
Now you know that you are not limited by labels. You can indeed run in hiking shoes and you can hike in running shoes.
My Specific Shoe Recommendations:
So what conclusions did I come to? What do I recommend?
For me, personally, I am going to keep my trusty hiking boots handy for backcountry excursions. When I carry a pack over rough terrain I want the ankle support and protection that a solid pair of hiking boots provide.
For my much more frequent day hikes and runs – I’m making the switch to trail runners and I recommend that you do too.
I’m convinced that while you can run in hiking shoes, switching to trail runners just makes more sense. There are some really great options available that let you cut down on weight, offer decent protection for your feet, and help you to feel more agile on the trail. Some more rugged models offer great ankle and arch support.
I found a couple of great trail running shoes that really caught my attention and were key in convincing me to make the switch.
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Mid Mesh
Yeah, these are men’s shoes. But they’re a great example of how versatile trail running shoes can be. These can carry you through tough parts of any trail that you’ll have to walk through without sacrificing traction. They also have a high-top design for added ankle support, which has always been one of my concerns for rough terrain. The best part – they are super lightweight. They weigh about 1lb. total.
More info: altrarunning.com
Saucony Peregrine 10 Trail-Running Shoes
These trail runners really caught my attention. I can wear these all around town and then hit the trail on my way back home. Or hit the trail for a quick run then head to town for some errands. They’re cute and sporty, and highly functional. For the mountainous area where I live, traction is a really important consideration and these shoes are known for it.
They are also highly breathable because of the lightweight mesh construction.
More info: saucony.com
La Sportiva Bushido II Trail-Running Shoes
I really like these shoes because of the rugged nature of the soles (did I mention that traction is really important to me?). The way that the lugs wrap up and around the outsoles make this shoe really versatile for more rugged trails. I also like the slip-on, no lace, design. Who likes to interrupt their run to tie their shoes?
More info: sportiva.com
There are countless options available to you as a consumer. Before buying, head to a local retailer to have your foot measured and sized. Be sure to try on different brands and different models before making a final decision.
Whether you choose a hiking shoe or a trail running shoe, you should make your decision based on a realistic analysis of your own habits and preferences while on the trail.
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