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Hiking Shoes vs. Trail Runners

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In recent years, lightweight gear has increased in popularity, with over-the-ankle hiking boots becoming old-fashioned and obsolete among hiking enthusiasts. For this reason, hikers opt for lightweight hiking shoes and trail runners instead, as they make excellent companions for the most challenging technical terrain.

Lightweight hiking footwear offers a tremendous boost in comfort too. However, there are several designs to buy. Hiking Shoes vs. Trail Runners? So, how do you decide what footwear style to purchase? In this article, we’ll try to help you to make the best choice.


Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes and trekking pole

Hiking shoes are a recent advancement of hiking footwear, resembling hiking boots. Also, the difference is that they have a lower cut at the ankle. What’s more, hiking shoes have similar underfoot support and stiffness as a boot, but without being heavy and bulky.

Check out our hiking boots vs hiking shoes article if you are debating between the two.

In general, they are constructed from rough materials, like leather or strong nylon. In this way, they last for quite a while and offer protection from sharp stones or debris. So, if you are looking for a new pair of hiking shoes, then look for thick outsoles for solid traction.

Additionally, choose a pair that have medium midsoles to keep you safe on rocky trails.

Finally, some hiking shoes offer total waterproof protection too. Be sure to look out for them as well. 

Likes:

  • Comfy
  • Lightweight
  • No break-in period
  • Drying quickly

Dislikes:

  • Not ideal protection on technical terrain
  • Average ankle support

Trail Runners

Trail runners are used, as the name suggests, on trails. They allow light and flexible movement but with extra protection, traction, and support than hiking shoes. Specifically, they are designed for you to run terrain that is not paved.

In addition, trail runners offer good cushioning, stiff midsoles, and waterproof protection. Basically, you can run and hike in trail shoes.

trail running shoes

If you would like to purchase a pair, therefore, look out for a lightweight design. One with a beefy toe cap and mesh upper is a safe choice too. 

Likes:

  • Flexible
  • Good protection, traction, and support 
  • Great cushioning
  • Stiff midsoles

Dislikes:

  • Drying slowly
  • Break-in period

Hybrid Hiking Trail-Running Shoes

At this point, it is important to mention that the distinction between a hiking shoe and a trail runner is not clear. Hence, a new type of hybrid shoes, between hiking shoes and trail runners, has appeared on the market.

These take a trail runner and add to it stiffer soles and additional protection. And they make a new shoe category, pretty much. They combine support, breathability, stability, and flexibility in such a way that they make an ideal choice for short but intense hikes and a favorite of thru-hikers.

To sum it up, these hybrid shoes attempt to offer the best of both hiking shoes and trail runners, albeit with some trade-offs, like not excelling in any particular function. So, they provide neither the best protection nor grip. 

Likes:

  • Great support and stability
  • High flexibility
  • Durable construction
  • Tremendous protection

Dislikes:

  • Break-in period
  • Take long to dry
  • Not very comfortable

Approach Shoes

Apart from hybrid shoes, approach shoes are another category of trail shoes. This style of footwear is used for short climbs with steep edges and rocky cliffs.

mountaineers with climbing ropes and hiking boots

Approach shoes are not great for running over technical terrain, like snow or mud, as approach shoes feel slippery on these surfaces. However, their design makes a snug fit and provides protection against sharp stones, but leave them in your bag for walking long distances.

The stiff soles may lead to sore feet after extensive usage. On the contrary, the soles of hiking shoes and trail runners are super cushioned and flexible for comfort and warmth, better suited for longer walks. 

La Sportiva Mens TX3 Approach Climbing Shoes, Spicy Orange, 10 D(M) US
La Sportiva TX3 Approach Shoes
$148.95
Arc'teryx Konseal LT Light Tatsu/Black 10.5 D (M)
Arc'teryx Konseal LT Approach Shoes
SCARPA Men's Zen Pro Hiking and Approach Shoes - Charcoal/Tonic - 11
Scarpa Zen Pro Approach Shoes

Likes:

  • High protection
  • Snugly
  • Great for hikes

Dislikes:

  • Mediocre on technical terrain 
  • Uncomfortably stiff
  • Not ideal for walking long distances

Best Fit

We believe that the most significant aspect when comparing hiking shoes vs. trail runners, is how they fit your feet when you first put them on, and do you feel good in them.

If they aren’t comfy from the first try on, then it’s better to leave them at the store. Don’t attempt to break them in.

Even if you want it to run for a few miles only, you should still make sure that the shoe feels snugly on your feet and that it is wide enough. By being wide, when the feet swell during intense hikes, they will not harm you. 

backpacking gear essentials

Now, every hiker has different feelings and preferences about what they consider comfortable. If you intend to carry light loads and move quickly on trails, then you are better off with trail running shoes. This is due to a fantastic combination of flexibility and cushioning.

Likewise, for backpackers with heavy loads, the support and stiffness of a hiking shoe will feel like a blessing once you’re on the trails. Remember that everything boils down to your preferences, whether you love running on technical terrain or you’re trekking on long hikes.

Best Protection & Support

Day hikers seem to prefer hiking shoes vs. trail runners due to the added support, stability, and protection. With a stiff midsole, beefier outsole, and durable upper, hiking shoes offer constant support similar to a hiking boot.

Hiking boots also provide extra security when carrying a heavy load, especially while traveling on rugged terrains or off-trail. Trail runners are designed to be flexible for fast movement, so they often lack protection and support for off-trail distances. Well, we can’t have everything, can we?

Best Durability

Durability is a vital factor when deciding between a hiking shoe and a trail runner. For starters, hiking shoes nearly always have a durable build because they are made with leather or tough nylon.

Contrarily, trail runners are crafted with mesh or thin nylon. They also have less protective toe caps and stiffer midsoles than hiking shoes. Without a doubt, hiking shoes hold up better than trail runners when it comes to durability, as the former are designed to withstand technical terrain.

Trail runners might be lightweight and flexible due to their fabric, but they have a short lifespan. Consequently, backpackers preferring to feel featherweight have to go through many pairs of runners in a calendar year. 

Best Waterproofing

waterproof hiking shoes

Some hiking shoes and trail runners retail in waterproof versions. In this way, they offer superb protection against the occasional drizzle or when crossing a stream. Trail runners offer similar waterproof protection to hiking shoes.

Where trail runners vs hiking shoes differ, are the materials used for waterproofing, such as the prestigious Gore-Tex. That said, if you choose a hiking shoe, you have many waterproof options available.

As hiking shoes are from leather, they offer natural water-resistant properties. Consequently, most hiking shoes keep snow or mud away without being heavy from extra waterproofing technology. 

What about the Retail Price?

Hiking shoes and trail runners are somewhat expensive. Expect to pay about $150 to $200 for a solid pair with quality construction materials, a stiff midsole, and waterproofing capabilities.

Hiking shoes will cost higher than trail runners due to being all-leather. That said, some trail runners command a high retail price. These are considered high-end models due to being featherweight with incredible support, flexibility, and protection rare to find in your average running shoe. 

Hiking Shoes- BenefitsTrail Runners- Benefits
Comfortable and breathableVersatile for multiple uses
Lighter than boots, not as light as trail runnersGreat cushioning support
Dries slowly unless you have the waterproof version

Dries quickly
Little to no break-in periodLittle to no break-in period
Average ankle supportGood traction support and protection
Good for wet weather hikesGreat for hot weather hikes
Good middle ground for terrain and trail hikesVersatile- used on trails and streets
Durable and lightweightLightweight for a fast pace, long miles
Lasts about 750 miles before needing to be replacedLasts about 500 miles before needing to be replaced
Hiking Shoes- DownsidesTrail Runners- Downsides
Slightly heavierNot waterproof- feet will get wet easily
Not much protection from trail debris which will come through the top of anklesNo protection from trail debris and rocks for the toes and ankles.
Medium ankle supportNot for cold weather- mesh uppers means no insulation
Not all are waterproofNot much foot support and less grip. Soles are less stiff

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Last update on 2022-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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