Camping & Hiking

Are Running Shoes Good For Hiking?

Before you set off on a hike, your shoes need to be well equipped for the occasion.  After all, you’ll be out in the wilderness in rugged terrain.

You don’t want to take any chances especially if help is too far away. Of course, hiking gear is expensive, and if you’re trying to save a buck, you might want to skip on some of the gear. Take for instance hiking boots.

I’ve heard this question asked a lot about hiking in runners, and I’ve seen both sides of the argument, so I’m going to weigh in on this debate with my honest opinion and experience.

Can You Hike In Running Shoes? Yes, in my experience, running shoes are suitable for hiking as long as the terrain is not too rugged. However, trail runners give you the best of both worlds as they’re good enough for most terrain. They also give good support, are flexible, and very comfortable.

hiking boots and runners

What’s The Difference Between Hiking Shoes And Running Shoes?

So, what is the difference between hiking shoes and running shoes?

Running Shoes

  • Built for flat surfaces
  • Tend to lack grip on loose terrain
  • Thinner soles
  • Lightweight and flexible

Hiking Shoes

  • Built for rugged terrain
  • Very good grip and traction
  • Wider and broader soles
  • More ridged and sturdy construction

So as you can see, hiking shoes are a lot more sturdy and are built for keeping you balanced. Running shoes, on the other hand, are built more for speed as you would imagine.

Because running shoes are so flexible, they don’t provide much support for your ankles or the soles of your feet. However, if the hiking trail is not too rugged or rocky, then you should get away with just wearing general runners.

But for trails that are heavily wooded or have tons of debris scattered about, you’ll want hiking shoes. This does come at a cost, and that is they are heavy and bulky and can wear you out quicker. So unless your hiking The Snowman Trek, or very rocky and uneven ground, then throw on your hiking boots.

trail runner

Can You Use Trail Runners For Hiking?

Trail runners are, essentially, hiking shoes mixed with sneakers. They’re fashionable, if that’s important to you, breathable, and provide decent traction.

They also don’t have a breaking-in period, unlike boots, and can slip on right out of the box! So, this means they’re perfect for hiking and you never have to worry about boots, right?

Not so fast! The problem with trail runners is they’re not as durable as hiking boots, that being said, these are the better choice if you’re going to a more public trail. If you’re taking a running trail, then you’ll want a trail runner.

How about off-trail, or on more tough terrain? Well, it depends on a couple of factors including your skill level, weight, how much you’re carrying, how far you want to hike, etc.

The rule of thumb is if you’re experienced and know how to make the trail runners flexibility work for you, then they’re perfect for hiking in most conditions. If not, you’re better off with boots. Just to give you a rough indication, 90% of my hikes have been in either my trail runners or sneakers.

different terrain

What Kind Of Shoes Are Best For Hiking?

In my opinion, trail runners are the best shoes for traditional hiking. If you’re traveling off-trail or on very rugged terrain, wading through water, climbing rocks, then it’s better to wear hiking boots.

Boots tend to not be flexible and are more ridged; this is in their favor, as hiking boots need to support you and your weight. Of course, the biggest downside to hiking boots is breaking them in.

Right out of the box, unlike trail runners, boots are uncomfortable and cramped. You can expect to have several blisters on your feet if you go on a long hike to break in your new boots.

For newer hiking, it’s recommended to break in your boots on a flat trail, and not a rugged trail; trust me on this one, I’m trying to save your feet.

Knowing When To Wear Hiking Boots

Like I mentioned before, there are times when to wear hiking boots and when you shouldn’t. So let’s focus on that for a bit.

When is it a good time to pull on a set of hiking boots?

  • If the trail is rugged and rocky
  • If you plan to make your own trail
  • If you plan on crossing through a stream

Hiking boots are great for gripping the ground, but if the ground is very loose then a trail runner will be a better choice.

Boots will, well, sink straight into the ground if it’s soft enough. And of course, running in boots isn’t very comfortable. So if your hiking just involves level ground, you likely won’t need boots.

But what about climbing rocks? And I don’t mean actual rock climbing, but bouldering or just some really light rock climbing. In this case, hiking boots aren’t recommended and you can get away with working with trail runners or even running shoes!

This is because gripping the surface of a rock is much more different than gripping the surface of the ground. Boots may even weigh you down.

All said and done, this is still my opinion on which shoes are the best for hiking. As I said at the start of this article, I’ve seen people argue for and against boots, trail runners, running shoes, etc.

I just feel that trail runners work the best as they keep you stable and are suitable for just about any sort of hike! Of course, there are exceptions.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to fork out hundreds of dollars for decent hiking boots. For most trails that aren’t too rugged, trail runners will do the job fine.

If you do wear sneakers, just remember that they will wear out quicker because they aren’t specifically designed for hiking.

The bottom line is comfort and safety. If you’re not sure what shoes will be suitable, go to a local park or trail with similar terrain and walk a few miles to get an idea of what they are like.

Nathan Barker

My wife and I are huge adventure seekers! We've traveled and explored over 40 countries and want to share what we have learned on our journey. We'll be talking about everything from hiking and camping, to guides, reviews and tips that we're sure will help any avid adventurer no matter what walk of life. So relax, grab a cup of coffee and we hope you enjoy the read!
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