Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners: The Ultimate Guide To Help Get You The Right Footwear

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The right footwear is crucial when it comes to enjoying your outdoor adventures, whether you’re a casual hiker or a seasoned trail runner. Hiking shoes and trail runners are two popular choices, but how do you know which one is the best fit for you? In this extensive Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners guide, we delve deep into the similarities and differences between hiking shoes and trail runners to help you make an informed decision.

Overview of Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners

Hiking Shoes

Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners, hiking shoes number 1?

Hiking shoes, sometimes referred to as approach shoes or light hikers, are designed specifically for walking on various terrains. They offer a balance between support, protection, and comfort while being relatively lightweight compared to traditional hiking boots.

Trail Runners

Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners are better?

Trail runners are lightweight running shoes with an emphasis on grip and flexibility, designed for off-road running on trails. They typically have a lower profile than hiking shoes and focus on breathability and quick-drying properties.

Materials Used in Hiking Shoes and Trail Runners


The upper part of the shoe plays a crucial role in durability, support, and breathability. Common materials used in the uppers of hiking shoes and trail runners include:

  • Leather: Offers excellent durability and water resistance but can be heavier and less breathable than other materials.
  • Synthetic materials (e.g., nylon, polyester, mesh): Lightweight and breathable, synthetic materials are commonly used in trail runners for their quick-drying properties but may be less durable than leather.
  • Waterproof membranes (e.g., GORE-TEX, eVent): These materials are used in waterproof footwear to keep moisture out while still allowing for some breathability.


The midsole provides cushioning and support, determining the shoe’s overall comfort and stability. Common midsole materials include:

  • EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate): A lightweight and affordable foam material that offers cushioning and support but may compress over time, reducing its effectiveness.
  • PU (polyurethane): A denser and more durable material than EVA, PU provides excellent support and stability but can be heavier and less flexible.


The outsole, or the bottom part of the shoe, is responsible for traction and protection. Key aspects of outsoles to consider include:

  • Rubber compounds: Most hiking shoes and trail runners feature rubber outsoles, with varying levels of hardness for different levels of grip and durability.
  • Lug patterns: Aggressive, deep lugs provide better traction on rough terrain, while shallower lugs offer versatile grip on smoother surfaces.

Closure Systems

Various closure systems are used in hiking shoes and trail runners, including:

  • Traditional lacing: The most common closure system, laces allow for a customizable fit and can be easily replaced if damaged.
  • Quick-lace systems: These systems use thin, durable cables and a tightening mechanism for a secure, easy-to-adjust fit. They can save time but may be more challenging to repair in the field.
  • Velcro straps: Some shoes use Velcro straps for a quick and easy adjustment, although they may not provide the same level of customization as laces.

Key Differences Between Hiking Shoes and Trail Runners:

Differences Between Hiking Shoes and Trail Runners


Trail runners are generally lighter than hiking shoes, making them a popular choice for those who prioritize nimble movement and speed on the trail. Hiking shoes, while still lighter than hiking boots, are built with more robust materials to withstand harsher conditions.


Hiking shoes often provide more ankle support and stability than trail runners, making them suitable for uneven terrain or those with a history of ankle injuries. Trail runners, on the other hand, focus on flexibility and natural foot movement.


Both hiking shoes and trail runners offer good traction, but hiking shoes tend to have more aggressive lug patterns for better grip on slippery or steep terrain. Trail runners generally have a more versatile tread pattern, designed to adapt to various surfaces.


Hiking shoes are usually more durable and built to withstand harsher conditions, while trail runners prioritize breathability and flexibility. This trade-off means trail runners may wear out more quickly than hiking shoes, especially in rugged environments.


Hiking shoes often come with waterproof options, whereas trail runners typically prioritize breathability and quick-drying properties. Some trail runners do offer waterproof versions, but they may be less breathable than their non-waterproof counterparts.


Trail runners usually have more cushioning than hiking shoes, providing increased shock absorption for running on uneven surfaces. Hiking shoes, while still cushioned, focus more on support and stability.


Trail runners are designed with highly breathable materials to keep your feet cool and dry during high-intensity activities. Hiking shoes also offer breathability, but they may be less ventilated due to their focus on durability and protection.

When to Choose Hiking Shoes

when to get hiking shoes

Rough or rocky terrain

Hiking shoes provide the necessary support and protection for navigating uneven, rocky trails. Their sturdier construction and more aggressive traction make them suitable for challenging terrains.

Carrying a heavy backpack

The added support of hiking shoes can help distribute the weight of a heavy pack and reduce the risk of injury. They offer better stability, especially when hiking on uneven surfaces or steep inclines.

Long hikes and multi-day trips

Hiking shoes are designed for durability, making them a better choice for extended periods on the trail. Their supportive structure can help prevent foot fatigue and reduce the likelihood of blisters during long-distance hikes.

Wet conditions

Waterproof hiking shoes can keep your feet dry in wet or muddy environments. They often feature waterproof membranes, such as GORE-TEX, that help to keep moisture out while still allowing for some breathability.

Cold weather hiking

Hiking shoes provide better insulation than trail runners, making them more suitable for colder temperatures. They also tend to have a higher cut, offering additional protection against snow and debris.

When to Choose Trail Runners

when to get trail runners

Speed and agility

Trail runners are perfect for those who value quick movement and lightweight footwear on the trail. They are designed for fast-paced activities, making them an ideal choice for trail running and speed hiking.

Well-maintained trails

If you’re hiking on well-groomed paths, trail runners provide sufficient support and traction. They allow for a more natural stride and better ground feel, which can be advantageous on smooth trails.

Shorter hikes and trail running

Trail runners are designed for fast-paced activities and shorter distances. Their lightweight construction and increased breathability make them a popular choice for day hikes and trail running events.

Warm weather

The breathability of trail runners helps keep your feet cool and comfortable during hot summer hikes. Their quick-drying properties also make them a great option for hikes involving stream crossings or damp conditions.

The Middle Ground: Hybrid Options

Hybrid hiking shoes

For those who can’t decide between hiking shoes and trail runners, hybrid options exist that combine the best of both worlds. These shoes offer a blend of support, stability, and lightweight construction, making them a versatile choice for various trail conditions.

Features to look for in hybrid footwear:

  • A balance between support and flexibility: Look for shoes that provide enough support for rough terrain but still allow for a natural foot movement.
  • Versatile traction: Choose shoes with a tread pattern that can handle a variety of surfaces, from rocky trails to muddy paths.
  • Lightweight construction: Opt for footwear that won’t weigh you down but still offers enough durability for the trail.
  • Waterproof options: If you plan to hike in wet conditions, consider hybrid shoes with waterproof membranes to keep your feet dry.

Fitting and Trying on Hiking Shoes and Trail Runners

Regardless of your choice between hiking shoes and trail runners, proper fit is crucial. Ill-fitting footwear can lead to discomfort, blisters, and even injuries. Here are some tips for finding the perfect fit:

  • Shop in the afternoon or evening: Your feet tend to swell throughout the day, so trying on shoes later in the day can help ensure a more accurate fit.
  • Wear the right socks: Bring the socks you plan to wear on the trail when trying on shoes, as they can impact the fit and feel of the footwear.
  • Measure both feet: It’s not uncommon for one foot to be larger than the other. Make sure to measure both feet and choose a size based on the larger foot.
  • Leave enough room for your toes: There should be a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe to prevent your toes from hitting the front during downhill hikes.

5 Tips To Find The Right Hiking Shoes/Trail Running Shoes

tips on getting the right hiking shoes

1. Consider your hiking style

Evaluate how you typically hike – do you prioritize speed and agility, or are you more focused on stability and support? Your personal hiking style plays a significant role in determining which footwear is best suited for your needs.

2. Test various options

Visit a reputable outdoor retailer and try on multiple pairs of hiking shoes and trail runners. Walk or even jog around the store to get a feel for how the shoes perform in action. Remember that comfort is key, so don’t be afraid to spend time finding the perfect fit.

3. Consult with experts

Speak with knowledgeable sales associates or other experienced hikers to gain insight into the pros and cons of each footwear option. They can provide valuable advice based on their own experiences and help guide your decision-making process.

4. Prioritize quality and durability

Invest in a high-quality pair of hiking shoes or trail runners from a trusted brand. While it may cost more upfront, durable footwear will save you money in the long run by reducing the need for frequent replacements.

5. Adapt to your environment

Consider the specific conditions and terrains you plan to encounter on your hikes. For example, if you frequently hike in wet or muddy environments, waterproof hiking shoes may be a better choice than non-waterproof trail runners.

Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners: Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the choice between hiking shoes and trail runners comes down to personal preference, hiking style, and the specific conditions you’ll encounter on the trail. Take the time to assess your needs and consider trying on different footwear options to find the best fit for your adventures.

By understanding the key differences between hiking shoes and trail runners and evaluating your personal requirements, you can confidently choose the right footwear to maximize your outdoor experience. This comprehensive guide serves as a valuable resource to help you navigate the world of hiking footwear and make an informed decision that suits your unique needs and preferences.

Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners – FAQ’s

Are trail runners the same as hiking shoes?

No, trail runners and hiking shoes are not the same. Trail runners are lightweight, flexible, and designed for off-road running, while hiking shoes are more durable, supportive, and built for walking on various terrains.

Can I use hiking shoes for trail running?

It is possible to use hiking shoes for trail running, but they might not provide the same level of flexibility, breathability, and lightweight design as trail runners. If you plan to run on trails frequently, investing in trail running shoes would be a better option.

Why do some hikers prefer trail runners?

Some hikers prefer trail runners for their lightweight design, breathability, and quick-drying properties. They may also appreciate the increased ground feel and natural stride provided by trail runners on well-maintained trails.

What is the difference between trail running and hiking?

Trail running is a fast-paced activity that involves running on off-road trails, while hiking is a slower-paced activity focused on walking and exploring various terrains. Trail running often requires more agility, speed, and endurance than hiking.

What is the difference between a hiking shoe and a trail shoe?

A hiking shoe is designed for walking on various terrains and provides a balance between support, protection, and comfort. A trail shoe, often synonymous with a trail runner, is designed for off-road running and focuses on grip, flexibility, and lightweight construction.

Can I wear hiking shoes for walking?

Yes, hiking shoes are suitable for walking and provide excellent support, traction, and protection for various terrains.

Do you actually need trail running shoes?

If you plan on trail running regularly or prioritize lightweight, breathable footwear for hiking, investing in trail running shoes can enhance your performance and comfort on the trail.

Are trail running shoes bad for pavement?

Trail running shoes can be used on pavement, but they may wear out faster due to the softer rubber compounds used in their outsoles. Additionally, the aggressive lug patterns on some trail running shoes may feel uncomfortable on hard surfaces.

What kind of shoes do you need for trail running?

For trail running, you need shoes with good traction, lightweight construction, flexibility, and breathability. Trail running shoes are specifically designed for these requirements and provide the necessary support and protection for off-road running.

Why is hiking harder than running?

Hiking can be harder than running due to the varied and often challenging terrains encountered on the trail, such as steep inclines, uneven surfaces, and obstacles. Hiking also typically involves carrying a backpack, which can add to the difficulty.

Why are trail running shoes so hard?

Trail running shoes may feel harder than traditional running shoes because they have more durable and protective materials to withstand the rough and unpredictable conditions of off-road trails.

Why is trail running so much harder?

Trail running is harder than road running because it involves navigating uneven terrain, obstacles, and steep inclines, all of which require increased balance, strength, and agility. Additionally, the softer, more varied surfaces of trails can be more demanding on the body compared to the consistent pavement of road running.

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