These days, many hikers are making the switch from sturdy and heavy hiking boots to lightweight and breathable trail runners. The best footwear for your hike depends on the terrain you hike on, the distances you hike, and the amount of weight you carry in your backpack. To help you decide, this guide outlines the differences and lists the pros and cons of hiking boots vs trail runners. We’ll cover support, weight, durability, breathability, protection, traction, cost, and much more. We’ll also share a few hiking boot and trail runner recommendations. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best footwear for your next hike.
What are Trail Runners?
Trail runners are a type of footwear that is designed for off-road running. They are kind of a cross between road running shoes and hiking boots. Trail runners are lightweight, springy, and breathable like running shoes. They offer excellent traction as well as protection and support for your feet like hiking boots.
Trail runners feature thick lugged soles. These give your extra traction while walking on loose, wet, or slippery surfaces such as mud, gravel, roots, rocks, and ice.
Trail runners also offer some protection for your feet. The soles are made from thick material that shields your feet from impacts from sharp rocks. The uppers are made from durable and abrasion-resistant material. Most models have a beefy toe cap to prevent you from stubbing your toes.
Trail runners are also supportive. They have stiff midsoles to prevent too much foo rotation when you land. They are also designed for variable stride lengths. This allows you to land where the footing is optimal. You can’t always maintain the same stride length on uneven terrain.
Trail runners come in a wide range of designs. Some are more similar to running shoes. Others are more similar to hiking boots. They are available in waterproof and non-waterproof options. Different levels of cushioning are also available. A wide range of colors and styles are available for those who are fashion-conscious.
Over the past few years, trail runners have become increasingly popular among thru-hikers, ultralight hikers, and average everyday hikers due to their lightweight and comfort.
What are Hiking Boots?
Hiking boots are a type of rugged footwear that is designed to protect your feet while walking long distances over rough terrain. They are stiff, supportive, durable, and heavy.
Hiking boots feature deep, sharp lugs to provide plenty of traction while walking on slippery or loose surfaces such as gravel, wet logs and rocks, and snow and ice.
Thick soles protect the bottoms of your feet from sharp or hard objects such as rocks and roots. The uppers are made from tough materials such as leather or nylon. This protects your feet from sharp rocks, thorns, and sticks. Thick toe caps protect you from stubs. These materials are also durable and long-lasting.
Hiking boots have stiff mid-soles. These are designed to stabilize your feet and prevent them from twisting as you walk. This allows you to carry a heavy load more safely. You’re also less likely to roll your foot and twist your ankle.
A wide range of designs are available. Hiking boots come in waterproof and non-waterproof options. Waterproof hiking boots keep your feet dry while hiking in the rain and snow and while walking through shallow streams. Hiking boots also come in high-top and low-top options. High-top hiking boots provide extra support and protection for your ankles. High-tops also help to keep water out.
Trail Runners Pros
1. Trail runners are breathable
Trail runners are usually made with thinner and more breathable materials than hiking boots. The uppers are usually made from quick-drying synthetic materials rather than slow-drying leather. Most models also feature mesh cutouts for added breathability.
A common misconception is that you should hike in waterproof footwear. For most hikes, breathable footwear is the better choice. Breathable footwear is ideal for three-season hiking, hikes with river crossings, and multi-day hikes.
Breathable trail runners keep your feet dry by allowing sweat to vent out and evaporate away. If your thin and lightweight trail runners get wet in the rain or during a water crossing, they’ll dry out quickly.
Keeping your feet dry greatly reduces the likelihood of developing blisters and other foot problems. It’s also much more comfortable to hike in dry shoes.
If you prefer, you can buy trail runners that have a waterproof membrane. These can work well for day hiking in cold and wet conditions. Keep in mind that waterproofing only works for a limited time before water begins to seep in.
2. Trail runners are lightweight
The main reason many hikers make the switch from hiking boots to trail runners is to save weight. Trail runners are significantly lighter.
Most trail runners weigh between 1.5 lbs per pair (about 680 grams). Ultralight trail runners weigh in at just over 1 lb (450 grams).
To compare, an average pair of synthetic hiking boots weigh 2 lbs (around 1 kg) per pair. Heavy-duty leather hiking boots can weigh as much as 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg).
On average, you’ll save around 0.5-1 lb (225-450 grams) by switching from hiking boots to trail runners. Generally, trail runners weigh around 40% less than hiking boots. When compared to a pair of heavy-duty leather hiking boots, trail runners weigh half as much. The weight savings is significant.
Trail runners are lighter because they contain less material. They are made from thin and lightweight synthetic materials such as nylon and mesh. They have low tops. The soles are also thinner. Hiking boots are made from thicker and heavier materials, such as leather.
3. Trail runners are more efficient
The main benefit of wearing lightweight trail runners is that you’ll burn less energy while hiking. This allows you to hike further and faster without tiring out.
Every step you take you have to lift the weight of your shoes. This burns energy. When you wear lightweight footwear, you lift less weight and burn less energy every step.
Trail runners are more efficient because weight carried on your feet requires a disproportionate amount of energy compared to weight on your upper body.
The climbers who made the first ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953 developed a rule of thumb for this phenomenon. They claimed that one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back. In other words, transporting weight attached to your feet requires 5 times more energy than transporting weight in a backpack.
There is scientific evidence to back this claim up. Check out this interesting article to read about the results of these studies.
While hiking in trail runners, you may be able to cover an extra mile or two per day due to the added efficiency. Over the course of a through-hike, this adds up. You could cut days off of your hike. If you’re a day hiker, you can cover more ground in a single day if you wear trail runners. This allows you to hike more trails and see more in the time that you have.
4. Trail runners have a shorter break-in period
Trail runners are made from flexible synthetic materials that require little to no breaking in. They feel comfortable right out of the box. You could buy a pair of trail runners and go hiking in them on the same day. Some models may require a couple of days to properly break in.
Hiking boots have a longer break-in period because they are more rigid. If you’re buying your hiking footwear right before a big hike and you don’t have time to properly break them in, you’ll probably be better off with trail runners.
5. Trail runners are more versatile
Trail runners are ideal for three-season hiking. You can wear them in pretty much any environment including the desert, forest, jungle, mountains, and on the coast. This is possible because trail runners provide a great combination of traction, support, breathability, and stability.
You can wear your trail runners off-trail. Trail runners are just like running shoes or tennis shoes. The only difference is that they have a bit more aggressive tread on the bottom. They look like normal athletic footwear that people wear every day. Walk your dog in them. Cycle in them. Use them as casual sports shoes. You can even wear them as your daily shoes. Wear them to school or even to work.
I use trail runners as travel shoes. A lightweight pair of trail runners can work great for sightseeing around a city and day hiking.
6. Trail runners are cheaper
A high-quality pair of trail runners costs between $80-$150. If you’re on a tight budget, you can find a decent pair of trail runners in the $50 range.
To compare, a quality pair of hiking boots costs around $150-$300. Entry-level models start at around $100.
Your footwear is one thing you won’t want to cheap out on. If you’re on a tight budget, your money will go further if you go with trail runners instead of hiking boots.
7. Trail runners allow you to feel more connected with the ground
Trail runners offer better tactile feedback. This is possible because trail runners offer thinner and more flexible soles than hiking boots. You can actually feel the texture of the ground through your shoes.
This tactile feedback helps you adapt to the terrain. You naturally choose more solid foot placement when navigating technical or unstable terrain. For example, if you step on a loose rock, you’ll instinctually adjust your foot and find a more stable footing.
The thinner soles also place you lower to the ground. They lower your center of gravity slightly. They’re also less cumbersome to move around. This can also improve stability. You’re less likely to get caught up on a rock and fall or roll an ankle. This can reduce the likelihood of falls and ankle injuries for some hikers. Some hikers just prefer the feeling of thinner soles as well.
8. Trail runners give you more freedom of movement
The flexible soles allow your feet to move naturally as you hike. The low tops allow for free movement of your ankles. You’re not restricted by stiff soles and uppers.
This allows you to take full strides. Flexible shoes don’t affect your gait. The freedom of movement can also help to strengthen the tendons and muscles that support your ankles. When your muscles strengthen up, you’ll feel more stable and in control as you hike.
9. Trail runners keep your feet cooler
The thinner upper materials allow heat to radiate away instead of trapping it in the shoe. Most models include mesh vents that allow air to freely pass through and circulate around your feet. Sweat can evaporate and vent away easily.
This helps your feet cool off. Trail runners are great for hiking in hot climates for this reason. If you’re hiking in the tropics, in the desert, or during the summer, trail runners are ideal. As an added bonus, your feet won’t smell quite so bad at the end of the day. Some of the odors vent away.
10. You can travel faster when you hike in trail runners
As the name suggests, trail runners are designed for running. If you like moving fast, trail runners are the clear choice.
The light weight of trail runners allows you to easily and quickly lift your feet. The increased ground connection allows you to quickly locate solid footing. It’s easy to maintain a brisk pace. If you want to increase your speed, you can run or jog. This allows you to cover more ground in less time.
The average trail runner moves at a pace of about 12-15 minutes per mile. To compare, an average hiker moves at a pace of around 20 minutes per mile.
If you were to spend 4 hours hiking, you may be able to cover an extra mile if you wore trail runners instead of hiking boots. This faster hiking pace allows you to see more in less time.
11. Trail runners dry out faster
Trail runners are made from thin and quick-drying synthetic materials. Non-waterproof models also offer excellent ventilation. This allows for much faster drying.
If you get caught in the rain while hiking, your trail runners will dry out quickly when the weather clears up. If your trail runners get soaked in a river crossing, they’ll usually dry out in a couple of hours if the weather is warm and dry. Hiking boots can literally take days to dry after they get wet.
12. Trail runners are more comfortable
Your hiking footwear needs to be comfortable. Many hikers find trail runners to be more comfortable than hiking boots. There are a few reasons for this.
First, trail runners allow your feet to move around a bit more freely because they are more flexible. They don’t feel quite as constricting. Trail runners are also more breathable. Your feet will stay cooler and dryer as a result. They won’t sweat as much. In addition, trail runners are lighter and more nimble. They don’t feel quite as clunky to walk around in. This improves comfort as well.
Of course, comfort is subjective. Some hikers prefer more supportive and stable footwear. It’s also important to consider the weight you’re carrying, the terrain you’re walking on, and your hiking speed. For carrying light loads (under 25 lbs) while hiking fast on well-maintained trails, trail runners offer the most comfort. While carrying a heavy load (more than 25 lbs) and walking on technical terrain, hiking boots may be the more comfortable option.
13. Trail runners are in style now
Over the past few years, many hikers have begun switching from hiking boots to trail runners. The main reason is the light weight. Everyone is going ultralight these days. While hiking the Wonderland Trail last year, I noticed that almost all of the hardcore ultralight hikers that I encountered were wearing trail runners.
Fashion is another consideration. If you are the type of person that cares about looks and likes to follow the current trend, trail runners are the footwear of choice for hiking at this time.
14. Trail runners take up less space in your pack
If you need to travel to your hiking destination you may need to pack your footwear in your backpack or suitcase. A pair of trail runners takes up much less space in your luggage than a bulky pair of hiking boots.
This space savings is also nice if you like to hike in sandals part of the time. While wearing your sandals, you can store your trail runners in your pack. This gives your feet a chance to breathe.
Trail Runners Cons
1. Trail runners don’t offer ankle support
Trail runners have low tops. This means they don’t support your ankles while you hike. High top hiking boots, on the other hand, tighten around your ankles to stabilize them. Some hikers believe that you’re more likely to sustain a sprain injury while hiking in trail runners on uneven surfaces.
It’s important to note that there isn’t really any scientific evidence to support the claim that ankle support reduces injury. There have been some studies on the subject. For example, this scientific study found that there was no significant difference between high top and low top shoes in ankle inversion angle, ankle range of motion, and ankle inversion speed. In fact, the study concluded that high top shoes slightly delayed ankle movement before impact and reduced the movement of the evertor muscles. This could have a negative effect on ankle joint stability while hiking on uneven terrain.
Some hikers believe that ankle support is a myth altogether. To read more about this, check out this interesting article about ankle support from Hike Heaven. It does a good job of explaining why ankle support is overrated.
2. Trail runners are less durable
Trail runners are generally made from less durable materials than hiking boots. The reason is that manufacturers prioritize light weight above durability.
The soles are thinner and are made from softer materials. The tread wears out faster as a result. The uppers are made from thin and lightweight synthetic materials. These materials can tear pretty easily if you catch them on thorns or rub them against rocks as you hike.
While trekking in Ethiopia, I caught my brand new trail runner on a thorn and tore a hole in the fabric just above my big toe. That same thorn wouldn’t have even scratched my hiking boots. The shoes were still perfectly functional but I was not happy.
Trail runners wear out relatively quickly. If you’re naturally hard on shoes, trail runners may not be the best option.
3. Trail runners provide less protection for your feet and ankles
Low top trail runners leave your ankles more exposed than high top hiking boots. They don’t offer any protection for your ankles against jagged rocks, thorny plants, or abrasive shrubbery. It’s easier to cut or bruise your ankles. Your ankles are more exposed to snake and insect bites as well. Mosquitoes love bare ankles.
If you hike in really rugged conditions or off-trail, you may miss the ankle protection that boots offer. One option is to wear gaiters with your trail runners. These can provide some extra protection.
In most cases, the worst that can happen if you hike without ankle protection is a few scrapes or bruises. Snakes and other critters usually aren’t a problem if you take some basic precautions.
The thin synthetic and mesh upper of trail runners also don’t offer much protection for your toes. If you accidentally kick a rock or tree limb while hiking, you’ll definitely feel it. Some models do include thick toe caps that help to prevent you from stubbing your toes.
The sides of your feet are also less protected. Some trail runners have a rand to protect the sides of your feet from sharp objects. The rand is a rubber sheet between the sides and upper that wraps over part of the upper.
The outsoles and midsoles of trail runners are generally softer and thinner as well. This can be a problem if you’re hiking over sharp rocks. You can feel the rocks digging into the bottoms of your feet through the soles of your shoes.
Many trail runners come with built-in rock plates to reduce the impact of sharp rocks. Rock plates are hard plastic inserts that you place under the insole in your shoes. Sometimes the rock plate is built into the shoe.
4. Trail runners offer less foot support
The soles of trail runners are thin, flexible, and lightweight. They have less torsional rigidity than hiking boots. As a result, your feet can twist as you walk.
This can be an issue while hiking on poorly maintained trails, on uneven terrain, or while scrambling off-trail. A hiking boot provides a more stable platform for your foot.
If you regularly hike in footwear that doesn’t provide enough support, you can cause stress injuries such as shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and even stress fractures.
Some trail runners also lack cushioning. While descending hills, shocks can transmit into your knees and hips and cause pain. You may also feel rocks through your shoes. This gets uncomfortable.
Some people require more foot support than others. Your foot support requirements depend on your body type, arch, stride, strength, and balance. Generally, heavier people require more supportive footwear.
The weight of your pack is also an important consideration. If your pack is under 10kg (22 lbs), you can get away with less supportive trail runners. If you regularly carry 20kg (44 lbs), trail runners may not offer enough support.
5. Trail runners don’t last as long
Most hikers get about 300-500 miles out of a pair of trail runners before they start breaking down and wearing out. To compare, a high-end pair of hiking boots last around 500-1000+ miles.
Trail runners don’t last as long because they’re made from thinner and less durable materials. The lugs on the soles abrade away faster because they’re more shallow and are made from softer materials. The uppers can wear through and tear. Thin synthetics are less durable than the thick leather that most hiking boots are made from.
The number of miles you get out of your footwear depends on a number of factors including your weight, stride, the terrain you hike on, as well as the quality of the shoes you buy. Your trail runners won’t last as long if you regularly hike on rugged and abrasive terrain. If you regularly hike on soft dirt and grass trails, your shoes will last longer.
For recreational hikers, shoe longevity isn’t usually an issue. For thru-hikers, it’s an important consideration. Most hikers will go through 5-6 pairs of trail runners while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Most hikers would only go through 1-3 pairs of hiking boots on the same hike.
6. Trail runners are more expensive in the long run
Because trail runners don’t last as long as hiking boots, you’ll need to buy a new pair more often. On average, you’ll need to replace your trail runners 1.5 to 2 times more often than hiking boots. This means you’ll spend more on footwear in the long run if you hike in trail runners, even though they cost less than hiking boots.
For example, maybe your favorite brand of trail runners costs $100 per pair and they last 500 miles. Maybe your hiking boots cost $150 per pair but last 1000 miles. In this scenario, you’ll spend $200 to hike 1000 miles in trail runners. You’ll only spend $150 to hike the same distance in hiking boots. You’ll spend $50 more per 1000 miles hiked if you switch to trail runners.
If you’re an avid hiker, the extra cost can add up. If you only hike a couple of times per month, the extra cost is minimal.
7. Trail runners offer less traction
The traction of your trail runners depends on a number of factors including the tread pattern, the rubber compound that the sole is made of, and the stiffness of the shoe. In most situations, trail runners offer less traction than hiking boots. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, trail runners tend to have a less aggressive tread pattern than hiking boots. The lugs on the bottoms of the soles are more shallow. As a result, the shoes can’t dig into the ground quite as well. This means that the soles can’t create quite as much friction with the ground. It’s a little easier to slip.
Trail runners are also designed to give you the most traction while running. While walking in trail runners, your traction can suffer. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, your gait is different while running than it is while walking. When you run, you land further forward on your foot. When you walk, you land closer to your heel. Trail runner tread is designed to give you the best grip when you land further forward on your foot. While running, you also put more force on the sole of your shoes than you do while walking. This extra force helps the lugs dig into the ground. While walking in trail runners, you apply less force and may not get the same amount of grip. To compare, hiking boots are designed to give you the maximum amount of grip while moving at a walking pace.
The soles of trail runners are also more flexible. This improves comfort, freedom of movement, and sensitivity while running. If your feet aren’t strong, your traction can suffer because the shoe can flex under you unexpectedly. Hiking boots give you a stiffer platform to walk on.
While hiking on loose or slippery surfaces, such as gravel, wet roots, or ice, trail runners may not offer enough grip. It’s easier to slip and fall. For this reason, trail runners are not ideal for hiking in extremely slippery conditions. For normal conditions, they offer plenty of traction.
8. Trail runners aren’t great for winter weather
Trail runners don’t offer much in the form of insulation. The uppers are mostly made of mesh. They don’t trap any heat. Cold air can pass straight through. Your feet will get cold in the winter.
Trail runners usually don’t offer any waterproofing either. Snow sticks to your shoes as you hike and your body heat melts the snow. The low tops also don’t keep snow out. As you hike snow enters your shoes through the tops and melts. Your feet get cold and wet as a result.
It is possible to use trail runners for winter hiking and snowshoeing in below-freezing conditions. The solution is to pair your trail runners with merino wool socks, Gore-Tex oversocks, and full-length waterproof breathable gaiters.
With this system, the oversocks and gaiters provide waterproofing to help to keep your feet dry and the merino wool socks keep your feet warm. Your trail runners simply get wet.
If you use this system, you will need to find a way to prevent your trail runners from freezing. One option is to store them in a plastic bag or stuff sack and place that inside your backpack.
Hiking Boot Pros
1. Hiking boots are more durable
Hiking boots are made from thicker and more durable materials than trail runners. Manufacturers prioritize durability and longevity over weight.
The soles of hiking boots are made from thicker and harder compounds. The lugs are deeper. The tread lasts longer as a result. This is nice if you regularly hike over abrasive surfaces such as pavement.
Hiking boot uppers are often made of tougher materials such as leather. Leather is resistant to abrasions, cuts, and tears. The most durable type of leather is called full-grain. Quality uppers can last for thousands of miles. Hiking boots last longer and can take a beating without breaking down or wearing out.
This makes hiking boots a great choice for those who are hard on their footwear as well as those who hike on rugged terrain or off-trail. You can trample over sharp rocks and thorny brush without having to worry about causing any damage. A quality hiking boot can hold up over the course of an extended trip. You could thru-hike a 1000 mile trail in a single pair of boots.
2. Hiking boots offer ankle support
One wrong step could cause a strained, sprained, or fractured ankle. An injury like this can put an end to your hiking season. It could also put you in a dangerous situation if you injure yourself while you’re deep in the backwoods.
Hiking boots have high tops that tighten around your ankles to stabilize and support them. This can help to prevent your ankle from twisting as you walk on uneven terrain. Many hikers believe that high-top hiking boots reduce the chance of injury. Low-top trail runners don’t offer this same protection.
Whether or not you really need ankle support depends on the terrain you’re hiking, the weight you’re carrying, and your body’s condition. If you’re an ultralight hiker in good physical condition carrying a light load over relatively flat terrain, ankle support is pretty useless. If you’re carrying a heavy load over treacherous terrain and your ankles aren’t in the best condition, a bit of ankle support may really help.
It is up for debate as to whether or not high-top hiking boots actually do anything to support your ankles. There isn’t really any scientific evidence that supports the theory that ankle support protects your ankles from injury. For more in-depth info about the benefits and drawbacks of ankle support, check out this great article.
3. Hiking boots are more protective
The uppers of hiking boots are made from thicker materials such as leather. This design offers greater protection for your feet. Most hiking boots also feature a toe cap that protects your toes from getting stubbed. If you stumble on a rock or root and hit your toes, you won’t even feel it in a good pair of hiking boots.
Hiking boots also have a thick rubber rand. This is a strip of rubber that wraps between the midsole and outsole and over part of the upper. This provides extra protection for the sides of your feet from abrasions.
The high tops also provide ankle protection. They prevent thorny brush, jagged rocks, and other debris from rubbing against your ankles as you hike. You’re less likely to suffer cuts, scrapes, and bruises on your ankles.
The high tops can also prevent ticks, mosquitoes, ants, flies, snakes, and other critters from biting your ankles. This comes in handy while hiking off-trail or in densely forested areas. Mosquitoes and ticks, in particular, love biting bare ankles.
The thick outsoles and midsoles of hiking boots protect your feet from sharp rocks and other hard objects. They provide extra cushioning that shields the bottom of your feet. You won’t even be able to feel rocks underfoot.
Many hiking boots are waterproof as well. They prevent water from seeping in while hiking through puddles and streams. They also keep snow out while hiking in the winter. It is important to note that waterproof boots can only keep the water out for so long. Eventually, it inevitably starts seeping in.
4. Hiking boots offer better stability
Hiking boots feature wide, rigid, and thick soles. These provide excellent stability while hiking over uneven terrain, sharp rocks, and slippery wet logs. You always offer a stable platform to step on, even while you’re wearing a heavy pack.
This helps reduce the risk of slips and falls. It can also help to reduce your chance of injuring your feet and ankles.
Hiking boots last longer than trail runners- Most hikers can get about 700-1000 miles out of a high-end pair of hiking boots before they wear out. To compare, trail runners usually only last around 300-500 miles.
Hiking boots last longer than trail runners because they are made from thicker and more durable materials. The lugs on the soles last longer because they’re deeper and are made from harder materials. The thick leather or nylon uppers last longer because don’t wear through or tear as quickly as the thin synthetic uppers that trail runners have.
If you hike long distances, the extra longevity of hiking boots is a significant benefit. For example, if you’re thru-hiking a 1000 mile trail, one pair of hiking boots should last you the entire trip. If you were to use trail runners, you might need to buy a second pair halfway through. This can be a hassle. It’s also an added expense.
The mileage you get out of a pair of hiking boots depends on your weight, the terrain, your stride, how well you care for the boots, and several other factors. Some hikers only get a couple of hundred miles out of their boots and some can go well over 1000.
5. Better foot support
Hiking boots feature thick and stiff soles with excellent torsional rigidity. The soles don’t allow your feet to twist while walking. You always have a solid platform to step on. This is helpful while hiking on uneven terrain and while walking off-trail.
Hiking boots are stiffer because they have shanks. These 3-5mm thick pieces of load-bearing material sit between the boot’s midsole and outsole. They prevent the boot’s sole from flexing under stress. The length of the shanks varies. Some run the whole length of the shoe and some only run half.
Supportive footwear can reduce the likelihood of some types of foot and ankle injuries. For example, you’re less likely to develop overuse and stress-related injuries when your footwear offers sufficient support.
Hiking boots also offer more cushioning. This is beneficial while descending hills. The cushioning can absorb some shocks. This reduces wear and tear on your knees and hips. Hiking boots are the better choice for those with knee pain. The extra cushioning can also absorb impacts from sharp rocks.
Some hiking boots offer built in plates. These are semiflexible inserts that sit above the shanks, between the midsole and outsole. They prevent your feet from getting bruised while walking over sharp rocks.
More supportive footwear is helpful for heavier hikers. Those who hike with a heavy load also benefit from the extra support. Generally, if you’re carrying more than around 15-20 kg (33-44 lbs), you’re better off wearing hiking boots. The extra support can improve comfort, balance, stability, and even foot and leg health.
6. Hiking boots are great for hiking in bad conditions
When the going gets tough, hiking boots are the better option. A solid pair of hiking boots allow you to stomp through tall grass, thorny brush, jagged rocks, and dense forest without having to worry about your ankles getting cut up or bruised.
You can trample through rain, mud, shallow streams, wet vegetation, and snow without getting your feet wet. The thick soles can provide stability and support on the most rugged of rocky paths.
You can hike through sand, gravel, and vegetation without worrying about any debris getting in your shoes. When the weather gets cold, hiking boots help to keep your feet warmer.
If you need to hike in extreme conditions, hiking boots are the obvious choice.
7. Hiking boots offer better traction
Hiking boots are optimized to give you the greatest amount of traction while moving at a walking pace. When you hike, you tend to land further back on your foot. Hiking boot tread gives you the most amount of traction when you land on your heel.
Hiking boots also have deeper lugs. There is usually more space between the lugs as well. The tread pattern is much more aggressive. The deep lugs can dig into loose surfaces and give you more traction.
The soles of hiking boots are also stiffer. This prevents your feet from flexing under you unexpectedly while you’re walking on uneven terrain. If you step on a sharp rock, your boot stays relatively flat. It won’t flex and slip. Hiking boots give you a stiff platform to stand on, regardless of the terrain.
If you need to hike on particularly loose or slippery surfaces, hiking boots may be the better option. They can handle mud, sand, gravel, wet roots, and some ice. Hiking boot outsoles are also designed to give extra grip on rocky surfaces.
8. Hiking boots are cheaper in the long run
Because hiking boots last longer than trail runners, you need to replace them less frequently. In the long run, you end up saving money, even though hiking boots are more expensive per pair. The reason is that a pair of hiking boots lasts 1.5-2 times longer than comparable trail runners, on average. Many hiking boots can also be re-soled when the soles wear out.
For example, many Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers go through 6 pairs of trail runners. That’s $600 at $100 per pair. Those who use hiking boots may only go through 3 pairs. That’s $450 at $150 per pair. This represents a $150 savings.
9. Hiking boots keep your feet warm in the winter
When hiking in below-freezing snowy conditions, mid-cut waterproof hiking boots are the best option. The thicker materials used in hiking boots provide a greater level of insulation than thin trail runners. This helps to keep your feet warm. A good pair of waterproof hiking boots are the best choice for four-season hiking where you may encounter snow and ice. They can keep your feet warm and dry. In these conditions, keeping your feet warm and dry is crucial to prevent frostbite.
For extra protection from the cold, you can layer two pairs of socks. It can also be helpful to wear full-length waterproof gaiters to prevent snow from entering your boots around your ankles.
While hiking in the snow, your boots will eventually wet out. How fast this happens depends on the type of snow you’re hiking in and the temperature. In below-freezing temperatures, your boots will stay dry for quite a while.
10. Waterproof hiking boots are available
If you hike in a wet area, on rainy days, in the snow, or have to cross a lot of puddles or shallow streams, it may make sense to wear waterproof hiking boots. These feature a waterproof membrane, such as Gore-Tex, that keeps water out and keeps your feet dry. The high tops help to prevent water from entering around your ankles.
Both waterproof and non-waterproof hiking boots are available. Many models come in both versions. Some hiking boots are water-resistant but not waterproof. This is the case with many leather hiking boots. Leather has naturally water-resistant properties.
It’s important to note that the waterproof membrane can only keep your feet dry for a limited amount of time before water starts seeping in. You may only be able to hike in wet conditions for a few hours before your feet start getting wet.
Waterproof hiking boots also don’t breathe as well. This causes your feet to sweat more. Particularly on hot summer days and while exerting yourself.
For these reasons, waterproof hiking boots are really only useful on shorter day hikes and winter hikes. For 3 season hiking, non-waterproof boots are preferable for most hikers.
11. Hiking boots can be re-soled
A high-end pair of full-grain leather hiking boots takes a long time to break in but can last many years if properly taken care of. In many cases, the uppers outlast the soles. It would be a shame to throw them out when the soles start to wear thin but the uppers are still in great shape.
Some hiking boots can be resoled. This can save you money and extend the life of your favorite pair of boots. For $25-$40, your boots are like new and ready for another 1000 miles. Some manufacturers offer a re-soling service. You can also take your boots to a cobbler.
Re-soling your boots is also better for the environment because you’re not throwing the whole boot away and starting over. It’s more sustainable. This isn’t really an option with trail runners. Once they wear out, they go in the trash.
12. Hiking boots are traditional
Explorers, hikers, hunters, outdoorsmen, and mountaineers have been wearing boots for over a hundred years. They are the traditional footwear for trampling through rugged backcountry. There’s something about tramping through the backwoods in a solid pair of leather hiking boots that just feels badass.
Hiking Boots Cons
1. Poor breathability
Hiking boots often feature thick leather or nylon uppers that don’t breathe well. Many models also include a waterproof membrane that is made from a material like Gore-Tex. This further reduces breathability. The high tops on hiking boots also decrease breathability. Heat and moisture can’t easily vent around your ankles.
The poor breathability causes a number of issues. First, it increases your chance of developing blisters because your feet stay wet. Blisters are caused by moisture and friction. It also increases the time it takes for your boots to dry out. It can literally take days for a soggy pair of hiking boots to dry. Of course, hiking in wet boots is also simply uncomfortable.
Not all hiking boots offer poor breathability. Modern synthetic, non-waterproof, models that feature large mesh panels offer nearly the same breathability as trail runners. These boots tend to offer a bit less durability and protection than heavier-duty models.
2. Hiking boots take a long time to break in
The thicker and stiffer materials that hiking boots are made of take time to soften up and form to your feet. This is particularly true about hiking boots with full-grain leather uppers. The leather can feel stiff and uncomfortable when it’s new. Over time, it becomes soft and flexible. New soles can also feel stiff and hard. They loosen up a bit after you put a few miles on them. This break-in period can last as little as a few days up to a couple of weeks.
You should avoid buying a new pair of hiking boots right before a long hike. If you don’t have time for a proper break-in, consider buying a pair of hiking boots that are made from synthetic materials. These require minimal break-in. If you don’t have any time for a break-in, a lightweight pair of trail runners will be a better choice. For more info on breaking in a new pair of hiking boots, check out this great guide from REI.
3. Hiking boots are heavy
Weight is the main reason that many hikers are moving away from hiking boots. The average pair of hiking boots weighs around 2 pounds (about 900 grams). Full-grain leather hiking boots can weigh more than 3 lbs (1.36 kg). That’s about twice as much as a lightweight pair of trail runners, which weighs around 1.5 lbs per pair (680 grams).
Hiking boots weigh more because they contain more material. They are also made from heavier materials. Hiking boot soles are thicker and denser than the soles of trail runners. The uppers are larger due to the high tops. They are also made from thicker materials such as leather. This all adds a considerable amount of weight.
The drawback of wearing heavy boots is that you have to lift them every step you take. This requires additional effort, which reduces your efficiency. You’ll tire out faster. You won’t be able to hike as far or as fast while wearing heavy hiking boots. For a short hike, the extra weight isn’t a big deal. On a long multi-day hike, it can take its toll.
4. Hiking boots take a long time to dry out
Due to the reduced breathability, hiking boots are slow to dry out. Particularly if they are waterproof or made of leather. It can take up to two days for a pair of soaking wet hiking boots to dry completely.
This means that if your boots wet out, they may never dry out for the remainder of your hike. This happened to me while hiking the Wonderland Trail. It rained off and on for 6 days. My non-waterproof synthetic boots got wet on the first day and never dried. It was miserable. Had I worn trail runners, they probably would have dried during some of the dryer days.
5. Hiking boots are less efficient
You burn more energy while wearing hiking boots. Every step you take requires a bit more effort because you’re lifting more weight. On average, each hiking boot weighs about 0.25 lb (113 grams) more than a trail runner.
This little bit of extra weight may not sound like much but over the course of tens of thousands of steps, it adds up. The extra effort increases your heart rate and causes you to burn more calories. As a result, you’ll tire out faster while hiking in heavy hiking boots. You won’t be able to hike as far or as fast.
The effect of hiking in heavier footwear is surprisingly noticeable. Even over the course of a day hike, you’ll feel more tired while wearing boots. If you can hike 10 miles per day in trail runners, you may only be able to hike 8 or 9 while wearing hiking boots.
Your feet are the absolute worst place to add weight. As the old saying goes ‘a pound on your feet is equivalent to 5 pounds in your pack’. According to this article, the is some truth to back it up.
6. Hiking boots are more expensive
A quality pair of hiking boots costs $150-$250. To compare, a pair of trail runners of equal quality costs around $100-$150. On average, hiking boots cost $50-$100 more per pair than trail runners.
It’s important to note that the price difference isn’t as great when you take longevity into consideration. Because hiking boots last significantly longer than trail runners, they end up costing the same or less in the long run. Only the initial purchase price is higher.
Also, hiking boots are available at a wide range of prices. You can buy entry-level models for around $30. Premium boots can cost upwards of $500.
7. Your feet can get hot in hiking boots
Hiking boots are made from thicker materials that trap heat. There is very little air circulation. This is great in cold weather but not so great in hot weather. Hiking boots aren’t ideal for hiking during the summer or in hot or tropical climates for this reason.
While wearing hiking boots, your feet will sweat more. Sweaty feet can increase your chance of developing blisters and other foot problems. If your boots are too hot, you’ll have to stop periodically and take them off to let your feet dry out and cool off.
Worst of all, your boots, socks, and feet will all stink at the end of the day. None of the odors have the chance to vent away. They just build up throughout your hike.
8. Hiking boots are less versatile
Hiking boots are really only useful on the trail. You’re not going to want to wear a bulky pair of boots around town. They’re not practical for daily wear.
They also aren’t very stylish in a city setting. Hiking boots don’t really fit in at the office, at school, or in restaurants. They’re too flashy and bulky. The only other use you may get out of them is during the winter as snow boots.
Hiking boots are versatile on the trail. You can use them to hike pretty much any type of terrain, season, and climate. They aren’t the best choice for all conditions but they get the job done.
9. Hiking boots offer less tactile feedback
The thick soles of hiking boots prevent you from feeling the ground under your feet as you walk. They completely insolate you from the ground below.
Some hikers don’t like this feeling. It makes it harder to determine whether or not your footing is stable. You can’t tell as quickly if a rock is going to shift under you when you step.
You also can’t feel the earth underfoot. Every surface feels the same while you hike. As a result, you feel a bit less connected with the ground you’re walking on. You can’t feel sticks breaking as you walk. You can’t feel rocks pressing on your feet.
In addition, hiking boots give you a higher center of gravity. The thick soles raise your feet further off the ground. This raises your center of gravity slightly, which reduces stability and can increase the likelihood of falls and ankle injuries. You’re more likely to roll an ankle or get your foot snagged on a rock.
10. Hiking boots give you less freedom of movement
The stiff soles prevent your feet from flexing naturally as you hike. The high tops also prevent your ankles from moving freely. The stiff soles and uppers can make you feel a bit restricted. You can’t move your feet and ankles naturally.
As a result, you may not be able to take full strides in some cases. The stiff soles can affect your gait. This can affect your hiking speed and efficiency. The restriction can also make your tendons and muscles weaker over time because they aren’t getting exercised as much. You may feel less stable as a result.
11. Hiking boots are less comfortable
Comfort is subjective but many hikers find hiking boots to be less comfortable than trail runners. There are several potential reasons for this.
First, because hiking boots aren’t very flexible, they can feel a bit constricting. Your feet and ankles can’t move as freely as they can in trail runners. Hiking boots feel particularly stiff before they’re broken in. They offer a bit more flex after a good break-in.
Hiking boots are also less breathable than trail runners. Your feet will get hot and sweaty. If your boots get wet, they will stay wet. Hiking in wet boots is uncomfortable.
Hiking boots are also heavier and bulkier than trail runners. They aren’t quite as nimble. Hiking in boots can feel clunky and cumbersome at times.
There are situations where hiking boots are more comfortable than trail runners. For example, maybe you need extra support because you’re carrying a particularly heavy pack. Hiking boots offer extra cushioning to help support the load. Maybe you need extra protection because you’re hiking on rugged and slippery terrain off-trail. Hiking boots have high tops and a thicker and more protective upper. In these situations, hiking boots can provide the extra support and protection that you need to hike comfortably.
12. You’ll hike slower when you wear hiking boots
The heavier weight of hiking boots slows your foot movement down. You can’t lift your feet quite as quickly.
The reduction in tactile feedback due to the thicker soles also makes it harder to locate solid footing. You have to step a bit more slowly and carefully to ensure that you have a stable place to put your weight.
You can’t really run or jog in hiking boots like you can in trail runners. On average, it will take you 3-5 minutes longer to hike each mile when you wear hiking boots rather than trail runners.
13. Hiking boots are bulky
Hiking boots take up more space in your luggage. This is an important consideration if you plan to travel to your hiking destination. A pair of hiking boots take up almost twice the amount of space as a pair of trail runners.
In addition, you’ll have to pack another pair of footwear for when you’re off the trail. Space is limited if you’re traveling. It’s nice to only pack one pair of footwear. This isn’t really possible if you wear hiking boots.
14. Hiking boots are out of style
The current trend in hiking is toward lightweight and minimalist gear. Hiking boots don’t fit the trend. They are bulky and cumbersome. Some hikers would consider them to be outdated.
These days, everyone seems to be going ultralight. More and more hikers are moving away from hiking boots and moving to lightweight trail runners. Particularly through-hikers. If you want to follow the newest trend, hiking boots aren’t it. Having said that, hiking boots still have their place and always will.
How to Decide Between Hiking Boots and Trail Runners
As you can see, both options have their pros and cons. In this section, I’ll list a few questions to ask yourself to help you decide between hiking boots and trail runners:
- How much hiking experience do you have?- If you’re new to hiking, hiking boots are probably the way to go. The wide, hard soles offer greater support and make it easier to balance with a heavy pack while walking on uneven terrain. Stiff hiking boots can also make up for some weakness in your feet and ankles. If you have some experience hiking, you might consider giving trail runners a go if you haven’t already.
- What kind of terrain will you be hiking?- Rugged and rocky trails put a lot of wear and tear on footwear. Hiking boots are made for rough conditions. For off-trail hiking and hiking on technical terrain, hiking boots are also preferable. They offer more support and more protection for your feet. For hiking relatively gentle forest trails, trail runners are ideal. If you need to cross streams and ford rivers often, trail runners are the better choice as they dry out faster.
- What is the climate like where you hike?- In warm, tropical, and damp climates, trail runners are the better choice. They keep your feet cooler so you sweat less. They also dry out faster after they get wet. In cold climates where you may end up hiking in the snow, hiking boots are the better option. They offer more warmth and protection from the elements. If you’re hiking in wet and rainy conditions, you have two options. You can wear a pair of waterproof hiking boots and try to keep your feet dry. Most hiking boots start to get wet in a few hours. Alternatively, you could just accept that your feet are going to get wet and hike in a quick-drying pair of trail runners. I prefer the latter option.
- How fast do you hike and how far are you hiking?- If you need to cover 15-20+ miles per day, trail runners are the better choice. The reduced weight makes it much easier to maintain a quick pace. This is the reason that many thru-hikers choose trail runners. If you’re only planning to a few miles, you can choose whichever footwear you prefer.
- How much weight do you carry in your pack?- If you’re an ultralight hiker with a base weight in the 10-15 pound range, trail runners will offer plenty of support. If you carry 30-50 pounds worth of food and gear, hiking boots are the better option. They offer much more support for your feet.
- What is your body type and level of health?- If you don’t have the best balance and require additional support in your day-to-day footwear, you may be better off with hiking boots. Heavier hikers will also benefit from the extra support that hiking boots offer. Those with a history of leg joint and muscle issues may also be better off with hiking boots. If you are strong, have good balance, and are in solid physical condition, you may find trail runners to be the better choice.
A Few More Considerations Before Choosing your Hiking Footwear
Not all hiking boots and trail running shoes are created equal. Regardless of the footwear you choose, you have a few options to consider before making a purchase:
This measurement represents the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe of the shoe. Most shoes raise the heel slightly higher than the ball of the foot (usually about 10-15 mm.) For example, if a trail running shoe has a midsole with a 20mm thick heel and a 10mm thick forefoot, the heel-to-toe drop is 10mm.
These days, zero-drop shoes are gaining in popularity. Zero drop means the heel and toe are the same height. Some hikers believe that zero drop is better for the feet and back because it promotes good posture. Zero drop is also a more natural position because it mimics how we stand when barefoot.
Some hikers claim that zero drop shoes are harder on the knees. I was unable to find any scientific evidence to back up any of these claims.
For more info, check out this article about heel to toe drop.
Waterproof Vs breathable
Many hiking boots and trail runners are available in both waterproof and non-waterproof versions.
For day hikers or those planning to hike in snowy conditions, waterproof shoes make sense. For everyone else, it’s best to avoid waterproof footwear.
The biggest problem with waterproofing is that it reduces breathability considerably. This means your footwear will take much longer to dry out when it gets wet. It can take days for a soaked pair of boots to dry. Breathable trail runners can dry out in a few hours. Sweat also gets trapped in waterproof shoes and builds up during the day.
The waterproof membrane also only stays waterproof for so long. After a few hours, your waterproof boots will start to leak. Even the best waterproofing won’t keep your feet dry through stream crossings or multiple days of rain. I avoid waterproof footwear for these reasons.
Cushioning/ Stack Height
Cushioning or stack height is the amount of material that separates your feet from the ground. This includes the midsole, insole, and outsole. Both trail runners and hiking boots are available with a range of cushioning options.
Barefoot or minimalist shoes have almost no padding. This allows for maximum trail feel. Some believe these shoes also help to develop foot strength and flexibility.
Moderate cushioning is the standard. These shoes offer enough padding to protect your feet from shocks and hard rocks and roots.
Maximum cushioning shoes offer extra padding in the midsoles. These are designed to reduce stress on joints by absorbing shocks. This can help to reduce fatigue. The extra cushioning can make the shoes feel a bit ‘mushy’ and inefficient. The shoe absorbs some of your toe-off force.
Not all insoles are the same. Some offer more cushioning. Some offer more arch support. You’ll want to make sure the insoles suit your foot’s anatomy.
Most hiking boots and trail runners have insoles that can be removed and replaced. This is important if you need to use an orthotic insert.
Some trail runners also come with rock plates. These are hard plastic inserts that you place under the insoles. They are designed to give your feet extra protection when you’re hiking over sharp rocks. Sometimes the rock plates are built-in.
This is the measurement across the shoe at its widest part. Many hikers prefer a wider toe box. Those with naturally wide feet also require a wider toebox.
There are several benefits to hiking in footwear with a wide toebox. First, it can improve comfort by allowing for more freedom of movement. A wider toe box can also improve toe alignment by allowing your toes to splay. Some hikers also find that a wide toe box can improve balance and reduce the likelihood of injuries. For more info, check out this guide to hiking in wide toe box shoes.
Lug Pattern, Lug Depth, and Sole Hardness
Lugs are the bumps on the outsole that dig into the ground to give you traction while hiking on loose or slippery surfaces. The lug pattern and depth affect the traction that you’ll get on different surfaces.
A multidirectional lug pattern allows for grip on any surface and angle. Deep lugs are designed to provide traction on soft surfaces such as mud. Widely spaced lugs allow mud to drop off easily. Shoes with shallow lugs offer good traction on packed soil.
Hiking boots and trail runners with soles made from soft rubber are designed to grip on slippery surfaces such as wet rocks or logs. Shoes with soles made from harder rubber last longer because the lugs don’t abrade away as quickly.
Hiking Boot and Trail Runner Types
Hiking boots and trail runners can be further divided into subcategories.
Light trail running shoes are designed for unvaried surfaces such as gravel paths, fire roads, and grassy fields. They are similar to road running shoes with a bit more traction and protection.
Rugged trail running shoes are designed for hiking trails. They usually offer some toe protection, a diverse lug pattern, extra cushioning, and supportive uppers. These are ideal for most hikers.
Off-trail running shoes are designed for the most rugged terrain. They are made from resilient materials and offer plenty of traction and support. Many are waterproof.
Hiking boots also come in 3 subcategories. Hiking shoes are low-top hiking boots with flexible midsoles. They are kind of a cross between a trail runner and a hiking boot. They are ideal for day hiking and lightweight backpacking.
Day hiking boots have a mid to high cut. They are designed for short hiking trips with light loads as well as day hiking. They offer a short break-in period and a good amount of flex.
Backpacking boots are designed for carrying heavy loads over rugged terrain for days on end. They feature a high cut that extends above the ankle and a stiff midsole with plenty of support.
Midsole Stiffness and Materials
The midsoles determine the boot or trail runner’s stiffness. They also provide cushioning. A number of different midsole materials are used. The most common include EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) and polyurethane.
EVA is the cheaper, lighter, and cushier of the two. The density of the EVA can be varied to make the boot more supportive where needed. For example, the midsole at the forefoot might be harder than the midsole at the heel. Polyurethane is more durable and more firm. It is usually used in boots that are designed for long-distance hiking as well as mountaineering.
Fit and sizing
Whatever footwear you choose, they need to fit well. Shoes that are too large allow your feet to slide around inside. This causes blisters. Shoes that are too small can hurt your toes while descending hills. Hiking footwear is one thing you kind of have to try on before buying.
While trying on shoes, wear your hiking socks. This is important because they are generally thicker than regular socks. Also, remember that your feet tend to swell a bit while hiking. You may also wear blister tape which takes up a bit more space. Make sure there is enough room in the shoe.
Trail Runner Recommendations:
In this section, I’ll outline a few of the most popular trail runner options on the market.
This is one of the most popular options for lightweight hikers and backpackers. The Altra Lone Peaks feature a roomy toe box, zero heel-to-toe drop, a removable integrated stone guard, and a good amount of cushioning. These shoes offer excellent traction with their multi-directional lug pattern. They are incredibly popular among thru-hikers.
One unique feature is the built-in gaiter trap on the rear. This ensures that your gaiters stay in place. The Altra Lone Peaks are also incredibly lightweight at just 10.5 ounces (300 grams) per shoe. Men’s and women’s versions are available.
Brooks Cascadia trail runners are known for their excellent cushioning and longevity. They are also one of the better-looking trail runners on the market, in my opinion. They look like regular sneakers.
These are great all-around trail running shoes. They offer plenty of traction on the trail. At the same time, they offer enough support and cushioning for some on-road use. They also offer a good fit for those with an average foot width.
Brooks Cascadias are a popular choice in the through-hiking community due to their durability. They are lightweight at 10.5 oz (300 grams) per shoe. Men’s and women’s versions are available.
La Sportiva Bushido 2 weighs in at 21 oz or 600 grams per pair. These premium trail runners feature an aggressive tread pattern and dual-compound rubber sole, making them ideal for hiking on rough terrain. They handle both wet and dry surfaces equally well. They offer excellent durability and stability. The padding is minimal.
La Sportiva Bushido 2 is available in men’s and women’s sizes and a range of colors. They do run a bit narrow.
The XA Pro 3D trail runners offer excellent durability, fit, and grip. They feature Salomon’s 3d advanced chassis which is designed to maximize stability and protection while also keeping the shoes lightweight. These shoes use a quick lace system which makes them easy to take on and off. Some love Salomon’s lacing system and others don’t care for it. An extra beefy toe cap adds needed protection from rocks and roots. The Gore-Tex liner adds waterproofing.
These shoes are available in a range of colors in both men’s and women’s. A non-waterproof version is also available.
These affordable trail runners from Asics feature a reverse lugged outsole for traction on a wide range of surfaces. The upper is made from a breathable close-weaved mesh upper. They weigh just 10.12 oz per shoe.
If you’re just looking to give trail runners a try, these are a great option. They are also ideal for those who are on a tight budget. For the price, they are hard to beat. The Asics Frequent Trail are available in men’s and women’s sizes and a wide range of colors.
Hiking Boot Recommendations
Below, I’ll outline a few of the best hiking boot options on the market.
The Merrell Moab 2 are some of the most popular hiking boots on the market. Mostly due to the excellent value that they offer. These are one of the more affordable hiking boot options on the market. For the price, they are well made, durable, and fairly lightweight. You aren’t sacrificing anything in terms of quality or comfort. These boots are just as well made as pricier options.
The uppers offer a great combination of breathable mesh with durable leather. Vibram soles with deep 5 mm lugs offer great traction on rough terrain. The rigid midsoles offer plenty of support. The Moab 2s are also available in a waterproof variation. They come in men’s and women’s sizes.
These are classic heavy-duty leather hiking boots. They feature rugged Vibram soles that offer excellent traction in wet and dry conditions as well as protection from the ground. A full-length nylon shank adds rigidity and stability.
Weight-wise, these boots are fairly light, considering their design and features. This weight savings was achieved with a thinner leather upper. This does come at the cost of some durability.
These boots feature a Gore-Tex waterproof and breathable lining. They are available in men’s and women’s versions. If you’re looking for a heavy-duty boot that can take you anywhere, this is a great option.
These are kind of a hiking boot/trail runner hybrid. They offer the lightweight build of trail runners with the added protection of hiking boots. The high tops provide some ankle support. The rubber soles offer excellent grip. These boots also feature a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane. These would be a great choice for lightweight hiking or through-hiking.
Of course, there are compromises. These boots aren’t as light as traditional low-top trail runners. They also don’t offer the same level of underfoot protection as traditional hiking boots due to the lightweight design. The soles are a bit less stiff than most other hiking boots on the market.
Another Hiking Footwear Option: Hiking Sandals
To make the hiking footwear decision even more difficult, I’ll introduce one more option. That is hiking sandals.
These specialty sandals are designed with thick rugged soles for protection from the ground as well as traction on wet surfaces. Most hiking sandals are designed for use in wet environments, making them perfect for stream crossing or river fording. They can also be an excellent choice for less technical hikes in warm weather and wet conditions.
Of course, there are some drawbacks. Hiking sandals can’t offer the protection of closed shoes. It’s easy for debris to enter. Stubbing a toe is painful. They also provide no insulation for your feet in cold weather. Weight-wise, the savings isn’t as great as you might expect. Hiking sandals tend to be heavy due to the thick sole. Most models weigh 1-2 lbs.
For more info, check out my complete guide to hiking sandals.
My Choice: Hiking Boots Vs Trail Runners
For my hiking style, I prefer trail runners. The main reason is that I do much of my hiking while traveling. Mostly day hikes with the occasional overnighter.
The portability and versatility of trail runners is hard to beat for travel. I can wear them as my day-to-day shoes during the trip. When I need to, I can also tackle some pretty gnarly terrain with them. They save me from having to pack a second pair of footwear as well.
I also own a pair of low-top hiking boots which I use for multi-day hikes and when I need to hike more rugged terrain. I like the stability and protection that a hiking boot offers when I’m going to be carrying a heavy pack and traveling further from civilization.
So far, I have not yet completed any long-distance thru-hikes. One of my bucket list items is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. When I attempt the hike, I will probably choose trail runners due to the added efficiency, even though the cost is slightly higher.
I also own a pair of hiking sandals. I wear these mostly during the summer and while hiking more gentle terrain. They also work well when I need to spend time walking in the water.
It’s nice to have a choice between several different types of hiking footwear. Sometimes hiking boots make more sense. SOmetimes trail runners are the better option.
Final Thoughts on Hiking Boots Vs Trail Runners
This choice comes down to a number of factors including the terrain you hike on, the climate hike in, the weather you expect, the weight you need to carry, and your personal preference. There is no perfect hiking footwear. There are some compromises you’ll have to make.
If you need some additional support, traction, and protection for your feet and you don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight, hiking boots are the better choice. The main drawback is the extra weight.
If you prefer a minimalist approach and you’re in good physical health, trail runners are a great option. They are lightweight, flexible, and require no break-in. They’re comfortable as well. The main drawback is the durability is often poor.
For those who have the budget, owning a pair of each is the best solution. This gives you the option to choose the ideal footwear for each hike you take. When you want to travel fast and light, wear your trail runners. When you need to hike on rugged terrain, put on your hiking boots. Whichever hiking footwear you choose, I hope this guide has helped in making your decision.
Where do you stand on the hiking boots vs trail runners debate? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!