Trail Running Shoes vs Hiking Shoes – What’s Better For You?

When it comes to the subject of trail running shoes vs hiking shoes, the truth of which footwear is better for the outdoors really depends on several factors which will be covered in this article, but ultimately, it comes down to what type of activity you’re engaged in and it’s pace.

My opinion and experience on the matter of trail runners vs hiking shoes:

Trail Running Shoes vs Hiking Shoes 03

For me, I’ve hiked for many years, and with different footwear (both trail running and hiking shoes). At first, my opinion was pretty set on hiking shoes being the way to go for comfort, reliability and overall quality, but as I tried my first ever pair of trail running shoes (Salomon Speedcross), I fell in love with them.

And while I would switch from from time to time to different footwear over the years, I’ve settled (at least for now) on the opinion that for most general outdoor adventures (slow or fast paced), trail running shoes are better for a wider audience. And below, I’ll explain why (after adding much more context).

1) Experience wise, I have trail ran and hiked about 500+ miles in trail running shoes. Here are the ones I’ve used:

my trail running shoes 02

And while I’m going to try to be as unbiased as possible, there’s a lot of reasons why I’ve done so many more miles of hiking and trail running with trail running shoes vs hiking shoes: Because they are just more comfortable for me personally.

I’m the sort of guy that loves speed running through hikes. I enjoy the challenge of finishing trails quickly, not to set records, but just to get that adrenaline rush and even in cases where I hike or hop over rocks, doing it with speed (while also minding safety) is a big thing I keep in mind.

Overall, for someone like me, there’s just more uses I can get out of trail running shoes when I go hiking because I’m not always doing just 1 thing. It can be a mix at times (hikes, trail runs, boulder hopping, ect…) and trail running shoes suite me perfectly fine in these mixed circumstances.

2) For hiking shoes, I’ve hiked in them for 100’s of miles:

my hiking shoes 01

I’ve mainly used the Ozark trail shoes (which are hiking shoes despite the name) and a little bit of the Sketchers Arch Fit Recon Harbin (yes Sketchers has hiking shoes too). And let me tell you, just because I love and prefer trail running shoes doesn’t mean I’m trash talking hiking shoes.

The ones I currently own and tried have given me amazing experiences, but I’ve just used them for more slower types of hikes and even climbs. For those types of situations, they can be excellent assets.

Case in point: My first time visiting a place called Natural Bridges (it’s located on the Oregon Coast), I was doing a climb along a sea wall and because the grip on these shoes was so reliable, I didn’t fall down into the water. On the flip side though, I have found that it has been easier for me to get sprains in hiking shoes vs trail running shoes (even though it happens rarely in general).

Which shoes suite you more, trail runners or hiking shoes (boots)? 7 things to consider:

1) Long term use: Hiking shoes win.

Why is that? Well because hiking boots are mainly used for long term (slower) walks and as such they are less likely to get banged up on the trails/hikes. Trail runners on the other hand are designed for faster paced runs through the same environments and though they are also reliable and (especially for good designs) built for long term use, you can’t deny reality in that the faster and more explosively you move outdoors, the more pressure you will put on your trail runners.

Bottom line: You can probably get 100’s of more miles out of hiking boots than trail running shoes.

Now of course, if you use trail running shoes for slow walks/hikes, you’ll probably get as much miles out of them before they start to wear off as hiking boots, but we’re considering circumstances here and most people will use trail running shoes for actual runs while hiking shoe people will use them for walks.

2) Reliability: Both hiking shoes and trail running shoes have merit.

It’s all about the goal you are setting. If you are going for hikes with the goal to go through it quickly, then you absolutely need trail running shoes. For that, there is nothing more reliable. Hiking boots are just much more reliable for slower hikes, across most environments.

3) Protection: Hiking shoes win.

Overall, hiking shoes protect your feet better. They are heavier, thicker (which is why it’s harder to move faster in them) and that offers more protection for your feet.

Now don’t get me wrong here, a quality trail running shoe will offer you immense protection across most places and I can attest to this. But by design they have to offer you less protection so you can move easier and thus, if you are more on the clumsy side when you hike, you may want to consider hiking shoes instead.

4) Speed/mobility: Trail running shoes win.

To me hikes are supposed to be enjoyable experiences and that only happens (in my case) when you are running/speed walking through places. I personally get a much more fun experience out of that, and having footwear that compliments that is extremely important to me.

Trail running shoes are designed for such goals. They are comfortable to move around in, and yet offer great protection that is long term (believe me, I’ve beat up my Salomons over many years and they still serve me well!).

Furthermore, their sole areas are excellent for avoiding slips when you run because as you may or may not know, faster movement in muddy areas can cause riskier things to happen (slips for instance).

The front bottom of the trail running shoe (at least in the Salomon’s shoe case) is curved up so when you move forward, they often propel you further forward and that keeps you moving easier. That’s something I noticed very quickly the moment I started trail running in them.

5) Comfort: Depends, but to me trail running shoes feel amazing.

You can get great comfort with both trail running shoes and hiking shoes, but to me, trail running shoes win because they are lighter and easier to breath in (for your feet), while also ironically offering great protection. Comfort is extremely important on the trails/hikes.

6) Long term hikes: I prefer trail running shoes.

If you’re doing a long hike, the longer it goes on, the more of the weight you will feel on your legs from the shoes. Naturally, as you get further and further into a trail, you’ll get more tired, and the last thing you want are your shoes annoying you. To me, hiking shoes are tough enough to move fast in and for longer walks, they may annoy you a bit more. That 1 less pound of weight will really go a long way.

For example, I did 20 miles of hiking in Sedona in 1 day. I would  probably be more tired if I managed to pull that off with hiking shoes and I would argue that it would be harder to do that in the same environment, not to mention how so many of the areas I was hiking in involved a mix of hiking/climbing and trail running. In hiking shoes, they would have done fine for most of these places, but the speed at which I was doing it at made trail running shoes a much better “fit” for the occasion. For instance, here are the hikes I did that day:

7) Looks: Trail running shoes just look better.

Style might be one of the last things you’d worry about on a trail, considering that your footwear is going to get dirty, but to some people that might be an important factor and if that’s the case, trail running shoes just have a better look and feel to them.

Of course, you can find a lot of great looking hiking shoes, but if style is important to you, then you’ll find more variety in trail running shoes. A good example of a very high quality trail running shoe that also looks good is the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor which coincidentally is considered one of the top trail running shoes there is.

More questions on hiking shoes vs trail running shoes:

Can I use hiking shoes for trail running?

Yes you can definitely use hiking shoes for trail running purposes but it’s a lot more difficult to move quickly in them vs wearing actual trail running shoes where you have way more flexibility to move more loosely.

What’s the difference between a hiking shoe and a trail running shoe?

The main difference is that hiking shoes generally last longer and are more durable for nature hikes while trail running shoes are better for mobility when running in nature.

Are trail running shoes good for everyday use?

Technically yes but I would not recommend using trail running shoes on areas where you would normally wear regular shoes or sneakers, because their soles will rub off faster there.

Can trail running shoes be used on a treadmill?

Yes but I would just recommend using regular running sneakers there. Trail running shoes are just better and ideal to wear on actual trails.

Do trail running shoes last longer than road running shoes?

Generally both trail running and road running shoes last about the same distances which is 200-300 miles. What factors into this longevity is which terrain you run on and how much friction the soles of your shoes get when they touch the ground.

So what should you choose: Trail running shoes or hiking shoes?

I would recommend you look at all the factors I listed and determine your choice based on that. One thing you can also do is buy 1 decent pair of hiking shoes and 1 decent pair of trail running shoes, take them on the same hike and see which suites you better, but you’d likely need to do a few hikes in each to really get the feel of which one is better.

You may be someone reading this right now who might be on board with me in thinking that trail running shoes are better, but perhaps once you start hiking in regular hiking shoes, that opinion might change, so go with what is more appropriate for you.

Again, I have to go back to the point about pace. The faster you walk or even run on a hike/trail, the more likely you are to be better suited to do so with trail running shoes. But if you’re more of a mellow/slow hiker (which is totally fine), then perhaps hiking shoes are a better choice.

For what it’s worth, I would recommend hiking or trail running shoes above other options out there, like hiking in crocs which believe it or not people really do.

What others recommend with regards to hiking shoes vs trail running shoes:

You’ll find endless debate on this from people, but most of us (including me) are not masters at this, so here’s a Tripadvisor post on hiking vs trail running shoes you should check out. It’ll help you decide (and you’re also welcome to ask me).

One final thing you should consider is that a high quality hiking shoe or a high quality trail running shoe will really help you get all of the benefits of each classification of shoe wear and what that means is that I can easily take my Salomon Speedcross 5 shoes on regular hikes and walks where you’d normally see people wearing hiking shoes on, but as soon as I want to go fast, I can do it way easier and much more flexibility with trail running shoes and that’s just 1 advantage that hiking shoes just don’t have.

About the Nature Seeker author:

Hi my name's Vitaliy. I love nature travel and this blog encapsulates all of my adventures and top recommendations of what to see (and what to avoid).

25 thoughts on “Trail Running Shoes vs Hiking Shoes – What’s Better For You?”

  1. So I been using La Sportiva Spire GTX for my everyday shoe in Michigan. They are too the point they need to be replaced. So I was wondering what you would recommend?

    Would you recommend I stick to a hiking shoe rather than trail running shoe like Speedcross for an every day shoe?

    • Hi Donnie my position on hiking or trail running shoes is that if you’ve been using 1 specific brand/pair that you really like and it starts to wear down, to just get the same new pair. However you did ask me some questions so let me answer that:

      1) If you don’t enjoy the idea of trail running and like walks in nature, get a hiking shoe (possibly a Salomon version that is high rated).
      2) For everyday shoes, I would not wear either hiking or trail running shoes. They’ll wear down too quickly on concrete. Casual shoes are totally fine for that. I also left you a comment on my Salomon Speedcross 5 review post to further talk about that one since you posted there too.

      • Vitality thanks for taking the time to reply I really appreciate it. I looked at the other post as well thanks.

        Yeah I like hiking but normally don’t then in thinking boots something like vasque or danners. But I liked the La Sportiva as something that was like I could use everyday that was more like my running shoes but better for when I just adlib and go out on the whim. Wearing my hiking boots 24/7 just to much or to hot. Even though I did wear my hiking boots pretty much as everyday use. But when the steel shank came through the sole and got a new pair of Vasque under warranty they just were not the same and that’s when I found the La Sportivas.

        Plus I like the waterproof since it allows me to be lazy on normal every day use.
        I was thinking of trying the SpeedCross but was not at all and if it would be like ice skates on hard surfaces based on what I thought you mentioned in your review.

        Also when I looked online I saw the SpeedCross 5 we’re not even out there now and they had the SpeedCross 6s. Have you tried them yet?

  2. This is truly something I would like to experience when I finally move to Poland in a few years and hike down the south in the mountains of Zakopane. I seriously need to invest in some hiking boots as I think they would be the better choice as Poland as a whole nation has various nature reserve parks, and every time we visit I always feel underprepared when walking in basic shoes and have to tread more carefully. Thanks for this post as it gives me 100% clarity that choosing hiking boots is the way to go for me. 

  3. This is a very interesting and timely article. I enjoy hiking. Now that I am older, I stick to at least moderately groomed trails. One problem I have is neuropathy in my feet. This means that I need a flexible shoe so that I better feel the ground but a sturdy shoe because my feet can hurt.  

    Hence, the somewhat groomed trails. I did not know that Sketcher makes a hiking shoe. I wear sketchers during my normal day because of the comfort. I am going to take a look at the hiking school. It might be just what I need.  Thanks for the information.

    • Hi Anastazja, I think a good hiking shoe would be perfect for you in this case. If you don’t plan on power walking or running trails, then a good hiking shoe should be more than enough for you to have a comfortable experience walking the trails.

  4. Wow. I’m not a hiker, but I would think that if I were to go running on a trail or hike, I would have to watch out for all the pebbles, rocks, and debris as my feet would be badly hurt and sore running on a trail or hike. So I’d look for a shoe with great cushion and shock absorbent. Is hiking a more rough terrain than a trail?

    • It’s very similar. Trails can be just dirt or muddy paths, but they can also have rocks, pebbles and a bunch of other debrees. Hiking trails are very similar but may have more climbing and scrambling involved. Both types of shoes are good for either circumstance.

  5. As someone who is looking into getting back into hiking after 20 years, this was a very helpful post and reminded me of the basics. I am certainly going with hiking shoes since the idea is to really take in the sights. Also, I think you are right, they will definitely last me longer than trail running shoes.

    • No problem! You can still take in the sights with trail running shoes and I think a lot of people misunderstand what I said about them not lasting as long as hiking shoes. The fact is, trail running shoes are better for runners and even if you do nothing but run and hike in them, they’ll still last you 300+ miles in most cases. 

      I like to take in the sights too personally, but I enjoy the adrenaline rush of running in the woods. And you can totally keep walking and hiking in them if you want. Just clarifying!

  6. Thank you for going through all the different variables to consider when trying to pick out what kind of shoes would work out the best for you. It was very informative and thorough. I think personally I like the idea of the trail running shoes. Is there a certain brand that you would recommend from your experiences?

    • 100% Salomon Speedcross 5. I have 6 or 7 different types of trail running shoes, and 6 of them are one of the Salomon Speedcross brand. I have always been thoroughly satisfied with how well they help me on trails.

  7. I used to do hiking in high school but it was just a very long time ago. Back then, I always try to find hiking shoes rather than trail running shoes. And I totally agree that hiking shoes are better for long-term use. My hiking shoes stay about 3 years until I finally graduate. 

    • Give trail running shoes a go if you ever plan on running those same hikes, I think you may be surprised at how durable they are!

  8. I used to urban walk 50 to 60 miles a week, but have gotten out of the habit in the last few years. I intend to get back into walking and have just started short walking again. During this time I have come to the realization that my current shoes are not fit for purpose. Reading your article has inspired me to check out the Ozark Trail shoes they look good. Just need to see if I can find them here in Oz.

    • Hi James, to be honest you are the first person I have heard about urban walking from and doing a little research, I am suprised at how it blends together nature elements and walking in the city. There’s also a good sense of adventure. For such things, maybe the Ozark shoes would be ideal, but generally speaking decent running shoes would suffice here in my opinion (of course if there is more trail running vs concrete walks), then you may want to consider trail running shoes.

  9. I tend to alternate between walking and enjoying the moment during the hike and then getting that urge to kick things into gear and start running through the trail. Although with legit hiking shoes for longer hikes/runs – I’m sure some would still be comfortable enough to run/jog in – I’ll keep sticking to trail running shoes.

    Appreciate your reviews on the shoes you’ve tried out, I’ll be taking a look at the ones you’ve hiked in!

    Cheers, thanks for the comparisons 👍

  10. Hey, hey,

    As someone who is just getting started on hiking (I live in a big city and started visiting parks) this post was filled with good data. I just have the same running shoes for everything (gym, running and any other physical activities) so I think I will need new shoes. I will definitely going to go with your conclusion and try both and see, comfort is good, but I like my agility, will certainly keep you posted, thank you! 

    • Hi Victor, based on the fact that you enjoy running activities, I would recommend trail running shoes when you start doing outdoor hikes. You can still hike with them as any other person, but you strike me as someone who is into doing more speed related activities, so this would benefit you more in my opinion. The Salomon Speedcross 5 would be a perfect choice for you. Let me know how it goes!

  11. I have to say that for me it would be the hiking shoes because they would give me more comfort and I do not run because I have problems doing so. Saying this and reading your article running shoes may be better for you since you hike and sometimes run part of the way as well. If I went hiking I would be slow because my mobility is not that good so hiking shoes defiantly.  Also, I think that with hiking shoes you get more wear and tear out of them. 

    Thank you for an informative article 


    • Trail running shoes provide both the ability to hike and trail run Ingrid, but if you are not looking to do fast paced hikes, then yeah hiking shoes would be a better fit for you.

  12. As a hiker, I am very picky about the type of footwear I pick especially for a long trip. With hiking shoes you have more options than trail runners because your feet aren’t always going to be flat or on a steady path. But trail running shoes make this easier by having a stable platform to run on, while hiker shoes are made for the more rough terrain. I’ve mainly used the Ozark trail shoes and they are great choices.

    • Interesting perspective John. I still stand by my point on trail running shoes just being better for more mobile hikers, but everyone has their own views on this and I certainly appreciate yours 🙂


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