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 running shoes 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).

my trail running shoes 02

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

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.

my hiking shoes 01

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

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.

Note: Here is another good article on trail running shoes vs hiking boots.

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.

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.

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.

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

  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
  2. 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 

    Elke

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  3. 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! 

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply

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