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Are Running Shoes Good for Hiking?

I have been a lifelong fitness student and enthusiast ever since winning the gold at conference in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM back in my “glory days.” I am also a writer and the marketing wizard here at My Top Fitness.

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Everyone probably has a running shoe, whether road or trail running shoes. But not everyone possesses hiking boots, as hiking isn’t as popular as other outdoor activities like running. Well, if you are planning to go for a hike and you don’t have hiking shoes or hiking boots, you definitely won’t help but wonder whether your regular running shoes could work just as fine, especially when you want to find your way around the cost of purchasing a new pair of hiking shoes.

Well, the answer to this question will certainly depend on numerous factors, including your expected hiking terrain and shoe convenience. For example, are you going on a serious hike, or are you planning on becoming a trail runner? Is the hike going to be on an easy-to-navigate path, or are you trudging up rough terrain? These are all important questions you need to ask before deciding on a pair of hiking shoes.

If I were to give an immediate answer to someone looking to go for a short and easy hike on a well-worn in path, I suppose you could get away with simple running shoes or trail shoes. However, for long-term insight, let’s take a more in-depth look at a few select factors. 

Let’s Talk About Hiking Shoes

Generally, there are a few characteristics one should look out for when choosing a serious hiking shoe.

Comfort

First and foremost, your hiking shoes should be comfortable. If you use hiking shoes that aren’t comfortable enough, you are likely not going to cover far distances easily. That’s a pretty big negative in addition to the risk of getting blisters and other foot injuries.

Protection

The next property is that your hiking shoes should fully protect your feet. Their soles should be durable enough to prevent penetration by sharp objects that can cause foot injury.

Traditional running shoes or even trail running shoes simply aren’t going to be able to offer your feet the protection they need on a higher-difficulty hiking trail.

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Traction

Hiking shoes should also offer great traction. They should be able to handle mixed terrain by providing the kind of grip that won’t let you fall. Thanks to the deeper lugs that can be seen with most hiking boots. Another important property a hiking shoe should have is breathability. It should be able to easily allow air in and out so that your feet can stay dry. This can help you avoid blisters, which can be the greatest nightmare of a hiking adventure. 

Lightweight vs. Heavyweight

Lastly, lightweight shoes are preferred by most hikers. With lightweight shoes, you are going to save yourself the hassle of having to lift an extra unnecessary weight that may drain your energy faster, as you are probably going to take tens of thousands of steps as you hike. This should save you even more energy that could allow you to hike farther.

So is that a Yes or a No on Running Shoes for Hiking?

Running shoes, especially trail runners, could be used for hiking. You don’t necessarily have to buy a new boot. I don’t know about you, but I have seen several instances where people have trailed barefooted. Then, why shouldn’t running shoes work even better?

Having said that, there are factors that should decide whether you should go on a hike with running shoes or not.

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Terrain

Hiking terrain should definitely determine the kind of shoes you are going to wear. If you are only going to hike through a forest trail, running shoes or even lean footwear can work just fine. But if you are going to meander through sketchier trails, you will probably need a hiking boot that can offer you more stability and protection against the not-so-regular terrain.

Experience

Of course, experienced hikers could easily use running shoes to go through even sketchy trails without much discomfort. However, if you are new to hiking, there’s the likelihood that running shoes might not offer you the kind of stability you’ll need when hiking on rough paths. If you are a newbie, the wide and thick soles of hiking boots are just perfect to help keep you on track while preventing unnecessary slips.

Hiking Speed

If you are going for a lengthy hike at a faster pace, light running shoes could work just fine, as they can give you the chance to put off the extra weight that comes with hiking boots. Of course, the easier you can move your legs, the more miles you can put behind you.

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Hiking Boots vs a Trail Running Shoe

Hiking boots offer more protection to the foot and ankle than trail runners. They also offer more stability than most other types of shoes. They can also prevent loose debris, sand, and little stones from finding their way to your feet. They can offer solid all-around traction with deeper lugs. Lastly, they are very durable. Hiking boots can cover several hundred miles before wearing out. 

The major downsides to hiking boots are that they are heavier than trail runners and require a longer break-in period. They are also usually more expensive than trail runners too.

While trail runners don’t offer the kind of stability that comes with hiking boots, they feel comfortable on your feet. They are lightweight and require a little break-in period. They are also mostly breathable (allow air to dry out feet), as opposed to hiking boots that are usually not very breathable. However, there are some downsides to trail runners too. They wear out more easily than hiking boots. They are also not as supportive as the boots. This is in addition to not offering the kind of toe-heel protection that is apparent in hiking boots’ design.

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Conclusion: Choose Hiking Shoes, not Running Shoes

The simple answer is no. Running shoes are not the most preferred option when it comes to hiking. However, if you don’t have hiking shoes or boots, trail runners can work just fine too. While trail runners don’t give you the kind of protection and stability hiking boots do, they can offer extra benefits in being lightweight, breathable, and affordable. But the cost question is only a benefit in disguise, as when exposed to rough hiking terrain, they can wear out more easily than hiking boots.

Having said that, there are literally thousands of hiking shoes, hiking boots, and even trail running shoes out there. If you are preparing to get one, check for features that can offer stability, protection, breathability, and solid traction, as these are the key properties that can make or break your hiking adventure.

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