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Your shoes are undoubtedly the most important tool you have when it comes to hiking. Whether you’re a fan of short regular hikes or you like to go on long and challenging adventures, you’ll need something to support you every step of the way, and there are more options than ever. Most people think of hiking boots as the ideal footwear, providing stability and support in a style that’s recognizable to nearly everyone.
However, recent years have brought tons of new competitors to the classic hiking footwear, with a trail running shoe being even more common lately as an alternative. These shoes are much more reminiscent of sneakers, providing similar stability and support without a hiking boot’s heavy style and appearance. Many new hikers might not know what to go with, but there are several points to consider for each if you’ve ever felt unsure which type of shoe to purchase.
Why Do You Need Either?
Regardless of which type of hiking footwear you choose, it’s important to make sure you have at least one set of hiking footwear specifically designed for hiking any type of outdoor adventure. Hikers of all skill levels can frequently encounter physical impairments that range from blisters to heel spurs, and a proper hiking shoe will give you much more protection against conditions that could cause serious long-term harm.
This is where both hiking boots and trail runners come in, as they’re both intended to provide greater support to avoid these concerns from coming up in the first place. That said, each shoe has a widely different set of benefits regarding their weight, durability, and level of foot protection that both new and old hikers need to be aware of. Not every brand or type of hiking shoe will be right for your needs, so these points may dictate whether you need hiking boots or trail runners.
Hiking Boots: Heavy
Perhaps the biggest and most identifiable feature of hiking boots is just how heavy they can be, particularly more expensive and premium products like Timberland’s White Ledge Boots. The goal is to provide full protection for your foot from hitting rocks and give you a stiff sole with a sturdy grip and excellent traction on more rough terrain, with the soles being especially thick and ridged to make sure you aren’t going to slide down hills or twist your ankles.
Hiking boots do come with their own disadvantages, though, especially if you prefer to go fast or run during your hikes. If you’re going for a long walk that requires a lot of endurance, heavy hiking boots probably won’t bother you too much as it’s easy to get comfortable with their weight. However, many who are inexperienced with long hikes and don’t want to dampen their speed will find this a drawback.
Trail Runners: Lightweight
Trail runners are the exact opposite of classic hiking boots’ thick design, instead much more reminiscent of sneakers made of breathable material and with aerodynamic designs. A great example if you’re unfamiliar is Saloman’s Sense Ride 3 GTX Invisible Fit, which is significantly slimmer of a shoe that can lift extremely easily regardless of your strength or endurance.
Once again, though, this comes with tons of downsides that will appear later in this comparison, but it’s hard to argue that these shoes are difficult to wear. They can much more easily fit in as all-purpose shoes, with their soles often being similar to hiking boot ridges with lightweight cushioning supporting them. If you plan to run on hiking trails or want something a little less taxing to wear, it’s very much worth going for a pair of trail runners over hiking boots.
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Hiking Boots: Durable
The extra weight of a hiking boot comes with a much stronger material, with the idea that they’re able to protect your vulnerable feet from unexpected branches, rocks, and other rugged terrain you might encounter on an intense hike. Different hiking routes are always going to have different hazards to worry about, but a hiking boot will almost always be able to survive anything you throw at them.
Just because you can use them anywhere, though, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s fine to have a pair of hiking boots for those who prefer lighter hikes, as they’re going to almost always be a one-time purchase that you won’t need to often replace due to damage if you get a quality pair. If you end up in unexpected hiking conditions, you’ll still be even luckier to have a shoe that can resist anything from rocks to rain.
Trail Runners: Replaceable
You won’t likely be sticking to a pair of trail runners the same way you would with a pair of hiking boots. Rather than having a durable material that’s hard to tear without using extreme force, trail runners are often made of lighter fabrics that make them much less protective and much easier to break down over frequent wears and long periods of use. However, the advantage to this is that they’re easier to justify replacing or having multiple copies of.
It’s hardly a chore to purchase a new pair, and many like the RYKA Intent XT 2 Trail Runners are extremely easy to replace with an identical copy after they break down from a tough journey. They might not survive extremely long hikes if they’re coming apart before you start, but you won’t have any fear moving onto a new pair if you find they’re uncomfortable, too close to retirement, or just don’t enjoy their style.
Hiking Boots: Great Value
Most good quality hiking boots are often made out of incredibly thick materials that don’t deteriorate quickly and resist all kinds of damage. This can potentially mean you’ll buy one pair of hiking boots and keep them for life, with the only time they’d need replacement being if they got lost or damaged through sheer force. For a shoe that you plan to do a large amount of heavy hiking in, you’ll likely not be disappointed with the quality of your purchase.
Some things do deteriorate over time, particularly the laces and insoles, but these parts are both easy and cheaper to replace than an entire pair of shoes. Either way, hiking boots end up being a significantly more reliable way to spend your money, as it’s much less common that you’ll be disappointed with the quality and longevity of your hiking shoes.
Trail Runners: Great Price
As we mentioned earlier, Trail Runners require more frequent replacement since they break down much quicker than other hiking shoes. They might last longer than a typical running shoe, but heavy wear and tear will quickly cause these to end up deteriorating faster than any hiking boot. However, as Trail Runners will typically be significantly less expensive than their hiking boot counterparts, giving you a better cost in exchange for less durability.
Several hikers who don’t go on rigorous or difficult hikes may see the benefits of this even more, as they might not need the durability of a hiking boot to begin with, and will be able to spend far less. Options like the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse Trail Runners will never be as sturdy as a hiking boot, but they don’t have to be since it’s much less expensive to replace them if they break down, which can often be quite rare for many common types of hikers.
Hiking Boots: Classic Style
Your hiking equipment’s function should always be the number one priority, but that’s not to say you have to pretend appearances don’t matter. In the conflict of hiking boots vs trail runners, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a huge change of looks between these two types of footwear, and you’re not wrong or invalid for feeling like you want a shoe that matches your look and style alongside your hiking needs.
Hiking boots are much more consistent with their look, often having a classic appearance of brown tones and thicker shapes. They’re an easily identifiable shoe that’ll go with nearly any outdoor walking outfit. Even if you don’t like their appearance as much as your other shoes, they’ll likely get dirty enough on long hikes to not show a huge difference between them and more visually-appealing trail runners.
Trail Runners: Modern Design
Whereas hiking boots are a more classic and uniform product, trail runners can vary significantly more when focusing entirely on appearances. They’re much more reminiscent of typical running shoes. With the collectible sneaker trend being higher than ever lately, it’s easy to see why people would enjoy a more modern shoe to walk in that fits more of their regular footwear.
heir style isn’t just in their shape, though, as color is a much more variant part of trail runners’ appeal. You won’t find loud and stunning appearances like the multicolored TSIODFO Sneakers, and compared to other running shoes, you’ll still be getting something that can handle more wear and tear than your average sneaker. If you don’t want to go with the traditional hiker look, trail runners can absolutely provide you with more variety.
Hiking Boots: Comfortable
Despite their large size, a classic backpacking boot is often incredibly comfortable to stand and walk compared to nearly any other shoe on the market. This is because the durable material is lined with softer fabric to make much more comfortable wear, and since you need to do a fair amount of agile movement on hard walks, they also need to still fit quite tight on your feet.
Wearing a hiking boot can often feel like you’re putting your feet into a personally-crafted form since they’ll be incredibly soft inside to help you not feel the potentially-heavy restraint that comes with a tight hiking boot. You can loosen the boots through the toe box by modifying the laces, but for the most part, you’ll get extremely cozy walking in these and hardly notice how heavy they are mid-hike.
Trail Runners: Flexible
If you go with a trail runner instead of a hiking boot, it might be because you want something that fits your foot with growth and movement. Hiking boots aren’t meant to bend as much as a normal shoe, so you’ll be doing most of your work with your upper legs to make sure you make clear and safe steps. With trail runners, that need is gone thanks to the breathability and lightweight material, as you can easily let air in and bend your feet to make more fine movements.
While hiking boots need to fit on your tightly and might require adjustment, trail runners don’t feel like you’re wearing shoes at all. They provide resistance against the ground thanks to their heavy soles, but they fit tightly onto your foot with thinner fabric materials to make sure you’re able to move and bend much easier. You might not be as comfortable in these as you would a hiking boot, but your movement will feel significantly more free to make up for it.
Hiking Boots: Stronger Water Resistance
Perhaps the biggest benefit that hiking boots have over trail runners is their ability to work well in the rain and walking through water in emergencies. Not every hiking boot will be perfectly waterproof. Still, the Columbia Redmond V2 is designed to avoid water damage, as well as letting you maintain your grip on the ground when dealing with wet pathways.
Hiking boots are built for rocky trail, and this capability makes them the perfect option if you don’t know what the weather will be on longer trips or accidentally end up near a river that you need to pass through. For the times you end up on muddy trails, you’ll be thankful to have a resilient and water-resistant hiking boot over a thin and absorbent trail runner.
Trail Runners: Easier Steps
It should be clear at this point that trail runners aren’t great for difficult conditions. They’re better than your average running shoe, but there are still all sorts of shortcomings that arrive with their lightweight and fragile material. However, in their ideal conditions of dry roads, open paths, light hills, and high-speed walking, you’ll quickly find the foot shape of these shoes to be way smoother to walk in than a dense and heavy hiking boot.
Trail runners do exactly what their name dictates, as running fast is easier than ever thanks to their material not resisting air or your movement like a hiking boot’s dense design. You don’t have to go at high speeds, but it means you can travel really quick if needed and even climb hills much easier since you need far less energy to lift your leg in these shoes. It’ll make every hike feel much smoother, rather than the intensity that some feel in a heavy hiking boot.
Hiking Boots: Better For Serious Hikers
Hiking boots have always been the premier outdoor shoe, and that distinction has never been clearer than when they’re compared to trail runners. They can be heavier and more expensive than other shoes, but those who want to go on difficult and long hikes in the wilderness are going to need their sturdiness and resilience more than they’ll need rapid movement or diverse appearances.
Whether you’re already a serious hiker or you’re a new hiker wanting to try more difficult pathways, you can’t go wrong with a pair of hiking boots. A great pair can easily give you all the protection, comfort, and longevity you need in a shoe, and it’ll make all the greatest challenges a hiker can face just a little easier.
Trail Runners: Better For Casual Hikers
Trail runners make great walking shoes. On the opposite end of things, trail runners are perhaps not the best for those who take their hiking seriously. Their lighter and more sensitive material makes them less ideal for any weather conditions, uneven terrain, and longer journeys. More intense hikers will likely need to replace them far too often to be a worthwhile purchase.
Any other type of hiker, however, is probably going to find their trail runners are vastly superior to an expensive pair of hiking boots. A trail shoe are essentially an upgraded pair of sneakers, complete with all the comfort and style but with difficult natural roads more in mind. Those who live in full cities with few paths might find trail runners ideal for their occasional excursions, and a pair of hiking boots is hardly necessary to get into this fulfilling activity.
Whatever shoe you choose, it’s hard to argue whether hiking boots or trail runners are personally right. You need one of them if you plan on any sort of hiking, as they both are far superior to any typical road shoe or boot you could go with. Nonetheless, different hikers and hiking habits can vary massively, and the winner of the fight between hiking boots and trail runners will always be whatever fits your needs as a hiker best.
Neither is a bad option, but you should ideally go with whatever one you think will make the strongest shoe for your outdoor adventures. If you plan on going on frequent and challenging hikes, hiking boots are always going to win. If you prefer lighter hikes or don’t go out as often, you’ll probably find a trail runner more your speed. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a shoe built to keep you safe and balanced as you go on your hike.