Hiking Shoes vs Trail Running Shoes: What’s the Difference in Hiking Footwear?

If you’re in the market for new hiking footwear, one of the main questions you’re probably asking yourself is “Should I buy hiking shoes or trail running shoes?”.

It’s a good question because if you’re shopping online or even at your local sporting goods store, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.

The short answer is it depends on the activities you plan on doing. While there are several overlapping qualities between the two kinds of footwear, the thing to keep in mind is that hiking shoes and hiking boots are built to provide extra support while trail running shoes are built for mobility.

An even simpler way of putting it is hiking shoes are best for walking while trail runners are best for running.

In this article, though, we will go a bit deeper into the differences between hiking shoes and trail running shoes, and why you might favor a hiking shoe over a trail running shoe and vice versa.

Hiking Shoes and Trail Running Shoes

Image by Amanda Sandlin

As we said before, hiking shoes and trail running shoes have several overlapping qualities but they also have some major differences. The similarities make them both great trail shoes as they’ll have thick soles and deep tread but the differences will significantly alter your agility and the shoe’s longevity.

To put it another way, if you were to hike all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, you’d wear out twice as many trail running shoes as you would hiking shoes.

Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes and hiking boots are designed for greater foot and ankle support as you walk long distances and along uneven terrain or rocky surfaces. In addition to greater stability, hiking shoes are constructed for durability by using heavier and bulkier materials, which also results in stiffer soles.

While thick materials will require a break-in period, the shoe will also last you a long time – years even.

Manufacturers say hiking shoes can last as long as 1,000 miles. It’s also worth mentioning that the difference between a hiking shoe and a hiking boot is that hiking boots generally offer extra support as the material extends above your ankle.


Trail Running Shoes

Brian Erikson

Although this article discusses the difference between hiking shoes and trail running shoes, a trail runner combines qualities from both a hiking shoe and a running shoe.

Like road running shoes, trail runners typically have lightweight mesh uppers for breathability and ample cushioning but the sole has a similar tread pattern to a hiking shoe.

Unlike a running shoe, which has a relatively smooth sole, a trail shoe has “lugs” that give the tread depth, so you have better traction on abrasive terrain and they’re often equipped with a rock plate, so they won’t as easily get pierced by sharp rocks.

Compared to hiking shoes, trail running shoes have flexible soles, so they don’t require a break-in period. Manufacturers say trail running shoes can last as long as 500 miles.


What is the difference between hiking shoes and trail runners?

The main difference between hiking shoes and trail runners is in shoe construction. Hiking shoes are built for stability and durability as you walk along a trail while trail running shoes are built for mobility, so they’re more flexible and an overall lighter shoe.

While you can find pretty much any type of shoe you want — waterproof trail running shoes, waterproof hiking shoes, lightweight hiking shoes, lightweight trail runners, etc — they will be built for either hiking or running.

In short, you could certainly wear trail running shoes for hiking, but they won’t last as long, especially on rocky terrain. Conversely, you could also run in hiking shoes, but they won’t be nearly as comfortable as trail runners.


Is hiking and trail running the same thing?

Hiking and trail running are different outdoor activities. Even though you can hike and run on the same trail, one traditionally involves walking and the other involves running.

Granted, if you have to navigate rough terrain, you might need to walk or use trekking poles, but that’s getting into semantics. Nonetheless, the answer is no, hiking and trail running are not the same thing.

Can hiking shoes be used for walking?

It depends on the type of walking. If you’re going on long hikes, a pair of hiking shoes would be great, but if you’re planning on walking long distances on a hard surface like a concrete sidewalk, you’re better off getting a dedicated walking shoe.

Walking shoes and running shoes are designed to support and cushion your feet as you walk or run on hard surfaces whereas hiking shoes and trail running shoes are designed to support and cushion your feet as you walk or run technical terrain, such as sand, dirt, rocks, and other types of rugged terrain.

Hiking Shoes or Trail Running Shoes?

Image by Omar Tursic

Whether you wear hiking shoes or trail running shoes should depend entirely on your activities.

While trail running shoes are versatile in that you can wear them as hiking shoes or running shoes, they won’t provide as much protection or support as hiking shoes. Still, many ultralight enthusiasts argue that if you’re sure-footed, you won’t need the extra protection or support, but to each his own.

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