Lightweight footwear is becoming more popular, so above-ankle hiking boots are rapidly falling out of favor. Heavier footwear is not unwanted, but hikers and backpackers now use comfortable shoes and trail runners for all but the most arduous terrain.
But, how do you determine which style is most appropriate for you? We distinguish between trail shoes and running shoes based on their weight, traction, stability, durability and ability to keep your feet dry, as well as their breathability.
But before we go there, we would like to describe what type of hiking footwear is available in the market.
Hiking shoes have always been favorite to the hiker due to their comfort and lightweight. Although they provided comfort and flexibility, they had a minimal amount of durability. But nowadays, manufacturers have introduced some hiking shoes similar to hiking boots but have a lower cut at the ankle.
They are almost as rigid as hiking boots but more comfortable to walk in. The rugged construction is built to last miles on the trail but accommodates obstacles like roots and rocks. To keep you off the hard stuff while hiking, opt-out for good grip, solid outsoles with aggressive lugs for challenging terrain, and cushioned midsoles.
While built to provide flexibility of movement, trail runners also offer security, support, and traction off-road. Trail running has come of age; however, it is not only used by runners. It is now popular with ultra-light enthusiasts but used for light- or long-packing, and recently it has also become popular with thru-hikers, who appreciate travelling fast and light.
A standard running shoe will generally be more on the middle-weight spectrum of this wide variety, while on the lower spectrum, look for more resilient midsoles, heavier heels, and more strict caps. Some trail runners are also made waterproof to go even in rainy weather.
But keep in mind that the waterproof functionality does not assure you that your legs will be dry. Simultaneously, waterproof hiking footwear might cross shallow while walking through a stream, but your feet will get wet with sweat. Besides, if it rains, the water will get into your shoes through your legs.
Hybrid Hiking Shoes
As the definition of the terms "trail runners" and "hiking shoes" grows, the boundaries between the two are becoming blurred. Some trail running shoes like Salomon OUTline, Vasque Breeze LT Mid make the vision hazier because of their combined design and functionality.
Most trail runners combine their design with stiffer and sturdier soles to make up for increased protection. These shoes might not be a top choice for backpacking or trail running, but they have good support, breathability and lightweight, suitable for fast and light hikers. Despite classifying hiking shoes into two categories, you can obtain the best of both of these categories.
Hikers now see approach shoes as an excellent piece of gear for extended day hikes and overnight treks. This kind of footwear is generally applied to where the approach may be steep, rough, and rocky.
Though it works fine on smooth, dry trails, the sole is far less efficient over mud, dirt, and snow; thus, the shoe is slippery on these surfaces. However, the overall design is rather tight—best for scrambling over uneven terrains but uncomfortable while walking on flat terrain.
Additionally, many runners and hiking shoes have flat, stiff soles which cause foot pain after many miles, while trail runners are more cushioned and flexible.
Performance Difference between Trail Running Shoes and Hiking Shoes
Minimum Weight on Feet
No hiker is unaware that the more weight you carry the more gruesome experience you have while hiking or trekking. Most professional hikers are now switching from heavyweight hiking boots to lightweight hiking shoes.
After the manufacturers have launched their new product, "trail running shoes", in the market, hikers are now shifting towards that. One of the significant reasons why trail runners have become so popular among hikers is the feathery experienced hikers get after wearing them.
Usually, hiking boots weigh 2 ounces on average. On the contrary, hiking shoes weigh around 1.5 ounces. But the trail running shoes weigh around 1 pound 5 ounces each pair.
So the difference is simple. The fewer burdens you carry, the more energy you save.
Nevertheless, the low weight affects other spheres of the performance of these shoes.
Irrespective of the type of footwear you choose for your hiking, longevity is a crucial thing to consider. Even a few years ago, hiking shoes did not last long. But the manufacturers have nowadays come up with designs that provide excellent longevity.
Most hiking shoes are constructed from heavy or sturdy cloth or leather, which protects the toes and middles. Besides, hiking shoes also offer improved support, protect feet from debris and insects, be tough-built, and resistant to rugged terrain. While trail runners are primarily famous because of their lightweight functionality, it also reduces the shoes' lifespan, resulting in less longevity.
Consequently, if any thru-hiker chooses to use trail runners, they might have to buy two or three pairs of them each year.
Ankle Support and Protection from Debris
Trail running shoes offer a tremendous amount of flexibility, and they are lightweight, which is another reason they are sensitive. Because of their nimble support while movement, trail running shoes do not provide the user with the required amount of ankle support.
On the other hand, hiking shoes have a stiffer and substantial midsole in comparison to trail runners. They have a robust outsole, toe cap, rubber rand that enable extra support like hiking boots. While travelling on challenging terrains, they can provide a good amount of support and protection.
While hiking boots also have these features but they are heavyweight. As a consequence, there is a significant chance of rolling your ankles while using hiking boots. Therefore, hiking shoes are a great choice among every available footwear for ankle support and protection.
Both waterproof and non-waterproof versions of trail runners and hiking shoes are available. But hiking shoes have substantially more water-resistant options available compared to trail running shoes. That said, there is ample scope of finding that one pair that suits all of your needs.
Furthermore, some leather hiking footwear might be a perfect choice to prevent water drops, rain, and little snow from getting into your shoes due to the water-resistant properties leather obtain.
Nevertheless, the more resistant footwear you choose, the more chances are your feet will be swampy because the water-resistance feature weighs out the breathability feature of your shoes. But keeping your feet dry becomes a necessity in certain weather conditions and specific regions.
Moreover, hiking boots provide more water resistance than hiking shoes or trail runners because of their sturdy construction. So if water resistance is a must choice for you, instead of hiking shoes or trail runners, we recommend you to look out for hiking boots.
The air permeability in trail runners is better than any other hiking footwear. Hiking shoes made of leather or rugged material have to sacrifice breathability in the name of durability, water resistance, and protection.
Therefore, while choosing shoes, keep in mind that you may have to give up water resistance if you seek breathability. In that case, choose your shoes according to your needs. If you are not going for a long trek or hiking in a dry season, you might want to choose shoes with excellent air permeability.
On the other hand, while hiking in cold regions or shoulder seasons, choose shoes with a great deal of water resistance ability.
Usually, hiking shoes and trail running shoes vary based on rigorousness, rubber compound, and tread patterns. The outsole of the trail running shoes has enhanced flexibility and comfort while running. But to have a good grip on trail runners might take time.
On the other hand, hiking shoes provide a good amount of traction support as well. The outsole of these shoes is akin to hiking boots. As a result, they provide a perfect amount of grip on muddy, rocky, slippery, or wet surfaces.
Hence, we recommend you choose trail runners only if you are a professional and have years of experience. The hikers who have just started their hiking journey should look out for hiking shoes with a good grip.
When it comes to selecting the proper hiking footwear, the details of each shoe are far more critical than any other considerations. But for the everyday adventurer, we think the best approach is to keep it straightforward, meaning use according to your needs.
Needless to say, this is by no means a hard and fast rule. Deciding whether you need a light and nimble or a long-distance shoe depends on your backpacking load. If you're planning on scrambling (traversing) any mountains with peak bagging, a grippy approach shoe is your best bet. But if you're a hardcore hiker looking for comfort, support, protection, and traction, there is no other shoe than hiking shoes you will need.