If you love to run and be outdoors, there’s a good chance you also enjoy going for a hike! Hiking is a great way of getting outside and enjoying a slower form of cross-training.
But we all know that shoes are pricey… So the question is, are running shoes good for hiking? Or do you need to buy hiking shoes specifically?
Let’s dive into the differences between the two types of shoes so you can figure out if it’s okay to wear your running shoes when you hike.
What’s the Difference Between Running Shoes and Hiking Shoes?
The tricky thing here is that there are many types of running shoes and many types of hiking shoes. So, we’ll look at road running shoes vs. trail running shoes vs. hiking shoes vs. hiking boots.
The differences are striking across each different type of shoe. Ultimately, these are the things that will help you make your decision!
Road running shoes usually have an upper consisting of softish, perforated mesh that allows for good airflow. It’s usually fairly flexible to allow foot movement within the shoe, even when the foot is locked in with the laces.
Trail running shoes are often also quite breathable, but their mesh is usually a bit tighter and more resistant to abrasion than road running shoes. Some trail shoes come with a Gore-Tex lining for waterproofing.
Hiking shoes are low-top shoes that are designed to be water-resistant, are stiffer than your regular shoes, and may be made of leather or synthetic material rather than mesh. Some will go for both, with the majority of the upper consisting of synthetic material with some mesh sections for breathability.
They’re a hybrid between running shoes and hiking boots, and although they’re likely to be less breathable, they offer more support than regular running shoes.
Hiking boots are much more robust than hiking shoes and any type of running shoe. Leather or synthetic uppers protect your feet from trail hazards and have high tops, which helps keep your ankles from rolling on the hike.
They’re not the most breathable, although you get vented hiking shoes. But in many cases, hiking boots are the least breathable of the options.
Midsoles can vary widely across all types of shoes. You get road and trail running shoes with maximum or minimal cushioning. In the same vein, you get hiking shoes and boots with more or less cushioning.
While running shoes will come in neutral or stability versions, trail and hiking shoes don’t. The thought is these other shoes are stiff enough that they’ll provide support.
In most cases, you want decent cushioning if you’re going to be hiking because it helps to protect your feet as you move over hard ground.
The outsole is where these shoes vary widely. Regarding road running shoes, they tend to have a smoother tread designed for sidewalks and asphalt. Trail running shoes usually have more aggressive tread, made to grip better on uneven or loose ground.
Hiking shoes and boots typically have more pronounced tread than running shoes. They feature thick, heavy lugs underneath to grip all kinds of ground, and the rubber is usually stickyish to help keep grip on smooth rocks or on wet rock.
Some hiking boots and shoes also feature drainage holes in the outsole. The outsoles are also thicker and harder than running shoes, so you’re less at risk of injuries if you step on a stray sharp nail or rock.
Another striking thing you’ll see on shoe outsoles is toe protection. This is quite noticeable on hiking-related shoes, with more comprehensive coverage of the toes to protect against bumps and bruises on the trail. Running shoes tend to have minimal toe protection.
Thanks to their more robust design, hiking boots naturally weigh more than running shoes do. But you’re also likely to move slower on a hike than on a run, so the extra weight shouldn’t be a problem.
In terms of cost, it really depends on what shoes you’re looking at. You can find hiking boots that cost less than some fancy running shoes!
Are Running Shoes Good for Hiking?
Maybe! There’s no general answer to the question. It depends on many factors, so it’s a good idea to answer some questions about the type of hiking you want to do before deciding whether running shoes would be a good idea.
How Long Is the Hike?
If you’re only planning on hiking for an hour or two and only going a short distance, then running shoes could be okay. It’s when the miles stack up and your feet need extra support that hiking boots will probably be the better choice.
How Technical Is the Hike?
If you’re hiking on rough ground or through significant elevation changes, then hiking boots are probably the better choice. Their tread is designed for rough ground, and the extra ankle support comes in handy when climbing up and down elevations.
On the other hand, if you’re hiking on flat ground, through a forest or veld, or something like that, you should be perfectly okay with running shoes. Although, if there’s a chance of snake bites in high grass, you may want the extra ankle coverage!
How Much Water Is On the Hike?
The more specific question is, how much water are you likely walking through? Road running shoes are not suitable for handling water, but trail running shoes might be okay. Some of them come with Gore-Tex linings, so if the hike isn’t too technical, trail running shoes may be all right.
However, if you need more protection and better waterproofing, choosing hiking boots would probably be the better option. They’re designed to withstand water much better than running shoes and keep your feet safe throughout the hike.
The Weather On the Hike
If there’s likely to be mud on the hiking trail, you’re probably better off with hiking boots. Not only do they protect your feet and ankles, but the tread underneath will help you to stay stable on muddy, slippery ground.
Not to mention that mesh is a nightmare to clean if it gets muddy! If the weather is dry and warm, and you meet all the conditions above that make it good for running shoes, then there’s no problem hiking in your running shoes.
Are You Carrying a Heavy Pack?
One advantage of hiking boots is that they are durable and strong enough to stand up to extra pounding if you are wearing a heavy pack.
Running and trail shoes are designed for additional loads besides your own weight and a hydration pack. Large packs will quickly wear down a running shoe.
This is especially true for longer hikes, especially overnight backpacking. Your average running shoe won’t last.
Pros and Cons of Wearing Running Shoes for Hiking
If you do choose to wear your running shoes hiking, it comes with some advantages and some disadvantages.
Not all of these will be relevant for everyone, but these are the general pros and cons of wearing running shoes for hiking! Keep in mind that we recommend
Running shoes are noticeably lighter than hiking boots, so they’re the better way to go if you want to feel light on your feet. Your feet will find them to be more flexible, allowing you to move with a little more freedom on the trail.
They’re also much more breathable than hiking shoes and boots, so if your feet overheat easily, running shoes could be the better choice to keep them cool throughout your session.
Running shoes don’t provide as much ankle support as hiking boots do. Even low-top hiking shoes are stiffer and sturdier in build than running shoes, with less flexibility providing more stability as you move. Some people might find running shoes don’t provide the ankle support they need on hikes.
Another con is that running shoes’ tread isn’t geared for the potentially hazardous ground you may come across on a hike. By nature, a hike traverses more rocky ground than a run, so running shoes may not be grippy enough to keep you safe on the ground.
In most cases, running shoes also don’t provide enough toe protection for a full hike. You’re much more likely to bump or even break a toe on a hike than on a run, so it’s an important feature of hiking shoes and boots that we don’t see on running shoes.
The Final Verdict
So, are running shoes good for hiking? While the instinctual answer is no, the truth is that it depends on the shoes, the hike, and the person!
You CAN Wear Running Shoes for Hiking If:
You’re going on a short hike on easy ground. As long as there’s no need for serious tread to help you keep your footing on rough ground, your running shoes should be quite okay.
Keep in mind that you’ll still need to match the midsole to your needs. Make sure you’re wearing a stability shoe if you tend to overpronate and ensure that the amount of cushioning underfoot is adequate for your weight and comfort.
We highly recommend that you opt for trail running shoes over road running shoes if you’re going to use them for hiking. Their tread is going to be more appropriate for the activity.
But if road running shoes are all you have, you can hike with them under these conditions if you pay attention and take extra care on the hike, keeping in mind that they’re not the ideal shoes for the activity.
DON’T Wear Running Shoes for Hiking If:
The trail is technical, water-logged, muddy, or you’re going for a long hike, especially if you are carrying a heavy pack.
In these cases, it’s best to go for proper hiking boots. We know they can be expensive, but for the protection, they offer your feet and ankles, it’s worth it.
Technical trails need the sturdiness and aggressive tread of a hiking boot. You’ll be far more at risk of injuring yourself if you’re not wearing appropriate shoes for the terrain.
Running shoes won’t protect your feet when the trail you’re on is water-logged or muddy. You’ll find yourself with wet socks, blisters, and a high level of discomfort! Hiking shoes, on the other hand, are designed to keep the water and mud out, so your feet can stay dry.
And if you’re going for a long hike—more than 2 hours—you may prefer to choose a hiking boot so that when your feet start to fatigue, you have excellent ankle support and help to grip the rock underfoot.