Hiking Boots vs Trail Running Shoes


Nothing beats getting away from it all every once in awhile. I always look forward to hopping in the car and leaving civilization in the rear view mirror for a week, a day, or even just an hour.

Getting out on some trails and exploring is a big part of what motivates me to get outdoors, and our towns and cities offer a wide variety of natural spaces for recreation. Everything from well-maintained flat trails to undeveloped backwoods wilderness is very often just a short trip away.

If you’re someone who likes being out in nature and hitting the trails, this article is for you! It will discuss the differences between hiking boots and trail running shoes, and describe the pros and cons of each one.

By the end, you’ll be able to figure out if you’re the type of person who would benefit from using hiking boots, trail running shoes, or both!

Hiking Boots vs Trail Running Shoes

The differences between hiking boots and trail running shoes

In some ways, hiking boots and trail running shoes are similar. They are both used for time on the trail and favor sturdy construction and grippy soles over lightness. However, their distinct characteristics make each one useful in different circumstances. But before we cover that, let’s look at what each one is.

What are hiking boots?

Hiking boots can range from light-duty, low-top day-hikers, to thick, solid boots designed for heavy backpacking. In general, though, they have a high ankle collar with a harder, durable rubber tread, and are made from a variety of materials, including all-leather versions. These leather boots can last year, but need to be maintained with waterproofing.

Depending on the boots that you purchase, the weight and price can vary greatly, but tend to weigh between 32 to 48 ounces (including up to 64 ounces, or 4 pounds for heavy-duty versions) and cost between $150 to $250.

What are trail running shoes?

In essence, trail running shoes are just beefier versions of running shoes, designed to provide good grip on dirt and rock trails. The shoes are stiffer than normal running shoes, and most style are cut below the ankle. While they offer your feet more protection than road running shoes, they offer substantially less than dedicated hiking boots.

Many trail running shoes weigh between 18 to 24 ounces per pair, and some models are waterproof with Gore-Tex or the equivalent. They tend to cost somewhere between $100 to $150, and like road shoes, last about 400 miles.

group of man and women during hiking excursion in woods, walking in a queue along a path. Low section view

Who should wear hiking boots?

While hiking boots and trail running shoes share some similarities, there are several instances where it’s better to use hiking boots.

New to Hiking

If you’re just getting into hiking, boots are likely going to be a better option for you, as they provide more stability and support. You’ll want to take time to get used to wearing a pack as you make your way down the trail, and the extra firmness of hiking boots will help.


Hiking boots will last you longer than trail running shoes. Typically, you’re supposed to replace hiking boots after 1,000 miles of hiking in comparison to about 400 miles for trail running shoes.

That means that if you go hiking frequently, you’ll probably save yourself some money if you purchase boots instead of shoes.

Tough Terrain

If the trail is tough, you’ll want hiking boots or high top running shoes or high top running shoes. You’ll want something beefier if you’re going to be making your own trail and not hiking on a nearby forest trail. It should be mentioned that it is usually best, for you and the forest, to stay on existing trails.

Particularly if you’re planning to hike in cold and/or wet conditions, you’ll likely prefer the warmth and additional protection of hiking boots.

Body Design

Everybody is shaped a little bit different, so depending on your body makeup, hiking boots might be a better option for you. How much support do your feet and ankles need?

If you’ve had issues with the stability of your legs and joint, you might prefer hiking boots to trail running shoes, as they will give you more support.

Pace of Your Hike

How fast are you planning to go on your hike? If you are opting for a light-and-fast ascent up a mountain path, then trail running shoes might be better. But if you’re planning a slow, deliberate pace, or are carrying lots of gear, hiking boots might be a better option. And needless to say…if you’re running rather than hiking, use running shoes.

Better Grip

Although you will get some grip with trail running shoes, you’ll get a better grip with hiking boots. They are designed to handle even the toughest of terrain. If you’re going slower, you’ll get a better grip with hiking boots, as trail running shoes are designed to have a firmer grip when going faster.


In snow, mud, or water, hiking boots are the better option. They will keep your feet warmer and more protected from the elements. For almost all cold weather situations, hiking boots are definitely going to be the better option. In a word, they’re better in the fall and winter.


In a similar vein, if you want to keep your feet dry, hiking boots are the better option. Although some trail running shoes are waterproof, you’ll get more protection from hiking boots, as they typically come up over your ankle.

trail running man on mountain path exercising

Who should wear trail running shoes?

The simple answer? If you’re running, wear running shoes. Likewise, typically, if you’re going hiking, boots are going to be better. The non-simple answer:

Ready Out of the Box

If you want to get going immediately, trail running shoes are going to be the better option. You can use them right out of the box, whereas hiking boots more likely need a break-in period. This might be good to keep in mind if you’re traveling and don’t have time to break in a pair of boots.


If money is a little tight and you don’t go hiking that frequently, trail running shoes could be the better option for you. They typically are not as expensive as hiking boots and can, loosely put, be used for hiking. But at the same time, they won’t last as long (500 miles versus 1,000 miles).


The reality is that trail running shoes are going to be more comfortable than hiking boots. They are more breathable and lighter to wear, and won’t be so heavy on your feet after hours of hiking.

Pace of Your Hike

As the name implies, trail running shoes are really designed for running. That means that they have a better grip when you’re moving faster. If you’re going to be a thru-hiker and need to knock off a lot of miles a day, then trail running shoes are the better option.


Because they are lighter, trail running shoes are ideal for the spring and summer. Particularly in the hot weather of summer, no one wants to be wearing thick boots. You might consider buying a pair of trail running shoes for the warmer months and a pair of hiking boots for cooler months.

Can I wear trail running shoes for hiking?

The shorter answer is yes. You can wear trail running shoes for hiking, and there are a variety of hikers that do use them, particularly thru-hikers. If you’re more of a visual person, you can check out this video by REI, comparing trail running shoes and hiking boots.

If so, when can they be used?

Typically, an individual would wear trail running shoes for hiking if he or she needs to go at a faster clip like a thru-hiker. If you need to cover a lot of miles in a day (if you’re trying to do the Appalachian Trail, for example), then trail running shoes will help you get there faster.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that the grip for trail running shoes is really designed for a faster speed, so you probably don’t want to use trail running shoes if you’re going for a leisurely hike.

In the end, hiking boots and trail running shoes serve similar purposes but are different enough that one will likely suit you better than the other. If you happen to be someone that fits in both categories, you might want to consider getting a pair of each.