Most people own a pair of running shoes, even if they don’t always use them to run. Running shoes are durable, comfortable sneakers you can wear for everyday use, and some brands are very much a fashion statement, too. For these reasons, many people may wonder if you can hike in running shoes.
You can hike in running shoes, but hiking shoes or boots are a more suitable option. Running shoes can be fine on shorter, flat trails, but for trails that are more technical, you should opt to wear hiking shoes or boots instead. Running shoes don’t offer the same level of grip and traction.
Running shoes are designed with hard, smooth surfaces in mind. As many people will have a pair in the house, it makes sense to wonder if they can be worn for hiking. In the article below, we will compare hiking and running shoes and consider if running shoes are suitable for hiking.
What Are The Differences Between Hiking And Running Shoes?
There are several differences between hiking and running shoes, and these differences should help you determine which shoe to wear during any outdoor activity. These differences arise from the function each shoe is designed for and can affect your comfort and safety during the activity you choose.
Traction is important for both hikers and runners. However, most running shoes are designed for the hard tarmac of the road, while hiking shoes are designed for the rugged and uneven surfaces of trails. Hiking shoes need more traction, and this is reflected in the tread.
The tread on hiking shoes is more pronounced to assist with grip on rocky trails and to reduce the chance of slipping in wet conditions. The tread on running shoes tends to be low profile and reasonably even to help cope with the impact from hard road surfaces on the legs and joints.
Running shoes have more cushioning than hiking shoes in order to combat the impact of hard surfaces on the joints when running. Every time your foot strikes the surface while running, your body can absorb up to three times its body weight, compared to twice your body weight when walking.
Therefore, the cushioning in running shoes needs to cope with this weight absorption in order to help prevent injuries. The additional cushioning also provides more stability with each step as you run. Since hikers absorb less weight, the cushioning on hiking shoes can be less too.
Hiking shoes need to be tough and durable to cope with the rigors of long hikes over rugged and rocky terrain. Hiking shoes are therefore heavier and made with a sturdier build to help cope with the punishment they can be put through.
Running shoes need to be lightweight. The design of the shoe ensures minimal additional weight, which can slow a runner down. This includes the cushioned sole, which is more lightweight than the sturdy sole of a hiking shoe that needs to cope with treading on rocks, branches, and other trail debris.
Running shoes contain more mesh than their hiking counterparts. Most running shoes will have mesh across the top to allow better airflow and breathability. This helps reduce sweaty feet when hiking, which apart from being unpleasant, helps reduce the risk of fungal infections and as foot odor.
The additional mesh also helps running shoes dry out quickly when you run through puddles or streams. Hiking shoes need less mesh as less heat is generated around the foot when you walk compared to when you run.
Hiking shoes have better waterproofing qualities than running shoes. You don’t want wet feet on a long hike and part of the fun of hiking is traversing different terrain. You don’t want to get halfway through a hike and then be reluctant to cross a stream just because your footwear isn’t waterproof.
Running shoes do have some waterproof properties, but they are not designed for a good soaking. With all that mesh and lightweight material, running shoes will leak more than hiking shoes, as anyone who has run through a deeper than anticipated puddle knows.
Hiking shoes need to protect both the foot and ankle from uneven terrain and any obstacles on the trail. Hiking boots cover your ankles to offer protection and support, whereas running shoes will sit below the ankle and are designed for the smoother, flatter surfaces of the road.
A hiking shoe will have better toe protection than a running shoe. This is incredibly beneficial if you tend to stub your toe while looking at the scenery. Again, this protection is more minimal in running shoes, where the weight of the shoe is paramount in supporting running speed and performance.
Are Sneakers Good For Hiking?
Sneakers can be good for hiking, but they are not the best option in many situations. Sneakers are fine for short hikes on easy, flat terrain, such as groomed trails and paved tracks. For long hikes over varying terrain, however, there are more suitable hiking footwear options.
The term sneakers can cover quite a range of footwear styles, including running shoes, tennis shoes, and training shoes. They are also worn for casual wear. Most sneakers are lightweight and have rubber soles. However, one outdoor activity the designers of sneakers don’t have in mind is hiking.
A comfortable pair of sneakers may be your “go to” pair of shoes, whether for running, for leisure, or for wearing on your daily errands. The lightweight material makes them breathable, which is highly desirable for an athletic shoe, as well as for general comfort in everyday use. The sole of a sneaker is developed to cushion the foot for hard surfaces.
Hiking In Sneakers
However, these benefits do not necessarily cross over to hiking. A lightweight sneaker will not offer the same protection on a trail that a sturdier hiking boot will. They are also less waterproof and will leak more, not an ideal scenario for hikes on wet days with lots of puddles, or on trails requiring you to cross streams.
One reason sneakers aren’t viewed as good for hiking is they do not offer the same traction as hiking shoes or boots. Sneakers have some grip on the soles, but specialized hiking footwear is designed with grip in mind, to provide important traction on rugged terrain and wet or uneven surfaces.
A factor that may encourage people to hike in sneakers is to prevent blisters. A comfortable pair of sneakers don’t take long to break in, and when you have a preferred brand you can find they fit perfectly straight from the box. Hiking boots and shoes are stiffer than sneakers and take longer to break in, which can cause blisters.
Can You Run In Hiking Shoes?
You can run in hiking shoes in some situations, but there are some drawbacks. Hiking shoes have some similarities to running shoes, such as being low cut, but they are ultimately designed to handle the rigors of walking long, rugged trails, and are not optimized for running.
While you can run in hiking shoes, it’s not advisable over anything but short distances. When you walk, you will generally place the foot down in a different manner than when you run. Hiking shoes are designed to offer flexibility in the forefoot, because walkers tend to push off on their toes. Most running shoes deliver flexibility toward the mid foot or arch.
Individuals differ, so you should find shoes to suit your particularly foot strike when hiking or running. However, as most runners land mid foot or even on the heel, you will find more cushioning in the heel of running shoes. A hiking shoe is designed with flexibility toward the forefoot and will not always provide the necessary impact support when worn for running.
You may also think about wearing your hiking shoes to run on the trails where you hike. Although not designed for running as discussed, hiking shoes will offer you more protection from stones and rocks than standard running shoes. However, hiking shoes are heavier and less breathable, and this is where you may decide to investigate the benefits of trail running shoes.
Trail Running Shoes vs Road Running Shoes For Hiking
Off-road running is a great way to clear the mind and reduce some of the impact on your joints from continuous days of running on the roads. Trail running shoes are designed for off road running, but are they a better choice for hiking than road running shoes? The following are a few areas to consider.
Trail running shoes are made with uneven terrain in mind, while road running shoes are designed for hard, smooth surfaces. Therefore, trail running shoes have deeper lugs on the outsole and a more definitive tread to provide extra traction for uneven trails. This makes them more suitable for hiking than running shoes, which have grip, but not to the same level.
Running shoes focus on protecting the joints through additional cushioning, softening the impact absorbed from the road. Trail running shoes are sturdier and employ protective layers to better protect your feet while on a hiking trail compared to the lightweight mesh design of running shoes.
Trail running shoes also have toe protection built in, though this is still not as strong as the toe protection you will find in most specialized hiking footwear.
In general, the design of trail running and road running shoes are similar around the ankle. However, it’s possible to purchase trail running shoes with a high cut that offers more support. One great benefit of a higher cut is it will help prevent stones and grit from getting into the shoe, which we all know is both annoying and uncomfortable.
The heel-to-toe drop on trail running shoes is lower, meaning the thickness of the midsole from the heel through to the toe drops less compared to running shoes. Trail shoes sit closer to the ground, whereas running shoes have more cushioning to protect against the impact on hard road surfaces. A lower heel-to-toe drop gives you a better feel for the terrain and offers stability to the ankle.
It’s hard to beat the comfort levels of a good pair of running shoes. However, there are lightweight trail running shoes if you are worried heavier shoes could mean you tire more quickly when hiking. One area both shoe types have in common is that modern trail and road running shoes can normally be worn straight from the box without the need to wear them in.
The 5 Best Running Shoes For Hiking
1. Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
This shoe is at the premium end of the market and therefore is a bit pricey. However, they are designed for ultra-distance running on trails and offer excellent foot protection. Being ultra-distance shoes, they are built with varied terrains in mind and have the grip to match.
One thing to note is these shoes can be a narrow fit. However, if this is not a concern then these snug fitting shoes are known for being comfortable, water resistant, and stable. This is a sturdy shoe that sits at the high-end range of the trail running shoe market.
2. Altra Lone Peak 5
The distinctive feature of this shoe appeals to hikers is the extra room within the toe box. By incorporating extra room into to the design, it allows the feet to sit more naturally as you hike to help prevent blisters. This is also a useful feature when your feet swell, something that can happen on long hikes.
This trail shoe has durable soles with minimal cushioning. It therefore sits low to the ground and provides a barefoot running feel. The shoe is geared for long distance trail running, with multi-directional lugging on the outsoles for multi-terrain traction.
3. Inov-8 Roclite 290
This trail running shoe offers performance and comfort while still providing good traction. The shoe includes a moderate level of cushioning for comfort, with a graphene grip for better traction. The rubber lugs on the outsole are prominent, providing sticky grip and durability.
The shoe sits close to the ground for a better feel of the terrain and includes metaplate underfoot protection. This shoe is made for trail running on varied terrains, aided by six-millimeter lugs that grip to most surfaces, including mud and soft turf.
4. La Sportiva Bushido II
This is a supportive, responsive trail running shoe with enhanced cushioning for comfort. It’s a shoe designed for rugged terrain, with outsole lugs wrapping around the midsole for additional traction and stability.
While designed to be durable and abrasion resistant, this trail shoe remains very breathable. The slip-on construction of the shoe sees it fit easily and wraps your foot without creating pressure points that may cause blistering. A recent tweak to the heel design enhances comfort, while the impact plate in the sole helps protect you from rocky surfaces.
5. Saucony Peregrine 11
This is a versatile trail running shoe, suitable for trails ranging from the rugged to the soft. The five-millimeter, multi-directional outsole lugs offer good traction, while the rock plate provides protection to the feet, an important feature on rocky terrain.
The shoe sits quite low with only a four-millimeter heel-to-toe drop. A sturdy heel and roomy toe protector offer a mix of comfort and stability, while the insole is thin and removable. There is the bonus that this trail running shoe just looks good, too, a stylish design sitting well alongside the technical features that makes it suitable for all trails.
You can hike in running shoes, but you may be better off selecting a pair of trail running shoes rather than sporting sneakers. Trail running shoes have the traction and protective features required for off road trails that are missing in road running shoes designed for smooth, hard surfaces.