Can You hike in running shoes? What You Need To Know First

Hiking in running shoes, is it ok? This is one of the first things I had to figure out when I started my hiking & backpacking journey.  I didn’t realize how many types of shoes there were to choose from. When starting out I was able to save money by using shoes I already owned.

If you are new to hiking, or just don’t do it enough to buy a pair of ‘trail runners,’ you might be wondering if you can just hike in your running shoes. Do you have to buy special shoes or boots? These are questions I had to figure it out when I was a beginner.

Can you hike in running shoes?

 Yes, for trails that have a flat terrain and a firm surface, you can hike in them. Running shoes are ok on trails that are groomed, kept, or partially paved.

– No, for trails that have rugged terrain, it is not recommended you wear running shoes. You should opt for trail runners or hiking boots instead.

Running shoes, and I mean shoes meant for running on pavement, can be a good option for hiking on flat trails. Also, be aware that they do make shoes that are specifically meant for running on trails called ‘trail runners.’

The Terrain Matters

You should select the type of shoe you will wear based on the type of trail you will be hiking. Running shoes have their advantages but aren’t the right option for certain trails.  This is mainly due to their lack of tread, thin soles, and lack of durability. When trying to decide if it will be ok to wear them you should consider a few things.

Easy Trails With Flat Terrain

Running shoes are perfectly fine for nature trails, bike trails, and multi-use trails. Many local trails are designed with the average resident in mind (not for hiking enthusiasts). They don’t get too difficult or dangerous.  Running shoes can be used for paved trails, rock trails, and some dirt trails that are on flat terrain.

The trails that can be found at the parks that are popular in your area, more than likely, are easy and on, mostly, flat terrain. Your average pair of running shoes will be just fine for this.

Rugged, Unmaintained, and Steep Mountainous Terrain

Running shoes should not be worn for these types of trails. They do not have enough protection in the soles. They are thin and smooth. You will feel rocks and debris on the trail. many Instead, depending on the type of trail, you should consider getting a high-quality pair of ‘trail runners’ or hiking boots.

Difference Between Running Shoes & Trail Runners

Traditional Running shoes are designed to be used on the road and on hard flat ground. They are smoother on the bottom and don’t have as much tread (or grip) as trail running shoes do. They do not have good traction and will be slippery on trails in rough terrain. They are built to be lightweight and for speed.

Trail runners are designed for fast walking and running on trails and rugged terrain. There are different types but in general, they are thicker, offer more protection, and have better traction–while still maintaining the lightness, flexibility, and breathability you’d want from a running shoe.

Road shoes don't have enough grip for trails that are on rugged terrain. Running shoes are built to be stable and reliable when running on the pavement.
Road shoes don’t have enough grip for trails that are on rugged terrain. Running shoes are built to be stable and reliable when running on the pavement.

Advantages of Trail Runners

They are designed to be much more durable and able to protect your feet on more rugged terrain. They have a lot of tread and grip on the bottom. The soles of the shoe will protect your feet from sharp rocks, thorns, and other unexpected debris you will encounter on a trail. Some trail runners also have a toe bumper which prevents you from stubbing your toe.

Trail Running Shoes have lugs for grip. This provides for good traction when on the trail. Some also have a have sticky bottom that add additional grip.
Trail Running Shoes have lugs for grip. This provides for good traction when on the trail. Some also have a have sticky bottom that add additional grip.

Trail running shoes, when compared to running shoes, are more durable and have better traction. Also, they are better for longer trails and multi-day trips when compared to your average pair of running shoes. They are a bit heavier and stiffer but they offer more protection and function.

Trail Runners Features

There are two types of trail runners: lightweight and rugged. The lightweight options are more breathable and flexible.They are good for trails that are off the path but not good for rocky and more difficult terrain as they are not as durable.

The rugged runners are good for mountains and when you will be in difficult or unpredictable terrain. Certain models come with a rock plate that is placed in the sole. This adds protection when stepping on rocks, gravel, and debris. Without a rock plate you will feel the pebbles, stones, and objects beneath your feet.

Disadvantages of Trail Runners

They have less durability and protection when compared to hiking boots.

Trail runners, usually, don’t protect your ankles. They come up to the bottom of your ankle while boots protect the ankle. If you are hiking in the mountains or on rocky and uneven terrain they may not be the best choice.

The soles can, also, be thin, which depends on the specific shoe. The thinner the sole the more you will feel the hard rocks debris that you step on, which is uncomfortable for many people.

Advantages of Hiking Boots.

Hiking boots are much more durable than trail runners and running shoes. They are usually water-resistant or waterproof too, which makes them great if you are going to be hiking in the elements. They are great in mud, snow, and ice.

Hiking boots (Including mid-boots) have much better ankle support as the boot covers the ankle. You will be less likely to twist and injure your ankle. They are great in the winter as they are not very breathable and will do a good job of keeping your feet warm.

Overall they are good for hiking in mud, snow, and ice. That’s not to say that you can’t wear them in the summertime and in hot weather. Many backpackers and hikers wear boots as their main footwear, but many prefer trail runners as they are lighter and more breathable.

Disadvantages of Hiking Boots.

Hiking boots can take a long time to break-in. This is a big disadvantage in my opinion. You’d have to put up with some uncomfortableness for the first few weeks until they are ‘broken in’. This may take much longer depending on how often you wear them.

Hiking boots don’t provide good ventilation. They are not as breathable when compared to hiking shoes. This makes them bad in hot weather but great in cold weather, where you want to keep your feet as warm as possible.

If you are going to be hiking for more than a day they may bother your feet. If you are wearing boots that are your normal shoe size your feet will swell up eventually, especially on multi-day hikes. To prevent this you should consider getting 1 size bigger than your foot size.

Also, I tend to get more blisters when I wear boots. They aren’t as comfortable in my opinion. I try to avoid them, but many hikers use them year-round. It really comes down to personal preference.

It’s ok to Hike in Running Shoes When:

  • You are hiking on well-groomed flat trails. Dirt trails that are well-kept will be fine.
  • When a portion of your hike will be on the pavement.
  • When on trails meant for a variety of situations and people: such as dog walkers & bicyclists.

When it’s not ok to Hike in Running Shoes

  • During rain, snow, and ice.
  • When it’s recently rained and there is a chance of mud.
  • When you are on a multi-day hike.
  • When you are hiking on terrain with steep hills, large rocks, or in the mountains.
  • When you are hiking in terrain that has thorns, sharp rocks, and debris that you may step on.

Hiking in running shoes is completely fine in some situations. Be smart about it. If in doubt don’t wear them. If you plan to go on more than one hike you should definitely invest in better shoes!

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