You are heading out on a hike where there is uneven terrain, rocky and dusty trails, and a mix of flat areas and hilly areas, so you are probably looking at your running shoes and wondering if they will last during the hike. The typical advice is to grab a pair of hiking boots, but those can be large, heavy, and expensive.
Running shoes can be used for hiking since they are lightweight, breathable, and can protect your foot from debris on the trail. However, running shoes will likely be lacking in grip, comfort on rough terrain, and durability against the elements.
While you can just toss on your running shoes and hit the trails, there are many things your running shoes aren’t built for that can cause your hike to be uncomfortable and leave your feet blistered and in pain if you have the wrong shoes. Below we will cover why your running shoes will work, things they will struggle against, and reasons why you should consider getting a pair of trail runners so you can have the best hike with running shoes.
Why Running Shoes are Good for Hiking
The first reason why running shoes are good for hiking is most are very breathable. Most running shoes are designed with mesh on the sides, tongue, and front of the shoe. This allows for optimal airflow so your feet can breathe as you run. The same benefit applies during your hikes. It is important to have good airflow during your hike.
You want your feet to have good airflow so they do not get too hot and sweaty. Having hot and sweaty feet can lead to blisters on your feet. Having blisters will lead you to having a very painful hike. While this breathabliity from the mesh is a benefit, it also has some downsides which we will discuss in the next section.
The second reason running shoes are good for hiking is that they are lightweight. Having a lightweight shoe causes less strain on your feet and leg with each step you take. Running shoes compared to hiking boots are much better in this regard. Imagine hiking for five miles and each foot has to lift nearly one pound of hiking boot compared to half a pound for each running shoe.
The lightweight of running shoes will be well appreciated towards the end of your tough hike and you need to use every ounce of energy to lift your legs. The weight will also help you with being extra nimble on rocky terrain and do quickly step over any debris on the hiking trail.
Since running shoes are more breathable and lightweight they also are much cooler compared to hiking boots. Using running shoes in the summer instead of hiking boots can make a huge difference. Having cooler shoes will prevent very sweaty feet and avoid potential blisters.
Combining the right hiking socks and running shoes is a great way to ensure protected, comfortable and cool feet on your next hike. Although there are many great benefits of why running shoes can work for hiking, there are some trade-offs you should definitely consider. There are a few things running shoes do not provide that could make your next hike much easier and more comfortable.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Running Shoes for Hiking
We just went over three benefits of using running shoes for hiking, however there are some things that are definitely lacking in running shoes when they are used on a hiking trail. The first thing running shoes will be lacking on that can make a huge difference in your hike is providing enough grip. Running shoes are designed to be used on pavement and on the track.
This means they they do not need to provide much grip against pavement, asphalt, or the track. If you compare the soles of running shoes against hiking shoes the difference is apparent. The amount of grip each shoe provides is completely different. Hiking shoes will have rigid grooves and multiple grip points to allow you maximum grip on slippery rocks and smooth granite. If it rains on your hike and you are using running shoes then you can be in for a long day slipping with each step.
The next major thing running shoes might not provide on a hike is optimal comfort. Since you will be hiking on a trail with rocks, gravel, tree debris, boulders, and more then any steps you take on these items will be very uncomfortable. Running shoes don’t have the thick soles designed to keep each step comfortable on a hiking trail. Running shoes are more thin and designed for speed as opposed to comfort on uneven terrain.
Hiking shoes on the other hand will have soles designed so that you don’t feel most of the terrain and debris on a hiking trail. As you hike in hiking shoes you will not feel each stone or branch since they are designed to handle the elements of unknown terrain.
The two main benefits of running shoes of breathability and lightweight design come at a cost. Running shoes are designed to be used in the city and typically the materials they are made of are not designed to have rocks, gravel, rain, and other elements tossed against them on a multi-mile hike. Your running shoes will likely tear quickly after many hikes since the mesh material isn’t made to be used in nature.
Hiking shoes use tougher materials and have guards at the fronts and sides to help limit debris from hitting the shoe directly. Hiking shoes are designed to withstand the elements and will last longer after more than a hundred miles of hiking.
Upgrading your Running Shoes to Trail Runners
If you want the best of both worlds of running shoes and hiking boots then you should consider getting trail runners. Trail runners offer all of the benefits of breathability, comfort. and lightweight and provide optimal comfort, grip, and durability. Another great thing some trail runners provide is optimal foot space.
Regular running shoes have narrow spaces for your toes. There are trail runners with a wider foot area. This will allow your feet room to breathe and prevent them from being jammed when you are heading down hill on your hike.
Trail runners are fantastic choices for your next hike due to the materials they made of. Trail runners will be designed with tougher mesh and stronger structural materials. These materials will allow the shoes to withstand being beat up on the hiking trails.
Another thing about having the right materials for your trail runners is that they will dry quickly if it rains and your shoes get wet or you need to step across a stream or river. Some trail runners are designed to get wet and dry quickly. If you were to get your regular running shoes wet, they they would be soggy and soaked for days due to the materials they are made of.
Trail runners offer another great benefit which is having stronger soles. The soles on trail runners will provide you with enough grip to scramble up smooth granite and massive boulders. If it rains your trail runners will have your confidently stepping on the to trail without slipping.
The soles of trail runners are rated to withstand a pounding of heading up uneven terrain whether it be a desert landscape, mountain vista, or wet forest.
Running shoes are a great alternative to hiking shoes if that is all you have to start with. However as time goes on you will realize that your running shoes were not built for hiking and that they will not last. Despite running shoes being breathable and lightweight there are many things they are missing once you try on hiking shoes or trail runners.
When I first started hiking I used my beat up Nike running shoes because thats all I had. They supported my feet for my first year of hiking while I learned about hiking boots and trail runners. Eventually I tried hiking boots and realized what I was missing on. I hiking in hiking boots for years before venturing into trail runners and wished I went straight to trail runners. Enjoy your next hike with whatever may be on your feet!