Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners – What’s Better for Your Feet?

As an avid hiker, I’ll always be a huge fan of hiking boots. However, over the past year, I’ve started wearing trail runners on a few of my adventures, and I can see why they’re so popular.

Not only are they lightweight, but they’re also highly comfortable and don’t require much breaking in. 

However, I still believe that traditional hiking boots have their purpose and place, and you shouldn’t dismiss them when buying new hiking footwear. 

Here I’ll discuss the main features and differences of both and the things you should consider when weighing the pros and cons of hiking boots vs trail running shoes.

Keep these things in mind when deciding which one to purchase for your hiking needs. 

Quick Summary 

  • Trail runners have become popular with all types of hikers for their lightweight construction and comfort. 
  • Both hiking boots and trail runners have pros and cons and are better suited for specific conditions and climates. 
  • You should choose hiking boots for rough terrain or winter conditions and trail runners for lighter and shorter hikes in the warmer months.   

Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners (Side-by-Side Comparison)

hiking boots or trail runners

After completing many types of hikes in both types of footwear, here’s my list of the top differences between trail runners vs. hiking boots. 

Ankle Support 

Hiking Boots  

One of the best things about hiking shoes and boots is their amount of ankle support. In my opinion, if you need good ankle stability, there’s simply no better choice.

High-top hiking boots will provide you with exceptional ankle protection, which you will need if you’re dealing with treacherous terrains, like mountains or steep rocks. 

Trail Runners 

Trail runners are more like sneakers and, therefore, are low-cut shoes. Because they don’t have a high top, your ankles have less or no support. I’ve tried wearing my trail runners on uneven terrain, and I definitely don’t feel as secure as I do when I wear my hiking shoes.

That’s not to say trail runners will leave you more prone to injury than hiking boots. However, it’s definitely something to consider if you tend to have weak ankles or roll them a lot. 


hiking boots and trail runners traction (tread)

Hiking Boots 

Hiking boots provide excellent traction in various conditions, especially on wet or slippery surfaces or areas with a lot of loose gravel.

They have a very deep tread that clings to rugged terrain well. Because hiking boots also have stiff soles, it also leads to improved traction. The soles can’t flex unexpectedly, leading to slipping or falling. 

Trail Runners 

Different hiking shoes will have different traction levels depending on the pattern of the tread and the type of rubber the manufacturer used for the sole. Generally, trail runners don’t provide as much traction as hiking shoes or boots.

However, some multi-terrain options have tread that resembles cleats and helps provide better traction in muddy or wet areas.  


Hiking Boots 

The biggest downfall to hiking boots is how much they weigh. If you’re not used to walking long distances with that much weight, it can leave your feet tired and can even cause your legs to ache. 

If weight is something you consider, then check our list of the best lightweight hiking boots where we analyze and compare all the premium footwear.

Also, consider how much weight they will add to your gear if you bring things along for a backpacking trip. The typical leather hiking boots weigh approximately 3 pounds or more. 

Often, when I’m backpacking somewhere further from where I live, I only bring one carry-on piece of luggage with me on the plane. Without a doubt, my hiking boots are additional weight I wish I didn’t have to carry.  

Read More: How Much Does A Pair Of Hiking Boots Weigh

Trail Runners 

Hiking shoes are incredibly lightweight footwear, one reason so many people find them appealing. Trail runners weigh only about 1.5 pounds, with ultralight trail runners weighing even less. 

Hiking shoes weigh less because they’re made with lightweight synthetic materials, such as mesh uppers and durable nylon. Although you’ll find some hiking boots made out of synthetic materials, many high-quality pairs are made of leather, which adds weight. 

Although it may not seem like much, it’s considerable weight savings when you have to pack them. Many of my friends opt for trail runners when backpacking now, for the very reason that they like carrying light loads. 


hiking boots and trail running shoes waterproofing comparison

Hiking Boots 

If you’re looking to keep your feet dry in wet conditions, hiking boots typically have a waterproof membrane that does an excellent job of keeping water out. Whenever I’m winter hiking, I always opt for water-resistant hiking boots instead of trail runners. 

In my experience, hiking shoes provide much better protection for your feet if you’re hiking in below-freezing snowy conditions. After all, consider whether you’d wear your regular running shoes outside in heavy snow.

You likely wouldn’t because your feet would get cold and wet. Hiking shoes will provide you with no more protection against the elements than those regular hiking boots would.

Hiking shoes do an excellent job of keeping your feet warm, which is important when out on the trails. 

Trail Runners 

As mentioned, trail runners have mesh uppers and other thinner materials that are not waterproof. Therefore, your feet will get wet and feel cold if you wear them through snow or water. Having wet feet makes for a very unpleasant hiking experience. I know this fact very well.

However, if you’re determined to wear trail runners on a winter hike, you can add waterproof options to help your feet stay warm and dry. 

Make sure you wear merino wool socks and add some gore-tex socks over them. Finally, layer some waterproof gaiters on top.   


Hiking Boots

Hiking boots definitely take some work to feel comfortable, but once you’ve broken them in properly, they should make reliable hiking shoes that don’t hurt your feet.

However, some people find that hiking boots feel too restrictive because they are so stiff and don’t like that they don’t have some amount of flexibility. 

Trail Runners 

Trail running shoes will be more comfortable for many hikers simply because they are lightweight and flexible. Many trail runners also have extra cushioning, which helps them feel comfortable right away.

As I mentioned earlier, you also don’t have to break them in, so many people choose them as their hiking footwear because they don’t have the patience to complete the entire breaking-in period correctly.  

Finally, trail runners give you a better range of ankle movement and mimic how your foot naturally wants to walk. Because you can feel the ground better, you may actually be less prone to ankle injuries in certain conditions. Many rock climbers use this type of hiking shoe because it allows them to feel the rocks better.   


Hiking Boots

Because they are sturdy, hiking boots perform better on challenging terrain. Even sharp rocks shouldn’t destroy your hiking boots because leather doesn’t tend to split or break as quickly as cotton does.

When I first started hiking, I had a pair of hiking shoes that lasted me many years, and the tread wore out long before the boot’s upper body did.  

Trail Runners

A trail running shoe will always have less durability than a sturdy hiking boot. The lighter-weight materials will rip more easily on jagged rocks or other types of rough terrain. With that in mind, you’ll likely have to replace them sooner vs a good pair of boots. 


hiking boots vs trail running shoes breathability

Hiking Boots 

A hiking boot will always be less breathable than a pair of lightweight trail runners. In fact, waterproof hiking shoes are not very breathable at all. Some people find their feet sweat a lot in boots, especially hiking in summer when the weather gets hot. 

A big assumption is that you must wear boots if you want your feet to stay dry, but that’s not always true. I find that my feet dry fairly quickly in the summer when I’m wearing my hiking shoes. In fact, my boots can sometimes feel oppressive if it’s too hot because my feet start to overheat.  

Trail Runners 

Trail shoes have very good breathability, which makes them great for wearing in warmer months. They also tend to be quick drying, which helps reduce the chance that you’ll get blisters on your feet due to moisture and sweat. 

Even if you need to do some river crossings, your trail shoes should dry quickly, unlike heavy boots, which take much longer.  


Hiking Boots 

As mentioned, boots offer excellent stability on rocky trails or abrasive terrain. They offer more support to certain areas of your feet than a trail running shoe can offer. The torsional rigidity of a boot is unmatched by any other type of hiking shoe.

If you’re hiking off the trail somewhere in dangerous conditions, you’ll want this stiff sole to help keep you stable and less likely to suffer from ankle sprains or other injuries. 

Trail Runners

Although trail runners generally provide you with enough support and stability for walking well-maintained trails or less technical areas, some hikers find that most trail runners don’t provide the right amount of support that they need. 

If you continuously hike in footwear that doesn’t give you sufficient support, you risk shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and even Achilles tendonitis. For this reason, you should choose durable trail runners with good insoles and cushioning to absorb shock well. 


hiking boot vs trail runner shoe warmth comparison

Hiking Boots 

I can’t stress enough that one of the main benefits of wearing boots is their warmth, especially for a long hike in cold weather. This type of hiking shoe definitely insulates your foot well and protects your toes from freezing temperatures.

A trail runner cannot do that as well, and you must add extra waterproof layers to get them to hold heat. 

Trail Runners  

Trail runners typically have almost no insulation and do not hold heat well. Therefore, if you’re looking for a hiking shoe that holds warmth, they will not make the best option.

Snow and water will get into the top of your trail runner and can cause your feet to freeze if you’re not wearing the right socks. 

How Fast They Dry 

Hiking Boots 

Hiking boots will not dry fast, especially if you’ve gotten them very wet. Many hiking boots can take up to three days to fully dry out. I’ve invested in a boot dryer at home because I don’t have the patience to let my boots air dry for several days.

It’s definitely something to consider if you’re going on a multi-day hike, and you may need to pack multiple pairs, which will add to your weight carried. 

Trail Runners 

A lightweight pair of trail runners will dry very quickly, especially in the sun. If you’re looking for a hiking shoe that will get rid of sweat quickly or not remain soggy after walking through a stream, you’ll likely want to consider a trail runner. 

Read More: How to Dry Wet Boots for Hiking

How to Decide Between Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners 

Now that I’ve discussed the pros and cons of each type of footwear, here are some other things to consider when deciding between running shoes or boots for hiking. 


Will you walk on very technical terrain that’s rugged, rocky, steep, or has very loose gravel? If so, you will want to wear boots. A trail runner makes a good choice if your terrain consists of well-groomed trails through the forest or even tightly packed dirt. 


As mentioned, hiking and backpacking boots are not a lightweight option, and carrying them in your backpack can feel burdensome. If you need to carry your hiking shoes for a while, you may want to consider trail runners, which are the lightest option. 


If you hike in wintery conditions or freezing temperatures, you’ll want to stick with a heavy pair of waterproof boots. Most hiking shoes that aren’t boots should work just fine for three-season hiking. 


If you’re a beginning hiker, you will find that running shoes work well for most conditions you’ll encounter on the trails. You likely won’t be doing too many technical hikes and will enjoy how trail runners feel like your regular running shoes.   


You also want to consider how many miles you expect to cover in a day, month, or year. Trail runners typically need replacing more often than boots. You’ll likely need to buy a new pair every 300 to 500 miles or so, and boots can last up to 1000. 

Related Articles:

Are Trail Running Shoes Good For Hiking? 

Trail running shoes are suitable for hiking if you aren’t hiking in extreme conditions, doing off-trail hiking, or tackling challenging trails. The average pair works well for moderate thru-hikes and hikes in spring, summer, or fall. 

Verdict – So What To Use? 

Now that you know the benefits of both types of hiking shoes, you’re likely wondering which type to purchase to meet your needs.

My general recommendations are that if you plan on hiking very tough terrain or hiking in the freezing temperatures of winter, you will want to purchase a pair of winter hiking boots

If you’re hiking on regular terrain and marked paths, some comfortable trail runners will give you a pleasant experience, especially if you’re hiking in the spring, summer, or fall. 


Can You Use a Trail Running Shoe for Walking?

Yes, you can easily wear a trail running shoe for everyday walking or day-to-day activities. These shoes are in fashion and as comfortable as a regular running shoe but just have rubber soles that are slighter thicker and provide a bit more traction. 

Are Trail Running Shoes the Same as Hiking Shoes?

The terms trail running shoes and hiking shoes are often used interchangeably. However, trail running shoes refer to a specific lightweight shoe that looks like regular sneakers while hiking shoes are low-cut hiking boots that don’t wrap above the ankle.

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom has been a writer for over 20 years and an outdoor and hiking enthusiast for most of her life. After spending much of her career in the corporate world, she decided to freelance to spend more time with her family and explore new places. You will find her always looking forward to her next weekend adventure and writing guides that help others make the most of their own hikes and time outdoors.

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