Can You Hike in Running Shoes?
For the utilitarian, it might be important to know if it's okay to go hiking in running shoes. Sometimes we have neither budget nor space for extra pairs of shoes and boots. Other times, we don't partake in activities, like hiking, enough to warrant a designated pair of shoes.
To be clear, running shoes often get lopped in with cross-trainers. This article isn't referring to cross-trainers, which have a flat sole and aren't designed to handle pavement for long periods.
Can you hike in running shoes? Yes, though you may be better off using trail runners, which are like a cross-breed of hiking shoes and running shoes.
But if you're worried about durability and longevity, it's recommended that you stick to shoes designed for rugged terrain rather than shoes designed for flat surfaces.
To come to an educated conclusion, let's take a look at the construction and design of both footwear options.
How Are Hiking Boots Designed?
The design of hiking boots helps you walk through different levels of terrain in varying weather conditions. Because of this, hiking boots are properly equipped to deal with exposure to several different elements, like water, rocks, dirt, and grass.
Good hiking boots help you get stronger, easily navigate rugged landscapes, and not weigh you down. They're also constructed to last a very long time.
The soles are made, usually, of rubber, with deep tread. The tread allows a hiker to properly navigate challenging terrain and also provides grip and stability on uneven surfaces.
Don't let the myths fool you—hiking boots aren't always rigid, clunky, or stiff.
A good hiking boot is sturdy enough to provide support on your joints while remaining flexible enough for different movements.
Just like running shoes, hiking boots help absorb impact and prolong your endurance.
Unlike shoes for running, some hiking boots have waterproofing applied to them, which can affect breathability.
The downside to water-resistant boots is they often don't provide the best breathability (leather boots, we're calling you out!).
However, there are several makes and styles of hiking footwear that allow better breathability, such as vented boots and shoes.
- Breathability: Vented boots exist, which help with airflow and breathability. Yet, they still don't offer the same breathability as a running shoe. Some waterproof hiking boots have a coating over them, which further hinders breathability.
- Comfort: Contrary to popular belief, hiking boots are very comfortable. It's more about the fit of the boot rather than the style.
- Weight: Hiking boots inherently weigh more than running shoes, clocking in at about 3 3/4lbs on average.
- Material: Polyester and nylon make up the typical hiking boot, though they will also be made of leather, depending on which style of boot you choose.
- Sole: Thick rubber with protruding tread. This adds more traction and keeps your feet safe from injury.
How Are Running Shoes Designed?
Sometimes, running shoes are the polar opposite of hiking boots.
The typical running shoe is very light and extremely breathable. They are constructed with lightweight materials, which are great for airflow but might not hold up too well on rugged terrain, making them easily rippable.
Most running shoes have a soft sole with a hard, plastic midsole. The tread of running shoes is designed to handle long distances on surfaces like concrete and sometimes even soft soil.
The tread pattern on running shoes also follows the direction of the foot, rather than a perfectly straight path. This improves grip and promotes proper running form.
The design of running shoes focuses on these factors:
- Breathability: Most running shoes are vented or made of materials designed for breathability.
- Comfort: Running causes a lot of impact on your ankles, knees, and sometimes even your lower back. Because of this, running shoes have softer soles. This helps absorb impact better than a regular shoe would.
- Weight: On average, men's running shoes weigh about 9.5 ounces. Whereas women's running shoes weigh a little less due to size.
- Material: The average materials used for running shoes are nylon and synthetic materials. This helps reduce weight and improve breathability.
- Sole: The soles of running shoes have layers. The materials in the layers consist of blown rubber or rubber or carbon rubber. The soles of running shoes help absorb the impact of running, thus they will feel a bit "softer".
The downside to wearing running shoes during a hike is that the soles might get pretty chewed up on a rocky trail, as they aren't crafted with friction in mind.
Even worse, if you're blazing through a trail with a lot of foliage, the outer surface will get torn up pretty fast.
I discovered this first hand when I started hill-running. My run felt light and comfortable, but those shoes didn't hold up for as long as a proper hiking shoe or boot would have.
This doesn't make running shoes bad for hiking, just not ideal for hiking given the rough terrain.
Which Is Better For A Hike?
You've combed through this article and still have questions.
It's easy to see why. There are so many variables involved, like running distance, terrain factors, and soil conditions.
As mentioned, you can usually get away with throwing on your runners and taking them out on the trail.
However, they are going to be prone to a shorter lifespan when they're put in conditions they're not made for.
Having said that, there is an alternative solution.
Consider Trail Runners for Hiking in Running Shoes
What better way to solve this problem than to merge two pre-existing inventions?
Trail Runners are exactly what you'd expect from their name. They're designed not just for challenging, rough terrain, but for running, too.
The biggest benefit of using trail runners is they are versatile, meaning they're perfectly okay to take on flat-surface running.
How Are Trail Runners Designed?
Trail Runners are designed with the hiker and the runner in mind.
The soles are thicker, similar to a mid-level running shoe, but have aggressive tread which is great for navigating over rocky terrain at varying inclines.
Trail Runners are like running shoes on steroids, for a lack of a better term.
Because they inherit most of their design from running shoes, they're not usually the best for wet conditions. You always have the option of picking up a pair of waterproof trail shoes, though.
They don't weigh too much, either, typically coming in between 1.1lbs to 2lbs depending on the size and materials. This makes them weigh far less than hiking boots.
Tip: If you're looking for a good trail running shoe to start with, consider these Trail Runners from Salomon on Amazon.
At the end of the day, whichever type of shoe you choose comes down to your preference.
Some hikers want the stability and firmness of a hiking boot. It gives you the feeling that you can conquer any peak, any trail, and do it without damaging your feet.
For the more experienced hiker, completing a day hike wearing running shoes isn't the end of the world. They are a decent lightweight option compared to hiking boots.
Choose whichever shoe gets you moving and allows you to complete your hikes.
Now get out there and cover some ground!