Hiking Boots vs Trail Running Shoes | What’s The Difference?

It is not uncommon to see hikers taking to the trails sporting a pair of the latest trail running shoes; the clue is in the name, right? They’re designed for running the trails, so why would they not be suitable for hiking?

The truth is that you can wear trail running shoes for hiking if you wish but there is a clear difference between these two types of shoes. Before you favor one or the other, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the differences so that you can make a more informed choice. 

In this article, we are going to be looking at hiking boots vs trail running shoes to find out what exactly sets them apart from one another.

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Is There A Right Or Wrong Choice?

When it comes to hiking boots and trail running shoes, the choice of which you wear comes down to your personal preference. 

If you have been on the hiking scene for a while, you will probably have noticed how, in recent years, a lot of hikers have opted for trail runners and ditched their hefty hiking boots. One of the main reasons for this is the lightweight nature of trail running shoes. But while they are much lighter, they are also much less durable – but more on that later. 

A lot of people are attracted to the idea of wearing a trail running shoe because of the better choice of stylish designs. Of course, there are a lot of on-trend hiking boots and manufacturers are indeed noting the demand for more modern designs. But this still is not comparable to the choices you get with trail runners. 

When asking yourself whether there is a right or wrong choice as to the type of shoe you wear, you must look at how you intend to use the shoe. For example, if you plan on climbing an icy mountain in some of the most remote locations in the world, a trail running shoe simply wouldn’t cut the mustard. Conversely, if you want to take a leisurely hike with friends on occasion then you might not need to invest in an expensive hiking boot.

Hiking Boots vs Trail Running Shoes

It isn’t difficult to tell that these are two utterly different pairs of shoes, just by looking at them. They may be used for similar purposes but there are quite a few key differences that a lot of people may not be aware of. Let’s explore this.

Breaking The Shoes In

One of the things that you will have heard us talking about many times is the fact that you must break your hiking boots in. If this is not done then it can lead to you finding yourself in a significant amount of pain when out on the trail.

However, trail running shoes need almost no breaking in and this is one of the major differences and why a lot of people are drawn to them. They tend to be made from much more flexible material and as such, will almost instantly mold to the shape of your foot. 

This makes them a good choice for a spare pair of footwear that you might carry in your pack. 

If you find yourself on a remote trail with a hole in your boots, a pair of trail running shoes can be worn straight out of the box; what’s more, they’ll be lighter to carry.


Hiking boots are typically made to be worn in all types of weather; rain or shine, they will keep your feet protected. For the most part, these robust boots come fitted with a waterproof lining, and the upper will at the very least, be water-resistant. This is great when there is a downpour but also if you are walking over wet ground. 

In contrast, trail running shoes are not normally designed to be waterproof. There are some that may offer a degree of water resistance but they are not anywhere near as protective as hiking boots. However, if they do get wet, they tend to dry off a lot faster than hiking boots which can take days.


Trail running shoes are typically made from more breathable materials and this makes them ideal for the summer months when the feet are much more likely to sweat. 

Without this breathability, moisture can build up inside the shoe and cause it to rub the feet causing sores and blisters. 

There are a lot of hiking boots that have a breathable layer but as a rule, these shoes are better for colder weather. A lot of them are designed with insulation whereas trail running shoes are rarely seen with this feature.


Hiking boots are made to last; on average you can expect a good pair to go for at least a thousand miles without showing signs of wear, however, trail runners are not designed with this kind of durability in mind. 

This is largely down to the materials from which the shoes are made. You will often find that hiking boots are made from natural materials like leather which is not only comfortable but also very long-lasting.

Trail runners are typically made from materials like mesh which makes them more lightweight and breathable. However, this does mean that you may get only 500 miles out of them before they need replacing.


Owing to the heavier materials that hiking shoes are made from, they are generally a lot heavier. That being said, there are many lightweight options out there that can make longer hikes a lot more comfortable. 

However, if you want a lightweight shoe, a trail running shoe is likely your best option. They are made from light materials that are great for light footing. 

The weight of your shoe will vastly depend on your personal choice, some people prefer something less bulky while others like to feel a substantial weight underfoot.

Support And Protection

When it comes to providing the feet with protection and support, there is rarely anything more adequate than a hiking boot. These shoes are designed to be robust while keeping the feet safe and secure. The material that is used plays a large part in this but you will also benefit from the increased height, particularly in the ankle area. 

If you have any problems with your feet, a pair of good hiking boots can make the world of difference. 

Conversely, a trail runner doesn’t give this level of protection but they are usually lower to the ground. Trail running shoes don’t typically have a thick heel like a hiking boot and this can have an advantage in that you are less likely to trip.


One of the primary concerns for people buying shoes for hiking is that they want something that is going to be comfortable. Nobody wants to get caught on and be on the trail in pain. 

Trail running shoes are superior in terms of comfort and this is mostly because they are much more flexible which allows your feet a lot more freedom. They are also not as restrictive as hiking boots.

However, if you are going to be walking on particularly rugged terrain, a trail running shoe’s thinner sole might mean that you feel every bump and stone which can be uncomfortable. 

Hiking boots tend to cradle the foot much more securely and this can feel uncomfortable for some people. However, they do offer greater comfort thanks to the thicker sole which helps in absorbing shock.

So, What’s The Difference?

Hiking Boots Trail Running Shoes
Better for Winterwear Better for Summer wear
Durable More comfortable
Greater support on rugged terrain Better on more even ground
Waterproof Will dry faster
Typically heavier Lightweight
Require breaking in Can be worn right out of the box


There is a lot of debate within the hiking community about whether a hiking boot or a trail running shoe is the best option. In truth, that decision rests on how you intend to use the footwear and what your personal preferences are. 

There are clear differences between hiking boots vs trail running shoes as each type of shoe was designed with a different purpose in mind. 

Mainly, hiking boots are more durable, heavier, and waterproof whereas trail runners are lightweight, breathable, and more comfortable.

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