Trail running shoes and hiking shoes look and feel similar. They even share the same features as they are both made for trudging on rougher ground conditions. That is why there is always an argument about trail running shoes vs hiking shoes.
What sets the two apart? An obvious answer would be that trail running shoes are meant for trail running and hiking shoes are made for hiking. However, how exactly are they different? To make it clearer, let’s take a look at the definition of hiking and trail running.
Trail Running vs. Hiking
Trail running is similar to the regular running workout except that it is done off-road instead of the typical pavement road. Trails can have different terrains. There are hard-packed dirt surfaces, rocky roads, muddy paths, wet slopes, and so on. There are also organized trails where obstacles are purposefully put in place for competitive trail runners to cross.
On the other hand, hiking is similar to a regular walking exercise except that it is done off-road and there is no set distance. You can hike for as long and as far as you want.
That is why when we hear the word “hiking”, the first thing that comes to our mind is a group of people carrying giant backpacks while climbing up a mountain. Hikers encounter changing trail and weather conditions as they move along, so they need to wear and bring proper gear.
From those definitions, we can now clearly see where the fine line is drawn. Both are done off-road, but the difference lies in the activity done. Trail running involves running while hiking involves walking. Of course, we can always change our pace during the activity, but technically, that is what sets them apart.
That said, the pair of shoes that you will wear will require different features, which we will break down in the next section.
Features of Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes should be rugged enough to protect the feet and light enough to allow for fast running pace. That is why most trail running shoes are made of lightweight materials for the upper part and focus the weight on the soles.
1. Light, Breathable Upper Material
The upper part is usually made of a breathable mesh fabric that allows air circulation, especially since running can make the feet feel hot and sweaty. This is also important for trail runners who expect to cross on puddles or streams as thin mesh material dries quickly.
2. Rugged, Grippy Soles
The soles are lined with either rock plates or thick foam, and the lugs are usually short, deep, or sticky. Some prefer the ones with thick foam because it is lighter and an excellent shock absorber, making it easier to bounce and take off quickly.
3. Low to Zero Heel-to-Toe Drop
Many trail running shoes now are also following the trend of barefoot or minimalist shoes. These kinds of shoes have zero-drop ground contact, which means there is not much material between the runner’s feet and the ground. This saves a lot of weight and also allows for more precise steps, which is important if one is going for speed.
4. Tight Fit on Heels and Wide Toe Box
You can usually differentiate a pair of regular running shoes from trail running shoes based on its looks and fit. Trail running shoes are tighter around the heels and midfoot but have a wider forefoot or toe box. This allows the toes to splay for precision and stability.
Features of Hiking Shoes
Hiking shoes offer more protection for the feet and are usually made more durable because it must withstand dirt and moisture for a longer time.
1. Waterproof Upper Material
Generally, hiking shoes have some form of waterproof material on its surface. This adds to the weight of the shoes, but it’s a convenient feature if you plan to hike for days and you expect rain or snow in the area where you’ll be hiking. Keep in mind, though that if water accidentally made its way through your shoes, it will take longer to dry.
2. All-Around Traction
Most trail running shoes only provide mild traction against rough, rocky roads but fail to grip on muddy, snowy, and slippery paths. Hiking shoes are designed to have deeper lugs and stickier grips.
3. Stiffer Mid-Soles and Thick Cushioning
Since hiking shoes are built for protection; it does not compromise on materials, no matter how heavy it gets. They have stiffer mid-soles and offer extra cushioning so that you won’t feel the sharp edges of rocks or fallen branches.
4. Ankle Protection and Coverage
Hiking shoes also offer more protection and coverage for ankles than trail running shoes do. They usually have higher shafts that are made of tough material.
There are also low-cut models that are excellent for a short, day hike. However, if you sprain your ankles easily or planning to hike on trails with long grass, look for hiking shoes that have higher ankle coverage.
Trail Running Shoes vs Hiking Shoes
Trail running shoes and hiking shoes are both worn and used off-road that is why they have the same rugged and grippy outsoles. The only difference is that hiking shoes tend to have deeper lugs, extra cushioning, and higher shafts.
They are also usually more durable, bulkier, and heavier than trail running shoes. Since they are built with tougher materials, they take longer to break-in and dry out.
Trail running shoes are lighter because of the need for speed. They are less supportive and may need more replacing often. Since they are made of lighter and thinner materials than hiking shoes, they are not suitable for cold weather condition and require little to no break-in period.
Can You Interchange Them?
Hiking shoes and trail running shoes serve different purposes, but there are instances when you can use one instead of the other. Hikers, for example, especially ultralight backpackers, may opt for trail running shoes because of their lighter weight. However, if they plan to hike while carrying extra weight, such as a backpack, they should stick to hiking shoes or try lighter hiking shoe models because it will give them better lateral ankle lateral support and more cushioning.
Trail runners may also choose to wear hiking shoes if they expect to run on harsher ground conditions and cold weather conditions. This will slow them down a bit because of the extra weight, but the pace is not important if you’re not running competitively.
A hiker or trail runner must know beforehand the conditions of his journey before deciding which shoes to wear. Hopefully, the features of each type and factors to consider discussed above will help you distinguish trail running shoes vs hiking shoes.