For the longest time, it used to be the rule of thumb that a good pair of sturdy, rigid hiking boots was necessary gear for any hike of length or difficulty. But that’s not really the case any more. In fact, hikers who spend thousands of hours on the trail love to ditch their boots for trail runners! So, I wanted to find out why trail runners have become the preferred footwear for so many hard-core hikers.
There are 8 main reasons why trail runners are superior to hiking boots and shoes for longer hiking trips:
- Price And Value
- Lighter On Your Feet
- Waterproofing Is Overrated
- Easier To Break In
- Comfort Is King
- You’ll Actually Avoid Injuries
- Do More Than Just Hike – Run!
- You’ll Look Great On The Trail
There’s a reason why you are seeing more and more people wearing trail runners on the hiking trail. They look good, feel good, and give you pretty good bang for your buck. Next time you hit the trail, you might want to consider losing the boots, and taking some trail runners.
Why Trail Runners Are Superior To Hiking Boots
Price And Value
The first thing you may notice about top-quality trail runners is the fact that they are sometimes half the price of the top hiking boots.
One of the best trail runner brands on the market, Altra, average approximately $130 a pair. Meanwhile, the Salomon Quest 4D GTX Hiking Boot, one of the top-rated boots on the market, costs approximately $230.
Because the price of trail runners can be so low, they offer the potential for great value. While trail runners are not as durable as hiking boots, you can still expect to get around 500 miles out of a good pair of trail runners. Good hiking boots might get you to about 750 miles.
So, even if you have to replace your trail runners more often, you are still getting more miles per dollar out of them than your hiking boots.
Lighter On Your Feet
Does one pound off your feet equal five pounds off your back? So goes the old hiking adage – the energy required to move one pound with your feet is about the same 5 pounds on your back.
Indeed, several studies have shown that carrying an amount of weight on the feet required between 4.7 and 6.4 times as much energy as carrying that same weight on one’s back.
So, if you are looking to save energy and hiker farther and higher on the trail, the key isn’t necessarily to lessen the weight on your back, but rather the weight on your feet. This is a major advantage of trail runners.
For example, the Salomon Quest 4d 3 GTX weighs 46 ounces. The Altra Lone Peak 45 weighs only 10.5 ounces, 2.25 pounds less. This would mean that wearing the Salomon boots instead of the Altra trail runners would be the same as carrying an extra 11 pounds on your back!!
Waterproofing Is Overrated
Some hikers swear by waterproof boots or shoes. But here’s the problem – no boot is truly waterproof. It is inevitable that your feet will get wet – and when they do, wearing boots becomes so much the harder.
Because of their construction, waterproof boots do all they can to keep water out, but this makes them much less breathable than trail runners. When your feet start to sweat because they can’t breathe – your feet will get and stay wet.
During rainy conditions, water inevitably gets into your boots, either by running down your leg, or because your boots lose their waterproofing qualities over time. Again, because these boots are not breathable, your feet will stay wet for much longer once they get wet.
With wet feet from hiking boots comes more chance of blisters and overall discomfort. Trail runners, on the other hand, are breathable and allow your feet to dry much faster than boots. Your feet will get wet, but will also air out much more quickly.
Easier To Break In
One of the universal recommendations of hiking boots is to spend time breaking them in before a serious hiking trip. You’ll need to hike or walk 5 to 20 miles in your new boots to make sure they fit your feet the right way.
Trail runners generally do not require such preparation. You can pretty much wear trail runners right out of the box onto the trail and not experience any problems. One of the huge benefits of most trail runners is the wide toe box – especially if you order a half size bigger, you can really enjoy room for your toes and skip that breaking-in period.
Comfort Is King
As mentioned above, the wide toe box is a huge benefit of trail runners – one of my favorites. Most boots do not offer such a feature – they are constructed to be durable and offer support – often while sacrificing comfort.
Trail runners are the opposite in many ways – and the extra space that your feet enjoy means less friction between the shoe and foot, which means fewer blisters. And fewer blisters means a much more enjoyable hike.
You’ll Actually Avoid Injuries
As noted above, some of the best hiking boots weigh more than twice as much as trail runners. Imagine carry twice the weight on your feet over long, strenuous hikes. You are likely to experience more fatigue in your legs and feet the longer you go.
As you become more fatigued, your footsteps will become more labored. This will lead to more injuries with boots than if you wear trail runners.
If you want to avoid injuries such as ankle sprains on the trail – it won’t be added ankle support on boots that does it. If you stretch your ankles and legs, and keep them strengthened, you will experience fewer injuries in trail runners than with hiking boots.
Do More Than Just Hike – Run!
Trail running is becoming a more popular activity. Obviously, if you want to take up trail running, you’ll need the right footwear. And you can’t run for 20 miles over mountain and forest trails in hiking boots.
Trail runners offer the versatility to do more on the trails – run, hike, or just stroll through any number of terrains.
You’ll Look Great On The Trail
So, while it may not be the main consideration for many hikers, but on some level, you want to look good on the trail. And trail runners just look cool. And admit it, there’s nothing wrong with looking your best on the trail.
Hiking boots, meanwhile, struggle in the aesthetics department – especially the high-cut boots that you traditionally see.
With all that being said – what trail runners do I recommend? Here are a couple of my favorites:
Altra Lone Peak 4.5
Cost: $120 (Link To Amazon)
WEIGHT: 10.5 oz
PROS: Extremely comfortable with a large toe box; provide great traction; constructed to allow gaiters to attach; breathable and dry quickly; mroe support in the sole than most other trail runners
CONS: Mesh on the upper can tear and wear out quickly – better to buy a half-size larger to ensure feet don’t push too much on sides of shoe
BOTTOM LINE: There is a reason why Altras are the top choice for many hikers, including thru-hikers who trek 1000’s of miles each year. The Lone Peak 4.5 is an extremely popular option, as it places your heel and forefoot the same distance from the ground low-impact form. The also allow your toes to relax and spread out naturally for more comfort and stability in uphill climbs and downhill descents.
Asics Gel-Venture Running Shoe
Cost: Approximately $60 (Link To Amazon)
WEIGHT: 10.5 oz
PROS: High level of comfort with a very cushioned midsole and good shock absorption. If you order a size at least one-half larger, you will get the space needed to keep your toes comfortable and to promote breathability.
CONS: Not as sturdy and durable as the Altra Lone Peak 4.5, probably has a life of less than 500 miles.
BOTTOM LINE: My first pair of trail runners were Asics, and I loved the feel and support they provided, at a very reasonable cost. These shoes are designed to take on rugged terrain, complete with a trail-specific outsole and high-abrasion rubber for traction. Rearfoot GEL cushioning provides excellent shock absorption to keep you comfortable as you pound along the path, and the removable sockliner lets you insert custom orthotics for an even more personalized fit.