Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners

My Hi-Tech boots that reached the end of their life after 1000 miles.

My Hi-Tech boots that reached the end of their life after 1000 miles.

Hiking boots have always been the traditional footwear for backpackers.  Now that backpacking technology has evolved and gear is more lightweight, hiking shoes have become more lightweight as well.  I used hiking boots for the majority of the trail but made the switch to trail runners for the last 300 miles.  I’m a big fan of both styles, and I’m not really sure which I would choose if I were to do another thru-hike.

Here’s my handy list of the good and bad of hiking boots and trail runners.

Hiking Boots

Pros:

  • Hiking boots are very sturdy.
  • If you get the high-cut style, they offer ankle support.  This will reduce your chances of a sprain.
  • They last a long time.  My first pair of boots made it all the way to Harpers Ferry.  That’s 1000 miles!

Cons:

  • It takes a while to break them in, so you could get blisters during the first week.
  • If they get wet, they don’t dry very fast.

Trail Runners

Pros:

  • It takes hardly any time to break them in.
  • They dry quickly when they get wet.
  • They come is really cool colors.
  • They’re lightweight.

Cons:

  • They normally don’t last for more than 500 miles.
  • Lack of ankle support, means that you can get a sprain more easily.
My flashy Salomon trail runners that I finished the trail in.

My flashy Salomon trail runners that I finished the trail in.

That’s not a very long list, I realize.  What this will come down to for most people is price.  Trail runners might be flashier, more light-weight, and cooler; but you will probably go through 4 or 5 pairs.  You can get by on only 2 or 3 pairs of boots.  Boots and runners are similar prices as well: you’ll spend between $100 to $200 on a good pair.

Another thing to consider is your pack weight.  If your pack feels heavy to you, you might want the extra support of the boots.  If you bought only ultra-light gear and you feel like you could run while wearing your pack, trail runners will probably be for you.

Side Note: No matter what type of footwear you choose, it’s important to get good inserts.  Super Feet are a very popular brand of inserts, but I don’t like them.  Lots of people do, but I don’t and I’ll tell you why.  They’re very flimsy, first of all.  I don’t want to spend $40 on inserts that are as sturdy as any old drugstore brand.  They have good heel support, but no arch support.  If you have trouble with your heels, then go for the Super Feet.  They won’t solve your arch problems though.

What is a good insert, you ask?  I’ll tell you about my favorite brand.  I might never buy another.  SOLE is where it’s at.  They’re very sturdy, not flimsy.  You can pop them in the oven at home, then slide them into you shoes, and they’ll form to you feet.  The arch support is amazing.

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10 thoughts on “Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners

  1. Just found you on whiteblaze! I agree with you on superfeet. I used them for years when I was trail running, but they didn’t hold up during my hike. My arches felt like they were being flattened. I switched to Spenco inserts and it made a big difference. Anyway, just wanted to say “hello” from a fellow AT hiker 🙂

  2. If you need new inserts, MRO in Damascus has a box of brand new freebies from folks who buy the shoes and ditch the inserts for Superfeet. I found my new Keen’s back to be too high on my ankle and was ready to buy new boots to continue, however, the freebie Oboz inserts solved the problem. The Tarheel boot must have changed because I have had three pairs and never had the same problem as I have had with these.

  3. Hiking boots provide strong support for hikers at the time of long distance traveling while carrying weight. It is generally heavier than normal trail running shoes; lightweight hiking boots feature heavier materials and a thicker sole for exceptional comfort and support.

  4. Looks like your second pair of boots were eaten alive by the PA/NJ rocks, haha. Did you manage to do the trail in 2 pair of boots and one pair of trail runners, or was it 3 pair of boots? How well did the trail runners grip the Maine roots? It must have been nice not to have to deboot for the 10 fords on the last leg of your hike.

  5. I have been debating footwear for the AT, so I am so glad I stumbled on your page! I’m thinking I would need the extra ankle support & would prefer to only go through a couple pair if possible. What brand/style did you wear?

    • I did ankle high boots for the majority of the trail. My first pair was Hi-Tec and my second pair were Merrells. For the last few hundred miles I switched to a pair of Salomon trail runners. Honestly, I’ll probably keep doing trail runners for future hikes. Ankle support was nice for the start of the trail when I still had weak ankles, but after that, trail runners were best for me.

  6. Hoping to thru hike next year, starting early March to give plenty of time. Still haven’t decided on boots/runners. I use both at the moment, boots when it is cold/wet to keep my feet warm and dry (ish). What was your experience of keeping feet dry in boots? Did it work or did they just get soaked anyways? And did they keep your feet warmer?

    • Well, boots really won’t keep your feet dry all day if it’s actually raining. If it’s just drizzling for an hour or so, then your toes will probably stay dry. Even “waterproof” boots loose their waterproofing after a few good rains. Trail runners get wet faster, but they also dry more quickly. Basically, if you’re hiking the trail, your feet are going to get wet many times before it’s over 🙂

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