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Footwear selection when going for a hike is one of the most important decisions you can make, so be sure to choose wisely. The terrain, length of the hike, temperature, and other factors will determine whether or not a trail running shoe will work or you should break out the boots. If you are going with a lightweight choice, you’ll want to choose the best trail runners for hiking you can find.
Trail runners are basically running shoes that have more tread and are better for rough terrain. They are basically a hybrid between a hiking shoe and running shoe. If you buy the right ones, they are awesome on the trail.
In a hurry? Here are our top 2 picks:
Premium pick – Salomon Speedcross 4
Value pick – Merrell Trail Glove 4
What are trail running shoes?
There are trail running shoes and there are hiking shoes. Ideally the difference between the two lies in the aspect of running, and because of that, special gear is needed to trail run comfortably; particularly the type of shoes. Here’s an article about the difference between hiking shoes and trail running shoes.
What’s the difference between trail running shoes and running shoes?
Trail running shoes are slightly more “off-road” than your basic running shoes. They may have more grip on the bottoms with better traction. They may also have a more rugged look.
Traditional running shoes are made for running on pavement and smoother terrain. Trail running shoes though are pretty versatile and in many cases can be used on all types of terrains, depending on the shoes you buy.
The best type of trail running shoes have a few main characteristics:
- They are flexible and lightweight
- They have good tread
- They are breathable
- They provide extra protection around the foot
The best thing about owning a nice pair of trail running shoes is that they are very versatile. Are you thinking about doing a bit of road running today or are you going to the gym or maybe the grocery store? Trail runners are lightweight and comfortable and can really be worn in most everyday situations.
Though tastes and preferences differ from one individual to another, few pairs can outclass the Salomon Speedcross 4 trail runners. When shopping for a pair, these are hands down the best in that category.
What should I look for in trail running shoes?
When looking to buy trail running shoes there are several things you should consider. Like, where do you personally plan to be using them? This varies from person to person and is very important to getting the shoes that are going to be best for you.
Once you have determined where and how you are going to be using them, you need to think about your own feet and what kind of shoes will be comfortable to you. Do you have wide feet? If yes consider the Salomon Speedcross above, if they are narrow then possibly the Salomon XA Pro 3D just below them.
Here are a few basic things to think about when choosing trail runners:
- Do they line up with the type of terrain you will be using them on?
- Are they made for your foot type?
- Do they have good reviews and are people generally happy with them?
- Are they breathable?
- Are they water resistant?
- Do they have good arch support?
- Do you like the way they look?
- Are they in your price range? (pay a premium for your shoes if you must, your feet carry you around all day and deserve the best)
Top 5 best trail runners for hiking
These off-road running shoes are great for a variety of reasons. They are very popular for people who participate in OCR, or Obstacle Course Running, and the extra traction really helps for rough terrain. They were even compared to shark’s teeth by one reviewer.
Like other trail running shoes, these are meant for off road and rough or sloppy conditions. However, most people report they are fine for running and walking on pavement or even on the treadmill.
They may run a little small or fit a bit snug at first. You may want to order them a half or even full size larger than you buy other shoes just to be safe. Some people say they came in too small, other’s said once they broke them in they were fine. I would go with a half size larger than you normally get to be safe.
- long lasting
- very grippy traction
- optimal for wide feet
- run a little small
There are also some reports that these run a bit small so keep that in mind when choosing your size. Different brands run differently and it would seem that Salomon runs a bit on the small side.
While the Speedcross 4 above may be suited for wide feet, these may run a little bit narrow according to some reviewers on Amazon. If you decide to go with Salomons you will get a quality shoe that should last you a long while, just choose the one that’s best for you and your feet.
- great traction
- great for hiking and backpacking
- may run a little small
I thought I would throw a Vibram Five Fingers shoe into the mix here. These are obviously a bit different in that each toe has a seperate pocket.
Some people love these and think they are great, I personally am not a huge fan but they are quality shoes and deserve to be on the list. They are very versatile and can be used for a number of activities like hiking, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, or just running on pavement.
If you have tried five finger shoes before and already know that you like them, then these trail runners may be a great option for you!
- waterproof bottoms
- aggressive tread
- very lightweight
- can feel small rocks poke through the bottoms on certain terrains
- not comfortable for everyone
A great option from Merrell, the Trail Gloves are very lightweight and breathable with a mesh upper. Great for a light hike but also ideal for running or walking on concrete. These shoes are very versatile and another example of the quality craftsmanship from Merrell.
I personally really like the look and style of these shoes and plan to buy a pair being that I’m a big fan of Merrell shoes. These are “barefoot” or minimalist shoes. Meaning they are very lightweight and are meant to closely compare to walking or running barefoot.
- minimal/barefoot shoe
- breathable mesh upper
- cushioned insoles
- look great on your feet
- not as minimal the last generation
- some aren’t a fan of the new tongue design
Another popular option however not quite as fondly reviewed as the Merrells or Salomons. I generally am a fan of New Balance for basic tennis shoes but when it comes to trail shoes there are some other big competitors out there that specialize in them.
I’m sure these are good shoes and are made by a name brand but personally if I was wanting something for a little more off road use to go out on the trails I would look towards the Salomon options above.
- more affordable than some of the other options
- popular on Amazon (not as highly rated as the others though)
- poor fit and may run small
- poor traction, especially when wet
I've given you some solid options here for trail runners. Out of these 5 you should be able to find a pair that are just right for you and your feet. If you are still unsure or torn about which ones to get, then you can always go into your local shoe store and try them on (if they have them) and still order them online. Or just pull the trigger on the ones you think look best for you and keep in mind that Amazon has a great return policy and you can always swap them out.