The short answer is that in many cases you can go hiking in running shoes, but it does depend on where you’re hiking. Many trails are easy and even paved in some areas. These are fine for hiking in tennis shoes. Other trails can be very bumpy, have many rocks and roots, and need shoes with better traction and a thicker soul. Above all you need to protect your feet, but if you really want to wear some lightweight sneakers then maybe look at trail running shoes as an alternative.
Trail shoes are a good compromise
Trail runners are the best of both worlds. You get the lightweight, breathable qualities you would get from a tennis shoes while also getting some of the rugged and tough aspects of a hiking boot. I have been using trail shoes almost exclusively for several years now. I still like to keep a pair of boots around for some occasions but find myself rarely pulling them out of the closet.
You can find trail shoes in many different brands, colors, and style. Many are even waterproof. These waterproof Merrell hiking shoes on Amazon are very popular. I’ve talked to a few people that have them and they have said they love them.
I bought a pair of Adidas trail runners a couple of years ago. They were highly reviewed on Amazon but started coming apart with moderate use in the first year. I did some hiking in Hawaii a couple of years ago when I first got them, some random day hikes here and there for a couple of years, and then I wore them for some hiking in Zion National Park, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon. By the end of that trip the right shoes was coming apart. Even though that’s a good amount of hiking, quality shoes should last longer.
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When boots are the better choice for hiking
Boots are going to be the better option if you are doing some hardcore hiking, multiple day backpacking, in the snow or mud perhaps, or on extra rough terrain. There are times when only boots can provide that ankle support you need for extremely rough terrain.
If you are going on a multiple day hiking trip and know boots may be the better choice for you, then consider these Timberlands as an option. I got my first pair of these Timberlands my junior year in high school. They lasted for 8 years until I was in my mid 20s when the sole starting coming apart on one of them. I wanted to get some more use out of them so I ordered some Shoe Goo and glued it back together. They lasted another 3 years before my dog finally destroyed them one day!
What I prefer
Right now I am all about trail runners, these trail runners from Salomon are very good. The waterproof Merrells above are a great option for hiking shoes as well. Boots can be too big and clunky, I don’t like wearing them in the summertime, and my trail runners can double as sneakers. They can’t replace a good pair of boots in all situations, but they can in many.
I recently bought a pair of Timberland White Ledge waterproof boots off of Amazon. While they are rather heavy, they are just as comfortable as I remember my last pair of Timberlands. Coupled with my favorite Darn Tough Socks, my feet are super comfy and do not get too hot or sweaty. I’ll wear them in the winter and am looking forward to getting them out on the trails soon.
Different strokes for different folks. Some people swear by their boots and wouldn’t replace them, but there is a growing trend for trail running shoes. If you are on the fence, try out both.