There is no definitive answer to whether lightweight running shoes or hiking boots are better for long-distance hikes. Hikers tend to think that hiking boots are better than running shoes. However, more and more people are starting to make the switch to running shoes when hiking.
Hiking boots are not necessary. Running shoes and heavy-duty hiking boots would both get you through most trails. But the right choice depends on how, when, and where you hike. You shouldn't base your decisions on the latest trends but rather on the expected weather conditions and the terrain and your own personal experience and strength.
What's Wrong with Hiking Boots?
Trail running shoes are better than hiking boots because they're lighter, more flexible, and offer greater support. Some of the main causes for making the switch to running shoes include:
What you wear on the feet can drain up to 6 times more energy than what you carry on the body. To put it simply, removing 2 pounds from your shoes is equivalent to removing between 8 and 12 pounds from your backpack, which is significant for a change. That's why lightweight backpackers don't consider boots an ideal option when they're trying to cut every gram.
Many companies offer lightweight shoes but they're still heavier than most running sneakers.
When backpacking, every gram matters. Boots can weigh up to 3.5 pounds, which is almost one-fifteenth of the total weight people can carry on most airlines.
Backpacks used to be the gold standard for carrying heavy loads. Backpackers now tend to carry as little weight as possible, and they often go to extreme lengths for that purpose. Hiking boots are often the least effective item when it comes to weight.
The extra weight of your shoes also affects the quality of your long hikes. Heavy shoes start to weigh down your feet after a few miles. Two things almost every hiker wants are versatility and lightweight shoes.
There is no scientific evidence that ankle supports actually make hiking any easier or safer. Experts believe that healthy people don't really need any external ankle support. Instead, they should focus on strengthening their ankles through stretching exercises, exercise, and staying active, and therefore develop muscles in those areas as much as possible.
Furthermore, wearing boots for long hours can actually be less safe than wearing lightweight shoes. Heavy hiking boots can make your feet and leg muscles feel tired. This can cause fatigue. It may leave people more prone to injury.
Boots are not very portable because they are heavy, big, and also don't fit in standard bags. You either have to wear them almost constantly or carry them around in a large bag. They're also difficult to put on and take off, which can be a problem during security clearances.
It doesn't make much sense to carry extra weight when you only need to hike for a few miles. You probably don't really need hiking boots for most trips anyway, so why carry them around all the time? You won't need boots if it's reasonably warm (about 10 degrees Celsius +) or unless you intend to hike through snowy winter hikes.
Hiking boots aren't cheap. You could probably find a cheaper type of shoe, but you have to sacrifice on the overall quality and functionality of the expensive hiking boots. If you want to save money, you can buy a pair for half the price of a good pair of trail running shoes.
Many hikers and backpackers are tempted to buy hiking boots because they claim them to be waterproof. However, waterproof hiking boots can also mean that your feet won't easily breathe and can get wet with sweat instead of water. Furthermore, they are waterproof only up to a certain extent since rainwater can easily run down the leg and get into the boot.
Another thing related to waterproofing is the amount of drying time for leather boots. Hiking boots that aren't waterproof can take a long time to dry out, which isn't something backpackers can afford when they're on long hikes. Even waterproof boots can become wet inside because of rain and when that happens the rest of the journey can be a pain. If it rains for long enough outside, water will eventually get inside your boots.
Breathable and Airy
Hard hiking boots with rigid soles don't flex and restrict breathability. Wearing heavy shoes while hiking can cause your feet to perspire more than usual, which could lead to blisters and smelly shoes. For warmer weather, shorter, lighter, and breathable trail runners are better.
If you're prone or prone to blisters, switch to a different type of shoes. Even if you've broken in your boots, it may take some time before they feel comfortable.
Synthetic materials are usually more breathable than leather, but there are exceptions. Waterproof boots are less breathable than non-waterproof and lightweight pair of trail runners. We recommend against buying waterproof shoes unless you specifically need them for some reason. Switching to a pair of running shoes will save you from your heavy pack.
If you plan on hiking across streams, you may want to consider a different type of shoe, like a water shoe.
Why Trail Runners?
More hikers are switching from boots to trail runners. People who belong to this group are looking to cut as little weight as possible. Boots are usually listed among the top five items to cut weight, but shelter is number one.
Ultralight hikers often wear the lightest possible footwear, which may be barefoot or minimalist. Barefoot shoes are made to closely mimic the experience when running barefooted. The benefit is even lower than with traditional running shoes. They also improve your balance and strengthen your feet, which helps prevent injuries.
Trail running shoes offer many advantages over traditional running shoes, including:
More comfort on your feet means more flexibility and versatility and a more compact bag. Running shoes are not as restrictive as boots and offer a greater range of motion.
The same pair of trail runners can be used on most hiking trips throughout the year. However, your specific needs may vary for long trekking in challenging terrains. Still, backpackers have been taking their trail runners on such trips without any problem. Trail running shoes offer you the versatility not available with heavy and rigid boots.
What Are the Best Hiking Shoes?
If you're looking for a good pair of shoes for hiking, trail runners are probably the best choice. Many backpackers have already given away boots and don't think ankle support is an essential element to look out for in hiking shoes.
Additional weight on your foot can be expensive and although hiking boots are helpful in certain situations. Wearing lightweight shoes with heavier weight will cause your shoes to wear out faster. Trail runners are good for people who want comfortable shoes that can breathe well and dry quickly.
Switching that 3-pound pack for a pair of lightweight running shoes will be the energy-saving equivalent of removing 8 to 12 pounds from your pack.