It Is OK to Wear Running Shoes for Hiking (Why… and How)

Hiking is a great complement to running. The day after a long training run is a great opportunity to hike to allow your body to recover. If you only have running shoes and want to spend some time hiking, you may wonder if you need to spend money on a new pair of hiking shoes.

It is completely fine to wear your running shoes for hiking on less technical trails. Running shoes typically have less support, protection, and stability than hiking shoes which are indicated for more difficult terrain.

As an avid hiker and former marathon runner, I have hiked in running shoes plenty of times with zero issues. If you are planning to head out on a hike in running shoes, here are some ways to minimize any potential risk of injury.

Big Bend National Park

Why Wearing Running Shoes on a Hike is Fine in MOST Cases

The hiking footwear industry is booming. Gross sales across the globe shot up during the pandemic as folks sought activities that were socially distanced. That growth has continued.

For years the hiking footwear industry has been slowly marching, or hiking, away from the traditional heavy alpine boots toward something that looks very similar to a running shoe. Many thru-hikers wear trail running shoes for the hundreds of miles they cover during weeks or even months on the trail.

Trail running shoes are so similar to running shoes that anyone who does not hike or run couldn’t tell the difference. The comfort and low weight of running shoes make them perfect for walking and, by default, hiking.

Given the hiking footwear industry trend toward lightweight shoes, running shoes are an easy substitute for actual hiking shoes in MOST cases.

Not all running shoes are created equal, but not all hiking trails are the same either.

Big Bend National Park

When Wearing Running Shoes for Hiking Is Not A Good Idea

So for most hiking situations, wearing running shoes will be fine. There are hiking scenarios, though, when wearing running shoes will not work. Let’s look at those now.

  • Do not wear running shoes for hiking off-trail. Well-groomed trails with mostly flat surfaces are fine for running shoes, but when you plan to cut your path through the wilderness, you should not wear running shoes. Hiking shoes provide superior protection and will make your journey more enjoyable and less dangerous. Hiking shoes will also provide better traction. To read more about traction and grip, check out my recent article.
  • Do not wear running shoes on hiking trails that require you to side-slope. Side-sloping is when you walk along an incline while maintaining the same elevation. You put tremendous pressure on the side of your shoes. This pressure is not advised for running shoes. If you start to roll your ankle in running shoes, it could cause a much more dangerous sprain because of how they are designed. Running shoe soles are typically much wider than the uppers, which provides stability as you run forward. Lateral movement and pressure can be dangerous in running shoes.
  • Do not wear running shoes for hiking in winter conditions. Unless you wear wool socks and have waterproof running shoes, you will be miserable hiking in snow or damp conditions. Get some hiking boots instead.
  • Do not wear running shoes for hiking with a heavy backpack. Carrying a heavy backpack requires extra stability. Running shoes do not have adequate lateral stability, and you risk injury from falling or twisting an ankle. Running shoes will also have less support than hiking shoes, with midsoles designed to support you under heavier loads.

    I recently tested five hiking shoes and found a phenomenal shoe similar to a running shoe that provides all the extra protection, support, traction, and comfort you need for more technical trails. Check out my YouTube video to see which won the competition.

    One of these shoes is better than the other.

    Are Running Shoes Good for Hiking?

    So far, we have answered whether you can wear running shoes while hiking. We said YES. We have also looked at situations when you should avoid wearing running shoes for hiking. We suggested that you stay on the trail if wearing only running shoes.

    Now we will look at whether running shoes are good for hiking.

    While running shoes can be considered adequate, they are not good for hiking. Running shoes are inferior to hiking shoes concerning protection, stability, traction, and comfort while walking long distances. Most people will be better off hiking in dedicated hiking footwear.

    Hiking shoes will typically be more comfortable while walking long distances. Their midsoles are designed specifically for hiking and provide more support and stability than running shoes. My closet’s most comfortable running shoes are the Vasque Satoru Trail LT with the Biotic footbed.

    Lately, I only wear these shoes for hiking, walking the dog, etc. Check out my review of them here. They are the best zero-drop, lightweight hiking shoes that NO ONE talks about.

    Hiking shoes will always provide more protection than running shoes. If you have ever stepped on a sharp object and bruised the bottom of your foot, then you know how painful it is.

    Hiking shoes typically have rock plates or a much more protective sole and midsole than running shoes. While trail running in regular running shoes, I landed on a sharp rock and had plantar fasciitis for a year. This could have been avoided with hiking or trail running shoes.

    Hiking shoes provide more stability than running shoes. Running shoes are designed for forward motion. If you traverse uneven ground at different angles, you are much better off wearing grippy hiking shoes that provide better lateral stability.

    The Merrell Moab Speed is an awesome shoe that won my recent round of testing. Check out my review of it here.

    Hiking shoes provide greater traction than running shoes. Hiking shoes have outsoles with deeper lugs and rubber compounds designed to grip the trail. I tested a shoe from Adidas with very good traction due to its aggressive lug pattern. You can check out that review here.

    Recent Posts