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Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes vs. Trail Running Shoes

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Hiking footwear is a really personal choice, and people often have differing opinions on what type of shoe works best for hiking. Here are some things to know that can help you decide which style will work best for you.

Hiking Boots – Boots provide more ankle support, stability, and water protection than hiking shoes or trail runners, and they’re the more practical choice for off-trail adventures (check out our Best Hiking Boots list to see our faves). They’re usually more durable than other types of footwear and will last around 1,000 trail miles or so. Many hiking boots are waterproof and can make hiking in the rain more comfortable, but they become heavy and dry slowly if they do get wet. Boots are also the heaviest hiking footwear choice, so you’ll expend more energy with each step. If boots are your thing, it’s worth it to splurge on a high-quality, lightweight pair in our opinion.

Hiking Shoes – Hiking shoes are a good balance between support, weight savings, water protection, and durability (give our Best Hiking Shoes list a read for recommendations). You may love hiking shoes if you like the durability offered by hiking boots and still want waterproof footwear, but you prefer something lighter and you aren’t concerned with ankle support. For example, waterproof hiking shoes are a great choice for day hikes or walks around town in soggy spring or fall weather. Typically, hiking shoes will last around 750 trail miles before needing to be replaced. Many hiking shoes are waterproof and work well in light rain, but they won’t keep your feet quite as dry as a high collar boot will. Hiking shoes don’t provide the ankle support many like from boots or the extra weight-savings and breathability of non-waterproof trail runners, but they’re a good middle ground.

Trail Running Shoes – Trail runners are great for those who prioritize comfort and weight-savings when choosing trail footwear – our Best Hiking Shoes & Best Trail Runners lists both feature excellent trail running shoe options. Among long-distance hikers and thru-hikers, trail running shoes tend to be the most popular choice. The CleverHiker team generally prefers non-waterproof trail runners for our big-mile backcountry trips. Trail running shoes are lightweight and breathable, so it’s easier to manage moisture and avoid blisters. The most popular models are non-waterproof for breathability, but they dry fairly quickly once they get wet. Trail runners do tend to be less durable than most hiking shoes and boots. Generally speaking, trail runners will last for around 500 trail miles before needing to be replaced. Take a look at our 5 Reasons to Ditch Your Hiking Boots post to see more about why we like hiking in trail runners.