When would you hike with running shoes vs hiking boots

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    Mike Barney


    Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!

    We’re having a discussion about when you should / could use hiking boots vs. lighter weight shoes, such as running shoes. Any opinions?

    Thanks in advance,


    An excellent source of information on this subject is Ray Jardine’s Beyond Backpacking book. He deals with this subject thoroughly.

    Douglas Frick
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wyoming

    I have three main sets of hiking footwear: Montrail Torre GTX hiking boots (64.4 oz/pair men’s size 13); Montrail Kalahari trail shoes (38.6 oz/pair men’s size 12); and Montrail Vitesse running shoes (29.4 oz/pair men’s size 12). (Note: these weights may include Superfeet Green; I can’t remember now, and I don’t hike without them anyway.) I love my Torre GTX boots, they’ve been through a lot and never gave me a blister, but I haven’t worn them in over a year because I haven’t found any occasion where I couldn’t wear one of the lighter pairs of shoes. My kid-pack weight is generally 45-55 pounds and the trail shoes give great support, even soaking wet. I’ve worn the running shoes with the kid-pack and they felt a bit too sloppy for that pack weight, but I’ve had no concerns using them with lighter packs.

    The answer I’ve come to is: no more hiking boots. If I’m packing over 30 pounds I’ll grab the sturdier trail shoes, but otherwise I use the running shoes. The hiking boots offer more ankle protection for cross-country hiking, but by saving more than a pound per foot it’s easier to place, instead of throw, my foot, and I prefer the lighter shoes for scrambling. I’m also saving 4 oz. of socks by switching from two pairs of Smartwool light hikers to one pair of Smartwool crews.

    Snowshoeing with running shoes (Montrail Susitna XCR; 35.2 oz/pair men’s size 12) worked fine except for cold toes; my solution will be better sock technology rather than hiking boots (which aren’t necessarily warmer anyway). I haven’t got a running shoe/crampon configuration yet, so perhaps hiking or technical boots will be needed there; more research required.

    Glenn Roberts


    Locale: Southwestern Ohio

    I’ve converted to trail shoes only recently; prior to that, I always wore Vasque Sundowners – so my answer is based on limited experience, and reflects what I intend to do. I fully intend to wear the trail shoes unless there’s something about the weather or terrain that makes me want the security of the boot (that “security” may be as much mental as physical.) For example, with 3 or 4 inches of snow, or on unusually rocky terrain (like Isle Royale, where some trails seem like cobblestone paths), I would seriously consider the boots. However, as I’m gaining more and more experience with the trail shoes, I find myself less and less inclined to take the boots. (In fact, the last time I wore the boots was a snowy early December trip to downtown Chicago that involved a lot of walking.)

    George Gagesch


    I started hiking in NB 805’s a couple of years ago. Last summer I did the Rockwall trail in the Canadian Rockies and had no problems at all. Absolutely no blisters for me (used to get them on every trip). I do use short gators to keep dirt out from the top. I was thinking back to Isle Royale and the foot problems I had. It rained non-stop for a couple of days and the trails turned into rivers. I was using Vasque boots which got entirely soaked, weighed a ton, rubbed badly, and never dried out. The 805’s have mesh on the top which dry extremely quickly while walking or at night. I am thinking about getting some gym shoes with goretex liners, oversized with more room for heavier socks, to use in the winter. Those cold icy puddles don’t feel to good. I don’t think I will ever go back to boots again. I will say that most of my hiking is on trails, although some do get very rocky.

    larry savage


    Locale: pacific northwest

    I use trail[approach] shoes when I may need sticky rubber to boulder or a summit. I access a few trails by mtn. bike and the thicker sole is easier on the feet the rest of the time I use a trail runner. I have the potential to have a shoe perv if funds would allow it.

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    winter=boots, light w/GoreTex—more for deeper mud, puddles, trails-gone-to-creeks and light snow.

    3 season=trail runners

    Jason Shaffer


    Locale: on the move....

    Even up to 6″ of soft snow or maybe 3″ of crusty, I still use trail runners alot, but more rigid ones like Montrail Hardrocks or Hurricane Ridge GTXs. If its sopping wet the GTX can be nice, but hardrocks sized for thicker socks do pretty well otherwise. Hex screws in tread. Knee high or shortie gaiters depending.

    Sometimes I still move to boots if snow is deeper and crusty, kicking steps alot, etc. Mostly when off-trail in those conditions, or low milage winter trips. All nubuck, no gtx or overly stiff leather.

    MSR L. Ascents work well w/ either setup.

    Liz Black
    BPL Member


    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Need advice</p>
    hike boots suggestions

    altra did not work – thin soles and ankle problems – no foot support

    pack weight 20 pounds loaded

    im fat 45+ and old 60’s – that’s my problem and not the pack weight – help

    kevperro .
    BPL Member


    Locale: Washington State

    I’d use whatever is most comfortable and keeps you injury-free…..period.    I use a particular boot for hiking and while I run in running shoes, I’ve never made the switch to shoes for hiking.    I found a boot that fits me well years ago and I’ve worn through a bunch of them without switching.    Why?  Because like a runner, when you find something that works you tend to stick with it.   Nothing drives me crazier than the changes manufacturers of my running shoes make when they switch model years.      I’ve been vulnerable to foot/lower leg issues my entire life and the right footwear is critical in managing injury risk.     I don’t care about the weight savings because it is all a moot point if I end up with overuse injuries.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound

    I’ll have to agree with Dale. Winter=boots. The question is what type of boot. Low rise boot or over the ankle boot. I owned a pair of (2017) Garmont GTX Tower Treks (over ankle) that were by far the best snow boot for durability and dryness. Dip into ankle deep mud slush and icy water. No problem. Dry as a bone at the end of the day. Very comfortable footbed, awesome lacing system and very lightweight for it’s type. The only down fall to this brand is their Very narrow toe boxes. I had to size up an entire foot size to make my toes fit right. I own a pair of their GTX Dragontails as well and did the same with these. After one season of using a size 12 in the muck rain and water crossings, that size 12 was a 13 or more. My feet were sliding in and out of the shoe with it laced as tight as possible. Since I didn’t use the Tower Treks as often, I opted to return to REI before they also stretched beyond use. Exchanged the Dragontails for one size smaller. My normal size. With the anticipation to stretch them out. Of which, by that time, I switched to lighter approach shoes and trail runners (3 season)

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Colorado

    I love hiking in trail runners (Altra, Hoka, Topo), but I’ve found that when carrying more than 10ish pounds, they just don’t offer my aging feet enough support. So, when I backpack I generally switch to my Merrell Moabs, either the low or mid version.

    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Barbara

    Running shoes: Always. Even if the only choice is road running shoes.

    Hiking boots: Never. I’m not going to go hiking in deep snow. I’m not going to climb K2. I’m not going to go anywhere that hiking boots are required.

    BPL Member


    I use both- depending on a number of factors. My boots are Lowe and really light but not good if I have to move trough water. I would not wear trail runners in areas that are known to be dense with rattle snakes. I also prefer light boots if the terrain has a lot of sharp rocks or moving cobbles that test my ankles.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    I agree with Katt. The Sierra are rocky. Much more so than the PNW (as a rule.) (Washington state anyway.)

    also, each person has their own feet, as Sesame Street might sing. For a variety of reasons that I won’t bore you with, I have poor/no ankle support and no arch on my left foot. This affects the footwear I choose.

    so, horses for courses, footwear for feetsies. There is no one right way.


    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Locale: California

    What Diane said.

    Switched from boots to original Nike Lava Dome trail shoes ~1981. Went back to boots after those were discontinued, but regretted every step. Trail running shoes exclusively since ~2003.

    Lightening my load – BPW ~13 pounds, food less than 1.5 pounds/day, carrying less water “just in case” – helped my feet immensely. Despite wearing orthotics since childhood.

    — Rex

    BPL Member


    Locale: The Cascades

    I do enjoy how old threads get resurrected at times. And how (in this case) 14 years later the same types of things are said in replies that were back then.

    : you said, “im fat 45+ and old 60’s – that’s my problem and not the pack weight – help”

    I’m not sure exactly what this means, it seems like you’re saying you’re older than 45, but also old 60s, confusing. But I do think the answer to your issue lies within the statement you made.

    Dondo .
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Rockies

    It’s been many years since I’ve hiked in anything other than trail runners.   For the winter, I’ll add Gore-Tex or neoprene socks.  If the snow gets deep, I’ll switch to NEOS Explorer overshoes and maybe some snowshoes.  To be honest, the NEOS are a bit clunky.  But I use them because I already have them from when I worked for the USPS, they keep my feet warm and dry without having to add gaiters, and they allow my feet the luxury of being able to hike in the comfort of trail runners. YMMV

    Steve Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northeast

    These days, pretty much always.  I last wore boots backpacking in 2005.  Since then I’ve been hiking and backpacking, on and off trail, in trail runners (except for a few experiments with sandals).  Now 15 years in, in prefer trail runners with a rock plate over all other types of footwear.

    Not all are equal.  On “bad” shoes the upper fails.  I’ve had generally good and consistent performance with Brooks Cascadia.  Several hundred trail miles per pair or a couple weeks of off trail through the Sierra talus.  They’ve been my go to shoe for the last 6 seasons.

    Though my hiking is mostly 3 season, the Cascadia’s have performed adequately during shoulder trips late fall through fresh snow and late spring through mush.  No gtx, I prefer the breathability, and for days on wetness prefer the dampness of open mesh to the closed in fishbowl wetness that gtx seems to hold in.

    As for support my backpack weight has topped 50 lbs on remote Grand Canyon treks and trail runners have been more than adequate (even ~40 lbs off trail they are good for routes such as the SHR).

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    For me, trail runners… even in snow unless I need (1) serious crampons (2) swing weight and sturdy toe for kicking steps (3) lateral stiffness  if I need to press into hillside for accent.



    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    I like mid-height GTX ‘trail shoes’  for *most* winter trail conditions where I’m wearing microspikes or racing snowshoes (the really short, light, narrow ones on packed trails). They’re warmer and can drive a snowshoe better than lo-top shoes.

    Otherwise for “backcountry” or “off-trail” scenarios I think you should at least consider something “boot”-ish.

    For serious deep powder, off-trail, mid-winter, cold, here’s what I use:

    • thin merino  liner socks
    • thin VB or goretex socks*
    • thick boot weight wool socks*

    or fleece VB socks like aka RBH

    • wpb mid or high boot
    • calf-height gaiters OR calf-height overboots e.g., 40 Below neoprene

    Adjust as needed, given temps.

    My winter may be different than yours.

    My winter is often subzero, windy, very cold. Rocky Mountains, CO/WY/MT

    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound

    The Sierra are rocky. Much more so than the PNW (as a rule.) (Washington state anyway.)

    Rockier than this? Give or take a few stones..? ;)

    I do enjoy how old threads get resurrected at times. And how (in this case) 14 years later the same types of things are said in replies that were back then.

    Ha! I didn’t even realize until you mentioned it. 2006, geez no kiddin’

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    “Rockier than this?”


    I did say “as a rule”….were you wearing running shoes through that?

    kevperro .
    BPL Member


    Locale: Washington State

    Ha…. depends on where you frequent but plenty of rock-hopping around here.     Fit is most important but second on the list is probably the extra protection of a thicker sole for rock-hopping provides.    I almost run down Serene and it is a jumble of rock worn away by the gazillion day-hikers.   I can be reckless in my boots because even sharp protruding rocks are a potential step.    In my trail runners, which I do use for running trails, I would be forced to pick different foot placements.     Also, trail runners are less attractive on really steep downhill routes.   I’m thinking the old route Mailbox, and coming down my toes would be continually pinched due to the steepness of the route.    My spikes fit much better over my boots too so there is that.    I suppose that is a matter of picking the right spike/shoe combination so that may or may not apply.

    It is all personal preference though.   I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer as many have pointed out.    Didn’t Ray Jardine settle this argument about twenty years ago?

    Ross Bleakney
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cascades

    As others have mentioned, it is all about the snow. Hiking boots are only used for kicking steps in deep snow (typically in the spring) and the occasional snow shoe trip (sometimes spring, sometimes winter). I do wear somewhat of a hybrid shoe in early summer, when I expect to encounter mostly dirt, but a fair amount of snow as well.

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