Once upon a time, if hikers wanted to get the best trail running shoes for hiking, they couldn’t. That’s because there were only two shoe options: big heavy boots in black or big heavy boots in brown. Today, however, there is a wide array of options thanks to new technology, better materials and innovative features.
But, with so many excellent companies on the market selling quality shoes beyond boots, it can be hard even to choose a brand, much less pick out a pair.
Durable, versatile, and incredibly comfortable—this long-distance shoe ticks all the right boxes. There's lots of extra support and cushioning in the heel and midsole, and they're also incredibly stylish!
Fortunately, after years of hiking in trail running shoes, I know what makes a great hiking shoe. In this guide, I’ll recommend some of my favorite trail running shoes and then discuss some of the major considerations to think about before you buy.
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Support: Arc’teryx Norvan LD
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Climbers: Arc’teryx Norvan VT GTX
- Best Heavy Duty Trail Running Shoe for Hiking: North Face Hedgehog Fastpack II
- Best Breathable Trail Running Shoe: North Face Ultra Traction FUTURELIGHT
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Overall: Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail-Running Shoes
- Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoe for Hiking: Topo Athletic Ultraventure
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Women: Merrell Mix Master 4 Trail-Running Shoes
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking with Ultimate Cushioning: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger 6 ATR
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Long Distances: HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Muddy and Slippery Terrain: Salomon S-Lab Cross
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking with Wide Feet: Altra Timp 2
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking in All Weather: Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX
- Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Through Water: Merrell MQM Flex 2 GORE-TEX
- This shoe grips all surfaces thanks to the Vibram soles
- Lots of shock absorption due to the thick cushioning in the midsole
- Laminate coating keeps your feet and shoes protected against the elements
- Perfect for steep inclines as the Vibram soles provide the stickiest grip on the market
- No rocks or loose gravel gets past the sock-like inner lining
- Steep climbing is easy thanks to the good flexion in the front
- You can tighten the laces quickly due to the extra loop
- Feet stays secure within the shoes' cradle technology
- The DryVent™ membrane is completely waterproof so you'll stay dry
- Your feet stay warm even in freezing temperatures
- Super lightweight mesh makes for great breathability
- Superior traction system works well on technical trails
- Performs extremely well in soft, wet terrain due to the oversized lugs
- Excellent grip for uphill or downhill movement as the lugs face forward and backward
- Keeps loose rock and other debris out of your shoes thanks to its mesh
- Thick cushioning helps you cover longer distances
- Stay light on your feet with this paperlight design
- Impact from sharp rocks and roots is absorbed through the rock plate system underneath the forefoot
- You'll have a softer footfall in this extremely lightweight shoe
- This shoe's casual design can take you from the city to the trail
- Keeps your feet cool with its breathable mesh
- Tons of extra foot support with 29mm of cushioning between the toes and the ground
- Protects your heel with an extra 5mm of cushioning
- Performs well on muddy or wet paths thanks to its big lugs
- Excellent traction on the outer sole
- Lots of grip thanks to the sole's high-tech rubber composite and big lugs
- Works well in soft, muddy, conditions with sharp rubber lugs that really dig in
- Stays lightweight when wet due to the shoe's lack of foam
- High ankle gaiter keeps out rocks and other debris
- Lots of support for wide feet with 29mm of sole and cushioning with zero drop
- Wider footbed than other shoes
- No pinching thanks to the wider-than-average toe
- Unique angled lugs for better grip in wet conditions
- Feet stay dry with the waterproof Gore-Tex membrane
- Your feet stay snug and positioned correctly with lots of ankle support in the upper wrap
What Are the Advantages of Trail Running Shoes?
Now, you might be thinking: “I’m not running, I’m hiking! Why do I want a running shoe?”
First of all, these aren’t your dingy sneakers that you wear to basketball practice.
Trail running shoes are designed with the wilderness in mind. They have the same considerations as a hiking boot. They are built for tough terrain with grippy soles and protective layers for your feet. And they have the durability to take a beating on the trail, whether you’re trekking in the Appalachian Mountains or hiking the Pacific Crest trails.
As a matter of fact, trail-running shoes have a number of advantages over boots.
- Trail running shoes are much lighter than boots. This makes them ideal for the peak-baggers and thru-hikers out there who are looking to make treks with maximum speed and minimum gear.
- They are much more breathable. This means wet feet will dry out faster, whether from sweat, rain or river crossings. Hiking boots can be waterproof, but waterproof boots are not very breathable, trapping sweat inside the shoe. Plus, if water comes in over the top of the boot, then it doesn’t matter if the outside is waterproof.
- They are less bulky than boots, so they are much easier to pack if you are going on a trip to do some hiking.
- Trail running shoes are more appropriate for city wear than hiking boots. Some are even designed with city wear in mind, so they can be a much more versatile piece of gear.
The only situation where we would actively recommend boots over trail running shoes is for cold weather conditions (all of that lightness and breathability is not so good in the snow!). But for spring, summer and autumn weather, trail running shoes are perfect friends for your feet.
So where do you get started? These are my favorites.
1. Arc’teryx Norvan LD: Best Trail Running Shoe for Support
This is one of my favorite shoes on the list and a great trail running shoe for hiking. Arc’teryx is one of the best outdoor brands on the market, and their trail runners are no exception.
The LD in the name stands for long distance because these shoes are designed to stay strong and supportive over big treks.
The outside of the shoe checks a lot of boxes. The upper is made of a single, seamless piece of fabric for extra durability. The sides and front of the shoe are coated with a laminate to protect your feet and the shoe from damage. The best part to me is the sole, which is a Vibram.
Megagrip Vibram is one of the best sole manufacturers in the business, so if they say it’s got grip, you know it’s true. This sole will also be very durable.
On the inside, there is a 9mm drop from heel to toe and plenty of support in the midsole. The heel is snugly cushioned, giving the comfort and support you need for a long day on the trail. The inner material is quick to dry even after being submerged in water. Many users have said that the upper has been very stable and helped their feet stay planted even on tough trails.
This pair weighs 620g together; they’re not ultralight, but they are still impressively light. As I said earlier, I would happily take a slightly heavier pair like these if it meant I had more foot protection and a better sole.
The only downside I can see to the Arc’teryx Norvan LD is that they’re a little stiff at first and they require a bit of breaking in. Beyond that, these are some of the best trail running shoes a hiker could ask for. As a plus, they are quietly stylish for anyone looking to take them traveling.
- Single seamless fabric upper for durability
- Good starting shoe
- A little stiff to begin with
Arc’teryx Norvan LD Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||310g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
2. Arc’teryx Norvan VT 2: Best Trail Running Shoe for Climbers
This next offering from Arc’teryx is a slightly different beast. This is still a trail running shoe, but it is designed with climbers in mind, true to the company’s rock-climbing roots.
As a shoe, it’s pretty solid. It has a lot of protection on the outer, particularly in the front, which is useful on the trail. It has the same Vibram sole as the LD for maximum traction and grip.
On the inside, there is a sock-like inner that stops debris, which is also very comfortable. The mesh material is very breathable and gets rid of excess sweat and water quickly. The Norvan VT 2 shoes are less cushioned than other similar pairs, which you might want to watch out for if you are carrying a lot of gear. The arch support is there, but there isn’t a huge amount compared to other shoes.
The reason for some of these features is that this shoe is designed for alpine ascent—uphill trails with steep climbs and rock scrambles. It is therefore focused on the front of the foot, with good flexion in that area. It also has an extra loop for the shoelaces at the front of the shoe to quickly tighten up if you want to go from walking to climbing.
Overall, this is a great trail running shoe for hiking hills and peaks. If that’s what you are looking for, this is a fantastic shoe for you. If you are looking for a more general hiking shoe from Arc’teryx, the LD above is a better choice.
- Anti-debris liner
- Adaptable to climbing
- Not great for everyday hiking
Arc’teryx Norvan VT GTX Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||320g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
3. North Face Hedgehog Fastpack II: Best Heavy Duty Trail Running Shoe for Hiking
Obviously, if we are talking about hiking, The North Face is going to feature in here somewhere. The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack aims to bridge the gap between a pure trail running shoe and a traditional heavy hiking shoe by creating the Fastpack shoe, aiming to be the ultimate trail running shoe for hiking quickly and covering maximum distance.
As you can imagine, since this shoe is designed with hiking in mind, it has made the coveted trade-off between good protection and weight. At 410g, it is a little heavier than a true trail running shoe, but still much lighter than a hiking boot.
This shoe comes with a Vibram outsole that provides plenty of grip in all conditions. The vulnerable points in the shoe are all covered, with plenty of protection. According to some buyers, this shoe is also good in the cold, keeping their feet warm even in temperatures below freezing.
On the inside, an EVA liner gives the foot some protection, and North Face’s Cradle technology helps keep your foot secure in the shoe. That said, there is not a massive amount of cushioning to be found, and the shoe is designed for a more responsive feel. The drop is 6mm, so it is slightly less inclined than the shoes mentioned previously.
The product advertising leans heavily on the DryVent™ membrane that will keep the shoes waterproof. I am personally ambivalent about this, as their low-cut means that anything other than a small puddle will mean water coming in over the top of the shoe. However, many buyers of this pair have said that the membrane has held up very well over time, so if waterproofing is a feature you want, these shoes are a good choice.
Overall, this is one of the best trail running choices for hikers who need something that can bash around multiple terrain types and aren’t concerned with having a tremendous amount of insole support.
- More sturdy and heavier than true trail runners
- Good protection
- Good soles
- Not a lot of cushioning
- Not very supportive
North Face Hedgehog Fastpack II Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||425g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
4. North Face Ultra Traction FUTURELIGHT: Best Breathable Trail Running Shoe
The North Face Ultra Traction FUTURELIGHT running shoe has a lot going for it. Thanks to its superior traction system, it does incredibly well on highly technical trails. It also has alternating lugs to provide lots of balance in tricky terrain. But the two things I love about this shoe the most? It’s waterproof, and most importantly, the outer mesh is extremely breathable.
The FUTURELIGHT uses a special type of nanospinning technology for its super-stretchy, breathable outer membrane (which is much lighter than typical membranes). The OrthoLite® Hybrid™ footbeds have incredibly lightweight cushioning, and keeps moisture at a minimum. This makes for an overall lightweight, comfortable stride. It’s basically like walking on clouds.
The outsole heel also has a smooth heel-to-toe transition, so your feet won’t get tired on longer treks. These shoes are meant to be a precise fit for those technical trails, so make sure you figure out the exact right size before you buy!
So overall, this is a great trail running shoe for hiking, especially in humid, warm climates where moisture is an issue. It comes at a high price, but it’s worth it.
- Lightweight mesh for breathability
- Great traction and balance for tricky trails
- Moderate cushioning
North Face Ultra Traction FUTURELIGHT:
|Single Shoe Weight||150g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
5. Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail-Running Shoes: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Overall
The Salomon Speedcross range has been known for years as some of the best trail running shoes in the business. The Speedcross 5 is the epitome of that excellence, with all the features a trail runner could ask for—but is it suitable for hiking?
On the outside, everything looks good. The soles are made from high-quality rubber from Contagrip with big, aggressive lugs designed to bite down hard on soft, wet terrain. There are lugs facing forwards and backward to provide grip going uphill and downhill.
Unlike some other shoes, this sole is designed to prevent mud sticking between the lugs, so you don’t end up with unexpected extra weight. It is also effortless to clean according to other buyers, which is good for a shoe designed for muddy conditions. However, those prominent lugs make things difficult in rockier terrain.
On the inside, the pristine insoles make these shoes very comfortable right out of the box. The lacing system and heel cup mean that your foot is very stable in the shoe, and there is an anti-debris mesh which is very effective at keeping out annoying stones and dirt.
Overall, the cushioning and protection in this shoe are top notch and should give a comfortable ride no matter what speed you go at.
In my opinion, these are some of the best trail running shoes for hiking in wet, muddy conditions. The features that have made these shoes so legendary among trail runners will absolutely benefit any hiker who takes them for a ride.
- Very large lugs for wet/soft terrain
- Designed for excellent comfort
- Great for mud
- Not so good on hard surfaces
The Salomon Speedcross 5 Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||300g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
6. Topo Athletic Ultraventure: Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoe for Hiking
For those of you looking for a shoe that brings you in close contact with the terrain, look no further than the Ultraventure available for both men and women. These trail running shoes are designed to have a barefoot feel with minimum weight and minimum extras.
At 260g, these shoes are paper light. As you might expect, this means that there isn’t a massive amount of protection around the sides of the shoe, but the technology in the sole seems to make up for that. The rock plate system underneath the forefoot absorbs the impacts from sharp rocks and roots, preventing injuries to your feet from below.
On the inside, these shoes have won a lot of praises for their stability and comfort, despite being a minimalist design. There is no drop at all between the heel and toe, which some may find uncomfortable, but for others, will be essential in providing that natural ground contact experience. The heel is very well cushioned, and the EVA foam inlayer provides sufficient cushioning for your feet.
This is one of the best trail running shoes out there in its price bracket. However, if you buy it for hiking, I would say you need to keep in mind that this shoe is not meant to take the weight of heavy bags and would be unlikely to survive extended use of that sort.
On the other hand, if you want something for light hiking or day hikes, this could be one of the top trail running shoes for that sort of hiking.
- Very lightweight, minimalist, shoe
- No drop between heel and toe
- Good soles
- Not much protection
- Not made for heavy pack hiking
Topo Athletic Runventure 2 Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||261g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
7. Merrell Mix Master 4 Trail-Running Shoes: Best Trail Running Shoe for Women
Merrell has become renowned in recent years for the high quality of their trail shoes, and this latest offering is no different. The Mix Master 4 is a feather-light, minimalist shoe for those of you who want an option that you can wear on the trail and in the city.
While most trail running shoes have a decidedly utilitarian design, the Mix Master 4 has a seriously cool style that would look right at home dangling off your feet in a cozy cafe as well as stomping through uncharted territory in the wild. This makes these shoes one of the best trail running shoes for travelers who love nature just as much as the city.
This minimalism and style come with a drawback: Protection and cushioning is also minimal. Many buyers have said the shoes still offer decent foot support, but if you have a heavy footfall, these are not the best trail running shoes for you.
The materials are all very well chosen, with a highly breathable mesh upper that lets air in and water out. One slight drawback is that it is so breathable that sand can get sometimes get in. The sole is highly flexible, which makes the shoe extremely responsive. Paired with a small 4mm heel drop, this shoe gives a very natural contact, which would be well suited to softer trails.
Overall, if you are someone with a soft footfall who is not going to be carrying lots of heavy bags, or if you are looking for a shoe that pairs style with function, this is the best trail running shoe for your hiking needs.
- Very breathable
- Not much cushioning
Merrell Mix Master 4 Trail-Running Shoes Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||260g|
8. HOKA ONE ONE Challenger 6 ATR: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking with Ultimate Cushioning
So, we’ve looked at a few minimalist shoes with very little cushioning. Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum with a brand known for its “marshmallow” shoes – Hoka One One, with their Challenger 6 ATR.
This shoe has a whopping 29mm of sole and cushioning between the toes and the ground, with an extra 5mm on the heel, allowing you to spring your way down the trail while barely feeling the impact of the ground. This shoe has the cushioning for any trail condition; it could be worn on concrete, and you would scarcely notice the change from grass.
The sole itself has lugs designed to give a better grip in wet and difficult conditions without protruding too much to keep a stable foothold in the dry. It is a reasonably stiff design, so keep that in mind if flexibility is important to you. The upper is made of breathable mesh for fast drying, and the inner is highly supportive, particularly in the arches for maximum comfort.
This is one of the best trail running shoes for hikers who are looking for a smooth ride. If you hike hard packed trails, have feet that need a bit of love, or just don’t like getting beaten up by every pebble in your path, these are the shoes for you. One caveat I will add: The height of these shoes may not be suitable for people with weak ankles or poor balance.
- Incredibly soft and padded shoe
- Lots of cushioning
- Very breathable
- Soles add a lot of height (this could be a pro, though!)
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger 6 ATR Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||230g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
9. HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Long Distances
Speedgoat might seem like an unusual name choice for a trail running shoe, but it embodies everything this shoe provides: the foot stability of a mountain goat and a design that lets you crank up the speed as much as you want.
This is another of HOKA ONE ONE’s marshmallows, with a mountain of cushioning to protect your feet from obstacles in the trail and keep your legs and knees fresh over long distances by sparing them the roughest impacts. Beneath that insole, there is an outer sole that bites down hard on any kind of terrain, with a high-tech rubber composite and some gnarly lugs.
On the inside, the arch support is outstanding, cradling your foot through all the bumps and rolls of the trail. There is excellent breathability through the upper weave and extra protection has been added around the sides. The main difference between this shoe and the Challenger 5 ATR (above) is the neutral drop and the narrower foot profile. There is no height difference between heel and toe, and wider-footed people will probably find this one pinches a bit.
Wearing this shoe is like putting your foot on a plush sofa inside an Abrams tank. This shoe has the guts to hack the trail while protecting your flippers from harm. Absolutely one of the top trail running shoes for hiking with those who like a comfy ride.
- Outer sole provides excellent traction
- Very cushioned
- Narrow foot profile
HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||290g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
10. Salomon S-Lab Cross: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Muddy and Slippery Terrain
The first thing you’ll notice about these unisex shoes is the rubber lugs jutting out like shark teeth from every part of the sole. This shoe is hungry for the trail and will eat it up and spit back out behind you, no questions asked. If you were looking for something that will handle soft muddy terrain, look no further!
The Salomon S-Lab Cross has been commended not only for its soles but for its durability. Salomon, in general, seems to do very well at creating shoes that can take a beating, so if you’re looking for a partner in crime for years to come, this shoe is it. This second iteration is even lighter than the first, which was already pretty light. So, if you are looking to cover a lot of ground, this is the ideal trail running shoe for your hike.
On the inside, there is a minimalist approach to cushioning. The lack of foam keeps the shoes light when they get wet, and if you are slogging through mud regularly, you will be thankful for this. The upper gaiters allows any moisture to escape the shoe while keeping debris out, and the lacing system keeps the shoe tight and supportive while also allowing an easy on/off.
This shoe is a bit more specialized than some of the others listed here, which, unfortunately, limits its stomping grounds somewhat. It is designed to chew up muddy, soft conditions and would not fare well on rocks or hard-packed trails. However, if you are looking to cover swampy ground quickly, the best trail running shoe for that hike is right here.
- Specially designed for soft, muddy, conditions
- High ankle gaiter keeps small stones and other debris out
- Excellent durability
- Suits a forefoot strike
- Minimal cushioning
- Not so good on hard trails
- Not waterproof
The Salomon S-Lab Speed 2 Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||230g|
11. Altra Timp 2: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking with Wide Feet
Here’s another shoe that’s suited to softer conditions but with a lot more cushioning. Altra is an American company and a fairly recent addition to the running world. Clearly, they are out to impress with this trail running product.
With 29mm of sole and cushioning with zero drop, the Altra Timp aims to offer a silky-smooth ride while keeping that grip in any condition, especially the wet and muck. Their innovative sole technology has created an outer sole that provides plenty of grip to keep you stable while hiking, with particular focus on the moment the foot leaves the ground where crucial slips can occur.
On the inside, the shoe aims to support the foot while reducing impact as much as possible. Along with its sturdy design, it has a built-in attachment for gaiters that can be purchased separately. This gives you an extra layer of protection from debris and rain.
However, the mesh on the upper is not entirely debris-proof, which may be something to consider. The foot box is also pleasantly wide, which will be absolute gold for any wide-footed hikers out there who are tired of the infamous toe-pinch.
While this shoe is advertised as an all-terrain option, I personally see this as one of the best trail running shoes for hiking in adverse weather and boggy ground. All that while offering extensive support and comfort too, especially for wider feet.
- Wide footbed for larger feet
- Excellent cushioning
- Good for bad weather
- Not debris-proof
Altra Timp 2 Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||298g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
12. Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking in All Weather
This shoe from Salomon is an example of a quality shoe with a sizable heel-toe drop, with a full 12mm difference between heel and toe level inside the shoe. Its excellent, comfortable and functional design has made it one of the most popular trail running shoes of all time.
On the outside, this is a very impressive shoe. Salomon advertises this shoe as being the premier all-weather trail running shoe, and it certainly fits that category. The Contagrip sole has a unique design with angled lugs for better grip in wet conditions. As the name suggests, there is a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, which many reviewers have stated holds up well over time. Since the toes are more vulnerable thanks to the large drop, extra reinforcement has been put at the front, which is a welcome addition.
Inside, the large height drop makes this one of the best trail running shoes for hikers who tend to land heavily on their heels. With sufficient arch stability on the inside, the extra heel padding will help spread the force evenly throughout the sole and give you an extra spring forward with each step. The upper wrap helps to keep the foot snug in the shoe and positioned correctly as you walk.
At the end of the day, there is nothing to dislike about this shoe… apart from the price. These bad boys aren’t cheap! But if you want a shoe with a high heel stack and the durability to take you through any conditions, this is the best trail running shoe you could find.
- Large heel to toe drop
- Durable Gore-Tex Membrane
- Great all-weather shoe
- Very supportive
- Heavier than most shoes
- High price
Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||390g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
13. Merrell MQM Flex 2 GORE-TEX: Best Trail Running Shoe for Hiking Through Water
Waterproof, durable, and extremely comfortable, the Merrell MQM Flex 2 GORE-TEX running shoes is one of the best listed here.
These are obviously designed to get wet and muddy and come out shining. Merrell has designed this shoe to be as breathable as possible to drain any excess water that may enter the shoe on your hiking adventures (also available in women’s).
The FLEXConnect dual-directional flex-groove EVA midsoles will give you plenty of agility and stability, while the M Select Grip rubber outsoles have extra traction for when you’re running through water.
These shoes are also moderately lightweight at just over 1lb per pair, but the sizing does run small. I’d suggest jumping up a full size instead of a half size, as the shoes are tighter than most.
There isn’t very much protection on the sole of the shoe, which is very thin, so if you’ve got a heavier footfall you may get some bruising. Otherwise, they’re very comfortable to wear.
Can we recommend this as a hiking shoe? Yes, definitely. If you are hiking a forest trail in a wet region, this shoe will take you through easily. My first thought when I saw these shoes was how good these would be on the trails through the Pacific North West.
However, the lack of sole protection may be a concern to some, especially if you are hiking rocky trails. If you are looking for the best possible slip-proof option to fly down a wet trail, this is one of the best options on the market.
- Waterproof GORE-TEX® membrane
- EVA removable footbeds
- Grippy soles for slick conditions
- Soles are a bit thin
- Sizing can be pretty tight
Merrell MQM Flex 2 GORE-TEX Specs:
|Single Shoe Weight||354g|
|Gender||Men and Women|
Things to Consider When Buying Trail Running Shoes for Hiking
Your feet are the most crucial part of the body if you’re a hiker. After all, you won’t be getting very far down the trail without them! They can also be very fragile, so it’s good to find a pair of shoes that will give your feet the proper shielding from rocks and bumps on the trail from the front, sides, and bottom. Things like extra leather or rubber composite strips down the side and front of the shoe can make all the difference.
For this reason, I think the best trail running shoes for hiking are mostly on the heavier end of the trail-running-shoe spectrum. It’s a necessary trade-off; more weight generally means more foot protection and a thicker sole. The difference is only an extra ounce or two on each foot, which is a sacrifice I am happy to make when I am already saving over a pound of weight on each foot by choosing trail running shoes over boots.
You also want shoes that will cushion your feet from below. How much cushioning you want on your shoes is mostly a matter of personal preference. If you are someone who really stomps down hard or are anticipating a very long-distance trek, you might want more cushioning to keep your feet and knees fresh.
On the other hand, if you like to stay in touch with the trail and get feedback from your soles, a ‘minimalist’ shoe with very little cushioning might be for you. This is also a better option if you have weak ankles. The minimalist shoes keep your heel closer to the ground giving you better balance.
Good quality soles are also vital to protecting your feet, so let’s take a deep look at those next.
The rubber between you and the trail is an essential consideration for any shoe purchase, but especially for a trail running shoe. To find the best trail running shoes for hiking, you need to look carefully at the grip, flexibility, and durability of the shoe, and match that with the kind of hiking you are likely to be doing.
Good grip is an essential part of a good hiking shoe, and some trail running shoes will suit your needs better than others. For example, some trail runners have a light tread with small lugs (the sticky out bits of rubber) which are great for smooth, hard packed, established trails but not so suitable for slippery or rocky surfaces.
On the other hand, shoes with big gouging lugs will be a miracle in the mud but are likely going to get shredded by hiking hard packed trails. Hiking trails can be varied, so it’s best to take something that is ready for all conditions. In my opinion, the best trail running shoes for hiking will have soles that grip through any terrain, because you never know what you will get out there in the wild.
Durability is a massive concern for trail running soles. Some companies will sacrifice this durability in order to make their shoes as light as possible, which is not ideal for hikers, especially when trail running shoes can be quite a costly investment!
The best trail running shoes usually seem to have their soles made by a separate company who knows exactly what they’re doing. Sometimes, this is a specialist company for shoes (Vibram is particularly well known for this), but others get their soles from tire manufacturers like Michelin. It is an important consideration to make when purchasing.
Finally, flexibility in the soles may be an important consideration for you. And this has a lot to do with the design of the soles. Some people like to feel the shoe gives them total freedom of movement with their feet, while others want a stiffer shoe to provide them with more support. This choice totally depends on your preference; there is no right answer for everyone because it depends on your walking style.
If you aren’t sure what you need, try looking at the soles of other shoes you own to find the best trail running shoe for you.
Foot Support and Fit
The inside of the shoe affects how comfortable your hike is, but is also vital to protect your feet from the potential long-term injuries of hiking. As someone who was born with all the natural foot support of a limp noodle, I am always looking out for the supportive factors in any shoe that I buy.
Here are a few questions that you should be asking to find the best trail running shoe for you:
- Which part of the foot is this shoe supporting the most? Some trail running shoes will focus on the feel of the forefoot and toes, which will support people who hit the ground with that part of their foot. If you like slogging up hills, a shoe with this kind of feature will suit you best. People who have a heel-heavy strike (which is more typical among hikers, in my experience) would prefer more cushioning in the middle and rear of their shoe.
- How much stability do you need? If you have flat feet or you like a bit of arch support, you should look for shoes that try to keep your foot as stable as possible. Good lace systems, good insoles, and a secure heel are all things you should look for to find the best trail running shoe for you. However, if you want a bit more freedom, look for something a bit more reactive in your shoe selection.
- Does the ‘drop’ between the heel and toe suit your foot? The ‘drop’ is the height difference between the front and back sections of the shoe. Trail running shoes can have a drop of up to 12mm between the front and back of the shoe, but some will have no drop at all. Again, this is a matter for you to choose because it depends on your posture and how you move kinetically. If you don’t have any experience with choosing a trail-running shoe, I would recommend looking for a middle of the road, 6-9mm drop.
- Is the toe-box the right size? Is the shoe the correct width? Given the snug fit trail running shoes are designed with, it is important that they aren’t pinching or wiggling too much. In my experience, each brand seems to stick with a specific foot shape across different shoe lines, so if you find one shoe that fits really well, it is a good bet that other shoes from that same brand will fit as well.
Finally, you should consider how flexible the fit of the shoes are. Depending on how the soles are made, some shoes will allow more flexion as you step, while others are made of stiffer stuff.
Once again, your choice should be made according to your needs. I would personally recommend a stiffer sole as the best trail running shoe for hiking, as it will provide extra support and not allow your foot tendons to stretch too much.
Shoe Fabric and Breathability
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main advantages of a trail running shoe over a boot is the breathability of the shoe. Letting water out and fresh air in makes for a much more comfortable hike. There is also the bonus of your tent mates not having to hold their nose as much when you peel off your shoes.
However, there are some drawbacks to this feature. While it lets water out, a breathable membrane may let in debris during your hikes, such as sand, dirt, and small stones, which is not ideal. Some shoes add a sock-like anti-debris cover for your foot, which definitely seems to protect against the worst of it. If you hate bits in your shoe, this is a key feature to look for.
Some shoes will also include a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane in the upper part of the shoe. Such shoes usually have GTX in the name. I have always been a little skeptical of features like this. That’s because, if you are in conditions wet enough to warrant waterproofing, water is likely to be running down your legs or over the top of your shoe anyway, which defeats the purpose. These membranes can reduce the breathability of the shoe as well, meaning that once the water is in, it’s not going anywhere.
That said, if you are someone who really hates wet feet and isn’t looking at crossing any rivers or streams, then this is a feature you might want to have.
So, there you have it, travel freaks: our greatest hits of trail running shoes, along with the essential buying considerations to make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. Just remember that your hiking shoes should be as personal as your journals from your long-haul treks, so make sure they feel right.