What are the best hiking shoes?
I’m asked this question fairly often. It’s a heated debate that will go on for the length of time I’m sure. But first: I’m not an expert by any means. I’m only speaking from experience, but for most of Texas, I’m going to explain why you should be wearing trail runners for hiking.
‘Can I wear trail runners for hiking?’ Absolutely! Trail runners, in essence, are running shoes. They’re running shoes that offer additional features which I’ll explain below, but they’re extra cushion to help give your feet that added comfort. If you’re knocking out 10+ miles when you day-hike your feet will appreciate that extra support. I’ve found in most places I’ve hiked around Texas it’s mostly flat and rocky. So that goes into point number two:
They have extra cushion but they have extra rivets and grip on the bottom. Trail runners also have (if they’re good ones) a toe cap to prevent the top of your feet from getting hurt if you bop into those god-forsaken tree root stumps that stick out of the ground. If you’ve done any hiking by water you know exactly what I mean. The trail runners I use have Vibram soles, so when walking around anything wet that extra grip will save your ankles.
Speaking of water; There are two schools of thought when it comes to waterproof shoes. I don’t recommend waterproof shoes. Here’s the thing- waterproof shoes are meant to keep water out, BUT if water gets in your shoes they’re not designed to let water out from the inside. This goes for regular ol’ hiking boots. Unless you’re hiking in snow, I’d stay away.
The breathability in trail runner hiking shoes allows for moisture in and out, and if you purchased the socks I recommended, you should be able to continue to walk comfortably until you’re done for the day and you can swap socks.
What to look for in a trail runner hiking shoe
There are a handful of things to think about when you’re purchasing your trail runner:
- Sole lugs
- Lacing systems
- Toe Cap
Keep your feet comfortable.
Remember, when it comes to trail runners for hiking, comfort is key. You must get in them and walk around. Most trail runner hiking shoes should be good to go out of the box with few exceptions. But if your feet aren’t happy when you try them on, they usually won’t be down the road–even after a break-in period. But as I said, some exceptions are depending on the style of shoe.
There are variables to this when it comes to cushioning. The HOKA ONE ONE trail-running shoes offer maximum cushion. It’s going to have that squishy feel when you hike.
Trail runner sandals like these from Bedrock aren’t what you’d think of when it comes to trail runner hiking shoes, but they’re well-known among the community. I always use them when I’m walking in the water. So just because they don’t have the same cushion doesn’t mean that can’t also be comfortable.
Give yourself that extra grip.
The lug pattern on a trail runner is going to be what separates these shoes from typical running shoes. This is where the grip comes from. These women’s Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail-runners are a great example of a beefy lugged bottom. This feature will depend on how rugged you want to go. When you’re wearing trail runners for hiking, the size of the lug will just depend on how the terrain you plan on hiking is. One thing to remember, the spacing on the lug pattern does allow for rocks to go in between which you’re feet will feel; so keep that in mind when you’re looking at the bottoms.
Learn about lacing options.
When it comes to how the shoes are laced up I’ve seen regular lacing and more of a speed lacing system. The regular lacing systems are what we’ve grown up with. You tie them normally up top.
On the speed lacing systems, you just need to pull tight the laces and pull down a fastener that can either hide behind the tongue or are tucked on top-down the front. These La Sportiva Tempesta shoes offer single-pull lacing systems for added support. The previously mentioned Salomons are also known for this type of lacing.
Breathing is good for the lungs and your feet.
How much the shoe breathes is going to come from the mesh or webbing that’s on the shoe. Something that has a large amount of leather covering your foot isn’t going to breathe as well as something that has patches of breathable fabric to keep your feet cooler. Again, when it comes to hiking in Texas your feet will appreciate it.
This also serves as an indicator of a shoe that will let water out and dry quicker on and off your feet. This is important if you can’t take a break and need to push for miles while wearing your shoes. The Arc’teryx Norvan LD GTX Trail-Running Shoes offer a breathable mesh that will help keep your feet cool.
Protect those toes.
Toe caps are meant for one thing: protecting the toes on your feet. It’s a protective barrier that can either cover the entire toe like these Merrells or just over your big toe like these Altra Lone Peaks. I also have trail runners that offer very little in terms of a toe cap that I’ll wear if I’ve hiked a particular trail before. I’ll let the toe cap be a personal preference feature, but you’ll wish you have it if you ever hit a rock or a tree knot.
Your feet need room to move around too.
When you hike you should be accounting for two things; A) room for your feet when they get hot and swell, and B) room for your feet for when you walk downhill.
The rule that I, and most people that hike, follow is that you should at least wear a size up in trail running shoes for hiking. Or any hiking shoes for that matter. When your feet get hot they’re going to grow, so you need to let your feet have some extra room for those long days.
When your feet have room to slide forward, walking downhill gives them some added space as protection from the front of your shoes. There’s nothing worse than your toenails turning black because you have them constantly bumping the front of your shoes.
I hope this guide gives you a good head start on what to look for on your next pair of trail runners for hiking. Not everyone loves the idea of running shoes for hiking, and that’s fine, but for the hiking, I do they are much better for my feet.
If you’ve made the switch to trail runners for hiking let me know in the comments below.