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  • Matthew Novak

The Great Footwear Debate: Trail-Runners or Hiking Boots

Since the advent of lightweight trail-running footwear, a quiet debate has been slowly turning into a roaring conversation: Which is better? Hiking boots or trail runners?

Old-school purists, and perhaps a smattering of Instagram influencers will tell you their red-lace clad leather boots still have a place on the trail. However, with a quick glance around at a trailhead, or better yet, at the feet of the fastest and most efficient hikers around, one will see their gear decision is mutual and obvious. Respected hikers, as well as the people setting the FKTs (fastest known times) on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and on the Appalachian Trail in the past two years, have worn trail running shoes as opposed to bulky hiking boots—and we happen to agree with them.

When given a chance to shave off between 10-20 ounces of the weight our feet carry, we're on board. Add in the freedom to wade through creeks, knowing our feet will likely be dry again in an hour, and we're already getting excited to look into buying our next pair. You don't have to take our word for it; if you're not convinced yet that your Danner boots are better served to finish off an outfit for heading to the bar to meet some friends then below are six articles that you should read if you're still sitting on the fence of the debate.

Hiking Boots and Trail Running Shoes
Trail Runners or Hiking Boots: which are better suited for your next adventure?

Cam Honan writes a hearty tome about not just the why but the how, complete with layering systems and links for shoes and gear to help you make the right decisions.

Andrew Skurka gives his take in a roundabout way on why trail-runners are going to fare better than waterproof boots ever will, even in the wet shoulder seasons.

Not necessarily an exact fit for the argument posed here, nonetheless, great perspective again from Andrew about why you generally will not want to choose waterproof boots. Andrew lays out some instances where you may want to choose waterproof boots, but take note that those moments are few and far between.

A quick read from Dave and Annie really lays out your options and why one might pick one over the other. While this article is ambiguous, we do like that it covers all the bases and doesn’t have any “skin in the game” in terms of sponsors or items to sell.

Another read from Andrew Skurka, but this time as an author writing for Outside Magazine. We trust the reporting in Outside, and as noted above we think Andrew has some great perspective on being outside and thus, what shoes to wear while doing it.

It’s always a little hard to trust a retail source that benefits from selling more of both boots and shoes, but REI proves to be a good source of information in the outdoors. Because they’ve got both options for sale in their stores they refuse to take a side, BUT the pros and cons listing for both are definitely recommended reading for those of you looking to make a choice.

At the end of the day, the choice is ultimately yours but we do encourage your decision in the direction that will shave weight off your carried load, allow your feet to breathe and dry out quickly, and in the end, just be more comfortable than they would be in boots. Your feet truly are your most important asset on the trail, and making the decision to treat them well will be one you will never regret. Get out there, make some footprints on the trails, do some testing, and have fun!


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