For many looking to get into hiking and getting outdoors in general who wants to try and keep the initial costs low shoes can be an expense, they look to wait on. This may leave you wondering, are running shoes good for hiking?
While not perfectly suited to the trail a good pair of sneakers or running shoes can work well for your start in hiking. What you want to do though is ensure they aren't tight fitting and most hikers will have a shoe half to one size larger than normal to allow for swelling.
Let's take a long look at why you can get by with sneakers or running shoes in the short term along with why you would choose to get trail runners or hiking style boots or shoes in the long term.
Hopefully, we can talk about running shoes and hiking shoes so you can learn to understand how they are similar and different from each other and why hiking shoes tend to cost much more.
Running shoes are built for road running or concrete paths on the road and not aimed for off-road and uneven terrain. They are built to cushion hard impacts on stable surfaces and keep you from hurting yourself with impact damage.
They also tend to use very lightweight outer materials that are perfect for road runs where you have very little brush and pointy objects to catch and rip the fabrics.
Hiking shoes are also known by the term "trail runners" and these shoes are built for the uneven terrain you experience in the outdoors. They have less cushion as speed isn't as big a factor when you are aiming for miles with a pack.
Trail running shoes for hiking feature more of an attack style tread which allows you to keep contact with the ground and help you maintain being upright. Their fabrics tend to be a bit tougher to take the abuses of trail interaction from rocks to sticks and more.
As long as you are not looking at pushing distance consistently the type of sneaker isn't too worrisome. You would prefer a better tread with some grip as you will be on real ground and not on concrete so comfort should be a concern and focus.
Choosing to use running shoes for your hikes will work for you in the short term but over the long term, you will slowly see the differences between the two types of shoes in their fundamental build.
Where the two types of shoes differ the largest is in the soles and the tread used and the main fabrics of the outer shell. On running shoes, they are built lighter and to help you run and pad hard impacts. For hiking, you need durability over rough terrain that can tear shoes to shreds.
For many hiking trail runners, you see a merge of the best of both worlds with a very lightweight shoe but built from more durable materials and featuring tread that tends to long outlast the shoe lifespan, like the Altra trail running shoes, are game-changers.
You are wanting the least amount of weight on your individual feet as possible as ounces translate into pounds over time when the weight is on your feet and being lifted up and down all day.
Both running shoes and trail runners come in close to the same weight when you reach the higher quality tiers of gear.
Your standard trail runners are typically more and more a zero drop where the difference between the heel and toe is non-existent, for some people this will mean some pain and adjustment as it is a new feeling after a life of shoes.
Running shoes aren't built to protect your foot from the surroundings outside of an errant kick of stones or a stick while running. Trail runner shoes will be built of fabrics that can survive more abuse and survive the longer constant wear time.
The durability of running shoes is for use on clean streets and concrete paths and they may fall apart much faster when used on a trail due to the much more abusive nature or nature itself.
The common trail runners are made from materials that are built to take the abuses of the trail from rocks and more.
One place where your shoes will differ from each other tremendously is in the traction as a street running shoe is basically build to grip concrete fast and simple. Trail runners have aggressive treads built to grab dirt and trail conditions and keep you connected and upright.
Running shoes are built to stay comfortable on your feet for a run, but you hike for 10-12 hours in a day and this "comfort" isn't there and that your feet will be tired and uncomfortable.
Trail runners are more built for the longer duration and slower overall speeds from being on a trail, this still will lead to tired feet but they won't typically be uncomfortable.
Both shoes for running and trail are perfect for being breathable and that giving your feet all you need to keep fresh for long use, this also allows your feet and shoes to dry without the same issues as less breathable facbrics.
Contrary to popular belief waterproof hiking shoes aren't a good thing and are typically avoided as this waterproofing will keep the shoes from drying when they get wet which happens frequently while out on the trail.
Instead trail runners are a very breathable fabric that lets in the water but also lets it out the same, this allows for the shoes to dry out much faster and help your feet stay as dry as possible.
Are you able to use running shoes for the trail, yes, are they optimal for enjoyment on the trail long term, doubtful. If thats what you need to use to get out though I an 100% behind you and say go out and enjoy.
We need time outdoors, its in our genes to be out in nature and not just cooped up in urban sprawl, take some times back for yourself and go find some freedom from the world in general.
You may find that once you start you don't ever want to stop, this is why I love hiking, you get to drop all the convenience of "normal" life and things get simpler and your brain gets a chance to relax from noise pollution also!
I look forward to seeing you all out on the trail soon, even with the pandemic find local trails and start small and grow bigger, I know you have it in you!