Last Updated: August 30, 2019

Hiking Boots Vs. Trail Runners: Which To Get?

Hiking Boots Vs Trail Runners

Can't decide between hiking boots or trail runners? Well you're just in the right place - this review will help you find out which are best for you. 

First, we'll tell you the main differences between the two types of hiking shoes, to help you figure out which are the better fit for you. And then we'll show you the best options for each category. 

We'll focus on men's shoes in this review, but the differences really apply to both men's and women's shoes. So, ladies, at least you will be able to figure out which type of shoe is right for you. 

Hiking Boots Vs. Trail Runners
The Differences

Cold Vs. Warm Weather

Hiking boots are the better option in fall and winter. They are warmer, and will keep you from getting cold when you’re on the trail. Which is very important for your comfort.

But they are not the best option in the warmer months. Sure, many hiking boots have superb ventilation systems, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a hundred degrees outside and you’re wearing ankle boots.

Your feet are bound to get sweaty, which can cause blisters. So, not only can they be hot and uncomfortable, but also painful.

Trail runners, on the other hand, are lighter, shorter and just better for warm weather. It’s easier to move around in them when it’s hot outside, and your feet will stay cool and dry. Just like wearing regular sneakers in the summer.

And then again, you need hiking boots if you don’t shy away from hiking in snow. Good hiking boots are waterproof - actually, most of the boots featured in our review have a waterproof membrane. 

If you hike all year round, you’ll need both – a pair of boots for the colder months, and a pair of trail runners for spring and summer.

Grip, Traction And Durability

What is hiking for you? Because, everyone has their own definition of a hike, and their preferred trails and terrain types.

This is the most important factor – you should choose footwear which is best suitable for the type of terrain that you normally hike on.

Hiking boots are sturdy. They have deeper lugs that grip soil better, and they offer superb traction and grip. Because of that, they are best suited for more difficult terrain – steep uphills, rocky and muddy terrain etc.

The pace of your hikes is also important. Boots are better for slow paced hikes, and they offer better traction when you’re not moving fast. Trail runners, however, are better for fast-paced hikes. That’s because you are applying more pressure with each step, and the level of grip and traction they provide increases.

Trail runners will never give you as much traction as hiking boots will. But if you don’t need it, then that is completely fine. If your hikes are laid back and don’t happen on nasty terrain, then you will be just fine in a pair of trail runners.

As for durability, hiking boots will last you longer. The general rule is that you’re supposed to replace them after about 1000 miles of hiking, which could either be a couple years or a decade, depending on how often you go hiking.

For trail runners, it’s half that – on average, you’ll need a new pair after about 500 miles of hiking. And, if you go on hikes quite often, you’ll get more use (and better value for money) out of proper hiking boots.

Are You A Newbie Or A Pro?

Are you an experienced hiker, or are you totally new to it?

For people who are just getting into hiking, I would recommend hiking boots. They are more stable, and until you’ve perfected walking uphill with a huge pack on your shoulder, you need all the stability you can get.

And if you’re a pro and are just looking to shed some weight of your feet, then trail runners might just be your new best friends. Plus, the break in period is virtually non-existent, which is a big plus. But it does take some time to get used to their performance on the trails.

Another thing to consider is the amount of support you require from your footwear. If you usually need a lot of support from your shoes, then boots are the better option for you. Especially if you plan to wear a hiking backpack.

But if you don’t normally need too much support, you will be fine in trail runners. Especially if you are experienced, and have mastered the art of hiking for miles while wearing a heavy pack.

Reasons To Get Hiking Boots: 

  • More durable
  • Better for cold weather – warm and waterproof
  • Better grip and traction
  • Ankle support and protection
  • They are twice as durable as trail runners

Reasons To Get Trail Runners: 

  • They are lighter to wear
  • Better option for warmer months
  • Better traction for fast-paces hikes
  • No need to break them in
  • Better breathability

The Best Hiking Boots (For Gents)

Columbia MEN'S NEWTON RIDGE PLUS II WATERPROOF Hiking Boot, cordovan, squash, 8 Regular US
Columbia MEN'S NEWTON RIDGE PLUS II WATERPROOF Hiking Boot, cordovan, squash, 8 Regular US

The Newton Ridge Plus II hiking boots are feature leather and synthetic uppers that are fully waterproof. The outer parts of the boot are full-grain leather, and the tongue is made from breathable mesh. They feature seam-sealed construction, which doesn’t let any mud or puddles get in your way.

But they’re breathable enough that your feet shouldn’t get sweaty, provided that it isn’t 100 degrees outside. These boots run true to size, and they are available in half sizes. So, getting just the right fit shouldn’t be an issue.

They have a lightweight Techlite (EVA) midsole, which is comfortable, soft and has superb impact absorption. This will help you get tires less quickly on the trails, and stop your feet from hurting even after hiking for hours.

The outsole of the boots features Columbia’s proprietary Omni-Grip technology. It is a non-marking rubber outsole with deep, multidirectional lugs for excellent grip and traction on different terrain types. They perform very well in mud, so dry terrain should be extremely easy in them.

The boots also feature a shank under the arch, for improved stability and support. And also flexibility – a feature important for difficult, rocky terrain. The only downside to these is that they don’t have particularly supportive insoles. But they are removable, so I would recommend replacing them with anatomical ones.  

Pros

  • Waterproof seam-sealed construction
  • Removable insoles
  • Omni-Grip outsoles

Cons

  • Insoles not anatomical
  • Break-in period is long

Product Information

  • Material: Leather and synthetic
  • Weight: 15.9 oz
  • Shaft Measurement: Approximately 5” from arch
Hi-Tec Men's Bandera Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Bone/Brown/Mustard, 9 W US
Hi-Tec Men's Bandera Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Bone/Brown/Mustard, 9 W US

If affordability is your main concern, then these are the best boots for you. They are the cheapest hiking boots in the review, but the price is definitely not a reflection of quality and performance you can expect from them. Just a reflection of a good discount and a hot deal.

The Bandera boots have suede leather and mesh uppers. The suede leather is waterproof and the nylon mesh is breathable – a combination that ensures that no water can get inside the boot. But also lets the moisture inside the boots get out, and keeps your feet dry.

These boots are available in half sizes, and they mostly run true to size. So, it should be pretty easy to get the right fit. However, about 25% of people who bought these didn’t find their regular size to fit well, and most of them found the boots to be too small. If you are usually between two sizes, I would recommend going at least half a size up.

The boots have D-ring lacing with rustproof hardware, which improves their durability in prolonged exposure to elements. The outsole of the boots is rubber, and fairly thick – it will easily protect you from any sharp debris on the trail. In addition to that, because of the deep lugs, it provides you with a good amount of traction as well.

The boots lack cushioning in the insoles, but make up for it in the midsole area. The EVA midsoles are compression molded and have a steel shank, for lots of stability and support on the trails.

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Rustproof hardware
  • Thick, rugged outsoles

Cons

  • Insoles are below average (but removable)
  • Snug fit

Product Information

  • Material: 100% Leather and textile
  • Weight: No information
  • Shaft Measurement:  Approximately 5” from arch
Timberland Men's White Ledge Mid Waterproof Boot,Dark Brown,9 M US
Timberland Men's White Ledge Mid Waterproof Boot,Dark Brown,9 M US

The White Ledge boots feature seam-sealed construction. The uppers are made from leather that is treated to be waterproof during the tanning process. But there is a break-in period, and they are not exactly comfortable out of the box.

These Timberlands are equipped with their proprietary B.F.S.P. (brake support, flex, propel) system for enhanced traction. They have two pairs of flex groves, which promote flexion of the forefoot. Which means that you will can expect lots of flexibility from these hiking boots.

However, the grooves and the lugs are not as deep as I would like. Because of that, I don’t think these are the best choice for some really slippery terrain, and I think the grip they offer is a bit underwhelming. But fine for dry terrain.

And they are really comfortable. The first boots so far to feature a proper footbed! White Ledge boots come with a dual-density EVA footbed, which will provide you with lots of arch support. Additionally, the footbed is perforated, so that the inside of the boots can breathe, and your feet don’t get too sweaty.

The lacing system of the boots is a combo of D-rings and speed hooks. The speed hooks just make everything faster, but not everyone is a fan of this feature. All the hardware on the boots is rustproof though.

Pros

  • True to size
  • Designed to bend naturally with your foot
  • EVA footbed is comfortable and supportive

Cons

  • Not comfortable out of the box
  • Not remarkably durable

Product Information

  • Material: 100% leather
  • Weight: 1 lb 2 oz
  • Shaft Measurement: 4.75” from arch
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot, Walnut, 10.5 M US
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot, Walnut, 10.5 M US

MOAB stands for Mother Of All Boots, so my expectations were pretty high for these boots. And one thing where they surpassed even my expectations is comfort – there’s really no break in period, and the boots are extremely comfortable right out of the box. Which is amazing.

They fit true to size and are available in half sizes, so you’ll be fine getting your usual size for hiking boots. The uppers of the boots are made from suede leather and mesh, for superb ventilation. The inside of the boots is also covered with mesh, and they have really great breathability – enough that you can comfortable where them in the summer.

But that’s because they don’t have a waterproof membrane. So, I would not recommend these for snow and wet weather. There is a waterproof version of the MOAB boot though, so maybe check those out if that’s what you are looking for.

The boots have a Vibram (TC5+) outsole with 5mm deep multidirectional lugs. You will have really good traction and grip in these, and they are also quite flexible. Plus, there’s an air cushion in the heel, for enhanced stability and shock absorption.

They’re not the best boots in terms of arch support. They do have a nylon shank and a contoured EVA footbed, but their performance is average. There’s also an EVA midsole for added stability and comfort, which will be just right for people who don’t normally need a lot of arch support when hiking.

Pros

  • Comfortable out of the box
  • Rugged Vibram outsole
  • Excellent breathability

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Arch support could be better

Product Information

  • Material: 100% suede and leather mesh
  • Weight:1 lb 15 oz (pair!)
  • Shaft Measurement: No information
KEEN Men's Targhee II Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot,Black Olive/Yellow,7 M US
KEEN Men's Targhee II Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot,Black Olive/Yellow,7 M US

Keen Targhee hiking boots are an all-time best seller. They are made from waterproof nubuck leather on the outside, with hydrophobic mesh lining on the inside. Because of that, they might be a little too hot in the warmer months. But perfect for winter and fall.

The Targhee boots run half a size small, so definitely order half a size larger than what you usually wear, to get the perfect fit. The break-in period is very short, and for some people these are comfortable straight out of the box.

The Targhee II boots feature a Keen.Dry waterproof membrane. It’s Keen’s proprietary waterproofing technology, which that lets vapor out of the boot, but doesn’t let any water outside the boot penetrate the membrane.

The outsole is rugged, non-marking rubber with 4mm deep multidirectional lugs for good traction on all kinds of terrain. The boots also have an ESS shank and a contoured heel lock, for enhanced stability. Additionally, they are pretty flexible, so you will be completely fine on uneven terrain.

These boots are mid-cut, which provides you with just enough ankle support on the trails. As for arch support, they have both a metatomical dual density EVA footbed and compression molded EVA midsole. Because of them, the boots are really comfortable to wear and have great cushioning. But in case you generally need more arch support, you’ll be happy to know that the footbeds are removable.

Pros

  • Break-in period is short to non-existent
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Waterproof and breathable

Cons

  • A common issue is that soles get unglued
  • Not the quality you expect for the price

Product Information

  • Material: 100% waterproof nubuck leather
  • Weight: 17.4 ounces
  • Shaft Measurement: No information

The Best Trail Runners (For Gents)

Salomon Men's Speedcross 4 Trail Running Shoes, Black/Black/BLACK METALLIC, 10
Salomon Men's Speedcross 4 Trail Running Shoes, Black/Black/BLACK METALLIC, 10

These Speedcross trail runners are actually the fourth generation of the model. With each version Salomon has improved their original shoe, and these ones are pretty close to perfection. Their uppers are made from anti-debris mesh and water resistant textile, and they are pretty durable.

The shoes have a rubber outsole with very deep multidirectional lugs, for an aggressive grip. That makes them perfectly suitable for muddy and soft terrain, and guarantees good stability even at faster paces. However, they are not waterproof, so avoid stepping in puddles or deep mud, if you want your feet to stay dry.

They have a quicklace system which allows for one-pull tightening. Putting them on and adjusting them is quick and easy – one area where trail runners always have an advantage over hiking boots.

But the area where these excel is cushioning. They have an injected EVA midsole, and an Orthollite insole on top of that, for great shock absorption. This is important when you’re moving at faster paces, because it keeps your feet from tiring.

These feature a Sensifit design – they cradle the foot to provide a secure and almost customized fit. They run a little small, so maybe go half a size up. But, they are supposed to fit snug, so don’t panic if there’s no wiggle room for your toes.

Pros

  • Deep lugs for aggressive grip
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Great cushioning

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Pretty narrow

Product Information

  • Material: 100% Anti-Debris Mesh/Water Resistant Textile
  • Weight: 10.9 oz
  • Shaft Measurement: Low-top from arch
New Balance Men's MT410v5 Cushioning Trail Running Shoe, Black, 10.5 D US
New Balance Men's MT410v5 Cushioning Trail Running Shoe, Black, 10.5 D US

If you’re looking for lightweight trail runners for this summer, but can’t afford to spend a lot of money, these are a good option. They’re pretty affordable (under $50), but the price really depends on the size and color you want. If you don’t really care about aesthetics, definitely check out how much your size costs in each of the colors.

And you should get these in at least half a size bigger than what you normally wear, because they do run small. If you have wide feet, I recommend going for the Extra Wide (XV) sizing of the shoe, because they are pretty narrow.

The uppers of the shoes are made from a mixture of synthetic and breathable mesh. The ventilation on them is really good, so you can safely wear them in the summer. Your feet will stay cool and dry even in the middle of August. But they’re obviously not waterproof, so avoid stepping in streams or puddles.  

They feature an AT (All Terrain) Tread rubber outsole, which is designed to perform well on different types of terrain. And the shoes have a lot of cushioning (an EVA midsole and an insole) that provide you with shock absorption at faster paces, as well as stability.

One downside is that insoles are not great at all. It’s not memory foam – actually it’s not any memorable technology. But you can remove it and put your own insoles inside the shoes, which will be much more comfortable and provide you with more support.

Pros

  • Good traction on different terrain types
  • Very affordable
  • Great ventilation

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Insoles are disappointing (but removable)

Product Information

  • Material: 75% Synthetic/25% Mesh
  • Weight: No information
  • Shaft Measurement: Low-top from arch
adidas Men's Terrex Tracerocker Trail Running Shoe, Black/Black/Utility Black, 15 D US
adidas Men's Terrex Tracerocker Trail Running Shoe, Black/Black/Utility Black, 15 D US

The Terrex Tracerocker shoes are made from mesh with synthetic panels for added support. They are very breathable, and a great choice for warmer months. Your feet will stay dry in these shoes, but only if you don’t step directly in water, because they are not waterproof.

They don’t retain water, so your shoes won’t feel slushy even after you’ve walked through mud. And they actually perform really well in it – the grip and traction are great, especially on softer terrain. Which is pretty obvious from just looking at the rubber outsole – the lugs are deep, multidirectional and there’s a lot of them.

These fit mostly true to size, but if you’re usually between two sizes, go for the larger one. Especially if you have wide feet, since there is no wide size option. But at least the lace system makes it easy to tighten them, in case you get a size that’s just a bit too big.   

What about comfort? They feature an EVA midsole that provides you with lots of cushioning. But the insoles are not great – they are not as cushioned as you would want in a running shoe. When you’re moving at faster paces you need a lot of shock absorption so your feet don’t get tired. Because of that, I would suggest that you replace the insoles with better ones.  

Pros

  • Great ventilation and breathability
  • Rugged outsole for great grip on soft terrain
  • Don’t retain water

Cons

  • Insoles don’t have a lot of cushioning
  • Not water-resistant

Product Information

  • Material: Mesh and synthetic
  • Weight: 10 oz
  • Shaft Measurement: No information
Saucony Men's Peregrine 7 Trail Runner, Grey/Black/Lime, 10.5 M US (S20359-2)
Saucony Men's Peregrine 7 Trail Runner, Grey/Black/Lime, 10.5 M US (S20359-2)

The Peregrine shoes are designed for runners. They are lightweight, comfortable, cushioned and have a really rugged outsole. Actually, they have a PWRTRC outsole for great grip and traction on all terrain types. And just from looking at it, you can tell that it’s going to perform very well.  

They are not water resistant at all, so be extra careful when stepping on wet terrain. Also, they are cut a little lower than most other trail runners, which means that you’ll have virtually no ankle support in these. But they are also one of the lighter pair of trail runners and that makes them a great choice for fast-paces hikes and runs.

One downside to these shoes is that they are not too breathable. After a while, your feet will start to sweat, and they don’t really react well to humidity. The insole gets wrinkled and rolls up, which is not at all comfortable. This might also happen on downhill hikes, so perhaps consider putting better insoles in these.

But at least they have a good amount of cushioning. The EVERUN cushions don’t let your feet get tired, and have a high energy return. Which is very important for runners. Another thing that’s really good about these is the TPU exoskeleton. It secures your foot, and provides you with extra stability and protection from the elements and debris on the trail.

Pros

  • Great grip and traction on soft terrain
  • Lightweight
  • Good cushioning

Cons

  • Not water resistant at all
  • Insoles crumple when humid

Product Information

  • Material: Textile and synthetic
  • Weight: 9.4 oz
  • Shaft Measurement: Low-top from arch
Merrell Men's Trail Glove 4 Runner, Space Black, 8 M US
Merrell Men's Trail Glove 4 Runner, Space Black, 8 M US

There’s a reason why these are called Trail Glove shoes – they are designed for a sock-like fit and barefoot feel, but with all the protection you would get from regular trail runners. They are the lightest shoes we’ve featured in this review, and they are a really god option for advanced runners.

And the outsole won’t disappoint you on hikes either. These shoes feature a Vibram TC5 outsole with 3mm lugs that are very grippy. You’ll basically have the same amount of traction on soft and hard terrain, which is great. However, they perform best when you’re moving at fast paces, and aren’t really made for long, slow hikes.

The uppers of the shoes are made from mesh and TPU, with breathable mesh lining inside. They have good ventilation, which is supposed to keep your feet cool and dry even when it is really hot outside.

Additionally, these shoes feature a Trailprotect pad, which protects you from debris on the trail. This is a useful feature, especially because they have very little cushioning.

Which does make them a bit more flexible for uneven terrain, but also means that they don’t have the best shock absorption. And that you won’t have amazing support and stability in them. But you can change that, by adding your own anatomical insoles in the shoes.

Pros

  • Lightest trail runners in the review
  • Good grip on soft and uneven terrain
  • Great breathability and ventilation

Cons

  • Little cushioning
  • Not waterproof

Product Information

  • Material: Textile and synthetic
  • Weight: 8 oz
  • Shaft Measurement: No information

Hiking Boots Vs. Trail Runners: Our Top Recommendations

Here’s a quick reminder – get hiking boots if you like to go on long, slow hikes on difficult trails, and you need plenty of stability and support. And if you like moving fast and like to run in the nature, pick up a pair of trail runners. Here are the top shoes we recommend.

Who am I to say no to the Mother Of All Boots? The Merrell MOAB hiking boots are definitely one of the best ones on the market. They come with rugged Vibram outsoles that give you all the grip and traction you need on the trails, and a nylon shank for support and stability. And you can choose between two versions – a waterproof boot that is perfect for winter and fall, and a breathable, ventilated boot which is best for summer and spring. I recommend the latter, if you need more support and stability than trail runners provide.

Sale
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot, Walnut, 10.5 M US
1,075 Reviews
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot, Walnut, 10.5 M US
  • Removable Insole. Breathable mesh lining
  • 5mm lug depth ; Molded nylon arch shank ; Bellows, closed-cell foam tongue keeps moisture and debris out ;Merrell air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
Sale
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Earth, 11 M US
1,404 Reviews
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Earth, 11 M US
  • M Select DRY seals out water and lets moisture escape so you stay dry when you're on the move.Molded nylon arch shank
  • Performance suede leather and mesh upper

The Hi Tec Bandera boots are my top recommendation for a budget hiking boot. They have thick, rugged outsoles, rustproof hardware and waterproof and breathable uppers. The steel shank and EVA midsoles will give you lots of stability and support on the trails. They’re not the most durable boot you can buy, but you’ll get plenty of miles out of them.

Sale
Hi-Tec Men's Bandera Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Bone/Brown/Mustard, 9 W US
1,501 Reviews
Hi-Tec Men's Bandera Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Bone/Brown/Mustard, 9 W US
  • Lace-up hiking boot featuring suede overlays, striped nylon straps, and logo on tongue/heel
  • Removable molded insole

Overall, I think my favorite trail runners are the Salomon Speedcross. They are the best package overall – they are lightweight, very breathable and have extremely rugged outsoles, with lots of really deep lugs. This promises you will have really good grip in muddy and wet terrain, especially if you’re moving fast. And these are also one of the more comfortable options, with an EVA midsole and an Ortholite insole. Plus, they are pretty durable, and you’ll easily get 500 miles out of these trail runners.

Salomon Men's Speedcross 4 Trail Running Shoes, Black/Black/BLACK METALLIC, 10
972 Reviews
Salomon Men's Speedcross 4 Trail Running Shoes, Black/Black/BLACK METALLIC, 10
  • Agressive Grip : Obvious and penetrating traction on soft ground
  • Precise Foothold : Close to foot and comfortable feel

If you’re on a tight budget, I would recommend the New Balance Mt410V5 shoes. They are a decent option – actually, pretty great for the money. They have a good amount of cushioning, with an EVA midsole, which will keep your feet from tiring too quickly. The outsole of these is also pretty good – it is rubber and flexible, for good traction on different terrain types. You will need to put in better insoles, but that can be said for almost all of the shoes in the review.

And that’s all of them. All the boots featured in this review have very high ratings, so you will be fine whichever you decide to get. Head over to Amazon to check out their prices, and find your size!

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KEEN VS. MERRELL (HIKING BOOTS)

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About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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