When planning to go walking on trails and in the hills and mountains, I will choose my outdoor footwear carefully, whether it’s trail running shoes, walking shoes or hiking boots. I consider the weather, wet, cold, warm and dry; the terrain, whether hard packed or rugged and off-path; and the distance.
In general, hiking boots, will be safer and more protective for feet in more challenging terrain. Both leather boots and boots with a Gore-Tex lining provide better weather proofing. Boots improve ankle stability, too. However, boots are usually bulkier and heavier for long walks.
Walking shoes and trail running footwear tend to be lighter and, I find, offer greater comfort and flexibility. However, some hiking boots these days are as comfortable as running shoes, but with the advantage of ankle support and coverage.
Benefits of hiking boots
The main difference between a good pair of hiking boots, for example these adidas Terrex Gore-tex boots, a pair of walking or running shoes is that boots come up above the ankle to offer greater stability when laced up. Many people like to have a more supported ankle, especially when walking on rugged and uneven terrain.
However, this does not allow for as much freedom of movement and flexibility.
Hiking boots also come in different grades from lightweight summer boots to stiff and durable winter walking boots. Few people will recommend swapping walking boots for trainers in the winter, but a summer boot could be swapped for trail running shoes or a walking shoe if the conditions and terrain were suitable.
Hiking boots are likely to be more waterproof than shoes. The ankle prevents water getting inside and most good quality boots have a waterproof lining of some kind. The best waterproofing comes from leather boots, but if you are buying fabric boots look for Gore-tex liners or similar.
The soles of hiking boots are designed to cope with trails and rugged terrain. Check the sole of the boot to see whether they will offer good grip. A pattern of more aggressive lugs will be better for terrain that is rough and likely to be boggy or muddy.
For trails, such as hard-packed track in forests, the sole doesn’t need to be as grippy. For this sort of terrain, you might want to choose boots with good cushioning.
While trail running footwear will also have grippy soles, they will rarely be as robust as h the sole of a hiking boot. You’ll find that the soles of boots are made with different levels of grip and durability depending on the season and terrain.
Benefits of trail running shoes and walking shoes
Trail running shoes and walking shoes can be considered alongside hiking boots as part of a collection of outdoor shoes. Shoes will offer a faster, more lightweight experience and are best used when you want to cover distances at speed and when conditions will be warmer and drier.
You could choose to wear trail running shoes for summer walking but take a good look at the soles and the uppers to make sure they are suitable for the purpose. There are trail shoes with very grippy soles for running in the mountains and those with stiff or more flexible soles depending on where you will run/walk, or what you personally prefer.
Some trail running and walking shoes do have waterproofing, such as a Gore-Tex liner, but the water will usually end up going over the top of the shoe at the ankle so it’s worth investing in waterproof gaiters or waterproof socks to keep feet dry in damp weather.
In general, I wear trail running footwear for most of my hiking adventures in the spring and summer, and then I move to boots for autumn and winter in Scotland.
The best way to decide is to think first about the terrain that you will be walking and then what the weather is likely to be. Then think about whether you will be mainly hiking or planning to hike and run. Hopefully, then you will choose the right footwear for your particular outing. You might want to read about how to find the right trail running footwear, too.