The Path Less Traveled #014: Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners

   06.07.21

The Path Less Traveled #014: Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners

I’ve had a long-standing belief that hiking boots – as long as they were lightweight were my go-to choice for outdoor shoes. Trail runners were seen in my eyes as things cross-country kids wore in high school and college, or CrossFit moms wore before picking their kids up from Saturday detention while carrying their venti soy latte frappucino.

Ever had a revelation in life that changed the way that you thought about other principles you developed? Think like bombshells that go off – like when you realized that Bruce Willis was only interacting with Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense because he was one. Trying on a pair of high-booted trail runners was that kind of bombshell for me.

Yeah. That big.

Hiking Boots Trail Runners Hoka One One Camping Backpacking Hiking Shoes
Left – New Hiking Boot | Center – Old Hiking Boot | Right – New Trail Runner

Welcome to our recurring series of “The Path Less Traveled.” In this series, we want to take you along for our exploits out in the wilderness while hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventuring. This will include our small daily victories, foibles, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear we authentically appreciate and frequently utilize. While a well-worn trail can often be the pathway to a leisurely day, the paths less traveled can often spur on some of the greatest memories, misadventures, and fun we could imagine. Join us in the Comments as we share our travels, and hopefully, we can all come together for a greater appreciation of the outdoors.


Shoe gazing posting like I’m Catherine Wheel

Things I’ve Learned

I’ve read before that when hiking and backpacking, you tend to pack your fears – AKA those who get cold pack more clothes. Those who fear the dark bring like four flashlights, etc.  This may be true with your footwear too, maybe.

I’ve had some fast paced hikes early on in my sporting life that left me with (what felt like) shin splints and/or frequently rolled ankles from going too fast and/or being too tired. Since then, I’ve always worn a pair of hiking boots to support my ankles and give me as much support under my feet as possible.

Being Type-1 Diabetic since age 1, I’ve also taken supreme care of my feet. I’ll spend whatever it takes to ensure the safety and comfort of my piggies, but not a penny more.

Started out with Merrell’s Moab’s a year or so since they came out. At the time, I was still a major city-boy, and it saddened me to own a pair of boots, but hot dang did these do the job for about two years of farm-work and outdoor activity. Got a recommendation from a professional Ironman friend of mine about Hokas; tried them and was hooked to their squishy goodness.

Bias Awareness, Ahoy

In 2012, I purchased my first pair of Hoka One-One boots. The gigantic foam bottoms were ghastly, but if you’ve ever tried one on… it is easy to forgive the company for developing game-changing innovations that Nike, Adidas and other footwear companies have also followed. (Plus, it’s like scooters and thicc-lovers – they’re fun as long as you’re not seen on/in them!) Heck, in the running shoes world, the Nike Vaporwaves are banned from formal competitions like Olympics and Marathons due to the alleged advantage they provide.

Since 2012, I have been a Hoka convert, owning over eight pairs. I’m aware of my extreme bias toward their shoes; feel free to call me out if I become too much of a fanboy. I’ll do my best.

Rivals: Eagles vs Redskins – Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners?

Trail Runners

Trail Runner shoes are the new kid on the block and tend to get a lot of fandom, as well as a lot of hate. Why?

  • They’re too light.
  • What, they don’t usually cover your ankle?
  • Durability? Questionable.
  • Trail runners even have the word RUN in their name – they must be fast, right?
  • They handle terrain that traditional Hiking Boots handle at usually half the weight.
  • Comfort? Yes, but this can be subjective.
  • “If you stepped in that with Hiking Boots, they would have gotten wet too!”

Hiking Boots Trail Runners Hoka One One Camping Backpacking Hiking Shoes

I hear a lot of individuals against trail runners state that the shoes are too low and get wet if you look at them funny. This is true for most pair, and I cannot support the shoes in this manner. I do believe leather hiking boots have much higher luck in keeping your feet dry as trail runners, maybe a little more with a higher ankle. Trail runners are the king of summer hiking due to their lighter fabrics and materials allowing more ventilation – which can also let in outside sources of moisture (puddles).

The Classics, AKA Hiking Boot

Hiking boots are known for many things, specifically their durability, foot protection, and often requiring a break-in period to become comfortable. These things are all typically true for hiking boots – as are the fact that they usually weigh more. We’ve all learned that one pound foot on our feet is like five in a backpack, remember that?

Hiking Boots Trail Runners Hoka One One Camping Backpacking Hiking Shoes

Research

With a review of literature, I was unable to find anything specific, stating that trail runner shoes were garbage and needed to be disregarded at all cost. Most research regarding hiking/backpacking and injuries related to footwear focus in high-top or low-top shoes, or variables that are not relevant. Here are some pieces that may allow you to come up with your own conclusions.

Injuries

An article from 2010 states 82% of hiking injuries (with backpack) occur in areas ranging from toes to knees, with 37.9% of those being ankle and foot related. “Low top shoes resulted in a relatively greater balance decrement. Work/Tactical boots, despite having a greater mass, resulted in less of a balance decrement, which may be attributed to their elevated boot shaft height.” DOI: 10.1080/19424280.2013.834979

Boot Height Comparison

In a comparison between football cleats with various boot heights, “High-top cleat limited dorsiflexion and inversion, but not plantar flexion or eversion. Athletes rated high-top cleats less comfortable and heavier than low/mid-top, but perceived… …high-top cleats to be… …stabler than the low-top cleats. High-top cleats may limit ankle motions associated with injury without deleteriously influencing performance.” DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/sports2040085

Muscle Action / Stimulation

Interesting enough, this research claims that lower use and activity in specific muscles were observed in wearing high-top shoes when completing a specific foot movement task. No difference in mobility or ROM between high and low top shoes, but believe the less muscle activity may result in a higher likelihood of lower ankle stability. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-1146-7-14

Y’all remember the OMG Shoes video with ‘Kelly’ (NSFW)? Time has flown.

Hiking Boots Trail Runners Hoka One One Camping Backpacking Hiking Shoes

Conclusion

Each shoe has its own place in one’s outdoor life. Trail runners truly are the best summer shoe if you’re doing fast and not-so-dirty miles. For durability, think of them like Bruce Lee or Jimi Hendrix – great, but will be gone quicker than the reliable pair of shoes in the back of your closet *cough* Mick Jagger *cough*. If they have a covered ankle, support and safety becomes less of an issue. With so many varieties from a ton of brands, it is likely that even if you’re a Debbie Doubter like me, a pair might pique your interest despite your long held traditions. Remember that time you found a quicker, more efficient way to complete a longstanding tradition your dad taught you how to do? This is the trail runner; the disruptor. The two season tent that’s damn good at its job.

Hiking Boots Trail Runners Hoka One One Camping Backpacking Hiking Shoes

Hiking boots can keep you drier and more comfortable in temperatures that one would not dare to wear trail runners. If it is 50*F or below, I’ve got hiking boots laced up on my feet, regardless of trail condition or moisture/precipitation expectations. Depending on the spontaneity of the trip, a pair of hiking boots that are equipped with speed hooks for lacing up can be advantageous to getting on and out the door a minute faster. Without the speed hooks, having to tweak and adjust three or four tiers of laces with trail runners, when getting them on or off, is a mild chore. In the year of our Lord, 2021, stiff leather for a pair of hiking boots is uncommon, unless looking at shoes that weigh as much as my first laptop. These days, real leather and synthetic leathers have cut down the time it takes for a shoe to “break in” and adjust to your tootsies. Do you really know anyone who wears a pair of four pound Danners to hike in anyways?

All in all, call me Dr. Strangelove, because I guess you can say I’ve learned to stop worrying about the type of shoe and love the trail runner.***

*** = In certain conditions.

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