When it comes to using trail runners for hiking or running your feet are super important and a good pair of shoes can make a run or hike smooth and comfortable while a bad pair can make your feet hurt. I have tried some poor fitting shoes while I have tried some of the best trail running shoes out there.
We’ve rigorously tested and reviewed these trail runners over countless miles and put them in our controlled side by side tests. Assessing factors such as durability, traction, comfort, and breathability. We looked at shoes from renowned outdoor brands to innovative newcomers, we have carefully selected a range of trial running shoes sure to fit your needs.
What are the Best Trail Runners for Hiking?
Here are our top picks for trail runners that excel in hiking, ensuring a suitable choice for every hiker’s needs:
Hoka Speedgoat 5
Best Max Cushioned Trail Runner
- Weight: 10.3 oz
- Waterproofing: Gore-Tex
- Heel to Toe drop: 4 mm
- Upper Material: Partial recycled polyester and double jacquard recycled content
- Midsole Material: CMEVA
- Outsole Material: Vibram Megagrip
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Our Take: I started wearing Speedgoats when Hoka released their 3rd version. Since then, I have put them through the test and have enjoyed every version after. The Hoka One One Speedgoat 5, thoroughly impressed me during my testing.
The first thing that struck me about the updated Speedgoat 5 was the exceptional comfort they provide. The plush maximal cushioning from Hoka’s signature EVA midsole, offers excellent comfort out on the trails. It literally feels like I am running on clouds, even on the most rugged terrain and on the downhills, it never feels like I am pounding my legs against the ground.
Another thing I really was surprised about was the outsole and the remarkable traction. The Vibram MegaGrip outsole grips the trail like a vice, providing good traction on both wet and dry surfaces.
With that being said there are a few downsides with the Hoka Speedgoat 5. First, downside I noticed was that I did not quite feel as receptive and springy off the terrain as I did compared to other shoes like the Speedcross or minimal shoes like Altra Lone Peak or the Inov-8 Trailfly G270. Also, another downside is the stack height which made for a slight unstable feel compared to other shoes I have tested.
But, overall, the Speedgoat 5 makes for a great trail shoe and provides the most comfort out of the shoes in this list. The crazy amount of comfort is one of the big reasons a lot of thru hikers are starting to wear the Hoka’s out on trail.
Altra Lone Peak 7
Best Minimalist Wide Shoe
- Weight: 11oz
- Heel to toe drop: 0 mm
- Upper Material: Quick-Dry Air Mesh
- Midsole Material: Altra EGO
- Outsole Material: MaxTrac
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Our Take: The Altra Lone Peak 7 is a staple in the backpacking and especially the thru hiking community. I remember when the previous versions first came out, they really looked like goofy duck shoes. But they have come a long way in design since then.
From my first moment of trying out the Altra Lone Peak 7 I was actually pleased by how comfortable the shoe was and enjoyed the roomy fit of the toe box. I have worn the Lone Peak 7s on many hiking trips and out on trail runs. In general, I prefer them for hiking than trail running, I just found the feel of the shoe on runs to be somewhat floppy.
However, the Lone Peak has a lot going for it. First, the unique design provides a nice wide toe box that really allowed my feet to really splay out and the shoe is zero drop which places the foot in a more natural position. Secondly, the Lone Peak is still a pretty comfortable shoe which makes it one of my favorite minimalist wide shoe options out on the market.
Topo Ultraventure 3
Best Cushioned Wide Shoe
- Weight: 10.2 oz
- Waterproofing: None
- Heel to toe drop: 5mm
- Upper Material: Recycled Mesh
- Midsole Material: ZipFoam
- Outsole Material: Vibram® XS Trek EVO
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Our Take: The Topo Ultraventure 3 is an excellent shoe for trail runs and hiking. It has a similar feel to the Hoka Speedgoat 5’s though slightly firmer. The drop from heel to toe is very similar being 5mm in this shoe.
During our testing we really like that the toe box was a little roomier compared to the Speedgoat 5’s which has a more standard toe box. The Topo Ultraventure 3 seems to take an approach that is kind of in the middle of the Speedgoat and the Altra Lone Peak 7 when it comes to toe box room.
Overall comfort and traction the Speedgoat edges the Ultraventure 3 out especially in more wet terrain and Speedgoat does offer wide sizing and Gore-Tex options. But even so we have found this to still be one of our favorite trail runners out on the trail for trail runs and hikes.
The only downside we noticed which is common to more maximal cushioned type shoes was the stack height makes it feel somewhat less responsive out on the trails. We did not find the stack height to be a dealbreaker out on technical terrain but definitely keep it in mind if using for trail runs where you will be moving quicker.
Salomon Speedcross 6
Best for Traction
- Weight: 10.5oz
- Waterproofing: Gore-Tex
- Heel to toe drop: 10mm
- Upper Material: Synthetic/Textile
- Midsole Material: EnergyCell+
- Outsole Material: Rubber
Compare Prices for Salomon Speedcross 6
Our Take: The Salomon Speedcross 6 are the best trail running shoes when running or hiking in wet and muddy conditions. The 5mm lugs really provide excellent traction on technical trails with wet conditions and made me feel like my feet had glue on them as I was able to pounce off of wet rocks on trail.
As for comfort the Salomon Speedcross 6 was not quite as comfortable as the Speedgoat 5, Altra Lone Peak 7, or even the Topo Ultraventure 3’s. But they definitely made up for it in traction and durability performance and are probably the best waterproof trail running shoes on this list.
The overall fit of the Speedcross 6 felt secure and supportive, the lacing system helped to keep my feet locked in during short bouts of trail running or scrambling out on short steep hikes. I found the padded collar and tongue comfortable.
Some downsides I found with the Speedcross 6 is how narrow the toe box felt, this might not be ideal for those with wider feet. And the shoe does take a bit to break in feeling rather stiff and clunky at first. But overall, it is a showrunner in sloppy conditions where you want extra traction.
New Balance Nitrel V5
Best Budget Trail Runner
- Weight: 10.1oz
- Waterproofing: Gore-Tex available
- Heel to toe drop: 8mm
- Upper Material: Mesh
- Midsole Material: DynaSoft
- Outsole Material: AT tread
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Our Take: The New Balance DynaSoft Nitrel V5 is a versatile trail runner and hiking shoe that offers a pretty good value to performance ratio. During my testing of the DynaSoft Nitrel v5 I found the shoes very comfortable and responsive out on the trails.
I have used the DynaSoft Nitrel V5 as both hiking shoes and trail running shoes and they are excellent for the price point. The tread on the Nitrel V5 is not the most aggressive tread out on the market but it does fair well on various trail surfaces and the toe protection helps to minimize discomfort from toe stubs.
Out of the shoes on the market in this list the DynaSoft Nitrel V5 has the most appealing and neutral look compared to the other shoes which makes it a good trail to town option. Overall, the New Balance DynaSoft Nitrel V5 is a great budget trail running shoe or even hiking shoe. It has fairly good performance on mlst terrains and is cheap enough that you won’t break the bank.
Inov-8 Trailfly G270
Best Minimalist Trail Runner
- Weight: 9.5 oz
- Waterproofing: n/a
- Heel to toe drop: 0 mm
- Upper Material: Mesh
- Midsole Material: Powerflow Max
- Outsole Material: Graphene Grip
Compare Prices for Inov-8 Trailfly G270
Our Take: I have put the Inov-8 Trailfly G270 to the test and I must say, these trail running shoes have exceeded my expectations. There are not too many changes from the Inov-8 TerraUltra G270 which was the previous version. I have tested both versions, I still recommend the older version, Inov-8 TerraUltra G270 which can be found on sale.
The Inov-8 Trailfly G270 is a phenomenal shoe when it comes to various terrains the shoes outperformed many of the shoes I tested on this list when it came to navigating rocky trails, muddy paths, or tackling steep ascents and descents. The graphene-enhanced outsole is not just a marketing gimmick, it genuinely adds to the durability and traction.
Inov-8 really did nail the balance between comfort and responsiveness with the Trailfly G270. The Powerflow Max midsole cushions my feet without sacrificing responsiveness. I also liked that the Trailfly G270 also has a roomy toe box and is zero drop, which allowed my toes to splay naturally, preventing discomfort and blisters on trail.
Overall, the Inov-8 Trailfly G 270 is a great minimalist shoe that edges out the Lone Peak 7 in responsiveness and traction. The only slight drawback is that the design might be a bit too narrow for those with really wide feet, so I recommend giving them a try before taking them out to the trails.
How to Choose a Trail Runner for Hiking
When choosing the best trail running shoes for hiking there are a lot of considerations. In our top trail running shoe picks we mostly focused on shoes that offered excellent value to performance ratio and work in various situations out on trail. But there are other variables to consider when choosing a pair of hiking shoes.
When choosing the best trail running shoes for your needs, you need to take in consideration your own personal preferences. In addition, to the terrain, temperature, and weather forecast. In general, when looking at trail running shoes for hiking there are a few important factors to consider such as: comfort and fit, weight, durability, stability, breathability, and waterproofing.
Assessing Terrain and Climate
The terrain and weather conditions where you’ll be hiking are also significant factors in selecting the appropriate trail running shoe. Different terrains require different features in the shoes. For instance, rough trails and rocky terrain require shoes with good traction and foot protection.
While smooth trails may be suitable for lightweight and flexible shoes. When tackling technical terrain, it’s crucial to have a trail running shoe that can handle the challenges it presents.
Similarly, the climate can determine whether you need features like waterproofing or breathability. Wet and snowy conditions may require more water-resistant shoes pending preference, while hot and dry climates often require breathable shoes to keep your feet cool.
Prioritizing Comfort and Fit
Comfort and fit are two prime factors to be considered while finding the best trail runners for hiking or running. A comfortable and well-fitting shoe can prevent foot problems and enhance your hiking experience.
While assessing comfort and fit, it’s important to keep in mind your running or hiking styles, the type of terrain you’ll encounter, the distance you’ll cover, and your speed. The shoe should provide a comfortable and snug fit to your foot.
When it comes to weight arguably the lighter the shoe the better. Most companies are also designing their shoes to be more lightweight to keep up with the demand and competition. The utilization of durable yet thin fabrics and a transition from high-cut boots to low-top shoes has greatly facilitated covering longer distances.
A lighter shoe puts less wear and tear on the body and counters fatigue over many miles. Its no wonder why so many thru hikers are now wearing hiking shoes and/or trail runners instead of hiking boots. Though with a decrease in weight, this can sometimes affect long-term durability and most trail runners and hiking shoes have a shorter lifespan compared to hiking boots.
There are still some awesome boots out there for those carrying heavier weight out on the trails or those that just like the feel of hiking boots. But, for the majority of hikers, a lightweight hiking shoe or trail runner is a far superior choice for hiking or backpacking.
Stability and Support
In regard to stability and support, trail running shoes are the lightest and tend to be the least supportive compared to other types of footwear. Most trail running shoes will offer a little bit of some support but not a ton being the way they are designed. If you are looking for more support hiking shoes will be a good middle of the road and hiking boots will feel the most supportive.
In theory, having waterproofing during creek crossings, unexpected rain showers, or encountering snow during an early-season hike can be very useful. However, it’s important to note that the additional layer adds weight and significantly affects breathability. In my experience Gore-Tex has been one of the best waterproofing materials for most shoes and retains a fair bit of breathability.
When determining whether waterproofing is necessary typically boils down to personal preference. If you are hiking in a warmer and dryer location you may not benefit so much from waterproofed shoes compared to if you were hiking in a more wet or colder environment.
Most of the shoes in this list offer a waterproof and non-waterproof design. I would say the Salomon Speedcross is one of the best waterproof trail running shoes especially for sloppy technical terrains.
Want to learn more about waterproofing? Read our article how to waterproof your hiking boots or shoes
When it comes to breathability most trail shoes have mesh type fabrics and thinner fabrics offer the best air flow and dry quicker. Waterproofing fabrics tend to retain more moisture and are not as breathable though they can keep shoes from getting wet during water crossings.
Gore-Tex though still one of the best waterproofing and breathable fabrics still slightly under performs in breathability compared to non-waterproof shoes.
In my experience I tend to prefer a non waterproofed shoe for breathability and even in conditions where my feet may get wet often. The reason being is that shoes that are more breathable and also dry quicker despite getting wet easier.
Waterproofing fabric is great for blocking out water as long as you are not having to submerge your feet in water. Once your feet are submerged the less breathability of waterproofing fabric makes that shoe take longer to dry from the insole out in comparison to a non-waterproof shoe.
Understanding Trail Runner Materials
When it comes to finding the best trail runners for hiking it helps to know what type of material the shoe has. Knowing the material can help provide information and insight about the performance. The choice of material directly influences the shoe’s durability, water resistance, and breathability. Below, we outline the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used materials in hiking footwear.
Types of Upper Materials
Woven synthetic materials, often nylon, and open synthetic mesh panels are frequently used to enhance breathability in hiking footwear. While these materials may not be renowned for their durability, they excel in reducing weight and breathability.
Sometimes the upper materials of the shoe will contain synthetic waterproof materials like Gore-Tex which can help improve the water resistance.
Midsoles and Cushioning
The Midsole of the shoe is the big player when it comes to cushioning for your feet. The midsole allows the shoe to help cushion, absorb impact and shock, and also provides additional layering and protection against rough terrain.
Depending on the shoe’s design, midsoles can range from extremely thin, as seen in minimalist trail runners, to rigid and substantial in hiking boots. Most shoes use common materials like EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate), TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), or a combination of both.
Heel to Toe Drop
Foam EVA midsoles are a common feature found in both running and hiking footwear. EVA is a soft and cushiony material that helps to minimize impact on your heels or midfoot, while also being remarkably lightweight. Most shoes on this list provide a form of EVA midsole and some companies use a proprietary blend of midsole cushioning.
Thermoplastic polyurethane, commonly referred to as TPU, is a type of plastic commonly used in lightweight hiking shoes. TPU tends to offer less cushion but really enhances the durability of the shoe which allows it to be more effective at handling heavier loads. Also, TPU also lasts longer and is less prone to compression compared to EVA. To harness the benefits of the two most companies will use a TPU and EVA together.
Outsoles and Traction
There are several advantages to upgrading from a flimsy cross trainer to an authentic hiking shoe or trail runner, and one of the key benefits is improved traction. Hiking and trail running footwear surpasses casual shoes in performance, especially in challenging conditions like rocky, slippery, or steep terrains.
Similar to Gore-Tex dominating the market for high-quality waterproofing, Vibram holds a comparable position in the realm of outsoles. Vibram is renowned for delivering dependable grip and traction across a variety of terrains.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that not all Vibram models are identical, as the rubber manufacturer tailors their designs to meet the specific requirements of different footwear and brands. Some models feature larger lugs on the sole to provide enhanced traction in muddy environments, while others prioritize sticky rubber for navigating over rocky surfaces.
Stubbing your toes does not make for a fun time. When it comes to trail running shoes, having toe protection or rock plates out on the trails is helpful for blocking toes from hitting rocks, roots, and other objects. In general, I recommend having a trail runner with some form of toe protection. This is one significant difference between trail running shoes compared to traditional running shoes.
Lacing is one aspect of footwear that often gets overlooked. A shoe with a subpar lacing system that tends to loosen easily will require constant readjustment during your hike.
Moreover, if the lacing system fails to secure your heel effectively, the repetitive up-and-down motion while walking can lead to discomfort, hot spots, and blisters.
Understanding Footwear Categories
Hiking boots are the most traditional footwear for hiking and backpacking. Conventional wisdom suggests that hiking boots are the preferred option for demanding trails and carrying heavy packs, and in many situations, this still holds true today.
The tall design, coupled with laces that securely fasten the shoe around your ankle, provides a snug fit, enhanced stability, and increased protection. However, when given the choice, we often lean towards hiking shoes due to their lightweight nature and similar functionality. Hiking boots are a suitable choice for day hiking and backpacking.
When it comes to hiking, most day hikers, as well as many backpackers and thru hikers, find that a hiking shoe that reaches just below the ankle is the perfect choice. Hiking shoes offer a happy medium between hiking boots and trail runners. They provide more support and durability than trail runners, making them suitable for carrying a light load across diverse terrains without feeling excessively heavy like full-on boots.
Hiking shoes are typically constructed with tougher materials such as leather and durable nylons, as opposed to mesh, offering enhanced protection against obstacles like rocks and roots. They are also a great option for everyday use if you need a robust shoe, although it’s important to note that the outsoles may wear down more quickly on pavement.
Want to learn more? read our article about the best hiking shoes
If prioritizing speed and lightweight feel is your main concern, then trail runners should be considered. Trail shoes like the Hoka Speedgoat or Altra Lone Peak have become increasingly popular in the thru hiking world, due to their exceptional lightweight design and comfort.
However, it’s important to note that these shoes are not typically used and designed specifically for traditional off-trail or backpacking footwear.
While trail runners offer flexibility and exceptional comfort, they lack support and durability for carrying heavy loads and tend to provide minimal toe and underfoot protection. Therefore, they tend to work best for trail running or lightweight to ultralight backpacking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a trail running shoe for hiking?
Yes, you can use a trail running shoe for hiking as they are designed for similar terrain, but keep in mind that hiking shoes are specifically made for variable terrain and carrying weight.
What is the difference between hiking shoes and trail runners?
Hiking shoes are designed for technical and tough terrain, while trail runners are made for quick movement on runnable trails. Try them on at an outfitter to feel the difference for yourself.
Why do some hikers prefer trail runners?
Some hikers prefer trail runners because they are lighter and allow for faster, more agile movement, reducing foot fatigue. This makes them great for anyone looking to move quickly on the trails without feeling weighed down.
Why is the Hoka Speedgoat 5 considered the best?
The Hoka Speedgoat 5 is considered the best for comfort due to its excellent cushioning, stability, and top-notch traction, making it perfect for long-distance trail runs and hikes.
Choosing the right and best trail runner for you is one that will depend on your own personal preferences and the conditions you’ll be facing. Whether you’re looking for comfort, minimalism, traction, budget-friendliness, or cushioning, there’s a trail running shoe out there that will meet your needs and enhance your hiking experience.
Remember, the best trail runner for hiking is not just about the brand or price it’s about how well it fits you and your hiking style. So, take your time, do your research, and make a choice that will make your hiking adventures even more enjoyable and memorable. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to comment or contact us!