Demystifying the Difference between Hiking Shoes and Running Shoes

It is a common thing to see hikers use a pair of running shoes for a quick hike. The shoes are seen more as general exercising outfits as opposed to shoes made for specific purposes such as rock climbing or hiking. The truth is that shoes are created differently. Running shoes are more flexible and provide additional cushioning to users than walking shoes. This post brings out the differences between hiking and running shoes to help you pick the right option.


The most notable difference between hiking and running shoes is the cushioning.  When running, you impact three times more than your weight. However, walking only exerts about 1.5 times of the body weight. This is the main reason why runners are designed with additional cushioning especially on the forefoot and heel. For example, some runners come with air cushioning to make the shoes more comfortable.

If you are a runner, it is advisable to go for heavily cushioned but lighter models. For hikers, the cushioning should be ample to prevent impacts of beat up from long and rough walks in the woods. However, if you plan to regularly hike more than six kilometers, it is advisable to go for cushioned running shoes.

Height of the Heel

Most runners are engineered to enhance the user’s stability with a built-up heel. When running, you first strike the ground with the midfoot or heel. Higher heels help a runner to regain stability faster and charge the next thrust immediately.

Notice the high heel design on this running shoe

Unlike the runners, hikers strike down with toes and their steps. Therefore, they do not require high heels.  When looking for walking shoes, consider those with a heel drop of less than seven millimeter. Remember to carefully check the shoe when establishing the heel drop as opposed to simply looking at the outer sole.

Heel Flare

For a runner, the ideal shoe should feature a flared heel. This is one of the findings implemented after years of studying shoes to enhance a runner’s stability especially those who hit the ground at their midfoot. Most trail running shoes also feature flared heels.

If you are looking for walking shoes, consider going for the brands with a flared heel. When walking, a flared heel will impede rolling forward via the step. The best hiking shoes design should have an undercut heel as opposed to flared heel.

Shoes Flexibility

Both hiking and walking shoes should be flexible. To know this, you simply need to press the shoe using the toe to see up to what point it bends. Most running shoes are designed to flex at the midfoot and the arch. But the ideal option depends on individual runners. For example, there are some runners who opt for the running shoes that strike the ground with the forefoot.

Unlike the running models, hiking shoes should always flex at the forefoot.  This is caused by the need for users to push using their toes. If a shoe flexes at the arch, it will not ideal for hiking. However, shoes that do not bend at all are not acceptable.

At this point, it is important to be careful to avoid buying motion control/ stability shoes as hiking shoes. Stability shoes are not recommended for hiking because they come with less flexibility. If you need motion control shoes, it is prudent to sacrifice some percentage of flexibility.

Protection and Durability

When designers make hiking shoes, the focus is guaranteeing the user of total protection. They know that hikers walk over rocks, fallen branches, and rough grounds. Therefore, the shoes are designed to withstand this form of punishment. This is one of the reasons why the shoes are created with heavy and thick soles.

To offer additional protection, hiking shoes also feature high ankles. The benefit of this is offering additional support from ankle pains. Note that the tougher and additional layers of protection materials means that the shoes could be relatively heavier compared to running shoes.

Running shoes, unlike the hiking designs, are constructed from lighter materials. This implies that both the soles and upper parts are created to prevent adding weight that can slow down the runner. Because of this lightness, the running shoes are not as protective as the hiking boots.

Waterproof Capabilities

One aspect that makes hiking shoes stand out is waterproof capabilities. Often, hiking trails might require you to go through shallow springs and bogs that can compromise the thrill if the shoes are leaking. In other cases, people who take long hiking in the woods can experience sudden weather changes resulting to showers. With top quality hiking shoes, you can conquer the outdoors without worrying about walking through puddles on the trail.

Running shoes, like the hiking models, also feature waterproof material. However, the level of protection from leakage is generally lower. Note that though waterproofing is poor in running shoes, the lighter material used to construct them makes drying easier and faster. In the case of hiking boots, it will take a long time before drying when they get wet.

Breaking In

The architecture of hiking boots with turf and durable materials makes them heavy and firm. If you are planning for a major hiking excursion, wearing them right away from the box could result to a very painful experience. Before you can set off for hiking, it is important to break in by wearing the hiking shoes around home and taking short walks to get used to them.

Most runners do not require breaking in. You can buy and wear them right from the box without worrying of harming your feet. However, a short break in is still recommended especially when planning to run for a long period.

A summary of the Differences

Hiking shoes Running shoes
  • No flared heel.
  • Heavy and tough to enhance user protection.
  • Created for extra durability.
  • Require break in period.
  • Designed with completely waterproof materials.
  • Cushioned to offer comfort but not to the level of runners.
  • Have a flared heel.
  • Light to make running easy and fast.
  • Its lightweight design makes them less durable.
  • No or little break in required.
  • Only feature light waterproofing capabilities.
  • Strongly cushioned for extra comfort.


Hiking and running shoes have evolved over the years to guarantee users of better performance. For running shoes, the focus is keeping lightness, stability and cushioning. However, hiking shoes are created with focus on strength and protection. They help you to conquer the outdoors. You want to enjoy hiking or running? Go for the right shoes!