Why running shoes are the new hiking boots

It's trail time. You want to be light, fast and comfortable. Are you wearing the right shoes?
Which do you want to hit the trail in? © Josh Sampiero
By Toby Archer

The biggest trend in adventure gear is simple: lighter, lighter, lighter. The trend away from boots to some sort of running shoes or running-influenced shoes, even in the mountains, is one very obvious part of this movement.

There’s more trail running and light-hiking shoes on the market than ever, but people have been going light with their adventure footwear for a long time. In the US, ultra-lightweight backpacking guru Ray Jardine is often credited with the idea.

In his fascinating, if quirky, bible for thru-hikers, “Trail Life”, he recounts his conversion to hiking in running shoes as outdoor pursuits instructor in the 1970s and then his success using them on massive thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail in the 80s.

But Jardine was not alone. In the UK the crossover between climbers and mountain-runners meant that some have long used their 'fell' or mountain-running shoes (lightweight, simple cross-country shoes with very little padding and aggressive sole patterns) not just for racing but for long walks to mountain cliffs in the summer.

As far back as 1978, mountaineer Reinhold Messner worked with Adidas to produce a superlight fabric trekking boot which he wore on the approach to his epoch-changing, bottled-oxygenless ascent of Everest that year.

Recently, Red Bull X-Alps athletes – many of whom hiked over 500km during the course of the adventure race – were almost exclusively outfitted in trail runners such as the Reebok One Seeker GTX pictured above. For trail-run ultras like the Salomon Xreid Hardangervidda where athletes will be picking their way over rock, grass and streams while quickly moving up and downhill, lightweight trail runners are best option there is.

Between streams © Agurtxane Concellon/Salomon Xreid Hardangervidda

Going from old school leather hiking boots to ultralight footwear can be a big leap. You have to get your head around the idea that, yes, your feet will get wet and, no, often that’s not the end of the world.

There are some who still seem to reckon that your ankles will immediately snap or you will fall off the nearest cliff if you DON’T wear a boot for hiking. (And there are a few lightweight evangelists who go the other way and, with the zeal of the convert, claim all boots are bad always.)

For cold, wet, muddy conditions some decent leather hiking boots are still great. But for most summer activities, or adventures in warmer climes, give trail running shoes a shot. The running part isn’t obligatory, so don’t let that put you off!

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