I Ditched My Hiking Boots for Trail Runners & I Would Do It Again

Maintaining proper foot care and finding adequate footwear has been one of my biggest struggles as I dive deeper in to the world of hiking. It’s common for me to leave the trail with blistered and bleeding feet and find myself limping around at work for a few days while I recover.

I have tried about six different pairs of boots over the years, a multitude of different socks, various methods of taping and bandaging, and many other suggestions I’ve read online, all with minimal results. My best pair of hiking boots have been my Merrell Siren Traveler Q2 Mids who have brought me along a couple of week long trips, their only downside being that when they get wet, they stay wet (and shred my feet in the process). But I am still searching for my holy grail foot care routine and gear setup.

I had to end a 10 day trip on day 7 last summer because my feet were in such poor condition. While it was the right call, it was such a disappointment to not be able to follow through with my plan. Since then I have been curious about giving trail runners a try. Plenty of thru hikers swear by them, so why not give it a shot?

My wish list for trail runners was comfortable, breathable, and lightweight. I have found in the past that I do not care much for boots that are heavily water proofed, because I find that they still get wet and they’re hot when it’s dry. I prefer a shoe that gets wet but dries quickly.

I tried on a few pairs of trail runners at a local shop and ended up immediately knowing that the Brooks Cascadia 15’s were the ones for me. I already own a pair of Brooks running shoes and adore the fit, and the trail runners are not far off. To pair with my new shoes, I chose a pair of Smartwool running socks and some Injinji toe socks. I think I will be purchasing several more pairs of toe socks.

From the get go I have had zero complaints about these shoes. They’re comfortable, the laces stay ties, and I don’t have rubbing or pressure anywhere. After some smaller day hikes and short runs here and there with my dogs, I was ready to put them to the test and wore them for a three day trip and approximately 70kms of hiking on the Boreal Trail in Meadow Lake Provincial Park. I paired them with the Smartwool socks for the first day.

About two kilometers into our hike I found myself in over my knees in a marsh. The aquatic plant cover had effectively deceived me and for some reason I believed that if the tiny muskrat we saw wasn’t sinking in, then neither would I. This was a mistake. I had duckweed clinging to my legs and thick mud at the bottom threating to take my new hiking shoes with it. I laughed and called back to my friends that we better just take the detour as a carefully recovered my foot from the muck. Fortunately, we weren’t far off from the highway and able to get out to dry ground, but I had already set myself up to hike with soggy feet. My trail runners didn’t dry out completely for the next hour, which was fair because they were caked in a layer of mud, but once we stopped I shook the excess dirt off and set them in the sun and they dried up just fine.

Trail runner and a bear track

Eventually, I did feel myself getting a blister on each little toe. To combat this I loosened the laces at the base to allow for more room in my toes and it immediately made a difference. I think the wet feet, tight toe box, and lack of fabric between my toes all played a part. The following day I wore my Injinji socks in order to separate my sensitive toes and they felt fantastic all day.

They feel excellent on gravel and trail, and were good for the road walking sections until we reached paved road where they were a little more uncomfortable on the hard surface. This is of no fault to the shoes though because that’s what they’re designed for.

While we were hiking in flatter Saskatchewan terrain and I didn’t get to test the tread on steep inclines and loose rocks, it felt very reliable for what I was on. I didn’t slip up any hills or through any marshy sections and was confident crossing rocks on the small creeks. In the rain the forest floor can be a little slippery sometimes but I didn’t notice any issues with roots or pine needles.

The last day had a bit of light rain and my feet were definitely feeling more soggy than my sisters in her Gore-Tex boots. This was not a huge setback to me though because with the toe socks I was still moving comfortably and the extra water didn’t feel like it was weighing my feet down. I didn’t develop any new hot spots or blisters which means I will happily hike in wet trail runners in the future.

All in all, I was extremely happy with the Brooks Cascadia 15’s and the experience of hiking in trail runners in general. Usually my feet are my number one stressor but I woke up the morning after our hike feeling like I could have done three more days without any issues.

The downsides to trail runners are that they are less durable and must be replaced more frequently than boots, and they are less supportive.

The pros are that they are more breathable, lightweight, and versatile. Even when they were wet, they didn’t feel like a heavy shoe. For me, the biggest pro was that I walked off of that trail with hardly any injuries on my feet.

I think I will be choosing trail runners and toe socks for many of my hiking adventures in the future.

Happy hiking!

14 thoughts on “I Ditched My Hiking Boots for Trail Runners & I Would Do It Again

  1. Interesting feedback. I’m looking for new hiking footwear but it’s tricky to find the lighter- than-boots option that still delivers on support and durability, isn’t it? I’ve never tried the toe socks although they are increasingly popular here in the UK.

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    1. Finding the proper footwear is such a journey! I was so exhausted when I returned from the trip that I tossed my wet shoes and socks into my backyard. This was a big mistake because my dog loves nothing more than to collect and bury socks around the back yard and I ended up spending a half hour trying to find one toe sock. Eventually she got bored of her game and dug it up and brought it back to me! Take care!

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  2. Great write-up on the Cascadia 15s and your experience switching from boots to trail runners! I have the same version but in the men’s line. I use them for hiking, backpacking, and trail running. I switched from boots for backpacking and haven’t looked back. I feel the most confident on slippery terrain in my Cascadia 15s than I do with any other trail shoe I’ve tried. The treading is fantastic, and when I wear other shoes, I really notice these micro-moments of slipping that don’t happen in the Cascadias.

    Lately, I’ve been experimenting with using barefoot shoes for trail running, which don’t have any support aside from some flexible rubber and are meant to mimic our natural movements. I’m still adjusting to them, but I’m excited to take them backpacking and see how they hold up. I’ve gone out on a 9 mi and 14.5 mi trail run and lots of walking with them, and so far, so good!

    I find buying technical footwear to be so challenging because not many stores stock them, and there’s nothing quite like wearing them for extended periods of time to see how they hold up and if they’re a good fit. I’m glad to hear your Cascadias are working for you!

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    1. So glad to hear that you also love the Cascadia 15s! I am so curious about barefoot shoes. Do they feel different when you have a pack on vs. when you are out trail running? I imagine it would be a great feeling to allow your toes to move more naturally as compared to regular shoes which sometimes feel like they’re packing them all together.

      Thank you so much for your comment! I hope you have a fantastic summer!

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      1. I sadly haven’t taken out the barefoot shoes on a backpacking trip yet, but I’d like to this year for sure. I’d imagine I’ll need to build up some foot strength before it’s comfortable. πŸ˜‚ Have a great summer too!

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  3. Very interesting article. I’ve seen many hikers here in Europe in trail runners in recent years and have had recommendations concerning them. However, I feel a need for support around my ankle (having broken it once) and tend to go for a more traditional boot. I’ve just broken in a pair of Lowa Renegades for an upcoming 800-km hike in the Alps and I’ve never known such a comfortable boot. However, I have a round-Menorca hike planned in late September and trail runners would be ideal for that kind of terrain. You’ve convinced me to give them a try!

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    1. That’s fantastic! I would love to hear about your experience with them and your upcoming hikes sounds amazing. There are so many factors that come in to play with choosing footwear and previous injury would be a huge consideration. I think I would also want some extra support for 800kms. I have just ordered the book Fixing Your Feet by Jon Vonhof and I am hoping to learn a bit more about foot care!

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  4. I think I am on my 4th pair of hiking boots since in the last year so this is some info that will get me thinking! Not all of them were bad and some I stopped using because they had so many miles on them. I shy away from anything with the word running on it…hence my name but you make some good points!

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  5. love the toe socks! havent tried those yet, how ya feel about them versus regular smartwool socks?

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    1. They were great! My toes are usually my most blister prone area on my feet and they really helped alleviate any extra stress. I will probably reach for the more often than my Smartwool socks now.

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      1. very good to know, so sorry for the late reply I didn’t see this notification. be safe out there. ill pick me up some of those socks for the both of us and give them a shot.

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  6. It was great to read your post … I’m that one with blisters galore after a hike! My husband and I have done several long distance hikes (like the Camino’s in Spain and Portugal) and I normally had to sit out for 3 or 4 days due to my blistered feet.
    I’ve also ditched my hiking boots (though my husband swear by his πŸ˜‰) and had hiking sandals (!) and trail runners … still got blisters (but not so bad) and recently bought those Injinji socks. We have not done a long distance hike yet where I can wear my trail runners and Injinji socks together … my hope is on your experience 😁.
    Great read, thanks for sharing.

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  7. Great review! I have a lot of respect for the hard core trail runners. It’s amazing watching them run up mountains that I have to plod up. I think for mere mortals, the support of a hiking boot is good, especially on very rocky terrain. But for straight hiking on nice trails, a runner can definitely work. Good on ya for trying something new!

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