I think the short answer is, it depends. Many trails are easy and even paved in some areas. These are fine for hiking in tennis shoes. Other trails can be very bumpy, have many rocks and roots, and need shoes with better traction and a thicker soul. Above all you need to protect your feet, but if you really want to wear some lightweight sneakers then maybe look at trail running shoes as an alternative.
Trail shoes are a good compromise
Trail runners are the best of both worlds. You get the lightweight, breathable qualities you would get from a tennis shoes while also getting some of the rugged and tough aspects of a hiking boot. I have been using trail shoes almost exclusively for several years now. I still like to keep a pair of boots around for some occasions but find myself rarely pulling them out of the closet.
You can find trail shoes in many different brands, colors, and style. Many are even waterproof. I am really wanting to buy these waterproof Merrell hiking shoes on Amazon and plan to in the near future. I’ve talked to a few people that have them and they have said they love them.
I bought a pair of Adidas trail runners a couple of years ago, they were highly reviewed on Amazon but are already coming apart. I did some pretty strenuous hiking in Hawaii a couple of years ago when I first got them, some random day hikes here and there for a couple of years, and then I wore them for some major hiking in Zion National Park, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon. By the end of that trip the right shoes was coming apart.
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When boots are the better choice
Boots are going to be the better option if you are doing some hardcore hiking, multiple day backpacking, in the snow or mud perhaps, or on extra rough terrain. There are times when only boots can provide that ankle support you need for extremely rough terrain.
If you are going on a multiple day hiking trip and know boots may be the better choice for you, then consider these Timberlands as an option. My mom bought me a pair of Timberlands my junior year in high school. They lasted for 8 years until I was in my mid 20s when the sole starting coming apart on one of them. I wouldn’t accept this so I ordered some Shoe Goo and glued it back together. They lasted another 3 years before my dog at the time finally destroyed them one day!
What I prefer
Right now I am all about trail runners. Boots can be too big and clunky, I don’t like wearing them in the summertime, and my trail runners can double as sneakers. They can’t replace a good pair of boots in all situations, but they can in many.
I recently bought a pair of Timberland waterproof boots off of Amazon. While they are rather heavy, they are just as comfortable as I remember my last pair of Timberlands. Coupled with my favorite Darn Tough Socks, my feet are super comfy and do not get too hot or sweaty. I’ll wear them a lot this winter and I’m looking forward to getting them out on the trails soon.
Different strokes for different folks. Some people swear by their boots and wouldn’t replace them, but there is a growing trend for trail running shoes. If you are on the fence, try out both.