Do I Really Need Trail Shoes for Walking on Park Trails?

Trail Hiking Shoes
Trail Hiking Shoes. Josie Elias/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Question: Do I Really Need Trail Shoes for Walking on Park Trails?

Brandon writes: "We are planing a trip to the national parks in Utah and Arizona. The trails look well maintained, so do I really need a trail shoe or hiking boot, or will my good quality running shoes do?"

Answer: I wear trail shoes rather than athletic running or walking shoes for any natural trails. Here are my reasons for using trail shoes or boots on dirt, gravel or rocky trails:

1. Rocks. Even small rocks along the trail can cause a lot of discomfort through the soles of most running shoes. I have sorely regretted wearing my usual lightweight performance shoes on a flat gravel road. The trails in the Southwest USA have plenty of rocks. Trail shoes are as lightweight as most running shoes, but they have a rock guard in the sole and toe so you won't get the "poke-through."

2. Rugged soles for better traction. On a natural trail with uphill/downhill incline, you need good traction to prevent slipping. Trail shoes have soles designed to give more traction for just this purpose. Regular running and walking shoes generally do not have a traction sole. You could find yourself slipping on downhill inclines with just a bit of gravel or dirt under your sole.

3. Debris and Dirt. Trail shoes usually have a gusseted tongue. This means that the tongue is fully attached to the shoe with flaps underneath the laces.

Trail dirt and debris won't get under the tongue and into your shoe as easily as they could with regular walking and running shoes. If you are on a trail with lots of debris, the best solution is to wear hiking gaiters to cover the top of your shoes and ankles.

4. Water Resistance. If you will be crossing streams or hiking wet trails, it pays to wear shoes or boots that are waterproof or water resistant.

Or, you can select those that tout their quick-drying abilities. I've spent many an evening sitting around the campfire attempting to dry out my boots and socks.

5. Rips and Tears. The uppers of trail shoes and boots are made of materials that don't rip easily when they encounter rocks, sticks, roots and plants. They usually have tougher elements up the side of the shoes for this purpose. Regular running and walking shoes may have lighter materials throughout the upper. One hike may leave them torn up.

If I wear my regular running shoes for a walk on natural trails, I soon regret it for one or all of these reasons.

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