Can I wear cross trainers for hiking?

wearing cross trainers for hiking

Cross trainers are versatile shoes that allow you to transition from the gym to a pickup basketball game easily. But, like any multi-tool, cross trainers aren’t necessarily the best fit for everything.

For a leisurely hike on gentle terrain, wearing cross trainers for hiking is ok. But it’s important to understand your cross trainer’s strengths and weaknesses beforehand.

Long hikes without proper footwear put immense stress on your feet and ankles. That stress is transmitted up the legs affecting your back and entire body.

Having the right shoes saves your feet from stress, blisters, a rolled ankle, or a scary slip and fall. 

This article digs deeper into the details of cross training shoes compared to hiking boots, helping you determine how safe they are for your hike.

Cross trainers for hiking

Cross trainers are hybrid shoes for fitness training across various activities and sports. The critical distinction in cross training shoes is their function for training, not serious competition.

A cross between running, tennis, and volleyball shoes, cross trainers provide stability along with a cushioned heel and forefoot. Today, cross trainers come in a variety of functions with features that include:

  • Thermoplastic Polyurethane heel layers for support
  • Extra heel support mid-shoe
  • Firm midsole material
  • Thick outer shoe construction
  • A flywire or flex weave construction

Breathable, strong, and comfortable, why wouldn’t you want to wear cross trainers for hiking? 

What cross trainers lack is the grip and ankle support needed for hiking. Hikers in ill-fitting shoes often struggle with toe numbness due to the over-tightening of shoes or nerve compression from lack of arch support.

A lack of grip forces your dependence on the toes to dig into hills, often resulting in sore calves the next day, or hiker’s toenail, a painful bruising under the nail.

Hiking boots vs. cross trainers for hiking

Hiking boots are your solid base. Supportive, with the added stiffness and spring your feet and ankles require. 

When hiking, it’s essential to press off any surface safely, having complete confidence in your boot’s grip. The added support and toughness of boots protect you from sore feet and twisted ankles.

If you plan on hiking often, an investment in a well-designed hiking boot is essential. Hiking boots come in various materials and shapes that minimize slippage on wet rocks and maximize sticking power on flaking hill grades.

Comparing the sole

The sole of a shoe is your connection to the ground. It determines your stability, how quickly you can move up or down a hill, and how safely.

When hiking, a shoe outsole takes a beating from thousands of small pointy rocks and sharp edges of large boulders. They brush against trees and bushes and, on a rare occasion, protect from bites.

Cross trainers for hiking. Comparing the outer sole of Nike cross trainers vs Merrell hiking boots
Merrell Moab 2 hiking boot vs. Nike Metcon Cross Trainer

The contrast is noticeable when comparing the sole of Nike’s best-selling cross trainer to REI’s top-rated hiking boot.

The sole of most cross trainers has a minimal grip to fit a variety of sports and training. Meanwhile, the soles of hiking boots are thick and grippy to trek through all types of rough terrain.

The toughness of outer shoe construction

If you have the money to replace expensive shoes often, by all means, don’t let me stop you. For the rest of us, we want a durable shoe that can take a beating from nature — then ask for more. 

Cross trainers and many hiking boots use mesh technology for breathability in the outer construction of the shoes. Although these meshes can be surprisingly durable, they are open to the elements and can be ripped or poked easily. 

For good measure, you’ll find hiking boots protecting the mesh with a leather overlay, adding durability and stability. Plus, you’re always one thorny bush away from a painful poke to the foot.

Alternatives instead of cross trainers for hiking

Many of the most beautiful hikes in the world don’t involve climbing boulders or crossing rocky rivers.

Trail runners are an excellent hybrid of hiking boots and running shoes. Constructed with enough traction and stability to sprint across rough trails, a trail runner’s grip can keep up with any hiker’s pace.

Even though you have the grip, you may not have the comfort. Running shoes promote forward momentum. When walking at a slower pace, you may find an odd discomfort. 

My Nike trail runners work great for leisurely hikes, and I notice no forward momentum discomfort.

Final thoughts

Almost everyone has an old pair of cross trainers lying around that you don’t mind getting dirty. If you find the grip decent and the hike’s terrain gentle, a cross trainer works fine and should keep your feet comfortable.

When wearing cross trainers hiking, consider a few safety tips:

  • Descending a hill is more dangerous than going up.
  • Always watch your footing to protect your ankle.
  • When climbing, support yourself with your hands, don’t rely on your grip.
  • A wet or muddy cross trainer (and hiking socks) make for a terrible hike back.

As you continue to hike more often, you’ll find people wearing shoes of all types, including Crocks, Converse, and even flip-flops. But avid hikers focus on protecting their feet with the proper footwear.

Hiking is one of the best hobbies you can have. Staying injury-free on your starter hikes will keep you returning and appreciating longer, more adventurous hikes.

Happy (and safe) hiking.

How did your cross trainers hold up hiking? Share this article and tell us how your hike went.

Hi, I'm Travis, an outdoors enthusiast and avid hiker based in Las Vegas, NV. When I'm not hiking Red Rock or Mount Charleston, I'm writing tips for beginner hikers.

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