The problem with hiking with trail runners is that you must replace them frequently when the tread wears thin, the midsole cushioning breaks down, and the exterior mesh tears past the point of no return. Depending on the shoe and where you hike, you can expect to get between 350 and 500 miles from a pair of trail running shoes before you need to throw them away. If you hike enough to go through several pairs a year, the annual replacement cost adds up, but what’s worse is that you have to throw the shoes away since they’re no way to repair them and widespread recycling isn’t yet an option
One of the things that makes trail runners so nice to wear for hiking is the tread, which is soft and grips hard or muddy surfaces well, providing more traction than a harder-soled hiking boot. The downside is that trail runner soles wear out quickly, particularly on more abrasive terrain in the mountains or on trails topped with fine sand and gravel.
While grip and traction loss are a concern, tread wear can lead to overuse injuries that are amplified when parts of your shoes begin to break down, not just the tread, but the midsole cushioning underneath it. When the lugs on your shoes begin to disappear or the heels are worn heavily along one side, it’s time to get yourself a new pair of trail runners.
Midsole cushioning is designed to give your feet a shock absorber, to help reduce impacts, and injuries, and to prevent foot fatigue. But the level of wear and tear of the midsole cushioning under your trail runner lugs is difficult to assess because the foam, called EVA (for Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) is mostly hidden inside the shoe and under the sole.
However, there are some telltale signs that the cushioning is starting to break down. If you notice the foam along the side of your shoes, under the outsole, is creased or compressed, that’s an indication that the foam is beginning to lose its shock-absorbing properties. Since midsole cushioning usually breaks down before your soles, if your soles are worn down, there’s a good chance that the cushioning is shot too. In addition, if you start to get shin splints all of a sudden or your feet ache after a long hike, the breakdown of the midsole cushioning may be the culprit.
Torn External Mesh
Most people wear trail runners for hiking because they have mesh exteriors that drain well and dry quickly when they get wet. Depending on the shoe, that mesh exterior can get chewed up pretty badly leading to the eventual failure of the shoe’s uppers, although some shoes like Saucony Peregrines have an internal sock liner that will hold the shoes’ shape for a while longer.
The location of the most wear and tear tends to be along the sides of your shoes at the point where the toebox begins and the laces end in front, where the shoes flex the most. You can mitigate the damage by coating the area with shoegoo to form a protective shell over the mesh, although it will eventually break down and expose the upper to abrasion.
While mesh trail runners are ideal for hiking and backpacking because they provide superior grip, and cushioning, and they drain and dry quickly, they’re really not very durable when it comes to long term use. If you want your trail runners to last, the best strategy is to only use them for hiking and backpacking and not for everyday use. That will help preserve them for as long as possible and save the expense of replacing them multiple times per year.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.