Best Trail Running Shoes for Backpacking

In 1999, as the world prepared for Y2K and took collective warning to shut down our computers before midnight lest our digital landscape completely collapse in on itself, my dad was prepping to take me on my first backpacking trip. It seemed a reasonable way to shirk the uncertainty of the impending millennium – forge into an entirely different uncertainty, the mystery of the great outdoors. My father is a real Ron Swanson type when it comes to venturing into nature, so it only made sense that my first backpacking footwear was a pair of leather boots so heavy that it felt like I was wearing ankle weights. Over the course of the trip, my gait slowly lowered to the ground until I was just dragging my feet forward with each step. My love for the outdoors was firmly rooted with that trip, but my attitude towards what gear was right for what trip would eventually evolve.

Fast forward to today, and thick leather boots with a weathered patina and a decade of stories are no longer the standard for hiking footwear needs, especially as it comes to overnight trips in the woods. Venture onto your nearest trail with backpackers and you’re likely to see a wide range of footwear choices. The combination of lighter and more durable synthetic materials has shifted a large portion of backpackers into the trail run category when making decisions on what the right choice is for them. One need not find a trail to see the proof though, venture into any backpacking forum online and the conversations around ultralight gear choices weighs heavy on hikers’ minds. If you’re interested in crossing over from a more traditional boot to a trail runner for your backpacking needs, read on to discover some of the best options from Merrell.

Moab Flight 

If you’re one of the many hikers that has helped to make the Moab hiking boot the most popular hiking boot in the world, it’s likely that you appreciate the out-of-the-box comfort, value the tried-and-true fit, and trust the overall performance capabilities. Lucky for you, we created a trail running version of this hiking icon – the Moab Flight. You can trust that the Moab flight will still deliver on the out-of-the-box comfort and tried-and-true fit but at a fraction of the weight (1lb 1oz vs 2lb 2oz).
Another benefit of the Moab Flight is in the midsole. Because trail running shoes experience quicker and harder compression with each step, we utilize our FloatPro Foam™, the best midsole foam we have. It is lighter, more responsive, and has more cushion than the traditional EVA foam you find in hiking boots. All of this make the Moab Flight a solid choice for backpacking, especially if you already know and trust the iconic Moab hiking boot.


Antora / Nova 

The Antora (women’s) and Nova (men’s) is our best-selling trail running franchise and for good reason. These shoes blend the functionality of sneakers with the adaptability of trail runners to create a truly comfortable ride that lasts. The outsole rubber, made exclusively for Merrell by Vibram®, delivers all-around grip, traction, and durability designed for everyday wear. And above that, these shoes feature a rock plate within the midsole to offer underfoot protection as you hike. An added benefit, especially when it comes to wearing these shoes for backpacking purposes, is that there are waterproof versions available to boot. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the Nova is Merrell Ambassador Will ‘Akuna’ Robinson’s shoe of choice for thru hiking. Check out this video showcasing Akuna becoming the first black man on record to accomplish the Triple Crown of hiking. Akuna’s stamp of approval should be enough for any deliberative mind. 


Agility Peak 

Some of us can’t help but tend towards backpacking routes that are a bit more extreme. Like an ultra-runner to the beer tent after a race, we’re drawn to rugged trails with variable conditions and spotty cell service. If this is your backpacking MO, then the Agility Peak is the right trail running choice for you to meet your backpacking needs. Not only does the Agility Peak feature our best midsole, FloatPro Foam™, and an integrated rock plate for underfoot protection, these trail runners offer the greatest amount of midsole foam between you and the ground among Merrell trail runners. Underneath, we feature Vibram® Megagrip®, the gold-star standard for versatile traction on dry and wet terrain while maintaining a higher level of durability. This is one of the most popular trail running shoes for our European Trail Team racing in the skyrunning circuit across the mountains of Europe. Additionally, we added D-ring attachments for gaiters which are just as handy in trail running as they are in backpacking.