Ok... let's cut the shit. I live in Southern California and hike mostly in the area, so I recommend trail running shoes for most hikes in my area. Done! (Now... on to the fluff!)
Truth is, I hike with a number of people who all have varying opinions on which type of footwear is best, but I will give you a quick run down of why I prefer the trail running shoes over hiking boots... and Vans (I'll get to the Vans a bit later).
The debate is typically between having a hiking boot that supports the ankle, or something lightweight that helps you go faster. My take on this is, once you hike enough in a trail running shoe, your ankles will get stronger and will be able to provide better support. Additionally, I think giving the ankle a little play helps alleviate some of the twisting on your knees as well, but I am not a doctor, so don't hold me to that.
Before we go any further, I thought I would share what I am currently using for both trail running shoes and hiking boots. I am currently using the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 for almost all of hikes. They are wide in the toe box, they're lightweight, I have yet to get a blister from these shoes, and they will make you the 3rd fastest hiker alive!
(Altra Injinji Combo over looking Big Laguna.)
Prior to making my switch to the Altra I wore the Solomon Sense Pro 2. I wore this shoes for a long time, but I was always in a constant battle with blisters. I carried, and used quite frequently, a ton of mole skin and often found myself taping my feet prior to the start of any hike. Over the duration of the hike, my feet would begin to feel the impacts of being taped and would actually begin to hurt from being constrained as there is next to no give with the athletic tape. I still carry mole skin and athletic tape, but usually find myself using them on friends' feet (I have a friend who hikes in ninja boots... he always has blisters)
(Solomon Sense Pro 2... I still like you, just not as much as my others. Shot is from the top of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park)
In terms of socks I like to rock with my Altras; Since I was battling blisters from heel to toe, I switch my hiking socks to Injinji Midweight Trail socks (Look them up on Rei's website). Sure the "toe socks" are a pain in the ass to get on, but they are certainly worth the extra time to keep the blisters off of my toes.
I don't typically wear gaiters, but will most likely consider wearing them for my PCT hike in 2018. They will help keep my feet a bit cleaner, and also help keep thorns out of my socks (Picking those damn things out is one of my least favorite activities)
For the most part, I stick with the Injinji/Altra Lone Peak 3.0 combo for all my hikes, and will wear this combo for my big hikes in 2018.
Now, when do I wear hiking boots? And what kind do I wear? To start, I usually wear my boots when conditions suggest I should. Around these parts, that is typically when it is raining. Our trails don't get rain all that often, but when they do, regular trail running shoes can make things even harder since the cake easily and lose all grip. There is usually a pretty thick top layer of mud on those rainy days, and that is when I wear my boots!
(Wore boots while doing the Trans Catalina Trail. It was pouring rain, which made for fun mud tracks)
I prefer a pair of Keen Targhee waterproof boots when I wear boots. The Targhee has a nice wide toe box, and does a great job at keeping water and mud out of the boots. They also need very little break in period, so you can almost start hiking in them right away. I will still wear my Injinji with these boots, but can really feel a pounding on my foot over long distances as compared to my Altras.
So.. lastly, THE VANS!!! Seems like no matter where I hike I always see Vans prints on the ground. I am convinced that should I ever find my way to Machu Picchu, Mt Everest, or Mars, I will look down at the ground at one point and see the mark left by these...
If you are going to go out and hike, please buy some shoes that will help and support you on your journey! I am not opposed to Vans! Matter of fact when I'm just kicking around I like to wear my Cons, but make sure you have the right tool for the job.
Now... Get out there and hike!!!