How to Choose the Best Running Shoes
Whether you race on roads or run up mountain trails, running shoes matter. They can enhance performance, reduce the risk of injury and make logging miles fun. But knowing how to select the right fit for your feet can be tricky. We're here to help you find running shoes that fit and function from warm-up to cool-down.
How to Choose Running Shoes
The right running shoe is one that's comfortable right out of the box. Try not to get distracted by cool colors and dazzling features—not every shoe is built for every runner. For example, the best treadmill running shoes are not necessarily the best marathon shoes. This guide will help you determine your foot type and running style so that you can determine what will work best for you.
Where Are You Running?Finding the right running shoes depends on where you plan to wear them.
- Road: Taking to the streets? You'll want road running shoes with extra cushion and support for pounding the pavement and other hard surfaces. The best road running shoes work for sidewalks, roads, treadmills and tracks.
- Trail Running: For forays into the forest, you'll want trail running shoes designed with sturdy soles and burly lugs for gripping slick, unstable terrain. Some have underfoot rock plates and stiffer soles to protect your feet on rocky, rooty trails. Best for dirt paths, trails, and mountains.
- Cross-training shoes: Avid Crossfitters and anyone incorporating running into gym workouts, may prefer a shoe designed for both lifting weights and running.
What's Your Running Type?
Next, you'll need to decide what type of running you'll be using your shoes for.
- Casual: For occasional 5K racers and the few-times-a-week runners, standard or extra-cushioned jogging shoes designed for daily wear are your best bet.
- Long Distance: Looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon? Once you're running 25+ miles a week or racing half or full marathons, the best long-distance running shoes are cushioned, high-quality marathon shoes. Consider rotating between two pairs of long-distance running shoes to reduce the risk of injury.
- Speed: If you have the need for speed, not support, you'll benefit from racing flats that give you a competitive edge. Stow your heavy trainers on race day and beat your personal best with lightweight, springy shoes that improve your speed and performance.
How Much Cushion Do You Want to Feel?
Everyone has their own preference, so make sure you know which of the following works best for you.
- Maximum cushion: The best cushioned running shoes deliver a plush, cushy ride thanks to thick padding in the midsole. This soft, thick foam provides underfoot comfort on long runs. It can also reduce shock to your hips, knees and back—making it ideal for injury-prone runners. While this makes the shoes more durable, it can also add weight and make it more difficult to feel the road.
- Moderate cushion: These options deliver a smooth ride for long or short distances and are typically priced lower than maximum-cushioned options. Shoes with moderate cushioning are often best for running on treadmills and concrete surfaces.
- Minimal cushion: If you love the feel of the road beneath your feet, choose minimalist running shoes with little midsole cushioning. These lightweight running shoes mimic your natural gait but can cause hip and knee pain for some runners.
- Barefoot: Dreaming of running barefoot through the woods? Get the feel without the foot damage with barefoot running shoes. They mimic your foot shape and have no arch support or stability features, no cushioning in the heel and minimal cushioning between the shoe and ground.
- Zero drop: Zero drop running shoes are often confused with barefoot shoes, but the two differ greatly. Traditional running shoes have a heel drop of about 10 mm and up, which promotes landing on your heel first. Zero drop shoes have equal cushioning from heel to toe, promoting a lower-impact, midfoot strike. Some people love this feeling, but any lower-drop shoes require an adjustment period since they make your Achilles tendon work harder. Note: Heel drop and cushioning are independent of one another; you can find maximum-cushioned shoes with a zero drop.
What Kind of Support Do You Need?
Pronation refers to your foot's natural side-to-side movement when you walk or run. Running shoes support three types: neutral pronation, overpronation and supination.
- Neutral: Neutral runners disperse weight evenly. You don't need stability shoes because your foot naturally absorbs impact and relieves pressure on joints. So, the best neutral running shoes are those without support that controls your foot motion.
- Overpronation: Overpronation is when your weight falls on the inside of your foot causing your foot to roll inward excessively. The best running shoes for overpronation are stability shoes that can help stabilize your foot and prevent injuries.
- Supination: Supination is when your weight falls on the outside of your foot causing your foot to roll outward excessively. This is the rarest type of pronation, but you can avoid injuries by wearing running shoes designed to address it.
What's Your Arch Type?
Another factor to consider when picking running shoes is your arch type. The best running shoes for flat feet are different from those designed for high arches. The way a shoe fits is impacted by your arch, but no type is better than another. Support your arch by replacing the running shoe's original insoles with orthotics or supportive shoe liners.
Wondering if your arches are high or flat? Try the wet test. Simply place a piece of paper on flat ground, wet your foot and step on it. The imprint shows whether you have a high or low arch.
- High arch: If your wet footprint has little to no edge contact and you just see the heel and ball of your foot imprint, you have a high arch. Your foot doesn't absorb much shock so cushioned shoes are best. High-arched runners are at risk for bone injuries like shin splints and stress fractures, but the right running shoes can help prevent those. Some runners find it helpful to replace the stock insoles with a pair fit to their arch.
- Flat arch: If your wet footprint arch is filled in, you have a flat arch that collapses inward when you run. It acts as a shock absorber for your knees and feet but can put you at risk for certain injuries like runner's knee. The best running shoes for flat feet are often stability shoes with wedges that build your arch.
Stability Versus Neutral Running Shoes
Once you know your arch type, you'll need to decide between a neutral and stability running shoe.
- What is a neutral running shoe? If you walk and run with a neutral gait, you'll want a neutral running shoe. Designed for those who don't overpronate or supinate, these shoes have little to no motion-control features because your ankle remains aligned as you move. Cushioned primarily in the heel, neutral running shoes are typically lighter than stability shoes and are built on a curved last.
- What is a stability running shoe? If your foot rotates out or in, you may need stability running shoes. Designed with supportive posts that guide your foot back into neutral alignment, the best stability running shoes can increase comfort and reduce knee pain. Stability styles are often great running shoes for flat feet as they provide extra support.
How Should Your Running Shoes Fit?
Try shoes on at day's end when your feet are most swollen and bring along your favorite socks and inserts.
- Shoe Length: Toe room is one of the most important aspects when searching for the right fit. Opt for a thumb's width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. That can mean sizing up a half or full size from your street shoes. This room in the toe box prevents blisters, black toenails, hammertoe and other scary foot conditions caused by tight shoes. Wide-toe-box running shoes can help if you are suffering from these conditions.
- Shoe Width: Whether you have naturally wide feet or toes that swell when you run, you'll want secure shoes that aren't too snug. This means making sure your foot isn't pushed up against the shoe's sides. If you find you need extra room, size up from standard running shoes to ones with a wide toe box.
What Are the Best Running Shoes for Beginners?
There's no perfect running shoe for beginners. But if you're running casually and not for long distances, you can save some cash by skipping high-end shoes with all the extras. Opt for a style that's comfortable at first wear, supportive for your arch type and designed for the terrain you plan to run. As you run more, you may want to expand your collection, but a casual, everyday pair is a good place to start. And remember, even the best jogging shoes don't last forever. Track your runs and replace your shoes every 300-500 miles. In addition to running shoes, learn all about what to wear running and essential running gear in our running guide for everything you need to know to reach your goals.