fbpx

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes

Our complete guide to help you find your perfect pair.

There are now tons of running shoes at a variety of price points to help serve runners with differing budgets and specific needs.

Almost every major running shoe brand now offers running shoes with a variety of cushioning levels, from minimalistic barefoot shoes to maximalist shoes with plush cushioning.

There are also running shoes that provide different levels of support so that runners who overpronate can have support for the arch and heel upon landing to prevent excessive inward rolling up the foot. 

There are also running shoes for those with a neutral gait or those who supinate and land on the outer portion of the foot. 

To that end, there are trail shoes for trail runners, road shoes for those who train outdoors or on the treadmill, and various racing flats for competitive runners looking to shave off as much time as possible to maximize performance.

Although the abundance of choices for running shoes offers a variety of benefits, there can also be decision paralysis when choosing the best running shoes simply due to the overwhelming number of choices.

In this guide to how to choose running shoes, we will discuss what to look for when buying running shoes, the different types of running shoes, and tips for buying the best running shoes for your needs.

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 1

Which Running Shoes Should I Buy?

In many ways, there is a pretty simple answer to: “What are the best running shoes?“ and “How do you choose the right running shoes?“

That answer is: you pick the running shoes that feel most comfortable to you.

In fact, a systematic review1Van Alsenoy, K., van der Linden, M. L., Girard, O., & Santos, D. (2021). Increased footwear comfort is associated with improved running economy – a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Sport Science, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2021.1998642 published in the European Journal of Sport Science, found that the incidence of running injuries decreases when runners choose running shoes that feel most comfortable. Plus, the rate of perceived exertion and running economy improves.

In other words, there isn’t a specific running shoe brand or type of running shoes (stability running shoes, neutral running shoes, maximalist running shoes, zero drop running shoes, motion control running shoes, etc.) that is inherently better than the other types of running shoes or options.

Rather, finding a running shoe that fits your foot shape and feels comfortable right out of the box tends to be the winning combination.2Nigg, B., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms: “preferred movement path” and “comfort filter.” British Journal of Sports Medicine49(20), 1290–1294. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095054

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 2

‌As a certified running coach, when I start working with an experienced runner who has been successfully following a training plan and running races without getting various injuries, I recommend they continue wearing the same type of running shoes that have been working well. 

After all, isn’t there a common saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?“

Of course, this strategy seems great in theory, but because most running shoes need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles, or every six months (whichever comes first), and the top running shoe brands are always updating their various models, it’s sometimes impossible to stick with your tried and true pair when you go to replace them.

Sometimes, the updated version of a running shoe introduces a new technology or even a new fit and feel, which can land you right back at square one in finding the right running shoes for you.

All this is to say that once you find a pair of running shoes that tends to work well, try to stick with that brand or model, but if it changes, you can also look for similar running shoes within the same category.

On the other hand, new runners, experienced runners who have a high risk of injury, or runners who are looking to do a particular type of training will need to consider the various features and types of running shoes to narrow down their search.

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 3

How Do You Choose Running Shoes?

Back when I lived in New York City, I worked in a running shoe store in the shops at Columbus Circle.

Due to the proximity to Central Park, we had tons of runners of all ability levels, from beginner runners to elite runners, coming through the doors every day looking for running shoes.

As a shoe fit expert, I always tried to walk athletes through a decision process when choosing a pair of running shoes.

The following are some questions that can help you choose the right running shoes:

What type of running shoe are you looking for?

  1. Everyday training shoes for road running
  2. Trail running shoes
  3. Racing flats or racing shoes

Then, with the exception of racing flats, the next question becomes:

What level of support do you need?

  1. Neutral running shoes: No pronation control. Ideal for neural gait or supination.
  2. Stability running shoes: Provides some pronation control for overpronators or those with flat feet
  3. Motion control running shoes: Maximal control of pronation

Related: Pronation Explained

Then, we would look at the level of cushioning desired:

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 4

Do you need a cushioned running shoe or a minimalist running shoe?

  1. Minimalist or barefoot running shoes have virtually no cushioning. Examples include the Nike Free or Xero Shoes.
  2. Traditional cushioned running shoes have a moderate stack height with different types of cushioning materials, such as EVA foam or proprietary cushioning technology from the brand.
  3. Maximalist running shoes have a thick midsole with a chunky look (high stack height), as seen in most HOKA shoes.

Once we narrow down the options from this running shoe buying guide decision tree, it then comes down to really finding the running shoe that fits your foot shape well and feels good.

Running shoes are built using a “shoe last,” which is the shape of the insole.

If you have a narrow foot, you would want a narrow running shoe to hold your heel and midfoot in place.

Runners with a wide foot or who have a bunion, metatarsalgia3Metatarsalgia. (2017). Orthopaedics & Traumatology: Surgery & Research103(1), S29–S39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.otsr.2016.06.020 or a Morton’s neuroma,4Bhatia, M., & Thomson, L. (2020). Morton’s neuroma – Current concepts review. Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Trauma11(3). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcot.2020.03.024 typically need a wide running shoe or at least a running shoe with a wide toe box.

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 5

Additionally, some runners are drawn to running shoes with a wide toe box because this design is said to allow for natural foot splay, which basically means that your toes and the ball of your foot are allowed to spread apart for a push-off.

Many conventional shoes have a narrow toe box and confine the forefoot. This may contribute to foot pain.

Here are some of the running shoe brands that tend to run narrow:

  • Nike
  • ASICS
  • Saucony
  • HOKA One One

Here are some of the running shoe brands that are good for wide feet:

  • New Balance running shoes run wide and many models come in wide widths or extra wide widths
  • Brooks has a wide toe box and an increasing number of models have wide widths options
  • Altra has a wide toe box
What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 6

Finally, you can also consider the heel-to-toe drop of running shoes. The heel drop refers to the difference in stack height between the heel and toe of the shoe.

  • Most conventional running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of about 8 to 13 cm.
  • Low-heel drop shoes like Hoka shoes are closer to 5 to 6 mm.
  • Zero-drop running shoes have uniform cushioning throughout the entire sole of the shoe.

Note that the stack height of a running shoe refers to the thickness of the material in the middle and outsole between your foot and the ground.

Stack height differs from heel drop or the heel-to-toe drop, which is a measure of the difference in stack height between the heel and forefoot of the running shoe.

You can have a zero-drop running shoe that has a high stack height; that shoe would simply have a thick platform upon which the shoe is built but there would not be a difference in the thickness of the cushioning materials between the heel vs forefoot regions.

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 7

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

Getting the proper fit for running shoes is important, yet many runners don’t get the correct running shoe size or width.

In fact, a review in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research5Buldt, A. K., & Menz, H. B. (2018). Incorrectly fitted footwear, foot pain and foot disorders: a systematic search and narrative review of the literature. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13047-018-0284-z found that up to 72% of individuals are actually wearing shoes that do not fit their feet properly. 

Typically, you want your running shoes to feel fairly snug in the heel and midfoot—as the shoe is lightly hugging or holding your foot—while the forefoot area should be roomier. 

The toe box should have some wiggle room for your toes to accommodate the natural foot splay (lengthening and widening of the foot) that occurs when you land and push off with your foot.

Here are some specific tips for how running shoes should fit:

  • Heel cup: The heel cup of a running shoe should cradle your heel and keep it in place while you run without squeezing the Achilles tendon. 
  • Midfoot: The midfoot portion of the running shoe should hold your foot in place like a light hug. You want the arch of the running shoe to match up with your anatomical arch to optimize support. 
  • Toe box: The toe box should be fairly roomy, both in terms of length and width. In terms of width, the ball of your foot should not feel like it’s being compressed or squeezed in the shoes. You should be able to wiggle your toes without feeling like they are swimming around. The proper running shoe length is when you have about a thumbnail’s width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This may be about 1/2 to 1 inch or (1.5-2.5 cm) of added length between the ends of your toes and the inside end of the toe box.
What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 8

Tips For Running Shoe Shopping

Here are some tips for trying on running shoes at the store:

#1: Test Shoes At The Same Time Of Day That You Normally Train

Our feet tend to swell over the course of the day, and over the course of a long run, so if you tend to run in the afternoon or evening, don’t try on running shoes in the morning.

If you choose running shoe sizing based on your foot in the morning, you may end up with running shoes that are too small. 

Similarly, if you are a morning runner, test running shoes in the morning before your feet are swollen. Otherwise, your running shoes may be too big.

#2: Bring Your Own Running Socks

Try on running shoes with the running socks you will wear training so that you ensure the running shoes fit properly and that there are no hot spots in the toe area that might cause blisters or chafing.

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 9

#3: Be Prepared to Run

A good running shoe fit expert will have you test the running shoes and walk you through a running gait analysis, so you will want to be dressed in running clothes.

#4: Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

A knowledgeable running shoe store employee should be able to provide you with information about differences in running shoe brands and models to help you find the right fit.

#5: Be A Scientist

While finding the right running shoes for you is more of an art than a science, don’t be afraid to test and retest different running shoes as you narrow down your search. 

Take your time and don’t feel bad about putting back on models and “hogging time” on the treadmill as you try on running shoes. 

Your running shoes are the most important piece of running gear so you want to have the combination of cushioning, stability, durability, fit, and responsiveness that feels right for you. 

Overall, one of the best tips for picking the right running shoes is to try them! 

Most local running shoe stores allow you to run on the treadmill or even outside and test the shoes. 

Some of the better running shoe brands will even let you try the shoes for 30 days and return them if they are not right for you.

The shoe should feel comfortable right out of the box with no break-in period needed if it is the right running shoe for your needs.

Finally, there is value in rotating your running shoes by wearing multiple pairs on different training runs throughout the week.

What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes 10

Rotating running shoes has been found6Malisoux, L., Ramesh, J., Mann, R., Seil, R., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2013). Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports25(1), 110–115. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12154 to decrease the risk of injuries by allowing the cushioning materials to fully rebound in between workouts and provide different levels of cushioning or stress application to your feet and legs.

For example, you might have a maximalist running shoe for longer runs so that you get excellent cushioning while you might have a firmer, lightweight running shoe for speed work or tempo runs.

Even though the running shoes should feel comfortable out of the box, do not wear a new pair of running shoes for a long run or a race without testing on shorter training runs beforehand. 

You never know if you will end up getting a blister or areas of hotspots once you start breaking in the shoe, and you certainly don’t want that to happen on race day!

If you are doubting your current running shoes, check out this next guide to see if it’s time to switch them up:

References

  • 1
    Van Alsenoy, K., van der Linden, M. L., Girard, O., & Santos, D. (2021). Increased footwear comfort is associated with improved running economy – a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Sport Science, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2021.1998642
  • 2
    Nigg, B., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms: “preferred movement path” and “comfort filter.” British Journal of Sports Medicine49(20), 1290–1294. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095054
  • 3
    Metatarsalgia. (2017). Orthopaedics & Traumatology: Surgery & Research103(1), S29–S39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.otsr.2016.06.020
  • 4
    Bhatia, M., & Thomson, L. (2020). Morton’s neuroma – Current concepts review. Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Trauma11(3). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcot.2020.03.024
  • 5
    Buldt, A. K., & Menz, H. B. (2018). Incorrectly fitted footwear, foot pain and foot disorders: a systematic search and narrative review of the literature. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13047-018-0284-z
  • 6
    Malisoux, L., Ramesh, J., Mann, R., Seil, R., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2013). Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports25(1), 110–115. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12154
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

10 thoughts on “What Running Shoes Should I Buy? How To Choose Running Shoes”

  1. Thanks for sharing this guide to choose best shoes for running. This guide really amazing now i am going to buy running shoes accourding to your guide, Great post keep sharing.

    Reply
    • Modern running shoes need absolutely no break in period. They should fit perfectly comfortable right out of the box.

      Too high shoe drop can develop shortened achilles tendon, and accentuate heel striking. Lower heel drop promotes mid foot strike. Zero drop Altra isn’t for everyone. One complaint: shoe companies should steer towards the broader forefoot style of Topi. and Altra, that promotes foot splay that naturally stabilises feet in motion. Those “pointy” toes look good for the dance floor, but forces the toes into an unnatural cramped position, and long term, will likely deform toes.

      Reply
  2. I need to get new running shoes soon so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about choosing shoes that are comfortable and feel right. I’ll be sure to try out a few pairs so I can find one that fits well.

    Reply
  3. Good article, however, I would include a discussion regarding your flexibility and a shoe’s heel-toe drop when considering which shoe is right for you. I used to be a loyal Hoka user (4-5mm drop) but had to move to a different brand with a higher drop (8-10 mm) to reduce calf and Achilles strain. I agree with not putting too much weight on the pressure analysis to guide your decision. My feet are flat as a pancake and was told to always run in the most robust motion control shoes only to figure out (with the help of my knee surgeon) that I actually need neutral shoes as I don’t supinate at all. I’ve been running with far fewer injuries since changing to a neutral, higher drop shoe. Good luck everyone and have fun!

    Reply
  4. If you have never tried the Altra shoe, you are missing out. Their design is unique in my experience. The forefoot is shaped like a foot, allowing for those of us with wider feet to be much more comfortable.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.