How Tight Should Running Shoes Be? Running Shoe Fitting Guide

As runners, our most important piece of equipment is our running shoes, and boy, oh boy, are there a lot of options out there to choose from.

When selecting, the most crucial factor is the fit! I know, I know, we want the ones that look the coolest or match the colors of our favorite running outfits, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

We need to choose running shoes where the fit is perfect.

But how should running shoes fit? How tight should running shoes be? And is it worth going to a running shoe fitting?

If you’re new to running and trying to figure out which first shoes to buy or an experienced runner still on the hunt for the perfect running shoe, let’s see if we can help you find yours. 

In this article, we are going to discuss: 

  • The importance of the perfect fit…and the consequences of bad fit
  • Components of the perfect running shoe fitting 
  • How tight should running shoes
  • 8 tips for buying running shoes


Let’s jump in!

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

If the shoe doesn’t fit…

Having the right running shoe fitting is crucial. How many stories have we heard or shared with other runners about black and blue toenails, lost toenails, blisters, hotspots, and foot pain?

Unfortunately, tons and tons. 

The number one reason we end up with these awful foot ailments is commonly linked back to the fit of our running shoes. They are consequences of the too tight, too narrow, too loose, too wide, not enough room in the toe box, too much room in the heel running shoes!

We’ll get into the details of each of these fitting components soon, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of these issues can be avoided if the perfect fitting running shoes are found!

There is no one brand or model of running shoes that work for all of us, so we need to know how they should fit and feel on our feet to begin the quest to find the perfect ones.

Let’s take a look at how running shoes should fit:

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

rule number 1: Comfort Comes First

Rule number one when looking for running shoes is that they need to feel very comfortable. It may sound silly to mention this, but many of us end up buying shoes that aren’t that comfortable, to begin with.

This may be tolerable for a day-to-day workwear shoe, but for running, it just won’t do. Your running shoe fit needs to be just right to ensure peak performance.

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be?

You need to find a happy medium with the snugness of your running shoes.

You don’t them to be so tight around your foot that you can’t wiggle your toes. On the other hand, you don’t want them to be so loose that your heel pops out of the back while you run or your foot slides around uncontrollably. 

Let’s break down the running shoe fit into its separate components:

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

How Tight Should The Toe Box Be?

In the toe box or the front part of the shoe, you want enough room to be able to wiggle your toes around. However, you don’t want your foot to slide from side to side. 

Leave about a thumbnail’s worth of space between the tip of your longest toe and the front of the running shoe. This can vary between ½ an inch to 1 inch of space. The amount of space will depend on a few factors such as your personal preference and the type of terrain you are running in. 

When running on the road, shoes can fit a tad snugger than when running on the trailsWhen trail running, steep downhills push your foot forward against the front of the running shoe, so having a bit of extra room is helpful as your toes won’t get as squished.

However, suppose the trail you are used to is quite technical. In that case, it helps to use the fit of a road running shoe as you want to have complete control over the movement of your feet and have your feet move in sync with your running shoes.

A snugger shoe is also appropriate for training intervals and speed on the road; however, when running long runs and recovery runs, your shoes can fit a bit looser for maximum comfort.

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

Have I convinced you to buy two pairs of running shoes yet? Or even more for those of us who run trail and road? It’s always a good idea to switch up your running shoes anyhow, as it forces you to change your foot strike and breaks up the impact.

Whether you decide to leave ½ an inch or 1 inch in the toe box, be sure the arch of the shoe lines up with the arch of your foot for a comfortable fit.

Related: Pain On the Top of Your Foot? 5 Common Causes + Helpful Tips

How Tight Should The Width Be?

The toe box and overall shoe width will depend on your feet. 

If you have bunions or wide feet in general, you’ll need a brand and model that allows enough space for your foot type. After adequately tying the shoes, they should feel very comfortable. This can’t be stressed enough. If you feel your foot is being squished in any way, or there is any discomfort, this is not the size or perhaps model for you. 

Never buy shoes that feel too tight in any way. Thinking the shoes will “break in” is a common misconception. Sure, over time, shoes wear out, but that’s over time. By then, you’ll already have suffered from blisters and pain, your shoes will be worn out, and you’ll be ready to buy new ones. 

The toe box will be a bit more spacious for those of us with wide feet; however, down the length of the foot, the fit should always feel snug, not tight, comfortable snug so that no sliding occurs.

How Tight Should The Heel Cup Be?

The heel cup or back end of the shoe should cradle your heel enough so it doesn’t pop out when you walk or run, but not so tight that it provokes discomfort in your ankle or on the sides of your heel.

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

8 Tips When Buying Running Shoes 

#1 Try Them On

In an ideal world, an 8 ½ would be an 8 ½ across the board, all brands and models would follow strict sizing structures, and we could easily order online. 

Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

Always try on running shoes during a running shoe fitting before buying them, and never blindly order them online. 

The only way you are allowed to do so is to have used the same brand and model for years, had success, and that the brand has made no changes to that particular model. 

This is a rare case as most of us have yet to find the perfect fitting running shoes; therefore, we continue our quest to find perfection!

#2 Try Them On With Running Socks

Bring your running socks with you when you try on shoes. Your “at the office” socks will not do, and the thickness and feel will vary from your running socks.

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide


#3 Shoe Shop In The PM

After walking around all day, our feet tend to swell up. This also happens when we run, so the best time to try on running shoes for the perfect fit is in the afternoon when our feet are at their worst.

#4 Lace Them Up

When trying running shoes on, ensure the lacing is complete. Shoes on display or still in the box are usually not laced up properly. Take the time to lace and tie them correctly. The knot should be loose enough where you can place your finger between the knot and the tongue of the shoe and there is not pain in the instep of the foot.

#5 Walk (Or Run) Around

To ensure the running shoes are actually comfortable, you need to move around. They could feel comfortable sitting or standing still, but you need to know how you feel when you are in motion.

Walking around the store, or jogging if they let you, will give you a better idea of the comfort level and fit of the running shoes. 

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

#6 Go Big

If you are indecisive and between two sizes, get the bigger one. You’re better off with shoes a bit bigger than too small. You can always wear thicker running socks to compensate.

By taking all of this advice, you will most likely end up with running shoes that are ½ – 1 size larger than your usual day-to-day footwear. This is standard practice for all runners.

#7 Ask For Help

Knowledgeable staff can assist in your running shoe fitting.

They can also lead you in the right direction when choosing a model based on your foot posture. Still, studies show it’s recommended to stick to a neutral shoe unless you have a very severe pronated or supinated posture.

#8 Don’t Rush

Don‘t rush into buying just any running shoes. Go to different stores and try on a variety of brands and models. Take your time when trying them on and ensure a great, comfortable fit. 

This decision may make or break your next running goal, so make it carefully. 

At the end of this journey, you’ll end up with a pair, or two, or three, of running shoes. But you won’t honestly know if you love them or hate them until you put in the miles. Trial and error is a big part of running in general, and this is just one more piece that you have to work at until you get it right. 

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Running Shoes Fitting Guide

If you find those perfect running shoes, stick with them, they’re hard to come by.

Check out some of the latest models in our guide to the Best Marathon Running Shoes of 2022 roundup!

Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

4 thoughts on “How Tight Should Running Shoes Be? Running Shoe Fitting Guide”

  1. Katelyn: Excellent advice…including the importance of rotating shoes (different models) to avoid repetitive issues. Understand that you kept the article very simple and basic regarding fit… yet wonderful you stressed trial and error…and to heed what your body is telling you and reading between the line you gave absolute permission to discard shoes your body doesn’t love. You might add stock insoles are very basic and that most experienced, higher milage runners or joggers eventually customize their insoles and that fitment with custom insoles may become an important consideration when selecting shoes…finding the right shoes and insoles and/or shoe rotation can take some time even for the most experienced…but when you do, your body will thank you and you will never accept less on your feet.


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