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My husband and I lace up and run on most days, so running shoes are a regular topic of conversation — somehow usually in the bedroom. I know. Hot stuff, right?
But the truth is that finding running shoes that don’t mess up your form or contribute to shin splints, ankle strain, or bloody or blackened toenails (yep, more bedroom talk!) can be trickier than it sounds. And running shoes typically aren’t cheap, so it pays to think about sneaks beyond their fit and look.
So much goes into determining the right running shoe for you, including the type of running you do, what surfaces you run on, your gait and foot strike, and even your unique anatomy. Morton’s toe, anyone? (*raises hand*)
We’re here to help. We’ve done the research and compiled the best running shoes out there based on your feet, how you run, and where you run.
This guide will cover:
- shoes for men and women
- things to consider when shopping, including running type, foot strike, gait, and foot type
- a price range guide, plus tips on when to shop for the best deals
- how to care for your shoes and how often to replace them
When trying on a new running shoe, think about the basics of foot feel. Check for chafing — the upper part of your sneaker shouldn’t have seams on the underside that could rub you raw. You’d be surprised how quickly that can happen, even through a comfort sock.
Make sure you aren’t experiencing any heel slippage, either, which could quickly cause blisters. The shoe’s arch should mold to yours, but the toe box should stay out of the way of your piggies.
For fit, use the thumb test. You should have enough room between your big toe and the tip of the shoe to press your thumb down on the upper. Your feet increase in volume when you’re running, thanks to all that oxygen and blood flow, so try on shoes later in the day when your feet have naturally swollen a bit.
Beyond foot feel and fit, you have lots of other considerations:
You’ll find two general types of running shoe structure: traditional and minimalist. Traditional styles are built up, meaning they have more cushioning, stability, and support. Minimalist shoes have little to no cushioning — they’re lighter and have more flexibility to move with your foot.
The debate rages on about which type is better. Some studies show that experienced runners may develop greater running efficiency and speed in a minimalist shoe. But research also shows a correlation between minimalist footwear and injury.
If you’re going minimal for the first time, ease into it with low mileage on soft surfaces.
Deciding which shoe style you like, traditional or minimalist, also comes down to your running style.
If you’re pounding out miles on paved roads or running paths, you might prefer more cushioning. If you’re dashing short distances and going for speed in a race, a lighter-weight shoe might be to your benefit. But if you’re busting through long runs while training for a full or half marathon, you may prefer more padding and stability.
Some runners, myself included, are willing to forego cushioning for the natural flex and feel of a minimalist shoe — especially when navigating roots and rocks on trails.
The type of shoe you need will also depend on how you run. Runners typically land in one of three ways: on their forefoot, midfoot, or heel. You might even have a split strike, where you land differently with each foot.
If you have a heel strike, you’ll likely prefer a shoe that has a heel drop, meaning there’s more cushioning at the heel and less toward the toes. If you have a forefoot or midfoot strike, you’ll want less of a drop or maybe even a zero-drop shoe, where cushioning is the same throughout.
In addition to foot strike, figure out if you overpronate, supinate, or have neutral pronation. Pronation refers to foot roll after the strike.
If you overpronate, your feet roll too far inward, putting more weight there. If you supinate (also called underpronating), your feet roll outward, putting more weight on your foot’s edge. If you have a neutral gait, you land on the outer edge and roll inward with even weight distribution.
If you pronate or supinate, running can place excess force on various parts of your ankles and feet. That’s why finding a shoe with motion control is crucial. If your gait is neutral, you have a lot more shoe options.
Your anatomy (such as flat feet or high arches) can play a part in your pronation and therefore in the type of shoe you need. Plus, other variations will determine whether you need a more generous toe box to avoid bruising your nails from too much banging.
Considerations include wide feet or a Morton’s toe, which is when your second tootsie is longer than your big one.
Materials, color, attitude
Style and taste may matter to you too. The “dad shoe” look might be your thing. Or maybe you want a bit of color and sass or something simple you can wear on errands. Maybe you prefer shoes with eco-friendly materials.
Let’s not forget the cash factor. Sneakers can be pricey, with some reaching into the double hundreds. But you don’t have to shell out big bucks to find running shoe bliss. Plenty of lower-priced models get great reviews, while high-ticket pairs sometimes get blasted.
Base your decision on finding a shoe that fits your needs and is your price range. In all my years of buying running shoes, I can say the sweet spot ranges from $70 to $150.
Fit and feel matter more than shoe gender. Sure, men’s and women’s feet typically have some anatomical differences, and brands account for this with variations in shoe design.
But I’ll be the first to tell you I always buy men’s running shoes. Why? Because many brands don’t carry my size in women’s. Trust me, I’ve searched. I also know men who buy women’s running shoes simply because they fit their feet better.
Your choice of which “shoe gender” to buy might also come down to color. Some manufactures offer neutral colors for men but only highlighter colors for women, and that may not be your thing. If the shoe fits and you like it, buy it.
For this list, we considered a wide variety of brands, price ranges, and running preferences. We focused on shoes that reviewers praise for specific features.
Plus, we crowdsourced to find the longstanding favorites of runners ranging from those who log a handful of miles per week to those who train for and race trail ultramarathons.
- $ = under $100
- $$ = $100–$150
- $$$ = over $150
Best shoe for beginners: Brooks Ghost 12
There’s really no such thing as a “beginner” running shoe. But if you’re new to running or you’re getting back into it after a long hiatus, you’ll want to lace up something that’s equal parts supportive and responsive.
The Brooks Ghost 12 has earned praise for its excellent shock absorption, seamless upper, and forefoot flexibility. Wearers say it has a high arch contour, though, so it’s not ideal for flatter feet.
Whether you’re doing your first Couch to 5K plan or you’ve been running for decades, this shoe is a solid choice.
Best all-around daily trainer: Saucony Kinvara 11
Sometimes cushioning can make a shoe feel like you’re hauling around bricks on your feet. That’s not the case with the Saucony Kinvara 11. These shoes provide the right amount of bounce and snap in a lightweight design, so they’re perfect for everyday runs.
One downside, according to reviewers, is the shoe’s pillowy tongue. But the rest of the upper is a breathable mesh that locks your foot into place.
Best road shoe for serious cushioned comfort: Hoka One One Bondi 6
The Hoka One One Bondi 6 is one of the most praised maximalist shoes on the market. But it won’t add a bunch of weight to your run. Hoka shoes are known for their floaty, cushy feel, and the Bondi is the brand’s most built-up model.
Although these shoes are made for everyone, taller and larger-bodied runners like that the cushion doesn’t collapse upon foot strike. And folks with plantar fasciitis appreciate the padding for tender soles.
The downside is that some reviewers report faster-than-normal wear. So if you fall in love, you may have to replace these more often, and they cost a pretty penny.
Best long-distance road runner: Mizuno Wave Rider 23
The Mizuno Wave Rider 23 will get you through those double-digit mileage days. This shoe is best for distance runners who have a neutral gait and are looking for a supportive yet responsive ride and a soft, cozy, breathable upper for all-around comfort.
The shoe lacks flex, but its firmness can support you in those later miles when your form might waver.
Best road shoe for overpronators: Asics Gel-Kayano 27
If you need a shoe to fix your foot roll, the Asics Gel-Kayano 27 has your back. From strike to toe-off, these shoes will aid in motion control without sacrificing weight or flex. Reflective materials on the rear also promote visibility, a must if you’re one of those rise-before-daylight diehards or you hit the streets after dusk.
The Gel-Kayano 27 is on the pricey side, but it’s great whether you’re an occasional runner or you wallpaper your home office with race bibs.
Best road shoe if you supinate: Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit
So you’ve learned you’re a supinator. No worries! The Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit offers motion control while maintaining smoothness. As a bonus, this shoe has great traction.
And don’t let the “knit” in the name fool you — the upper is durable and secure. If you’ve got wide feet, though, these shoes may not have the best toe box fit, according to reviewers.
Best for big feet: Karhu Ikoni 2020 HiVo
Finally, a brand that understands big feet aren’t always just longer or wider. They can be, well, just bigger! Enter the Karhu Ikoni 2020 HiVo. These shoes account for larger or higher insteps as well as width. Plus, they’re kind to flat feet.
They offer a smooth transition from strike to toe-off and just the right amount of stability and flex. Petite feet, move along — nothing to see here.
Best road shoe for flat feet: New Balance Fresh Foam 880v10
If you have flat feet, the right support is key. The New Balance Fresh Foam 880v10 lives up to its name, with foam in all the right places where runners put pressure.
Generous arch bolstering prevents fatigue and aches. Plus, the knit upper molds around your foot, holding everything in place. A smooth and secure ride is what you get. And heel strikers will appreciate the shock absorption.
Best road shoe wonder for wide feet: Topo Phantom
Sometimes what you care most about in a shoe is the toe box real estate. The Topo Phantom gives you plenty of room for those downstairs digits to spread out. Plus, your feet will enjoy a comfy, springy midsole to help you bust through your miles.
Best all-around racing flat: On Cloudflow 2
Whether you’re looking for a speed-training shoe or just something that will help you beat your running nemesis in the next 10K, the On Cloudflow 2 will give you an edge.
These flats are meant for shorter-distance speed sessions or races, but they can serve as everyday running shoes or as racing flats for any distance if you’re used to a minimalist shoe. Plus, they just look dang cool.
Best do-anything minimalist shoe: Arc’teryx Norvan SL
The Arc’teryx Norvan SL is a trail shoe, but you won’t be breaking any rules by wearing it wherevs. These puppies boast good grip for technical terrain, and they dry quickly after sloshing through creek beds or mud. Plus, you can squish then down for easy packing, and they’re so lightweight you won’t even know they’re in your bag.
They’re a little pricey, but with their sleek look and neutral color options, they can double as wear-around-towners. Keep in mind that these are mega minimalist shoes and best for midfoot or forefoot strikers, so they won’t be your thing if you prefer the cush.
Best bargain minimalist trail tackler: Merrell Trail Glove 5
If you dislike trail shoes that feel like hiking shoes, the Merrell Trail Glove 5 will let you feel the trails beneath your feet while still protecting your feet and toes with its rock plate.
This zero-drop beast works just as well on paved paths if you’re a midfoot or forefoot striker who craves a minimalist style for the road.
Plus, the antimicrobial materials and breathable but seamless lining allow you to run sockless. Just toss the shoes in the wash when they get gritty or gross.
The Trail Glove 5 is often on sale, which is a bonus for replacing these shoes when the uppers wear out.
Best trail shoe for wide feet and toe trouble: Altra Lone Peak 4.5
Trails can be mean to toes, especially if you’ve got a wide forefoot. Plus, toe spread is important for navigating technical terrain.
If you want a shoe that lets you actually use your toes for stability rather than locking them up, check out the Altra Lone Peak 4.5. These shoes have canted lugs placed right under the metatarsal for better traction and toe-off.
Best going-the-distance trail running shoe: Merrell Agility Peak Tactical
Longer-distance trail runners may want a seriously robust, supportive, and protective shoe to tackle tricky or slippery terrain.
The Merrell Agility Peak Tactical offers arch support for flatter feet and a grippy outsole for going over mossy rocks or busting through those mud run adventure races. This shoe is also a great toe protector on rocky routes.
Best planet-friendly option
One thing about running shoes is that they’re generally not all that eco-friendly. Allbirds solves that problem with the Tree Dasher. Made with eucalyptus tree fiber, other natural ingredients, and post-consumer recycled laces, this shoe will make you feel good about what’s on your feet.
Keep in mind that brands often mark down the previous version of a shoe once they release a newbie model. New models are often released in the spring and sometimes in the fall.
The markdown might happen on a brand’s website, but you can also check running shoe retailer sites for even deeper discounts.
The gold standard has long been to replace running shoes every 300 miles. If the uppers or treads aren’t worn, minimalist shoes might last a bit longer because you’re not at risk of losing cushion.
But the ideal number of miles is really up to every runner. You might find that your shoes maintain good function for 500 miles.
Unfortunately, shoes don’t have an odometer. But if you don’t keep track of your mileage through a running app, you can figure out your average miles per week and then determine how many weeks it will take you to reach 300 or whatever number you deem appropriate. You can also monitor your shoes for wear and loss of function.
You don’t have to do a lot to keep your shoes in good shape. Just don’t keep them in a hot car or a muggy gym bag. When you’re not running, store your shoes in a dry, well-ventilated spot. Keep ’em clean too: Brush off the mud or dirt after your trail runs, you filthy animal!
Ah, running. It seems so simple — just lace up and go, right? But so much more than size and color goes into finding the right running shoe.
It might even take a little trial and error (and a few blisters) before you feel properly shod. But I wish for you the perfect shoe match and a whole lotta happy trails out there.