Find the right fit and try our five shoe-buying strategies that won’t leave you tied up in knots.
The BEST RUNNING SHOES
Fresh Foam Beacon V2
Best for Tempo
Floatride Run Fast 2.0
Hoka One One
Adrenaline GTS 20
Finding the best-fitting shoe among the numerous choices at your local running store isn’t always easy. To ensure you walk out a happy customer, you need to make sure the shoe fits properly from heel to toe and that it feels comfortable with your regular running stride. That’s why we’re here to help.
Before you even put your foot in a new pair of running shoes, it’s helpful to know all the little details of the shoes that will be with you over the next several hundred miles, along with what to expect during the shoe-buying process. Finally, take a look at our favorite shoes right now in your favorite categories, from most-cushioned to the best for the trails.
Shoe Anatomy 101
To get things started, it’s helpful to understand the purpose of each element of a running shoe and how even the slightest differentiation may affect your experience. Here are the main elements to know.
Everything above the sole. Traditionally made with layers of fabrics and mesh sewn and glued together, modern models increasingly use knitting and printing to create one-piece uppers that stretch or support in appropriate places.
What to look for: An upper that is shaped like your foot and smooth wherever it touches, not binding or chafing anywhere.
The wrap at the top of the shoe opening that holds the heel down in place. Some shoes use thick padding while others rely more on the shape.
What to look for: Pay attention to whether your heel slips, how the padding interacts with the bones on the side of your ankles, and whether the curve on the back irritates your Achilles tendon.
A semi-rigid cup layered inside the rearfoot that cradles and supports your heel. Some shoes have an external heel wrap that serves a similar function while minimalist shoes have eliminated the heel counter to allow full freedom of movement. Research has shown that heel counters do not provide motion control, but they do center the heel for stable landings and support.
What to look for: A heel that allows a comfortable ankle motion.
This reinforced area around the instep—the arch of a person’s foot between the ball and the ankle—that interacts with the laces to hold the shoe securely on the foot. Designers have developed a variety of overlays, eyelets, and lacing systems to mold the saddle closely to any foot shape.
What to look for: Pay attention to how the saddle fits and holds your foot, providing a secure feeling with no slippage while allowing for the natural doming of the arch during your stride.
All of the upper from the front of the eyelets to the end of the shoe. Often capped with a reinforced toe bumper that holds the fabric off your toes and protects from stubbing, particularly in trail shoes.
What to look for: A toebox that stays out of the way, allowing your foot to flex and spread out naturally in both width and length without binding or rubbing your toes.
Where the rubber meets the road. Often made of a variety of rubber or foam compounds placed in strategic areas to increase wear life or enhance bounce or flexibility.
What to look for: Materials that provide traction and durability without adding excess weight or stiffness, and for a footprint shape that matches yours and gives you the desired level of stability underfoot.
Flex Grooves and Toe Spring
To make the shoe bend like your foot bends, many shoes use grooves under the ball of the foot. Turning the toe up, called toe spring, or cutting away the midsole into a rocker pattern also allows the foot to roll through the stride. Small differences in location or angle can alter the mechanics and feel, and what degree of flex works best for your stride changes with speed.
What to look for: A shoe that flexes or rolls the way your foot wants to move—at the pace in which you’ll be using the shoes.
The foam material between the outsole and the upper, designed to cushion the runner from impact forces and guide the foot through the stride.
What to look for: A midsole thickness and material that feels right at running speeds, neither too soft nor too firm and without excess weight.
Midsole material designed to minimize the impact shock of a heel strike. Besides using a variety of cushioning materials, some shoes feature a softer “crash pad” area on the outer edge of the foot or a rounded outer heel to smooth the landing. Research has shown that the body provides the majority of cushioning for your joints and that you land harder in a more cushioned shoe, so heel cushioning is largely a matter of perceived comfort.
What to look for: A balance between cushioning, stability, and ground feel, and note whether the shoe touches down where you expect it to and rolls into the stride a way that feels right.
The difference in height between your heel and the ball of your foot when standing in the shoe. Experts disagree on the importance of drop related to injuries, but agree that changing drop distributes forces differently to the foot and leg, and can alter your stride.
What to look for: A shoe that feels right throughout the stride, from touchdown to toe-off, and reduces stress on any weak parts of your foot.