Gear Institute Expert Test Menu

Best Running Shoes

Looking for reviews of the best running shoes? Each season, our experts test the best road running shoes and trail running shoes head to head against each other. Two dozen experienced wear testers spend approximately 2-3 weeks running in each shoe, providing objective feedback on comfort, cushioning, fit, ride quality and other criteria. Each shoe is compared against other similar shoes for fair comparisons. And we never let our advertisers or brand biases influence our reviews in any way, so you get unfiltered, candid assessments directly from our experts.

Road Running Shoes

If you are looking for thicker, plush, more cushioned road running shoes, check out our “Cushioned Running Shoes” category. For a lighter, faster, and more efficient experience, you’ll want to pick from our “Lightweight Running Shoes” category.

Trail Running Shoes

If you’re looking for the best trail running shoes, check out our reviews of thicker, more cushioned, and more protective “Cushioned & Protective Trail Running Shoes” or our reviews of thinner, lighter, more agile “Lightweight Trail Running Shoes.”

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Scarpa Proton

83

2016

Scarpa Proton

The Scarpa Proton is a versatile, all-around trail runner that lacks distinctive features to set it apart in a crowded field. 

Salomon Speedcross 4

87

2016

Salomon Speedcross 4

Fans of the toothy, aggressive Salomon Speedcross will be relieved that the new Speedcross 4 receives only minor updates to the terrific previous version.

Pearl Izumi Trail N2v3

87

2016

Pearl Izumi Trail N2v3

The Pearl Izumi Trail N2v3 is a neutral, versatile trail shoe that fills in the gap in the E:Motion trail line between the maximalist N3 and the stripped down N1v2. 

On Running Cloudventure Midtop

90

2016

On Running Cloudventure Midtop

The new Cloudventure Midtop from Switzerland’s On Running is a high-quality trail runner that uses the company’s proprietary CloudTec sole pods for comfort and responsiveness.

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

91

2016

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

The Inov-8 X-Claw 275 combines substantial tread with protective uppers for an off-road shoe that’s responsive, flexible, and comfortable.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3

91

2016

Pearl Izumi Trail N3

The Pearl Izumi Trail N3 is a beefy new addition to the company’s off-road E:Motion line-up that runs smoothly and is lightweight for a maximalist trail shoe.

Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshell Mid

87

2016

Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshell Mid

The new Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshell Mid shares a sole with the terrific new Lone Peak 3.0, but adds a layer of waterproofing and an ankle-wrapping, mid-height upper. It’s a shoe that does double-duty as a trail runner and lightweight hiker.

Altra Lone Peak 3.0

88

2016

Altra Lone Peak 3.0

The revamped Altra Lone Peak 3.0 retains what trail runners love about the model but adds positive structural and visual updates.

Adidas Terrex X-King

82

2016

Adidas Terrex X-King

The new Terrex X-King from Adidas is essentially a gnarly mountain bike tire strapped around a removable midsole. It’s an innovative, unique approach to trail running shoes.

Salewa Ultra Train

90

2016

Salewa Ultra Train

Salewa’s new Ultra Train is the company’s first foray into traditional trail running shoes.  It’s a versatile off-road model that draws on the European trekking giant’s long history of high-quality mountain gear. 

361 Degrees Chaser

82

2016

361 Degrees Chaser

The 361 Degrees Chaser is a low-profile, neutral lightweight trainer or race shoe from a new company on the US running scene with extensive industry pedigree. 

Altra Torin 2.5

83

2016

Altra Torin 2.5

The Altra Torin 2.5 is a minor update to Altra’s lightweight, zero-drop, cushioned high mileage neutral trainer, with a modified mesh upper and a slightly more flexible midsole construction. 

Adidas Adizero Boston 6

90

2016

Adidas Adizero Boston 6

The Adizero Boston 6 is the next generation of Adidas’s popular lightweight trainer, featuring a more minimal and breathable upper, with a full Boost foam midsole for improved responsiveness and resilience.

Brooks Hyperion

89

2016

Brooks Hyperion

The Brooks Hyperion is the fastest and lightest road running shoe in the Brooks lineup, with ride technologies in the midsole and outsole designed to maximize speed. 

Mizuno Wave Sayonara 4

81

2016

Mizuno Wave Sayonara 4

The Wave Sayonara 4 is an update to Mizuno’s lightweight neutral high mileage trainer, with a modified forefoot fit, softer heel collar, and improved rearfoot ventilation than its predecessor. 

New Balance Vazee Pace 2

89

2016

New Balance Vazee Pace 2

The New Balance Vazee Pace 2 is the second generation of New Balance’s lightweight speed trainer, with an updated outsole and flex groove structure, and a new lighter mesh upper. 

Nike Lunarepic Flyknit

87

2016

Nike Lunarepic Flyknit

The Nike Lunarepic Flyknit is a new lightweight, max cushioned shoe that is chock full of innovation that provides an impressively sharp ride. 

Nike Free RN Flyknit

86

2016

Nike Free RN Flyknit

The Nike Free RN Flyknit is the latest iteration of Nike’s Free line that replaces the 4.0 Flyknit. It is a lightweight neutral trainer with a stretchy minimalist upper, and a highly flexible 8mm drop platform, and Nike’s new dynamic midsole foam technology for soft cushioning.

Saucony Zealot ISO 2

86

2016

Saucony Zealot ISO 2

The Zealot ISO 2 is an update to Saucony’s lightweight cushioned 4mm-drop neutral trainer, with an updated sleeve and the addition of a full-length layer under the sockliner for improved comfort and response.

Topo Athletic Ultrafly

77

2016

Topo Athletic Ultrafly

The Topo Athletic Ultrafly is a cushioned, lightly supportive road trainer with a highly breathable upper, a triple-density EVA midsole designed for mild pronation control, and an aggressive outsole to handle off-road excursions.

ASICS GEL-Kayano 23

86

2016

ASICS GEL-Kayano 23

The Asics GEL-Kayano 23 is the premium stability trainer on the market.

ASICS GEL-Quantum 360 CM

69

2016

ASICS GEL-Quantum 360 CM

The ASICS GEL-Quantum 360 CM is a neutral cushioned trainer that boasts more Gel Cushioning than any other Asics shoes.

Brooks Ghost 9

92

2016

Brooks Ghost 9

The Brooks Ghost 9 is a classic neutral comfort trainer built to withstand serious mileage.

Brooks Glycerin 14

88

2016

Brooks Glycerin 14

The Brooks Glycerin 14 is a silky-smooth and cushioned everyday neutral trainer.

Adidas Supernova Sequence 9

86

2016

Adidas Supernova Sequence 9

The Adidas Supernova Sequence 9 features the famous energy returning boost foam in a responsive stability trainer.

Hoka One One Clifton 3

84

2016

Hoka One One Clifton 3

The Hoka One One Clifton 3 is an ultra-plush maximum cushioned trainer.

New Balance 1260v6

73

2016

New Balance 1260v6

The New Balance 1260v6 is a durable, class-leading stability shoe built with exceptional overpronation control.

Nike Air Zoom Odyssey 2

76

2016

Nike Air Zoom Odyssey 2

The Nike Air Zoom Odyssey 2 is an everyday stability trainer offering excellent motion control.

Nike LunarGlide 8

85

2016

Nike LunarGlide 8

The Nike LunarGlide 8 is a silky-smooth cushioned stability shoe.

Saucony Ride 9

90

2016

Saucony Ride 9

The Saucony Ride 9 offers maximum cushioning and class leading lightweight construction in a neutral trainer.

Under Armor Bandit 2

80

2016

Under Armor Bandit 2

Getting a complete makeover,the Under Armor Charged Bandit 2 is an everyday shoe offering mild overpronation support.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

84

2016

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

The Skechers GoTrail Ultra3 is a maximalist off-road shoe that is a ground-up revamp of last year’s GoRun Ultra 2.

Scott Kinabalu Enduro

69

2016

Scott Kinabalu Enduro

The new Scott Kinabalu Enduro is an all-around trail runner with an aggressive, durable Vibram outsole.

Montrail Trans Alps

86

2016

Montrail Trans Alps

The new Montrail Trans Alps is a burly mountain running shoe for the most challenging terrain.

Montrail Caldorado

91

2016

Montrail Caldorado

The Montrail Caldorado is an all-around off-road shoe that is responsive and versatile on the trail.

La Sportiva Akasha

90

2016

La Sportiva Akasha

The La Sportiva Akasha is a brand new off-road model that balances technical trail performance with comfort.

New Balance Leadville v3

92

2016

New Balance Leadville v3

The New Balance Leadville v3 is an update to the 1210v2 with only minor revisions to what was already a terrific ultra-marathon shoe.

Asics Gel-FujiEndurance

84

2016

Asics Gel-FujiEndurance

The Asics Gel-FujiEndurance is a trail/road hybrid built with a new PlasmaGuard waterproofing treatment.

Saucony Peregrine 6

88

2016

Saucony Peregrine 6

The Saucony Peregrine 6 is a mid-weight, highly capable general purpose trail shoe.

Altra Superior 2.0

78

2016

Altra Superior 2.0

The Altra Superior 2.0 is a mid- to light-weight, general purpose shoe on a zero drop platform.

La Sportiva Helios 2

71

2016

La Sportiva Helios 2

The La Sportiva Helios 2 is soft yet responsive lightweight trail runner with a unique outsole pattern.

Pearl Izumi Trail N1v2

80

2016

Pearl Izumi Trail N1v2

The Pearl Izumi Trail N1v2 is a mid-weight, highly responsive low profile shoe.

Salomon Sense Pro 2

78

2016

Salomon Sense Pro 2

The Salomon Sense Pro 2 is a mid-weight trail shoe that excels at higher speeds.

Scarpa Neutron

72

2016

Scarpa Neutron

The Scarpa Neutron is a durable, mid-weight mileage workhorse with the traction and protection needed to tackle tough terrain.

Zoot Laguna

73

2016

Zoot Laguna

The Zoot Laguna is a lightweight trainer that allows easy toe off and quicker turnover.

Skechers GOrun Forza

83

2016

Skechers GOrun Forza

The Skechers GOrun Forza is a maximum cushioning stability shoe with lasting comfort. 

Saucony Hurricane ISO2

88

2016

Saucony Hurricane ISO2

The Saucony Hurricane ISO 2 is a leading shoe in comfort, support and responsiveness.

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080

83

2016

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080

The New Balance 1080 is a premium neutral shoe for the runner that needs the highest amount of cushioning for their training needs.

Mizuno Wave Rider 19

87

2016

Mizuno Wave Rider 19

The Mizuno Wave Rider 19 is a perfect shoe for those that enjoy a stiff shoe and demand performance from their everyday trainer.

Mizuno Wave Inspire 12

76

2016

Mizuno Wave Inspire 12

The Mizuno Wave Inspire 12 is a stable, supportive shoe that provides excellent motion control in a lasting package.

EXPERT GUIDE: ROAD RUNNING SHOES

To pick the best running shoes, you need to understand what you're buying. This is our simplified, comprehensive primer to the most important piece of gear for runners.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD RUNNING SHOE?

There is no one running shoe that's best for everyone. All runners and all feet are different, and what's good to one runner, like thick cushioning, may be bad for someone who prefers more speed and responsiveness. That said, the best running shoes share certain common characteristics.

Great Fit

Fit is completely relative to each person's unique footshape, and there are dramatic differences in the size, volume, and shape of runners' feet. But a road running shoe should always feel comfortably snug through the heel and midfoot without needing to crank down the laces. The best running shoes make it easy to find a snug fit with a lacing design that slowly, evenly cinches around the foot, and also minimizes the amount the laces slip back through the grommets when released by your fingers. This helps make it easy to customize the fit of a shoe as it wraps around your midfoot. After testing hundreds of running shoes over the years, we believe this is one of the single most significant differentiators between a well-made running shoe and one that deserves more time in the design lab.

Certain running shoe companies error on the side of higher volume fits in order to fit the greatest number of customers, and that can cause an overly roomy fit for fairly mainstream runners. One sign you have a shoe that is too wide is when you feel slippage inside the shoe on downhills or when you see the vamp—the part of the shoe above your toes—"puckering" or folding over itself when you cinch the shoe up. A loose-fitting road running shoe is much less of a handicap than a loose-fitting trail running shoe, but a properly fitting shoe will reduce hotspots and provide a more responsive feel. (A quick remedy for a shoe that's a bit too roomy: Use a thicker, higher pile sock or an aftermarket sockliner).

Each running shoe company has its own "last", or foot mould, that it builds its shoes around, and there are often several different lasts within a company's line. The shape is particular to a brand, and a matter of personal preference. Adidas shoes tend to have a shallower and narrower fit, Brooks running shoes are a bit narrower than Asics, Altra caters to higher volume feet with a wide toe box, etc. Occasionally, companies will describe their shoes as "curved lasted," which have a slight crescent shape to the shoe, gearing toward neutral or supinating runners, or occasionally "straight lasted" which are straighter, clunkier, and geared more toward runners with flatter feet and severe overpronators. The only way to find the right last for your foot is to try on lots of running shoes.

One indicator of a good lacing structure is the number of "lace crossings" or X's that the shoelaces make on the top of the shoe. Some shoes (notably the Adidas Boost) have only three lace crossings. Most have four and many have five. The fewer X's you see, the more weight a shoe can save in its laces, but the more difficult it will be to dial in a perfect fit.

Low Weight

Generally, the lighter a shoe is, the faster and more efficiently it will move. Studies have shown that for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of additional weight on a shoe, oxygen consumption goes up by one percent. Running shoe weights have dropped substantially over the last few years. In the mid-2000s, road running shoes for higher mileage training commonly weighed 12-13 ounces for a Men's size 9, whereas most of the best are now in the 10-ounce range and many are in the 8-9 ounce range. However, although shoes that are too light can slow runners down because the body expends more energy to compensate for the lack of cushioning and structure.

Speed

Not every runner wants to go fast, but certain shoes are slower than others—and often without much of a corresponding benefit. More structured shoes tend to be heavier, which has the advantage of providing foot support for high mileage efforts or for heavier runners, but dramatically slow turnover.

One often overlooked factor in a running shoe's speed is the foam itself. The thicker and softer a running shoe's foam is, the slower it will feel on the road—with each step requiring losing energy in the name of shock absorption. The thinner and firmer a running shoe's foam, the more efficient it will be. Like running in sand, an overly soft shoe can be exhausting. The best running shoes have highly responsive foams that provide adequate cushioning and underfoot structure but also minimize the amount of energy lost with each stride. They feel energetic and fun, while overfoamed shoes feel sluggish, "cruisey" and dull.

Comfort

Running shoes boost interior comfort by adding various amounts of padding in the tongue (to protect against lace pressure) and around the heel cup. Most of what runner's perceive as comfort in a running shoe comes from the softness of the midsole and the lack of pressure points throughout the upper, usually combatted by various amounts of padding around the heel collar, tongue, and flexible structural elements around the upper. Adequate padding in the tongue can reduce the pressure of laces across the top of your foot, although too much can make the shoe feel disconnected and imprecise. The material lining the heel cup should be a smooth, non-abrasive, sweat-wicking fabric.

Responsiveness

Some running shoe foams feel soft and dead—they have a very comfortable ride but feel slow and plodding. Others feel downright firm, but spring off the pavement. The best running shoes have a good balance of cushioning and an energetic feel—what we sometimes refer to as "pop." The right place on that spectrum is a matter of personal preference, and highly dependent on a runner's weight (for example, a 200-pound male runner may find a shoe "soft" while a 110-pound female runner might complain it is too firm).

Smoothness of Stride

The best running shoes have a smooth, even feel underfoot between footstrike and takeoff. The more structural elements the midsole is composed of, the greater the chance of a clunky ride. The thinner the midsole, the greater the chance that you will feel the contours of the outsole, and occasionally we'll come across a shoe with midsole gimmicks or components that can actually be felt underfoot. With the exception of aggressive pronation control devices, a running shoe should feel completely smooth, even and fluid underfoot.

Structure vs. Flexibility

The best running shoes provide the right balance of structure and support underfoot to handle significant mileage without feeling stiff. Generally, the more flexible a shoe is, the more efficient it will be on the road, but with more strain on your foot and lower leg. Finding the sweet spot between structure and flex is a matter of preference, but certain shoes find that balance better than others.

Structure

The right amount of structure to a shoe's upper is almost completely a matter of preference. Some runners prefer light, deconstructed shoes with few overlays. Some like, or require, stout structural overlays and a tall, stiff heel counter to help lock the foot in place and control its movement. For many years, running shoe companies added extra overlays to the upper for purely aesthetic, marketing-based reasons. This added one or two completely superfluous ounces to a shoe's weight. Thankfully, there has been significant pressure from consumers to pare back on unnecessary components to the upper in recent years. The best running shoes do not have unnecessary structural elements, nothing more than what is absolutely needed and absolutely nothing that adds weight and is just for show.

TYPES OF ROAD RUNNING SHOES

Running shoes underwent a design renaissance in the wake of the minimalist running shoe trend in the late 2000s, and the variety of running shoes on the market exploded. As a result, there are now too many types of road running shoes to neatly categorize them. In addition to the big tent categories of "training shoes" and "racing shoes," and the pronation-based categories of "neutral shoes," "stability shoes," and "motion control shoes," there are major new categories of maximalist and minimalist running shoes, lightweight and more structured shoes, and heel-striking and midfoot-striking running shoes. The confusing part? All these categories overlap, making it difficult to categorize any given shoe.

At the Gear Institute, we think the most helpful way to think about road running shoes is to break them into three main categories:

  • How much cushioning a shoe has
  • How much pronation control the shoe provides
  • Whether the shoe caters toward a midfoot striker or a heel striker

Cushioning-based Categories

Cushioned Running Shoes

Certain running shoes are designed primarily for shock absorption. These shoes have thicker midsoles, usually thicker than 20mm in the heel. They are often heavier, typically in excess of 10-ounces for a men's size nine or 8-ounces for a Women's size 7, although there are notable exceptions. At the Gear Institute, we refer to these as "cushioned running shoes," to distinguish them from the more pared-back "lightweight running shoes" that have grown in popularity in recent years.

Typically, cushioned running shoes are slower and less energy efficient than lightweight running shoes, due to their higher weights and energy lost to the compression of the thicker midsole on impact. However, the increased amount of structural and cushioning elements found on these shoes, and the corresponding reduction in stress on the lower legs, and can make higher mileage runs easier and less traumatic to your lower body. These shoes are best for runners who simply prefer a softer, more cushioned experience, as well as heavier runners, runners who do not overpronate, and higher mileage runners. Characteristic shoes in this category are the Asics Kayano, New Balance Fresh Foam 1080, Brooks Adrenaline, and anything by Hoka One One.

Don't get this category of cushioned running shoes confused with "neutral shoes." Some brands call neutral running shoes "cushioning shoes." A "neutral" shoe has no pronation control components, whether it is thick or thin. A cushioned running shoe may have pronation control or no pronation control, so long as it is built for a thickly cushioned experience.

Lightweight Running Shoes

Lightweight running shoes that you would use primarily for training (as opposed to racing) are characterized by weights between 7 and 10-ounces for a men's size 9 or 5 to 8-ounces for a women's size 7. The midsole is typically not thicker than 20mm in the forefoot, and these shoes significantly reduce reduce the number of structural elements in the upper. Lightweight running shoes are designed for quicker turnover, but sacrifice some cushioning and structure, so they are typically less adept at higher mileage running. These are generally best for runners with efficient strides and stronger feet, faster paces, shorter and moderate mileage runs and lighter runners. Pronation and overpronation are less important due to the thinner midsoles of these shoes, and you will not find many with true stability features. Characteristic shoes in this category include the Saucony Kinvara, Nike LunarTempo, Mizuno Wave Rider, and Brooks Launch.

Minimalist shoes are a type of lightweight running shoe that exploded in popularity between 2006 and 2012 but faded quickly and now represent a niche subset of the running shoe market. They were the product of a design philosophy that emphasized a "barefoot" ideal for running shoes—limited or now cushioning, limited or no structure in the upper, and high flexibility in the outsole. Because this lack of cushioning and structure puts increased stresses on the lower body, minimalist running shoes drew criticism for the perception that they caused injury, especially in inexperienced runners who transitioned too quickly from traditional running shoes. Nevertheless, many design elements of minimalist running shoes—such as reduced structural elements in the upper--have significantly influenced, even revolutionized, shoe construction. At the Gear Institute, we no longer test minimalist running shoes as a category, as these shoes have largely disappeared or been absorbed into the lightweight running shoe or racing shoe categories.

Racing shoes

There is a subset of ultra-lightweight running shoes that are built primarily for racing and speed work. These shoes have very low weights (in the 3-7 oz range for men), very thin midsoles, and minimal structure or comfort elements throughout. The Gear Institute does not currently test running shoes for racing.

Pronation Control Categories

In the past, running shoes were primarily categorized by how much pronation control they provided. Pronation is the term for how much your ankle rolls inward (to the medial side) after impact—a natural biomechanical mechanism for shock absorption that most runners have in some degree and which is exacerbated by thicker, softer shoes and anatomy (a symptom called "overpronation"). Running shoes are still marketed in categories for how much pronation control they provide, although the vast majority of running shoes are now "neutral" shoes (shoes that have no significant pronation control mechanisms).

All of these are typically sub-categories of "Cushioned Running Shoes," above.

Neutral Running Shoes

"Neutral" running shoes are shoes that have no major structural elements in the midsole to control pronation. These are best for runners with normal pronation or who do not pronate significantly or at all. The minimalist trend toward thinner shoes convinced many runners that the need for pronation control diminishes as a foot gets closer to the ground, and some believe pronation control is entirely unnecessary for most runners, even in thicker cushioned running shoes. As such, almost all lightweight running shoes, which are closer to the ground, are neutral running shoes, thickly cushioned, neutral running shoes are among the most popular categories on the market. Characteristic shoes include ASICS Gel-Nimbus, Adidas Energy Boost, and the Brooks Ghost.

Stability Shoes

Stability running shoes typically have a "medial post"—a firm block of foam found on the inner side of the midsole and often slightly darker in color. This post slows or blocks the roll a foot before it spills over too far into "overpronation." You will also often find a "de-coupled heel"—a portion of the outside (rear lateral) heel that is cleft away from the rest of the foam, which compresses first and slows the speed of pronation. Stability shoes are best for runners with mild to moderate overpronation, or low arches (commonly associated with overpronation).

While differences of opinion exist, there seems to be a growing popular consensus that stability shoes with medial posts should be reserved for overpronators and perhaps higher mileage runners, but that pronation control is unnecessary for regular pronators (neutral shoes and moderate cushioning shoes being the preferred option). Characteristic shoes include the Asics GT-1000, New Balance 1260, and Nike Air Zoom Structure.

Motion Control Shoes

Motion control shoes are a small subset of the running shoe market designed to provide major structural support for heavier runners and those with extreme pronation. They typically have very stout medial posts and numerous other structural elements designed to control a foot. They are best for flat feet, severe overpronators, and heavier runners, but will feel clunky and slow for anyone else. Characteristic shoes include the Brooks Beast for men and Ariel for women and New Balance 860. The Gear Institute does not test motion control shoes.

Heel Striking vs. Midfoot Striking Shoes

Certain runners land on their heel first. Others land on their forefoot, while others land on their forefoot and heel almost simultaneously (otherwise known as midfoot striking). This is a critical distinction in determining the best running shoe to buy.

In order to differentiate between shoes that accommodate midfoot strikers, and those that force you to heel strike, you need to know a shoe's "heel drop."

Heel drop is the difference in thickness between a shoe's heel and forefoot. It's often just referred to as "drop," or occasionally "offset." If a shoe has a heel that is 4-mm higher than its forefoot, it is known as a 4-mm drop shoe.

Heel Striking Running Shoes

Runners who land heavily on their heels tend to prefer thicker heels, and will probably prefer an 8-12mm drop shoe. This prominent forward tilt to the midsole makes midfoot striking more difficult but allows more cushioning in the heel without resulting in an overly thick forefoot (which can reduce efficiency on toe-off).

Midfoot Striking Shoes

Runners who touch down on their heel and forefoot at the same time, or nearly the same time, tend to prefer shoes with a lower heel drop, generally in the 0-6mm range. These shoes allow for a more natural stride, but may not have enough cushioning in the heel to cushion the pounding of heel striking.

Forefoot Striking Shoes

There really are not shoes designed for forefoot striking runners. They will tend to gravitate toward zero-drop midfoot striking shoes.

HOW ARE RUNNING SHOES BUILT?

The main parts of a running shoe to know are the following:

RUNNING SHOE ANATOMY

The Midsole:

The midsole is the most important part of a running shoe, and it's also the most mysterious. Every running shoe uses a different blend type of foam, with different properties of cushioning, energy absorption, springiness, and weight.

Midsoles come in a range of thicknesses in the forefoot and heel. The thickest midsoles currently on the market are approximately 30-35mm, a measurement known as the "stack height" (note: there are a variety of ways stack heights can be measured, so these figures are estimates).

The midsole is generally thicker in the heel than in the forefoot. The difference in these thicknesses goes by a number of names, including "heel drop" "offset" and "ramp angle." Shoes with heels that are 8mm-12mm thicker than the forefoot are designed for runners who land on their heels, while shoes that are 0mm-6mm are typically better for midfoot strikers.

The Upper:

The upper is the portion of the shoe that keeps your foot locked on the footbed. Functionally, it is designed to stablize your foot and prevent it from rolling around on the foam midsole (the higher and narrower the midsole, the more your foot will tend to want to roll and move on top of the midsole, which typically requires more structure in the upper typically needs). To keep your foot from rolling around, manufacturers typically placed "overlays" around the shoe—thicker bands of synthetic material that add structure to the mesh upper. Lightweight shoes typically reduce or eliminate these overlays, which eliminates weight and improves fit but can result in a less secure, stable feel.

Padding in the heel collar, heel cup and tongue is meant to create a soft, snug fit in the heel and prevent the laces from digging into the top of the foot.

Most shoes come with a "heel counter" in the heel cup. This solid, concave plastic cups gives a shoe structure that extends high up toward the Achilles tending, stabilizing the rear of the shoe against tortional movements in the shoe and adding power to the toe-off phase of a stride. More minimalist, lightweight shoes can eliminate this heel counter entirely, or use flexier versions.

The Outsole:

Outsoles used to be straightforward, durable carbon rubber. Lighter "blown rubber", which is infused with lots of tiny air bubbles, resulted in outsoles a softer, lighter, less durable outsole. You will often see a mix of carbon rubber in high wear areas of an outsole and blown rubber in lower wear areas of the outsole to reduce weight. Lightweight road running shoes now sometimes eliminate rubber on the outsole altogether to save weight—the foam midsole comes into direct contact with the road. This is the most lighweight design, but it wears very fast and generally provides less traction on wet, icy and slick surfaces.

The Laces:

Laces don't matter much in shoe performance, although the way laces thread through the upper can help improve a shoe's fit. Shoes with more laces eyelets and "lace crossings" (our term for those X's caused by criss-crossing laces) tend to have a more secure, slower cinching fit that is easier to micro-adjust. Most shoe shave five lace crossings, while a few have as few as three. The Zoot shoe pictured on the right below here is an anomaly with two lace crossings. Eyelets act like pulleys, and the more there are, the more force you'll get cinching the shoe around your foot and the more friction you'll get on the laces themselves, holding your fine-tuned fit in place.

What is Heel Drop?

Heel drop is the critical spec you need to know whether a shoe caters toward runners who land on their heels, those who land on their midfoot, and those who land in between. "Heel drop" is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the forefoot, and is also known as "offset," "drop" and less commonly "ramp angle."

Traditionally, running shoes had a 10-12mm heel drop, but this spec was rarely discussed at running shoe stores or in running media. The minimalist, "barefoot" shoe trend changed that, and suddenly shoes with 0-mm drop—a heel that was dropped all the way to the level of the forefoot—sprang into vogue. The legacy of that trend is that there is now a new spectrum of shoes with heel drops between 0mm and 12mm or so, and heel drop is now one of the first specs runners ask about after a running shoe's weight.

The lower heel drop there is, the more a shoe will feel "flat" when it lands. This helps encourages a runner's strides to land closer on the midfoot, rather than on the heel. The higher the higher heel drop, the more a runner will be forced to land first on his or her heels.

Why would you want to land on your midfoot?

Studies [LINK: http://palgrave.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/nature08723.html] have shown that heel striking significantly increases the impact forces that runners experience on footstrike compared with when they land on their heels rather than their midfoot or forefoot.

How much heel drop do you need?

A shoe with an 8-12mm heel drop will be best for runners who heel strike. A shoe with a 0-4mm drop will be best for runners who land on their midfoots. A shoe with 4-8mm of heel drop will be somewhere in the middle.

Keep in mind that heel drops are generally specs provided by manufacturers and are inexact measurements. In conjunction with our running shoe laboratory partner, Heeluxe, we discovered numerous examples where a shoe's real heel drop was several millimeters different than the spec it claimed. Additionally, a shoe's heel drop can change once the shoe hits the ground – for example, if the heel collapses more than the forefoot. Heel drop specifications should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, but are generally a fair indicator of how forward leaning or flat a shoe will feel underfoot.

TRENDS IN RUNNING SHOES

Running shoes have undergone two significant trends recently. The most significant was a dramatic expansion in the number of "minimalist" running shoes on the market, which peaked between 2009 and 2012. While the trend in barefoot-inspired footwear faded quickly, it left a lasting imprint on shoe design that can still be seen in significantly lighter and simpler shoe construction. It is now much less common for men's running shoes to weigh more than 12 ounces (size 9) and for women's trainers to weigh more than 10 ounces (size 7). Characteristic elements of minimalist shoes—like a lack of a heel counter, low heel drop, low stack heights, and minimal overlays are now commonly found in mainstream running shoe design.

The fading of the minimalist shoe trend in 2013 inspired a smaller but significant counter-trend known as "maximalist" running shoes. Spearheaded by the launch of Hoka One One in 2010 and subsequent popularity of these unusually thick running shoes (with midsole stack heights topping 30mm), by 2014 manufacturers across the industry had begun exploring new levels of cushioning and plushness never seen before.

The result has been a substantial broadening of the variety of shoes available to runners, which has significantly boosted the options available to shoe buyers but can make it challenging to pick the best running shoe for a particular runner.

CARING FOR RUNNING SHOES

Running shoes are designed to endure 400-500 miles and then be replaced. The only effective way to extend the life of a running shoe is not to wear it except while running. For a 30 mile a week runner, a running shoe will need to be replaced every 2.5 - 4 months. When the outsole shows significant signs of wear and the foam has begun to look and feel "collapsed," it's past time for a new pair. More minimalist shoes can endure longer periods of wear as they have fewer midsole elements to collapse and break down.

Running shoes require virtually no care. You can wash running shoes with water and soap if needed, but never put your running shoes in the drier. We recommend buying two pairs of the same running shoe and alternating them to allow foam to decompress fully between runs, as some studies have shown a lower risk of injuries for runners who use this approach. [LINK: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24286345]

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

Running Shoes for Wide Feet

The standard men's running shoe width is D and the standard women's width is B, but you're not necessarily stuck with those. Certain brands—such as New Balance, Asics, and Brooks—offer running shoes in various widths in certain models. For example, New Balance offer's men's widths from 2E, 4E and even 6E widths, as well as 2A to B for narrow feet, and women's widths in D, 2E and 4E for wide feet, as well as 4A and 2A for narrow feet. The differences between these widths can be only a couple millimeters, but it will make a significant difference if your shoes are too cramped (or if you have a bunions or other foot issues).

Running Shoes for Flat Feet

Flat feet means you have a low arch, which is often associated with overpronation. You'll know you have a low arch or flat feet if your wet footprint doesn't show much or any crescent shape between the heel and toes. The same Motion Control and Stability shoes that are built to control overpronation are often best for runners with flat feet.

Running Shoes for High Arches

Runners with high arches rarely have overpronation issues, and pronate very little. Because pronation is a natural shock absorber, this can cause increased downward force on the lower leg and increase your propensity for injuries. You will know you have a high arch if, when you look at your wet footprint, there is only a faint connection in the footprint between your outer forefoot and your heel. If this is the case, you may want to gravitate more toward thicker, neutral cushioning shoes. Check out the shoes in our Cushioning Road Shoe Reviews.

Running in Cold Weather

Running shoe foams get significantly firmer in cold weather. One 1996 study [LINK: http://journals.humankinetics.com/AcuCustom/Sitename/Documents/DocumentItem/15380.pdf] found that in 32-degree weather, a running shoe's midsole is about 1.5 times more firm than at room temperature, and these results were confirmed in a 2010 study [LINK: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-14998-6_104#page-1] by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University. This increases the peak pressure on the foot. There are certain winter running shoes tuned to stay softer at cold temperatures, and Adidas claims its Boost foam is more resilient to temperature changes than standard EVA foams.

GLOSSARY OF RUNNING SHOE TERMS

Blown Rubber:
Rubber with air blown into it, making it lighter and softer on landing, but more prone to wear.

Carbon Rubber:
Standard, heavier outsole rubber with better durability.

Eyelet:
The holes the laces go through.

Heel Drop:
The differential between the height of a shoe's heel and the height of its forefoot.

Heel Counter:
A plastic brace wrapping around the heel to provide stability and structure in the rear of a shoe.

Insole:
The (generally removable) insert covering the footbed. Also called a "sockliner."

Last:
Last can mean two things. The most common meaning when used in reference to running shoes is the shape of the inside of the shoe. It can also refer to the way that the upper is bonded to the midsole, although this has less relevance to most running shoes today.

Midsole:
The part of the shoe that compresses on impact. It's typically made of a proprietary foam. The most traditional material is EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate). Running shoe companies use various proprietary blends of foam and other materials, some of which are firmer than others, some feel bouncier, and others are more resistant to firming up in cold weather.

Offset:
Synonym for heel drop. The differential between a shoe's heel height and its forefoot height.

Outsole:
The part of the shoe that touches the road. It's typically made of various formulations of rubber. Carbon rubber is the most durable. Blown rubber is injected with tiny air bubbles, so it's lighter than carbon rubber.

Overlays:
Structural elements that wrap the outside of a shoe's upper to stabilize the foot. Traditionally, these were thick pieces stitched onto the outside of the shoe. Less structured shoes now weld thin overlays directly over the mesh, which saves considerable weight.

Overpronation:
An unusually prominent pronation, or inward rolling of the ankle, upon footstrike that is traditionally thought to increase the risk of running injuries; often encountered with flat-footed runners and those with low arches.

Pronation:
The slight inward roll your foot makes at the ankle when you land, and it is a natural and healthy form of shock absorption. Related to overpronation.

Sockliner:
Same as an insole. A thin removable insert providing a small bit of cushioning above the topsole.

Stack Height (aka Stack):
This refers to how thick a shoe is underfoot, between the outsole and the topsole. It should be measured from the forefoot.

Supination:
An inadequate amount of inward rolling of the ankle upon footstrike, more common in runners with high arches. Synonym: Underpronation.

Topsole:
The top surface of a running shoe's midsole—where the upper attaches to the midsole—located beneath the sockliner/insole.

Upper:
The upper portion of the shoe that holds the foot onto the footbed.

Vamp:
The portion of the upper above the toes.

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