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Published May. 24, 2021

BY: Jeremy Helligar

Running is truly an exercise of convenience. You don’t have to learn how to do it, and it doesn’t require any equipment other than your own two feet. Of course, those need to be outfitted correctly. Running around with bare feet might be fun for toddlers, but a guy who wants to go the distance without falling apart will need cover and cushioning. A pair of the best running shoes won’t just keep your soles clean and gash-free as you glide over dirt, sand, rocks, and concrete. They can also protect your musculoskeletal system from the trauma your body endures every time your feet hit the ground hard.

It’s important to know when you need new shoes for running. Experts suggest springing for a new pair every 300 to 500 miles. For those who are good with long distances only when running them, that averages to a switch about every four to six months, if you run 20 miles a week. Those of us who are a little laxer on our running schedules can wait to snag a new pair. But as a general rule, if the midsoles or outsoles look compressed or worn, it’s time to move on. When you’re ready to make a change, you’ll want to make sure you get the best running shoes.

Things to consider when buying running shoess

Before splurging on your next pair of the best shoes for running, keep these five factors in mind: 1) Where you’ll be doing most of your running. 2) Proper fit. 3) Cushioning and support. You want to avoid the sensation of bare feet clamping down on hard concrete. 4) Foot odor and sweat protection. 5) Your running form. If your feet roll in or out when they come down on solid ground, you’ll need shoes that can handle your gait.

Where will you be running?

First thing’s first: the best running shoes should be able to withstand your usual route. Running on the beach or on grass will produce less wear and tear on your shoes than running on asphalt, so you need a pair of comfortable running shoes that not only keep you up to speed but can handle rough and challenging terrain as well. Beach runners, for instance, should look for a pair with a tighter mesh, which will allow water to drain out of your running sneakers without letting sand in.

Big city concrete can be murder on your joints, so if you’ll be doing most of your running around town on the sidewalk, a shoe with a springlike effect in the heel will help keep your body in good working order. On the geographical flipside, a country road packed with dirt and gravel can be negotiated more easily with rubber spikes that provide cleat-like traction. Running on uneven grass can cause your feet to twist, so arch support and cushioning are paramount. Also, because grass is slippery when wet, your running shoes should give you good traction.

Why too much or too little cushioning can hurt you

Contrary to popular belief, more cushioning isn’t always better when it comes to the best comfortable running shoes. The extra softness can prevent the foot from functioning like a spring, as it should. Instead, it becomes a shock absorber, leaving the springing action to your joints and tissues and potentially leading to injury. The best cushioning is neither too hard nor too soft, hitting a happy medium characterized by soft and supportive and comfortable and lightweight.

Midsole material, which is typically EVA or polyurethane foam, helps absorb the impact as your feet hit the ground. Thickness is mostly a matter of personal preference. Maximum cushioning is thicker and softer, but it can produce a squishy feel. Moderate cushioning hits the middle ground between pillowy and firm. Barefoot cushioning leaves only a thin layer between your feet and the ground and offers minimal arch support and no stability features—not a great option for those with flat feet. It may feel good strolling around town, but it won’t do you much good in the long run (literally). Another consideration is the heel drop, which refers to the difference in cushioning between a running shoe’s heel and toe. A traditional drop is about 10mm and up, and it’s best for runners who land heel first. A lower drop of 8mm and under is ideal for runners who hit the ground on their toes or the middle of their feet. As running sneakers approach a zero drop, they force the Achilles tendon to work harder, which can lead to painful injury.

Running shoes must let your feet breathe

Few forms of exercise guarantee you’ll work up a considerable sweat quite like running. Your feet might not get as drenched as your head, but they will perspire enough to require shoes that will offset the moisture. Good running shoes will be breathable, allowing your sweat to evaporate more quickly while keeping your feet cool and protecting them from blisters and fungi.

Porous fabrics provide better breathability, so stay away from rubber anywhere but the soles of your running shoes. It traps moisture and heat. Leather may look and feel good, but the material is heavy and offers precious little ventilation. Canvas, on the other hand, breathes nicely, but it’s hard to beat knitted nylon or polyester (a.k.a mesh). Nylon is one of the most popular fabrics in running shoes, and for good reason—it wicks sweat and it’s stretchy, so it will more easily conform to the shape of your feet while you’re on the run. Polyester has a lot of the same benefits as nylon, but it may not be as durable.

Match the shoe to your running form

Pronation refers to how your feet roll inward when they hit the ground and move you forward. The way you pronate affects the way your running shoes age, and the level of pronation differs from person to person, so it’s important to choose a pair of running shoes that complements your form. Overpronation wears away the inside edge of the shoe, while supination erodes the outer edge. A 200-pound runner who overpronates or supinates will need to replace their running shoes more often than someone who is thinner and has basic pronation.

Runners who overpronate roll their feet disproportionately inward when they land and require shoes with more stability, structured support, and motion control. Supination refers to rolling your feet outward upon landing, which is relatively uncommon. For those who run like this, however, shoes with more cushion and flexibility are ideal.

Best running shoes overall: Under Armour Men’s Charged Assert 8 Running Shoe

Under Armour Men’s Charged Assert 8 Running Shoe

Lightweight mesh lets your feet breathe and molded foam provides reinforced support. Amazon

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These comfortable Under Armour running shoes for men tick enough boxes to make them compatible with a number of jogging environments. The rubber outsole provides traction for gliding over rocks and wet grass, while the compression-molded foam offers ample cushioning to get you over jagged, uneven terrain. Plus, the tight, lightweight mesh will keep sand out and drain excess water during leisurely beach runs. The EVA sockliner gives you additional comfort, and the durable leather overlays help lock in support. These shoes fit true to size, too, so you won’t need to worry about a potential return trip. Find more of the best running shoes for men here.

Best fitting running shoe for wide feet: New Balance Men’s Fresh Foam 1080 V8 Running Shoe

Structured Comfort

Look to this pair for the most specific fit—and for plush foam cushioning that babies your arch. Amazon

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When thinking about fit, width matters as much as length. Runners with wide feet need more spacious shoes that won’t cramp them. These men’s running shoes come in US sizes 4 to 14, with seven different widths, ranging from extra-extra-narrow to extra-extra-wide. It has a foam midsole and flex grooves to provide both a comfortable and protective fit. Choose from among nine colors to align with your personal style.

Best long distance women’s shoe: Brooks Women’s Ghost 13

Neutral Support Type

This shoe’s Segmented Crash Pad absorbs shock and cushions your steps. Amazon

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The Brooks Women’s Ghost 13 are the best running shoes for women who run on the road and cross-training. Its custom cushioning keeps you comfortable while also maintaining durability. The DNA LOFT extends to the forefoot so that every step is seamless. Best of all, it does all this without being bulky—the 3D Fit Print helps the shoe fit on your foot like a sock.  

Best cushioned running shoe: ASICS Men’s Gel-Venture 7 Trail Running Shoes

ASICS Men’s Gel-Venture 7 Trail Running Shoes

This tough running shoe built for the rugged outdoors is soft and flexible enough to mold itself to the shape of your feet. Amazon

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Comfort is the key feature of these ASICS running shoes for men, and they offer that in various ways. This model has rear-foot GEL technology that provides shock absorption and works in tandem with OrthoLite X-40 sockliner, which introduces an additional layer of cushioning and moisture-wicking. The shoe’s synthetic leather upper boosts support while the ASICS High Abrasion Rubber on the outsole bolsters its durability.

Best cushioned women’s running shoe: adidas Women’s Cloudfoam Pure Running Shoe

Everyday Wear

These shoes have a knit textile upper and lace closures for a secure fit. Amazon

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The adidas Women’s Cloudfoams are great for both running a few miles or running some errands. The Cloudfoam sockliner, midsole, and outsole cushion your feet, keeping you incredibly comfortable all day. These women’s running shoes hug your foot, making sure they never slip out on your jog. Choose among 18 colors to suit your personal style.

Best breathable running shoes: adidas Men’s CF Lite Racer Byd

adidas Men’s CF Lite Racer Byd

These are ideal for long, hot runs—plus, you can just toss them in the wash to clean. Amazon

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Wearing these might be the next best thing to running with just your socks on. These adidas running shoes are made of snug, stretchy mesh, ensuring your feet will breathe easily while you’re jogging in them. The OrthoLite sockliner—as well as Cloudfoam midsoles and outsoles—increase the comfort factor. When these men’s running shoes get dirty, you can throw them into the washing machine, but after the gentle cycle is complete, air drying is recommended.

Best running shoe for stability and support: Brooks Men’s Adrenaline GTS 20

Brooks Men’s Adrenaline GTS 20

Works well for those who run on hard surfaces, whether it be asphalt or rocky inclines. Amazon

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Overpronators can run safely without having to adjust how they hit the road. Rather than trying to fix your gait, these running shoes give you the stability and support you need to offset the effect of rolling your feet inward when they land. The GuideRails support system keeps your feet properly positioned while protecting your knees, hips, and joints from injury. These do well for road runners, as the DNA LOFT Crash Pad cushions your feet while not making the shoes any bukier.

Brands to know

Adidas and Nike are the superstars of good running shoes. Everyone has heard their names, and they never seem to go out of style. The iconic rap group Run-D.M.C. had a big ’80s hit with a song called “My Adidas,” and Nike is practically synonymous with basketball legend Michael Jordan. But they aren’t the only running shoes making the rounds. A number of other brands have found great success by offering runners premium physical and aesthetic benefits.

Brooks

When it comes to running, dedication is key, and Brooks couldn’t possibly be more committed. For the past 20 years, the Seattle-based brand has specialized exclusively in running shoes. The company’s focus on the sport has made it the top manufacturer of specialty shoes for running for much of the past decade, so you can’t lose putting your faith—and your feet—in them.

ASICS

Founded in Japan in 1949, ASICS is an acronym for the Latin phrase “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano,” which means “a sound mind in a sound body.” The brand was initially dedicated to making basketball shoes, but it has become best known for making good running shoes that can also function as bold fashion statements.

HOKA

This brand, founded in 2009 by French runners Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, emphasizes luxurious cushioning—which is how it came to be called “King of Cushion.” Its Meta-Rocker design feature combines a low heel drop and a rounded sole to complement the natural stride of runners and promote forward motion. The Active Foot Frame provides additional support by cradling your feet deeper inside the midsole of the running shoes.

Best budget running shoes: What You Get for Under $50

As a general rule, more expensive running shoes isn’t necessarily a better or a safer pair of shoes. As with haute couture, some brands charge higher prices in accordance with their reputation—not because they are offering some special feature that will make going for a run in them better or safer than wearing anything else on the road. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t find a perfectly good pair of men’s running shoes for under $100.

If the idea of handing over a cool hundred to replace them every six months or so makes you wary of hitting the road, there are cheaper options. New Balance Men’s Fresh Foam Evare V1 Running Shoe is available for under $50 a pair, and the model offers many of the same features and benefits as shoes that cost more than twice as much.

FAQ: People also ask

What are the best shoes for running?

The best shoes for running vary from person to person—the important thing is making sure they fit you well from the get-go. If you can’t hit the ground running comfortably from the moment you first step into your running shoes, leave them on the shelf. Have your feet measured while you’re standing up. If they aren’t exactly the same length, go with the larger foot to determine your running shoe size (you can always lace them up a bit tighter on the smaller foot). When you stand on top of your running sneakers, they should more or less line up with the size and shape of your bare feet, without your toes hanging over the front or sides. After you put them on, there should be a thumbnail’s worth of space between your longest toe (which might be the second toe, not the big toe) and the front of the shoe. Check that there is no pressure on your pinky toe and only a slight amount on your big toe. It should be about as snug there as a watch strap is around your wrist.

When you take off in new runners, your heel shouldn’t slip and the surface of the shoe shouldn’t rub uncomfortably against your ankle. If the fabric at the top bunches up, you might need a smaller size, and if it bulges or stretches, go a half size bigger. The best running shoes will become more comfortable over time, but they should fit properly right out of the starting gate.

Are running shoes worth it?

Absolutely—especially if you’re a regular runner. But even if you only go jogging once in a blue moon, it’s essential to keep your feet protected and supported. To make sure you pick out a pair of shoes that are worth it, look into the pronation, which refers to

Runners who overpronate roll their feet disproportionately inward when they land and require shoes with more stability, structured support, and motion control. Supination refers to rolling your feet outward upon landing, which is relatively uncommon. For those who run like this, however, shoes with more cushion and flexibility are ideal.

Putting our foot down

Finding the right pair of the best running shoes can be as grueling an experience as what you do while you’re wearing them, but in the end, the extra effort will pay off. Most people just look for a pair that fits well, but it’s important to remember that other factors contribute to comfort and protection. If your running shoes don’t provide adequate support and cushioning, you might end up sustaining injuries that take you off the road and keep your kicks in the closet.

Different feet have different needs, but it pays to treat a new pair of running shoes like a new car. Take them out for a test run before you commit to them completely, and check that return policy. Your feet and other body parts connected to them will be grateful when you cross the finish line.

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