How To Buy Running Shoes

The pri­ma­ry fac­tors in select­ing the appro­pri­ate shoes for your feet include arch shape, how your foot strikes and push­es off the ground, shoe types ver­sus the type of ter­rain you train on, and the kind of mileage you’re putting in. It pays to learn about your feet and deter­mine the best type of shoe to sup­port your build and style. The fol­low­ing top­ics will help you learn how to choose the best run­ning shoes for your style.

Types: Run­ning shoes can vary dras­ti­cal­ly depend­ing on what type of run­ning you do. Match­ing the appro­pri­ate type of shoe with the style of run­ning you reg­u­lar­ly engage in is vital for keep­ing feet hap­py and healthy. There are three pri­ma­ry types of run­ning shoes and one unique run­ning style that we’ll dis­cuss in this guide:

Bare­foot: Bare­foot run­ning has gained momen­tum in recent years due to research sug­gest­ing a cor­re­la­tion between heel strik­ing and run­ning shoes. The research argues that the human body is built to run most effi­cient­ly when the foot first strikes the ground with the mid-foot or fore­foot, rather than with the heel.

Min­i­mal­ist: Min­i­mal­ist run­ning shoes offer a solu­tion for run­ners who are inter­est­ed in the the­o­ry behind bare­foot run­ning and would like to strength­en their foot and ankle mus­cles grad­u­al­ly by chal­leng­ing them to work hard­er than they would in tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes, but with­out the risks asso­ci­at­ed with bare­foot run­ning, such as bruis­ing or cuts.

It is worth not­ing that indi­vid­u­als with high arch­es tend to adjust faster to min­i­mal­ist run­ning shoes than run­ners with low or flat arch­es because high arch­es nat­u­ral­ly require less arch sup­port. Min­i­mal­ist run­ning shoes offer a height dif­fer­ence between the shoe sole from the heel and the top of at least half the dis­tance (0–5 mm) than gen­er­al­ly found in tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes (10–12 mm). These shoes also usu­al­ly offer a wider toe box, allow­ing toes to nat­u­ral­ly splay while run­ning, or fit around each toe individually.

Tra­di­tion­al: These line the walls of run­ning stores across the coun­try, save for a small row that may have recent­ly been added to accom­mo­date a grow­ing inter­est in min­i­mal­ist and trail run­ning shoes.

Tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes include cush­ioned soles, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the heel (thus heav­ier than min­i­mal­ist shoes). Tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes offer a vari­ety of dif­fer­ing arch heights and curves to accom­mo­date run­ners with vary­ing arch types, from those who push off from the ground from their big toe (prona­tion), to those who push off the ground with the out­side of their foot (supina­tion), or those who push off the ground most­ly straight (neu­tral).

Tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes are designed for the most com­mon run­ning sur­face for recre­ation­al run­ners – flat pave­ment. The over­all goals of a tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoe is to keep runner’s feet pro­tect­ed from the ele­ments and aid all run­ners in hav­ing as close to a neu­tral push-off as pos­si­ble, with the inten­tion of reduc­ing injury through a more per­fect form.

Trail: Trail run­ning shoes are designed with holes, nat­ur­al debris, uneven ground, and oth­er nat­ur­al obsta­cles in mind; they con­sist of thick­er soles, larg­er and deep­er tread, and thick­er and stronger uppers (the entire shoe above the sole). Trail run­ning shoes are rec­om­mend­ed to run­ners who run on non-paved, uneven trails. Trail shoes are not nec­es­sary for pave­ment, track, or wood chipped trail runs.

Fit: There are five main con­sid­er­a­tions for deter­min­ing a prop­er­ly fit­ting run­ning shoe:

Weight: The weight of a run­ning shoe varies with the type of shoe and mate­ri­als used. Min­i­mal­ist shoes, at around 10 ounces, weigh the least. Tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes and trail run­ning shoes are the heav­i­est, due to cush­ion­ing, thick­er uppers, and thick­er soles often made of car­bon rub­ber. Run­ning shoes of all types may add nylon or mesh pock­ets around the upper part of the shoe in an effort to improve breatha­bil­i­ty and reduce weight.

Mid­sole Tech­nol­o­gy: The mid­sole includes the mate­ri­als between the sole (out­sole) and all parts of the shoe vis­i­ble above the sole (upper). Mid­soles exist for cush­ion­ing and sta­bil­i­ty. Although the mate­ri­als used in mid­soles vary by man­u­fac­tur­er, there are a few basic com­po­nents in the vast major­i­ty of run­ning shoe midsoles:

Eth­yl­ene Vinyl Acetate (EVA): This foam is used pri­mar­i­ly as a cush­ion­ing agent.

Ther­mo­plas­tic Polyurethane (TPU): This is a flex­i­ble plas­tic used for sta­bi­liz­ing purposes.

Posts: These are areas of con­densed EVA intend­ed to cre­ate spe­cif­ic areas of the mid­sole that are hard­er to com­press. Posts are used in sta­bi­liz­ing shoes, aimed at cor­rect­ing prona­tion or supina­tion and encour­age feet to push off the ground in a more neu­tral position.

Plates: Often made of nylon or TPU, plates are intend­ed to help stiff­en the shoe’s fore­front. Plates are most com­mon­ly used in trail run­ning shoes for addi­tion­al pro­tec­tion against hard­er, uneven objects such as rocks.

Shanks: Gen­er­al­ly used in trail run­ning shoes, shanks run through the mid­dle of the shoe to stiff­en and pro­tect arch­es and heels.

Cush­ion­ing: Cush­ion­ing min­i­mizes the impact that foot strikes have on a runner’s joints and mus­cles. The out­sole, or bot­tom, of the shoe is the pri­ma­ry impact point, so it is nat­u­ral­ly also where most of the cush­ion­ing is locat­ed. Most tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes are made with car­bon rub­ber on the heel – where many peo­ple strike first – then blown rub­ber along the fore­foot. Trail run­ning shoes out­soles are often com­plete­ly made of car­bon rub­ber for the com­bi­na­tion of cush­ion­ing and longer sus­tain­abil­i­ty on rough trails.

Sta­bil­i­ty: Some shoes work in ways to sta­bi­lize the foot as it strikes the ground. The more min­i­mal­ist, the less sta­bil­i­ty, the more work required of the runner’s foot and ankle. This is often the desire of a min­i­mal­ist run­ner, as min­i­mal­ist shoes may be used as a train­ing step toward bare­foot run­ning, which requires the most foot strength and nat­ur­al stability.

Some tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes are also called ‘sta­bil­i­ty shoes’ since they offer sta­bil­i­ty against over­prona­tion or over­supina­tion. Over­prona­tion is far more com­mon, but run­ners who do not over­pronate severe­ly may pre­fer the more mild cor­rec­tions offered by sta­bil­i­ty shoes over ‘motion con­trol shoes’, which are designed specif­i­cal­ly to cor­rect extreme over­prona­tion. Trail shoes, how­ev­er, are specif­i­cal­ly designed to be more sta­ble than the aver­age tra­di­tion­al shoe since the expec­ta­tion is that they will be mov­ing over rugged ter­rain the major­i­ty of the time. 

Motion Con­trol: Run­ners who severe­ly over­pronate (mean­ing their foot rolls inward and push­es off the ground from their big toe some­times also rolling their knee slight­ly in), or those who have flat arch­es (which often leads to over­prona­tion any­way) should look into motion con­trol shoes. Motion con­trol shoes have stiffer heels and straighter sides, allow­ing for less over­all curv­ing and rolling of the foot while run­ning. The pri­ma­ry goal of a motion con­trol shoes is to help over­prona­tors have a more neu­tral foot­strike, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly reduc­ing their change of injury.

Shoe components/materials: A run­ning shoe is only as good as its mate­ri­als. Although a run­ner will learn their per­son­al pref­er­ences over time, it helps to know what to consider.

Shoe lasts: The last is a mold used to cre­ate shoes; it deter­mines the shape of the shoe. There are three pri­ma­ry styles of run­ning shoe lasts, used for both genders:

Straight lasts: These are used in the cre­ation of sta­bil­i­ty and motion con­trolled run­ning shoes, intend­ed for run­ners with flat arch­es and those who severe­ly overpronate.

Semi-curved lasts: These include a slight curve around the area of the foot’s arch and are used in the cre­ation of neu­tral shoes, used by run­ners who nei­ther pronate nor supinate.

Curved lasts:
These include a large curve in the arch area, intend­ed for the cre­ation of shoes for run­ners with stiff, high arch­es and run­ners who supinate.

Clo­sures: Run­ning shoe clo­sures are sim­ply how the shoe is held onto your foot.

Laces: By far the most com­mon run­ning shoe clo­sure, laces are the stan­dard by which oth­er sys­tems are judged. Laces have proven to be an effec­tive way to “tie your shoes” since the term was coined. Yet there are more to laces than string. Some lay flat, oth­ers round­ed, and almost all are tipped with an item named an aglet. You’re wel­come cross­word aficionados.
Dials: Some types of run­ning shoes have replaced laces with a knob that twists and tight­ens the shoe around the foot. These are quick, light and durable but found only in a few mod­els. The most well known is made by Boa Tech­nolo­gies and sim­i­lar, but liter, than the ubiq­ui­tous snow­board boot closure.

Speed Laces: Sev­er­al mod­els of trail run­ning shoes and some rac­ing shoes such as the well reviewed Salomon S‑Lab Sense use speed lac­ing sys­tems. These are very light and usu­al­ly well inte­grat­ed into the engi­neer­ing of the shoe. 

Uppers: The entire shoe north of the sole is con­sid­ered the upper. Uppers are either con­nect­ed to the sole through a method called slip last­ing, mean­ing that it’s tucked under and glued direct­ly to the sole, or through a method called board last­ed, mean­ing a board is placed over the tucked por­tion of the upper. Board last­ed uppers are used in the cre­ation of sta­bi­liz­ing or motion con­trolled shoes intend­ed to help con­trol over­prona­tion. Although the style and col­ors of uppers may vary great­ly between man­u­fac­tur­ers, the mate­ri­als used in con­struct­ing uppers are typ­i­cal­ly a com­bi­na­tion of two or more of the following:

Syn­thet­ic leather: Syn­thet­ic leather is actu­al­ly extreme­ly com­mon for run­ning shoes. Syn­thet­ic leather is typ­i­cal­ly seen lin­ing the toe box, heel cup, and lac­ing holes of a run­ning shoe (the areas of the shoe that are most like­ly to receive pulling, impact, or scuff­ing that caus­es wear and tear) due to its strength and dura­bil­i­ty. Addi­tion­al syn­thet­ic leather may be used in trail run­ning shoes to offer addi­tion­al pro­tec­tion to feet from trail debris, roots, and rocks. Because syn­thet­ic leather does not breathe, it typ­i­cal­ly only cov­ers high impact areas and is usu­al­ly sep­a­rat­ed by anoth­er, more breath­able mate­r­i­al such a nylon or nylon mesh.

Nylon and nylon mesh: These mate­ri­als are usu­al­ly found along the top of the toe box and on the sides of shoes, as they pro­vide breatha­bil­i­ty for a runner’s foot, keep the over­all weight of the shoe down, and are con­sid­ered durable to han­dle the sev­er­al hun­dred miles of wear and tear that run­ners put on their shoes.

Ther­mo­plas­tic ure­thrane (TPU) over­lays: These over­lays are placed over the shoe’s breath­able pan­els, like in the arch and heel, because they are strong enough to increase the shoe’s sta­bil­i­ty and over­all dura­bil­i­ty.

Waterproof/breathable uppers: This type of upper uti­lizes a mem­brane bond­ed to the lin­ing inte­ri­ors which allows mois­ture (in most cas­es, sweat) from a runner’s foot to escape the shoe while still keep­ing mois­ture, such as rain, dew, or pud­dles from seep­ing into the shoe. Although this mate­r­i­al makes a small over­all com­pro­mise with breatha­bil­i­ty in order to keep mois­ture out, the poten­tial to avoid blis­ters from excess wet­ness can cer­tain­ly make or break a train­ing sched­ule or race for some runners.

Heel Counter: The stiff cup-shaped form on the back of a run­ning shoe is the heel counter. The pur­pose of a heel counter is to aid in sta­bi­liz­ing the runner’s heel while in motion, as well as to help cush­ion the heel as it strikes the ground.

Out­sole: The bot­tom of a run­ning shoe, or the part of the shoe that touch­es the ground, is known as the out­sole. Out­soles vary depend­ing on the type of run­ning shoe. Min­i­mal­ist shoes have very thin and rel­a­tive­ly out­soles. Tra­di­tion­al run­ning shoes have thick­er out­soles with a vari­ety of tread designs, and they usu­al­ly use car­bon rub­ber in the heel and blown rub­ber near the fore­foot. Trail run­ning shoes often have the thick­est out­soles, with large, deep, waf­fle iron type treads, which are com­prised entire­ly of car­bon rub­ber. Road rac­ing shoes, some­times called flats, have out­soles com­prised com­plete­ly of blown rub­ber. Blown rub­ber out­soles are lighter, but car­bon rub­ber out­soles last longer before wear­ing down.