The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Running Shoes

Finding the perfect running shoe can be quite intimidating these days if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are just too many things to consider, whether it relates to different shoe components, functionality, or even an inclination towards specific brands. Choosing the best shoe is about your specific and individual needs - not the logo on the front. The most important aspect is finding a shoe that will prevent injury by providing you with superior cushioning and shock absorption to help you move forward with ease.

Follow our easy steps to learn everything there is to know about choosing the best running shoes to keep you running efficiently and injury-free.

Step 1: Consider the purpose of your running shoe

Road Running - Running shoes are designed to withstand repetitive strides on even, hard surfaces. They are built to be lightweight, flexible and highly cushioned.

Trail Running - Trail Running shoes are designed for off road running to withstand all kinds of obstacles including rocks, mud and roots. They are built with an aggressive tread for improved traction and also offer increased stability and support underfoot.

Step 2: Consider the anatomy of running shoes

Running shoes consist of three main components:

  • Upper
  • Midsole
  • Outsole

1. Upper

This part of the running shoe keeps your foot in place, and also protects it from dirt and rocks. The Upper may usually consist of synthetic leather for durability, reflective material for safety and mesh for breathability.

  • Laces - These are used to pull the Upper around the arch of your foot.
  • Eyelets - The laces of a shoe run through here to tighten the upper around your foot.
  • Tongue - This is the part of underneath the laces. They should line up straight between the eyestays (they anchor the eyelets). You may use the lace keeper to keep the tongue in place.
  • Overlays - This can be anything attached to the Upper, and is often made from reflective materials to increase a runner’s visibility. The Overlays are often welded to the shoe in order to reduce the amount of thread that can irritate the skin while running. Interestingly enough, the famous Adidas stripes originated from three leather overlays that wrapped around early athletic shoes.
  • Collar - This is the part that fits around your ankle, and is in fact always lower on one side. This is because it is supposed to fit snugly around your ankle - which is asymmetrical. Since no two ankles are the same, the collar doesn’t always fit comfortably. Therefore, always opt for a collar consisting of soft material that doesn’t irritate your skin. Lacing your shoes differently can also help in making the collar fit properly on your ankle.
  • Vamp - This is the part of of the upper surrounding the toe box. If you can pinch a centimeter, your shoe is too big; if you can’t move your toes, your shoe is too small.
  • Saddle - This is a portion of reinforced mesh that wraps around the midfoot and supports the arch of your foot.
  • Heel Counter - This is the part that surrounds the heel of your foot. The role of the heel counter is to support your heel and keep it secure through stride. In stability shoes, the heel counter often reaches further down the inside of the shoe in order to control overpronation. Look for a shoe that offers a stable heel counter, but is not too stiff that it irritates your lower ankle.
  • Sockliner - This is not a feature possessed by all running shoes. Since shoes are mass produced to fit a wide variety of foot shapes, manufacturers often use this feature to cover seams and gaps in the shoe construction. This enables the shoe to fit more comfortably.

2. Midsole

This part of a running shoe is considered to be the most important part, and is sandwiched between the upper and outsole.

  • EVA (Ethyl Vinyl Acetate) - This is a lightweight foam-based cushioning included in most running shoes.
  • Dual Density EVA - This is known as a medial post. “Medial” because it is on the inside of the shoe; “Post” because it has a beginning and an end. The length of the Dual Density Eva determines the amount of control the shoe has.
  • Polyurethane - This type of cushioning is known as more durable and stable than the EVA midsole, however, it also weighs more.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

A very popular feature these days, is the heel-to-toe drop of a running shoe. A typical range would be 0-16mm. For example, if it is 4mm - it means that the heel sits 4mm higher than the rest of the forefoot. If it is 0mm - then the heel and the toe is the same distance from the ground.

Physical therapist, Abby Douek, says, “Runners with tight calves and an aggressive heel strike should probably stay in a slightly higher-drop shoe, 10 to 12 millimeters. Also, runners with Achilles tendonitis may need to briefly go into a higher drop to relieve tension on the tendon.”

Jonathan Beverly, author of Your Best Stride, says, “In general, a shoe with a higher drop will be easier on the lower leg—foot, ankle, Achilles, calf—while directing more stress to the knees and hips. A lower-drop shoe will typically spare the knees but put more stress on the lower leg."

3. Outsole

This part of a running shoe protects the underside of your foot from dirt and rocks, and consists of tread for traction and flex grooves for flexibility.

The Outsole is usually made from Carbon Rubber (the same rubber as tyres) or Blown Rubber. Carbon Rubber is known to be the most durable, however, Blown Rubber contains more air and is therefore lighter, more flexible and more cushioned.

  • Tread - This is the part of the shoe that comes in direct contact with the ground. Depending on whether you have trail or running shoes, the tread will look different. On trail shoes, the tread often consists of raised treads (called lugs) that go deeper, with raised edges. This is because traction is more important than cushioning. Running shoes, on the other hand, have treads with more rounded edges. Here, the tread supplies cushioning with added traction, and are often referred to as “waffles”. This references the first popular Nike outsole made by Bill Bowerman with his wife’s waffle iron.
  • Decoupled Heel - This is when there is a split design in the heel strike zone of the sole unit. Its purpose is to improve shock absorption by reducing the amount of impact that travels from the heel to the rest of the shoe. Many of the more recent running shoes employ the use of column-like posts within the heel to act as individual shock absorbers.
  • Footbridge - This is the portion of the shoe that bridges the sole and heel of a shoe. It is a reinforced platform that prevents your running shoe from twisting under landing pressure - which often leads to runner’s knee and other joint injuries. If you want to assess the Footbridge of a running shoe, simply twist the sole side to side in opposite directions. If it is difficult to twist, it had a stable foundation and, therefore, good torsional rigidity (it says put under pressure).

Step 3: Consider your foot shape and biomechanics

Pronation refers to the way your foot’s natural rolling behaviour - from when the heel strikes the ground, to its transition through the gait cycle.

Normal Pronation - Neutral Feet

If your foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inward to absorb shock, you may require a neutral shoe built for overall stability and comfort. After a quick look at your old running shoes you may be able to determine whether you have neutral feet. There shouldn't appear to be any excessive wear on the inner or outer parts of the sole.

A good shoe choice = Mizuno Wave Rider 22

Overpronation - Flat Feet

If you have flat feet, you are likely an overpronator. This means that the kneecap moves offline to outside and doesn't track correctly on the femur. People that suffer from overpronation are most often born with flat feet. However, pregnancy and excess weight can also lead to the condition over time. Have a look at your old running shoes. If they appear to have excessive wear on the inner part of the sole, you are also likely an overpronator.

A good shoe choice = Asics Gel Kayano 26

Underpronation (supination) - High Arches

If you have high arches, you are known as an underpronator. This means that there is a great transmission of shock through your lower leg because your outer heel hits the ground at an increased angle. The foot, therefore, does not roll inward enough. Most people are often born with high arches due to genetic factors. However, as with overpronation, there are a few external environmental factors that could contribute to underpronation over time.

For example, poor form when working out can cause certain muscles to overcompensate leading to misalignment of the body. Additionally, old injuries may also cause weakness in the ankles leading to excess weight being placed on the outside of the foot.

If your old running shoes appear to show excessive wear on the outer edge of the soles, then you likely fall into the category of underpronation.

A good shoe choice = adidas Ultra Boost

Biggest Shoe-Buying Mistakes

1. Assuming your size

Since running shoes are always changing - with new improvements and technology - it is a bad idea to assume that your shoe size will stay the same. When purchasing a new pair of running shoes you should always measure both feet to ensure you buy a well-fitting shoe.

2. Buying at the wrong time of day

Did you know that your feet swell throughout the day? Since your feet are at their largest in the evening, this would be the ideal time to buy a new pair. If you purchase a pair in the morning - it is likely that they will be a little too tight in the evening.

3. Buying for looks

So many people make the mistake of buying shoes because of their inclination toward a specific brand or the way the shoe looks on their feet. When buying a new pair of shoes, it is crucial that you purchase a pair specifically made for running to reduce the risk of potential injuries.

4. Buying the cheapest shoe

Although there are many good quality and well-priced running shoes on the market today, you should avoid always going for the cheapest possible pair. In this case, you will likely end up buying poor quality shoes that won’t last very long, causing you to buy several low quality shoes and waste a lot of money. Instead, weigh up the cost of a shoe with its features - or get a shoe specialist to help you make the best choice for your pocket and individual needs. Additionally, you should also keep in mind that shoes have a lifespan of 500-800 kilometers, and should be replaced accordingly to prevent injury.

5. Wearing shoes without socks

When buying a new pair of shoes, you should always try them on in a similar way that you would use them - whether that is with thick running socks, or even orthotics. Trying on shoes without socks may cause you to buy a shoe a size too small - leading to much discomfort while running, and even unwelcome blisters.

Our Top 5 Road Running Shoes Right Now

  • Asics Gel Nimbus 22

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  • New Balance Fresh Foam 1080

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  • Brooks Ghost 12

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  • Saucony Ride ISO 2

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  • adidas Solar Boost

Our Top 5 Trail Running Shoes Right Now

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  • Asics Fujitrabuco 7

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  • Brooks Cascadia 14

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  • Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3

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  • Hoka One One Speedgoat 3

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Final Thoughts

Take the advice of Dr. Geoffrey Gray - Founder and president of Heeluxe, a leading running shoe research company.

“Once you have found your perfect running shoes, use them just for running! Don't do gardening or grocery shopping in them. If you are going to do gym workouts, like cross training or cross fit, running shoes may be too unstable. Keep your running shoes for running, and consider finding another pair of shoes that you can dedicate to other kinds of workouts.”

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