Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Here are the six things you need to know about buying new running shoes.
Shoe Buying Tip #1: A Good Fit is of the Utmost Importance
Finding shoes that fit your foot size and shape is crucial. While it’s obviously important to get the correct length, the width and volume of the shoe are important too. While the width of the toe box is somewhat of a personal preference or related to what kind of running you’re doing, shoes should fit snug in the heel and in the midfoot area with no slippage, irritations or awkward sensations. With more than 50 shoes to choose from every season, that’s no easy task. Different brands fit differently because most shoes have a different “last,” or the foot-shaped mold which a shoe is built around.
The key is finding a shoe with the size and shape that fits the size and shape of your feet. Start by visiting a running specialty shop and take time to try on several pairs and run around the store before you consider buying anything. Step-in comfort is great, but you need to see how they feel when they’re laced up and how your foot moves in them while running and on the surfaces you’ll be running on.
Shoe Buying Tip #2: Don’t Fall Prey to Trends
Minimlism, maximalism…who cares? Seriously, don’t worry about what everyone is talking about. Go to a running specialty shop and try on a bunch of styles of shoes and, with the help of the shop’s shoe fitter, let your brain and feet decide which models are best for you. It’s important to know what kind of running you’ll be doing in the shoes, what kind of runner you are and what your preferences are. The recent running shoe revolution that started with minimalism now spans the spectrum all the way to maximalism. But the bottom line is that it has led to the development of great shoes in all categories.
With the guidance of an expert shoe fitter, you should be able to decipher what kind of shoe (or shoes) you need for your running. You’ll immediately know if you’re trying out the wrong shoe, but at the same time you should be able to sense which shoes tend to work well based on your try-on process.
Shoe Buying Tip #3: Understand What “Heel-Toe Offset” Means
The heel-toe offset of a shoe is the differential of the height off the ground of your heel and your forefoot. In other words, it’s the difference in height between where the heel sits on the footbed in a shoe and the forefoot sits on the footbed in the shoe. (Some refer to it as “heel drop” or “delta H” or simply the “H-delt” of a shoe.) It’s important because for years, most training shoes had a 12mm-13mm heel-toe offset. But in recent years, studies have shown that a lower heel-toe drop can put a runner into better running posture and facilitate more efficient form. While there are plenty of models in the traditional range, most shoe manufacturers are making shoes with lower offsets, ranging from slightly lower (9mm-11mm) to moderate (4mm-8mm) to very low (0mm-4mm).
While most runners can probably benefit from transitioning to a slightly lower offset, be careful about dropping down too far too fast. Essentially, the lower heel-toe offset means your foot will sit in a flatter position and your heel will be lower to the ground relative to your forefoot. Initially most runners will feel some soreness in their Achilles and lower calf muscles and might need an adjustment period and/or specific form and strength drills to fully adapt. Find out what works for you, but be careful about dropping down to a very low heel-toe offset (0mm-4mm) too soon or at all. If a more moderate heel-toe drop (4-8mm) works for you, stick with that.
Shoe Buying Tip #4: Buy Running Shoes Only for Running
Don’t shop for a shoe by color or how it looks with jeans. Don’t wear your running shoes to work, to the mall, to school or on a hike. Avoid mowing the lawn in your running shoes. Wearing running shoes for non-running activities will break them down sooner and lessen their performance on the run. According to a recent running industry survey, the top variables runners use for buying running shoes are color, price and brand. As stated earlier, your top criteria should be all about how it fits your foot, followed by the type of running you’ll do in that shoe.
Shoe Buying Tip #5: Develop a Quiver of Shoes
The benefit of being able to run in two or more different kinds of shoes during a week is that it will slightly alter the movements of your feet, ankles and legs and give your body a slightly different stimulus. For example, integrating a lightweight trainer into your weekly regimen will allow you to run faster workouts more efficiently. You might prefer a softer shoe for recovery runs. Or you might alternate the shoes you wear on various surfaces. If you can avoid it, don’t run in the same shoes all the time. Yes, running shoes are expensive, but buying a new pair before your previous model completely wears out can help you start to built a quiver.
Shoe Buying Tip #6: Decide How Much You Need (or Want) to Spend on Shoes
Shoe prices are trending up again. Expect $5 to $10 increases for many shoes in the traditional ($100–$120) and premium ($130–$150) categories. But keep in mind that there are also many quality entry-level shoes ($75–$100) available, even if you never see them in most running stores or running magazines. (Those shoes are often at “big box” sporting goods stores or mall stores instead of running specialty shops.) You can sometimes find great deals on the closeout shelves at running stores or at various online site. Before you decide to pay a premium or try to go cheap, make sure your strategy coincides with your running needs.