How to choose the best running shoes

If you're a beginner and don't know where to start when it comes to choosing your first running shoes, read our guide

WhatsTheBest- The best running shoes

by Paul Larkins |

With such a huge range of running shoes on offer, it can be a bit of a minefield. Cushioning, over-pronation, under-pronation and drop are just a few concepts you’ll need to get comfortable with - which is where we come in.

Start with this and you won’t go far wrong: when it comes to choosing the best shoes think about where you are going to run. If it’s on the road, a nice cushioned shoe is good; off-road and you’ll want something with a little grip. From there, the world is your oyster.

Fit is very personal, however, everybody’s feet expand slightly as the day progresses so try on shoes in the afternoon. Similarly, your feet will need about a half size extra for long events such as the marathon as once again, your feet will swell up as the race goes on.

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So, with all this in mind, we've hunted down the best running shoes on the market, so you can really enjoy those long runs or jogs.

What running shoes are best?

Cushioning

Consider your surfaces; do you mix road with trail or is it all out mud? Look for cushioning systems that offer response and energy return. But don’t always think softer is better as slightly harder foams can actually provide better comfort, even hard surfaces like the road. Depending on the research you read, highly cushioned shoes are better for you or equally not; it’s safe to say, cushioning levels are very personal. But generally speaking, cushioning works better for longer, slower distances.

Grip

Choose aggressive lugs for thick muddy off-roading in the mountains, but remember these can be unforgiving and slippy on harder surfaces like paths, trails and tracks. Longer lugs, around 5mm and even more, work superbly on thick mud but will wear very rapidly on the road. We like to think about traction more than grip which allows a certain amount of natural movement rather than a rigid, unforgiving ride.

Weight

Light is not always best; longer training runs, and slow easy days can often feel better in more supportive, cushioned and therefore heavier shoes. Light shoes can come in around the 195g mark, while heavier shoes might top 300g. Both have a role to play. Interestingly, there’s research out there that confirms that there is indeed ‘too light’ for a road running shoe as you won’t benefit from cushioning and energy response.

Drop

This is the difference between the heel and toe; a zero (0mm) drop whatever the amount of cushioning is currently classed as the most natural option, however if you’re not used to this these will make your calves ache. Zero essentially means barefoot - shoes with that drop simulate running without shoes. A 6-8mm is a great mid-way option for trails, while traditional road shoes use a 12mm drop - these tend to be the most cushioned.

Lacing

Some shoes use traditional laces and some have a ‘quick-release’ system, they can both work equally well so it’s just a case of which fits you best and what you prefer. However, note that it is less easy to replace/repair quick-release laces if they brake. More than ever before, today’s lacing systems create a performance fit - in that you feet will go through the best movement for running but with the maximum support.

Fit and comfort

Arguably the most important factor in enabling you to run faster according to the latest research. The bottom line is, even if the shoe feels good, then chances are it is! We’re all very individual and what suits one runner, with apparently exactly the same stride, may not suit another. Generally speaking, look for a narrower fit for racing shoes while for longer distances consider a half size bigger to allow for foot swell over the long distance. Best of all, get your feet measured in the afternoon for a fully accurate reading (and remember, shoe sizes are a mere guide - each company varies slightly).

Uppers

Breathable is best for summer trail shoes; complete waterproofing can work on cold, dry, windy runs but in deep puddles, mud and on wet outings that can mean they fill up with water and hang on to it, resulting in a heavier shoe. Uppers often have a sock-like construction which allows your feet to move more naturally and effectively.

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Rock plate

For trail shoes look for this technology under the forefoot and in the toe area to protect from unwanted stone bruising. It needs to be flexible and responsive but allow protection.

Toe guard

Road running shoes don’t offer this, but given hidden rocks and bits of wood can be a real danger on the trail, this piece of technology is hugely important in a trail shoe

Waterproofing

Some love it, some don’t, that dislike often related to the outdated thought that waterproofing means more weight and less flexible. Thanks to changes in the construction of uppers, this is no longer a problem, although of course super breathable, light summer shoes will always win when it comes to the scales. The best shoes that offer waterproofing also includes outlets for drainage so that when you run through the river any excess water will run away.

Support

Training shoes offer varying levels of support. Most of us overpronate a little meaning a slightly harder inner section on the midsole stops your knee from collapsing inwards as you run. For this reason, it’s often handy to get tested on a treadmill at a specialist running shoe shop. For most of us we need no more than mild support or even just a neutral shoe as some pronation is natural (without it, our knees would become damaged). But for some this can be severe, requiring a more solid instep to the shoe. Support shoes used to be less flexible and heavier, but such is the technology used today, that’s less of an issue.

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