How to Pick Your Next Running Shoe


By Andrew Bauer, SB Running Shoe Buyer

 
If you're a runner (or even aspiring to be one) you probably know that every runner has "their shoe". The one they buy every year, that fits them perfectly, requires no breaking in period and supports their gait. You may even have more than one: an every day shoe, a shoe for race days, a shoe for interval training, etc. But what happens when "your shoe" is no longer perfect? Maybe you noticed that the sole is wearing down unevenly, or you've started developing shin splints or blisters? Or maybe you found out that "your shoe" isn't manufactured with recycled or sustainable materials, or worse, won't be manufactured anymore at all. What's the next step?

You're in luck, dear reader, because we're in a unique position to not only help you research your next shoe but give you the hands-on help you need to make sure your next pair is even better than your first.
 

 

 

STEP 1: HOW'S YOUR GAIT?

 
You may know what gait analysis is, and you may even have had it done, but if it's been a few years and your shoes aren't working for you like they used to, it's time to be re-evaluated. We can do gait analysis via video, but if it's possible for you, in-person gait analysis is the best of all. Bring in your old shoes so that we can see the wear patterns on the sole and compare that against your gait - you can even recycle your old shoes while you're here.

Here's the basic breakdown:
 

Over-pronation

If your feet seem to roll in on their sides towards each other, then you are likely overpronating. This is often due to having a flat foot, so you’ll want to try shoes in the “motion control” and “stability” categories.
 

Supination

If your foot seems to roll outwards towards your pinky toe when you walk, you are likely supinating (also called under-pronating). You can often blame very high arches for this type of gait which can cause pain in your heel and ankles. Look for shoes that are more flexible but have some cushion to them to reduce the impact of your foot strike.
 

Neutral

Can’t seem to find any of the above patterns in your walk? Then you likely have a neutral gait. While this type of gait is least prone to injury, it’s still important to get the right type of shoe for your foot. Neutral gaiters can choose from a larger variety of shoes but be careful with those that offer too much cushion or support. While they might feel like a dream, they can actually change your gait and your arch over time because they will be overly supported.

 

 

 

STEP 2: NARROW IT DOWN

 
There's more to running shoes than your gait, however. Almost every brand makes a shoe to match each gait, but not all brands work for every runner! Let's narrow it down some more:

Do you prefer a flatter or more pronounced toe-heel drop?

A larger toe-heel drop can help you feel like you're being propelled forward, while a smaller one can help encourage that mid-foot strike we're all aiming for. The effect of the drop is variable depending on the engineering of the shoe...lower drop shoes that have a rocker built into the midsole don't’ feel the same as lower drop shoes without a rockered midsole.

Hoka One One has some form of a rocker built into all of their shoes and their drop averages around 5-6mm.

Saucony has either a 4mm or 8mm drop on all of their shoes; 4mm for the faster tempo options and 8mm for the plush long mileage options.

Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, and New Balance all have great selling, traditional options featuring drops in the 10mm-13mm range. But they’ll also have faster feeling options with lower drops to accommodate the needs of the wide range of runners out there.

Lowest drop is zero drop and that’s where Altra fits the bill. Their foot-shape lasted shoes all feature a zero drop midsole. If you’re new to a low or zero drop shoe, please consult with a footwear expert to understand how it differs from a higher drop shoe for your specific gait.
 

Looking for specific materials or structure?

There are essentially two types of uppers in the world of running shoes: engineered mesh and knit, which is typically made of nylon or a similar proprietary synthetic blend. Mesh is great for breathability, and knit gives you that soft, sock-like feel. Some shoes use a combination of both in different areas of the foot.
 

 
Both mesh and knit uppers will sometimes be supported by synthetic leather (this is especially true for trail runners that need a bit more durability to protect your toes from debris), but most of the time your running shoe's structure and support come in the form of overlays made from more synthetic material. Some shoe brands like On are even minimizing those a lot of the time - check out their Cloud X shoe as an example.
 

Looking for sustainably-produced shoes?

You may have noticed us use the word "synthetic" a lot in that last section. That's because manufacturers create lots of proprietary materials to get the most durability, breathability support and cushion for their components. It's really tough for shoe manufacturers to produce those components from recycled materials and still maintain the same standards of performance that non-recycled materials can achieve (in other words, it's hard for them to stay competitive).

But there is some small progress being made: many brands make their shoe laces with recycled yarn, and you'll see plenty of shoe boxes made out of 100% recycled cardboard. Adidas is probably the most visible with their partnering with Parley for the Oceans to use recycled ocean plastic in manufacturing, but the price points are not quite Basement level yet. Hoka is working hard to produce sustainable footwear (their latest Anacapa hiking boot is a great example), but sustainable running shoes are still in the works.

With that said, if sustainable materials matter to you, reach out to us! Our buyers can pass your feedback along to our vendors and give them the extra motivation they need to invest in sustainability even more.
 

 

 

STEP 3: GIVE 'EM A SPIN

 
We really really really want you to try on your shoes and jog around a bit to see if they feel right. Many of our stores have treadmills so you can really stretch your legs, but even if they don't, we encourage you to take a lap around the store. Here are some things to look for during those initial steps that could end up annoying you later on:
 

Try on shoes at the end of your day.

Your feet spread and swell when you've been on your feet for a while. Conveniently, your feet tend to spread and swell up a bit when you run, too! You'll get a more accurate fit later in the day.
 

 
Feel for movement within the shoe.

If you feel rubbing on your heel, the top of your toes or at the ball of your foot, the fit ain't right. Don't forget that widths exist too! You may be a wide width in one model but a standard width in another model.
 

Aim for a thumbnail's width of space between your toes and the front of the shoe.

We mentioned the feet spreading thing? Giving yourself some extra space accounts for spreading, swelling and downhills.
 

Try on both shoes.

You are not perfectly symmetrical, and we like you like that! One of your feet may fit differently than the other - fit your shoes to your larger foot.
 

Bring your accessories!

If you wear orthotics, have insoles or socks you prefer, bring 'em in! All that stuff changes your fit.
 

If you have a shoe brand you like, try other shoes by that manufacturer.

Manufacturers all have a proprietary last that their shoes are built off of. If your old shoes fit you well, but are no longer being made, look for models by the same brand. If your old shoes are definitely not working for you any more, try a different brand.

With all that said, if you take them home and discover that despite all your efforts they're still not perfect, don't despair! We really do want you to love your purchase, and you can bring back your worn shoes at any time. We would be more than happy to find you more options and make sure that you're striding off into the sunset in your dream shoes.

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