More than ever before, the marketplace offers a shoe for every runner. From barefoot to beefed-up varieties, running footwear runs the gamut. But there can be too much of a good thing, particularly when you're at your local running store, standing in front of a towering shoe wall and hemming and hawing over what shoe is right for you.
To narrow down your options, you need to equip yourself with some solid intel. Once you know the shoe categories and where your foot fits, shopping will be easier and you’ll run better in the shoes you choose.
A smart salesperson will take into account your injury history and running goals to help you make a choice. But going to the store armed with a basic understanding of the shoes, you’ll be able to better communicate exactly what you’re looking for and what might work best for your training. Your running shoe education begins here.
This category offers a well-cushioned shoe without any medial posting or extra arch support. This is a hot category for runners with fairly high arches. Since a higher arch usually means a rigid foot, a stiff shoe isn’t necessary.
Brooks Ghost 5 (at top)
This award-winning neutral trainer from Brooks gets it just right. The right amount of cushion, a cozy fit and all-terrain versatility without giving you too much shoe. They're fairly lightweight (11.3 oz.) given their durable, sturdy (not stiff!) build. Expect to get a lot of miles out of these. $110.
Mizuno Wave Precision 13
The neutral Precision is a traditional trainer, with a lot of underfoot cushioning and a fairly high heel-to-toe drop. But it's lighter than most of its neutral counterparts (at 9.6 oz.) and encourages good form while providing everyday, all-purpose utility. The upper is roomy enough for wide and tall feet, but lacing options allow it to snug in for lower-volume feet, too. Consider this a go-to training shoe. $110
The stability category is where the majority of runners tend to migrate. Stability shoes offer ample cushioning, but also added arch support. If you have flatter feet—which are more flexible, causing them to roll inward, or overpronate—the medial posting helps control excessive foot motion by supporting the arch and eliminating inward torque. It’s a great solution for runners with chronic knee pain associated with overpronation.
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 13
The GTS—or "go-to shoe"—is the most popular shoe in Brooks' lineup, and for good reason. This classic stability shoe features a medial post that's firmer toward the shoe's inside edge, helping reduce the foot's inward roll. Yet for all the extra stability it offers to overpronators, the Adrenaline remains pretty light (11.3 oz.) and flexible, thanks to the addition of deep grooves in the midsole foam. This is a solid daily trainer. $110
Saucony ProGrid Guide 6
Saucony's flagship shoe is also one of its lightest, at only 10 oz. After a major overhaul last season, this year's Guide is only slightly updated, increasing flexibility in what's always been a warrior of a stability trainer. As always, this classic provides a good balance of mild stability and lightness while providing adequate cushioning for plenty of miles. $110; saucony.com
A dwindling category, motion control shoes are the heaviest of the bunch. These shoes are also the stiffest shoes around, specifically made to offer supreme support to runners with extremely flat feet and weak ankles. With a growing movement towards lighter weight shoes, though, there are fewer and fewer motion control options every year. Even still, a small number of runners will find this to be the best shoe to keep them up and running.
Mizuno Wave Alchemy 12
The Alchemy is a lightweight control shoe with a flat midsole, high support and wider base that delivers the smooth run and uncompromising structure required by severe overpronators. Plastic plates protect feet from inward rolling, and durable carbon rubber helps keep the whole package light and extremely firm. In short, this protective trainer is the solution to your problem feet, though it may require some breaking in. $115
Brooks Trance 12
The more control and stability you require, the heavier your shoe will generally have to be, and for good reason. It takes a lot of cushioning, and a lot of smart technology to provide adequate support to severe overpronators without significantly slowing them down. The Trance has all the design work of the Batmobile, including Brooks' proprietary Caterpillar Crash Pad to smooth heel-to-toe transition and DNA Technology gel cushioning that responds to the amount of force placed on the foot, providing custom support. If that's not enough to keep your stride in line, you're probably out of luck.
For the most part, trail runners are heavier than road shoes, and are designed to support and protect the foot on rugged terrain—roots, rocks, mud and other obstacles. They tend to have durable soles fortified to protect against these uneven surfaces and aggressive treads for better off-road traction.
Of course, some road shoes will do just fine on fire roads and tamer trails, but when the going gets rough, you'll be happy to have trail shoes.
Asics GEL FujiRacer
This fast and light (8.8 oz.) trail racer is pretty much an Asics road shoe upper with a tough sole. It sports burly, x-shaped lugs on the tread for better grip on the trails, as well as a plastic plate beneath the outsole for protection against sharp sticks and rocks. Diamond-shaped "drain holes" extend from the footbed all the way through to the outsole, allowing water to be quickly and effectively pushed out of the shoe when you're splashing through streams or wet, slushy snow. $110
Brooks Cascadia 8
This traditional trail runner offers a good mix of cushioning, fit and agility on the trails, which comes at the cost of a little weight (11.9 oz). The woven microfiber uppers keep out grit while shedding water, a rock protector in the forefoot keeps sharp sticks and uneven rocks at bay, and the tread is burly and grippy. In short, the Cascadia will take on any terrain you can throw at it—rugged technical, mud, rocks, roots, you name it—with ease and aplomb. Looking for something similar, but with a touch less bulk? Try the 10-ounce Brooks PureGrit 2. $120
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