How to choose running shoes

Despite what some may say, the “best shoe” that universally fits everyone and meets their specific needs doesn’t exist.

Even if you desperately want those new Jordan’s, it may not be the best shoe for you. This is because everyone has their own running style and body type to factor into making a shoe purchase. Plus, how often people run varies greatly.

So, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding how to choose the best running shoe for you.

Does the surface I run on make a difference for running shoes?

Yes, the style of running shoe you purchase should be partially based on which surface you most likely intend to use them on. If you desire to run on pavements, then road shoes are for you. If you tend to run through trails, then lighter race shoes are the best choice as they absorb shock better, reducing your risk of injury.

If the trails you explore often experience rain and get fairly muddy, it would be wise to get a pair of trail shoes with a deeper tread to get a better grip on what would usually be a slippery situation. Not only that, but trail shoes offer more security for your ankles, which is very useful for the unpredictable terrain and weather. Don’t use these shoes on pavement though, as the soles will disappear faster than a Turkey at Thanksgiving dinner.

If you intend on mixing it up, then a hybrid running shoe will do that job. Hybrids supply the balance between grip and cushioning, allowing you to switch between terrains effortlessly.

What kind of socks do I need for running shoes?

People often forget that socks can make a big difference in your running experience. I mean, how often do you think of socks? But when it comes to running, the thickness of your socks greatly affect the rate at which heat is released from your feet. So it would be wise to focus on buying lighter socks.

One quick tip when choosing your shoe is to wear the type of socks you intend to use while running in them. This way, you get the most accurate depiction of how your fresh pair of running shoes will feel in the long run (pun intended). Ultimately, we recommend a technical running sock, one which offers added arch support and padding across your entire underfoot.

Avoid cotton socks as they just absorb the heat which leads to them soaking up all your sweat and causing blisters, calluses and so on. Dodge the cotton before things get rotten.

Do I need to evaluate my feet? If so, how?

It would be incredibly helpful to do a self-evaluation for your feet, but you want to know a secret? Many specialty running shoe stores offer evaluations on the spot, which spares you the possibility of mis-evaluating yourself and getting the wrong pair of shoes.

There are three main foot-types for runners:

  • Neutral: This is when your foot contacts the ground near the center of your foot as you run.
  • Underpronation: When your foot doesn’t roll inward enough as you run. This leads to ineffective impacts, meaning the lateral side of your foot becomes overworked due to overcompensation.
  • Overpronation: When your foot rolls inward too far as you run.

Understanding which category you fall into as a runner can help segregate which pairs of running shoes you need to focus on, and whether or not you need to add something inside the sole to offer more arch support.

Do running shoes fit to size?

Not often. This is because, when you run, the amount of force you’re exerting with each step causes the shoe to spread out, like a pastry being rolled out. To counter this, it’s advisable to get a pair of shoes after being measured at a running shop, as you may have to buy a shoe either a half, or a full size, bigger.

Once you’ve picked out a few pairs to test out, the rule of “thumb” can play as a confirmation tool to see if they are the right size. To measure this, slide your heel all the way to the back of your shoe. Make sure it’s snuggly. Then, place your thumb between your big toe and the front of the shoe. It may not be 100% accurate, but usually if a decent portion of your thumb is touching your toe, then the pair is likely to be too small for when you start running.

What is a heel-toe drop?

A bit confused by this terminology? I was too at first, but it’s quite simple. The “heel-toe drop” is simply referring to the downward “slope” of your running shoes. Ultimately, this is the difference in material under the heel and forefoot of the shoe.

Most running shoes have more material under the heel, as it usually has to take most of the impact. This helps absorb the force your heel undergoes with each landing, doing wonders to prevent you from spraining your ankle or getting shin splints.

But, if you tend to land nearer the center or front of your foot first while running, a pair with a lower heel-toe drop would be beneficial for you as it’s designed to promote a stride that suits your specific gait.

Finish Line 

There are a number of factors to remember when buying a pair of running shoes, especially if you intend to run in them for athletic purposes, such as a marathon. So remember these tips before spending big bucks on a new pair of shoes which may not suit you. Instead, give a pair the same thorough inspection professionals do before making a purchase by following this guide.

Randy Brangman

Randy Brangman is a Licensed Physical Therapist and Exercise Therapist and a former long distance runner. He is the founder and Lead Exercise Instructor at Trinity of Wellness. Spending more time in running shoes than flip flops, he travels the world while going through pair after pair. He is currently writing a book about joint therapy.