In the midst of a global health crisis, people around the world have been forced to take their fitness regimes back to basics. PT sessions have become home workouts, the backyard has replaced the gym and the simple act of running has emerged as the number-one way to stay in shape.
Getting out for a run is exercise in its purest form. Yet while the act itself is simple, there are a few things it’s worth learning about if you’re going to be doing it regularly. First and foremost: running shoes.
Running shoes are the interface between athlete and environment. They’re the only contact point between you and the pavement or trail, so they’re something it’s well worth investing in.
But it’s not as simple as just picking a pair in your favourite colour. If you want to get it right, there are a few things to take into account before parting with your money. Here we explain some of the most important buying considerations where running shoes are concerned and take a closer look at some of the best brands for the job.
Do I Need Running Shoes?
Are you a runner? If you are, a proper pair of running shoes is essential.
This isn’t just a question of comfort. Not only will having the correct footwear make your running experience infinitely more enjoyable, it’ll also greatly reduce the risk of injury. Try to think of it as an investment in your health rather than an unnecessary luxury.
Every time your foot hits the floor while running, it’s absorbing two-to-three times your body weight. Unsurprisingly, this repeated impact can lead to problems without something there to cushion it. That’s why a pair of purpose-designed running shoes is an absolute must .
Trail Vs. Road
Have you ever tried bashing a nail in with a screwdriver? Take it from us, it doesn’t work. Why not? Because it’s not the correct tool for the job. The same logic applies to your running shoes.
There are two key disciplines when it comes to running: road and trail. Every other weird and wonderful sub genre of the sport falls into one of these two camps. They both involve running, but that’s where the similarities end. Rough, off-road terrain and smooth tarmac each offer very different running experiences and therefore require very different shoes.
With road-running shoes, the primary objective is to provide cushioning and stability on flat, hard, even terrain. Trail-running shoes, on the other hand, put grip and traction front and centre, while also offering a degree of underfoot protection and cushioning. Think carefully about where you’re likely to be running most before picking a side. Or just buy both.
The Importance Of Fit
It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to find the right fit when shopping for running shoes. With regular footwear, it’s mostly a case of simply selecting the correct length and width, but for purpose-built running shoes, things get much more complex.
A word that you’ll come across a lot when shopping for running shoes is ‘gait’. Put simply, this means the pattern the limbs move in when walking or running and it’s an important factor in running-shoe fit.
The most critical aspect of gait when it comes to choosing running shoes is pronation: a term that refers to the way in which the foot rolls inwards when walking or running. There are three key types: overpronation (foot rolls inwards excessively), underpronation (foot rolls outwards excessively) and neutral (even distribution). For each type of pronation, there is a type of running shoe to accommodate.
As the name suggests, neutral running shoes are the best choice for those who have a neutral running pattern. The majority of the cushioning is located in the heel and they’re likely to be lighter than other types of running shoes.
Designed to provide increased support to the inside of the foot, stability shoes are perfect for those who overpronate when running. The added support on the inside of the shoe prevents the foot from rolling inwards too far.
Motion-control shoes are designed to keep the foot firmly in place. They usually include a stiff plate in the middle of the sole to support the arch of the foot and are ideal for decreasing foot movement and limiting excessive pronation.
Key Running Shoe Brands
There are hundreds of companies out there producing running shoes, but some are better than others. To make finding the right pair easier, we’ve broken down the best options according to terrain type.
Naturally, there’s a degree of crossover, with some brands developing both road and trail shoes. But from a combination of experience and research, these are the names we’ve found to be ideally suited to each discipline.
The Best Road Running Shoe Brands
It should come as no surprise that the world’s biggest sports brand, with its running roots, makes some of the best running shoes on the market. Nike’s appetite for experimentation and propensity for pushing the envelope has made it an industry leader, a tastemaker and the source of some of the biggest innovations in the sector.
Key styles: ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, Air Zoom Pegasus 2, Air Zoom Structure 23
Without Japanese brand ASICS, there would be no Nike. The brands running shoes were originally imported to the USA by Nike founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, paving the way for the future of athletic footwear. Today the brand is still known for its superior fit and comfort, and continues to produce some of the best running shoes money can buy.
Gel cushioning systems are a signature of ASICS’ designs and something you’ll find in many of the brand’s flagship models.
Key Styles: GEL-Nimbus 23, GT 2000, GEL-Kayano 27
German sportswear giant Adidas is a name woven into the very fabric of modern athletics. The brand has been responsible for creating some of the most iconic running shoes ever made and continues to push the industry forward with constant innovation and experimentation.
In recent years, the advent of the brand’s Boost cushioning technology has shaken up the sports-footwear business, making high-tech foam the new go-to material in sole design.
Key Styles: Ultraboost 20, Adizero Adios Pro, Adidas Solarboost 3
With over 120 years of experience creating footwear for runners, American brand Saucony knows a thing or two about what goes into a good athletic shoe. The brand is one of the original running-shoe innovators but it’s more widely known for its retro styles such as the Jazz, which has been a staple since the 1980s.
Classics aside, Saucony is still pushing things forward with its current-era footwear designs, including the brand’s patented midsole tech that claims to be more flexible and durable than the industry standard EVA cushioning.
Key Styles: Endorphin Pro, Freedom 3, Hurricane 22
Here in the menswear world, New Balance is a well-loved name. The Bostonian sneaker brand is known for delivering some of the best lifestyle trainers ever created and is a firm favourite of everyone from midwestern dads to fashion aficionados. But it’s not all about looks here. Au contraire. In fact, New Balance is one of the top brands out there when it comes to specially designed, premium running footwear.
Key Styles: FuelCell TC, Fresh Foam 880 V10, Fresh Foam 1080 V10
The Best Trail Running Shoe Brands
Salomon’s technical trail runners are famously firm, grippy, fast and more recently, en vogue. The French brand has long been making equipment for alpine athletes and off-road runners are no exception. Salomon has been responsible for a number of game-changing innovations in the world of trail running, from quick-lacing systems to its industry-leading 3D chassis. But recently the brand has gained an unexpected following within the fashion community and has even started to produce some more style-focused adaptations of its off-road shoes, including collaborations with the likes of Palace and Boris Bidjan Saberi.
Key Styles: Speedcross 5, S/Lab Ultra 3, XA Pro 3D V8
Hoka One One
Having only been around for a shade over a decade, French brand Hoka One One is a relative newcomer to the scene. But in just a few short years, this innovative running-footwear specialist has managed to win over both serious athletes and fashion insiders alike with its blend of uncompromising performance and unusual looks.
The brand’s shoes all follow a maximalist design principle which aims to provide a cloud-like feeling underfoot by providing extreme cushioning and support.
Key Styles: Speedgoat 4, Evo Mafate 2, Challenger ATR 5
Italian brand La Sportiva has experience in performance footwear dating back almost a century. Founder Narciso Delladio started out making boots for farmers before moving on to produce custom mountaineering boots for soldiers in World War II.
Today, the brand is known for producing some of the best technical mountaineering and alpine sports footwear in the world, including trail-running shoes with scary-sounding names.
Key Styles: Ultra Raptor, Mutant, Kaptiva
Since its launch in the early 2000s, Inov-8 has become the go-to brand for runners who regard tarmac with disdain. The shoes are designed to be lightweight and have earned praise for their impressively grippy soles, each tailor-made to perform well on a specific type of terrain. The secret ingredient is the use of sticky rubber outsoles inspired by climbing shoes that help to keep runners’ feet planted, even on highly technical, uneven ground.
Key Styles: Roclite G 275, Trailroc G 280, Terraultra G 270