Ask any running enthusiast, and they’ll tell you: “The only way to find the best running shoes for beginners is to go to a physical store and get fitted.”
We agree that your local running store is a valuable resource. But for many, paying them a visit isn’t an option right now.
So if you’re ready to jump feet-first into shopping for running shoes online, we’ve put together a quick and easy guide to get you started.
From a manufacturing viewpoint, running shoes are made of dozens of small, interconnected parts. Fortunately, as a consumer, there are just a few of these parts you need to be aware of.
Watch a few running shoe reviews on YouTube, and you’re sure to hear this term. Luckily, it’s extremely straightforward.
The term “upper” encompasses everything on a shoe that covers the foot. This includes the heel counter, tongue, toe box, and lacing system.
Your running shoe’s insole is the piece of material your foot actually rests on. Insoles are normally quite thin and exist to protect the heftier midsole underneath.
In the simplest term, the midsole is a running shoe’s actual underfoot cushioning.
Midsoles range from extremely thick and cushioned to hard and thin. When you see shoes advertised as including air, gel, or foam, the brand is talking about the midsole material.
Since midsoles are made from somewhat soft and forgiving materials, exposing them to the elements would spell disaster. The outsole’s job is to protect the shoe’s inner-cushioning and provide traction against the running surface.
Running shoes (and their outsoles) are typically classified as either road or trail shoes. If you plan to run on both types of terrain, you’re going to need multiple pairs of shoes.
Shopping for running shoes can feel like interpreting a foreign language. Here are the must-know terms for beginners and how to use this information to find the perfect pair of shoes for your newfound hobby:
When running shoe manufacturers talk about stack height, they’re referring to the amount of material between your foot and the ground — i.e., the insole, midsole, and outsole. The larger the stack height, the more cushioning between the running surface and your feet.
Stack height plays a big role in running shoe comfort and performance. For example, the barefoot running trend saw an increase in shoes with stack heights as thin as one millimeter (mm). These shoes offer little more than a thin piece of rubber between you and the ground.
For beginners, we recommend a stack height near 20 mm. This is what most runners prefer but still gives you plenty of room to experiment with different stack heights down the road.
Directly related to stack height, a shoe’s drop refers to the differential between the heel and toe box heights.
Most running shoes have a non-zero drop. The higher the drop, the higher up your heel sits in relation to your toes.
Zero drop shoes feature a heel and toe that are the same height. This mimics the angle of your feet when standing barefoot. While zero drop shoes go hand-in-hand with minimalist running, you can also find zero-drop models with tons of cushioning.
Again, the best running shoes for beginners are somewhere in the middle. Look for a drop between 8 mm and 12 mm for your first pair of shoes.
Running shoes that advertise greater stability are inherently better, right? Well, depending on your foot shape and running gait, this may or may not be true.
Runners can be grouped into several categories, depending on how their feet hit the ground:
Stability and control shoes are designed specifically for those in the last category. These running shoes offer more support and help “steer” pronated feet into a more neutral position.
Neutral and supinating runners should always wear non-stability shoes. These models are typically marketed as “neutral” shoes or simply lack any mention of control.
Learning your foot strike pattern can be difficult, especially as a beginner. If you don’t know which category you fall into, invest in neutral shoes for your first pair.
Looking for a way to maintain your fitness without stepping foot in a cramped gym? Or just ready to try out running for the first time?
Here are the best running shoes to spend your first miles in:
Want to ramp up your hiking and turn it into trail running? Or are you a casual road runner looking to hit the dirt? The ASICS Gel-Venture 7 is a great shoe to start with.
Since off-road running involves a lot more wear-and-tear on your feet and ankles, the ASICS Gel-Venture 7 offers extra shock absorption in the heel and a stiff upper.
Despite the extra midsole padding, these shoes feature a stack height of 20 mm and a drop of 10 mm. This makes them some of the best running shoes for beginners or fans of mid-range cushioning.
If, after trying on a few models, you think you’d prefer a pair with lots of cushioning, the Brooks Ghost 12 might be the perfect fit.
The Brooks Ghost 12 is a neutral road shoe with a standard 12 mm drop. However, the heel stack height measures a whopping 31 mm.
Yes, this means lots of soft padding between you and the ground. But it can also mean a shoe that feels unstable or cumbersome on non-flat surfaces.
Brooks is known for making extremely lightweight shoes, but with such a thick sole, the Ghost 12 is an anomaly. The women's version weighs 9.3 oz, and the men's version weighs 10.4 oz. For beginners, though, the extra weight shouldn’t be a big deal.
The Altra Escalante 2 is a shoe experienced runners either love or hate. When it comes to finding the best running shoes for beginners, though, it’s definitely a unicorn worth mentioning.
These road shoes feature a moderately thick stack height of 24 mm. But this cushioning is contrasted by a zero-drop design. In other words, the sole is the same thickness at both your heel and your toes.
As far as the upper is concerned, the mesh knit material is extremely breathable and flexible. Yet it also won’t slip around during wear.
One of the best ways to save money as a new runner is by buying “outdated” shoes. After all, companies are constantly releasing new and improved models of their most popular shoes and putting the older versions on sale.
Nike’s Pegasus is one of the best-selling running shoe lines of all time. This is largely because of its simple, middle-of-the-road design. And with the release of the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37, the most recent predecessor is more affordable.
Unlike other shoes, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 varies in a few ways between the women’s and men’s versions.
The xxxx women’s version has a 20.75 mm heel height with a 9.45 mm drop. It weighs 8.08 oz. Meanwhile, the xxxx men’s version boasts a 22 mm stack height and a 10 mm drop. It weighs a bit more at 9.58 oz.
While the Adidas Duramo 9 are technically running shoes, they really work best as cross-trainers. Instead, they’re ideal for anyone who does light running workouts alongside interval training or weightlifting.
Adidas does market these shoes as suitable for road or trail running. You’ll likely have no issue on manicured gravel roads or soft grass. Realistically, though, the Duramo 9 outsole won’t provide enough traction for rough terrain.
These running shoes feature the Adidas Cloudfoam material in the midsoles for supportive cushioning. The heel stack height comes in at 23.5 mm with a 9.5 mm total drop.
Another great pair of older running shoes are the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20. Since Brooks tend to be a bit expensive sometimes, last season’s models are a great place to find the best running shoes for beginners.
The Adrenaline GTS 20 has a thick sole, measuring 30 mm at the heel. Paired with the shoe’s 12 mm drop, these are very similar to the Brooks Ghost 12.
The big difference is that these are stability shoes and have built-in support for runners who overpronate.
Looking for any shoes, not just the best running shoes for beginners, is a challenge when you have wide feet. If you’re someone who needs or prefers a wide toe box, we recommend the Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2.
This is another neutral shoe built for running on the road, indoor track, or treadmill. What you sacrifice in heavy-duty traction, though, you really make up for in weight and comfort.
These shoes feature a rather thick stack height of 29 mm. A standard drop of 10 mm balances the thick heel out quite a bit.
Overall, we encourage beginners to try out moderate cushioning and drop for their first pair of running shoes. But if you just can’t resist the “barefoot” trail running trend, the Merrell Trail Glove 4 is a good middle-ground.
At first sight, these sleek shoes certainly don’t look like they’re built for the trail. The rugged outsole and lightweight mesh upper beg to differ.
The Merrel Trail Glove 4 is lightly cushioned with a stack height of 11.5 mm. Since these are zero drop shoes, the heel and toe are level with each other.
As far as premium running brands go, New Balance is certainly up there. So if you’re looking for the best running shoes for beginners, stick with a budget-friendly model like the Fresh Foam Arishi v3.
New Balance doesn’t actually share an exact stack height for the Fresh Foam Arishi v3. Based on the brand’s similar running shoes, the heel likely measures around 30 mm thick.
We do know that these shoes feature an 8 mm drop, which is slightly less than the average.
The Saucony Cohesion 11 is a simple introduction to a brand known for running tech and innovation. This simplicity also means these shoes won’t cost a small fortune.
New runners can expect a neutral, road-friendly design from the Cohesion 11. While great for short distances, you won’t want to put in dozens of miles at a time wearing them (something beginners don’t need to worry about, anyway).
With so much cushioning inside, the 29 mm stack height isn’t surprising. The 12 mm drop is also a little more than average, but nothing crazy.
On your search for Cinderella’s slipper, remember that every runner is different. Just because someone you know or follow online loves a specific pair doesn’t mean they’ll be the right fit for you.
With that said, running is one of the most accessible sports in existence. You don’t need any expensive equipment or gear. All you need is a pair of shoes and a bit of motivation.
What are the craziest shoes you’ve run in? Share your story in the comments below!
Last update on 2021-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API