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You may have heard that running is one of the cheapest sports. Why exactly? Well, all you need to participate beyond motivation is a sturdy pair of running shoes.

The thing is, finding the right pair can be daunting to say the least.

There are many brands and models from which to choose. And even if you’re a seasoned pro, you should be replacing your shoes roughly every 500 miles. New models and brands come on the market all the time. Is your head spinning yet?

Compared with men, 2009 research showed that women tend to have a narrower heel in relation to the circumference of the ball of their foot.

Most running shoes marketed toward women account for the heel difference in their design, so you can expect to see a difference in heel shapes and sometimes heel materials between the men’s and women’s models of the same shoe.

Research has also found that, because women tend to have wider hips than men, the outside of their soles tends to strike the ground first when they walk and run — this is also known as pronation. Many running shoes for women take pronation into account with a different type of arch support.

Women’s running shoes also tend to be lighter and softer than men’s.

However, you don’t need to stick to “men’s” or “women’s” shoes based on how they’re sold or marketed. Choose the product with the fit, style, and features that work best for you.

The following shoes earn high marks for quality, comfort, and value. Beyond that, we included some top picks to fit your foot structure or training needs.

In the end, it’s best to consult with a podiatrist if you want to address any specific issues or injuries.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $100
  • $$ = $100–$150
  • $$$ = over $150

Best overall

Brooks Ghost 12 (Women's)

Price: $$

Key features: The Ghost has been a popular pick for many years with new and seasoned runners alike. Testers at Runner’s World explain that it’s versatile and can get you through anything from speed work to long runs.

The current model has updated its design by using 3D printing to make a stretchy, breathable mesh upper. As an added perk, Brooks has some interesting colors and patterns to choose from — like buffalo plaid!

Considerations: Reviewers note that this shoe runs on the smaller and narrower end with regard to sizing. Others say that arch support is lacking. And if you need a shoe to PR in at your next 10K, their weight — 9.3 ounces — might not make them a perfect racing shoe.

Best for cushioning

Altra Torin 4 Plush (Women's)

Price: $

Key features: Altra is becoming more and more popular for its wide toe box and significant cushioning. This “plush” ride is roomy and accommodates wide feet with ease. One reviewer even shares, “This is my first pair of Altra shoes, and I cannot understand why every human is not wearing these.”

Bonus points: This shoe also happens to carry the American Podiatric Medical Association’s seal of approval for promoting good foot health.

Considerations: One longtime Altra fan says that she thinks the shoes are getting longer and leaner with each new model. Another says the area near the Achilles tendon is high and chafed her ankles.

Best for flat feet

Asics Gel-Kayano 26

Price: $$

Key features: Runners with low arches or flat feet may tend to overpronate or roll their foot inward with each stride. The Gel-Kayano boasts stability features — firm foam along the inside of the shoe to helps correct this motion. It also includes GEL cushioning technology to provide shock absorption for running long distances.

Considerations: Reviewers say this shoe runs on the small and narrow side, so you may want to size up. Others mention that the toe box is tight. Overall, while the company says this shoe is suitable for neutral gait to overpronation, reviewers say it’s best for motion control, period.

Best for high arches

Mizuno Wave Creation 20

Price: $$$

Key features: The 20th version of Mizuno’s Wave Creation includes a wave plate that helps to absorb shock perhaps better than standard foam. This shoe also features a sock-like fit for added comfort and security. Reviewers say the arch support in these shoes have helped them address issues, like plantar fasciitis.

Considerations: One longtime Wave Runner wearer shares that this model’s materials might not be up to snuff compared to previous models. It’s also not a very lightweight shoe, coming in at 11.6 ounces. The price is on the higher end as well.

Best for wide feet

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v10

Price: $$$

Key features: The Fresh Foam’s Hypoknit upper is stretchy, doesn’t have seams that rub, and fits like a sock. You can purchase this shoe specifically in a wide and extra-wide width, which isn’t true with every brand and model.

Beyond the width, the sole is lightweight and flexible. There’s even laser engraving in the foam to help remove added weight. Reviewers say this model also boasts a wider toe box than previous iterations.

Considerations: Some people say the sizing on these shoes is off and that you may want to order up at least a half size. A few reviewers did have trouble with this shoe being too narrow, even when ordering the extra-wide width.

Best for long distance running

Saucony Ride ISO

Price: $$–$$$

Key features: For neutral runners, the Ride ISO fits like a dream. Its ISOFIT and FORMFIT technologies allow the sole to form to the shape and overall motion of your foot. It’s best suited for normal arches, and reviewers share that the toe box on this model is roomier than other Saucony finds.

The shoe also has a woven heel piece that helps lock the heel into place mile after mile. And its moderate cushioning helps supply a relatively lightweight experience (8.5 ounces) that will carry you farther on your long run days.

Considerations: Some reviewers who were wearing the previous model of this shoe say that the fit has changed dramatically. While this may sometimes happen, they report “hot spots” on the heels and balls of the feet.

Others note the materials aren’t the most durable — one person even says their shoes had holes with fewer than 100 miles of wear.

Best for trail running

Salomon Speedcross 4

Price: $$–$$$

Key features: One of Amazon’s best-selling trail shoes, the Speedcross gets high marks for its superior traction, cushioning, and lightweight design. Some reviewers share that, while it’s a narrow shoe, it supplies plenty of toe room. Most reviewers said that this shoe fits as they would expect it to, so you may be fine sticking with your usual size.

Considerations: One reviewer took the time to note which paths these shoes are best suited for. In the end, the Speedcross does well on gravel, mud, and wet leaves. On the flip side, the reviewer feels the shoes aren’t so great for traversing sidewalks, smooth surfaces, and obstacles, like logs and streams.

Best for speed and lightweight

HOKA Rincon

Price: $$$

Key features: This cushioned, super light shoe will carry you through speed-work days, all while keeping you comfortable. This ride weighs only 6.3 ounces and has a 5.00 mm heel-to-toe drop to promote a more natural stride. It’s best suited for neutral runners who like balanced cushioning.

Considerations: Testers at Runner’s World point out that this shoe is a solid choice, but that it has minimal outsole rubber. This means that the exposed foam on the sole may show wear quickly and need replacement sooner.

Best for budget

Skechers GOrun Pure

Price: $

Key features: Skechers offers the GOrun Pure for the budget market. It’s a solid everyday training sneaker at a low price. Testers like its lightweight design and soft midsole. One reviewer even says she runs 10 to 13 miles per day with them and that the outsole only shows minimal signs of wear. The Pure also features a breezy mesh upper that lets feet breathe.

Considerations: Some reviewers say that the sizing runs small — so try before you buy. Others say the shoe is comfortable, but that the sole tends to squeak with walking and running.

Best for racing

Asics DynaFlyte 4

Price: $

Key features: ASICS says the DynaFlyte shoe is made for runners with a “need for speed.” It features a FLYTEFOAM Lyte midsole to give responsive, light (7.5 ounces) cushioning made from organic fibers.

One reviewer shares that she’s an underpronator with moderate to high arches and a history of plantar fasciitis, and that she appreciates the shoe’s mix of cushioning and stability.

Considerations: Several runners say these shoes, particularly the foot bed, are on the stiff side. One reviewer (who’s also a physical therapist and running coach) explains that the toe box cover can also be inflexible and uncomfortable.

Beyond choosing a pair that strikes your fancy, you need to think about proper sizing.

One of the best ways to find the right fit for running shoes is to visit a running-specific store and be professionally fitted.

How to read sizing labels

You may notice a lot of numbers and letters on the inside of shoe tags. Here’s how to decode everything so you know what you’re buying.

  • Length. This is the numerical size based on the length of your foot. You’ll likely see sizes listed in U.S., UK, European, Japanese, and centimeters.
  • Width. Sizes range from narrow (AA) to extra wide (EE). You’ll likely encounter basic narrow (AA), medium (M or B), or wide (D) with most mainstream brands.
  • Sex. Some shoes indicate somewhere if they’re made for men (M) or women (W), occasionally this letter will precede the item number.

Size is important, but try to not get stuck on the idea of being a certain size or sticking to shoes marketed for a specific sex.

Fit can vary by brand, so it’s good to keep an open mind and go by the feel of the shoe on your foot.

Order up

You may want to get a half to full size larger than your normal dress shoe size. Why exactly? Your feet have different needs for different activities.

And if you’re on your feet for a long time, they may swell. If your feet swell and you continue running, you may develop blisters or other uncomfortable foot issues if your shoes can’t accommodate these changes.

Try on later in the day

Consider shopping at the end of a day when you’ve been on your feet. This goes back to swelling and sizing appropriately.

Bring your socks

Be sure to bring the socks you plan to run in. If they’re thicker than your normal socks, you’ll want to size your shoes to accommodate them.

Know your arch

Certain shoes may be better suited for flat feet or high arches.

If you don’t know where you stand, dip your foot in some water and then step once onto a dry piece of cardboard. If your footprint is completely filled in, you may have flat arches. If you don’t see much of a footprint, you may have high arches.

Know your other foot quirks

Again, you’ll want to be familiar with your unique foot. So keep in mind the length, overall width, and any extra room (or tighter fit) you’re seeking in the toe box or heel.

Don’t get in a rut

Did you recently gain or lose weight? Were you pregnant, or has it been a while since you’ve been fitted for shoes? Any type of change to your body or activity level may impact your shoe sizing, so be sure to update as needed.

Consider older models

Look for sales on the previous models of the running shoe you’re interested in. Sometimes you can get a great deal on a shoe that still has the same features.

Still overwhelmed with options? Take a step back and consider your top priorities.

Some shoes will say on the packaging if they’re intended for a specific use. Other times, stores may sort features — like stability, cushioning, or trail running — to aid with your search.

For example, maybe you’re looking to run on roads and like a cushioned feel. Or maybe you’re into bounding up trails and need stability. Perhaps you’re in the market for a lightweight racing shoe. You may even want to make a list of “wants” and “needs” to bring with you on your shopping trip.

Armed with this information, head to a local running shop for guidance. If you don’t have a trained professional to help, take a look at the following features:

  • Sole thickness. Thicker means more cushioning, which can be good for running longer distances. Thinner may mean a more minimal or natural running experience.
  • Shoe weight. Lighter tends to be good for racing. Heavier may mean a shoe has more stability or cushioning features.
  • Material. Are the shoes breathable? Are they waterproof? Do they feel good or do they rub your foot? You may encounter anything from seamless knit to mesh to thicker materials suited for cold weather.
  • Tread. Shoes with more bumpy tread are generally better for rough terrain, like trails. Flatter treads may work well for road racing. Spikes, on the other hand, may be good if you’re on a weekend warrior cross-country team.
  • Heel-to-toe drop. You may notice that shoes list a “drop” or “offset” measurement. This is the difference between the height of the heel and the toe. A larger number means the heel is higher than the toe, which may be good for heel-strikers. A smaller difference, on the other hand, may promote more of a natural forefoot footstrike.

At the end of the day, you’ll need to try on the shoe (probably several different pairs). And — even better — you’ll want to test drive them on a short jog.

Some stores have treadmills you can use to take shoes for a short spin. Otherwise, try to find a quiet area and do a few slow strides.

Note how the shoes feel, if they provide enough support, and if there are any areas of discomfort.

Which shoe is right for you? It may take a few tries to find out.

Any added bells and whistles don’t necessarily matter if they aren’t on your “want” or “need” lists. And, just because a shoe is more expensive, it doesn’t mean it’s inherently better either.

Use the manufacturer’s listed features as a guide, but go with your gut and choose something that feels comfortable and gives you support for the miles you plan to run.