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Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

Buying Guide

Finding a comfortable fit is the secret to choosing the best pair of running shoes for your performance needs.

Last updated: November 29, 2021
8 min read
Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

With the right pair of shoes, running can feel like flying. Running shoes provide protection, support, shock absorption, and bounce so you can focus on achieving your running goals.

If you choose the right pair, you’ll boost your performance and decrease the risk of injury. But if you end up with a pair that doesn’t fit properly or doesn’t accommodate your needs, every step can be agonizing.

The optimum pair of running shoes for you will depend on several factors, so it’s not always easy to pick a clear cut winner. With countless styles and fits available, you might need a little help narrowing down your options. We've got your back.

Comfort Comes First

The best running shoes for you are going to be the ones that feel the most comfortable. But it's not easy to get a sense of whether comfort will endure over long runs when you’re only trying them on.

When assessing comfort, pay attention to the feel on different parts of your foot. Learn the different components of the shoe and how they affect fit.

Upper

The upper is the top part of the shoe above the sole. Look for an upper that resembles your foot shape and doesn’t rub or pull. The revolutionary Nike Flyknit upper provides lightweight support and reduces waste by 60%.

Toebox

Look for a toebox that doesn’t irritate your foot; you should have enough room between your toes and the toebox to flex and spread out your toes comfortably without jamming into the toebox.

Saddle

The saddle is the section that contains your shoe’s laces and works to hold your foot in place. Try to find a saddle that supports your foot without feeling too tight around the arch as you move.

Midsole

The midsole is designed to absorb impact. Choose a midsole that doesn’t make the shoe too heavy and that feels comfortable. Avoid a midsole that is too soft or too firm — be like Goldilocks and choose one that’s just right.

Outsole

The outsole is the durable bottom layer of the shoe. Look for a footprint that resembles the shape of your foot and makes you feel stable. You’ll want tread that provides enough traction for your preferred running surface without being unnecessarily stiff or heavy. Strike a balance between durable and flexible if possible.

Heel Drop

The heel counter (or heel drop) is the material that connects the upper to the shoe lining at the back of the shoe. The height of your heel versus the height of the ball of your foot can impact your stride. Pay attention to how the shoe feels when you walk or run, and avoid shoes that put stress on one portion of your foot or another.

Sockliner

The sockliner is inserted into the shoe to aid comfort. It affects how soft and supportive a shoe feels when you first step into it. In most shoes, it can be removed or replaced with orthotics. Be sure to try running in the shoe rather than relying on the initial feel.

Ankle Collar

The ankle collar is the top part of the shoe where you put your foot in. A good ankle collar won’t slip or rub at your Achilles and will comfortably fit around your ankles. This can be a point of discomfort in many shoes, so pay attention to the area when you take the shoes for a test run.

Reduce Your Risk of Injury

A key consideration in picking a running shoe is injury avoidance. The design of your shoe, and the materials used to construct it, will determine whether you get a cushioned ride during your run. The level of support you feel can determine if your shoe will help reduce your risk of injury.

Historically, motion control shoes were thought to offer the best defense against pronation, which is the natural inward motion of the foot during a step. Unfortunately, this type of shoe hasn't reduced the percentage of running injuries over the years.

Based on data collected from real runners, scientists at the Nike Sports Research Lab discovered a simple solution: cushioning and comfort are the keys to reducing injury.

Of course, increased cushioning can lead to a bulkier, foam-laden shoe. To avoid that problem, the NSRL developed a unique rocker shape for a smooth heel-to-toe transition and a wide base at the toe and heel for more stability.

To increase your odds of not getting hurt, opt for a comfortable, cushioned fit. Combine it with a diversified running routine tailored to your individual running experience and goals.

Match the Right Shoe to Your Run

When shopping for your next pair of running shoes, consider both the typical distance of your runs and the environment.

Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

Everyday Running Shoes

Everyday shoes are designed for daily running, training, and jogging. They're durably constructed with enough cushioning to absorb impact mile after mile. If you’ll be running long distances on a road or treadmill, these are the shoes for you.

Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

Racing Shoes

Racing shoes are lightweight running shoes designed to help you get across the finish line faster on race day. They are propulsive and aerodynamic for increased speed, but they won’t hold up as long or provide as much shock absorption as everyday running shoes.

Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

Trail Running Shoes

Trail running shoes provide extra traction and are more durably constructed to withstand the elements. If you’ll be running in muddy or rocky conditions, opt for a pair of trail runners.

6 Quick Pointers

  1. Double-check your actual size: Don’t assume you’ll be the same size in every shoe. Use a size chart and measure your feet to find the perfect fit.
  2. Order a half-size up: If you’re having trouble deciding between sizes, it’s always better to order a half-size up.
  3. Shop during the evening: Since your feet swell as the day wears on, you might find a pair of shoes that fit well in the morning but feel tight by the evening. It’s a good idea to shop after 5 p.m. to find the perfect fit.
  4. Wear your running socks: Wear the same sweat-wicking running socks you plan to wear for your runs to ensure a great fit.
  5. Take them for a test run: You should always jog around in several pairs before deciding on the right ones. Nike stores allow you to jog around the store to get the feel of the shoes in action. For a more thorough trial, consider buying more than one pair and testing them out within Nike’s return period.
  6. Consider the style last: A pair of stylish running shoes might bring you an extra confidence boost, but getting a good look should come after fit and comfort. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to the ones that feel just right, you can pick the pair that most closely matches your aesthetic.

Check out the Nike guide to running footwear for more help finding your fit.

Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

Buying FAQ

How Long Before a Marathon Should I Buy New Running Shoes?

You’ll want to wear your new running shoes for at least two weeks before running a marathon in order to break them in. Most importantly, make sure to wear them for at least one long run before race day.

What Size Running Shoes Should I Buy?

Sizing varies between brands. If you’re ordering online, be sure to consult the brand’s size chart and measure your feet. When shopping in-store, try on a few different sizes until you find the perfect fit. They should feel snug in the midfoot and heel with plenty of room in the toebox. If your feet are different sizes, opt for the pair that best fits your larger foot.

How Many Pairs of Running Shoes Should I Have?

While you can get away with owning only one pair of running shoes, having multiple pairs provides several benefits. Repetitive movement can cause injuries, and switching up your running shoes may reduce that risk. You might also run in different terrains and need multiple pairs of shoes to accommodate those different environments. Some athletes have a lightweight pair for racing and a more durable pair for everyday running.

How Long Do Running Shoes Last?

Running shoes generally last from 300 to 500 miles. Depending on how often you run, you may need to replace your running shoes as often as every three months. Outward signs you need to replace your shoes include a wrinkling midsole and worn-out treads. If your shoes feel or fit differently than when you first bought them, that’s another sign that they may need to be replaced. The Nike Run Club app lets you tag your shoes and track their exact mileage over time.

Go Further: Brief History of the Running Shoe

Early running shoes resembled leather dress shoes with spikes for traction. After the process of vulcanization provided a way to fuse rubber and cloth, rubber-sole running shoes emerged and changed the game forever.

Nike co-founder and longtime University of Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman was an early innovator, as one of the first to experiment with waffle-patterned rubber soles for increased traction. By the 1970s, podiatrists and scientists weighed in on shoe design, and things got even more interesting.

Tips for Buying the Right Shoe for Your Next Run

Bill Bowerman investigating an early spiked running shoe.

First, the idea became popular that athletes should choose running shoes based on their arch height and pronation. For decades, runners were advised to analyze the shape of their feet and choose a shoe accordingly. But a growing body of research began to show that pronation didn’t increase the injury risk for runners, and therefore didn’t need to be corrected by running shoes.

Later, around the beginning of the new millennium, the idea took hold that barefoot running provided the most comfort for athletes. The minimalist running shoe became all the rage, until studies showed that the amount of cushioning in a shoe doesn’t change the speed of the force applied to your foot, which is what creates the likelihood of injury.

In fact, runners tend to adjust their stride naturally depending on the shoe. If they’re not getting cushioning from the shoe, they’ll adjust to landing on the forefoot to absorb shock in the calf and Achilles.

In recent years, Nike researchers at the NSRL have been using large amounts of data from athletes around the world to observe running patterns and understand what kinds of running shoes are best at preventing injury. Recent findings suggest that cushioning and comfort are the most important qualities in a running shoe.

So what does all this mean for you? Simply put, you don’t need to pay too much attention to your gait when choosing a shoe, unless you pronate or roll your foot so much that it causes you pain. Instead, when you try on a shoe, jog around a bit and focus on how it feels.

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