Do you know how to pick the right shoe? Photo Credit: Brooks Running.
Do you know how to pick the right shoe? Photo Credit: Brooks Running.

How many times have you ordered a pair of shoes and expected them to fit perfectly but they caused a hot spot, they were too wide, or they were just not soft enough? Unfortunately, this is common but ...but there are ways you can shop online and still get the perfect fit. Sometimes all it takes is a little help from your friends (friends at your local running store that is). So below, we have outlined some suggestions and aspects to consider when making the ultimate decision.

Tip #1: What’s Your History?

The first thing you should do is take a second to think about what you may have used in the past. Was there a particular brand or model that worked really well for you? Maybe a brand that just didn’t cut it for you? Some brands and some specific models from various brands will offer much more cushion than others and cushion level is definitely a personal preference. Sometimes a higher cushioned shoe is recommended for someone logging lots of miles or tends to impact the ground harder and typically has more knee pain. A higher cushioned shoe can also be great as a daily trainer, walking, or running every once in a while. On the contrary, something a bit firmer will allow more of a ground feel and more of a sense of connection to the surface you are running on. A firmer shoe could be great for racing, tempo running, but could also be used as a daily trainer as well. But, ultimately, cushion can really just come down to preference.

Width and Length are important.
Knowing the width and length of your foot can help you decide what shoes will work for your foot.

Tip #2: Your Foot Profile

Width and length are also very important. Once you have narrowed down your choice or choices start to consider these two aspects of the shoe and of your foot. Do you typically wear wide shoes, narrow shoes, medium width? If you are unsure, there are some brands that run a bit wider than others and brands that run more narrow than others. Generally, some wider brands are Saucony and Altra and some narrow brands are Mizuno, and Asics; though this is a loose generalization as some models within wider brands can be narrow. Also, length varies from brand to brand. Salomon and Hoka run about a half size bigger, so if you wear an 8.5 generally, go with an 8. Mizuno runs about a half size smaller, so try going up a half size for a more accommodating fit. If you’re unsure of how a brand fits, your local running store is a great resource and should be able to provide plenty of information on how a particular brand/shoe fits.

Tip #3: Over Pronation, Neutral, and Supination. What it is and where do you fall?

Determine whether you overpronate, supinate, or are neutral. To start this section off, I first want to say that having some pronation is a good thing! Many people think you need to be completely in line but you need to allow some natural motion of your body. When your ankle kicks in a bit, it’s your body’s natural response to help absorb shock and impact. Over pronation is when your ankle pushes in or “knocks” in excessively when you strike the ground when walking or running. Extra support medially would help keep that person a bit more in line. A guidance shoe, stability shoe, or motion control shoe would be best for over pronation.

  • Guidance Shoe:
    • A guidance shoe will typically offer the least amount of support. One main difference is that a guidance shoe may feel a bit firmer, not allowing your foot to sink in as much.
  • Stability Shoe:
    • A stability shoe will have a bit more of a plush feeling underfoot which will allow the foot to sink in a bit more,surrounding your foot with a bit more added support.
  • Motion Control Shoe:
    • A motion control shoe is a shoe that offers maximal support for excessive over pronation. Physical Therapists may commonly prescribe this shoe to someone who may have more instability with their gate.

Generally, people who overpronate have wear patterns on the inside/medial side of the shoe. This is because there is more impact and pressure being put on the inside of the shoe, well, because you overpronate! It is best to look at the wear pattern through the middle of the foot and not the heel, as many people land heel first and this could give you a skewed sense of pronation/supination level if only looking at that area.

Supination is when the ankle kicks out laterally toward the outside of your foot. The best shoe for this would be a neutral shoe. Wear patterns generally look a bit more scuffed and worn on the outside/lateral aspect of the shoe. This is because your ankles are being pushed out or you tend to walk/ run on the outside of your feet. Neutral is if your ankles don’t seem to knock in excessively or kick out laterally. Wear patterns are generally in the middle of the shoe. The best shoe for someone in this category would be neutral.

There are a couple ways that you can test where you fit in these categories. Stand while barefoot, with your feet together, place your hand between your knees and squat. If there is increased pressure on your hand when squatting, you may over pronate. If pressure stays the same you are neutral, if pressure decreases, you have some supination. Another great test is the wet test. Dunk your foot in water and then step on a paper towel. You will notice that you either have a flat foot, normal arch volume, or high arch volume. If you have a flat foot you are more apt to over pronate. If you have normal or high arch volume, you are more likely to be neutral. These are some great tests that can help determine support level!

Tip #4: Have you received any guidelines from a PT? What’s the difference between drop and stack height?

If you’ve gotten an opinion from a PT or a doctor you might be unsure which shoes or brands meet their requirements and which do not. You may have gotten advice such as: “look for a shoe with a wide toe box” or “you should be in a shoe with a lower drop”. Regardless of whether you are working with a PT, it might be beneficial to consider some technical aspects of running shoes. When you are looking for width in the front of a shoe (the toe box), Altra is your number one option followed by Saucony. Both of these companies can be great if you have bunions. This isn’t to rule out other brands entirely, but these two are known for consistently running wider in the toe box area.

If you have been given advice about drop, or offset, here is a breakdown of that concept…

Altra Torin (top) vs. Altra Escalante Racer (bottom). Photo Credit: Altra Footwear.
Altra Torin (top) vs. Altra Escalante Racer (bottom) - here you can see the difference in Stack Height between the two models. Photo Credit: Altra Footwear .
  • Offset:
    • The offset of a shoe is the difference in the height of the midsole between the midfoot and heel of the shoe; in other words how much elevation your heel is receiving by wearing the shoe. The brand Altra is known for all their models being zero-drop or essentially flat. It is important to note that although zero drop means flat it does not necessarily mean no cushion. The amount of cushion underfoot can be referred to as stack height (see below). We generally view anything under 4mm as low, 4-8mm as medium and 9-13mm as high. However, there are a lot of varying opinions out there about drop. Your Altra-fanatic friend may tell you that a drop of 8mm is way too high, but the best predictor of what will feel right to you is what has kept you pain free in the past. You can certainly switch things up but the more variables you change, (i.e. width, drop, stack height) the higher the possibility a new shoe won’t match up to a past favorite.
  • Stack Height:
    • The amount of cushion (midsole) underfoot. Altras are the perfect example of how stack height does not necessarily indicate offset. The Altra Torin has an offset of zero but is well cushioned (higher stack height) while the Altra Escalante is zero-drop with much less cushioning (low stack height).

It is interesting to note that although lower drops are gaining popularity, one of our top sellers remains the Brooks Ghost (12mm offset). Many companies will make a variety of shoes each with varying offsets but most of Hoka’s, Salomon’s and ON Running models fall into the low-medium range. You will find higher drops in the Brooks, Asics, and Mizuno line ups while Saucony falls firmly in the middle. Something you’ll notice is that these brands will tend to lower the drop of the shoe if it is intended for faster, more responsive tempo. You’ll see this with the Saucony Kinvara (4mm), Brooks Levitate (8mm), Asics DS Trainer (8mm). Many runners are able to run more efficiently when they are running more quickly for shorter distances and having a shoe that guides the runner into more of a mid-foot strike (which a lower drop does) can be beneficial. Something to keep in mind is many runners can switch between shoes with different drops. One of our staff members runs in the Brooks Adrenaline (12mm), the Ghost’s more stable cousin, for the bulk of her training but will throw on a pair of Kinvaras (4mm) for tempo runs and longer races without any issues.

One caution in this area is zero-drop shoes. Altra advises that zero-drop trainers should be gradually introduced into regular rotation to limit aggravation of the achilles tendon, especially for runners used to a higher offset. This can be easily done in a few weeks. If you are curious about the technical aspects of a model, including the offset, this information can usually be found on your local running store’s website in the shoe’s description.

Tip #5: User experience. How do you want your shoes to feel and perform?

Once you’ve considered what brands have worked well for you in the past and the general profile of your feet it’s time to think about what you’re hoping to get out of your new footwear. Trail shoes have much better grip, durability, and versatility and road shoes are generally lighter, grip is road oriented, and they are more likely to be used as a daily trainer. If you are new to running, exploring the brands on your local shops website is a great place to start. Read the product descriptions and narrow down your options, if you have questions, give the shop a call! We’re certain they would be happy to answer any questions.

Features of a trail shoe. Photo Credit: Brooks Running.
Here Brook's highlights trail specific features like Balanced Cushioning and TrailTack sticky traction, on their Caldera trail running shoe. Photo Credit: Brooks Running.

When determining brand or model, it’s also key to narrow down your cushion preference, or stack height as discussed in Tip# 4. Maybe you work a job that involves a lot of standing and you’re looking for a shoe that can get you through a twelve hour shift. In this case you might explore a Hoka model, as they do maximum cushion better than anyone. Perhaps you want to use these shoes primarily at the gym and like the feeling of being connected to the ground. In this case you would probably not be interested in Hoka and would lean towards some more minimal options. Looking for a fast responsive shoe for a race? Depending on your foot profile you might prefer either the Brooks Levitate, the Saucony Kinvara or the Asics DS Trainer. Love the cusion of Hoka but want something faster to race in? Enter the Rincon. If you are looking to put some serious miles on these shoes we might suggest something that has at least a medium amount of cushion. However if you know that more minimal shoes work best for you, even with high mileage, ultimately the choice is yours. If you know cushion is your thing no matter the distance, each brand makes at least one model that is especially soft. Some examples of these are the Asics Nimbus, Brooks Glycerine (Olympian Des Linden’s go to!), and Mizuno Wave Horizon.

The options are endless and we know how daunting that can be. So lean on your local shop! Shoe people love to talk shoes and we’re sure they’d look forward to helping you find something that is going to work best for you!