Types of running shoes: How to choose your perfect pair
Whether you're a seasoned vet or a brand-new runner, picking the right running shoes is an important task (and a ton of fun). There are several types of running shoes to choose from but equipped with the knowledge of what you're looking for, you can pick the right pair and bound down the road or trail in no time.
There are new technologies being utilized every running season to improve comfort, functionality, and style. Once you're able to determine what type of shoes are best for you (we'll get there by the end of this article), you can try some on and purchase the pair that will keep you comfortable far into your training.
Road running or trail traversing?
The first thing to consider when determining what type of running shoes might be best for you is to give thought to where you run the most or plan on running the most.
Simply put, if you're running on the road and/or treadmill most often, road running shoes are most suitable. If you plan to hit the local trails regularly, your best bet will be trail running shoes.
The key difference here is trail running shoes usually have lugged (or bumpy) outsoles, whereas road running shoes do not. They will have more specific support and/or cushion to keep you comfortable while pounding the pavement.
Trail running shoes
Picture a mountain bike tire or an off-road vehicle tire. Trail shoes will give you more traction on the loose dirt, mud, rocks, or other debris you may encounter climbing hills and bounding down them, helping you handle switchbacks like a pro.
When shopping for trail running shoes, you'll notice different styles and depths to the outsole lugs. If you're likely going to be running in more muddy conditions, consider a shoe with deep lugs for added traction. If you're running on more of a groomed dirt path with minimal roots and rocks, look for a hybrid shoe that offers more traction than a traditional road running shoe but not so much that running on the road would be uncomfortable.
Many trail running shoes offer what is known as a rock plate through the midsole of the shoe, which helps to protect your foot from any sharp edges on roots or rocks. Commonly, trail shoes do not offer specific support as road shoes do, but you'll find some to be lighter than others. Some offer more cushion, and some will be more stiff or flexible. If you're wondering why trail shoes don't offer similar support as road shoes, the simple answer is that on the trails, you're likely to encounter roots, rocks, and uneven surfaces throughout the run. Any arch posting or support may actually be counterproductive and put you at risk of rolling an ankle.
Road running shoes
Road running shoes are for — you guessed it — the road. But wait, there's more. Road running shoes are also great for the treadmill, running around the track, or even packed/groomed trails. (They also make great garden shoes when you've retired them.) They commonly have an optimal cushion and are lightweight and responsive.
Road running shoes can be broken down into two distinct styles:
- Neutral: This is a great style for neutral runners with medium or normal arches. Neutral shoes can also benefit runners who exhibit supination with each stride. They commonly offer midsole cushioning and support for added shock absorption.
- Support: This is an ideal style for runners who have mild to severe overpronation with low or flat arches. They feature medial support commonly found in a medial post, wedge, or GuideRails to keep your foot and/or arch from collapsing inward. In addition, while support shoes are commonly thought not to have cushions, this is not the case with new technologies. There are plenty of awesome support shoes that offer both optimal support and cushioning.
There are several other considerations to keep in mind when choosing your next pair of running shoes:
- Are you going to be racing? There are designated racing shoes, which are more lightweight and responsive to help you reach your personal record in your next 5K or half-marathon.
- Max cushion or low profile? In the last decade, maximum cushioning has taken off as a popular option for runners and walkers looking for a softer ride to take the impact off their bodies and into the shoe. You'll find many options alongside their lower profile, more responsive counterparts. There are many benefits to both, but ultimately it's what you, the runner, prefer.
- Running in the rain or snow? There are many waterproof shoes on the market that will keep you warm and comfortable when the weather turns. While they're often referred to exclusively as "waterproof" shoes, they're great for winter running as well, as they'll keep your feet warm and dry.
Choosing a pair of new running shoes is a ton of fun, and there are so many awesome options available today. Take your time when choosing your next pair, and make sure they fit well (about a half thumbnail to full thumbnail width from your toe to the tip of the shoe) for safe, happy runs in the future. You can also try out the Brooks Shoe Finder for our personalized recommendations.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.