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Athletic shoes

Athletic shoe buying guide

Last updated: March 2013
Getting started

Getting started

Our test panelists have logged thousands of miles evaluating running, walking, and cross-training shoes. We've tested them on pavement, in gyms, and in our labs, too. We've checked whether the front of the shoe flexed enough to let you push off easily with the ball of your foot. And we've measured stability (control of ankle motion), shock absorption at the forefoot and heel (where the impact is greatest), and breathability (the ability to dissipate moisture). Weight also matters. The lighter the shoe, the better--as long as cushioning and stability don't suffer.

Most people buy running and walking shoes at department, discount, specialty-athletic, sporting-goods, and family-footwear stores. You'll probably pay more at a footwear store that caters to serious runners, but you're also more likely to find a seasoned sales clerk who can answer your questions and help you find the right model for your gait and type of workout.

A fairly recent offering by shoe manufacturers is a "barefoot" or minimalist shoe. They have much thinner soles, less cushioning, and more flexibility than traditional athletic footwear. They're designed to provide a small amount of protection yet allow the foot to function naturally with an unrestricted motion while walking or running. The following guide addresses traditionally constructed shoes.

Analyze your gait

Manufacturers offer running and walking shoes for every type of gait. If your feet roll inward alot, or overpronate, a stabilizing or motion-control shoe might ease the problem. And if your feet land mostly on the outside edge, or oversupinate, a cushioning shoe that emphasizes shock absorption might be best. Overpronators typically have a low arch while underpronators a high one. If you have well-worn running shoes, take them with you when you shop. Their wear pattern might help an experienced sales clerk analyze your gait and recommend the right shoe.

Get a good fit to stay fit

The first rule of shopping for athletic shoes is that fit counts more than anything. A bad fit can cause discomfort and fatigue, or even painful foot and joint problems. And it can make features like motion-control or cushioning less effective. Your feet tend to swell toward the end of the day, so shop late in the afternoon, and wear the kind of socks you would wear while using those shoes. Feel the inside for seams, bumps, and rough spots. Athletic shoes should feel good right out of the box, without having to break them in.

Take a test run

Buying shoes without trying them out is like buying a car without test-driving it. Jog or walk a little in the store, and ask if you can take the shoes once around the block. Better yet, ask whether you can buy the shoes, walk or run briefly on a treadmill at home or at a gym, and return them if they don't feel right.

Think twice about orthotics

If your feet become sore from running or walking, you might be tempted to try orthotics--custom-made shoe inserts that take the place of insoles. But orthotics can be expensive and might reduce a shoe's cushioning. Consider whether your problem could be solved with new shoes or a different category of shoe (cushioning, neutral, or stability).

Types

You can move comfortably in just about any shoe that fits correctly, including walking, running or cross-training shoes, all of which provide cushioning and stability. But different sports make different demands on shoes. The type of athletic shoe for you depends on what you plan to do when you lace up. Below we walk you through your choices.

Running shoes


Running and walking shoes might look similar, but there are important differences. Traditional running shoes provide extra cushioning, because landing can generate a force of 1½ to 3 times your body weight. They should also provide easy flexing at the ball of the foot and enough stability. And the outsoles should be durable and provide good traction on pavement or dirt.

Walking shoes


These are best for people who walk for fitness or who want a casual shoe for everyday walking. They should provide enough cushioning to be comfortable. And their flexible soles, designed for the relatively low impact of walking, allow the foot to roll easily from heel to toe.

Cross-trainers


Cross-trainers are all-purpose shoes that bridge walking shoes and sport-specific shoes like tennis or basketball shoes. They can be a money-saving alternative to several pairs of specialized shoes for people who pursue a variety of activities, but they don't provide the same flexibility or cushioning for running or other high-impact sports.

Sports-specific shoes


Some athletic shoes are highly specialized. For example, the higher tops of basketball shoes are designed to provide ankle support to ease the effects of abrupt starts and stops, jumps, and lateral moves while playing. Golf shoes and baseball shoes have cleats for traction on turf. Choosing the right shoes for the job will help you go the distance.

Features


The cushioning in an athletic shoe comes from the squishy material in the midsole. Your foot's natural ability to roll inward also provides cushioning and helps to reduce the impact on bones and joints. A shoe that combines cushioning and flexibility, while also providing adequate stability, is a step ahead of shoes that don't. If the shoe is also lightweight, and breathable, so much the better. Here are the features to consider for traditional footwear.

The sole


Three layers comprise the sole. The bottom layer, or outsole, is generally made of carbon rubber for durability. It's segmented for flexibility and grooved or patterned for traction. The squishy middle layer, or midsole, provides most of the cushioning. It's usually made of shock-absorbing foam and might incorporate gel or air sacs and plastic torsion supports. The layer directly underfoot, the insole or sock liner, provides some additional shock absorption and arch support. It's removable and washable in many running and walking shoes.

The upper


This is the body of the shoe, the part above the sole. The toe box--the forward part of the upper--should be roomy enough to let your toes spread and leave a half-inch space ahead of your longest toe. The heel counter at the rear should keep your heel from slipping excessively. These days, the uppers on most running shoes are made of synthetics, though some walking shoes still use leather. The more your feet sweat, the more you'll appreciate the breathability of mesh. But if you plan to be outside in the cold weather, a less porous material will provide a little more protection.

Lacing

Fabric, plastic, or metal speed-lacing loops make tightening easier. Extra top eyelets provide a snug fit at the ankle. Flat laces are less likely to loosen or come untied than round ones.

Style


If you're on your feet a lot all day long, you might want shoes that combine the comfort and support of a walking shoe with something dressy enough for the office. Unfortunately the dressier walking shoes we tested in the past did not perform as well, overall, as the ones that look like sneakers

Reflectors


If you jog or walk at dawn or dusk, reflective tabs on the uppers can provide extra safety by reflecting cars' headlights. Most of the reflectors on the shoes we tested were skimpy, but sporting goods stores offer supplementary reflectors and reflective clothing.

Brands

Adidas arrow  |  Asics arrow  |  Avia arrow  |  Brooks arrow  |  Mizuno arrow  |  New Balance arrow  |  Nike arrow  |  Other Brands arrow  |  Puma arrow  |  Reebok arrow  |  Rockport arrow  |  Saucony arrow  |  Spira arrow

Most of the major manufacturers offer a variety of athletic shoes. Although different brands use different terminology, running and walking shoes are usually available in three general categories—cushioning, neutral, and stability or motion-control models. Use these profiles to compare running and walking shoes by brand. Most can be found at sporting goods stores, specialty athletic footwear stores, and online.

Adidas

Adidas sells running shoes for men and women. They offer neutral and stability models and their prices range from $55 to $130.

Asics

Asics sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer neutral and stability versions and their prices range from $50 to $180 for running shoes.

Avia

Avia sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer neutral and stability models and their prices range from $40 to $110 for running, and $40 to $70 for walking.

Brooks

Brooks sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer neutral and control versions, and their prices range from $80 to $140 for running, and $90 to $100 for walking.

Mizuno

Mizuno sells running shoes for men and women. They offer support and neutral models, and their prices range from $80 to $135.

New Balance

New Balance sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer stability and neutral models. Prices range from $55 to $140 for running, and $60 to $140 for walking.

Nike

Nike sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer stability and neutral models, and their prices range from $50 to $165 for running, and $50 to $105 for walking. Nike’s Web site enables you to customize many of their shoes (i.e. choose your own color, add name, etc.).

Other Brands

Less expensive brands such as Champion and Dr. Scholl’s can be found at stores such as Payless, Target, and Walmart, though availability might vary.

Puma

Puma sells running shoes for men and women. Prices range from $55 to $130. They offer stability and neutral models.

Reebok

Reebok sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer stability and neutral models. Prices range from $50 to $120 for running, and $50 to $90 for walking.

Rockport

Rockport sells walking shoes for men and women. They offer dress style as well as athletic walking shoes, and their prices range from $70 to $100. Rockport is sold mostly at specialty shoe stores and online.

Saucony

Saucony sells running and walking shoes for men and women. They offer stability and neutral models. Prices range from $50 to $165.

Spira

Spira sells running and walking shoes for men and women. Prices range from $90 to $135.

   

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