Choosing the best running shoes starts with identifying your foot type
Running shoes are more than glorified sneakers. They're built to guide your foot through the most efficient stride possible, with strategically placed cushioning to absorb the impact of each footfall. What it takes to generate that efficient stride, and where you really need the cushioning, depends on your foot type and gait.
Although we can make some helpful generalizations about which type of shoe is typically best for which type of feet, experts warn there is usually some trial and error in learning which running shoe features work best for you.
Running shoes come in three main types: stability, motion control and neutral cushioning shoes. Some pronation -- inward roll of the ankle -- is normal when you run, but if you overpronate, experts recommend stability shoes to correct your stride and prevent the potential injuries that can result from this type of movement. Any foot type can overpronate, but it's especially common in people with flat feet.
The exact way stability shoes are constructed varies from one manufacturer to another, but the general principle remains the same: Progressively firmer material is layered along the medial (inside) edge of the shoe, often paired with a wider base. Together, the two features gently support the inside edge of your foot to keep it from rolling inward too much. Some models also employ plastic reinforcements near the arch for extra stability.
If you overpronate severely, you may be more comfortable in motion control shoes, which provide even more stability features to correct your stride. Motion control shoes aren't for everybody, though. They may be too stiff or restrictive for people who don't need the extra structure, and might even transform slight overpronation into underpronation (more properly known as supination), forcing you to run on the outside edges of your feet. However, for those who really do need this much of an adjustment, this type of supportive, padded shoe is the key to a comfortable, injury-free run.
At the other extreme, some people supinate, running with their weight on the outside edges of their feet. This is especially common in people with high arches. If this is you, a neutral cushioned shoe can absorb that impact and redistribute it, helping your feet return to a neutral gait. And finally, if you're lucky enough to have normal arches and efficient biomechanics -- in other words, your feet don't roll too far in or too far out as you run -- you will probably be most comfortable in either a neutral shoe or a stability shoe that provides only mild support, so it doesn't interfere with the natural flex and give in your feet as you run.
Clues to help you identify your foot type
Remember that trial and error we mentioned? It starts with a visit to a specialty running shop that has the equipment and trained staff to identify your foot and gait type. If you prefer to shop online, you can identify your foot type with a simple wet-foot test; Runner's World has a great guide for doing so.. Examining the soles of your old running shoes is helpful, too. If you overpronate, you'll usually see extra wear on the inside edges of your shoes, and underpronators/supinators will notice more wear on the outside edges. Once you have identified your foot type and stride, it's time to start trying on shoes and determining which features actually agree with your feet.
Finding the best running shoes
We identified the best shoes for several foot types, including flat feet and high arches, by evaluating input from a number of expert sources. Runner's World is one of the best, followed by OutdoorGearLab.com, GearPatrol.com, Competitor.com and WearTested.org, all of which subject shoes to extended testing and comment on how they perform under real-world conditions. User input from everyday runners is enormously important too, especially when it doesn't agree with expert evaluations; the best sources we spotted for user input on running shoes were RoadRunnerSports.com and Amazon.com and we used those to make our final choices.