Determining your gait and foot type is the most important aspect of buying a running shoe, since choosing the right shoe can help prevent sports injuries. While a podiatrist or shoe-store employee can determine your gait and foot type, you can also figure it out yourself with a wet test.
A wet test will tell you what type of arch your foot has: normal (neutral), high or flat. All you need to do is wet the bottom of your foot, then step on a piece of paper. Take a look at your footprint. Neutral feet make a classic-looking print, with a gently sloping line along the inside of the foot from behind the ball to the front of the heel. Those with high arches often won't see a continuous footprint, instead getting a print at the ball and another at the heel. Those with flat arches won't see much of a curve at all on the inside of the footprint (Fig. 1).
Your arch type gives you a clue about your pronation tendencies. Pronation is the rolling of the foot from heel to toe through the footstrike.
If you have normal arches:
People with neutral arches tend to be normal or mild overpronators, hitting the outside of the heel and up to the ball of the foot evenly across the front, with a bit of inward roll to absorb the stress of impact. Experts, including editors at Runner's World magazine, say these runners should look for a stability shoe that prevents the foot from pronating too much through the use of posts or extra foam on the medial (arch) side.
If you have flat arches:
Runners with flat arches tend to overpronate -- meaning the foot tends to roll inward too much when it strikes the ground. You'll need a shoe that prevents your foot from overpronating, which can cause running injuries. If your foot is mainly normal but tends to roll inward a bit, a stability shoe with more cushion and support under the arch is a good choice. For severe overpronators, or for those who are heavier or taller than average, a motion-control shoe is the best place to start.
If you have high arches:
The least common arch type is a high arch. Those with high arches tend to underpronate, meaning the foot doesn't roll inward naturally to act as a shock absorber. Rather, there's too much stress on the outside of the foot, which can travel up the leg and lead to a variety of running injuries. In this case, experts say you want a neutral-cushioning shoe, which has no added stability features (such as a post or foam on the medial side) that could impede your foot from pronating. A neutral-cushioning shoe will encourage your foot to roll inward naturally and offer plenty of cushion to absorb impact. Efficient runners who don't need pronation control can also wear neutral-cushioning shoes.
Runners with wide feet have a number of options, since the vast majority of running shoes come in multiple widths. Some popular running shoes even come in four width options, including average, narrow, wide and extra wide. All of the shoes mentioned in our Best Reviewed chart come in multiple widths.
For those who run outdoors on uneven terrain, trail-running shoes are a better choice since they have a sturdier toebox, sometimes an extended sole to repel dirt and rocks, a chunkier tread to help grip the trail and a stiffer midsole for more stability. In addition, trail runners are bulkier and not as cushioned as their road-running counterparts. We discuss these shoes in a separate report on trail-running shoes.
The latest trend in running shoes is minimal designs that are lightweight but have less arch support and cushion. There are currently a wide variety of options for runners, and more models are becoming available. ConsumerSearch discusses these styles in a separate report on minimalist running shoes.
If you run every day, consider buying two pairs of shoes and rotating their use. The cushioning in running shoes breaks down in about 300 to 500 miles, and how often a pair of shoes should be retired depends on your size, footstrike and typical running surface. Lighter runners will take longer to wear down their midsoles. Neutral runners wear down a shoe less than overpronators or underpronators, who wear down shoes on the medial (arch side) or lateral (outside) sole, respectively. Hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt take a greater toll on shoes than grass and trails. Here are some other tips from experts about shopping for running shoes:
To learn more, watch this About.com video on how to choose the best running shoes.