Our 2009 Sneaker Guide
We asked 67 women — weekend walkers, seasoned runners and everyone in between — to tread test more than 70 different styles of this season's walking, running and hiking shoes in quest of the perfect pairs.
And the winners are...
On the following pages you'll find our best tips for finding your perfect shoe. Learn the footprint trick that'll help you determine the level of cushioning that's right for you, find the best socks, and more!
What Kind of Cushioning Do You Need?
Your days of trial-and-error sneaker shopping are over — we've done the footwork for you. Just kick off your shoes (seriously!), step a wet foot onto a paper grocery bag, and take this quiz.
If You Have...
- A missing-in-the-middle footprint (arch stays rigid)
- A steady landing with no overpronation (rolling inward of your foot) as you run
- Achy joints — hips, knees and so on — when your sneakers are worn out
Then You Need...A Neutral-Cushioned Shoe
"Your feet stay aligned with your body as you run, so they don't need much guidance," says Johanna Bjorken, footwear buyer for JackRabbit Sports in New York City. Avoid sneakers that tout extra stability. "Plus, you have rigid arches that don't collapse [flatten out] when you step, which means you need the extra cushioning. Whether it's marshmallowy soft or not is up to you," Bjorken says. "Go with what feels best."
If You Have...
- A C-shaped footprint (arch collapses a little)
- Slight overpronation (rolling inward of the foot) as you run
- Occasional running-related injuries like shin splints (on the inside of your leg), plantar fasciitis (pain along the bottom of the foot) or IT band syndrome (pain along the outside of the knee and thigh)
Then You Need...A Mild-Stability Shoe
"Shin splints and other aches are often telltale signs of overpronation, so don't assume that because something hurts you should opt for more cushioning," Bjorken says. "A sneaker with firmer support may better prevent your arch from collapsing, guiding your foot in the right direction." To spot a stability shoe, look for a medial post — a harder, denser material (often gray-colored foam) — just under the arch on the shoe's instep.
If You Have...
- A relatively filled-in footprint (arch collapses a lot)
- Pronounced overpronation (rolling inward of the foot) as you run
- Regularly occurring running-related injuries, such as plantar fasciitis or IT band syndrome
Then You Need...A Maximum-Stability Shoe
"If you've tried a mild-stability shoe and it didn't stop your running pains, you might need to bump up the support to steady your foot strike," Bjorken says. But don't go overboard: Few people truly need a traditional "motion control" shoe — many manufacturers are putting less emphasis on them now. Maximum-stability shoes should have straighter outsoles, stiffer midsoles and fewer grooves on their treads than mild-stability shoes to stop your superflexible arches from flattening out as you run.
You may treat them like an afterthought, but socks can make the difference between a smooth ride and a sore one. First of all, the right pair can help prevent blisters, says running coach and physical therapist Bruce Wilk, director of Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists in Miami. According to a study from the University of Missouri-Columbia, nylon blends are best for beating blister-making friction — 100 percent cotton is the worst. Pick pairs that are made with technical fabrics like Coolmax or ClimaLite, which wick away sweat, Wilk says. Also, they should come up higher than your shoes, especially behind your ankle, and stay put. Extra padding — double density in strategic places like the heel, arch and forefoot — can help cushion impact a little and fill out looser areas in your shoe. Stretchiness around the arch allows your foot to contract and expand naturally as you stride.
Editor-Tested: TLC for Tootsies
Running/Walking: Asics Hera Bamboo Low Cut ($12, asics.com for stores)
Trail Running: Smartwool PhD Trail Run Mini ($17, smartwool.com)
Light Hiking: Bridgedale Bamboo Lo ($14, www.garmontusa.com)
Ace Your Laces
Try these loopy tricks to get a Cinderella fit from your sneaks.
Problem: Narrow feet or heel slippage
Solution: Lace up your shoe as usual until the next-to-last eyelet. Then loop each end up and down through the top eyelet on the same side. Pull each end across and through the loop on the opposite side.
Problem: Wide feet
Solution: Loop shoelace through first two eyelets as usual. Slide each end under upper and pull up to the third-from-bottom eyelet, skipping the second. Pull ends up through third eyelet, then continue lacing as usual.
Problem: Tight upper
Solution: Loop shoelace through first two eyelets. Slide right end under upper and pull up through second eyelet on right side, then cross straight over to left side; pull down through eyelet. Slide left end under upper and pull up through third eyelet on left side, then cross straight over to right side; pull down through eyelet. Continue pattern (skip eyelet on one side, then pull up and across) until you reach the top.
Support from a Non-Sneaker?
Q. Are there any sporty shoes that are good for everyday walking?
A. Beware, not all athletic brands put technical smarts into their streetwise styles. But some companies, like Keen, Clarks, and Rockport, offer all the bells and whistles you need. Look for these four essentials in a shoe you intend to make your walking partner: arch support, a firm grip around your heel, room to wiggle your toes, and extra cushioning in the heel and forefoot. "Without arch support, your foot may flatten out, which can overuse bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles," says Michael J. Brunetti, DPM, a podiatrist for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Wear unsupportive shoes long enough and you're at risk for plantar fasciitis, stress fractures on your metatarsals and shins, and tendinitis on the inside or outside of your foot." If you want to make your favorite flats more arch-friendly, Brunetti recommends trying custom inserts or over-the-counter options, such as Powerstep ($34-$44, powersteps.com) and Lynco ($60, aetrex.com) insoles. But if you are experiencing foot pain, talk to a podiatrist before you pad your problem pairs.
Originally published in FITNESS Magazine, October 2009.