We can learn a lot from shoe reviews. Whether the reviews are in magazines or websites, or posted in online forums and blogs, they can be helpful to hear what others have to say about shoes you are considering. RunRepeat.com is a website that features running shoe comparisons. In late 2015 they ran the numbers from 134,867 customer reviews of 391 running shoes from 24 brands. Shoes were ranked from one to five stars based on satisfaction. Interestingly, their conclusion was that expensive shoes are not any better than more moderately priced shoes. This means inexpensive running shoes are often better rated then expensive ones. They pointed out that perceived shoe quality is very subjective and the study was not a scientifically based. One possible finding from the comparison is that runners who buy more expensive shoes likely have higher expectations, and are more critical in their reviews.
Many shoe and boot companies suggest specific models that are best for certain types of activities and sports, and for certain types of feet. They do this because many shoes are made for a specific type of foot—and many people have feet that will work better with one type of shoe than another. Look for the buyer’s guides in the magazines of your sport. Runners can find shoe reviews in Runner’s World, Trail Runner, and UltraRunning. Backpackers and hikers can check out Backpacker magazine’s reviews, and Outside magazine’s Buyer’s Guide for helpful information.4 Wear Tested Gear Reviews (weartested.org) is another good site with reviews. Many online shoe retailers also offer phone advice support or online guides. For information on shoe reviews and gear review sources, see page xref in the appendix. Other sport-specific magazines may offer similar reviews. Many websites are now posting reviews, and some offer reader comments or reviews.
The September 2015 Runner’s World Shoe Finder asked up front if readers knew the type of shoe that worked best for them. If so, they were guided to a four-section grid based on more shoe, less shoe, and more cushioning, less cushioning. Each box of the grid contained shoes they recommended for that more/less choice. Other readers were asked questions about BMI, running mileage, and injury experience, after which they too were directed to one of the four boxes to find their recommended shoes. Each shoe reviewed was also rated for heel cushioning, forefoot cushioning, and flexibility; and the shoe’s weight and heel and forefoot heights were given. Unfortunately, these guides of suggested shoes usually only include 12-18 shoe models.
It’s a good starting point, but I would use the guides as a reference point to shop at my local running store and get their personal insights.
Even after buying shoes that fit well, be alert to changes inside your shoes as you walk, run, and hike. Jason Pawelsky, with Tamarack, the maker of the popular ENGO Blister Prevention Patches reminds, “We all know that changing conditions (terrain, temperature, distance, etc) can make even the best fitting pair of shoes feel and perform differently so there is no perfect fit 100% of the time. The challenge is to get runners, hikers and team sports players to not only recognize that, but to react proactively.”
Whether you are a runner, ultrarunner, adventure racer, thru-hiker, casual walker, or something in-between, you are probably always on the lookout for the right shoe. Maybe one of the magazines you subscribe to has a shoe issue, or occasional shoe reviews. Or maybe you scour the Internet reading reviews or pay close attention to what is written in email forums to which you subscribe. It’s the elusive search for the perfect shoe.
Can there be more than one shoe that is right for your feet? Are there perfect shoes? Christopher Willett went through four pairs of shoes on his 2003 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike (2600+ miles) and bought them as he went. Wearing size 15 running shoes, he didn’t really have the option of buying from an outfitter along the trail. He would call or use the Internet from various towns along the way and have new shoes and socks sent up trail. He started in Brooks Adrenaline GTS and liked them in the hot 563-mile Southern California section. He wished the next shoe, the Asics Eagle Trail, had a more protective sole but liked the tread. While the New Balance 806s were structurally good, he felt they had a poor tread design and they are the only shoe that he would not wear again. He finished the last 670 miles in the Asics Gel Trabuco V and liked their durability and tread. Would one of the shoes have worked for his whole thru-hike? If they had been the NB 806s, the answer would be no. Probably any of the other three would have worked the whole way, but Chris might have had problems sticking with one shoe given the varying weather and terrain of the trail. Even the most perfect shoe can have small issues: breathability, tread design, cushioning, sole protection, and so on. Each of these issues can make them perfect for one set of conditions and wrong for another.
In reality, there is more than one shoe that is right for your feet. What’s important, regardless of which shoe you choose, is that the shoe fits.
Note: The photo shows part of the display of shoes at Zombierunner, Palo Alto. They have a great store.