Written By
Published Apr. 15, 2021

We’re all for a heavy gym session or chasing the base record on the O-course. That being said, the fact remains that these aren’t the best ways to get ahead in your career or necessarily develop your combat fitness. It’s no secret that the U.S. military wants runners, plain and simple. Look at old fitness standards, new fitness standards, compare PFTs across branches, and you’ll notice a trend. If you’re not fast, the deck is stacked against you. Once you accept that career progression looks better for people like Joshua Cheptegei than it does for people like Hafthor Bjornsson, it’s time to come up with a roadmap to speed. Get your diet in order, develop a training regimen tailored to the distance you need to run, and pick up shoes that can bring your performance to the next level. 

Preparing for a sprint and a marathon require very different approaches and finding an appropriate running shoe is just as important. We’re confident the shoe for you is on this list.

The Saucony Mad River TR blurs the line between road shoes and trail shoes so you can train wherever you want. The carefully designed tread provides the grip you need to run on loose surfaces, but it doesn’t go overboard. That makes this running shoe just as appropriate on the sidewalk as a backcountry trail. Multiple layers of different materials form the sole to provide cushioning and stability where you need each most. Waterproof protection around the toes helps the inside stay dry, while breathable mesh elsewhere keeps temperatures down. The tongue is integrated into the shoe’s upper to prevent dirt and debris from making its way inside. Take advantage of two rows of eyelets to set up your laces however you want. This high-performance running shoe is so versatile that it’s hard to imagine a situation where it wouldn’t excel.

Sometimes less is more, and that philosophy certainly applies to the classically-inspired New Balance Trackster. This retro running shoe is perfect for shedding seconds off a timed event while looking like the runners who pioneered the sport decades ago. The thin sole achieves stability by keeping your foot close to the ground. Breathable mesh panels keep temperatures down while the simple tread provides traction on and off pavement. It might be too minimalist for runners who prefer the most modern features, but it’s certainly got style and a track record of success. If you’re not fast in these, you know the shoe isn’t the problem.

Trail runners looking for a shoe that can tackle the harshest conditions don’t need to look any further than the Salomon Speedcross 5. This beefy trail running shoe starts with a tread pattern so aggressive that it’s just shy of cleats. Those chunky rubber lugs dig into mud, sand, and loose surfaces to provide solid footing on the shakiest ground. Generous waterproof panels on the upper keep the inside dry long after other shoes would be soaked through. A unique lacing system reduces weight and stays clean compared to traditional laces. This running shoe is so tough that we wouldn’t hesitate to wear it on light hikes, too. If you like your running with a dash of adventure, it’s clearly the one to have.

The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 does a great job of taking the sting out of those early-morning formation runs. It’s an all-round performer that offers corrective support for runners whose ankles experience overpronation. Ample cushioning in the sole provides shock absorption that can keep your body feeling fresh longer. Structural guide rails are built into this shoe to stabilize your feet in order to protect your knees. The 3D-printed upper creates a natural shape that conforms to your foot more effectively than traditional shoes. There’s also a starts-and-stripes color option that we can’t promise will make you faster, but we’re pretty sure. It isn’t the lightest or most robust shoe on our list, but it could very well be the best option for runners who struggle with pain and joint fatigue.

If you spend much time running your local roads and sidewalks, you’ve probably seen the Asics GT-2000 9 more than a few times. This tried-and-true road running shoe combines high-quality materials and proven design elements in a package that can go the distance. Gel cushioning in the sole insulates your foot from impact during the most jarring points of your stride: landing and toe-off. Unique foam composition enhances this effect, while remaining stable long after athletic shoes would permanently compress and need to be replaced. Carefully designed support structures help your foot remain in the optimal position for a more efficient stride. If you plan on doing long-distance runs to improve your endurance, this running shoe deserves serious consideration.

The plush Nike React rides like a Caddillac to deliver a stable, comfortable shoe for runners trying to take the discomfort out of their PT routine. The sole is thicker than what most running shoes offer, resulting in enhanced cushioning and comfort. It’s also noticeably wider. That width provides a solid platform that can take some stress off the stabilizing muscles around your ankles and knees. The curved shape mimics the path your foot takes in each stride to facilitate a natural gait. This shoe’s upper takes a minimalist approach. Breathable materials and fewer eyelets keep your feet cool and reduce pressure points. This isn’t the speed demon of the group; it’s meant to make running more accessible and comfortable. The first step is the most important one, so lace up a pair of these and make it happen.

If you’ve ever raised your hand when asked “Does anybody want to go fast?” then you need to check out the Under Armour Micro G Pursuit. To be fair, we doubt you’ll be allowed to lace up a pair of these for a PFT, but they can absolutely make you a more developed runner. Augmenting your training program with sprint workouts can increase strength, improve your body’s response to high intensity output, and turn hills into passing zones on longer runs. These track spikes are like drag radials for your feet. Screw-in metal cleats bite into track surfaces for a solid launch with each step, but they shouldn’t be used anywhere else. At only a few ounces, these are ready to race and will absolutely get you amped up for sprint repeats at the base track.

Related: 6 snow boots for your inner mountain man

Types of running shoes

There’s a lot to consider when buying a running shoe; certainly more than graphics and tread patterns. Take a look at this list, and you’ll find shoes that are built to be light, improve skeletal geometry, or protect your feet from the elements. If you find yourself hitting remote trails to log your miles, look for a shoe that offers good footing in mud while keeping your feet dry. Runners who prefer to pound pavement will want plenty of cushioning for their joints and may benefit from corrective shoes that compensate for ankle pronation or supination. If you’re chasing outright speed with sprint repeats, you might even want to get extreme with a pair of track spikes. In addition to the type of running you do, consider things like how high your arches are, how your joints respond under load, and what your stride looks like. 

Key features of running shoes

  • Intended use: Even the best running shoes can’t live up to their potential if you use them incorrectly. Pay attention to whether each shoe was designed for use on track, trail, or pavement.
  • Materials: Running shoes can get pretty pricey. One reason for that is the advanced materials they use. Durable tread, shock-absorbing soles, and 3D-printed uppers are all reasons to invest in a true running shoe over an inexpensive athletic shoe.
  • Fit: Running shoes vary in width, arch support, and footbed shape–among other things. Not only can each brand fit differently, but each model within those brands can also have some variation.  
  • Weight: Every running shoe is a compromise. Durability and support come with an increase in weight, price, or both. The lightest race-day shoes might be fast, but they probably won’t provide enough support to rack up training miles in large chunks. 
  • Structure: Runners with high arches will need a very different shoe compared to those with low arches. The same goes for runners with pronated, supinated, and neutral stances. Running shoes also account for whether a runner strikes the ground heel-first or toe-first.

Benefits of running shoes

The right running shoe can make a huge difference in your training and overall performance. When you’re not distracted by joint pain, blisters, and numb feet, you can focus on maintaining your pace and breaking personal bests. We can attest that it’s a lot easier to get up for unit PT when you aren’t dreading the torment of substandard running shoes. Properly fitted shoes can even correct things like inefficient strides and weak joints. Don’t forget that you can also augment your running shoes with aftermarket footbeds for a custom fit.

Running shoe pricing

Running shoes aren’t cheap, but they’re definitely worth the investment. Expect to pay $100, give or take. Sometimes you can score a bargain for slightly less than that, and often times you’ll be shopping closer to $150. At these prices, you’re getting higher quality materials, more advanced research and development, and features tailored to your running style rather than a generic fit. Keep in mind that running shoes are consumable items, and they need to be replaced before they stop performing at a high level. One way to spread out the cost is to rotate through multiple pairs depending on each day’s conditions, and even saving a fresh (but broken-in) pair for race day. 

Reviews: 7 magnificent multitools that belong in every toolbox

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.