Best running shoes for beginners

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

The side profile of the Nike Pegasus 39.

This article has been updated with current models for December 2022. The Brooks Ghost 14 has been replaced with its updated version. The Reebok Forever Energy 4 has been removed.

The Nike Pegasus 39 on the road.

People begin recreational running for many reasons. For example, we’ve given footwear advice to readers who ran only cross-country or track and wanted to transition to road running.

At times, road running under certain external conditions such as unsuitable climate (extreme cold or heat) or infrastructure (lack of roads) may not be possible. So once a person relocates to an area with conducive conditions, road running becomes an accessible luxury. A lot of things that runners take for granted – like paved sidewalks for example – may be a luxury elsewhere.

For many first-timers, running complements their preferred athletic activity like biking or swimming.

In the large majority of cases, keeping fit is a powerful motivation to take up running.

Running is a gift; it doesn’t take an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment. All you need is some apparel and a pair of reliable running shoes.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. With no footwear history to guide you, the task of buying your first pair of running shoes seems daunting.

Some people get a super-expensive running shoe, led by the reasoning that a higher price equates to a better product.

Don’t do that.

Once the $130 (retail price) barrier is breached, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Instead of getting the most expensive product, focus on a shoe that serves as a good starting point.

The Asics Cumulus 24 in a park.

The Asics Cumulus 24 is a please-all daily trainer and an excellent choice for new runners.

The first running shoe should be about finding the middle ground first and then building on that foundational experience.

Your footwear taste will evolve after a few hundred miles. The stamina, pace, and distance capabilities get better over time, and so does the shoe rotation.

Experience will tell whether you need a soft or firm shoe, lighter or heavier, snug or relaxed, and other things – like the preference for a particular heel drop.

This curated list helps find that starter running shoe. You might not like 100% of what the shoe offers, but it’ll provide a clearer sense of what more (or less) you prefer in your future shoe.

So what are Solereview’s criteria for selection here?

Versatility: What if you had just one running shoe to do it all? For example, you can run on the road, track, treadmill, and even mild trails in shoes like the Asics Cumulus or Nike Pegasus.

Neutral ride:  This list only contains neutral shoes that do not interfere with the gait cycle. This will also help you decide if you need a medial-posted stability shoe in the future.

Heel-to-toe offset:  The heel drop is the difference in height between the thickest part of the heel and forefoot. The suggested shoes have an 8–12 mm offset; we have not included lower drop models as they may cause initial soreness.

Cushioning:  None of these models are overly soft or hard. This allows a safe assessment of the comfort level while building the experience required for a high-performance shoe. Of all the shoes on this guide, the Saucony Ride 15 is the firmest.

Stock availability:  Most countries will have at least one of the five models listed below. That’s why we have stuck to the popular brands and not the esoteric ones. That explains the absence of an Altra, Hoka, or ON running on this list.

As with all running shoes, buy a size that leaves a thumb’s width of margin in the front. And gradually build up your road running mileage; do not go from 0 – 30 miles in a single week!

1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 24

If you’re lost for choices, just buy the Asics Cumulus 24 and work your way up. The Cumulus is the dumb reach of running shoes, and we mean that as a sincere compliment.

You may not fall in love with the Cumulus, but there are no reasons to hate it either. As far as running shoe choices go, this is safe as it gets. Do you want to know more? Our detailed product review is here.

The Flytefoam Blast midsole of the Asics Cumulus 24.

The Asics Cumulus 24 gets a Flytefoam Blast stack for improved responsiveness.

The Flytefoam midsole has been tweaked for softness so there’s greater comfort for longer runs. At the same time, the cushioning isn’t mushy so you can use the Cumulus as a daily do-everything running shoe.

The ‘safe’ character applies to the upper too. While the design isn’t groundbreaking by any means, the upper gets many things right. The engineered mesh upper lacks unnecessary layering, so the interiors feel seamless.

The sizing fits just right, and optional widths are offered for runners with wide feet.

The Nimbus 24 is a premium and softer version of the Cumulus that works just as well, but we don’t see the point in spending the extra cash.

2) Nike Zoom Pegasus 39

We weren’t exactly fond of the Nike Pegasus 37 and 38. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just say that the ride quality wasn’t deserving of the Pegasus name.

But that’s now history. With a return to the basics, the Nike Pegasus 39 has turned into a versatile everyday trainer for runners of all experience classes. That includes folks that are new to running, and here are some reasons why. This is just a summary, so for a comprehensive breakdown of the Pegasus’s ride character, we recommend reading our review.

The Zoom Air on the Nike Pegasus 39.

There’s a Zoom Air bag under the heel and forefoot for a balanced cushioning feel.

The Zoom Air bags – one each under the heel and forefoot – add transition friendliness to the cushioned React foam midsole.

Thanks to this set-up, the Pegasus 39 feels comfortable at different speeds and distances. The soft React foam stack adds sufficient comfort for distances up to a half marathon, and the firmness of the Zoom Air bags is good for tempo runs.

The tongue of the Nike Pegasus 39.

We love the new upper as well. It’s just well-designed, and hits all the right interior proportions. The cord-based lacing secures the foot, and padded sections elevate the overall comfort.

3) Brooks Ghost 15

The Brooks Ghost has always been a dependable choice for runners who’re just getting their feet wet – or should we say, shod. The Ghost doesn’t have cutting-edge tech, nor is it the lightest and softest among its peers.

What makes the Ghost 15 a great fit for this guide is its do-it-all versatility. The cushioning occupies the sweet spot between soft and firm, and the fact that Ghost has a single-density midsole makes it even better.

Unlike the past versions (older than Ghost 13) that relied on a heel crash pad made of a different foam, the Ghost 15 uses a single-density foam stack.

The upper doesn’t use fancy lacing systems or new-age mesh materials. Brooks relies on a foolproof design that depends on a soft engineered mesh exterior with plush heel and tongue. These design choices produce a true-to-size and comfortable interior.

The comfortable ride is versatile enough for daily training and long-distance runs, so the Ghost 15 has everything that’s required of a beginner-friendly shoe.

The Brooks Glycerin 20 is also worth considering. While it offers a higher level of stability and cushioning depth than the Ghost, that comes at the cost of higher weight and lower versatility.

4) Saucony Ride 15

If you’ve kept away from the Saucony Ride 14 because of its noticeably firm ride, the Ride 15 gives you a reason to change your mind.

Though the Ride 15’s EVA foam midsole (Pwrrun) is relatively firm, it’s taller and softer than the Ride 14.

The removable Pwrrun+ footbed of the Saucony Ride 15.

The Pwrrun midsole foam of the Saucony Ride 15.

Also worth mentioning is the brand-new insole that’s made of expanded Polyurethane, aka the Pwrrun+. The thicker midsole and cushy insole work together to result in a distance-friendly ride that also delivers efficient transitions.

In other words, if you’re starting slow, the Ride 15 has all the ride comfort that you need. On the other hand, once you pick up the pace, the rocker-shaped midsole kicks in to help.

So the Ride 15 isn’t just a beginner-friendly shoe, but a running shoe for different levels of experience.

The inner sleeve of the Saucony Ride 15.

The tongue thickness of the Saucony Ride 15.

The redesigned upper is plush as well as secure and breathable. An inner sleeve and padded sections keep the foot locked in during runs; optional widths are available too.

Our in-depth review is here.

5) New Balance Fresh Foam X 880V12

Nothing on the 880V12 suggests it’s a high-tech running shoe, but this New Balance is a perfect meeting ground for beginner-friendly features.

Though the Fresh Foam X is neither PEBAX nor other cutting-edge foam, the dual-density midsole achieves an excellent balance between everyday ride comfort and supportive transitions.

This helps build a foundational footwear experience for new runners. With a ride quality that’s neither too soft nor too firm, it allows beginners to learn what they prefer more in a shoe – a tempo-friendly firmness, or long-distance comfort?

For example, someone using 880v12 for the first time may later go on to buy a cushy 1080V12 and a firmer Fresh Foam Tempo. Of course, there are Carbon-plated racers that defy conventional rules, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

New Balance also provides a full-coverage outsole that maximizes traction as well as the miles-per-dollar by being durable.

The simple and true-to-size upper is also friendly for first-time runners. The soft mesh shell has a smooth and secure fit, and is also available in four widths for more (or less) interior space.

For some reason, the new 880V12 still does not have an inner sleeve to keep the tongue from sliding.

6) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 V12

The New Balance 1080 V12 is an excellent starter shoe for long-distance runs. If you want your first running shoe to be loaded with mileage-friendly cushioning, the 1080 makes a strong case for itself.

Even if you’re not pulling high mileage in your early days of running, the 1080 V12 is also a versatile everyday trainer.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 V12 on the waterfront.

While soft, the midsole isn’t mushy. There’s even a rocker effect due to the relatively inflexible forefoot, so that means that the 1080 V12 works well under a wide range of running speeds. We discussed the 1080 V12 at length in our review.

This max-cushion running is extremely comfortable, both above and under the feet. Covering the foot is a soft and stretchy mesh upper that also secures the foot in comfort. Only the forefoot uses stretch mesh; the padded tongue and heel are designed traditionally for a familiar sense of comfort.

7) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 9

Ok, the Winflo is no longer priced in double digits. It’s now a $100 running shoe, but that comes with significant updates to the midsole design.

The newest Zoom Winflo 9 has a full-length Nike Dot Weld Air strobel over its EVA foam midsole. From a ride viewpoint, that brings the cushioning closer to the foot than the previous Winflo. This cushioning tech is somewhat similar to the ‘Airliner’ insoles used a few decades ago.

When combined with the soft EVA foam midsole, there’s enough padding beneath to make the Winflo a daily beater capable of regular runs and the occasional long-distance session. These qualities make the Winflo 9 a great starter shoe.

Despite the basic upper design, the fit is secure and breathable.

8) New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V7

There’s a good reason for the New Balance Hierro V7 to exist on this guide. We have to look past its positioning as a trail shoe, because it’s much more than that.

For example, if you live in the countryside, your preferred surface for running could very well be an unpaved gravel or wood-chip path. That’s where running shoes like the Hierro and Nike Pegasus Trail prove very useful.

Here, the Fresh Foam midsole adds plenty of ride comfort – be it road or unpaved flat trails. Also, the Hierro V7 is a road-trail hybrid, so it’s far more versatile than a serious trail running shoe – which it is not.

A full-length Vibram outsole protects the foot on uneven terrain while meeting its primary performance objective – that of dependable grip on the road and trail.

The soft upper isn’t all that different from a road running shoe. The padded heel and tongue secure the foot in comfort, whereas the true-to-size mesh upper creates a breathable interior. The toe-box and midfoot are reinforced for protection and durability.

The Nike Pegasus Trail 4 is also a competent road-trail hybrid, but the soft ride limits its off-road performance.

Do you own any of these shoes? Improve this review by sharing your insights – submit a review here.

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