It’s important to clarify what ‘running’ means in the context of this article.
This curated list is relevant only for road running; if you’re running on treadmills, then please refer to this list of shoes. If you’re an XC, track, or trail runner, then this guide isn’t relevant either.
People begin road running for a variety of 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, road 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.
Road 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 first road 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 of heel offsets.
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?
Price: We only chose models that had an MSRP (full retail price) of $140 or less. The final price will depend on where you live, though.
Category: This list only contains supportive neutral shoes. This will also help you decide if you need a medial-posted shoe later. The Nike Structure 24 is here, but it no longer has a medial post.
Heel-to-toe offset: The heel drop is the difference in the 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, On-Cloud, or Salming on this list.
It is also perfectly OK to get the older version if you can find a better deal. For example, a Brooks Ghost 13 instead of the 14 will do just fine. The same goes for the Nike Structure 23 rather than the 24.
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; don’t go from 0 – 30 miles in a single week!
Dropping the Nike Pegasus from this buyer’s guide was unimaginable until a year ago. But here we are, thanks to the drastic makeover of Nike’s bread and butter model. The Pegasus 38 is almost identical to the 37.
As we’ve explained in our review, the Pegasus isn’t a bad shoe. It’s just that it is no longer the Swiss Army knife equivalent of a running shoe.
Hence, we’ve substituted the Pegasus 38 with the more balanced Zoom Structure 24. We’re looking forward to the Pegasus 39 that’s due for an imminent release.
1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 23
If you’re lost for choices, just buy the Asics Cumulus 23 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.
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) Brooks Ghost 14
The Brooks Ghost has always been a dependable bet 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 cushiest among its peers.
What makes the Ghost 14 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 14 uses a single-density foam stack. Just like the higher-priced Brooks Glycerin 19, that is.
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 a plush heel/tongue padding. 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 14 has everything that’s required of a beginner-friendly shoe.
3) Nike Air Zoom Structure 24
We’ll probably get some flak for recommending the Structure as a beginner-friendly shoe. But we have our reasons, so please hear us out.
The Structure 24 is nothing like the 22. Or the 21. Or the 18 and 19. It all changed with the last year’s Structure 23.
The Structure 22 was the last in its series with a medial post and an ultra-firm ride. In a surprise development, the Structure 23 transformed into a neutral shoe with a supportive and comfortable ride. The forefoot Zoom Air made the ride peppy enough for higher-paced runs, whereas the thick foam stack delivered a cushioned ride for long-distance comfort.
Almost nothing has changed between the Nike Structure 23 and 24, so it doesn’t matter which version you get.
Like the 23, the Structure 24’s upper is very comfortable and secure. There’s plenty of plushness in the quilted heel and tongue, and the fully-sleeved upper locks the foot down over the midsole.
4) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8
Wait – where did the Pegasus go? Hasn’t the model consistently featured on this guide?
It did – until the Pegasus 37 came along. With a softer rear and firmer forefoot, the Pegasus 37 wasn’t as versatile as the 36 or 35. The 37’s upper went as far as to remove the tongue padding, and some form of upper plushness is preferable for most beginners. Though the Pegasus 38’s padded tongue makes amends, it has the same ride quality – and thus, the drawbacks – as the 37.
Let us suggest something else instead.
The $90 Zoom Winflo 8 has a forefoot Zoom Air bag inside its EVA foam midsole. From a ride viewpoint, that translates into a cushioned and responsive experience.
The pressurized Zoom Air bags contract and expand when loaded, and are vaguely reminiscent of the older Pegasus models – namely the 33 and 34. There’s enough padding beneath to make the Winflo a daily beater capable of regular runs and the occasional long-distance session.
That said, it’s apparent that the Winflo 8 is built to a cost. The smooth-fitting upper is secure, but we can’t help but notice the flimsiness of the materials. Even the outsole lacks the robust thickness of the Pegasus.
But if you can’t find the older Pegasus models (even the 34 in the outlet store will do), then the Winflo 8 is a great starter shoe.
5) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 4
We loved the inaugural edition of the Floatride Energy – the ride was responsive, comfortable, and low-profile enough to feel efficient.
The minimal and breezy upper had a slightly long-ish fit but disappeared over the foot during runs. Combine all that with a $100 retail price, and you had a winner in the starter shoe segment.
Just like the previous models, the Floatride Energy V4 is an excellent running shoe for beginners.
It has most of the traits that have gained it a loyal following. The midsole is made of expanded Polyurethane foam, the same material that adidas uses for its Boost midsole. Even Saucony’s Pwrrun+ is made of E-TPU foam. However, the recent $10 price bump pushes it out of the $100 price territory.
The Floatride foam is cushioned, yet highly resilient, durable, and resistant to temperature changes. These properties make the Reebok Floatride suitable for many use cases, be it easy-paced everyday runs or tempo workouts. A colony of small lugs on the full rubber outsole protects the midsole and grips well.
Reebok has redesigned the upper for the V4. While the fit is smooth and secure, it no longer has the asymmetric lacing from the previous versions.
Optional widths are unavailable, so it’s a one-size-fits-all deal here.
6) 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.
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 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.
7) 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.