Best running shoes for beginners

by Solereview editors


This article has been updated for October 2020. We’ve replaced the Brooks Ghost 12 and Saucony Ride ISO 2 with their updated versions. The adidas Supernova and the Nike Winflo 7 are new additions. The Nike Pegasus 36 has been removed.

Before anything else, we’d like to clarify what ‘running’ means in the context of this article.

This curated list is relevant for road running only; if you’re running on treadmills, then please refer to this list of shoes. If you’re an XC, track, or a trail runner, then this guide does not apply to you.

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 begin 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 (more) conducive conditions, he or she might begin road running.

Some first-timers decide to go road running to complement their favorite athletic activity like biking or swimming.

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

So far, so good. 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 may seem daunting.

Some people get a super-expensive running shoe, thinking that a higher price equates to a better product.

Don’t do that.

Once you breach the $100 retail price barrier, running shoes are more or less the same in the matters of everyday performance. Instead of getting yourself the most expensive product, you should find a shoe that serves as a good starting point.

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

Your footwear taste will evolve once you’ve run a few hundred miles. Your stamina and distance will improve with time, and so will your shoe rotation.

Over time, you’ll come to know whether you need a softer or firmer shoe, lighter or heavier, snugger or looser, and other things – like your preference of heel drops.

This curated list helps you find that middle ground of shoes. 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, including the quality of upper fit.

So what is solereview’s criteria for selection here?

Price:  We only chose models that had an MSRP (Full retail price) of $130 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.

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

Cushioning:  None of these models are overly soft or hard. This will allow you to assess the comfort level you want and use those learnings for your next purchase.

Accessibility and distribution:  Most countries will have at least one of the five models listed below. That’s why we have stuck with popular brands and not the esoteric ones. That’s the reason why you won’t see a 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 12 instead of the 13 will do just fine.

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. As our review summarizes, 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 37 with the more grounded Winflo 7.

1) Adidas Supernova

Occasionally, adidas surprises everyone with a shoe that is value-packed. We’ve seen that happen when they released the $100 Alphabounce. While it wasn’t a ‘serious’ running shoe per se, the product’s value proposition was clear as a sunny day.

For 2020, the adidas Supernova delivers the same value in a running shoe form. All the necessary bits and pieces exist on this $100 shoe, and then some.

adidas uses the proven Boost+EVA form factor on the new Supernova. The bouncy softness of the Boost foam produces a comfortable ride without being mushy – thanks to the firmer EVA frame on top and at the front. The full-coverage outsole helps too, by making the transitions efficient and gripping well during landings and roll-offs.

The firmer forefoot also allows the shoe to transition quickly, and now it’s easy to see that the Supernova is a lot more than a beginner shoe. It’s cushy enough for runners who’re just getting started. At the same time, the performance-oriented ride adds a lot of versatility.

adidas hasn’t ignored the upper either. Like some of the lifestyle sneakers we’ve reviewed, the Supernova’s well-crafted upper looks like it’s from a higher price segment. Be it embroidered details, reflectivity, soft-touch materials, it has everything that one would expect in a thoughtfully-designed upper.

Fit-wise, the shoe fits snug – and that’s typical adidas. Going up half a size should create more room. Other than that, the insides fit very smoothly and plush for its price.

2) Asics Gel-Cumulus 22

If you don’t know where to begin, just buy the Asics Cumulus 22 and work your way up from there.

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 has been tweaked to make it softer so that there’s more comfort for longer runs. At the same time, the cushioning isn’t mushy so you can use the Cumulus as your daily shoe to do it all.

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 is single-piece without layers, so the interiors feel seamless. The sizing fits just right, and optional widths are offered if you want more room.

The Nimbus 22 is a more ‘premium’ version of the Cumulus, but we don’t see the point in spending the extra cash.

3) Brooks Ghost 13

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 brightest amongst its peers.

What makes the Ghost 13 a great fit for this guide is its do-it-all versatility. The midsole meets the sweet spot between soft and firm, and the fact that Ghost 13 has switched to a single-density form factor makes it even more so.

The midsole has improved in the sense that it’s smoother. Unlike the past versions that relied on a heel crash pad made of a different foam, the Ghost 13 uses a single-density foam stack. Just like the Brooks Glycerin 18.

The upper doesn’t use fancy lacing systems or new-age mesh materials. Brooks relies on a foolproof design that makes the best of engineered meshes and heel/tongue padding. This creates a true-to-size and comfortable interior.

When combined with a comfortable ride that does everything from daily to long-distance runs, the Ghost 13 has exactly what one needs in a beginner-friendly shoe.

4) New Balance Fresh Foam 880V10

In the past, we’ve often singled out the New Balance 880 as being one of the last ‘conventional’ trainers.

Well, with the 880V10, we can’t label the shoe as such – not anymore. Replacing the dual-density midsole of the V9 is a new Fresh Foam stack glued to a redesigned true-to-size knit upper.

That doesn’t change the 880’s beginner-friendly demeanor. The 10 mm drop midsole is just-right in its cushioning delivery and strikes the optimal balance between ride comfort and stability.

Did we mention that this shoe sells in four different sizing widths?

5) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 7

Wait – where did the Pegasus disappear? Hasn’t the model consistently featured on this guide? It did – till the Pegasus 37 came along. With a softer rear and firmer forefoot, the Pegasus 37 isn’t as versatile as the 36 or 35. The 37’s upper goes as far to remove the tongue padding, but beginners want some form of plushness on the upper.

Let us suggest something else instead.

The $90 Zoom Winflo 7 has two Zoom Air bags inside its EVA foam midsole, with the forefoot one being larger than the rear.

From a ride viewpoint, that translates into a cushioned and responsive experience. The pressurized Zoom Air bags contract and expand when loaded, and is 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 outing.

That said, it’s plain to see that the Winflo is built to a cost. The smooth-fitting upper is secure, but you 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 7 is a great starter running shoe.

6) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2

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 running shoe category.

The Forever Floatride Energy 2 carries over the same midsole and outsole, so the ride character is identical to the superlative V1. The upper fit and feel has improved too. Get the details in our full review.

Just like the V1, the Floatride Energy V2 is an excellent starter running shoe. And let’s be honest; the shoe just looks so much better with the classic Reebok logo.

7) Saucony Ride 13

The ISOFIT upper is gone, good riddance. Removing the convoluted midfoot lacing system makes the Ride 13 a better beginner shoe pick. Keep things simple, as they say.

The overall simplicity is what makes the Ride 13 versatile – not only for various kinds of runs, but also for different experience classes. If you’re a seasoned runner, then the firm ride allows you to build both speed and distance.

On the other hand, someone who’s into their first few road miles will appreciate the supportive yet cushioned ride. Use this shoe as a daily trainer while graduating to higher paces and distances – the Ride 13 can do it all without breaking a sweat.

Though the Ride 13 sells in two widths (standard and regular), the regular fit will most runner profiles. It has a snug fit, and that’s the part of its appeal.

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

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