Best running shoes for beginners

by Solereview editors

Best running shoes for beginners

This article has been updated with current models for November 2021. The Brooks Ghost 13 and Nike Structure 23 have been replaced with their updated versions. The adidas Solarglide 4 is a new addition. The adidas Supernova has been removed.

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 in developed countries – 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 $120 (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 234 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 14 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 14will do just fine. The same goes for the Saucony Ride 13 vs 14, or 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.

1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 23

If you’re lost for choices, just buy the Asics Cumulus 22 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 23 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) Adidas Solarglide 4

The Solarglide 4 isn’t the lightest or latest, but it is an excellent starter running shoe due to the proven Boost + EVA frame setup.

The bouncy softness of the Boost foam produces a comfortable ride without being mushy – thanks to the firmer EVA frame atop the soft foam.

Also, the full-length Continental outsole and snappy Torsion shank make the transitions efficient and grippy during landings and take-offs.

The firmer forefoot delivers quick transitions, and it’s easy to see that the Solarglide 4 is more than just a beginner-friendly shoe. It’s comfortable enough for runners who’re just getting started. At the same time, the performance-oriented ride is versatile for different use-cases.

adidas hasn’t ignored the upper either. Be it the fused details or soft-touch materials, it has everything that one would expect in a thoughtfully designed upper.

From a fit point of view, the shoe fits snug – and that’s very typical of adidas. Going up half a size creates more room. Other than that, the plush insides creates a very smooth foot wrap.

The Solarglide 4 also sells in a waterproof Gore-Tex version.

3) 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.

4) New Balance Fresh Foam 880V11

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

Well, with the 880V11, we can’t label the shoe as such – not anymore. Last year, the 880V10 replaced the dual-density midsole of the V9 with a new Fresh Foam stack that was attached to a redesigned knit upper.

However, that doesn’t change the 880’s beginner-friendly cushioning and fit character.

The 10 mm drop midsole is just right in its cushioning delivery and strikes the optimal balance between ride comfort and stability. The firm feel gives the 880 a versatile ride quality. The engineered mesh upper has a smooth interior with no pressure hot spots.

It helps that the 880’s true-to-size upper sells in four different sizing widths. The upper lacks an inner sleeve, so some tongue slide happens during runs.

5) 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 two Zoom Air bags 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.

6) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 3

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 V1 and V2, the Floatride Energy V3 is an excellent running shoe for beginners. The V3 has a brand-new midsole and outsole that runs slightly firmer due to the redesigned outsole. The no-nonsense upper retains the smooth and secure fit character without looking downmarket.

That makes the midsole more versatile than the V1 and V2, as the ride is better suited for higher pace ranges. The redesigned lug geometry of the outsole also delivers improved traction.

7) Saucony Ride 14

Its back-to-basics character is what makes the Ride 14 versatile – not just for various kinds of runs, but for different experience classes as well.

If you’re a seasoned runner, then the firm ride of the 8 mm offset midsole is amenable to both speed and distance. The e-TPU topsole and removable insole provide a comfortable layer of step-in softness.

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 14 can do it all without breaking a sweat.

Though the Ride 14 sells in two widths (standard and regular), the regular fit will most runner profiles. It’s worth mentioning that the Ride 13 and 14 share the same midsole, so it won’t matter if one bought the 13 instead.

However, the Ride 14 has the better upper of the two. The mesh and laces are softer, so the interiors feel more comfortable. The plushly-padded tongue and heel doesn’t hurt either.

8) 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.

Outsole of the Nike Zoom Structure 23.

Huh. The Nike Structure 24 is now a neutral shoe.

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.

In our opinion, the redesigned Structure 24 (and 23) is more versatile than the Nike Pegasus 38 and Vomero 16.

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

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