Best running shoes for flat feet

by Solereview editors

Best_running_shoes_for-flat_feet_2020

This article has been updated with current models for November 2020. The Asics Kayano 26, Asics GT-2000 8, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20, Brooks Ghost 12, and the New Balance 860V10 have been replaced with their updated versions. The Hoka Arahi 4 is a new addition.

If you’ve been a solereview regular, then you probably know what we think about ‘shoes meant for flat feet’. We have been vocal skeptics of brands or retailers blindly recommending a particular running shoe category just because you have fallen arches.

The ‘one size fits all’ approach is flawed, because every runner is different, and so is each shoe model – even if they are made by the same brand and are from the same category.

A balanced and well thought out purchase process guides the runner through a variety of potential options – after taking into consideration the shoe history, personal preferences, budget, and running conditions. The resulting shoe may or may not turn out to be from the stability category.

It is also likely that a shoe from the ‘neutral’ category will work just fine.

Solereview has been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to interact with thousands of readers, and we’ve come to the following conclusion: flat-footed runners do not necessarily have to wear a ‘stability’ shoe with a medial post.

Our opinion bucks the conventional wisdom that states quite the opposite.

It is generally implied that flat-footed runners are prone to injuries, and hence the need for specific footwear. That is wrong on so many levels because even runners with regular arch heights aren’t injury-proof – they get injured all the time.

If there is a conclusive study or peer-reviewed research (with large sample size and consistent methodology) that establishes the evidence that flat-footed runners are more prone to injuries than non-flat footed runners, then we’d like to read it.

We also have to keep in mind that not all stability shoes are alike. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 works in a different way than the Nike Structure 23; the latter functions differently than an Asics Kayano 27. And so on.

The stability running shoe category was conceived during the early 1980s when the athletic footwear industry was still in its infancy. In those days, most shoes used a primitive midsole construction that involved pasting a mesh upper to a low-quality chunk of die-cut foam and a sheet of outsole rubber.

Back then, the rounded edges of the upper heel often extended over the slim midsole. And why?

That’s because early running shoes used a board-lasted construction – unlike the contemporary strobel lasting design that allows the upper to be placed on a much wider (and more stable) midsole base.

All runners pronate regardless of their arch height, and some do it more than the others. So in those days, the said rolling motion caused the inferior midsole to flatten on one (medial) side.

Add to that hordes of untrained runners enthusiastically hitting the streets in the wake of the then brand-new running fad, and injuries followed soon. More so, when the flattened medial midsole caused the foot to roll perilously inwards – even when stationary.

This led brands to include all manners of stability devices and support systems on the inner side of the midsoles. The high incidence of injuries in that era – certainly made worse by the inferior running shoe design – led to the birth of the paradigm that views ‘overpronation’ or arch type as a cause of injury.

Flat feet was assumed to be a pre-condition for excessive rolling in, hence resulting in the conflation of the two factors.

In short, the entire medial post and pronation thing is a 70~80’s deal, based on a then-valid theory formed under an entirely different set of circumstances.

But this is 2020, and running shoe midsoles have become highly advanced, both from an overall construction and material formulation perspective.

Standard ‘neutral’ shoes such as the Brooks Ghost 13 or the Mizuno Wave Rider 24 offer high levels of inherent stability. And most contemporary foam materials retain their structure throughout the life of the shoe.

And brands are making design adjustments accordingly. Running shoes with medial posts are becoming an increasingly rare sight. Companies like Saucony and Brooks are editing medial posts out of their stability shoes and replacing them with ‘GuideRails’ and plastic stabilizers. Even the Nike Structure 23 is a pale – and softer – shadow of the ultra-firm Structure 22.

So if you have flat feet and are looking for a shoe, what do you buy? Happy that you asked.

It’s pretty obvious that we aren’t going to draw up a definitive list of shoes that are ‘suitable for flat-footed runners.’ There’s no guarantee that this approach works, and anyone who tells you otherwise needs to know better.

The best way to buy a new shoe is to use your existing shoe as a reference. Something that worked for you without any problems, so the next shoe should ride and fit similar. Or if it didn’t, look for qualities missing in your existing shoe.

On the other hand, if you’re completely new to the whole running shoe business, then we recommend that you stick to true stability shoes – this also includes a few supportive neutral shoes mentioned at the end of this article.

What we’re going to do here is to recommend models based on the set of attributes you’re looking for, or have (previously) experienced in an existing shoe. For instance, a certain group of runners like a shoe that stays stable without the aggressive ‘motion control’ behavior.

So that you know, a shoe with a noticeable motion-control ride is one that carves the midsole into firm and soft sections, with the medial (inner side) being firmer than the lateral (outer) area.

Others may prefer a shoe that has the said firm and soft set-up. Some may want a shoe that comes with a noticeable sensation of under-arch support. And a small percentage of individuals want none of the medial posting business, and simply need their shoe to be cushioned and supportive.

Ultimately, the best running shoe is what you’re comfortable running in, and we hope we can help point you in the right direction. This isn’t a simple list, nor is it exhaustive – because the process of buying a running shoe is a very personal one.

We’ve split the list into several categories; see which one meets your requirements the best.

1) True stability shoes with a supportive ride quality. These models feel stable/supportive in the literal sense of the word.

 

Nike Air Zoom Structure 22

The Nike Structure is a very familiar name in the stability running shoe world. The ’22’ suffix tells you that this model has been around for over two decades.

There’s a good reason why it has survived so long. The shoe’s very firm ride lends it excellent stability. The cushioning – if we can even call it that – comes from the insole and the combination of the forefoot Zoom Air and blown rubber outsole. The partially sleeved upper fits securely, and the Structure 22 is also available in a wide and extra-wide.

The Structure 23 is out now. We’ll update this section after we have wear-test information on the ride and fit quality. However, if you crave the firmer and distinctly medial-posted ride of the 22, now is a good time to grab a few pairs before they disappear forever.

Saucony Guide 13

The Guide 13 doesn’t have the word ‘ISO in its name, so you know what that means. This stability shoe no longer has the strappy ISOFIT upper and reverts to a sleeker, engineered mesh upper with a streamlined exterior.

From a fit standpoint, there are no complaints at all. The interiors are smooth and secure, the heel grip included.

The upper isn’t the only thing that’s new about the Guide 13. The firmer medial-post is fast going out of fashion, so even the Guide cuts it free. In its place is a TPU support structure, a feature that was first seen on the Saucony Liberty ISO.

Despite all the changes, the finished product has a ride that melds ride comfort with plenty of stability for flat-footed runners.

Mizuno Wave Inspire 16

Just know that there are two versions of the Wave Inspire 16. The first is the ‘regular’ kind – one that welds together engineered mesh and thin overlays. The other ‘Waveknit’ variant has the namesake knit upper.

Regardless of which version one ends up with, the ride is identical. Functionally speaking, the Inspire 16’s midsole strikes a fine balance between cushioning and support-friendly firmness. Unlike the new Wave Horizon 4 (see next) or the Wave Sky 4, the familiar Wave plate is still a part of the Inspire 16’s design.

The snappy TPE plate adds plenty of underfoot stability while the foam layers deliver the necessary padding. The forefoot has a distinct flare for stability and is cushioned with a blown rubber outsole for smoother push-offs and landings.

The Inspire is also interchangeable with the softer Wave Rider 24. Though the Rider 24 is classified as a neutral trainer, its Wave plate-infused heel and wide forefoot create a supportive platform that doesn’t compress excessively when loaded.

Mizuno Wave Horizon 4

Brands are getting rid of traditional stability shoes. You know, the ones with a firmer medial wedge. Mizuno running shoes didn’t have one to begin with, so they’re doing the next best thing – getting rid of their Wave plates.

The Wave Sonic was one of the earliest models without the TPE plate, and the Wave Sky 3 quickly followed. The Wave Horizon 4 takes the same route. The midsole replaces the plastic Wave plate with a dual-density foam stack.

The result is a Mizuno Horizon with a cushioned ride that packs plenty of support due to its wide and high-volume midsole. A wide base translates into a supportive yet comfortable foundation for flat-footed runners.

The rock-solid stability of the older Wave Horizon trades places with a softer ride, so it’s no loss. The knit upper is spaciously plush as always.

New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V4

The New Balance Vongo V4 isn’t your average stability shoe; it is cushioned, supportive, and low-drop without a medial post. The split outsole and a deep transition groove keeps the weight centered.

The inner midsole has a more supportive sidewall for increased stability and under-arch support. The outer midsole has laser-cut cavities – this makes the foam softer while giving the ride a slight bias.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Vongo’s 4 mm heel-to-toe drop is uncommon for this category. So if you’re not accustomed to lower-drop running shoes, we advise you to build miles gradually on the Vongo.

New Balance gave the 2019 Vongo V4’s upper a few updates for a more comfortable fit – like the bootie construction and a knit heel collar. We haven’t seen a 2020 model yet, so this Vongo is what everyone gets for now.

 

2) ‘Motion control’ shoes with firmer medial (inner) and softer lateral (outer) midsole sidewalls.

Asics Gel-Kayano 27

Though the Asics Gel-Kayano design hasn’t kept up with the rest of the running shoe industry, it is vastly different than the Kayanos of 2012-14. The firmer medial-post has shrunk in size, thus nudging the Kayano closer to the neutral cushioning territory with each passing year.

And yet the Kayano 27 feels very familiar. The midsole hasn’t lost the firmer wedge, nor has it ditched the plastic midfoot shank. Runners seeking a traditional ‘stability’s shoe will find solace in the Kayano’s traditional fit and feel.

A large plastic footbridge gives the midfoot structural rigidity and support. However, given the medially-posted midsole, the Kayano does have a cushioning bias towards the softer Gel side. The difference in softness isn’t a lot but noticeable.

While the Flytefoam forefoot is marginally softer than the 26, it is pretty supportive and transition friendly. As a whole, the Kayano 27 is comfortable enough for daily and long-distance runs.

The upper sells in many widths and fits plush and true-to-size. The heel is rock solid, thanks to the molded plastic clip on the outside.

Asics Gel GT-2000 9

The GT-2000 9 is what somebody buys if the Kayano’s higher weight and the retail price is a deterrent. In lieu, the 2000 offers a low-calorie version of the Kayano while being comfortable and versatile.

Just like the Kayano, the GT-2000 9 has a firmer medial-post and a slight cushioning bias. That being said, the 2000 feels more ‘neutral’ than the Kayano due to the small visible Gel window on the outside. This design brings a better balance to the midsole softness.

It’s worth mentioning that the toned-down midsole design makes the GT-2000 9 softer than the Kayano 27. Though the ride has a supportive character, the forefoot and rear have a softer feel.

Even the upper is less busy. Instead of an external clip, Asics applies urethane reinforcement over the heel and midfoot. The rest of the upper is standard Asics fare, meaning that the shell is made of an engineered mesh with a smooth interior.

Hoka One One Arahi 4

There’s one thing you should know about the Hoka Arahi 4. While the brand Hoka conjures images of an uber-soft and deeply cushioned ride, the Arahi 4 is anything but. This shoe is nothing like the Bondi 7 or Clifton 7.

The Arahi has a relatively stiff ride that is accented with a ‘motion-control’ character. A firmer wedge wraps under the heel to support both sides of the midsole. That said, the firmer section extends longer on the inner/arch side for more stability.

The gist being, this is a very different Hoka than what most runners are used to. The firmness of the midsole is noticeable, and that’s precisely why we have the Arahi on this list. There’s a lot of support under the foot, something that’s also helped by the planted feel of the wide outsole.

The upper is ok. The toe-box and forefoot have sufficient space, though we can’t understand why the Arahi couldn’t have borrowed the comfortable heel collar from the Clifton 7. The Arahi 4’s heel isn’t as comfortable over the Achilles.

New Balance Fresh Foam 860 V11

The New Balance 860 is back, this time in a redesigned Fresh Foam avatar. It’s still got a firmer medial post that makes the inner midsole more supportive. However, this is a changed 860. One with a softer ride and fresh aesthetics. One that also includes a true-to-size upper with smooth and soft interiors.

A triple-density midsole makes the ride cushioned and more neutral than before. The firmer wedge blends seamlessly into the midsole, whereas the rest of the midsole makes the 860 comfortable enough for most runs without feeling lazy.

A combination of hard and soft rubber on the outsole imparts grip and transition-friendly manners.

To sum up, the softer Fresh Foam 860V11 is a versatile trainer that will appeal to most runners, flat-footed or otherwise.

 

3) Cushioned shoes with arch support. These models have a filled-up under-arch area or a high midsole sidewall.

Brooks Beast 20

This is a markedly different Brooks Beast from what we’ve been used to.

It’s rather odd to note that there is no medial post. That was once an unthinkable possibility for the Brooks Beast, but here we are. Instead of a medial post, we have Brooks’s famed GuideRails – a set of raised barriers on either side of the midsole.

If this set-up sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the Brooks Transcend 7. In essence, the Beast is nothing more than a Transcend with a wider midsole and cushier insole.

These subtle differences make the Beast a better option than the Transcend. The broad midsole provides plenty of support, and the insole is thick enough to be replaced with a custom orthotic – should you require one. Even with its stock insole, the Beast 20 offers plenty of cushioning comfort.

The upper is pretty spacious. Again, that is useful for accommodating aftermarket insoles that provide additional under-arch support.

Also see: The New Balance 1340 V3.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21

In recent years, the Brooks Adrenaline has transformed into something else entirely. First, it dropped the firmer medial post and adopted the ‘guide rails’ – Brooks lingo for raised midsole sidewalls. In doing so, it exited the traditional ‘stability’ shoe universe.

For 2020, the GTS 21 comes full circle. Not only does it become softer, but it also gets rid of the heel crash pad.

Just like the Brooks Ghost 13, the Adrenaline GTS 21 now has a mostly single-density midsole from the heel to toe. Only the inner side ‘Guide Rail’ is made of a firmer foam for under-arch support.

In other words, the Adrenaline GTS 21 is nothing more than the Brooks Ghost 13, but with more under-arch support. The soft and reconfigured cushioning also makes it one of the most comfortable Adrenalines to date, one that can be used as a daily trainer or long-distance shoe.

Not much is to be said about the upper or outsole. There’s the expected level of Brooks plushness inside the shoe, all while fitting smooth and true to size. The full rubber outsole does what it does best – it grips effectively while working cohesively with the midsole.

4) Supportive neutral shoes

It’s worth considering running shoes from the neutral category. Many models blend cushioning and support, and are safe choices for most runners regardless of their gait pattern.
 

Brooks Ghost 13

There’s a reason why the Brooks Ghost is so popular. It has all the ingredients that make a please-all neutral running shoe. The said ingredients are in the right proportions too. Everything’s in moderation, be it the cushioning softness, ride stability, or the upper comfort.

And what’s new for the 2020 Brooks Ghost 13? Well, the headlining act – if one can even call it that – is the single-density midsole that delivers a smoother ride.

On the previous versions of the Ghost, the heel crash pad was a separate piece of foam. Not anymore. The new midsole is one-piece, a change that adds smoothness to the ride character.

Other things haven’t changed. The engineered mesh upper still fits smooth and cushy on the inside, and the outsole delivers a grip quality that punches above its weight. The midsole, while smoother, feels supportive due to its just-right cushioning softness.

Brooks Glycerin 18

Though there’s plenty of noise about how ‘soft’ the Glycerin 18 is, consume that with a huge grain of salt.

At its core, the Glycerin 18 is a supportive neutral shoe – and a lot like the Glycerin 17. And what does that mean, exactly? That it’s a cushioned running shoe with lots of ride smoothness. At the same, there’s an underlying tinge of firmness that contributes to overall ride stability.

You won’t get the arch-support levels of the Adrenaline GTS 21 or the Brooks Beast 20, but it fares better than other shoes in its class. A plush upper is standard, as you would expect from the house of Brooks.

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

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