Experts recommend replacing running shoes about every 300 to 500 miles. By this rule of thumb, consumers who run an average of three miles three days a week should be buying new shoes about once a year. Finding a good cheap running shoe suited to your foot can take some of the sting out of this exercise. Adidas, Nike, Asics, Brooks, Saucony, New Balance, Reebok, Mizuno, and Puma are some of the best-known names in this market, which totals more than $3 billion a year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Based on our analysis of price, features, and online reviews, we identified several top budget running shoes priced between $50 and $100. Our selections are all available in men's and women's versions.
Cheap Running Shoes Buying Guide
A veteran runner writing at The Running Advisor says consumers often make two fatal mistakes when buying running shoes. Either they chase after the newest fad, which is typically expensive (i.e., $150 and up), or they bargain shop and expect to get the perfect running experience. Both approaches can kill a running career, whether you're aiming for marathons or just a few miles a week.
If you're a frugal shopper, unfortunately the options are rather limited. We found slim pickings in our sub-$100 price range and no options costing less than $50 that qualify as true running shoes. Big-box stores sell athletic shoes in the $20 to $30 range, but they just don't have the support and cushioning for running any distance or with any frequency. Specifications for these super-cheap running shoes are vague and user reviews are lackluster. Running shoes stand apart from athletic or walking shoes because they're made to support your foot and absorb the shock as you land forcefully with each jog. Without proper running shoes, you're at risk for pain and injury.
The shoe industry stresses the importance of choosing the right type of running shoe for your foot and gait. Different types of shoes are marketed to people with different arches (flat, normal, high) and pronation, or the degree to which the foot rolls inward when it hits the ground. The theory is that overpronation and insufficient arch support can lead to injury. However, recent studies suggest that reports of pronation-related injuries are overblown. Although a shoe store employee might recommend a stability or motion-control running shoe to counteract pronation, research shows that any new runner can safely wear a neutral shoe. That's good news for frugal consumers: Neutral running shoes generally have more basic construction and require less material than stability or motion-control shoes, so they tend to be less expensive. Ultimately, experts say, comfort is more important than shoe type.
Our choices for best cheap running shoe are the neutral, lightweight Saucony Kinvara 5 (starting at $63) and the Saucony Guide 8 (starting at $85), a stability shoe with an airy feel. Our picks for good cheap running shoes are the Asics Gel-Excel33 3 (starting at $63) and the Brooks PureConnect 4 (starting at $100), both neutral shoes praised for high-quality cushioning. Last year's models, most notably the Saucony Guide 7, are similarly well regarded and often available at a discount. The Nike Air Zoom Structure line tends to run at the front of the pack, but reviewers say it took a wrong turn with the Structure 16 and the more recent Structure 17 (starting at $74).
Motion-control running shoes, traditionally recommended for runners with flat feet and pronounced overpronation, are specially designed to limit how much the foot rolls inward with each stride. This construction pushes the cost beyond the Cheapism niche. If this is the type of shoe that fits, it may be worth stretching the budget a bit. Among motion-control running shoes, we like the Brooks Addiction 11 (starting at $120).
A new type of running footwear is the minimalist shoe, which mimics running barefoot and has attracted a loyal following. Due to the spartan construction, it generally falls into the cheap segment. However, these shoes cater to only a small portion of the market, and runners should use caution when transitioning to this style of shoe to avoid injury. The Saucony Kinvara and Brooks PureConnect offer some of the benefits of a minimalist running shoe while providing the cushioning of a neutral shoe. They have a relatively low offset or "drop" of 4 millimeters from heel to toe.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For
Neutral Running Shoes.This type of running shoe should be a safe choice for any new runner, regardless of pronation. Neutral running shoes boast a very soft midsole for protection from the hard ground, relatively little arch support, and no stability devices. The minimal arch support allows the arch to collapse on its own as the foot hits the ground and absorb some of the shock that would otherwise land in the leg. With less material needed to create arch support, neutral running shoes are generally the cheapest of the bunch.
Stability Running Shoes.These shoes provide moderate arch support, which some runners find more comfortable than a neutral shoe. Because this construction requires a bit more material, most stability shoes land slightly outside the Cheapism zone. The Saucony Guide is a notable exception, depending on where you shop and which size and color you buy. It makes our list as the best pick for thrifty runners who prefer this type of shoe.
The Nike Air Zoom Structure 17 is another entry-level option but fails the stability test, according to reviews. Previous shoes in this Nike line were favorites of many runners. Alas, as Running Shoes Guru explains, the Nike Zoom Structure 16 was an ill-advised makeover that persists with the Structure 17.
The biggest change involves the disappearance of Nike's tried-and-true medial support post in favor of a soft foam wedge on the outside of the midsole (the layer of material between the upper and the outsole, or the bottom of the shoe). This is intended to discourage overpronation. Experts at Solereview dislike the resulting sensation of leaning outward. Comments about this line posted on the Nike website are salted with complaints about sore legs, painful feet, inadequate support, and several cases of tendonitis and shin splints. By consensus, the new design doesn't provide the needed support or stability.
Cushioning.At impact your foot absorbs a force up to 2.5 times your body weight, according to experts in exercise biomechanics. Cushioning at the forefoot and heel helps blunt this force. Running shoe manufacturers use a slew of proprietary shock-absorbing technologies, and all claim to offer the best design and construction. The Asics Gel-Excel33, for example, uses gel cushioning for an extra measure of comfort. Running experts don't prescribe any particular technology or material, however. They simply state that running shoes need more cushioning than walking or athletic shoes provide. Try on several different brands and take a few strides before deciding which shoes adequately cushion your feet.
Light Weight.Reviewers appreciate running shoes with a lightweight build and feel, but not so light that they sacrifice support and stability. With today's technology, any running shoe worth buying should be relatively lightweight. The ideal running shoe is light enough to make a runner feel fleet of foot without any sense of drag. Some racers allege that every ounce trimmed from the weight of the shoes potentially trims one second per mile from their times. There are running shoes designed specifically for racing that weigh considerably less (and cost considerably more) than most budget running shoes, but they don't have enough cushioning and support to be used for training.
Among the shoes we researched, neutral shoes generally weigh the least. The Saucony Kinvara 5 is the lightest, weighing 6.7 ounces to 7.7 ounces, depending on gender and size. Stability shoes are heavier (and motion-control shoes heavier still) because of the additional arch support. The Saucony Guide 8 tips the scale at up to 10.8 ounces. Despite its comparative heft, the shoe still feels lightweight and comfortable to many users, according to reviews.
Running Shoe Reviews
The search for the right cheap running shoe is highly personal. No two people's feet are the same, so a model that works for your friend or an anonymous reviewer may not be appropriate for you. Sometimes runners choose shoes that are said to suit their feet but simply aren't comfortable; the consequences of that initial choice are apparent in user reviews.
We took account of all this in our analysis of running shoe reviews. These included customer reviews on retail sites such as Amazon, Zappos, and specialty retailer Road Runner Sports. We consulted Runner's World magazine and some particularly informative online review sites. Solereview has published lengthy, exhaustive reviews of cheap running shoes, providing photos and analysis of every aspect of the shoes' construction. The nearly 300 reviews from Running Shoes Guru reflect testing by the site's editors. Comfort is the factor reviewers mention most often, by far. Some also bring up breathability.
Comfort.In most consumers' estimation, a comfortable shoe is one with excellent cushioning, plenty of support, and a fit that makes them want to run. Reviews indicate whether features such as a "triple-density Dynamic Support system" actually perform as promised. The Brooks PureConnect line sports a unique toe-flex outsole, which separates the sole of the big toe from the rest. Some reviewers express initial skepticism that the split design will be comfortable, but an expert writing for Solereview says the feature doesn't have much of an effect, for good or ill.
While running shoe reviews are a good indicator of comfort, the final purchase decision should depend on the way a shoe feels on your foot. Even if you ultimately buy online, experts strongly urge that you try on whichever shoes are in the running before making a purchase.