Best Cheap Running Shoes
Published on By Raechel Conover
Stretching before a run is just one of 12 fitness tips you should know before even breaking a sweat.
This buying guide will be updated for spring 2017. In the meantime, look to our roundup of top running shoes under $100 for fall 2016, including the Saucony Kinvara 6, the successor to our pick for best cheap running shoes.
Saucony Kinvara 5 Review
From $63 Best
This neutral shoe wins praise for its proprietary cushioning and shock-absorbing capabilities. It's also the lightest model we researched, weighing 6.7 to 7.7 ounces (depending on gender and size).
A Saucony Kinvara review by Runner's World concludes that the already well-regarded shoe is getting better every year. This version promises improved durability, with extra rubber on the outsole and a redesigned mesh upper with a more plush collar (the rim that surrounds the ankle). The magazine declares the Saucony Kinvara 5 a "responsive ride" and names it an Editor's Choice.
The Saucony Kinvara 5 (starting at $63, Amazon) also garners cheers from consumers. At Amazon and Road Runner Sports, reviewers comment on the shoe's sturdier mesh upper and improved forefoot flexibility. One runner who logged 80 miles before posting a review says the shoes hold up well in a variety of training runs, ranging from long distance and speed work to hard-packed trails and runs in mud/ice.
Other reviews, including an expert appraisal in the Running Times, laud the new Pro-Lock lacing system, which wraps mid-foot and provides a secure yet flexible fit. One reviewer mentions that it took him a few runs to get used to the lacing. Overall users are impressed with the comfort of this shoe.
The Saucony Kinvara 5, which comes in men's and women's styles, is a neutral running shoe with a minimalist bent; it's designed for people with normal to high arches and normal pronation. The construction is simple and very light -- just 6.7 to 7.7 ounces, depending on gender and size. Saucony's proprietary technology includes memory foam heel pods, a breathable upper made with FlexFilm, and PowerGrid cushioning in the midsole.
The combination of lightweight, sturdy construction and responsive performance keeps reviewers gushing about the Saucony Kinvara 5. That's enough to warrant placement at the top of our list of recommended budget running shoes.
Saucony Guide 8 Review
From $85 Best
For runners who want more arch support, this is a relatively rare find: a good stability shoe that can be found for less than $100. Layers of cushioning and a seamless forefoot ensure comfort.
Saucony Guide reviews heap praise on this stability shoe designed for runners with a tendency toward "overpronation," or a pronounced inward rolling or flattening of the foot when it hits the ground. Both male and female runners swear by them, according to reviews posted on Amazon. Many are loyal fans of the line or converts from Asics or Nike. They report that no break-in period is necessary -- the shoe is comfortable right out of the box. Many mention the arch support, whether it's for hours spent on their feet at work, stints on the treadmill, or training runs outside. As a stability running shoe, the Saucony Guide 8 (starting at $85, Amazon) weighs slightly more than neutral models, coming in at 9 to 10.4 ounces, depending on gender and size. Yet the shoes feel sufficiently light, reviewers say, while providing ample cushioning.
The consensus is similar in reviews at Zappos and Road Runner Sports. Multiple reviews note the extra room in the toe box and one credits the shoe with supreme ankle support. About the only sour note is a couple of comments on Amazon that reference a tighter fit in the women's version; some users suggest buying a half size larger than normal.
Stability in this shoe comes from a molded and contoured sock liner, which cradles the arch while providing cushioning to the heel, and a medial post in the midsole to support the arch. High-density EVA foam provides a plush cushion. The shoe features a mesh upper and special lining to keep moisture at bay.
If you want a stability running shoe and your budget is limited, so, too, are your options. For a stability shoe in the Cheapism price range, this one stacks up well, with comfortable arch support and cushioning. The Saucony Guide 8 hits the cheap ceiling hard but is worth the investment. If you can't find a low price for your size and color choice, look for last year's version, the Saucony Guide 7. Solereview considers the two a 94 percent match.
Asics Gel-Excel33 3 Review
From $63 Good
These running shoes provide flexibility and a satisfying amount of cushion at a relatively light weight. Welcome features include shock-absorbent gel in the heel and an anti-odor liner.
This neutral running shoe, designed for people with normal pronation and higher arches, commands positive attention in Asics Gel-Excel33 reviews. Compared with its predecessor, the Asics Gel-Excel33 3 (starting at $63, Amazon) features a snugger fit in the heel and midfoot and is an ounce lighter: 7.4 to 11 ounces, depending on gender and size. There's a 10-millimeter offset, or drop, from heel to forefoot. Deep flex grooves in the outsole allow the shoe to bend easily, providing a smooth toe-off.
User reviews on the Asics website and the retail site Road Runner Sports attest to the comfort of the shoe's gel cushioning technology and wide, roomy toe box. They also praise the flexibility, breathability, and comfort of the seamless upper. More than one reviewer describes the shoe as "springy" and ready to go out of the box. The FluidRide midsole is light, durable, and very responsive.
Overall the shoes are so comfortable, one reviewer says, that she wears them around the house like slippers. Anti-odor sock liners provide a snug feel. Two other reviewers swear by the Asics Gel-Excel33 3 for volleyball practice, training, and half marathons. An expert review from Runner's World lauds the shoe for being well-cushioned and flexible.
Gel technology, responsive cushioning, light weight, and overall comfort earn this shoe votes of confidence from experts and consumers. For a budget price, runners get the support required for a very comfortable run.
Brooks PureConnect 4 Review
From $100 Good
A unique split in the outsole between the big toe and the remaining four affords a minimalist feel and gives runners more power. Extremely light cushioning and gel add comfort and arch support.
Runners who have posted Brooks PureConnect reviews at Zappos regard this shoe as extremely lightweight, super supportive, and well-cushioned. This assessment is shared by experts at Solereview, who laud the excellent transition from impact to push-off, as well as the light weight, cushion, and responsiveness of the Brooks PureConnect 4 (starting at $100, Amazon). Compared with its highly regarded predecessor, this model offers a more cushioned ride and a plumper, softer upper. The shoe is available in men's and women's styles.
The Brooks PureConnect 4 is something of a cross between a neutral shoe and a minimalist running shoe. It suits people with normal arches and normal pronation who prefer a barely-there feel but still like a well-cushioned ride. A noticeably contoured insole creates a raised profile for arch support. There's a 4-millimeter drop between the heel and the toe.
The design of these budget-priced running shoes features a few novelties. A unique toe-flex outsole puts a 1-inch split between the big toe and the rest, promising more independent and natural movement, although Solereview says it doesn't do much to help generate more power. Brooks' BioMoGo midsole foam and DNA gel provide the right amount of cushioning for a neutral shoe while keeping the weight down between 7 and 9.13 ounces, depending on gender and size. The upper is made of pliable mesh for plenty of breathability.
A minimalist experience wrapped in a neutral package, the Brooks PureConnect 4 claims its share of devotees. Although the price pushes our Cheapism limit, users have few gripes and generally find true comfort when running in these shoes. If you want to try a minimalist-like shoe with neutral cushioning, this is the one to grab.
Nike Air Zoom Structure 17 Review
From $74 Think Twice
Reviewers say this stability shoe (along with its predecessor) fails to provide sufficient support. The Nike line appears to be back on its feet, however, with the release of the Structure 18.
Loyal fans of Nike's Zoom Structure line are disappointed in this version, according to Nike Structure 17 reviews. What was once deemed a top stability shoe for runners who like more arch support fell in the rankings with its 16th and 17th incarnations. As Solereview explains, earlier editions of this shoe featured a medial support post to provide stability and discourage overpronation (an inward roll and flattening of the foot with each stride). The Nike Air Zoom Structure 17 (starting at $74, Amazon), along with the previous model, uses a different midsole construction. Foam of two different densities is fused diagonally together. Instead of providing stability, reviewers say, this structure causes each foot to lean toward the outer (softer) side of the shoe.
The apparent rationale for the redesign was to give runners a closer-to-the-ground feel; marketing materials note the "Dynamic Support platform" and patented Zoom units in the heel and forefoot for low-profile cushioning. However, reviewers posting on multiple sites lament the changes in the once-lauded shoe line. As if problematic arch support and instability weren't enough, a few reviews posted on the retail site Road Runner Sports report that the shoes wore out quickly and the sole came apart.
Runners wishing that Nike had left the original design alone can take solace in the newer Nike Air Zoom Structure 18 (starting at $90, Amazon). Reviews by Running Shoes Guru and Solereview herald the return of a once beloved shoe. A midsole post reinforces the dual-density foam, delivering the stability lacking in the Nike Air Zoom Structure 17.
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.
Breathability.If sweat builds up inside a running shoe, blisters are likely to form and make running an extremely unpleasant exercise. Breathable running shoes keep feet cool. The shoes we recommend draw applause for this in online reviews. The Brooks PureConnect line wins particular praise for the efficient stitching and breathable mesh on the upper part of the shoe.
Additional Products We Considered
Brooks Addiction 11 Review
If Brooks Addiction reviews are any guide, a fair number of runners are addicted to this line of shoes. At Road Runner Sports, customer reviews attest to the overall performance and comfort of the Brooks Addiction 11 (starting at $120, Amazon) for people with flat arches and overpronation. One user says he's been running in the same model for 15 years; another notes that it stands up to 25 to 40 miles a week on trails.
Reviews at Zappos extol the superior support, breathability, and wide foot bed, which has helped a few reviewers with various foot problems. Severe overpronation, stress fractures, and bunions are just some of the reasons users commit to this motion-control running shoe, with its excellent arch support and cushioning. Several reviewers say they chose the Brooks Addiction on the recommendation of a podiatrist or physical therapist and others happily report that it suits men with large feet who struggle to find this type of shoe.
Although the Brooks Addiction 11 is priced outside the Cheapism niche, it's relatively inexpensive given the motion-control design and construction. Brooks' MC Pod technology and an extended diagonal rollbar provide arch support; gel runs from heel to toe for cushioning; and crash pads add flexibility and make for a smooth transition through the running gait. The shoe is topped with a breathable mesh upper to manage moisture. As expected, this shoe weighs a bit more than neutral and stability running shoes, coming in at 10.2 to 13.4 ounces, depending on gender and size.
The Brooks Addiction 11 is a good fit for runners who need lots of stability and cushioning with a relatively low price tag. This motion-control running shoe garners adulation from many quarters, including people who have jobs that require lots of time on their feet. Recommended by specialists in the field, it provides superior support where needed (that would be the arch) -- even for bigger guys who are tough on running shoes. Brooks hits all the marks with specialized technology for stability and cushioning.