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Our 10 Favorite Athletic Shoes For Any Workout Or Foot

Have a bunion? Play pickleball? Like to hike? We have you covered!

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“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” True enough, but Marilyn Monroe probably wasn’t thinking about bunions and plantar fasciitis when she delivered her famous line.

Choosing the right shoe becomes more important and more difficult as we age, thanks to the fact that older feet are more likely to have issues.

Plantar fasciitis, a common cause of heel pain, is usually diagnosed in people aged 40 to 60. An estimated 1 in 3 people over age 65 have bunions, the majority of them women. A 2023 survey found that 68 percent of Americans have purchased shoes specifically because of pain or a health issue.

Whether you currently have foot problems or not, the shoes you wear matter, and more people are starting to realize it. “Shoes are our first line of support against life and the ground and hard surfaces,” says Dr. Brad Schaeffer, DPM, a foot and ankle surgeon with Central Park SOLE. Shoe recommendations from podiatrists have become so common that many athletic shoe manufacturers now include them on their websites.

If you’ve been shoe shopping lately, you may realize why so many people feel like they need a prescription for footwear. The selection is vast, and the technology advances faster than Apple puts out new iPhones. It’s easy to get lost in terms like stack height, EVA and nitrogen-infused midsole.

The most important thing, according to Dr. Schaeffer, is making sure you have an appropriate level of support and stability. This varies from person to person, depending on individual biomechanics, gait and other factors, but you want to strike a balance between cushion and rigidity. In other words, a shoe can feel soft but should also feel supportive — you don’t want your foot to slide around a lot inside. He also recommends orthotic inserts, such as these by Dr. Scholl’s.

Dr. Schaeffer says it's important to match the shoes you wear with the activity you’re participating in. Shoes have become so specialized that there is a big difference between one designed for hiking trails, which has more ankle support, and one designed for running, which will be lightweight and have more breathable fabric.

After consulting experts and testing dozens of brands and shoes, these are our top picks for any activity or condition.

Best for walking or standing

If you’ve noticed sneaker soles getting taller, it’s a thing. Manufacturers are packing in more cushioning, often curving the sole into what is known as a “rocker sole,” which Dr. Schaeffer says mimics a foot’s natural curve and offloads the pressure of your heels and toes striking the pavement. This can be great for people who are on their feet all day.

Our tester liked the more subtle version of a rocker heel on this shoe, which relieves pressure, and the generous cushion.

$140, Saucony Guide 17

Best for running

This streamlined shoe accommodates a wider foot but remains lightweight and bouncy thanks to a foam midsole. They feel stable yet springy, which is good if you tend to overpronate (roll your foot inward) when running. Overall, they feel like you’re not even wearing shoes, which is any runner’s goal. The mesh upper allows for maximum airflow as well.

$140, Hoka Mach 6

Best for cross-training (gym workouts)

This is the first training shoe from On, and they hit it out of the park. It combines a decent amount of cushioning with the lateral support that stabilizes your feet when doing exercises that require balance or sudden shifts in movement, including burpees. Our tester wore them for HIIT-style fitness workouts and boxing, which requires a lot of legwork, and was more than satisfied.

$150 On Cloudpulse

Best for strength training 

Lifting weights may not seem like a foot-focused activity, but having a proper foundation is crucial for balance and stability. This shoe provides both, thanks to a wider toe box and built-in stability, but still manages to keep a sleek, low profile. Our tester noticed improvements in grip and balance.

$140, Reebok NanoX4 

Best for hiking or trail running

There’s no break-in period required for these shoes, which are comfortable from the get-go. It’s great to have a non-high-top hiking shoe that still provides the stability needed to prevent twisting an ankle on the trail. Another bonus is the unique laces, which are thinner than most and tuck neatly away, so they won’t come undone in the middle of a tough ascent and create a tripping hazard. The Gore-Tex uppers make these breathable yet water-resistant, which is ideal for trekking through muddy or wet conditions.

$160, Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex

Best road-to-trail

If you want a multipurpose shoe that works equally well on roads and trails, this new model from Merrell is the versatile winner. It’s great for walking or running at any level because it uses a lightweight foam for cushioning and its curved sole grips terrain. It’s also at the lower end of the athletic shoe price point, so it’s a great choice for anyone who is just starting and isn’t quite sure what they want or need in a shoe yet.

$100, Merrell Morphlite

Best for pickleball (or other racquet sports)

Pickleball has become such a sensation that many brands have launched their own line of footwear. There’s a good reason to buy a shoe designed for racquet sports: you tend to make a lot of sudden shifts in direction that put side-to-side pressure on your foot, so you need a shoe with stability in that area and with a wide enough toe box to give you a solid foundation and balance. The Zoom has all that and, frankly, a really cool design, too.

$120, Nike Zoom Challenge

Best for a wide toe box/bunions

A lot of athletic shoes are no better than heels when it comes to roominess in the toe box or front of the shoe. If you’re prone to bunions, finding a pair that can accommodate them can be extremely difficult, even in wide sizes. Our tester confirmed that the Topo brand has the widest toe box of anything on the market yet fits snugly enough elsewhere to provide stability. It’s also designed with “zero drop,” meaning the difference in height between the platform under the heel and under the toe area is minimal, providing a more natural, barefoot feel.

$115, Topo ST-5

Best for arch support

If you’re flat-footed (frequent foot, ankle, or knee pain can be a sign that you are), you need a shoe with max arch support, and this one offers some of the best. It’s designed to stabilize your foot and prevent overpronation, keeping it in a neutral position as you move. These are also a good choice if you have plantar fasciitis, a condition where the tissue that supports the arch becomes inflamed.

$160, Asics Gel-Kayano

Best on a budget

Many athletic shoes start in the $100-$150 range, which can be a lot to splash out if you’re still searching for the perfect fit (although once you find it, a pair should last you six months to a year, which makes the cost per use a lot more reasonable). Because companies tend to issue new and improved versions of their fan favorites each year, one way to save money is to buy last season’s model, which can save you as much as 40 percent off retail. For instance, you can get the popular Mizuno Wave Rider 26 for $105 on Amazon, while the 27 retails for $140. In the sub-$100 range, Dr. Schaeffer likes the $80 Brooks Revel 6 and the $60 Asics Gel-Venture 8 as all-purpose walking and running shoes.


Follow Article Topics: Lifestyle