How Should Running Shoes Fit?

A pair of shoes gets laced up at Fleet Feet

When you run, it’s crucial that your shoes are the right size. A poor fit doesn’t just feel bad––it can lead to injuries, blisters and painful black toenails. Here’s how to find the perfect fit for running shoes.

Check your fit in a standing position. Then walk and run in the shoes.

Put on the shoes and tap each heel to the floor to ensure your foot is positioned properly inside the shoe. Then, stand up.

With a proper fit, you should have about a thumbnail's width between your longest toes and the end of the shoes when you stand with all of your weight distributed evenly between both feet. You shouldn’t feel any pinching or rubbing on your toes, heels or ankles. The shoes should feel comfortable.

  • Toe fit: Check the length and width. If the shoe is too narrow, you’ll feel your pinky toe, or maybe a bunion rubbing against the side of the shoe. If the shoe length is too long, you may have bunched up fabric above the laces or slippage in the heel when you walk or run. The right pair of shoes will give you a bit of wiggle room in the toe box without feeling sloshy.
  • Midfoot fit: The shoe should have a snug fit in the midfoot, but without any pressure on the top of your foot. If you do feel pressure, this may be mitigated by changing the way you lace your shoe. If changing the lacing doesn’t help, try a different shoe.
  • Heel fit: This is where you don’t want extra room. A snug heel fit is important so that your heel doesn’t slip around in the shoe. A shifting heel is annoying at best and causes blisters at worst. Lacing the extra eyelets closest to your ankle can often help snug up a loose heel. If the shoe continues to slip, try another one.

At Fleet Feet, we encourage you to run or walk in the shoes you try on. That way you can make sure they feel comfortable when you hit your stride.

A man runs in two different pairs of shoes to find the best fit

It’s all about what feels good to YOU

There are as many types of shoes as there are types of people. You might hear that shoes with tons of cushion are the best. But you might feel more comfortable in a firm shoe. There are shoes with “zero drop” (meaning the heel is no higher than the forefoot), or ones that have a much higher heel-to-toe differential.

There is not one type of shoe that is best for everyone. What’s important is that the shoe you pick fits your foot shape properly and that you like the way it feels. Out-of-the-box comfort and continued comfort is the very most important part of the equation.

Your shoe should fit the activity as much as it fits your foot

Trail shoes are designed to grip soft, off-road terrain and protect you from stubbing your toes on exposed roots and rocks. If you wear them on the road, they may lack the cushion and flexibility you want. And you will likely wear down the grippy tread prematurely.

Similarly, a road racing shoe often has light tread and is designed to go fast on pavement and might not be a good choice if you’re going to pass through mud.

Also, keep in mind that running brands make other shoes that aren’t designed for running. That’s why it helps to buy from a retailer that specializes in running footwear. For example, your favorite brand might make high-performing running shoes, but if you buy their random sneaker from a big box store, that shoe may be designed for fashion or another sport, and may not be made for running at all.


A woman laces up her trail running shoes

You don’t need to break in running shoes

Your shoes shouldn’t pinch or rub. If a shoe looks good but it doesn’t feel great, don’t convince yourself that they just need to be broken in. The right shoe will feel great out of the box.

Get measured and fit by an expert if you can

You may feel confident that you know your shoe size, but your feet can change over time, and many shoe brands fit differently. Plus, you may wear a different size in running shoes than regular shoes. That’s because your feet will swell when you walk or run, and the size and shape of your shoe should accommodate for that with plenty of space for your toes. You should also have plenty of room for your socks without making the shoe too tight.

It helps to measure the length and width of your feet, as well as the width of your heel and height of your instep. All of these pieces of data can be measured (for free) with a 3D scanner as part of the fit id process at Fleet Feet to give you more information in understanding how your feet are shaped and what types of shoes will be best suited for your needs.

Want to learn more? Read 13 things to Know Before You Buy Running Shoes

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