I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind spending money as long as I know that it will pay off in the end. Investing in the right gear for any hobby or activity can pay dividends. But it can also, at first, cause some sticker shock. Running is no different. When you first see the price of a decent pair of running shoes, you might wonder, “Is it really worth it?”
The short answer is “Yes. Worth it.” The real answer, of course, has more nuance to it than that, and really deals with who you are as a runner. If you are making the jump from $50 department-store running shoes to your first pair of $100 running store shoes, you’ll probably notice the difference. If you are moving from $150 shoes to $200 shoes, the differences are going to be subtle enough to warrant deeper consideration.
That’s exactly what we’ll discuss in this article—whether it’s a good idea for you to spend more on running shoes (typically $150+) versus a more average price of about $100 to $130. We’ll discuss why the price difference occurs in the first place.
Hopefully, by the end you’ll have a good idea of whether expensive running shoes are the right buy for you. At the end of the day, it all comes down to comfort, performance, and goals!
What Makes Running Shoes More Expensive?
There are a variety of things that can make running shoes more expensive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always necessarily correlate that the more expensive the shoe, the better it will be for you personally.
Sometimes running shoes can be more expensive based on brand.
For example, Hoka One One and On shoes tend to run more expensive than New Balance or ASICS. You may have to pay more to rep a particular brand name.
Cushioning and Comfort
Broadly speaking, running shoes are typically more expensive when there is more cushioning. It costs a little bit more to get that extra material. The foams that make up the cushioning midsoles cost lots of money to develop and manufacture. It’s this techy aspect of the shoe that can drive up price. More foam material, more dollars.
This is certainly a matter of taste. You might think that a cushier, plusher (and probably more expensive) pair of shoes is going to be more comfortable. And you might well find that this is true for you. On the other hand, you might try a lower-profile shoe with a firmer, more responsive feel. Maybe that is what you’ll end up prefering. Try a variety of shoes on and think about the cushioning before investing in the cushier model.
Another reason why shoes can be expensive is due to design. If a lot of research and development has gone into designing a pair of shoes, they will probably cost more.
This is especially true for new materials. For example, Nike put a lot of research into making faster shoes with the Vaporfly 4%, and it’s reflected in the price. With current models of this shoe line climbing past the $275 mark, “Is it worth it?” takes on a whole new weight. The research and technology going into everything from the new foam to the carbon plate to the fabric is what makes it expensive. At some point, especially for recreational runners and racers, more technology stops making sense.
What are the Downsides of More Expensive Running Shoes?
Besides price, there can be some downsides to more expensive running shoes. Obviously, you want to make sure that you’re going to get plenty of miles out of them so that it made sense to spend a bit more.
Downsides of Cushioned Running Shoes
If the reason that your running shoes are costing more is because they are cushioned, you may deal with problems particular to cushioned shoes.
First, cushioned shoes tend to be heavier because there is more material. The shoes are therefore slower when it comes to racing – both short, fast races and longer distances.
Runners who used cushioned and/or stability shoes can change their running stride and heel strike. Most runners have heard the risks in heel striking. It puts more stress on your joints, in theory, and slows you down as well. The extra stress can lead to repetitive stress injuries.
In addition, heel striking is not proper running form and is less efficient than a more natural stride where you land under your hips. Thus, more cushioned shoes can impact your running form if you’re not being conscious of it.
Downsides of Lighter Running Shoes
If your running shoes are more expensive because there is more research and technology going into them to develop a lighter shoe, you probably won’t deal with the effects of heel striking and changing up your running form.
However, lighter models, including race models, typically do not last very long. The running world went gaga over the Alphafly Next% when Eliud Kipchoge wore them to break the 2:00:00 mark in the marathon. But the shoes have a notoriously short life expectancy. That might not matter to the sponsored runners at the front of the pack. But the average runner expects expensive goods to be durable, too. You might be shelling out a lot of money for a shoe that is only going to last you a month or two. You have to make sure that’s something you’re willing to do.
And there’s also this: light shoes can brag about shaving grams off the next model down the line. That’s not much weight. If you’re a pro athlete with 6% body fat, then maybe those grams really do make a difference. As for the rest of us, we could probably skip a couple lattes a week or cut down on the post-workout beer and save far more weight (not to mention enough money to buy a nice pair of shoes).
How Does the Price Relate to the Rating of a Running Shoe?
You would think that a more expensive price will mean better reviews and rating of a running shoe at least overall, but that’s not what a RunRepeat study found. In fact, it was the exact opposite!
Out of 391 models of running shoes that represented 24 different brands, the 10 most expensive shoes, at an average price of $181, were rated about 8% lower than the 10 cheapest models, with an average price of $61.
Obviously, this may vary from model to model, so you’ll want to check out reviews of the specific shoe that you’re interested in to see if it’s worth the price.
For example, I have friends who swear by Hoka One One and On running shoes. The shoes work great for them, and it’s worth it to them to spend more on running shoes because they are more satisfied with them. I have other friends who run in mid-range ASICS and Brooks models who are every bit as happy with their shoes.
What Shoes Should Runners with Underpronation or Overpronation Choose?
If you overpronate, then you will probably want to select shoes that will help control pronation. This is the land of motion-control and stability shoes, and that land has an entry cost. In this case, more expensive running shoes may indeed be worth the price if you do your research.
Underpronators have a bit more leeway with shoe selection; the major concern is with increased cushioning. So as we stated earlier, more cushioning = higher costs.
Whether you roll your feet inward (overpronate) or roll your feet outward (underpronate), you are likely more apt for running-related injuries, such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis. You need to improve your form to avoid these injuries, which may necessitate new shoes.
Do More Expensive Running Shoes Lead to More Injuries?
A few years ago during the height of the barefoot running craze, it was, in some circles, common knowledge that high-tech running shoes were to blame for many things. The best way to prevent running injuries was to run in no shoes at all. A closer look at the science of injury rates does not bear this conclusion out, though. It is true that poorly fitting shoes or ill-constructed shoes can lead to more injuries. But that shouldn’t typically be the case for more expensive shoes, because the materials should be of a decent quality.
Typically, you’ll get injuries if you’ve put a lot of miles on your shoes and they are starting to wear down. Of course, this can happen with the cheapest and also the most expensive shoes.
That being said, you might be more likely to expect more mileage out of expensive shoes, and might wear expensive shoes longer than you should, trying to get the most out of them.
Additionally, there are many lines of thought regarding the technology and price of shoes today. If you’ve read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, you know that he suggests humans weren’t originally evolved to wear really expensive shoes.
In fact, the book suggests that runners have just blindly gone along with the shoe industry. Those wily scoundrels! Always nefariously selling us the next new shoe! Maybe it’s best we keep to a more natural running form that comes from being barefoot.
Unfortunately, there are no clear answers, and it’s been debated whether this is true or not. Even if there is a kernel of truth in there, it means that running shoes in general can lead to injuries. Let’s not blame the price tag.
As Harvard professor Dr. Daniel Lieberman states, “How one runs probably is more important than what is on one’s feet, but what is on one’s feet may affect how one runs.” In other words, your form matters more than your shoes. But your shoes may affect your form.
Here at Wired Runner, we regularly mention the importance of purchasing shoes that are comfortable. With good reason: typically, that’s what will be the best for your feet. If a cheaper shoe is comfortable, get that. If a more expensive shoe is, then get that!
In a perfect world, money isn’t a concern and we all purchase whatever shoe we like. For my friends who like Hoka One One and On, they are paying more than I am for New Balance and ASICS. However, we all haven’t dealt with injuries, so that’s the important part.
In the end, the answer to whether expensive running shoes are worth the price is very clearly this: “It depends. Define ‘expensive.'” In some cases, you might want a lighter racing shoe or a more cushioned stability shoe, and then they are.
You may also want a particular brand that just tends to run more expensive. In all these instances, it’s worth spending the money on more expensive shoes.
However, if you’re expecting to get a better product just because it’s more expensive, then you probably want to save your money and get a pair of shoes that’s just a little bit cheaper.