How Tight Should Running Shoes Be? Tying Up Loose Ends

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It’s important to find comfortable running shoes that provide the right support and make you feel so good you’ll love to get out every day for a run! But none of that matters much if your shoes don’t fit properly… Especially if they’re too tight.

So, how tight should running shoes be? You want them tight enough to lock your feet in and prevent blisters without feeling like they’re trapped in a vice. And while everyone has a different level of comfort, we can say with certainty that there are some ways to know if your shoes are too tight or just right.

In this article, we explore how tight your running shoes should be and how to dial in the perfect fit. Read on for our best tips and tricks.

Are Running Shoes Supposed to Be Tight?

Running shoes need to be tight enough not to fly off while you’re running, but they shouldn’t be so tight they cut off circulation to your feet.

The right tightness should feel comfortable. You should be able to walk without feeling pain, flex your foot without excessive restriction, and wiggle your toes without them rubbing against something.

How Tight Should Running Shoes Be?

Your running shoes should fit snugly in the toe, the midfoot, the heel, and on top of your foot. Here’s how to be sure you’ve got the right fit.

Toe Box

Even if you don’t like a wide toe box, you need room to wiggle your toes. Your foot shouldn’t be able to slide from side to side—that’s a sign of a shoe that’s not tight enough.

There should be about a thumbs-width in front of your toes to the end of the shoe. Plus, there should be a little space between the top of your toes and the upper.

Midfoot

A snug midfoot will keep the shoe firmly on your foot and the arch support in the right place. But you shouldn’t feel like your foot is squished or squeezed.

The midfoot is where the laces do the most to keep your feet locked in. So you can make some adjustments here. But it’s also a place where your foot can move the most, so if your feet are loose inside the shoe, you’re more likely to get blisters and hotspots.

Heel Fit

Your heel should snugly fit without excess pressure on the Achilles tendon. There should be NO heel slippage.

Lacing

You can counteract heel slip by using a different lacing technique, but make sure it doesn’t cause the shoe to feel too tight. If you place your fingers on your laces, running down the middle of your shoe, you should be able to fit two fingers between the left and right eyelets.

If you can only fit one finger, the shoe is too big for you and you’ve been forced to lace it too tightly. Three fingers means the shoe is too small and can’t close enough around your foot.

It’s wise to use this method when shopping to ensure you get the right fit from the beginning!

Risks of Poorly Fitting Running Shoes

Wondering why fit matters so much? Here are some potential problems from wearing shoes with the incorrect fit.

Shoes That Are Too Tight

If your shoes are too tight, you could end up dealing with:

  • Blisters due to friction of your skin against the upper
  • A changed gait as you try to avoid pressure on your feet
  • Numb or tingling toes and ball of foot as blood flow is restricted
  • Block or bruised toenails as there’s not enough room in the toe box
  • Foot pain on top of your foot or experiencing lace bite
  • New ankle, knee, shin, or hip pain as a result of a changed gait

Shoes That Are Too Loose

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re wearing shoes that aren’t tight enough, you may end up with:

  • A higher risk of tripping and falling
  • Less efficient running due to energy loss
  • Quicker wear and tear on your shoes over time
  • Blisters due to friction as your foot slides around
  • Development of foot conditions like hammer toes

The Fit Test

So, how do you figure out if your shoes are the right fit? There are a few quick tests you can do to check before you buy those new shoes you’ve been eyeing.

The Thumb-Width Rule

With the shoes on, place your thumb on the upper just in front of your toes, perpendicular to your toes. It helps to bang your heel to the ground to make sure your feet are all the way in the back of the shoes.

There should be about a thumb’s width between where your toes end and the upper begins.

Shoe Volume vs Width

Don’t get confused between width and volume. Shoe width is the space inside the shoe from side to side. Volume is the space inside the shoe from top to bottom. Going up a width won’t add volume to the shoe, which is how many runners get caught out.

Perform the “eyelet finger test” mentioned earlier. If you can fit two fingers between the eyelets on the left and those on the right, your shoe is the right volume. If you can fit three fingers, there’s too little volume. One finger means there’s too much volume.

As for width, your foot should be snugly held by the midfoot, but there should be no rubbing or pressure points on either side of the foot.

Wiggle Room in the Toe Box

As well as the inch or so of space in front of your toes, you should be able to wiggle them comfortably. If they bump the upper above them, then there’s not enough volume in the toe box for you.

Consider the Three F’s: Fit, Feel, and Function

Try the shoes on and consider the fit using the methods we’ve mentioned above.

Then, think hard about how they feel on your feet. Are they comfortable? Is the upper material scratchy? Does it feel noticeably strange in any way?

Factors That Can Affect Shoe Fit

Fit isn’t always simple. Certain factors can change the way a shoe fits on your foot, and everyone’s feet are different too. Be aware of these factors when shopping for shoes.

Shoe Last and Shape

A shoe’s “last” is the mold around which it’s created. The shape of the mold makes a big difference to the shape of the shoe.

  • Straight: Wider throughout the shoe. Gives the shoe an almost “boxy” look—think Hoka.
  • Curved: Narrower and good for high arches. A noticeable “indent” in the midfoot of the shoe, giving it a curvy look.
  • Semi-Curved: Best combination of support and comfort. Less conspicuous indent but certainly curvy rather than boxy.

We advise trying out a shoe with each type of last to see how they compare on your feet. Straight lasts tend to be good for flat feet as they offer more support, whereas curved and semi-curved are better for higher arches. His can make a big difference to the fit.

Material and Flexibility

Flexible, light materials will allow for some stretch as the shoe breaks in. But tighter, inflexible materials won’t—a good example here is motion control shoes, which tend to be made of stiffer materials for structure and security.

Some shoes may develop a more comfortable fit as the materials “settle” around your foot during the break-in period. But other shoes will never get more comfortable because they’re just not going to mold to your feet.

Individual Foot Shape and Size

Everyone’s foot shape is unique! It’s a good idea to examine your feet to figure out your foot shape. Do you have a narrow heel? A wide forefoot? What’s your arch height? Knowing these things means knowing what to look for in a shoe.

Also, most people have one foot that’s bigger than the other. Always size your shoes to the bigger foot and adjust the laces on the smaller so they fit the same.

Sock Thickness

Your socks take up space in your shoe! Thicker, plush socks can make your shoes feel too tight. But switch them for a pair of thin ones, and your shoes may feel too loose. This is why you should always wear similar socks when running and always wear a pair of those when trying shoes on.

If you like wearing thick socks, you may want to consider going up half a size from what your “barefoot” shoe size is.

Special Considerations

These factors won’t affect everyone, but take some time to figure out if they’re things you need to consider when it comes to shoe fit.

Orthotics and Insoles

If you’re using insoles, they can drastically alter a shoe’s volume. Always make sure your insoles will fit inside the new shoe without taking up too much space and causing the shoe to feel too tight. Remember to always take out the other shoe’s insole before placing yours inside it to test.

Specific Foot Conditions

Conditions like bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, and others all come with their own foot-fitting challenges. Be aware of your foot issues and find out how to circumnavigate them to find the right fit.

Tips for Getting a Great Running Shoe Fit

Ready to find your perfect fit? Follow these tips, and you should get a good fit whenever you shop for new shoes.

Measure Your Feet

Your foot size changes over the course of your life. And as we mentioned above, one foot is probably slightly bigger than the other. Always measure your feet before you buy shoes and fit them to your bigger foot.

Get a Professional Gait Analysis

It’s worth getting your gait assessed by a professional if you can. They’ll be able to give you insight into your pronation type and offer advice on what kind of shoes would work best for you based on that.

Any good running store will do this for you – just make sure you buy shoes from them! It’s the least you can do if they help you out!

Shop In the Afternoon

Your feet swell a little during the day, so it’s a good idea to shop while they’re at their biggest. Once the swelling goes down, you can lace them a little tighter or wear tighter socks if the shoes are a bit too big, but you can’t fix them easily if they’re too tight.

Bring Your Running Socks

Shop with your running socks on! This will give you the most accurate feel of the shoes and you’ll know exactly how tight or loose they’ll feel.

Match the Sockliner to Your Foot

Take out the sockliner—also known as the insole—and check how well it matches your arch. Or, if you use orthotics, take them with you and try them inside the shoe instead.

Lace the Shoes for a Snug Fit

Lace the shoes just as you would when you’re running. You can even try a few different lacing techniques to see how each would feel.

Take a Test Run

Once you’ve got a pair of shoes on your feet, with your usual running socks, take a quick jog around the shop. This will indicate how the shoe might move while you’re running and where there may be hot spots.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.