10 Best Athletic Shoes Rated for Performance
When engaging in any amount of high impact, high energy sports or athletic activity, the discerning athlete or fitness enthusiast has to consider a variety of things before entrusting their performance to just any athletic shoe. There are several brands that are trusted for the features they boast, but everyone’s foot is as different as their fitness level.
Proper fit is essential to a good athletic shoe because it prevents chafing and discomfort. Lots of padding is great for providing cushioned support for long, grueling workouts. Traction is particularly important so that no matter the nature of your training, in whatever environment, you’ll be sure of foot and ready to conquer it.
- Asics Gel Venture 5
- Outdoor-ready Runner
- Skechers Sport Energy Afterburn
- Memory Foam Insole
- Champion Gusto Cross Trainer
- Light & breathable
From running, to weight training, to time spent at the gym, the proper athletic shoe needs to function the way you want it to, and last a long time. Its durability sometimes corresponds to its price point, but not always. As you’ll see in our list, some of the latest in athletic footwear technology is available at a highly economical offering.
10 Best Athletic Shoes
1. Asics Gel Venture 5
A low-top shoe designed to rest around the ankle bone, these “outdoor ready” shoes have a series of gel inserts along the footbed to give not just all day comfort, but all day performance enhancement. The GEL technology gives a glove-like fit as well as a superior grip to the contours of your feet. The outsole is designed to accommodate a variety of terrains, whether you’re jogging on cements, an uneven path, or through the grass.
The GEL technology in the Venture 5 is the latest improvement on a series of ASICS designs, made to provide the best cushion and comfort available in the market of athletic shoes. The extra deep heel cup (which is where the majority of the GEL cells are) lets the wearer dig into the feeling of soft envelopment while their feet feel fresh with the removable sock liner that ensures room for medical orthotics.
Cost and Value
For the combination of design features and high quality, ASICS are the best money can buy. The acronym literally stands for the phrase “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano”, or “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body”. Essentially, healthy mind, healthy body! ASICS believes if you get out there and move, and your movements aren’t hindered by discomfort, you’ll lead a happy life.
- Fabric mesh along uppers
- Brushstroke patterned inlays
- Rearfoot GEL cushion
- Removable sockliner with room for medical orthotics
- Not as much cushion for heavier wearers
2. Skechers Sport Energy Afterburn
When doing anything athletic a major factor when selecting the proper footwear should be shock absorption. Your joints shouldn’t be in constant stress by your movements, and joint pain shouldn’t prohibit you from enjoying exercise. The padded heel of the Energy Afterburn sneakers provides ideal shock absorption, while the non-slip rubber outsole gives the wearer superior traction. It even has a cushioned midsole for comfort, along with the extra padded tongue and collar.
Because Sketchers is known for street shoes as well as sport shoes, their range of athletic shoes can be worn in a variety of environments. Pair them with workout clothes or with jeans and feel confident and comfortable. Having a sleek leather and rubber design without a lot of mesh means their appearance is streamlined and so are you.
Cost and Value
Sketchers is a brand known for reliable walking shoes, sneakers, and sensible footwear. Its foray into athletic footwear means a shoe that provides all the best performance enhancing qualities with an abundance of comfort and style. Perfect for long work days on your feet or a job around the block, these sneakers look great with jeans or workout gear and are some of the most affordable athletic shoes available.
- Good arch support
- Ghillie lace-up vamp
- Extra padded tongue and collar
- Sleek leather design
- Can be a ½ size too large
3. Nike Air Monarch IV
For those looking for lightweight padding, a stabilizing midsole, and excellent traction, these athletic shoes are for you. With a recently updated design that is sleek and sophisticated, with a multi-pattern rubber outsole that gives you grip on any surface you encounter. Whether your athletic activities require you to jump, pivot, or break into high speeds, the aggressive tread will always stabilize you. Your foot won’t roll side to side as much, and you will be able to amply flex your forefoot.
A lining of soft fabric reduces irritation to your feet and a mesh tongue and added perforations along the middle of the shoe allow for maximum breathability. This ensures that cool air can continuously flow to your feet and prevent you from overheating during training. Patented Nike Air technology runs the full-length of the shoe ensuring softer landings when you drill hard. And finally, the Pylon midsole gives you all day lightweight cushioned comfort.
Cost and Value
While a more expensive athletic shoe, no brand beats Nike Air for performance enhancing functionality, maximum style,and optimal comfort. The hardest drills and training sessions won’t be a match for the Monarch IV, with its aggressive multi-pattern tread to keep you upright on any surface, its lightweight Pylon midsole for comfort, and its patented Nike Air technology that keeps your feet feeling refreshed and pain-free.
- Great for those with wide feet
- Nike Air cushioning technology
- Aggressive multi-pattern tread
- Pylon midsole
- Can fit snug
4. Brooks Ghost 9
These athletic shoes have mesh specifically engineered to give you the best in breathability and flexibility. Omega Flex Grooves provide a natural forefoot movement and mobile fluidity. Lightweight synthetic overlays don’t weigh down the shoe’s design, and neither does the outsole, which is made of thick rubber and has deeply inlaid grooves for maximum tread and efficiency on both roads and trails alike.
A plush tongue and collar give you an excellent, comfortable fit that grips your foot tightly but not too snug. The lining made of soft fabric prevents chafing and unwanted tension. Like other athletic shoes, it too has a removable foam insole. The cushion design is BioMoGo DNA, a blend of regular Brooks technology DNA and an earth-friendly design. A segmented Crash Pad which runs the length of the shoe accommodates any sort of landing, also allowing for smoother transitions. Its unique blown rubber forefoot material gives light cushion while also providing superior grip.
Cost and Value
With all the extensive features of the Brooks Ghost 9, the price point is extremely fair, and widely competitive with all other mid range athletic shoes. From it’s sustainable materials to its innovations in comfort and shock absorption, it is an athletic shoe that pays attention to the details to give you the best possible piece of footwear on the market. Its segmented Crash Pad technology is the only one of its kind currently in production. Your foot will feel fantastic due to its lightweight yet durable design, and the environmentally friendly materials can make you feel as great as your feet do!
- BioMoGo DNA material
- Segmented Crash Pad
- Omega Flex Grooves
- Good price
- Can be too narrow for wide feet
5. New Balance MX608V4
If you have a lot of pain in either your ankle or heel, these athletic shoes will be a great help. They have extra padding to their insoles as well as injection molded midsoles, both of which retain shape and bounce back from continuous wear. The reinforced heel gives you lots of cushion, to say nothing of the extra padding found throughout the design. If you’re susceptible to a lot of heel and ankle pain, this shoe is for you. It has thick insoles and midsoles that bounce back from a lot of wear. The heel is reinforced and has a lot of extra padding.
These shoes have been specifically designed with high octane physical activities in mind, and for those wearers that need an athletic shoe that won’t quit. From the reinforced heel to the dual-density collar that uses both a soft density foam for comfort and a hard density foam for support, these shoes will save you from foot fatigue. They come in a wide variety of color combinations, and have aggressive tread for superior traction.
Cost and Value
For New Balance athletic shoes, these won’t break the bank and are a solid investment for any active person that wants their footwear made with the best materials and for the best reasons; customer support and appreciation. With features made just for those hitting training sessions hard, such as EVA mold injected footbeds, aggressive grip, and dual-density collars reinforced with two types of different foam, trust these athletic shoes to get you through any workout no matter how grueling.
- Dual-density collar with two types of foam
- EVA injection molded footbed
- Extra cushioned midsole
- Superior traction
- Heel can slip out
6. Skechers Sport D'Lites
Known for their great fit, these shoes boast an inlay of memory foam along the midsole that allows you to be on your feet for extended periods of time without feeling any foot fatigue. The collar and tongue have been given extra cushion, so the fit along the ankle is comfortable and won’t rub along the bone. The thick sole will absorb the high impact of intense physical activity, and the grooves in the sole provide maximum traction.
With a large variety of color combinations and stylings, these stylish two-toned athletic shoes can be worn with both workout clothes and your favorite casual outfit. Sketchers makes sure that its shoes are competitively priced and that they have a smart, sophisticated design and shape. The lace up front, unlike some other models, allows for a customizable fit and sporty look.
Cost and Value
Affordable enough that you can go through a pair and not feel bad about it, these Sketchers are as economical as they are comfortable. Given the brand’s expertise in quality and design, these shoes are guaranteed to last. The Sketchers commitment to not only competent casual shoes but also athletic footwear means both will be just as functional and aesthetically pleasing. These lightweight and supremely comfortable athletic shoes are the perfect sporty companions to your fast paced lifestyle.
- Lightweight and flexible
- Memory foam inlay along midsole
- Padded tongue and collar
- Can be narrow
7. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33
Like Brooks or ASICS, Nike engineers and members of the design team are always working in unison to create the best in functionality through technology that reflects what customers need from their athletic shoes. They have wide fabric mesh along the length of the toe box for breathability, and deep tread for wherever your fitness journey may take you, giving you stability and durability along the way. They also have a glove like fit and hug the foot like a second skin, a nice change to the athletic shoes with thick rubber soles.
These shoes are known for providing fitness enthusiasts and athletes with superior comfort. Joint pain, blister pain, and heel chafing is not something the wearer has to worry about in these shoes. A well cushioned midsole provides a plush ride every step of the way from the first 5k to the next 10k. Special Zoom Air units designed by the Nike Air engineers enhance deflection impact as well as provide added cushion for the foot mile after mile.
Cost and Value
Slightly above mid range athletic shoes in price, they are nevertheless favored by serious marathon runners and those looking to capitalize on the functionality, technology, and comfort that go into the Nike design. They are sleeker and more agile in mobility than other athletic shoes, and also come in a staggering variety of color combinations for those that like to workout in style.
- Cushioned midsole
- Zoom Air units to deflect impact
- Sleek design
- Thick grooves for traction
- Slightly more expensive than other brands
8. Champion Gusto Cross Trainer
With a durable upper, perforated mesh for breathability, and a solid arch-supporting sole, these are the athletic shoes of choice for those looking to up their pace. It has a sleek, ultra lightweight design, sturdy laces, and a removable foam insole comprised of memory foam that makes it feel like you’re hardly wearing any shoes at all. They are great for training hard as well as for daily walks around the neighborhood or running errands.
Just because they’re lightweight, doesn’t mean the Gusto Cross Trainers don’t maximize the comfort with added padding around the collar to minimize chafing, the memory foam inlay, and the soft fabric lining that makes the shoe feel like it was made for your foot alone. They make for squishy footfalls and their soles are non-marking.
Cost and Value
At a very affordable price and with a unique look and performance delivery, Champion has delivered on a versatile athletic shoe that is competitive with the more well known brands on the market. Its sleek, lightweight yet very comfortable construction makes it possible to train harder and longer, and its memory foam inlay and soft fabric lining make you feel like you’re not wearing a shoe at all.
- Memory foam removable inlay
- Sleek design
- Very lightweight
- Runs a half size large
9. Adidas Performance Energy Cloud
Like all athletic shoes, a mesh fabric upper grants superior breathability so that cool air is continuously circulating along the toe box. A supportive cage-like wrap envelopes the midfoot section of the shoe to offer maximum stability for the heel. Aside from stability and excellent ventilation, its soles have deep grooves evenly spaced for great traction across a variety of surfaces.
Each footfall feels like a cloud, which is exactly appropriate for these shoes. Each strike from heel to toe will experience a full range of comfort, with a special cloudfoam midsole that provides the wearer with superior cushioning for any range of athletic activities. These shoes can also be worn walking or running errands, with hours of wear in a day not diminishing their energy return in the slightest.
Cost and Value
These unique looking, extremely comfortable athletic shoes are a great investment for those that value comfort and a full range of movement. Their lightweight, “cloud” like feel put them apart from athletic shoes with more rubber components, though it can be said that their arch support is minimal because of this. They can be worn equally well with jeans or workout gear, so they have the added bonus of not telegraphing as an athletic shoe.
- Lightweight design
- Special cloud like feel
- Good on a variety of surfaces
- No break in period
- More expensive
10. Nike Revolution 3
While they may seemingly lack the hardware of other athletic shoes, without thick rubber soles or multiple synthetic design components, these athletic shoes are lightweight, and constructed from a single layer of mesh, without a cage over it or any perforations typical of similar shoes, yet still just as breathable and well ventilated. It has soft foam all along the inside of the shoe, from forefoot to midsole, to heel. The rubber outsole has been specifically designed for optimal traction across a variety of surfaces. Special underlays in the vamp and tip of the toe offer support, stability, and structure.
With its single layer mesh design and minimalistic, “no sew” overlays, it looks like no athletic shoe you’ve seen before. A sophisticated piece of footwear, offered in a wide range of colors and combinations, you can choose between bright pops of color or a sleek black on black silhouette. The revolutionary principles didn’t stop with its functionality but continued with its aesthetic, which one could easily wear at the gym, at work, or around town.
Cost and Value
One of the most expensive pieces of athletic footwear on our list, these shoes nevertheless are worth the investment, especially since they benefit from the latest in Nike research and development. Their lightweight, sleek design, coupled with ultimate breathability, traction, and comfort make them stand outs in a crowd of overly built out and over designed shoes. When it comes to the Nike Revolution 3, less is definitely more.
- Single layer mesh design
- Dense foam cushioning
- Sophisticated design
- Great traction
- More expensive
Athletic shoes are as different as the activities they’re used for. Competitive athletes may choose to train with one brand, the casual fitness enthusiast another, but certain key features are essential at all times; proper fit, comfort, traction, and durability. Take advantage of the new technology being incorporated into a variety of athletic shoes today by top brands invested in the needs of their customers.
Since athletic shoes take so much abuse, they have to be able to suffer under a tremendous amount of stress. They need to be able to withstand a variety of activities and not need to be replaced constantly. They need as little break in time as possible so you can get to achieving your fitness goals. Some favor ventilation and lightweight materials, some favor structural support and shock absorption. The best have a combination of those attributes, and it’s even better when they can make you look like the fitness star you are.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Athletic Shoes
Due to the intense physical nature of sporting and athletic activities, those involved need to pay attention to the amount of breathability built into the design of the athletic shoes they choose. This is usually in the form of fabric mesh along the upper, as well as manifesting in the form of perforations found throughout the shoe’s overall construction. A well-ventilated shoe ensures proper airflow circulation, so that an athlete doesn’t overheat. Overheating can lead to feelings of lightheadedness, as well as nausea. When this happens, serious injuries can occur. Mesh also means your feet will stay dry and irritant free given how much you’ll be perspiring. Another feature to look for is a moisture wicking lining that eliminates excess moisture and keeps your feet fresh and free from bacteria. Great breathability means that your focus can be on your workout or your next training session, not your foot temperature.
Whether you play a sport, enjoy running, or like to keep your gym routine consistent, traction is vital to your athletic shoe. Because your activities could take you to a variety of environments, you need to be sure that your footfalls are stable. Insufficient traction will lead to serious injury. When selecting an athletic shoe for traction, look for deep groove inlays along the sole. Not only do these provide good traction, but they also provide flexibility. Multi-pattern grip, such as raised shapes across the sole also provide great traction. Whether you like your shoes grooved for better flexibility, or patterned for grip, both will keep you safely upright and prevent you from the possibility of breaking a bone or tearing a muscle.
One of the surest ways to prevent joint pain and the constant onslaught of foot fatigue is by selecting athletic shoes that have excellent shock absorption features. This prevents a lot of the impact from your foot strikes or hard lands by softening the blow in several ways; added padding, impact technology, or extra thick rubber soles to diffuse from the point of impact. In the case of padding, an extra amount of comfort is added to the shoe’s construction. Impact technology is developed by a variety of brands, and comes in the form of some specially patented components like Nike’s Zoom Air, EVA removable foam inserts, gel pads under the heel cup, etc. Each brand develops their own shock absorbing technology based on what customers need to perform at their best. They’ll be more comfortable, pain free, and much more likely to purchase from the brand again.
Athletic shoes will take a beating, and they need to be able to. No matter their brand they need to be able to withstand the most grueling physical activities. This often comes down to how they’re made, as their materials play a big part in how durable they are. Make sure that the rubber at the sole is solid yet forgiving when flexed, and make sure that whatever lace system being used will give you optimal customizable comfort. Seams should show no sign of fraying in the future, and a mixture of materials, such as leather and synthetic can be helpful in keeping a shoe’s structural integrity. They need to be able to survive different environments with different terrain as well as weather.
Athletic shoes need to be flexible for proper pronation, and to make sure that when your feet hit the ground that they move with the natural movements of your feet. Full range of motion is important for proper performance and form, something which athletes and fitness enthusiasts are well aware of. Flexibility can come from the materials the shoe is made out of, and the more lightweight, the more flexible. The sole, if made out of thick rubber won’t be as flexible as a sole that is made out of thinner rubber but with deep grooves to provide a full roll motion from heel strike to toe box. More flexible shoes also generally feel more comfortable on your feet because they don’t lock your feet into an rigid stance.
Like all sporting shoes, athletic shoes should be comfortable and snug feeling without being too tight. They should be well padded along the midsole where the arch is, as well as in the heel cup and toe box. This makes for proper stabilization, cushion for your joints, and contributes to a feeling of buoyancy. Shoes that feel better help you work out longer, train harder, and dig deeper regarding your physical activities. There should also be padding at the collar to prevent chafing, as well as along the tongue to give a glove-like feel. An EVA injection mold midsole is helpful in preventing joint, muscle, and bone pain, as it often provides a diffusion for hard impact and also great arch support. Some athletes also find a wider toe box more comfortable, while some need a more narrow shoe that doesn’t have as much unnecessary space.
Since every athletic activity has a different level of intensity, selecting a shoe with great energy return is imperative. There are specific features to athletic shoes that cater to energy return, built right into their design. These special features could include foam that is particularly dense, or gel pads that provide you maximum bounce back along the footbed. The energy that you expel gets maximized, which results in a much more powerful stride. The sole of your athletic shoe gets compressed whenever you do any physical activity, from walking to running, working out or playing a sport. It’s during the rebound period that energy you input gets recovered. In order to utilize the most energy you can, you need an athletic shoe that returns as much of it as possible to you during your activities. Too much friction and heat will result in lost energy.
Common features found with athletic shoes
- Lightweight material
- Shock absorption/impact technology
- Deep heel cups
- Stabilizing midsoles
- Memory foam inlays
- Removable inserts
- Midsoles designed for arch support
- Padding along tongue and collar
- Extra padding to cushion heel and forefoot
- Flexibility along sole
- Mesh uppers/perforation for airflow
- Lace closure system
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long do athletic shoes last?
A: A pair of good athletic shoes should last a long time, though it does depend on how much you wear them and how vigorous your level of activity is. Athletic shoes worn to play soccer on the weekends will get less wear than shoes that are used to run several miles every day. The athletic shoes that you choose should be based on what physical activities you engage in. They should also be based on indoor or outdoor activities, and what weather you’ll encounter. As for the shoes themselves, materials, construction, and the performance-enhancing technology they’re built around will ultimately determine how long they’ll last you.
Q: How do general athletic shoes differ from running shoes?
A: Running shoes are a type of athletic shoe, and sometimes there isn’t much difference, but certain athletic shoes are made with materials that can assist in the performance enhancement of a variety of activities, whereas running shoes are primarily designed with features specific to running. More rubber on the soles, for example, to last mile after mile, or more mesh to promote breathability. Athletic shoes can be very lightweight and have almost no rubber to their soles at all, for instance, because they may be used for more stationary activities, like weight training, or for movement on soft, forgiving surfaces, like a soccer field.
Q: Can athletic shoes be used as walking shoes?
A: Athletic shoes can make great walking shoes, especially since they often have lots of extra padding, memory foam inlays along their midsoles for great arch support and cushion, and soles that grip trails as well as cement. However, most athletic shoes have thinner soles so they can be more flexible, while walking shoes tend to have thicker soles and be more rigid. Since most brands like Nike, Adidas, and Sketchers also make a variety of athletic footwear, they know what is important to a customer that may be on their feet for long periods of time.
Q: What’s the best brand of athletic shoe?
A: A lot of brands compete with each other by offering different features than their competitors, but many features are fundamentally the same. All should be well ventilated, durable, comfortable, and fit whatever lifestyle you have where athletic activity is concerned. Some have features that make them more comfortable than others, or provide more energy return, or look more aesthetically pleasing, and often this will change their price point. But a high price doesn’t guarantee a better shoe anymore than a lower price guarantees subpar quality. The purchase of an athletic shoe is an investment, and should meet the qualifications of your physical needs.
Q: Are lightweight athletic shoes best?
A: Generally, the more lightweight the athletic shoe, the more flexible and comfortable it is. Just because it’s lightweight, doesn’t mean it’s not durable, either. Much progress has been made with the materials used in the design of athletic shoes to provide maximum toughness without sacrificing a great feeling shoe. Lightweight shoes may seem stripped down, but they’re really just unencumbered. Athletic shoes should have less rubber on them, not be rigid in construction, and allow for a full range of motion for their wearer.