Best Athletic Shoes Rated for Performance
Do you love engaging in a variety of physical activities that challenge both your mental and physical abilities? With so many workout routines and sporting styles, it can be a challenge finding a pair of shoes that will stand up to the plate and work as hard as you to better your performance.
Finding a pair of shoes that are appropriate to the terrain and weather conditions you plan to practice on is paramount to performing your best because the wrong style of footwear can impede your ability to move freely and can put you at risk for injury. Traction, cushioning, support, shock-absorption, and protection are all factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing a pair of athletic shoes to ensure that you’re able to compete at your best. Footwear that is lacking the essential fundamental qualities required for your favorite physical activities heighten the risk of injuries including, shin splints, blisters, calluses, joint and muscle pain, stiff muscles, and pain in the arch of the foot.
- Brooks Ghost 11
- Stretch Mesh Upper
- Neutral Cushioning
- New Balance 608v4
- Leather Upper
- Padded Collar & Tongue
- ASICS GEL-Venture 6
- High Abrasion Rubber Outsole
- GEL Cushioning
So how exactly do you know which is the best pair of shoes for your preferred activity? That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best athletic shoes available on the market, to help take the guesswork out of purchasing your next pair of athletic shoes. We’ve highlighted the very best options based on performance, comfort, protection, and durability, so you can make an informed decision and feel confident with your new pair of shoes.
10 Best Athletic Shoes
1. Brooks Ghost 11
Named the best running shoe by Runner’s World, the Ghost 11 combines the company’s BioMoGo DNA and DNA LOFT cushioning in order to give you a shock absorbing shoe that’s responsive, lightweight and durable. The heel crash pad will be especially loved by runners who tend to land hard on their heels, and those who may be suffering from pain in this part of the foot.
Omega Flex Grooves
The outsole of the Brooks Ghost 11 was made for use on pavement, giving you a good amount of traction in most conditions. The Omega Flex Grooves in the forefoot allow for a bigger range of motion of the foot, which means that you’ll have a more efficient toe off phase, allowing you to use the strength of your foot to the max.
Cost and Value
A fairly priced product, the Brooks Ghost 11 falls in the average span in terms of cost. When it comes to value, its an excellent pair of running shoes you’ll definitely make lots of good use of, especially if you train on a daily basis, and need a solid pair of shoes that’ll keep their cushion and won’t fall apart too fast. If you run in rain or snow, we recommend the Gore Tex version which will keep you dry, while still allowing for a good amount of breathability.
Medium To High Arch
Stretch Mesh Upper
12mm Heel To Toe Drop
DNA LOFT Heel Crash Pad
BioMoGo DNA Cushioning
Gore Tex Version Available
Runs Slightly Narrow
2. New Balance 608v4
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 cushions, to say nothing of the extra padding found throughout the design.
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 an 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 Padded Collar
Internal Stability Shank
Injected EVA Midsole for Stability
May Be Eligible for Medicare Reimbursement
Poor Heel Locking
3. ASICS GEL-Venture 6
One of the things that set ASICS apart from any other athletic footwear company is the fact that they use their own GEL cushioning to reduce the shock that is put on your joints and muscles with each step and landing. The GEL-Venture 6 features such cushioning in the heel, allowing for a better transition to midstance.
Seeing that it’s made to be used on trails, the GEL-Venture 6 features reversed lugs on the outsole that give a better amount of grip both uphill and downhill. Furthermore, the shoe has a removable insole that can be replaced with custom orthotics, so if you find that the neutral support is not enough for you, you can add more and be on your way.
Cost and Value
This shoe is the cheapest item on our list, and is an excellent investment for anyone who plans on doing running or walking on trail surfaces. Even if you’re not a runner, you may benefit from wearing this type of shoe on weekend walks in the park. Plus, the fact that it fits medical orthotics makes the Venture a great option for a large number of users.
Protective Toe Bumper
Trail Specific Lugs
Durable Synthetic Upper
4. Nike LeBron 16
There are only a few basketball shoes that have an outsole that’ll work both indoors and outdoors. The LeBron 16 manages to do this by using a herringbone pattern that’s zoned, and that has grooves deep enough to prevent dirt from sticking in them. What this means on the court? Less wiping and longer wear. They’ll even stand up to a few months of use on concrete courts.
Air Max and Zoom Air Cushioning
Nike’s Air cushioning systems are legendary for a reason - the work well to provide excellent shock absorption, provide a good amount of bounce back, are lightweight, and are less likely to pack than foam materials such as EVA. The LeBron 16 features Air cushions both in the heel and forefoot, giving you just the right amount while still allowing for a good feel of the court.
Cost and Value
As you’d expect from a hot new release by Nike, these feature a steep price that may not be for everyone’s budget. However, if you do decide to purchase the LeBron 16 - whether for playing basketball or for everyday casual wear, know that you’ll be getting a hall of fame worthy pair of kicks that will feel pretty close to perfect after a few breaking in sessions.
Nubuck and BattleKnit 2.0 Upper
Flywire Cable Support
Customizable Lacing System
Herringbone Pattern Outsole
External Heel Counter
Great Midsole Stability
5. Salomon X Ultra 3
Between the outsole and midsole of the X Ultra 3 is a lightweight chassis that works to stabilize your motion, support the arch of your foot, and protect you from movements that could lead to unwanted injury. Nonetheless, it won’t reduce the responsiveness of your footwear, which means your feet will have just the right amount of information from the ground to adjust the amount of energy put into each next step.
In order to provide you with supportive cushioning, the X Ultra 3 uses a footbed made out of EVA foam, coupled with an ortholite sockliner that combines with a supportive heel counter for the best possible alignment and heel protection. The Sensifit fit management system wraps the foot from the midsole, all the way up to the laces, giving excellent stability and support.
Cost and Value
As you’d expect from a pair of high performance hiking shoes, the Salomon X Ultra 3 ranks above average in terms of price, but is a great investment if you find yourself hiking on a regular basis. It’s also a pair of footwear that’s good to have on hand, especially if you’re someone who likes to go out on adventures, or if you’re a frequent nature traveller who’s looking for a dependable, high performing pair of footwear.
High Abrasion Rubber Outsole
Anti Debris Tongue
Abrasion Resistant Upper
Slightly Soft Outsole
Unsuitable for High Arches
6. Adidas Adipower
The Adipower features a hook & loop instep strap which provides excellent rear-foot stability and comfort. Your feet won’t slip or slide around inside of these shoes thanks to a locked down and secure design.
The Adidas Adipower Weightlift is made with a PU-coated leather upper that’s airy and lightweight, so your feet will stay cool even while engaging in any strenuous physical activity. It features a rubber non-slip outsole that prevents accidental slips or falls and offers water-resistance during wetter weather.
Cost and Value
While the Adipower Weightlift costs more than most of the options on the list, they are definitely a shoe worth owning if you enjoy performing any strenuous or heavy load sporting activities. They’re designed specifically for weightlifting exercise but work well for all kinds of physical activities.
- Mesh Collar & Tongue
- Hook & Loop Instep Strap
- Vent Flow Openings
- Cross-lace Power Strap
- PU Leather Upper
- Small Fitting
7. 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 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 Wide Feet
Nike Air Cushioning
8. Puma Tazon 6 FM
The EcoOrthoLite is a breathable and lightweight sockliner that provides superior comfort and a perfect fit. EcoOrthoLite is an environmentally friendly, bio-based technology that uses 20% less petroleum and replaces it with a bio-oil substitute made from castor beans.
The Tazon 6 is designed with a non-slip rubber outsole and midfoot saddle that makes for a secure fitting shoe. Its traditional lace closure system allows for a customized level of tightness ensuring that you can control the way your shoe feels.
Cost and Value
Puma shoes are never overpriced and the Tazon 6 is no exception to the rule. These shoes are relatively low-priced and are definitely an affordable option for anyone in search of a comfortable pair of shoes for outdoor activities.
- Rubber Outsole
- Synthetic Leather
- Traditional Lace Closure
- Tight Fitting
9. Skechers Energy Afterburn
When doing anything athletic a major factor when selecting the proper footwear should be shock absorption. Your joints shouldn’t be under 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 sports 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 decent 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 jog 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
- Leather Upper
10. Adidas Samba Classic
Even if you’re not going to use the Samba for soccer, you’re sure to benefit from its natural gum rubber outsole that’s non marking, meaning it won’t ruin gym floor or hardwood surfaces. It provides excellent grip, which means you can walk and run without worrying about slips, falls and sprains.
Great Ball Grip
There are two details on the Samba that make it great for soccer. One is the suede overlay that gives a better feel of the ball, allowing you to control it so it always ends up in the net. The other is the high tongue which can be adjusted to anyone’s liking. If you prefer to fold it over to protect the laces, you can, or, if you’re unafraid of a little customization, you can cut it down to fit your foot to a T.
Cost and Value
The second cheapest product on this list, the adidas Samba is a pair of shoes anyone can pull off. It’s got a great outsole for gyms, features a good amount of cushioning through the EVA midsole, and has a durable upper that was made for athletic use. Plus, it’s got that recognizable retro look that’s sure to get you plenty of compliments, no matter where you wear it.
Synthetic Leather Upper
Excellent Ball Control
Non Marking Outsole
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 continuously replaced. They need a little of a 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
Some factors contribute to the quality of an athletic shoe that vary depending on the sport or activity the footwear is aimed at serving. Regardless of sport-specific features, some aspects of an athletic shoe are universally essential, which are the areas of focus in the criteria we used while researching for this list. These aspects are:
An athletic shoe needs to allow for proper airflow and breathability. It is vital that an athlete does not overheat during training or while performing because this can lead to lightheadedness, nausea, and vomiting, which can increase the risk of injury while also negatively affecting performance. There are several features and materials to look for in an athletic shoe that will prevent overheating such as:
- Mesh Material
- Air Ventilation Holes
- Moisture Wicking
- Cotton Lining
Mesh is one of the most breathable materials available and is highly recommended for athletic footwear. Air ventilation holes allow for air to flow in and out of the shoe circulating the foot and preventing sweat and overheating. The best materials for athletic shoes are ones that wick moisture away from the foot and which pulls sweat away from the foot and towards the outer part of the shoe keeping your feet cool and dry. A sockliner that enhances the temperature control as well as wicks moisture away from the foot is an ideal additive to any sports shoe.
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, which is why selecting an athletic shoe for traction is so essential. Look for deep groove inlays along the sole which provide excellent traction and also offer flexibility. Multi-pattern grip, such as raised shapes across the sole also power better grip. 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.
Rubber is one of the best materials for the outsole of a shoe as it provides superior grip on any surface including wet and slippery terrain. Rubber also provides an extra level of waterproofing which is ideal for activities in wetter weather.
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 feature which avoids a lot of the impact from your foot strikes or hard lands by softening the blow through the incorporation of:
- Added Padding
- Impact Technology
- Extra thick rubber soles to diffuse from the point of impact.
In the case of padding, an additional 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 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 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. Areas that can affect the durability of a shoe include:
- Construction; Including stitching, welding, and aerodynamics
- Closure System
- Outsole Design
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 the 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 the toe off. More flexible shoes also generally feel more comfortable on your feet because they don’t lock your feet into a rigid stance.
Having a comfortable pair of athletic shoes is paramount to your overall performance because shoes that feel better help you work out longer, train harder, and dig deeper regarding your physical activities. The following features contribute to more comfortable wear overall:
- EVA Midsole
- Cushioned/Padded Insole
- Slip-resistant Outsole
- Breathable Materials
- Padded Tongue & Collar
- Stable/Supportive Structure
- Shock Absorption
A cushioned EVA midsole makes a world of difference when it comes to the level of comfort a shoe provides and having proper ventilation allows for adequate airflow which prevents overheating and sweat buildup. It’s vital that an athletic shoe properly absorb shock and provide added stability to protect the sensitive joints, muscles, and tendons of the legs and feet. Weatherproofing and water-resistance will keep your feet dry and make for far more enjoyable wear, while a slip-resistant outsole will work to prevent accidental slips and falls.
The closure system a shoe is equipped with can make a big difference in how well your footwear fits which in turn, alters the comfort level. Traditional lacing systems and hook-and-loop closures provide the most stable and customized fit which is ideal for sports and other activities which require constant moving.
Since every athletic activity has a different level of intensity, selecting a shoe with excellent energy return is imperative. There are specific features to athletic shoes that cater to energy return, built right into their design. These unique 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. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long do athletic shoes last?
A: A pair of good shoes should last a long time, though it does depend on how much you wear them and how vigorous your level of activity is. 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 specific 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 shoes best?
A: Generally, the more lightweight the 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 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.
Q: What is the best shoe to wear for water sports?
A: The best type of shoe to wear while performing water-related sports are shoes that offer specific water-repellent and protective properties. For example, a rubber outsole will provide superior traction even on wet or slippery surfaces and will also add an extra level of waterproofing. Having a solid grip is important while performing in a wet environment where the risk of slips and falls is greater than other terrains. Try looking for shoes which specify that they are for use in water.
- Diffuse: To spread over a large area or entire surface.
- Hook & Loop: A type of fastener which sees one surface connect and hold to another, Velcro is the most popular form of hook & loop closure.
- Lambskin: A soft leather or wool prepared from the skin of a lamb.
- Moisture Wicking: When a material pulls moisture away from the foot and towards the outer part of the shoe keeping feet cool and dry.
- Outsole: The outermost part of a shoe which connects directly with the ground.
- Shock Absorption: Shock absorption sees kinetic energy diffused and turned into another form of energy.
- Sockliner: A internal membrane of a shoe that cradles the foot for added support and comfort. The sockliner can also provide moisture and odor control.
- Structural Support: A support system which helps to hold up the weight of a heavy load and support the load appropriately to minimize the risk of injury.
- Toe Box: The front enclosure of a shoe where the toes sit.
- Traditional Lace Closure: Traditional laces are two thin pieces of material woven to make a shoelace. The two shoelaces are tied together, usually in a bow shape, to hold shoes firmly in place.