Best Zero Drop Running Shoes Reviewed & Tested for Performance
Back in the days of yore, people would go about their business without any shoes at all. They would grab their spears and track their dinner for miles through the snow, barefoot and uphill both ways. Then somebody got the bright idea to invent shoes, and everything started to go wrong for our feet. Shoes, particularly modern shoes, don’t often take your foot’s natural anatomy or movement into account. In particular, heels can cause a variety of problems for your feet, legs, and back. Thus, in an attempt to go back to the halcyon days of yesteryear, zero drop running shoes have become more prevalent in the running community.
- Altra Torin 2.0
- Platform Sole
- Footshape Toe Box
- Altra Low Peak 3
- TrailClaw Tread
- Multi-Layer Platform
- Marrell Vapor Glove 2
- Breathable Mesh
- Vibram Outsole
For the uninitiated, zero drop shoes are shoes that have no height difference between the heel and the rest of the foot. This is said to be better for your feet for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it allows your feet to strike the pavement in a more natural fashion while you’re running.
Although some of the purported benefits of zero drop shoes are debatable, there is no arguing that shoes with heel drops can cause problems for runners. Buying yourself a pair of zero drop shoes can save yourself a lot of literal pain in the future.
15 Best Zero Drop Running Shoes
1. Altra Torin 2.0
This sole is made of a dual-layer EVA. In addition to the 5mm cushioned footbed, the sole has been designed with both Inner Flex and Foot Pod technologies, allowing for a more flexible grip on even the toughest terrain.
Footshape Toe Box
The wide toe box allows for your toes to splay in a more natural fashion while you run. Giving your toes more room to breathe will help your balance and speed while running.
Cost and Value
These shoes tend to be on the cheaper side for specialty shoes. They are definitely a bargain if you want to have a zero drop shoe that has a lot of cushioning in the soles.
- Cushioned footbed
- Flexible soles
- Quick-Dry Mesh
- Large Toebox
- Heel is a little wide
2. Altra Superior 2
Nothing is worse for your running rhythm than having to stop every few feet to fish rocks out from the tread of your shoe. Altra has your back. They have included a Stoneguard insole with the Superior 2 that will keep those pesky pebbles on the trail where they belong.
Rubber Trailclaw Outsole
The rubber outsole was designed with traction in mind. No more slipping on wet muddy trails. This special tread will ensure your climbs are faster while your descents are more stable and less harrowing.
Cost and Value
These shoes can be a little expensive for a hobbyist, but if you are a serious runner who spends most of their time running the trails this shoe is more than worth the price tag.
- Flexible Sole
- Trailclaw Outsole For Better Traction
- Wide Toe Box
- Removable Stoneguard Insole
- Quick-Dry Mesh Body
- Run a little small
- Relatively Short Shelf Life
3. Vibram Bikila EVO
The lightweight soles and separated toes will curl and flex along with your feet, allowing for a more natural and comfortable run without forgoing the protection of wearing shoes.
Vibram MegaGrip Pods
The strategically placed rubber pods on the outsole will allow for a stronger grip on the track. They are light enough to provide all the benefit of a heavier duty tread without adding on all of those extra ounces.
Cost and Value
These shoes are relatively inexpensive. If you’re looking to make the transition over to a minimalist shoe, it could be worth looking into buying a pair of Vibrams.
- Lightweight Flexible Sole
- MegaGrip Pods
- Antimicrobial sock liner
- Mesh body
- Individual toes
- Can only be worn with toe socks
- Reported to have a short lifespan
4. Altra Olympus 1.5
The extra thick sole allows Altra to pack in as many goodies as they can into the soles of their shoe. The A-bound cushioning helps absorb the shock of your stride while also returning the energy for a smoother run. Below that, the EVA foam helps shield your feet from the harsher ground of the trail.
Lace Up Vamp
The laces stretch all the way down to the vamp, allowing for a more supportive fit that can be more easily adjusted to your foot shape.
Cost and Value
These shoes do run on the more expensive side. Given the comfort and protection they offer, the price tag is more than reasonable for a serious trail runner.
- EVA foam and A-bound cushioned sole
- Lace-up Vamp
- Trail specific outsole
- One Inch Platform
- A little wide in the heel
5. Merrell Pace Glove 3
The Pace Glove has specially designed laces allow for a more secure and comfortable fit. No more worrying about your shoes slipping off at an inopportune moment.
Trail Specific Tread
The tread has been designed specifically for trail running. The lugs measure 3mm deep, allowing for better traction on both wet and dry ground. There are no lugs on the arches, allowing the sole enough flexibility to flex with your feet.
Cost and Value
These shoes run the gamut from very inexpensive for a specialty shoe to quite pricey, depending on your shoe size. If you have smaller feet and are looking for a quality shoe for trail running, these might be too good of a bargain to pass up.
- Deep lugs for better traction
- Flexible arch for more natural running
- Breathable mesh lining
- Omni-Fit Lacing System
- Padded Collar
- Run Narrow
6. Altra Intuition 1.5
Altra’s 4.5mm FootPod Outsole is the perfect choice for running without fear of losing your footing. This specially designed tread will keep your feet from slipping on a wet trail after a long run.
This extra large foot box gives your toes room to wiggle and breathe on your run. With more room for your toes to spread, you can ensure a better grip and balance while running.
Cost and Value
These shoes can be pretty pricey. If you’re looking for a solid shoe that will carry you through a long run, you won’t regret paying a little more on these shoes.
- Anatomical Toe Box
- Thick Platform
- Dual-layer EVA midsole
- Run a little small
7. Vibram Spiridon MR
You’ll feel as good as barefoot with this lightweight Rockblock nylon mesh midsole protects your feet from the elements while remaining thin enough that you can feel the ground beneath your feet.
The multidirectional wavegrip outsole permits stronger traction even on the slipperiest of surfaces. Even steep muddy trails should be no problem with these shoes on your feet.
Cost and Value
The price tag is nothing to sneeze at, but given the quality of the product it is a reasonable price. If your wallet can take the hit, your feet will thank you for spending the extra money on these quality shoes.
- 3D Cocoon Rockguard Midsole
- Wavegrip Outsole
- Bungee lacing
- Fivefinger separated toe techonolgy
- There is a seam on the big toe
9. Merrell Bare Access Arc 3
These are excellent shoes for your first pair of zero drop running shoes. 8mm of cushion will carry your feet through your longest runs. The extra cushioning in the heel and the toe ensures comfort as you get used to the feel of a zero drop shoe.
Odor Control Lining
No matter how sweaty or muddy your shoes get, they odor-control fabric will keep the worst of the stench at bay. The shoe is machine washable for easy cleaning.
Cost and Value
These shoes aren’t terribly expensive for a high-end running shoe. If you’re looking for your first zero drop shoe, these will give you the most bang for your buck.
- Extra cushioned heel and toe
- 8mm cushioned footbed
- Odor-control fabric
- Machine washable
Can be uncomfortable for those with high arches
8. Altra Low Peak 3
The outsole is fitted with specially designed uphill lugs will ensure your footing is steady no matter what sort of terrain you find yourself running on.
The fully cushioned footbed rests atop dual-layer EVA and A-Cushioned midsole will keep a spring in your step while you blaze a trail. The stone guard technology ensures comfort even on the rockiest trail.
Cost and Value
These shoes are very affordable for specialty running shoes. Picking these up would be a smart investment if you often find yourself running on trails.
- 5mm cushioned footbed
- Roomy toe box
- TrailClaw tread
- Dual-layer EVA and A-Cushioned midsole
- Stone Guard Technology
- Run small
10. Merrell Vapor Glove 2
The lightweight mesh and polyurethane mix of the vamp conforms to your feet as you run. It's comfortable enough to make you forget you're even wearing shoes.
Sticky Vibram Outsole
The specially designed outsole combines a multi directional lug pattern with the natural stickiness of vibram for better traction while keeping a low profile. These shoes are excellent for keeping your feet under you wherever you run.
Cost and Value
The Merrell Vapor Glove 2 is an excellent running shoe with a comparatively small price tag. Between the excellent quality and the low price tag, these shoes are an amazing bargain.
- Breathable mesh vamp
- Conforms to your feet
- Vibram grip tread
- Flexible Sole
- Shoes run narrow
11. Altra One 2.5
A-Bound is an environmentally friendly midsole compound which is highly resilient and provides superior underfoot protection.
Inner Flex Grooves
A flex groove system which gives added flexibility and increases performance thanks to its lightweight properties.
Cost & Value
Altra's One 2.5 is reasonably priced and offers a tonne of features for the cost. They protect your feet while ensuring total comfort and stability for every step. Made for speed, these shoes are perfect for runners who like to push the limits.
- A-Bound Midsole
- EVA Foam
- Inner Flex Grooves
- Natural Foot Design
- Zero Millimeter Heel to Toe Drop
- Footbed is Firmer Than Other Models
12. Nike Flex Fury 2
These midsoles are contoured for cushioning and provide supportive flexibility for every step. A superior midsole for anyone who enjoys long runs.
Rubber outsoles offer a lightweight yet durable wear. Rubber is water-repellant and resistant to abrasion, while also giving total protection.
Cost & Value
The Nike Flex Fury 2 is a low cost shoe which offers flexibility, comfort, support, and durability. There are tonnes of colors to choose from which makes it easy to find a style that you will love. The Flex Fury 2 is a great, lower-priced zero drop which is stylish and trendy.
- Wide Variety Of Colors
- Lower Priced
- Flywire Cables
- Rubber Outsole
- Fit 1/2 Size Small
13. Asics 33-M 2
Solyte midsole material is lighter than the traditional EVA and SpEVA midsole materials. It also provides enhanced cushioning and is a very durable material.
Lasting material which gives plush underfoot comfort, as well as, providing superior moisture control and breathability.
Cost & Value
These Asics are reasonably priced and considerably more affordable than other options on the list. They are available in several colors so finding the perfect look won't be a challenge.
- Solyte Midsole
- ComforDry Lasting
- Various Color Options
- Moisture Control
- Antimicrobial Properties
- Small Fitting
14. Brooks PureFlow 6
A revolutionary process that uses screen-print technology to apply engineered structure to the uppers, maintaining the shoe structure with increased flexibility and lighter weight.
BioMoGo DNA LT Midsole
A cushioning system that adapts to runners of all sizes and speeds, providing a unique and comfortable wear.
Cost & Value
These shoes are a good price and offer great features. They are designed to provide unique cushioning while maintaining a lightweight and breathable feel. The Pureflow 6 is not the cheapest on the list, but it is definitely worth the cost.
- BioMoGo DNA LT Midsole
- Flexible Response
- Lightweight Cushioning
- 3D Fit Print Upper
- Narrow Fitting
15. Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
The Arc 4's reflective detailing design helps improve visibility at night, keeping runners safe from traffic and other dangers.
The Arc 4 is machine washable which makes caring for them a breeze. Be sure to machine wash on a cold cycle and air dry.
Cost & Value
These Merrell's are priced competitively and offer excellent features for the cost. They provide comfort, protection, and surface control while helping to keep runners safe in dark conditions. Complete with an extra comfortable EVA footbed and mesh lining, the Arc 4 is an airy and lightweight choice.
- EVA Footbed
- Reflective Detailing
- Machine Washable
- Airy Mesh Upper
- Minimal Arch Support
As runners, the health of our feet and legs is our primary concern. Running on sore feet or with an aching back isn’t just uncomfortable, the strain could lead to permanent damage. We need to take care of ourselves, and that means buying the proper equipment. Zero drop running shoes have a lot of benefits, not the least of which is easing the burden on your knees, hips, and back as you run.
While some of the shoes on this list can be a little pricey, it is my opinion that you can’t afford to skip at least trying out a zero drop running shoe. It will take some time for your body to adjust to the new shoes, but the potential benefits are well worth it. The money you spend on more expensive shoes can help curb the medical costs you might face down the line if you use a running shoe that is not right for you.
Criteria For Evaluating The Best Zero Drop Running Shoes
Zero Drop running shoes allow the heel to sit level with the forefoot, providing a more natural run. To achieve this, all additional padding is removed from the shoe, which can leave the foot more exposed to rough terrain. This is why the outsole of a Zero Drop shoe is so important because it acts as the only level of protection between the foot and any external hazards like sharp objects, or rocks.
Additionally, the outsole must compensate for the support and cushion which is lost with this type of shoe. There are many features and styles of outsole available and knowing how to choose the best option may be difficult. The following is a list of different outsole variations available in Zero Drop style footwear;
- EVA Foam: EVA is a lightweight foam rubber which is used to provide an added cushion as well as absorb shock.
- Rubber Outsole: Rubber offers superior traction and grip which is why it is so commonly used as outsole material. It is slip-resistant and water-repellant, making it an excellent consideration. The following are variations of the traditional rubber outsole;
- Carbon Rubber – A durable rubber compound that is the most common material used in running shoe outsoles.
- Blown Rubber – Air-injected rubber which is lighter, softer and more flexible than traditional rubber. Blown rubber is commonly found at the forefront of a shoe’s outsole.
- Trail-Specific: This type of outsole is designed for off-pavement running or walking. It is made with deeper lugs which offer better grip for off-trail running.
- Road-Specific: Designed for use on paved surfaces, road-specific outsoles will traditionally have a more shallow lug pattern, which will offer less grip.
When choosing which type of outsole to purchase, it is important to consider what type of activity you will be wearing the shoes for. Will you be running on the sidewalk or off-trail? Will you require water-resistance, or are you in need of a more supportive option? These are all questions to ask yourself before deciding which pair of Zero Drop running shoes are the right ones.
Traditional running shoes are designed to provide additional arch support and heel sculpting, whereas the Zero Drop does not. This is why a secondary footbed may be necessary to facilitate individuals with certain requirements.
For example, a supportive insole would offer some of the arch support and heel sculpting of a regular shoe, without adding the incline from the forefoot to the heel. This type of footbed would be beneficial for runners with a flat, or low arch.
A completely flat footbed, which offers less support, would be preferable for those who desire to strengthen the muscles in the feet. This can also be achieved by removing the insole that came with the shoe.
Lastly, a runner may require an insole which offers additional support, especially if their legs and feet collapse inwardly. Stability wedges can be inserted into a Zero Drop running shoe without pushing the arch upwards, which could potentially weaken feet over time.
Brand power is an important consideration when choosing a Zero Drop shoe, in part, because there are a smaller number of manufacturers than for other types of shoes. This is why there are now a select few ‘big names’ that pop up in conversation and come highly recommended by runners everywhere.
The following is a list of the five biggest names in Zero Drop manufacturing;
ALTRA: Altra started off in the back room of a Wasatch Mountain running store. Founded by running store managers and elite athletes, Altra is a brand that delivers shoes which let you run the way that you were made to. They are the only shoe company that provides a cushioned Zero Drop platform and FootShape™ toe box.
MERRELL: Merrell has been manufacturing shoes for over 30 years and is currently one of the world’s top manufacturers of outdoor sports equipment and apparel.
VIBRAM: Vibrams’ FiveFingers are a minimalist shoe which is meant to replicate being barefoot. They manufacture shoes with thin, flexibles soles, which contour to your foot to provide the ultimate minimalist experience.
NIKE: Nike has been manufacturing sports equipment and apparel for over 50 years. They are a trusted brand for a wide array of clothing items, Zero Drop shoes are just another thing to add their list.
NEW BALANCE: New Balance aims at helping athletes achieve excellence and their Zero Drop running shoes do just that! 2018 alone will see nearly 10 original Zero Drop styles from New Balance, all of which are guaranteed to pump up performance.
The ‘Drop’ of a shoe is the height between the heel to forefoot and is traditionally around 10 to 12mm. Zero Drop or minimalist running shoes are designed to provide a more natural experience for the runner, which mimics the feeling of running barefoot.
Zero Drop running shoes facilitate a better run by discouraging a heel strike, whereas, a 10 to 12mm drop actually encourages the heel to unnaturally strike. Minimalist shoes are preferred by many runners, in part, because they are thought to reduce the risk of running-related injuries.
The drop of a running shoe can range anywhere from zero to 16mm, but the best drop for you will depend on your own foot structure. The following list breaks down the different drop sizes available and explains the type of foot each would be best suited to;
- 0mm (Zero Drop): A flat shoe which is ideally suited to midfoot or forefoot strikers. This is the natural way for your foot to hit the ground, as it would if you were running barefoot. Most runners are able to adjust to this level of drop comfortably by gradually decreasing their drop over several months.
- 4mm: A very flat shoe which is best suited to runners who strike midfoot. The heel will not be felt and there is only a slight bit of padding which will benefit those who tend to occasionally strike with the heel.
- 8mm: This is considered the middle zone and will be best suited to those who strike at the midfoot. This is a good drop to start with if you are trying to achieve a more natural running form.
- 12mm: A moderate heel-striking shoe which can feel as though the heel is getting in your way while you run.
- 16mm: Best suited for those who strike with the heel, it would be impossible to strike with the midfoot. This type of shoe has a very sharp angle from the forefoot to heel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why is there a transition time?
A: You have spent your entire life running in shoes with lifted heels, which has neutralized the Achilles and lower calf muscles. It will take time to redevelop them. This is why runners may experience lower calf soreness for the first few weeks when transitioning to a Zero Drop, but once your muscles adjust, your lower legs will be stronger and more powerful.
Q: What are the benefits of a zero drop running shoe?
A: The benefits of a zero drop running shoe are;
- Encourage better technique while running
- Naturally align feet, body posture, & back
- Balanced weight from front to back
- Promote good form and reduces initial impact
Q: Will I be able to achieve the same speeds while running in a zero drop shoe as I normally would?
A: A large number of runners who wear minimalist shoes report that they achieve greater speed when running, in part, because they experience less knee and leg pain. There are no indications that a zero drop shoe will cause any reduction in the speed at which the user achieves.
Q: How long is the transition time?
A: Transition times will vary based on the level of cushioning. Models with lighter cushioning will strengthen the legs more but will require a longer transitional period. Moderate cushion levels allow for an easier initial transition, usually two to four week.
Q: Are zero drop shoes more expensive than other running shoes?
A: No, generally speaking, zero drop shoes are similar in price as regular shoes, dependant on the brand.