Do We Really Need the Fully-Loaded Option?

Posted by Filed Under: Gear & Apparel

Raise your hand if you spend more on your running gear than you do on food and basic survival needs. They say that running is one of the least expensive sports to do, as it requires the least amount of equipment. The bare-footed, Hanes t-shirt clad minimalists out there are nodding their heads, while the rest of us are furrowing our brows incredulously, silently dreading the magic number that will appear on the next credit card bill capturing our latest spree at the local running shop. It is a reflection of the society many of us live in, but it’s easy to justify high cost, hi-tech clothing and cushioning, supportive shoes in the face of blisters, chafing, and foot, shin and knee injuries.

Or is it? Scientists at the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research (IMAR) at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee, Scotland, are questioning whether expensive running shoes are worth the money and perform any better than lower cost options. For those of us who have been culturally conditioned to believe that more expensive generally equates to better, the first study results might be surprising.

According to the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine‘s “Online First” section, low- and medium-cost running shoes performed the same, if not better, than high-cost shoes from the same manufacturers.

In the study, low-, medium-, and high-cost options from three manufacturers were tested by 43 male subjects (UK sizes 8 and 10 shoes) for comfort and plantar pressure measurements. Comfort was assessed using a visual analogue scale. Pressure measurements were taken using specially made insoles while each subject walked approximately 15 steps. A smaller follow-on study looked at the pressure distribution patterns between walking and running on a treadmill.


In their discussion, the authors point out that this study is not definitive: It only concentrated on two aspects of running shoe design and measurements that were collected while participants walked, leaving many other factors to be examined before conclusions can be drawn. However, the results suggest that cost may not be a good indicator of a running shoe’s performance.

Until further studies are complete, I remain hesitant. As much as I’d love to pay half as much for my next pair of shoes, I’ve tried some of those cheaper pairs out there, hoping to save some money, but they don’t feel right. It’s true, my feet are high maintenance. But, I can’t be the only one. Are we all falling into the advertising trap? Are expensive shoes not all they’re cracked up to be? I just don’t know.

My pocketbook might be on board, but my feet falter.

About Nora

I am a native Californian currently settled and running my way bit by bit around the South East of England. Besides running, my training activities include biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, and tap dancing in place while in line at the grocery store. I am addicted to photography and run most races with my camera in hand, just in case.

  1. Craig Payne on October 24th at 7:35 am

    There has been some disucussion here on the media’s interpretation of this study:

  2. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on October 24th at 9:27 am

    Not everybody needs expensive shoes. If you want more cushioning and more support, you’ll pay more. You aren’t necessarily getting a better shoe, just a heavier one that has more to it.

    If you keep your eyes open, you can get cheap running shoes. I generally don’t pay more than $40 or $50 for shoes that retail for $80-$120. The last time I paid full price for a pair of shoes I had had to have them special ordered, and I got a free pair of shoes for my wife at the same time.

  3. Huw on October 25th at 6:51 am

    There have been studies that point to a link between price of shoe and incidence of injury – the more a shoe costs, the likelier the runner is to have an injury. In other words, the technology may have been created in the lab and you pay extra for the privilage, but it doesn’t seem to do what it is supposed to. There are also studies that point to the amount of cushioning a shoe has making no difference to the impact forces going through the body. I very firmly believe that less is more when it comes to running shoes – but sometimes it takes time for your body to adjust if you have been used to certain types of shoes for a long time.
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  4. Adeel on October 25th at 10:51 am

    Mark, I’m sure, can chime in with why we don’t need expensive shoes. Having sold shoes to thousands of runners, my experience has been that price usually doesn’t have much to do with comfort, otherwise everyone would be wearing the Kayano. Some people can get hurt in anything, others get hurt in nothing and still others only have one shoe that works for them. I don’t think the shoe industry makes nearly as much sense as it claims to.

    Prices here are different, but I’ve never bought a shoe that would cost more than $80 US.

  5. Mark Iocchelli on October 25th at 1:01 pm

    I think the marketing of shoes is certainly part of it.

    We’ve come to think of shoes as a tool that protects us from the pounding of running when what we should really be doing is teaching ourselves how to run so that we don’t need those kinds of shoes.

    If we spent 1/2 the time we should on technique rather than shoes, we’d be much better off. And we’d also have a few extra dollars in our pockets.

  6. Irene on October 25th at 3:48 pm

    Aren’t the men in the study younger, in the 20 age range? I hope someone does a study with, *ahem*, a little older study group, like in the 40+ range, then we’d really have a study I could get into. I would really love to use a cheapie pair of running shoes, and I’ve tried, but I have a few physical issues, and my knees will be angry at me. Better cushioning does cost more. Perhaps for some people, marketing does play into it. I buy the least expensive athletic/running clothes, but I just can’t go cheap on shoes.

    Great article, Nora!