As a specialty running and walking store, one of the most common things we are asked is ‘How often should I replace my running shoes?’. There is a fair amount of research and articles written about this subject, all which come to different conclusions. This is frustrating for those looking for a straight answer. But fear not (!) because we are going to give you an overview on how to best answer this question. We didn’t sanction any studies or collaborate with any running magazines but rather we draw off the experiences that we’ve had interacting with runners everyday and from being lifelong runners ourselves.
The true answer is that it depends on a variety of factors. The level of support in the shoe, whether you heel strike or strike on the mid-foot, whether you’re running or walking, your cadence, your build, and running/walking surface all will play a factor in the life of a shoe. This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear, but just bear with us for a moment and we promise we’ll get back to to some more concrete answers for you. In the anatomy of a shoe, the midsole is what gives it its life. The midsole is the area under the removable insert (insole) and above the actual tread on the bottom of the shoe (outsole). Once the midsole is compressed and loses all its rebound, the shoe has effectively lost its shock absorption capabilities, and it is time to replace it.
The best way to test to see if a shoe still has life is to take out the insole and put your hand inside the shoe. You’ll be feeling the top of the midsole. If you can feel an indentation in the areas where you put the most pressure, typically the heel and ball of your foot, then the shoe probably needs to be replaced.
Another sign the the shoe is dead is if you have any slight foot or ankle pain or a twinge in your knee. The key here is SLIGHT pain. We do not advocate this method simply because sometimes waiting until there is only “some pain” can be too late, and we don’t want to see anybody get injured. This system is better used as a “check” rather than a primary method. Many veteran runners do, however, use foot soreness as a reminder that it’s time to make a trip to the running store.
One more strategy to help you decide is to visit a running store, try on a new pair of your current shoes, and feel the difference. If there’s a noticeable difference, it’s because the midsole in your current shoe is compressed and you need a new pair. If they feel relatively the same, then you can afford to put some more miles on them.
As promised, let’s get back to some concrete numbers. The most common mileage recommendations for shoe replacement range from 350-550 miles. We use 400 as a general guideline, perhaps erring a little bit on the side of caution but an accurate and reasonable recommendation by almost any standard. We shy away from giving time recommendations (i.e. 6 months) simply because that will vary based on individual running frequency, so we’d rather help someone do the math based on their mileage to come up with a reasonable time estimate. For “minimalist”-type shoes, this number will be in the 200-300 mile range, but let’s assume we’re talking about regular training shoes. Here is our official recommendation:
- Use a general guideline of 350-400 miles
- Once you’ve gotten into this range, use one of the three assessments we gave above to determine the best time to replace. Perhaps you and your shoes will last over 500 miles or perhaps they’ll last just over 350.
- Once you do this one or two times you’ll get a good sense of the mileage estimate that is right for you — simply repeat this over and over as needed
Combining the concrete numbers that we and other running authorities recommend along with our subjective evaluations should yield the best results. While determining when to replace your shoes isn’t as simple as giving you a universal number, we hope our system is easy to understand and effective. Happy trails!