SHAPE'S Shoe Guide 2011: The Best Athletic Shoes
Best Walking Shoes: Ecco Biom Walk 1.1
Who needs it: Committed fitness walkers.
What it offers: This shoe may be pricey, but according to our testers it's worth every penny. They rave about the comfort, fit, and style of the Biom Walk. The seamless leather upper "doesn't rub or chafe" and "molds to the foot." The midsole provides "phenomenal support" without being too stiff. As one walker puts it: "The sole feels flexible, which helps me roll from step to step." ($195; zappos.com).
Best Walking Shoes: Asics Gel-Tech Walker Neo 2
What it offers: With the Asics Gel-Tech Walker Neo 2, a dense insert at the arch helps prevent feet from turning inward, making testers feel "balanced and secure," and the asymmetrical laces "take pressure off the top of the foot." Plus, memory foam around the ankle gives walkers "amazing support."($100; zappos.com).
Best Gym Shoes for All-Around Use: Asics Gel-Upshot
Who needs it: Women who continually mix it up at the gym with cardio, weights, and classes.
What it offers: Whether you're cranking out lunges or striding uphill on the treadmill, the Gel-Upshot keeps feet "stable and secure," thanks to a firm plastic insert at the arch. Fans of plyometrics will appreciate the bouncy sole, which has gel-filled cushions under the heel and forefoot that "absorb shock extremely well." One gym rat fell hard for the shoe's attached tongue: "I like that it doesn't shift from side to side when I do!" ($85; zappos.com).
Best Shoes For Fitness Classes: New Balance WX871
Who needs it: Boot campers, dancers, and CrossFit devotees who want cushioning, comfort, and traction.
What it offers: The "grippy" sole of the WX871 gives one fan of circuit-training classes "the confidence to make quick moves." The "firm" midsole has "just the right amount of impact absorption" for jumping. And the mostly mesh upper provides "excellent ventilation that keeps feet cool during every workout—from sweat-inducing Zumba to group-cycling classes." ($85; newbalance.com).
Best Gym Shoes: Nike Free XT Quick Fit+
What it offers: Several testers say this "lightweight" and "arch-supporting" shoe has "perfect cushioning." That's due to six rubber pods on the outsole that also provide "excellent grip on studio floors." The eye-catching Free has "flair" and comes in several colors. ($85; nike.com).
Best Trail Running Shoes for Speed: Saucony Progrid Peregrine
Who needs it: Runners looking to dash down trails.
What it offers: This bold-looking shoe is "light" and "slipperlike." Its thin midsole allows you to "sense the fluctuations of the terrain," making one ultrarunner feel "more certain with every step" and a medal-winning trail runner "nimble and graceful." The Peregrine's stretchy upper is "secure but not constricting." The outsole's sticky rubber and multi-angle lugs give "excellent traction in muddy conditions," allowing for faster footsteps. ($90; zappos.com).
Best Trail Running Shoes for Distance: Columbia Switchback 2 Low
Who needs it: Women who trek five miles or more per run.
What it offers: A tester training for a 100-mile trail race says, "I love how these shoes feel"—and she isn't alone. Runners rave about the Switchback's "roomy toe box," "supportive" arches, and "secure" fit. The shoe is "a solid combination of support, cushioning, and stability," says one half marathoner, who reports her feet "weren't as sore after longer runs." The best bit? These babies weigh less than 9 ounces—lighter than many of their road-sneaker counterparts. ($75; columbia.com).
Best Trail Running Shoes: Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove
Who needs it: Steppers and dancers who want cushioning, flexibility, and traction.
What it offers: Trail runners appreciate the flexible Vibram rubber outsole on this "light and comfy" minimalist shoe. The stretchy, breathable microfiber-and-mesh upper is thin but "still provides ample protection from brush and rocks." ($100; amazon.com).
Best Running Shoes for Cushioning: Under Armour Assert
Who needs it: Neutral-stride runners.
What it offers: Surprisingly, a shoe with a "thinner-than-most" midsole comes out on top for cushioning. "It feels like a memory foam mattress," says one tester. "I never got that pounding-the-pavement effect," adds another. On longer treks, the shoe's "roomy" toe box and "foot-cradling heel" ensure comfort. ($70; underarmour.com).
Best Running Shoes for Stability: Reebok Road Supreme II
Who needs it: Over pronators (runners whose feet roll in too much) or any runner who wants added support.
What it offers: The Supreme II attacks over pronation with a plastic bridge spanning its midsole. "It's supportive without being too stiff, and it provides a solid base to push off from," says a daily hoofer. Another tester adds that the sneaker "has made my knee pain vanish." And though most stability shoes come up short in the padding department, a newbie runner loves its "cushy feel" that adds "energy" to every run. ($100; amazon.com).
Best Running Shoes for Speed: Nike Lunarelite+2
Who needs it: Racers eager to set new personal records.
What it offers: The LunarElite has a "snug but not-too-tight fit," says a frequent racer. A firm, responsive midsole and dense foam at the instep help mild over pronators "stay balanced" so they can "concentrate on going fast." And "these shoes quicken the tempo of every run," says one speedster, and also make "interval training a (relative!) joy." The "supercute" upper has a combo of mesh and featherweight paneling that "holds the foot securely and eliminates rubbing," adds a medal-winning racer. ($100; footlocker.com).
Best Running Shoes for Distance: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11
Who needs it: Runners training for a 10K or longer race.
What it offers: Rack up miles without worrying about pinching, binding, or hot spots with the Adrenaline's "stay-put tongue" and moisture-managing mesh that "keeps feet ventilated." Denser foam at the instep and a firm plastic insert in the midsole improve stability too. One runner with plantar fasciitis says this shoe makes her "less concerned about pain during long runs." ($100; brooksrunning.com).
Best Running Shoes: Adidas Adizero Ageis 2
What it offers: The "light" and "glove-like" Aegis 2 makes hoofing it feel "effortless," according to one 10K-er who notched a personal record wearing the shoe. The upper provides "outstanding ventilation," reports an ultrarunner, and a frequent runner raves that the "bright pink rocks!" A long-distance pavement pounder adds that the low profile sneaker is "ideal for someone transitioning to a minimalist shoe," and helps "eliminate knee pain" and "keep feet stable." ($120; shopadidas.com).