The Best Kids’ Running Shoes

·10 min read
Photo credit: Staff, Courtesy of New Balance
Photo credit: Staff, Courtesy of New Balance

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Kids of all ages run even when they’re not trying to run—they jump, climb, play, and run some more. And all that running leads to serious wear and tear on their footwear. Whether for recess, their first 5K, or their spot on the track and field or cross-country team, kids need durable, high-quality running shoes that can handle the mileage. Read on for our top picks—and insight into what you should look for when shopping for kids’ running shoes.

Best Kids’ Running Shoes

The Expert: To make this list, I reached out to Runner’s World Deputy Editor Jeff Dengate, one of the running industry’s leading experts. Dengate not only tests hundreds of new running shoes every year and has access to Runner’s World shoe test data—a pool of feedback from dozens of thoughtful local runners willing to test-run new running shoes—but he’s also the parent of a young runner.

Why Kids Need Running Shoes

Many parents hesitate to buy running-specific kids’ shoes because they’re priced higher than general sneakers, and their child might quickly outgrow a pair. So the question arises: Are running shoes for kids worth the investment? RW Deputy Editor Jeff Dengate, a longtime shoe expert, says yes, for several reasons. “Most kids’ shoes, especially those for very young kids, are extremely stiff and overbuilt,” Dengate says. “They’re not made for the stress a running child will produce. A dedicated running shoe with a quality midsole and supportive upper will offer kids the same comfort adults expect from their own shoes.” That targeted midsole and upper support won’t just make the shoe more comfortable—it can also safeguard kids from injuries and ailments like ankle rolls, shin splints, blisters, and plain-old sore feet.

Photo credit: Ryan Hulvat
Photo credit: Ryan Hulvat

What to Consider With Kids’ Running Shoes

A roomy, comfortable fit

This should be one of your top priorities when shopping for youth running shoes. “A growing foot, crammed into too-small shoes, can take on the shape of the shoe and lead to foot health problems later in life,” Dengate says. (As proof, he warns, “Don’t google images of Lebron James’ feet, if you’re squeamish.”)

High-quality midsole and upper

After fit, look for a cushioned midsole and a flexible forefoot that will allow your kid to move easily. And don’t forget to check for some structure in the shoe’s upper. “Much like on adult shoes, many kids’ shoe uppers have been largely stripped free of supportive overlays, but if your kid is particularly hard on shoes, find a pair that has some of that extra support,” Dengate says. That will also make the upper more durable, so you can get more use out of the shoe before your kid outgrows it.

How We Tested and Evaluated These Kids’ Running Shoes

Nearly every shoe here has been tested by young runners or active kids here at Runner’s World. We’ve also gathered extensive feedback from our staff and wear-test team on some youth shoes’ comparable adult models. In addition, we research the market and survey online reviews to determine which ones best meet the needs of active children and preteens. Some of the shoes included here haven’t undergone our strenuous testing cycle; instead, we recommended them using our expert knowledge and evaluation.

Mini Adult Model


Type: Road
Sizes: 1–7Y and adult

Nike developed these shoes with the same chops as the adult model, with a few tweaks to accommodate smaller feet—the big kids’ version uses standard lacing, but there’s also a Velcro option for those new to tying their own bunny ears. Testers of the adult version picked favorite features that translate well to a comfy kids’ pair: stretchy, breathable upper mesh with wiggle room at the toes, solid support around the ankle, and softer forefoot cushioning for all the jumps, leaps, and skips.

Most Stability


Type: Road
Sizes: 1K to 7Y, plus wide sizes

Just like adults, some kids overpronate when they run, which means their feet roll inward more than is ideal. Shoes like the 860 have features like a denser medial post in the midsole to counter this and stabilize little feet—without being too noticeable for kids with normal pronation. The latest version of this longtime favorite stability shoe, the V11, is lightweight but has lots of foam cushion at the midsole, so it’s good for kids building up to longer distances. Kids with broader or flatter feet have also gravitated toward it for the added support and stability underfoot, plus the fact that it’s available in standard or wide versions.

Most Cushioning


Type: Road
Sizes: 3.5-7Y and adult

Speedy kids who want a fast but well-cushioned shoe for racing or playing sports will love the bouncy feel of Boost foam underfoot. The shoe springs into action like it’s just been released from a can of prank snakes. The Ultraboost has a knit upper with midfoot-hugging overlays that support narrow feet especially well, without creating hot spots or blisters, and a grippy Continental rubber outsole that delivers excellent traction. The shoe is stylish, too, bringing the same sleek aesthetic we love from the adult version to its junior model. Our only complaint: The Ultraboost is inarguably pricey—but for the most part, this is because Adidas doesn’t cut costs for its kids’ models.

Best for Mud


Type: Trail
Sizes: 13K—7Y and adult

Salomon shoes are beloved for their traction off-road, courtesy of the shoes’ deep lugs that dig into mud, grass, and rocky technical terrain. The Alphacross is a huge confidence builder for kids who run or hike on trails, pairing that sticky, high-traction outsole with a ripstop nylon upper that’s burly enough to handle a lot of good times. The shoe also uses traditional laces instead of Salomon’s usual one-pull cords—a welcome change for kid testers who found the cord system tough to get used to. An EVA foam midsole is soft and thick enough to cushion big leaps and landings.

Best for Long Distances


Type: Road
Sizes: 1-7K

The Cumulus is known for being a durable and well-cushioned shoe that can handle a lot of miles—and a lot of wear and tear. For a “road” shoe, it has quite the grippy outsole, with knobby rubber segments underfoot that get reliable traction on pavement and dirt trails, and “flex grooves” for a smoother ride. The shoe’s upper is similarly hardy: Made of engineered mesh with overlays for a secure fit, it breathes well and prevents little feet from overheating. For kids who tend to land hard on their heels, a pod of gel cushioning in the Cumulus’s sole smooths out the harshness of impacts.

Best for Hikers


Type: Trail
Sizes: 1-13K

Ideal for kids who love to run or trek off-road, the Speedcross Junior packs the same high-quality, trail-friendly features we love about the adult version. The shoe’s Contragrip lugged outsole gets good grip on all surfaces, and the EVA midsole is moderately cushioned with a smooth ride and solid rebound. The mesh upper is comfortable and well-ventilated, with a “Sensifit” lace design that holds feet snugly into place and a toe cap that protects the forefoot from stumbles. But best of all from a kid’s perspective: The shoe’s one-pull quicklace system makes it easy to slip in and out of these without untying.

Built for Speed


Type: Road
Sizes: 1-7Y

Much like its adult counterpart, the Kids Air Zoom Pegasus is a lightweight, versatile shoe that doesn’t get weighed down by its ample cushioning but instead uses it as a springboard for chasing race PRs. Pressurized Zoom Air in the forefoot of the shoe gives it all that bounce, while soft foam in the midsole provides a comfortable crash pad and smooth ride. For a kids shoe, it’s on the pricey side, but the rubber outsole feels durable enough to see plenty of use.

Versatile Favorite


Type: Road
Sizes: 1-7K

We’ve spent more than a decade throwing awards at the adult Kinvara due to its speed and snap and universally comfortable engineered mesh upper. Turns out the scaled-down version for junior track stars is pretty praise-worthy, too. Both the shoe’s lightweight foam midsole and high-traction rubber outsole were designed to handle high mileage, so the shoes won’t lose their tread or bounce after the first hundred miles. And making them last will become pretty important once these are out of the box—sliding a foot into the cozy upper and memory-foam footbed is like falling back into a comfortable bed after a long day playing sports, so kids won’t want to take them off.

Best Value


Type: Road
Sizes: 1K—7Y, plus wide sizes

This shoe wins big points from parents for its durability and value and from kids for its lightweight comfort. The shoe has a breathable mesh upper that conforms to different foot shapes, and a Fresh Foam EVA midsole that provides plenty of cushion and bounce for quick sprints or long runs. The all-rubber outsole finds good traction off the road and won’t wear down too quickly.

Our Expert Caitlin Giddings Shares What Age Your Child Needs Dedicated Running Shoes, Whether to Size Up, and When Shoes Should Get the Boot

RW: At what age do kids need dedicated running shoes?

CG: Lots of kids’ running shoes come in sizes small enough to fit the earliest walkers. But you can hold off a little before transitioning your child to dedicated shoes designed specifically for running—though they might find them to be more comfortable for play. “As your child outgrows the little kid-sized shoes, it’s time to look at decent-quality athletic shoes that will let them run and jump,” Dengate says. “Most of the major running shoe companies also make kids’ versions of their popular running shoes in youth sizes that will be flexible but still supportive.”

RW: Is it wrong to get shoes a size up so that kids can grow into them?

CG: It’s an understandable impulse, but you want to be careful here. There’s a fine balance between optimal fit and longevity. “It’s tempting to buy shoes a bit too large so that your kid can ‘grow into them’—also so you just don’t have to buy new shoes so frequently,” Dengate says. “But you don’t want the shoe to be too big because they’ll be uncomfortable for your child, and can cause them to trip and fall.”

RW: How do you know when it’s time to retire a pair of kids’ running shoes?

CG: “The most important reason to retire a pair of kids’ shoes is when they’re too small,” says Dengate. “Even though kids are extremely hard on their shoes, they’ll usually outgrow them before they destroy them. Also, because kids have smaller bodies, they don’t have the same cushioning requirements as adults. But if the upper is shredded or their toes are to the end, it’s time for a new pair.”

Editor's Note: Lisa Jhung, freelance writer and author, and Morgan Petruny, a test editor for Runner's World, contributed to this article.

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