For a More Natural Movement, Check Out These Expert Recommended Zero-Drop Shoes

altra rivera 3
The 6 Best Zero-Drop Shoes for Balanced SupportThomas Hengge

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."

Improve the stability in your stride and increase the comfort under your feet with a pair of zero-drop running shoes. Traditional running shoes have more cushioning under the heel than they do the toe, creating a "drop" between back and front. These shoes are the exception: They have a uniform stack height, giving your foot has a flat platform across the entire sole.

Zero-drop shoes are designed to facilitate the natural movement in your running stride by replacing an elevated heel with an even one, similar to if you were walking barefoot. Though it's the "natural" way, most of us are used to the extra padding of a standard running shoe, so they take some getting used to, as your muscles, tendons, and ligaments build strength and your foot acclimates.

Zero-drop shoes come in a wide range of designs and styles. Some skew closer to a barefoot feel, while others offer significant cushioning under your entire foot. So, whether you're training on concrete streets or out on trails, check out the best zero-drop shoes for a more stable, balanced alternative to your current sneakers.

On a budget? Check out the best sales on running shoes from Nike.

The Best Zero-Drop Running Shoes

What to Consider in a Zero-Drop Shoe

Stack Height

Stack height refers to the thickness of a shoe’s cushioning. While zero-drop shoes have no change in stack height from heel to toe, some have more padding than others. A shorter stack height provides you with a better, more responsive feel of the ground, while a taller one translates to more padding. Stack height is measured in millimeters, with taller options generally falling between 25-35 mm and the most minimalist options have none.

“I’ve found, for zero-drop newbs, it’s a smoother transition from a traditional shoe with drop when the zero-drop shoe has a taller stack height,” says Runner’s World test editor Amanda Furrer. “You’re not slogging despite all that foam. And not being as close to the ground somehow makes easing into zero drops easier—at least for me personally.”


How any given zero-drop shoe fits for you is largely dependent on your own foot shape, as well as the shape and design of the shoe. Many zero-drop shoes—including our top pick, the Altra Via Olympus 2—come with wide toe boxes. This gives your toes room to splay and generally provides a comfortable, loose fit. Outside of traditional toe boxes, five-toed shoes like Vibram's Fivefingers line are also an unconventional minimalist option.

Traction and Grip

Another important facet when considering any pair of shoes is the traction and grip of the outsole. We included both shoes designed for trails and those made for smooth pavement. Road shoes tend to have flatter, less lug-y outsoles built to handle long, repetitive movement on consistently even ground. Some even have openings across the bottom of the sole for added flexibility.

Trail shoes come with grippier soles meant to handle different weather and surface conditions so you don’t lose your footing. Their outsole lugs are also often deeper or more pronounced, latching better on and into uneven surfaces and providing sure grip on rocks, gravel, and inclines.

Additional Features

Many zero-drop shoes come with added features that can lend weather resistance, durability, comfort, or style. Options meant for trails and hikes oftentimes have waterproof uppers. Other shoes may come with thinner, porous material for breathability. We’ve noted below which shoes have these elements and how they can impact your run. Additionally, there are many zero-drop shoes that come in dozens of unique color schemes, so if the outer look and design of the shoes matters to you, there are options to fit your taste.

How We Selected The Best Zero-Drop Shoes

We picked the best zero-drop shoes based on testing notes and data from the Runner's World test team, as well as comprehensive feedback from the Runner's World wear-tester program. Each shoe has been tested or written about by members of the RW team.

In addition, Test Editor Amanda Furrer provided specific feedback on our shoe recommendations, pointers on what to keep in mind before buying, and more. As you’ll quickly notice, the answer you’ll come to when searching for a zero-drop shoe will likely be Altra, due to the brand’s well-known zero-drop design and clear high-quality build. Altra was a pioneer of zero-drop shoes, after all.

Via Olympus 2 Road Running Shoe

The newest version of the well-loved Via Olympus running shoe does more than just stay the course. Already one of the most comfortable zero-drop running shoes available, the Via Olympus 2 has an ever softer midsole for high impact running without the stress on your joints.

Alongside the soft midsole is the rocker design, which takes the natural gait that comes with a zero-drop shoe and adds momentum to your stride. For long road runs in particular, the cushioning and momentum should keep your feet comfortable and moving well even with the slightly heavy weight of the shoe.

The Altra running shoe also comes with an extremely wide toe box that allows your feet to spread out during your run and prevents the constrictive feeling of some other shoes.

Shop Now Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Via Olympus 2 Road Running Shoe</p><p></p><p>$164.95</p>

Shop Now

Via Olympus 2 Road Running Shoe


Rivera 4 Road Running Shoe

Grab the comfort and cushioning that Altra is known for without paying top dollar. The Rivera 4 is a great everyday trainer that boasts many of Altra’s best qualities, including a tall stack height and soft, yet responsive midsole cushioning.

Unlike many of Altra's shoes, the Rivera 4 feel fairly narrow. Despite the roomy toe box, these zero-drop shoes have a tight midsole that secures your foot in place for hard impact jogging on concrete without causing additional friction.

While they aren’t meant for long distance running, the soft cushioning and ideal price point make the Rivera 4 a great fit for shorter daily runs.

Shop Now Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Rivera 4 Road Running Shoe</p><p></p><p>$129.95</p>

Shop Now

Rivera 4 Road Running Shoe


Lone Peak 8 Trail Running Shoe

One of our favorite trail shoes, the Altra Lone Peak 8 stands out for its deep lugs, tacky grip, and responsive cushioning. The lugs grab hold and give you a confident grip as you run across soft surfaces like gravel, grass, or dirt.

The grippy material on the outsole helps maintain that torque from the lugs on wet or uneven terrain like mossy rocks or wet grass. They also have a ripstop mesh upper that protects your foot from sharp rocks and branches while you run.

As a pure trainer, the Lone Peak 8 features a cushioned and responsive midsole that bounces back against uneven terrain while absorbing enough shock for longer hikes.

Shop Now Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Lone Peak 8 Trail Running Shoe</p><p></p><p>$139.88</p>

Shop Now

Lone Peak 8 Trail Running Shoe


Paradigm 7 Running Shoes

The Altra Paradigm 7 is lighter than many of the other options on this list, but doesn't sacrifice comfort for the sake of quickness. Built for road running, it features an internal guide rail that keeps your foot in place and your stride in good form. This is particularly helpful if you overpronate.

The Paradigm 7 also has a molded heel cup, which holds your ankle firmly in place as you run for even more stability. Astra's signature wide toe box lets your toes splay and keeps your feet comfortable. That said, the toe box is noticeably thinner than earlier Paradigm models, so keep that in mind if that’s a key feature for you.

Shop Now Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Paradigm 7 Running Shoes</p><p></p><p>$114.99</p>

Shop Now

Paradigm 7 Running Shoes


Trail Glove 7

If you’re leaning toward a zero-drop shoe and want a shorter stack than than our Altra picks, Merrell's Trail Glove 7 is a perfect outdoor option. They feature a Vibram outsole that handles well on slippery surfaces such as wet ground or slippery rocks.

The flat design has a only a light layer of padding, giving the shoes a minimalist, barefoot-esque feel rather than of the heavy cushioning from other zero-drop options.

The Trail Glove 7 shoes is treated to reduce foot odor, so even after a long day out on the trails, your feet will as smell fresh as a the great outdoors.

Shop Now Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Trail Glove 7</p><p></p><p>$119.95</p>

Shop Now

Trail Glove 7


Vanish Carbon 2 Zero-Drop Running Shoe

With a full-length internal carbon plate and a lightweight design, the Altra Vanish Carbon 2 is built for high-level competition. The internal plate offers a spring in your step for a faster stride throughout your run.

The plate allowed Altra to pack on the padding without losing the responsive return you need to handle marathons and half-marathons. The rocker midsole adds even more speed, giving your stride more momentum and propelling you forward down the stretch.

Similar to other Altra shoes, this pair comes with a wide toe box, providing you with space for your feet to spread out while you run.

Shop Now Shop Now

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Vanish Carbon 2 Zero-Drop Running Shoe</p><p></p><p>$260.00</p>

You Might Also Like