How We Test Shoes

You know that Runner’s World reviews running shoes. What you may not know is just how much time, sweat, and science is involved. Here’s everything we do to produce a single Shoe Guide – a process we repeat three times a year.


It’s about that time

First we determine which new models will be available for testing in the quantities we need. Because we evaluate each shoe for a month and the magazine has a two- to three-month lead time, this can be tricky. These time constraints are also why some shoes may be missing from a Shoe Guide.

Here they come

We receive about 50 pairs each of 30 models for every Shoe Guide, from manufacturers based all over the world. The shoes are sorted in the RW Shoe Room (a warehouse across from our office) before we distribute them to wear-testers.

And there they go

The wear-test distribution is a massive undertaking. We send shoes to more than 400 runners in four cities. These testers run in the shoes for a month, evaluating features like fit, comfort, and ride, then give us feedback.

Meanwhile, at the RW Shoe Lab…

While our wear-testers put shoes through their paces in the real world, the same models undergo a battery of mechanical tests at the RW Shoe Lab, under the direction of Martyn R. Shorten, Ph.D. See below for descriptions of these tests.

And at Shoefitr…

More shoes show up at the offices of Shoefitr, a company that uses 3D scans to gather precise data on how a shoe will fit and then generates a heat-map graphic to compare it to the fit of an average shoe. Fit is key, so some shoe reviews display this graphic.

The final analysis

When the lab-test results are in and wear-testers have submitted their evaluations, we pore over the data for each shoe and distill it into the review that will appear in the Shoe Guide and in our online Shoe Finder. Then we debate which shoes deserve a coveted award, such as Editor’s Choice.

Art and editing

A single Shoe Guide can approach 8000 words, and every one of them goes through a team of editors, fact-checkers, and designers multiple times. We also photograph each shoe from several angles for use in the magazine, in our enhanced iPad edition, and online.

It’s a shoe guide!

The magazine is delivered to your home or newsstand, our reviews hit the website, and you learn which of the latest running shoes is best for you. Meanwhile, wear-testing for the next Shoe Guide is already well under way. As the saying goes, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”


Interested in a description of the testing that goes on in our Shoe Lab? Read on…


In the Shoe Lab we use a machine called an impact tester to measure how soft or firm each shoe is underfoot. It repeatedly drops a disk weighing 8.5 kilograms – the average weight of the lower leg – onto the heel as well as the forefoot of a men’s size 9 shoe from a height of five centimetres. The Lab records the force of impact and how much the midsole compresses.


shoe guide testing flexibilityFlexibility

Flexibility is an excellent indication of how smoothly a shoe will move with the foot from heel-strike to toe-off. We measure this in the Shoe Lab by securing a shoe’s forefoot to a machine that bends it 45 degrees – about how much a foot naturally flexes while running – 60 times in 20 seconds. The force required to do this indicates how pliable the shoe is.


shoe guide testing height and weightHeight and Weight

We weigh both the men’s (again, size 9) and women’s (size 7) models. We also measure each shoe’s stack height – accounting for its outsole rubber, midsole foam, and sockliner. To determine heel and forefoot thicknesses, we cut away the shoe’s upper material, then take readings with a digital contact sensor. These readings give us the shoe’s “drop.”

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