Kids, from toddlers to middle-schoolers, 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. From recess to their first 5K to joining the track and field or cross-country team, kids need footwear to take them there. Check out five top options below, or scroll deeper for longer reviews of those and others, as well as our gear experts’ tips to keep in mind when shopping for a pint-sized pair.
A Worthy Running Investment for Kids
Many parents hesitate to buy running-specific kids’ shoes because the price is higher for a shoe that their children may quickly outgrow. So the question arises, “Are kids’ running shoes really worth the investment?” Our short answer is yes, for several reasons. Even if your child isn’t racking up serious miles, a high-quality and protective running shoe offers significantly more support and comfort than the everyday sneaker. Running shoes can be a safeguard against injuries and ailments ranging from ankle rolls and shin splints, to blisters and just plain-old sore feet. Plus, consider the fact that you personally need a new pair every 300 to 400 miles, which can happen in as little as three months if you’re running 25 to 30 miles per week. So even if your kid hits a growth spurt, it’s unlikely he or she will outpace you in buying his or her next pair.
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Nearly every shoe here has been tested by young runners or active kids here at Runner’s World. (Or, we’ve gathered extensive feedback from our staff and wear-test team on a youth shoe’s comparable adult model.) In addition, we research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience with these shoes to determine which ones best meet the needs of active children and preteens. We also included shoes that haven’t undergone our strenuous testing cycle; instead, these trainers were recommended using expert knowledge and evaluation.
—MINI ADULT MODEL—
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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. Available in sizes 1–7Y and adult.
—BEST FOR MUD—
Salomon Alphacross Blast
Salomon shoes are beloved for their burly traction off-road, courtesy of the shoes’ deep Contagrip lugs that dig into mud, grass, and rocky technical terrain. This model, the Alphacross, is a huge confidence builder for kids who run or hike on trails, pairing that sticky, high-traction outsole with a burly ripstop nylon upper that can 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. The Alphacross Blast is available in sizes 13K—7Y and adult.
—BEST ALL-TERRAIN TRACTION—
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These shoes have high-traction lugs on the bottom designed to grip dirt paths, so all types of terrain are open for exploring. They’re not the most lightweight kids running shoes, but with those extra ounces comes a burly upper and rubber outsole that’s durable enough to hold up to multi-sport abuse. That upper also wins major points for comfort: It’s got mesh panels to prevent little feet from overheating, and a padded tongue and collar that feels plush. For kids who tend to land hard on their heels, gel cushioning in the sole smooths out the harshness of impacts. Available in sizes 1–7Y and adult.
New Balance 860v11
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. Get the shoe in sizes 10.5K–7Y and adult.
Saucony Kids Ride ISO 2
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Kids with narrow feet will like the lacing on Saucony’s ISO upper, which wraps around the midfoot to give an almost-custom fit. The sneaker has a bouncy midsole with the same soft EVERUN cushioning found in the adult version, plus a firmer chunk of foam in the heel for better impact support. Kids will likely outgrow the Ride ISO 2 and hand it down before wearing through it—its rubber outsole is grippy and durable enough for miles and miles of wear and tear. Overall, our testers found that the shoe felt springy and lightweight for runs of all distances. Available in sizes 1–7Y and adult.
—BEST FOR ALL-DAY WEAR—
Under Armour Charged Impulse
Under Armour’s “Charged” cushioning uses compression-molded foam for responsiveness and durability; kids thought it felt “springy” and “fun,” while our testers in comparable adult models liked its smooth, quick ride. A firm external heel counter provides enough support for more than just running, and the two-tone mesh upper breathes well while holding kids’ feet in place. The shoe keeps weight down by using lightweight EVA on most of the outsole and saving heftier solid rubber for high-impact areas only. Available in sizes 4K–12K.
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Altra Lone Peak
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Altra’s roomy toe box allows for little feet to splay naturally, and the zero-drop platform with ample yet firmer cushioning will remind kids of running barefoot even when they can’t go shoeless. Borrowing the same design from the original adult Lone Peak, the lugged outsole is supremely grippy for trail runs and scouting trips alike, while the sockliner can be easily removed for quickly growing feet. Kids will love the traction on these Altras without feeling weighed down—these are the lightest shoes in this roundup. Available in sizes 1K–6Y.
Adidas Ultraboost 21
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. Available in sizes 3.5–7Y and adult.
Reebok Flashfilm Runner
Even if they can’t keep your training pace just yet, your kids will easily match your style in these Reebok kicks. The Flashfilm pairs a cushioned yet responsive PU foam midsole with a strong underfoot tread (made of grippy, durable rubber from heel to toe) for a cozy ride that can still zig and zag. An engineered mesh upper stays light and breathable—and the patterned midsole will look especially sleek in the track team photo. Available in sizes 4-7Y and adult.
—BUILT FOR SPEED—
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37
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. Available in sizes 1–7Y and adult.
Saucony Kids Kinvara 12
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. Available in sizes 10.5-7Y and adult.
New Balance Kids Fresh Foam Arishi v3
These shoes win big points from parents for their durability and value, and from kids for their lightweight comfort. Available in both wide and medium versions, the shoes have 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. Plus, there’s an oversize tab at the back to make them easier to pull on and off—a pretty critical feature for the youngest runners. Available in sizes 10.5T to 3.5Y.