The 10 Best Zero Drop Running Shoes of 2022, Tested and Reviewed

Altra’s Rivera 2 and Xero Shoes’ Mesa Trail shoes are lightweight and flexible

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Designed to promote a more natural running stride, zero drop running shoes have a 0-millimeter heel-to-toe drop, which means that the forefoot and heel are on the same level. Unlike traditional running shoes, which average about a 10-millimeter drop, they encourage a forefoot or midfoot—not heel—strike, which may reduce impact on the joints and decrease injury risk.

Tested & Approved

Altra’s Rivera 2 road running shoes are our top men’s overall pick because they’re durable, versatile, and responsive shoes that can handle short and long distances on both pavement and trails.

For our women’s top pick, we recommend Xero Shoes’ Mesa Trail shoes, which offer exceptional grip and flexibility, as well as a roomy toe box to promote a natural running feel.

With minimal arch support and cushioning, the zero drop shoes’ lack of protection can actually help promote foot strength and ankle support. And while some runners like the lightweight, flexible feel for racing, zero drop shoes can also be used for hiking, weightlifting, and trail running. Additionally, they’re available with various cushioning levels and types of tread, so they can accommodate different running styles and terrain.

We researched dozens of zero drop shoes and evaluated them based on fit, comfort, breathability, performance, and price. 

Based on our research, here are the top zero drop running shoes on the market.

Best Men’s Overall: Altra Rivera 2 Road Running Shoe

Altra Rivera 2 Road Running Shoe

Amazon

Pros
  • Responsive yet soft

  • Very durable

  • Versatile grip

Cons
  • No wide sizes

Altra’s Rivera 2 is a versatile, durable shoe that can handle just about any type of running, and it was an easy pick for our best men’s overall slot. The shoe is comfortable and stable for easy, long miles but also light and responsive enough for faster workouts. And if you want to take them off-road, they also have the right protection and traction for trail running.

To promote a natural running stride, the Rivera 2 has plenty of room for toe splay up front but hugs the back of the foot for a locked-in feel. Plus, the breathable mesh upper wraps the foot for a snug, supportive fit.

We like that there’s enough cushioning to provide good shock absorption and comfort, but it’s not so plush that your feet sink in with each stride. Although it comes in a range of men’s sizes, from 8 to 15, it’s only available in one width and may not work for very wide feet.

Altra has a reputation for making shoes that are built to last, and the Rivera 2 is an excellent option for men looking for a reliable, do-it-all zero drop running shoe.

Price at time of publication: $130

Weight: 8.4 ounces | Materials: Nylon lining, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Moderate | Arch Support: Neutral

Best Women’s Overall: Xero Shoes Mesa Trail Running Shoe

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail Running Shoe

Amazon

Pros
  • Versatile for roads and trails

  • Very durable

  • Lightweight and breathable

Cons
  • Thick, short laces

  • Runs small

Xero Shoes’ Mesa Trail shoe takes our top women’s spot because it’s a durable, versatile option that’s ideal for those who like a natural running feel on both trails and roads.

Lightweight and flexible, the shoe is made with 100% vegan-friendly materials and has a breathable mesh upper and moisture-wicking liner to keep your feet dry and comfy. It also features a wide toe box that allows your toes to splay and relax, helping you to maintain proper posture and balance.

Plus, the shoe’s rubber outsole is extremely durable and well-made, with grippy lugs that can handle technical or slippery terrain. However, the Mesa Trail also works well on flat and even surfaces, so it’s a perfect road-to-trail shoe. It does run a bit small, according to the manufacturer, so you may want to go up a half size.

Although the Mesa Trail is a tried-and-true favorite, one common complaint worth mentioning is that the laces are too short and thick, making it difficult to double-knot them. But where it lacks in laces, the shoe makes up for in performance and durability.

Price at time of publication: $125

Weight: 6.4 ounces | Materials: Polyester upper and lining, rubber sole | Cushioning: Minimal | Arch Support: Neutral

Best for Road Running: Topo Athletic ST-4 Road Running Shoes

Topo Athletic ST-4 Road Running Shoes

Amazon

Pros
  • Secure, comfortable fit

  • Springy and responsive

  • Odor-resistant material

Cons
  • Not suitable for technical trails

For a springy, responsive feel when running on roads, check out Topo Athletic’s ST-4 Road Running Shoes. The shoes' minimal cushioning provides just enough protection for the pavement, so you get good energy return and maintain a close connection to the ground. Light and flexible, we love that these kicks are versatile for speed workouts, tempo runs, agility training, and even weightlifting.

A wide toe box allows the toes to naturally splay, but the shoe then tapers to a slimmer midfoot and heel for a locked-in feel. The durable mesh upper enhances the secure fit and is lightweight and breathable enough to keep your feet comfortable and dry. Plus, an Ortholite footbed inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria. 

The sturdy rubber sole offers good traction for wet conditions, but the ST-4 isn’t designed for technical trails and is best suited for roads or paved paths.

Price at time of publication: $110

Weight: 7.3 ounces | Materials: Synthetic upper, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Light | Arch Support: Neutral

Best Budget: Merrell Vapor Glove 5

Merrell Vapor Glove 5

Amazon

Pros
  • Very versatile

  • Lightweight yet durable

Cons
  • Thin sole

  • May be too minimalist for beginners

Although they’re typically made with fewer materials than traditional running shoes, zero drop shoes can still be just as pricey. However, there are bargains to be found. For cost-conscious runners, Merrell’s Vapor Glove 5 is a versatile shoe that can work for both the road and trail, as well as weightlifting, biking, and other activities.

With a weight of just 5 ounces per shoe, the Vapor Glove 5 is extremely lightweight and flexible. It has a thin EVA foam insole that provides light protection from the ground, so it’s intended for those who want to simulate a barefoot running experience. The airy mesh upper allows for good ventilation, while the antimicrobial protection keeps feet smelling fresh.

Whether you want to hit the trails or roads, the shoe’s Vibram rubber outsole offers excellent traction on trails and in wet weather. Even better, the Vapor Glove 5 is made with recycled materials, so you can feel good about wearing an environmentally friendly product.

Price at time of publication: $90

Weight: 5 ounces | Materials: Mesh, rubber | Cushioning: Minimal | Arch Support: Neutral

Best for Wide Feet: New Balance Minimus TR

New Balance Minimus TR

Amazon

Pros
  • Wide toe box

  • Good for transitioning to zero drop shoes

  • Lightweight yet supportive

Cons
  • Not suitable for trail running

  • May not have room for inserts or orthotics

New Balance is known for accommodating feet of all shapes and sizes, and their Minimus TR is a great option for those who need some extra width. Although the regular size already has a roomy toe box, we love that the shoe also comes in wide, so you get even more space.

At just 6 ounces, the shoe is lightweight, with a mesh upper designed for enhanced airflow. Yet the shoe’s soft midsole still delivers supportive cushioning without sacrificing stability. Like many zero drop shoes, they’re low profile, so they may not have room for orthotics or inserts if you need them.

The shoe has a grooved but smooth sole, so it’s better suited for road running or gym training, as opposed to technical or uneven trails. It’s also a bit stiffer and thicker than some of the other zero drop shoes included, so the Minimus TR may be ideal for those who are transitioning to more minimal shoes. 

Price at time of publication: $130

Weight: 6 ounces | Materials: Mesh upper, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Light | Arch Support: Neutral

Best Cushioned: Altra Olympus 5 Trail Running Shoes

Altra Olympus 5 Trail Running Shoes

Amazon

Pros
  • Plush cushioning

  • Very responsive

  • Excellent traction

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Heavier than some other zero drop shoes

With its extra-thick, plush sole, Altra’s Olympus 5 is proof that not all zero drop shoes have minimal cushioning or materials. We love that its compression-molded EVA midsole provides cushioning and responsiveness without being overly clunky.

All that cushioning comes with some extra weight, though, and these shoes are a bit heavier than other options on our list. However, since your heels and forefeet are at the same distance from the ground, the cushioning is very balanced and encourages low-impact landings.  

Meanwhile, the shoe’s rubber outsole provides excellent grip on rugged terrain as well as wet and dry surfaces, and the strategically-placed lugs offer additional traction at the toe. Plus, Altra’s trademark wide toe box allows for comfort and stability while accommodating foot swelling during long runs.

While the Olympus 5 comes with a hefty price tag, it’s worth the investment for runners who want a well-cushioned, high-quality zero drop shoe.

Price at time of publication: $180

Weight: 10 ounces | Materials: Mesh upper, rubber outsole | Cushioning: High | Arch Support: Neutral

Best for Trail Running: Inov-8 Trailfly G 270 Trail Running Shoes

Inov-8 Trailfly G 270 Trail Running Shoes

Amazon

Pros
  • Excellent grip

  • Supportive and comfortable

  • Very durable

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Heavier than some other zero drop shoes

When you’re hitting the trails, Inov-8’s Trailfly G 270 has the right amount of traction and support to keep you steady and comfortable on your feet. With a graphene-enhanced rubber outsole, this trail runner delivers exceptional grip. Whether you’re running on muddy, uneven, rocky, or slippery ground, the Trailfly G 270 can handle it all.

Unlike some other zero drop shoes that have minimal cushioning, this one features a plush foam that provides reliable comfort and protection on the trails while also delivering good energy return.

The shoes' upper conforms to the shape of the foot and adapts to movement, allowing for a comfortable, supportive fit and feel. A padded collar with a two-part gusseted tongue enhances the overall comfort while also providing additional protection from debris and dirt.

As is often the case with trail shoes, the Trailfly G 270 comes with a hefty price tag, but fans of the shoe find the durability and performance to be well worth the investment.

Price at time of publication: $129

Weight: 9.5 ounces | Materials: Synthetic upper, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Moderate | Arch Support: Neutral

Best Lightweight: Xero Shoes HFS Running Shoes

Xero Shoes HFS Running Shoes

Amazon

Pros
  • Soft and flexible upper

  • Spacious toe box

Cons
  • Runs small

  • Not for wide feet

Lightweight and flexible, we love that Xero Shoes’ HFS shoe helps runners achieve a quick, springy stride. The minimalist design contours to the shape of the feet for a snug, comfortable fit. A spacious toe box allows toes to relax and spread, so you can move them freely and feel the ground underneath.

The lightly padded midsole strikes the perfect balance between cushioned comfort and flexible responsiveness. For such a lightweight shoe, the HFS has an impressive grip and can handle a variety of surfaces. Its 5.5-millimeter rubber sole offers the right combination of durability and protection, plus close-to-ground contact to promote a natural stride.

The shoe does run small, and the manufacturer recommends going a half-size up. Additionally, the HFS only comes in one width, so it may not work for those with very wide feet. Made with vegan-friendly materials, this shoe is ideal for those who want a light, ultra-flexible shoe that’s built for speed and designed for comfort.

Price at time of publication: $125

Weight: 6.8 ounces | Materials: Polyester upper and lining, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Minimal | Arch Support: Neutral

Best for Long Runs: Altra Escalante 3 Running Shoe

Altra Escalante 3 Running Shoe

Amazon

Pros
  • Soft but responsive cushioning

  • Wide toe box

  • Very breathable

Cons
  • A little heavy for racing

For a durable zero drop shoe that provides comfort and support for high-mileage runs, you can’t go wrong with Altra’s Escalante 3. The shoes' cushioning creates a balanced ride that excels with both shock absorption and energy return.

Meanwhile, the shoe’s sock-like engineered knit upper has added elastic for a snug, comfortable fit around your foot. A padded collar and tongue add to the overall comfort and locked-in feel. With a spacious toe box, we love that toes have plenty of wiggle room, and your feet can stay in a flat, natural position.

While the Escalante 3 may be a bit heavy for racing, it’s ideal for high-mileage training runs. The grippy outsole also makes it suitable for all types of surfaces and conditions, in case you hit some unexpected wet weather during a long run.

Price at time of publication: $140

Weight: 9 ounces | Materials: Engineered knit upper, nylon lining, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Light | Arch Support: Neutral

Best for High Arches: Merrell Trail Glove 6 Trail Running Shoe

Merrell Trail Glove 6 Trail Running Shoe

Amazon

Pros
  • Made with recycled materials

  • Versatile

  • Very breathable

Cons
  • No wide sizes

If you have high arches, Merrell’s Trail Glove 6 shoe is perfect for you—it provides the right amount of support and comfort while still maintaining the close-to-ground feel. It’s designed to mimic the shape of the foot, giving you freedom of movement and a natural stride.

The shoe’s midsoles are made of super lightweight cushioning but still provide soft comfort and protection. The rubber outsole provides trail-ready traction that can handle both hard-packed and soft surfaces. While it’s perfect for off-road adventures, the versatile Trail Glove 6 is also comfortable and supportive enough for everyday casual wear and a nice option to pack for active vacations.

Made with recycled materials, the shoe’s mesh upper and lining are light and breathable for a barely-there feel. Some user feedback indicates that the shoe has a narrow fit, so it may not be a good choice for those with wide feet.

Price at time of publication: $110

Weight: 7 ounces | Materials: Recycled mesh upper and lining, rubber outsole | Cushioning: Minimal | Arch Support: Neutral

How We Selected the Best Zero Drop Running Shoes

To choose the best zero drop running shoes, we first asked Mark Mendeszoon, DPM, FACFAS, a multi-board certified podiatrist, and Jason Hanft, DPM, a podiatry specialist and founder of Foot Defender, for their expert advice on selecting zero drop running shoes and how to start using them.

We then researched dozens of shoes from popular, trusted running shoe manufacturers. We evaluated them for fit, design, comfort, breathability, flexibility, traction, price, and more.

What to Look For in Zero Drop Running Shoes

Fit

It's best to go to a running specialty store and try on different zero drop running shoes to get a feel for the right fit. They should fit comfortably right out of the box, with no break-in period required. “Zero drop running shoes generally have a wider toe box so that the toes have ample room to function,” Dr. Mendeszoon says.

Make sure there’s at least a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe to avoid painful rubbing and irritation. The shoe should fit snugly through the midsole and rearfoot, with a locked-in feel that prevents sliding and slipping.

Cushioning

Unlike minimalist or barefoot running shoes, which have very minimal cushioning, zero drop running shoes can have a wide range of cushioning levels. Altra running shoes, for example, are known for their extensive line of zero drop shoes with varying amounts of cushioning. 

Endurance runners may prefer to have more cushioning to help reduce impact over long distances, while sprinters may prefer lighter shoes that aren’t as cushioned. Those who prefer a close-to-ground feel may also opt for minimal cushioning.

Before you choose a shoe, think about your preferences and what types of runs you’ll be doing in it.

Traction

The best zero drop shoes have grippy traction that will prevent slipping and sliding on all types of surfaces. Choose shoes with durable rubber outsoles that will provide reliable protection, such as Altra’s Olympus 5 Trail Running Shoes. If you want a road-to-trail shoe, don’t choose one with very aggressive, deep lugs since those are better suited for technical trails.

Breathability

Breathable shoes will help keep your feet cool, dry, and comfortable. Look for shoes with a mesh or other thin, synthetic upper that has good ventilation, like Xero Shoe’s Mesa Trail Running Shoes. While waterproof material may be a nice feature if you frequently run in wet conditions, keep in mind that those shoes may be less breathable.

Flexibility

To promote a natural running stride, zero drop shoes should be flexible and allow for unrestricted movement. Look for shoes that aren’t too stiff and have stretchy uppers made with lightweight, airy materials. Thin rubber outsoles will also provide good flexibility.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a zero drop running shoe?

    As the name suggests, zero drop running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of 0 millimeters, which means that your heel and forefoot are on the same level. This encourages a midfoot or forefoot strike, which is a more natural, efficient running stride and reduces impact on the joints. Because they’re made with fewer materials than traditional running shoes, they’re usually more flexible and lightweight.

  • Are zero drop running shoes better?

    With no height difference between the rear and forefoot, zero drop running shoes promote a natural running stride and help to evenly distribute the impact of each foot strike, which can minimize the risk of injury. The lack of arch support in zero drop shoes forces your feet to work harder for each step, which can lead to stronger feet.

    “Zero drop shoes typically have more of a natural feel, yet still provide protection from the surfaces of the ground,” Dr. Mendeszoon says. And because they often have minimal cushioning, they tend to be more durable and last longer than traditional running shoes with plush cushioning, which wears down quickly.

    That being said, zero drop shoes may not be suitable for everyone, especially beginner runners or those with previous injuries. The shoes may put extra strain on your calves and may not provide enough support or cushioning for some runners. For those with flat feet, the potential problems with zero drop shoes will be more pronounced.

    “Runners with no deformity, good range of motion, excellent muscle strength, and no injuries may enjoy the decreased weight and function of zero heel drop shoes,” Dr. Hanft says. They typically work best for avid runners who already have good running form.

  • How do you transition to zero drop shoes?

    If you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, it’s probably best to start with a lower heel-to-toe ratio than you’re used to and then slowly transition to zero drop.

    “It is imperative that people just don’t buy the shoes and continue with their normal routine if they’ve been in a more traditional drop shoe,” Dr. Mendeszoon says.

    Ease into zero drop shoes by first wearing them for walks and then short runs. When you first start running in them, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Avoid back-to-back running days to give your muscles a chance to rest and recover. You can also ease the transition by running on grass or softer trails.

    If you don’t experience pain or discomfort, you can gradually increase your run distances. It could take three months to a year before you’ve completely adjusted to a natural running style.

  • Are zero drop shoes good for plantar fasciitis?

    If you’re prone to plantar fasciitis, you may or may not benefit from wearing zero drop shoes.

    “I don’t believe that people with certain conditions such as plantar fasciitis or tendonitis should avoid zero drop shoes, but rather be evaluated for their particular foot type,” Dr. Mendeszoon says. “Those with flat feet and perhaps bigger body frames would not be individuals I would suggest to run in zero drop shoes.”

    For advice on whether they’re right for you, it’s best to be evaluated by a podiatrist or sports medicine expert who understands foot and ankle biomechanics.

Why Trust Verywell Fit

As a running coach, certified personal trainer, marathon runner, and fitness writer, Christine Luff, ACE-CPT, has spent years researching and recommending running and walking shoes. To exercise in comfort and reduce injury risk, she suggests getting properly fitted for running shoes and replacing them regularly.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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