Forefoot Width in Running Shoes: Toebox Measurements from My Shoe Collection

CIMG1362I get a reasonable number of questions about width when it comes to running shoes, particularly the width of the toebox. Personally, I like a toebox to be roomy, and despite my fairly average width foot, there are shoes that I’ve purchased that I have had to return since I could barely squeeze into them (e.g., the Nike Waffle Racer XC shoe).

The moment I put a shoe on, I can almost instantly tell whether or not it’s going to be a good fit, so I thought I’d try a little experiment. I brought home a pair of calipers from my research lab and measured the maximum width of the toebox in most of my running shoes (as well as a few other shoe types). Measurements were made just above where the sole meets the upper material, so these numbers include the width of the upper fabric on each side (thus, they are slight overestimates of internal width). I also measured the width of my forefoot between the 1st and 5th metatarsophalangeal joints (bases of big and pinky toes) when bearing weight barefoot (result = ~105.5 mm on each side). Here are my results:

Brand Model Version Size Width (mm)
Bikenstock Sandals   42 104.5
Brooks Mach 12 10 92
Brooks Mach 11 10 94.5
Brooks Launch 1 10 96.5
Brooks Green Silence   10 98
GoLite Amp   10 101.5
Mizuno Wave Universe 3 10 97
Mizuno Wave Ronin 2 10 100
New Balance Minimus Trail   10 101
New Balance Minimus Road   10 100.5
New Balance MT101 10 100.5
Newton Sir Isaac   10 98
Newton Distance Racer   10 97
Nike Lunaracer 1 10.5 97
Nike Free 3.0 2 10 97
Nike Free Run   10 98
Saucony Kilkenny 3 10.5 92
Saucony Kinvara   10 96
Saucony Grid Type A4   10 95.5
Somnio Runaissance 2 10 99
Target Crocs     105.5
Vibram Fivefingers KSO   42 102
Vibram Fivefingers Bikila   41 98
Vibram Trek Sport   41 101.5

After looking at the numbers, it’s gratifying to see that they match up very well with my subjective perceptions. Generally, anything over 100 mm feels roomy to me, from around 96 mm-100 mm is snug but comfortable, and anything under 96 mm is tending toward the narrow end. The results confirmed why I find both Bikenstocks and Crocs to be so comfortable!

There were a few surprises amongst these measurements. First, I expected the Nike Lunracer would be narrower since it tends to give me blisters on the inside of my forefoot. There are other factors that may play into how the forefoot feels, and it might be that a low forefoot height scrunches my foot down or the geometry of the Lunaracer last just doesn’t mesh well with my foot shape. The other surprise was the Brooks Mach 11. I knew the shoe was narrow (as are most XC flats), but I still find it comfortable enough to wear around as a casual shoe. May be that the upper material is stretchy and a bit more spacious than the Saucony Kilkenny, which is also 92 mm wide, but feels tighter.

Anyway, I thought these numbers might be interesting to you, so figured I‘d share.

Happy New Year to all!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Very interesting, I have had no problems running in Mach 11′s and Brooks Launch. But I had major blister problems with the Kinvara (which is wider than the Mach 11 and about the same as the Launch). The Kinvara width did feel fine on my feet. There must be more to it than just width. Must also have something to do with the last shape and/or the upper material. Thank you Peter for all of your posts, I enjoy the information and it really gives food for thought.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I do think shape has something to do with it,hard to pin all of this stuff down!
      Pete

      On Wednesday, January 5, 2011, Disqus

  2. Sam Winebaum says:

    Happy New Year. Thanks for this great analysis. The Ronin really caught my eye given its width and that it is a racing shoe. The amount of wear may also be a factor. I found my first pair of Kinvaras seemed to stretch considerably in the forefoot, almost too sloppy now when compared to my new pair. It also seems clear that the amount of stretch in the shoe material may be a factor as is the relative tightness over the forefoot further, back not only how tight laced but also construction and as you said the forefoot volume in the shoe, call it forefoot upper “ramp angle” . I wonder also if the firmness of the midsole material affects the feel of spaciousness on the run as the foot has more room to spread into a softer midsole.
    BTW I road ran 2:05 minutes Sunday in my Hoka One One Mafate about 14 and the furthest on road in these shoes and since St. George Marathon. Amazing leg freshness during, after, and this morning.

    Sam

    samwinebaum.blogspot.com

  3. I think even more important than the raw number of the width is the overall shape. Those Nike Frees in the picture may be “wide” in raw numbers, but the way the toe box sweeps over on the outside (little toe) doesn’t allow for much outward splay of the foot. Also, the inward curve of the big toe seems to just be a modeling of an otherwise bound foot (think bunions). I’m waiting eagerly for the Altras — hopefully their last has got it right. Not many have, especially Nike.

  4. Eric Johnson says:

    hey pete,

    can you clarify where you are measuring the shoes?

    you say you are measuring your foot between the 1st and 5th metatarsals…a line through these two points is not a right angle to a line drawn through the foot from heel to toe.

    but measuring the widest part of the shoe is, i’m assuming, a right angle to a line drawn through the shoe from the heel to the toe.

    the two measurements (width of foot vs width of shoe) won’t correlate 100%. what are your thoughts on that?

    i manage a running specialty store and we are thinking about integrating this measurement into our gait analysis so we can have a bit more info going into the fitting process.

    this is great stuff! good post.

  5. Interesting observations. What particularly strikes me as interesting is that the natural bare foot splays very wide under load – this motion would be constrained within the shoe I guess. I run in New Balance shoes, and am very happy with the forefoot room, so recon I’m a middle of the road width too.

  6. Eric Johnson says:

    we measured all of the shoes (men’s size 10 and women’s size 8.5) we carry at our store and were very surprised by the results. for example, we think the brooks addiction is a wide shoe but it’s actually narrower than the asics ds trainer or the 2160. i think the last shape (narrowest part) is one of the more important measurements for width. think we’ll have to measure that as well now.

    i’ll post them when i get a chance to type it all up.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Awesome – I’d love to share it if you’re willing. Would happily link to your
      store and give you proper credit. Let me know.

      Pete

  7. Brian@Altra says:

    Pete,

    I was interested in how our shoes (Altra Footwear) compared to the others. Based off your measuring type which is where the upper material meets the outsole I believe? the Adam in a 10.5 measured at 105.8. The insole width, how I usually gauge it, measured in at 101.6. Should be less then 24 hours before you are able to measure and try on the Instinct. Enjoy and great comparison.

    Brian @ Altra

  8. Interesting comparison. Do you think your measurements may have been affected at all by how broken-in a shoe was? I wonder because I’ve been eyeing the Green Silence, and was pleasantly surprised to see that you have it at 2mm wider than the Kinvaras (which have really started to bug me at the 5th metatarsal as the explosed lateral midsole material has worn down). But Shoefitr shows the Kinvara as the wider of the two. Any thoughts on this?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I suppose it’s possible, but I measured right wear the upper fabric meets
      the sole so I don’t see how that would change much. On top of that, I have a
      lot more miles on my Kinvaras than I do on my Green Silence. Shoefitr scans
      the insdide of the shoe I think, so maybe the internal dimensions are
      different. My sense is that the GS does have a “rounder” forefoot though,
      whereas the Kinvara is more pointy.

      Pete

  9. Winfinancial says:

    I wonder if there is a correlation to ITB pain in general relative to the narrowness of shoe fit? I know it was probably a seam issue Pete with your situation but I might be wrong but I don’t hear many 5finger folks with ITB complaints and they seem to be more generous from these measurements. Is it the shoes or how those folks run with the shoes? I have really enjoyed my Newtons but I have a bit wider foot and I have really battled this ITB issue. Hmmm. Might get some 5 fingers to do my own test. Thoughts?

    • Pete Larson says:

      My guess is that with Fivefingers you tend to land more forward on the
      forefoot, which in turn reduces pronation, rotation of the tiba, and stress
      on the ITB. It may also be that the less cushion in the VFF cause you to
      really shorten and quicken your stride, which could help as well. Just
      guessing on these though. The Minimus is a pretty wide shoe, so I’m at a
      loss to explain what it is other than some weird compensation for the ill
      fit on the other side.

      Pete

      • Winfinancial says:

        Pete,

        It’s funny you posted these measurements as I was thinking about the 5fingers post 7 mile run and ITB talking to me a lot this weekend. And then there is the data! Great work that you contribute to those of us who are always thinking about getting better. I think our bodies are always trying to tell us something about our form. Still trying to find my zone of pain free running. Thought the Newtons were most of the answer. Perhaps we will have to dig a little deeper down the rabbit hole.

        Thanks for all your running contributions to us Pete!

        • Pete Larson says:

          It’s a continual experiment to find the shoes that best match your
          needs, but finding the right one is a fun process. Too bad it also
          sometimes involves pain :)
          Pete

          • Winfinancial says:

            How bout this process Pete? Decided to get in a 4 mile easy run with the dog tonight. So as I am lacing up the Newtons I think maybe the answer could be getting ClOSER to the road so (I am sure NOT what the Newton R & D folks intended) I take out the insoles. Hmmm nice and roomy in toe box. Haven’t felt that in the shoe before. So we take off and I can really feel the road. Hmmm let’s get a bit more up on the front of the lugs almost to the yellow material of the Newton. One mile no ITB, two, three and 4 miles not a word from the band that would usually start to begin singing an ugly song about now. Nothing. Now the calves are a bit fired up but not one bit of pain. Who knows maybe I will wake up tomorrow with calves like concrete blocks but for one night the ITB’s were fast asleep! Beautiful.

          • Pete Larson says:

            Hmm..I know a few people who always say to take the insoles out of the
            Newtons. I have done so myself on a lot of runs, and it does then feel more
            roomy and firmer underfoot. Will be interesting to see if your success
            continues…makes me want to try the Minimus Trail again without socks to
            make a bit more room for my feet.

            Pete

          • Winfinancial says:

            3 runs 15 miles later no insole, more forefoot, lots of room in Newton toe box, much faster stride and zero ITB issues. Tops of feet a bit sore and calves have some good aches but oh I hope I have found something. Thanks for your info Pete!

          • Pete Larson says:

            Good to hear it – hope your success keeps up!
            Pete

  10. Thanks for taking the time to do all the measuring. The results are interesting. I can definitely tell the difference in width between my KSOs and Bikilas, and your measurement confirms what my feet tell me.

    I had the same issue with the Nike Waffle Racer. Looking at them, I thought they would be great, but the shape and size of the sole was just about unbearable. If Nike would tinker with the toe box of that shoe bit, they could have a big seller on their hands. The upper of the Waffle Racer is nearly as comfortable as the Kinvara.

    I thought the Kinvara would be a bit wider. Mine feel pleasantly roomy, but that may be due to the stretchy upper fabric.

    The comparisons to Birkenstocks and Target Crocs is hilarious. By chance, did you also measure the heel toe drop for both of those? It would be fun to throw that bit of info into a post or discussion.

  11. Andrew W. Lischuk says:

    I love the way you approach this using scientific method. I found it interesting that the Saucony Kinvara’s were in the lower end of the spectrum, given your preference for them. One caveat I have is the effect of lacing on the pereception of tightness in the toe box. I usually have the opposite problem with my size 12, but extra narrow foot. I’ve had to resort to some different lacing techniques to keep my foot from sliding in some shoes.

  12. This post is a great find. Thank you! For me, toe box width is probably the most important part of whether I can use a shoe to run or not. I have a pair of Brooks Green Silence that are currently my favorite shoe to run in… the toe box (98 by your measurement but I’m 9.5, not 10) is about as small as I can go and still be comfortable. Anyone know of any wide toe options not included on this list??
    Thanks!

  13. That’s a lot of damn shoes! the cummulative width of which takes up a lot of room in my house!

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