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My Ideal Running Shoe Rotation

Running Shoe RackI’m part of a pretty active group on Facebook that is aptly titled “Running Shoe Geeks.” The group is diverse in that we have minimalist aficionados, folks who prefer more traditional shoes, industry insiders, regular runners, and a smattering of scientists and therapists. Last night I posted a link to an article I wrote yesterday on a study that supports the use of a multi-shoe rotation to reduce injury risk, and as an offshoot one of the forum members posed the following question:

“Hypothetical situation: you’ve just been burglarized, ALL of your running shoes have been stolen, never to be recovered. Exactly 1 month later, how many running shoes would you own?”

After contemplating the state of shock and utter despair that I’d naturally be in, I thought a bit about this question and decided to write a post with my answer.

For the sake of this post I’m going to pretend that I don’t review shoes or have any connection with shoe companies. So basically, if I had to start from zero with a limited budget, what would my bare minimum shoe rotation look like?

I tend to think that I could make do with a 3-5 shoe rotation, with most of my miles being run in 3 of the shoes. Here’s what it would look like:

1. Cushioned distance shoe. Under 10 oz, 4-8mm drop. This would be a shoe that I could use for easy miles and long runs, which would be most of my miles. It would also be the shoe I’d use for marathon-length road races. My definition of “cushioned” trends more toward the minimal side of things since that suits my style and tastes. Shoes that I like that would fit this bill for me: Saucony Kinvara, Newton Energy, New Balance 1400v2, adidas Adios Boost (review hopefully coming next week), asics Gel Lyte33 v2.

2. Racing flat. This would be a shoe with a firmer, thinner sole than those above, probably around 4mm drop. I’d want the sole to have some longitudinal stiffness. It would be used for speedwork and races up to the half marathon. Examples that have worked well for me would be the Saucony Grid Type A5 and the adidas Hagio.

3. Trail shoe. I don’t run huge miles on trails, but I have a loop from my house that I do often enough, and a shoe with some traction and protection is really helpful for running in winter on crusty, ice covered sidewalks and roads. I’d probably go for something about 4mm drop with decent traction (don’t need a mud shoe), some cushion, and a rock plate – Merrell Mix Master 2 is a good example that I like.

4. Ultraminimal shoe. This would be something with minimal to no cushion that I could use when I want maximum ground feel or to use for form work. I’d probably pick one of the Merrell Barefoot shoes here, or maybe the Mizuno Universe 5 which has a bit of cushion but is ultralight and has great ground feel.

5. Silent, ultraflexible shoe with minimal rubber outsole. Something like the Nike Free 3.0 or Skechers GoRun, just because it’s fun to run and not hear your footfalls.

That would about do it for me, I could live with just 5 shoes and be happy. Not necessarily fulfilled, but happy :)

How about you, what would your bare minimum rotation look like?

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. As of now, I’ve been partial to three particular shoes that I rotate: the Pearl Izumi N2, the Adidas Energy Boost, and the Hoka Bondi. I would likely pursue the replacement of these three since all have done well for me. The Hoka has doubled as a trail shoe for me as well.

  2. I would probably go with the three I have in my closet right now. Altra The One for something with some cushion for long runs, Merrell Road Glove (v1), and Vibram Five Finger Bikila (possibly to be replaced by the Merrell Vapor Glove).

    I’m a little surprise you lumped all the Merrell Barefoot series in the category of “ultraminimal”. I have the Bare Access and would not consider it “ultraminimal”. I would probably put it in your “cushioned distance shoe” category.

    • I should have narrowed that down for the Merrells, I agree on the Bare Access. My favorite was the Flux Glove but not made anymore. So maybe the Trail or Road Glove, Vapor Glove maybe just a tad too minimal for regular use by me.

  3. Right now I’m more than happy with a 3 shoe rotation.

    NB 1400v2 – I’m on the road twice a week for speedwork/intervals. I do this run on pavement, rolling hills, typically 8 miles. Shoe works great for that.

    NB 110/Altra Lone Peak 1.5 – The rest of the week I’m on various mountain trails here in Colorado. Love both shoes. They more than get the job done for me.

    I might run in different shoes from time to time but these three are really the workhorses.

  4. Punch Rockgroin says:

    My ideal shoe rotation would be 1, 2 and 5 from your list, Pete. But as for now I rotate a Newton Energy, a Mizuno Evo Curosis, and an old pair of Kinvara 3s which are nearing their end.

  5. For me it goes

    Road: Barefoot Style – Vivobarefoot Breezy Lite – fantastic but discontinued

    Road: Racing Flat – Mizuno Wave Universe 4 Flawless – personally I’d rather have seen them refine the 4 instead of make the big changes that they did with the 5, which by all accounts is more like a barefoot shoe

    Light trail : Barefoot – Merrell Trail Glove 2 – flawless

    Technical Trail: NB 110 (updated version) – amazing fit, feels like a racing flat but upper absorbs grit and small stones.

    Mud and UK Mountains: Inov8 Mudclaw 265 – flawless

  6. Running btw 100 and 160K (60-100M) per week, I’d stick with what has worked for me for the past two+ years.

    1 pair Adidas Adios 2 – For speedwork and/or tempo and/or racing (2x per week)

    1 pair Adidas Adios 2 – for easy/recovery runs (2x per week)

    1 pair Adidas Adios 2 – for aerobic/”bread and butter” runs (2x per week)

    1 pair Adidas Adios 2 – for long runs (1x per week)

  7. Brad Patterson says:

    Pretty sweet shoe lineup here, Pete. Question for you on the MM2 and using it in the winter. This will be my first winter owning the MM2s. Do you find that they have good traction on snow/ice when running roads in winter time? I wasn’t sure if they would be any good, since their lugs are pretty small (compared to a more aggressive shoe like an Inov8 or Salomon model). Thanks!

    • Nothing I’ve used is really good on sheer ice, but for crusty stuff it doesn’t take much lug to do the job. These work well enough for my needs.

      • Icebug has two spiked models with 5 mm drop for winter running that have extremely good traction, even on ice. The wider of the two (about the same size and width as the Merrell Mixmaster) is Certo bugrip and the other one is Pytho2 bugrip (a narrower model). There’s also the 8 mm drop Anima bugrip, which may be narrower still. Google the brand and you’ll get more information.

      • I like using YakTrax however the main issue for me is that if I come across areas that are cleaned, running with these on my shoes are VERY uncomfy, and will cause pain in my foot. I decided to use them on trails, and it works fine there with no issues. it takes a little to get used to them, but all in all, can’t complain.

  8. I would have pretty much the same groups as you Peter, but slightly different shoes choices:

    1 – PI Road N1
    2 – NB 1600 or Mizuno Universe 4
    3 – PI Trail N1
    4 – Merrell Vapor Glove
    5 – Nike Free 3v5 (beside flexibility and minimal rubber I would aim for cushioning here)

    As I do some quite some trail runs I would also include a lightweight trail option for as a racer and/or option with increased ground feel. Not really sure which shoe I’d shoe, maybe the NB 110 or Inov8 X-Talon or Roclite.

  9. So has the Virrata officially been relegated? You had a lot of praise for it earlier in the year.

  10. Dorogi Levente says:

    My go to five shoes :D as a satisfied Inov consumer :D

    1. INOV 8 Flite 195 for non technical trail
    2. INOV 8 X-talon 212 for technical trail
    3. INOV 8 TRailroc 245 for Ultra Trail
    4. INOV 8 Road X 155 for 10K to road marathon
    5. INOV 8 Bare X lite 150 or 180 as a lifestyle shoe

  11. Hi Peter

    I thought I was going to be the only person to name Inov-8 for all my shoes!

    Long runs: Inov8 Road-X-treme 208 or Skechers GObionic

    Tempos or speedwork: Inov8 Road-X-treme 178

    Minimal: Inov8 BareX 180 (also doubles as my race shoes)

  12. In the picture above, what brand/model are the top right shoes? They are blue with pink? and 3 white stripes.

  13. Martin Tanner says:

    1. Saucony Kinvara 3 (thanks Peter for turning me on to these … love ’em)

    2. Hoka Bondi 2 (I’m 6’4 and 170lbs and still somewhat new to running so sometimes just need a little more cushion on (or after) long runs)

  14. Being an old guy of 62 who now runs about 25 miles a week over 4 days compared to running 50-60 miles a week in my 30’s and 40’s, I could get bye with three shoes….
    Altra provision 1.5 for long and easy runs
    Newton energy for threshold and long races
    brooks connect for intervals and short races

  15. Alexander says:

    I would have my long distance road shoe like a Newton Distance, my speed shoe probably a New Balance MR00, a trail shoe maybe a Merrell Trail Glove or a NB MT10/110, and I always would want a Vibram Bikila if I can still find them

  16. Distance workhorse and recovery run: Lunar Glide + 4..not the best choice i know, but it was my first running shoes..whe it retires I’ll switch to nb 1400V2 or 890V4

    Minimal, for calf, achilles and foot strength: Nb Minimus ionix..also not the best choice, but it was on a discount, and it’s my first transition toward minimalism, so the 6mm drops and cushion work quite well..due to the cushione, i also use it for tempo run, and lately run a 10K and 10miles in it..

    Racing flats: Skechers GoMeb..race day, interval, and tempo run..for a racer, it has a generous toe box considering my wide mid and forefoot

    i don’t run trails, you can’t find trails here in the middle of jakarta..

    And may i have a suggestion?I need a true minimal shoes, with main purpose for form and feet first toe has a little hallux valgus, so I’m looking a minimal shoes that has a wide toe box and let me maximize my hallucis longus strength (should a zero drops shoes helps?)..i was considering merrel, but merrels mid foot are a bit too narrow for me..any suggestion?i was also considering viratta, but virata also has a pointy forefoot..thanks in advance pete

  17. I noticed for your distance shoe you specify 4-8mm. Is that because you prefer some drop for a distance shoe or because you haven’t come across a a distance shoe under 4mm worthy of keeping in rotation?

    • I usually like a bit of drop in a distance shoe. 4mm would be my preference but I’ve run in a few shoes lately around 9mm that I really like (NB 1400 v2, adios Boost). I should have included the Saucony Virrata at 0 drop too though, ran my Spring marathon in them and they were great.

  18. Christian Eriksson says:

    Good luck to the hypothetical thief who would want to lay hands on my running shoes; they reside outside my house, easy to get to but protected by their built in smell-a-larm! And should some villain come equipped with a gas mask and thus make off with them, I’m sure they will be easy to find again.

    Since I am a true NB Minimus Freak, I would just order a pair each of the R/T 10/110/1010 and be done with it :)

  19. I will just pick my current rotation :)

    1. Skechers Go Rund Ride or Brooks Pure Flow

    2. Skechers Go Run

    3. Brooks Pure Grit or Merrell Trail Glove

    4. Merrell Road Glove 2

    5. Skechers Go Run

  20. I read that question in the facebook group as well and I immediately thought 3 (though 4 or 5 would be a bit more fun). I would choose very similar shoes as you have:
    NB 1400,
    Skechers GoRun, and
    Brooks Pure Connect.
    They’re my current rotation and for the most part, I’m quite pleased with them.

  21. I don’t know if it’s an ideal rotation—the shoes I rotate through might be too similar to each other to have any sort of benefit as far as redistributing tissue stresses—but if I had all my running shoe stolen, I’d just re-buy pairs of the following models:

    1. Merrell Trail Glove (v1): For running on trails (duh!), short distances on pavement, and for general form/strength/cross-training work.

    2. Skechers GoBionic (v1): For running on pavement.

    3. Merrell Bare Access 2: A “sport utility shoe” for running longer distances on pavement and groomed trails.

  22. longer runs: adidas energy boost, skechers gorun ultra (1 run and love them)
    tempo/intervals/short races: adidas adios boost,skechers go run ride 3 ( 1 run and love them)
    trails: Hoka Rapa Nui, Pearl Izumi trail N1, Skechers Ultra

  23. Funny, when I saw this post I thought to myself “hmmm, Which of his shoes would I steal?” Answer: Hagio, A5, Vapor Glove. If I’m ever in NH, watch out!

  24. Got into running 3 months ago with a single pair of high drop pronator cushioned shoes (had no idea there were all these types of shoes around!) and after getting IBS in left knee I transitioned to a front/midfoot strike thanks to the Skechers Go Run Ride and I’m now settling into :

    1 – Skechers Go Run Ride 1 – tempted to try the 2…
    2 – Adidas Tempo with orthotics (not sure I really need them with the front/midfoot strike)
    3 – no trail running yet
    4 – Have some K-Swiss Blade Foot Run, zero drop, still need to work on them as my calfs “pulled”
    5 – Skechers Go Run Ride 1

    I gave the Adistar Boost a shot for #1 but they don’t fit me too well and they don’t offer enough pronator support. Maybe the Saucony Virrata would be good for that, or the Kinvara if I want to keep the GRR1’s drop that’s working well for me?

  25. I’m fairly new to the minimal scene, and as of right now, my lineup only includes the Skechers Go Run 2 and the Skechers Go Run Ride 2. I like them both. I’d really like to the Merrell Mix Master for trails.

  26. Probably could do with 2.

    Bedrock sandals for:
    -distance<= marathon.
    -great summer shoe,
    -road shoe
    -trail shoe for less than ultras

    Inov8 Trailroc 235 for:
    -technical/ fast trail runs
    -cold weather. (Tucson cold, no blizzards)

    I don't need an "ultraminimal" shoe, even though I love 'em. If the weathers nice, I just go barefoot.

  27. Lindsay Knake says:

    A little late to this one, but I like this post enough to comment.

    My ideal rotation is the one I have now (lucky me!).

    2 pairs New Balance Minimus Road 4mm drop – my go to shoe for long runs, races, workouts. One pair is older and one is newish.

    New Balance Minumus Road zero mm drop – usually a shoe for easy days, mid-distance runs. Sometimes a LR of 12-15 miles

    Saucony Virrata – my winter/bad weather shoe that comfortably fits YakTrax, and sometimes I wear it just because

  28. I love the running on the hill down, my nikes have like 3 mm left haha

  29. I have 2 pairs of Mizuno Wave Creation 13 (600+ miles), and 2 pairs of Brooks Ghost 5 (recently purchased). I don’t believe in just stopping to use the WC13s and starting to run in the G5s, so I slowly add more miles on the new ones, while reducing the miles on the older ones. The reason I do it is that I am preparing or my first HM and don’t want to risk injuries while I do want to know how the G5s “behave” in longer runs. So far, so good.

    • sorry, correction: my first HM for the year, I used the WC13s during last year’s HMs and FM, and were great.

  30. I love all the advise from these posts. I used to rotate and try many types of shoes until I discovered NB 1260s. I have a wide foot, slight pronate, and low arches. I have run marathons, but currently doing about 20-25 miles/week and interested in increasing weekly mileage and working in a new shoe. I have not run in a different shoe (except the different nb 1260 versions) in years. Any advise on a good shoe or shoes that I can work in my training would be great. I run mostly on roads (very occasional trails), and have benefited from the support and cushioning if the 1260 as I used to be probe to shin splints.

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