The term “zero drop” means that there is no difference in the elevation of the sole from the rear to the front, hence there is no or zero “drop.” The level height of the sole supports the idea that the foot is supposed to lie flat on the ground and promote a natural running form and stability. With no forward-sloping construction, zero drop running shoes mimic the normal way the foot sits on the ground barefoot.
While the word is quite familiar now, it wasn’t always so. It is only in the last 5 years or so that shoe brands started featuring heel to toe differential after the barefoot running phenomenon took hold of the running world in 2009.
Heel drop: What does it mean in a running shoe?
Heel-to-toe drop refers to the difference between the heel height and forefoot height. It is often called heel-offset or heel-drop. So, does heel-drop important when it comes to running shoes? If yes, how much heel-drop do your need?
Running shoes have different heel-to-toe drops, depending on its purpose and design. Here’s a guide for what these heel drops mean and what you should expect from them.
0mm drop - Zero drop running shoes are flat and are meant for midfoot and forefoot strikers.
1mm to 4mm drop - This drop is ideal for midfoot strikers. Shoes with 4mm drop feel very flat to some runners. The low heel drop profile prevents accidental heel strikes.
5mm to 8mm drop - This is a compromise range. Shoes with 5mm to 8mm heel drop are best for midfoot strikers, but a more prominent heel is slightly noticeable. This heel drop range is also a good option for runners who are trying to have a more natural gait.
9mm to 12mm drop - Most running shoes fall to this range and some runners considered this heel drop as average. Shoes with this drop measurement encourage more heel striking. Above 13mm drop - running shoes with 16mm heel drop are best for heel strikers. This level of heel drop is not common but those who land on their heels will surely find this drop helpful.
The benefits of zero drop running shoes
The best zero drop running shoe, as with all types of shoes, is exceedingly personal. It all depends on a variety of factors that a runner faces. There are oversized, mid-sized, very minimal, and almost barefoot no heel offset shoes that are there for the taking. But how does zero drop running shoes help runners?
It delivers a more natural feel. Zero drop running shoes encourage the foot to move naturally as intended. Zero drop shoes are designed with comfort in mind and they also offer a good amount of stability.
It reduces the likelihood of injury. The best zero drop running shoe reduces the likelihood of knee strain and other knee injuries. Wearing shoes with higher heel height means that you are constantly being pushed on a forward position. This will create injuries since it goes against the natural body alignment.
It offers better stability. Since the foot is placed in a more natural position, runners will experience better stability when running. The natural feel and natural movement allow the body to adjust better with every stride, resulting in faster performance.
Brands that manufacture zero drop running shoes
Altra is widely known in the running industry for its zero drop running shoes. Altra running shoes are made on a ZeroDrop platform, a zero-drop full cushioned design that places the forefoot and heel in the same distance from the ground. This design encourages a more natural movement for an enhanced running experience.
Along with the ZeroDrop platform is the FootShape toe-box. It gives the toes a more comfortable environment and encourages a more natural position
Merrell running shoes are lightweight with low drop profile, and most of them are designed for off-road runs. Zero drop Merrell running shoes give runners a minimalist feel, for better ground contact and natural movement. Zero drop shoes include the Trail Gloe 4, Vapor Glove 3, and Bare Access Flex. The shoes also offer flexibility, durability, and protection.
Every Vibram FiveFingers have a zero drop profile. The minimalist platform allows runners to experience natural, barefoot-like running. Designed for competition, the best Vibram FiveFingers running shoes are durable with flexible soles. The most popular Vibram FiveFingers zero drop shoe is the V-Trail model.
When it comes to minimalist running shoes, Vivobarefoot is one of the successful brands. Vivobarefoot zero drop running shoes offer runners a satisfying barefoot experience. Meant for long runs and race days, Vivobarefoot running shoes are lightweight and flexible. Aside from off-road trail shoes, the brand is also producing footwear for every day and exercise use.
Xero Shoes is a maker of trail shoes, sandals, and hiking boots. They have affordable and high-performing low profile running shoes that are also durable and comfortable to wear. The brand is committed to giving users with reliable running shoes that offer natural fit, natural motion, and natural feel.
Best zero drop running shoes for men and women
The best zero drop shoe, as with all types of shoes, is exceedingly personal. It all depends on a variety of factors that a runner faces. There are oversized, mid-sized, very minimal, and almost barefoot no heel offset shoes that are there for the taking.
The numerous options only point out the fact that shoe companies are fully committed to providing different types of runners the best shoes with no heel to toe differential.
Below are popular zero drop running shoes for men and women:
Altra Escalante 1.5
The Escalante 1.5 is a race-ready running shoe that is durable and comfortable. This zero drop running shoe features the Altra Ego midsole for responsive, soft cushioning. The grooves in the midsole deliver flexibility whenever necessary. This zero drop running shoe is meant for road running.
Xero Shoes Prio
The Xero Shoes Prio is a trail running shoe designed for neutral runners. The lightweight and minimalist design allow runners to stay connected to the ground while conquering the long miles. The shoe has a durable rubber outsole with gripping lugs. This zero drop running shoe has become popular to some runners who are looking for an affordable and reliable off-road partner.
Merrell Trail Glove 4
The Trail Glove 4 is one of the reliable trail shoes from Merrell. The zero drop, minimalist design offers great ground contact and barefoot-like running experience. Sold at an affordable price, the Merrell Trail Glove 4 features a durable outsole, protective cushioning, and breathable coverage. This shoe is available in various color options and in both men’s and women’s versions.
Altra Paradigm 4.0
The 4th version of the Altra Paradigm has a maximalist design. Just like other Altra shoes, the Paradigm 4.0 has a ZeroDrop full-cushioned midsole, which is equipped with the innovative Altra Ego foam. It has the FootPod™ technology in its outsole and GuideRail technology for support. Despite being expensive and heavy, the shoe has become a favorite zero drop maximalist shoes for daily running.
Vibram FiveFingers V-Trail
Lightweight and low profile - these are notable characteristics of the Vibram FiveFingers V-Trail. The shoe has a durable and minimalist design with lots of protection for off-road running. It provides runners with satisfying minimalist experience. The V-Trail is one of the affordable zero drop shoes from Vibram FiveFingers that won’t disappoint on long runs and race days.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best zero drop running shoes for women?
The best zero drop running shoes for women is the Altra Escalante 1.5. The shoe received positive ratings from its users. This neutral road running shoe is also available in men’s version.
What is the cheapest men’s zero drop running shoe?
One of the cheapest zero drop running shoes for men is the Merrell Vapor Glove 3, which retails at $80. Designed for competition, the shoe features a lightweight design with impressive traction and comfortable foot wrap.
Are Hoka running shoes zero drop?
No, but Hoka running shoes have low drop profiles that fall between 1mm to 4mm. Hoka One One running shoes are lightweight with soft underfoot cushioning. The brand offers maximum cushioning, minimum drop.
So, which is better, a minimal or a cushioned no heel to toe offset shoe?
There was once fear or popular belief that cushioned level-soled shoes may lead to injuries. Very recently, there are new studies emerging that cushioned no drop alternatives are just as likely to cause or prevent injury as the thinly-soled option.
However, there is always a right shoe for the right runner. It depends on the runner’s biomechanics, training, goal, distance, and intensity of the run.
Minimal - Runners who want to go fast or do intense speed sessions, the minimal variety generally works better.
Cushioned - Runners who may want to pile on the miles, the shoe with thicker cushioning is normally the more popular choice.
Do runners have to change their gaits when using zero drop shoes?
One of the effects of no heel offset shoes is a running stride that points to midfoot or forefoot strike. The shoe helps with this, but it is still the runner who makes the conscious decision to go for a new kind of striking.
Another change that is likely to happen with zero drop shoes is a more efficient stride. As runners are reinforced by the shoe to a midfoot or forefoot strike, an overextension of strides happen less and less. Runners will become more focused on short, precise, and compact strides to allow the calves to work as nature intended them.
As the heel section does not offer more cushioning than the forefoot, the runner compensates by landing on the midfoot or forefoot so the calves act as the natural absorber of the impact. For this reason, transitioning runners may experience fatigue or tightness in this area during adjustment.
Will zero drop running shoe make the runner faster, as noted in some sites?
Just like getting that good running form, becoming faster in zero drop shoes is a process. The usual rigmarole of training and such all have to be followed to get the best results. This shoe and all types of shoe are not miraculous answers.
Is the shoe designed only for those with ideal biomechanics?
Right off the bat, it should be noted that there were those who were simply not able to adjust and be very comfortable in this kind of shoe. However, it is also very true that there were runners who have less than ideal biomechanics or with running quirks, inefficient gaits, even those with overpronation or supination who were able to make the complete and very comfortable transition to running shoes with a level heel and forefoot height.
Not only have they achieved good running form in an extremely comfortable way, but they have also managed to best their PR times.
15 best zero drop running shoes
Altra Escalante Racer 19
Altra Timp 1.5
Altra Escalante 1.5
Merrell Trail Glove 4
Altra Lone Peak 4.0
Merrell Vapor Glove 3
Merrell Vapor Glove 4
Merrell Vapor Glove 4 3D
Merrell Bare Access Flex 2
Merrell Bare Access Flex
Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob is a fan of short distances with a 5K PR at 15:58 minutes. Based on 35 million race results, he's among the fastest 0.2% runners. Jens Jakob previously owned a running store, when he was also a competitive runner. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and the likes as well as peer-reviewed journals. Finally, he has been a guest on +30 podcasts on running.
This shoe has recently been added to RunRepeat. There are still not enough reviews for us to assign it a CoreScore.
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