Not everyone is a fan of big cushioning on the heel counters. If you don’t like those massive arches in the heel area, this article is for you. Running shoes without a heel counter gives a barefoot running experience.
If you are someone who likes that, these running shoes are for you. But before we start, let’s get you up to speed! You will know all about these footwears, their pros and cons and some recommendations.
We have rounded up some of the best running shoes without heel counter for you. Before you go buy one, make sure to go through this article and find out all you need to know about footwear without heel counters. Let’s dig in!
What is a running shoe without a heel counter
Running shoes without heel counters are also called zero drop footgear. These pairs tend to be flatter than other running footwear. However, there are several variations of these shoes.
Each runner runs differently. You need to pick the right pair depending on the way you run. For example, some people land hard on their heels, while others land on their forefoot or midfoot.
If you land hard on your heels, you will need proper protection and cushioning around the heel region. The footwear dimensions change similarly for forefoot and midfoot-dominant runners.
There are mixed reactions about sports runners without heel counters. If you put on a zero drop shoe for the first time, you may hate it. But actually there is nothing wrong with it. You just need some getting used to.
Zero-drop running shoes typically have no arch in the midsole region. It might not sound like a big deal to a newbie. But it is! Zero drop footwear make up a small portion of all types of running shoes. Most of the other ones have some sort of a heel counter.
So, we recommend you to wear and test shoes without heel counters before buying them.
Now, let’s talk about the pros and cons of these footwear, who it is for and how to buy the best zero drop shoes.
The advantages of wearing running shoes without heel counter
Most of the shoes come with some sort of heel counter. But the pairs without a heel counter definitely provide some advantages.
- Zero drops or footwear without heel counter have that neutral and natural feeling. After using them frequently, You can correct your form naturally.
- This type of footwears are one of the best basic trainers out there.
- Extremely lightweight and snappy build to let you run faster.
- Perfect choice for professional runners.
- Good for working those calf muscles and toning your legs.
Read More: Can a Shoe Repair Cut Down Heels
The disadvantages of wearing running shoes without heel counter
- Shoes without heel counter aren’t for everyone. That’s why these are not as common as other running shoes. Be wary of picking zero drop shoes cause it can aggravate any injuries you have.
- These shoes can be tough for your tendons. If you feel uncomfortable wearing them, stay away from them.
- The sneakers can put a lot of strain on your lower legs. If you don’t ease into them, you can be seriously injured.
Who should wear shoes without heel counter (and who shouldn’t)
Zero drop shoes or without heel counter shoes are not for everyone. Keep it in mind.
Who can wear a zero drop shoe
- If you are in good shape and have some experience running and looking to improve endurance
- Your legs are strong
- You do not have any injuries or illness, i.e., muscle pain, arthritis
- Have Flexible and strong tendons and heels
- You want to tone your leg muscles
- These shoes are lightweight. If you are someone who wants to lose that extra weight by running faster, this is for you.
Who should not wear a zero drop shoe
- If you are in poor shape, have health conditions
- Any sort of existing pain in your ankles, calves, heels
- You have weak legs, especially lower legs
Best Running Shoes without Heel Counter
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to go through some recommended footwear. While making this list, we considered all types of runners- beginners, intermediate runners and professionals. So you will find sneakers for every category.
|New Balance Fresh Foam Shoe||☛ 100% synthetic body
☛ Lightweight feel
☛ Durable outsole
|Under Armour Men’s Charged Shoe|| ☛ 100% synthetic sole
☛ Lightweight mesh upper
☛ Durable leather
|Adidas Lite Racer running shoe|| ☛ 100% textile synthetic
☛ Mesh upper
☛ Durable rubber sole
|ALTRA Men’s AL0A4VQA|| ☛ lightweight
☛ ALTRA Ego midsole
☛ 6mm footbed Insole
|Saucony Men’s Endorphin shoe|| ☛ Neutral support
☛ Rubber outsole
|Salomon Men’s Trail Running Shoes|| ☛ Aggressive grip
☛ Great fit
☛ Rubber sole
1. New Balance Fresh Foam Shoe (Best for beginners)
- 100% synthetic body
- Has soft heel counter and comfortable cushioning
- Synthetic sole
- Platform measurement of 0.75 inches (approx.)
- Fresh Foam midsole for superior comfort
- Lightweight feel
- Durable outsole
- 8 mm heel-to-toe drop (approx.)
It’s not essentially a barefoot pair but a great pick for transitioning and getting accustomed to the heel counter less shoe feel. Start training your legs with this one. Once you have gotten used to the feeling, you can get a flatter pair.
The upper section of the shoe is made out of foam. It’s undoubtedly one of the best ones we’ve experienced. The soft, stretchy knit makes it thinner and smoother. Truly a masterpiece for comfort.
The reason it is ideal for beginners is that the heel counter is within the sole. It keeps your heels in place and protects your achilles. When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to mess up your heels and Achilles. But with this shoe you won’t have to worry about that one bit.
The footwear is perfect for wide feet as well. The toe box is spacious and stretchy. You will get a relaxed fit from this.
Cushioning is satisfactory but could have been better. The midsole is soft and comfortable. But in extended runs, it can feel a bit firmer. We would have preferred if the sole was a bit softer and bouncier. As for a beginner, that’s the only drawback we can think of.
Pro tip: Don’t wear zero drop trainers without transitioning and easing into them. We recommend beginners to start off with the Fresh Foam if you have a flexible budget.
2. Under Armour Men’s Charged Shoe (Best affordable for zero drop)
- 100% synthetic sole
- Low-top shaft measurement from arch
- Neutral balance of flexibility and cushioning
- Lightweight mesh upper provides excellent breathability
- Durable leather overlay provides stability
- Extra comfort from EVA sockliner
- Charged Cushioning midsole for optimal cushioning and energy return
- Solid rubber outsole for traction and protection from wearing off
This is one of the most popular picks amongst the Charged Asset series of running footwear from Under Armour. The Charged Asset 8 provides a great value proposition.Despite the low price, the shoe packs a punch! Based on reviews from runners, this is an excellent choice for wearing all-day.
The trainer can be worn on various occasions because of its versatile style. Lightweight nature of the footwear makes it a bargain pick for extended running sessions.The cushioning system is comfortable and provides a good energy return. Rubber outsoles will give you satisfactory traction if you need precise movement in the roads.
Under Armour claims these shoes to be true to size. So, you can wear your usual size. There are a few wide variants as well if you have wide feet. The mesh upper is a nice touch in the pair as it provides great breathability.
Deep flex grooves between the forefoot and midfoot makes the shoe more flexible. It allows your feet to move naturally. There is good support for tendons and toe joints.
Midsole support is where the Charged Cushioning © technology of the Asset 8 shines. The compression-molded material of the midsole is designed to carry the weight of the runner easily whilst being plush.There is an EVA sockliner for ultra comfort. It has the sole responsibility of cushioning. But the runner can remove it if he wants to.
All in all, a superb pick at an affordable price for up-and-coming runners!
3. Adidas Lite Racer running shoe (Best for intermediate runners)
- Affordable price
- 100% textile synthetic build
- Durable rubber sole
- Running inspired slip-on-shoe for men
- Laces with slip-on design for easy put on and off
- Mesh upper for breathability
- Cloudfoam midsole for comfort and excellent cushioning
The Adapt 3.0 is a budget-friendly pick for slip-on sneaker enthusiasts. It doesn’t have the most support and cushioning because it’s intended for intermediate runners.
The 3rd version in the Adapt series gained mainstream popularity for its lightweight nature. You can run hard without your shoe holding you down. The mesh upper ensures added breathability. Combining with its lightweight nature, the pair is a blessing on the hottest of days!
If you’re a sneaker lover, you will love the flexibility of the shoe. But keep in mind, this pair was not designed for demanding activities. You will be fine doing some errand-running, light exercises and day long working. The soft spongy feeling runs you through all of your activities easily.
This is a wardrobe staple. The Adapt 3.0 can be worn with any type of casual wear. No need to worry about styling.
The cloudfoam midsole doesn’t provide the most comfortable and responsive cushioning. But the shoe is quite comfortable for walking. As this is for intermediate trainers, the cushioning shouldn’t be your main concern.
The Adapt 3.0 is a great buy,
- If you are a slip-on sneaker lover,
- have some experience of wearing zero drop shoes,
- look for comfort and durability at an affordable price.
4. ALTRA Men’s shoe (Best zero drop road running)
- A lightweight pair (approx. weight 241 g)
- Insole contains 6mm footbed
- ALTRA Ego midsole for comfort and stability
- Moderate cushioning and FootPod outsole
- Approx. stack height 25 mm
- Breathable upper with a sock-like engineered knit
The ultimate pick for marathon runners. You will dread taking these pairs slip off from your grasp. In our reviews, we couldn’t find a better choice as our road running companions.
It’s a true to size pair. Which means you caPick a pair of your usual size and you won’t need to worry about the fitting.
The ALTRA Escalante series is famous for comfort. The 2.5 model is no exception. ‘Foot shape’ wide toe box and stretchy mesh upper are ALTRA’s specialty. The insole has a 6mm footbed that offers perfect comfort for running.
The midsole uses EGO © technology to provide perfect cushioning for a zero drop trainer.
The breathability is a bit of a downfall of this pair. The vents don’t work well and you will feel the heat on your toes in long runs.
The energy return is good but not the best. You may feel a bit slower running on these pairs. The foam is squishy but could’ve been better.
ALTRA Escalante 2.5 can be a great pick for intermediate trainers. If you run short laps or are working on your fitness, this is one of the best running trainers.
5. Saucony Men’s Endorphin shoe (Best for competitive runners)
- Neutral support for runners
- Heel-to-toe drop 8 mm
- Lightweight footwear (approx. 225g)
- Rubber outsole and slip-protection
- Foot lock system for protection against chafing
- Supports natural foot movement
- Mesh upper for breathability
- Comfortable midsole cushioning and energy return
This is the second iteration of Saucony’s Endorphin series shoes. It’s tough to match the quality of this shoe, be it as a speed trainer or a race day footwear.
The first thing that we loved about the shoe is its lightweight characteristics. There isn’t much room for complaints at this price.
The lightweight trainer has excellent energy return so you can run faster on race days. Instead of buying a couple of shoes for training, get this and save money!
You will just fly through the courses wearing this pair. The cushioning is perfectly comfortable for long usage but not too much to cause irritation.
Although Saucony labels this footwear as a trainer, it is a speed shoe with more than good enough support for race day challenges. A nylon plate provides added flexibility on the underfoot.
The midsole is snappy and responsive. It’s not too bouncy and makes transitions easier. But you need to put in a little bit of time to get used to the wobble though.
Though the shoe is true to size, we noticed it to be a bit narrower. We recommend wearing ½ a size bigger for better fit. But if you have wider feet, you can try out the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2.
Professionals need better shoes. Rather than buying a couple of pairs, get this and start running. The Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 is one of the best zero drop running shoes.
6. Salomon Men’s Trail Running Shoes (Best for trail running)
- Long lasting rubber sole
- Aggressive grip for slip protection
- Precise foothold for conquering trails
- Sharp and deep lugs for superior grip in wet, dirty terrain
- Great fit and support from dynamic upper
- Smooth running in all surfaces
The aggressive gripping mechanism was developed to dominate all types of surfaces. If you’re looking for a smooth transition from roads to trails, this is not the ideal one. But if you’re someone who wants to fill their trail arsenal with the best products, look no further.
The shoe is true to size. So, you can wear your usual size without any problem. It provides excellent fitting.
The lightweight show feels really comfortable. Ample sidewall and toe protection makes the pair ideal for technical trails.
The stack measures 30 mm and the heel to toe drop is 10 mm with 4mm deep lugs. The aggressive lugs will handle dirts, snow, water and everything with ease. You can be sure there isn’t another trail shoe in the market that can compete with this.
Breathable uppers are a must for any type of running shoes. The Speedcross 5 doesn’t disappoint either. There are vents on the side for water drainage.
The midsole on the shoe provides a comfortable rebound. The cushioning is perfect for trailing- neither maximum nor minimal.
If you’re looking for a shoe to run on the trails and deal with any challenge that comes your way, there isn’t much scope for debate. The Speedcross 5 is the king of trail shoes.
Buying Guide for Shoes with Heel Counter
You’re looking for shoes without a heel counter. Assuming you’re not a beginner, let’s skip the beginner topics like picking up running shoes! We’ll emphasize on things you need to consider specifically for buying zero drop shoes or shoes without heel counters.
Before buying these shoes, remember the following things.
How much cushioning do you need?
In the world of zero drop shoes there are a lot of varieties. There are barefoot and minimalist shoes. Footwear without heel counters were designed to resemble barefoot running. But not everyone prefers that.
Consider how much cushioning you need and how much barefoot-running experience you prefer. This will be vital in picking the right pair of zero drop shoes.
Not all zero drop shoes are minimalistic. Some offer some sort of cushioning. Barefoot runners are the most minimalistic ones. If you are a barefoot runner, you can wear any kind of zero drop shoes easily.
Pro tip: If you are new to the heel counter less footwear world, don’t start with minimalist ones. Some runners will hurt even while walking on hard surfaces. Definitely keep that in mind!
Where does your feet strike first while running
This is particularly important because running strikes vary from person to person. Some people land hard on their heels, some land on the toes while some strike the midfoot first. You will need different types of heel counter less shoes depending on your landing.
Pro tip: Heel striking is not ideal for wearing zero drop shoes. If you land hard on your heels, keep away from zero drop shoes or you will hurt yourself.
How much arch do you need?
Some runners prefer totally flat and supportless footwear to get the best barefoot running experience. This is true for mostly veteran runners.
All zero drop shoes aren’t flat like that. It’s okay if you need some sort of cushioning. You will get zero drop shoes with arch-shaped cushioning. When you get more comfortable running on them you can transition into shoes with lower cushioning.
Think about your comfort
Your comfort comes first. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing certain shoes, skip wearing them.
People have different preferences regarding comfort. The padding is not the only important thing to look for in these footwear.
Some people sweat a lot and need breathable shoes. If your feet get too hot, you may need to buy yourself a new pair.
Zero drop shoes strip off the padding and be flat as much as possible. If you want to strengthen those lower leg muscles, these are perfect for you.
But if you are transitioning into shoes without heel counters, be careful. We have a comprehensive guide below to help you transition into barefoot running. Follow along!
How to transition into wearing shoes without heel counter
It’s crucial to ease into zero drop shoe running gradually. You cannot do it overnight. If you take the transitioning process lightly, you might aggravate some serious injuries.
Running on shoes without a heel counter is helpful in strengthening your arch. You can work on your running form.
Barefoot running strengthens your lower legs and lets you run faster. But first, you need to get acclimated. Here, we have prepared a step-by-step guide for runners to transition into barefoot running.
Getting accustomed to the barefoot experience
- Stretch your calf and arch muscles regularly as a warmup. The best way to start is walking barefoot. But beware of the surface.
- On ragged surfaces, practice walking wearing minimalist shoes. Once you get the hang of it, try running on soft surfaces like tracks and sand.
Improve your running mechanics
- Try to land on your midfoot, not on your heels. It doesn’t mean you cannot touch your heel at all. Just strike first with the midfoot.
- Take small but quick strides. You can use a fitness app to track your strides/minute. We recommend you to keep the stride cadence around 150-180/minute.
- Don’t land hard on the ground, be gentle. Landing hard may injure your underfoot.
Start running longer
- Develop your mileage gradually. Don’t run too much too soon.
- Set a weekly goal of increasing your mileage by 8-10%.
- Shoes without heel counters work up your tendons and calf muscles. Don’t put too much stress. Exercise caution while running and ease into zero drop shoes gradually.
- If you feel discomfort or pain, stop running and give your feet some rest.
FAQs on running shoes without heel counter
Can I remove the heel counter from running shoes?
Yes, in some shoes you can. Heel counter is a harmless addition to your running shoes. But they increase the weight of the footwear. Some shoes have removable heel counters so the runners can lose the extra weight if needed.
What is the function of heel counters?
Heel counters provide rearfoot stability. It extends medially and laterally in the rear side of the shoe. It is made of cardboard and/or plastic material.
Internal vs external heel counter
The purpose of the heel counter remains the same regardless of an internal or external placement.
Internal heel counters are embedded into the rear part of the shoe while external heel counters are an extra inclusion around the heel region on the outside of the shoe. Both types of heel counters keep your heels in the right position while you run.
Running shoes come in a lot of different styles and types. There are shoes for everyone.
Zero drop shoes are great for improving fitness and strengthening the lower legs. But you need to be cautious. Runners need to transition into wearing these shoes gradually. If you feel discomfort at any point, stop running immediately.
We have tested all types of running footwear and listed some of the best running shoes without heel counter.
Follow the advice we have curated for you. If you have any questions regarding the article, drop a comment below. We’ll be happy to answer them.