Best kids’ running shoes 2024 | Tested and reviewed

Our pint-sized tester has tackled the 6 best running shoes for kids

Best kids running shoes 3

by Oli Reed |
Updated on

We’ve rounded up the best kids’ running shoes to keep children’s feet comfortable and protected on everything from pavements to parkruns. Winners include speedy road and track shoes, as well as the best trail running shoes for stability on uneven muddy paths.

The first question most parents are probably asking is: do kids need dedicated running shoes? Or to put it even more simply, will the same pair of battered old trainers they use for football training and PE lessons do the job just as well?

kid running next to lake
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The answer probably comes down to how much your kids run. If they’re just getting started, or are thinking about doing their first junior parkrun, then it’s probably too soon to be splashing out on a pair of fully-featured running shoes. But if they’ve already developed a passion for running and are starting to talk about cross country races and smashing PBs, then we’re afraid it’s time to get your wallet out.

A good pair of kids’ running shoes will offer different levels of comfort, protection, flexibility and shock-absorption than a standard pair of trainers, among many other benefits. And perhaps more importantly, they’ll help your child develop a love for running which opens the door to all of the amazing physical and mental health benefits it offers.

What are the best kids’ running shoes of 2024?

Best in test: Asics GT-1000 12 GS Junior

Best value: Skechers GoRun 650 Junior

Best for trail running: Saucony Peregrine 12 Shield Junior

Best kids’ running shoes reviewed

Best in test

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This is the kids’ running shoe that proved the biggest hit with our tester in terms of the way it looks, mostly thanks to the GEL bubble in the rear of the midsole. So as well as providing good shock absorption and good softness underfoot, that bright pink bubble also scores big points in the school playground battle for the coolest sports trainers.

What the Asics GT-1000 12 GS Junior really is, though, is an excellent all-round running shoe for kids. The upper is made from a soft synthetic mesh, which is breathable and airy. There’s also a thin toe bumper at the front which adds a bit of protection, although we wouldn’t describe this as a robust shoe for off-road trails.

The Flytefoam cushioning in the midsole combines with the GEL technology to provide excellent comfort on all kinds of surfaces, and the solid rubber outsole has proved grippy enough for us in both dry and wet conditions. There’s plenty of thought gone into constructing the Asics GT-1000 12 GS Junior, with other standout features including the Ortholite X-30 sock liner and and the LITETRUSS support system in the midsole that’s designed to increase stability as kids roll through their stride.
All in all, a really good kids’ running shoe at a good price. For very young kids we’d probably prefer a Velcro strap than laces, just to reduce the faff-factor, but that’s very much personal preference.

Pros

  • Great all-rounder
  • Cool GEL technology in midsole
  • Good stability
  • Excellent comfort
  • Breathable upper

Cons

  • Not overly protective

Best value

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If you’re looking for a sporty, lightweight, good value sneaker for your kids to run in, the Skechers GoRun 650 Junior is one of the best options out there. There are plenty of similarities here with the Merrell Trail Glove 7 AC Junior (see below), in the sense that it's a lightweight, slip-on running shoe with a breathable upper, cushioned midsole, and a flexible rubber outsole.

But unlike its Merrell counterpart, this isn’t a zero-drop shoe. Instead, it provides a nice rocking sensation as your child runs, making them feel like they’re built for speed. There are plenty of other useful features too, like a shock-absorbing insole, elasticated laces with a midfoot Velcro strap, and a breathable, synthetic mesh upper.

The Skechers GoRun 650 Junior is a shoe that, as well as being a superb runner, can also hold its own in other activities. The fact it’s machine washable is also another bonus for parents, especially if it’s being bashed about in PE lessons and drowned in mud at junior parkruns every weekend.

Also worth noting that of all the shoes in this test, our reviewer scored this shoe the highest for comfort.

Pros

  • Lightest on test
  • Superb comfort
  • Nice rocking sensation
  • Breathable upper
  • Flexible rubber outsole
  • Machine washable

Cons

  • Not much protection

Best for trail running

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Straight out of the box, it’s clear what you’re getting with the Saucony Peregrine 12 Shield – this is a rock-solid option for a kids’ trail running shoe. The upper, heel and tongue are nicely padded, there’s decent protection around the front of the shoe, and the grip kids get from the aggressive lug pattern is superb.

Saucony have forged a reputation for making good value and high-performing footwear for both road and trail running, which is why we’ve included two of their shoes in this review. But while the Kinvara 14 (see below) is very much suited to tarmac and harder-packed trails, the Peregrine is a serious mud monster. 

The upper is water-resistant rather than waterproof, which helps breathability while also repelling wet grass and the odd puddle splash. There’s a mixture of leather and mesh on that upper too, which adds protection and hopefully durability too (our tester has only been running in them for a couple of months so can’t vouch for the long term yet).

They’re pleasingly lightweight too, with good cushioning thanks to the soft EVA midsole. This isn’t as thick and padded as the Saucony Kinvara 14, but still does a very good job. The real selling point, though, is the grippy rubber outsole that’s fairly flexible as well as delivering superb traction on off-road terrain. Excellent option for junior parkrunners and cross-country runners who love charging through sloppy mud!

Pros

  • Awesome grip
  • Protective and breathable upper
  • Cushioned midsole
  • Anti-stink lining
  • Non-marking sole

Cons

  • Lugs could be overkill for road running

Best for multi-sport activities

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First and foremost, the Merrell Trail Glove 7 AC Junior is a very good zero-drop minimalist running shoe. It’s been designed to follow the natural movement of the foot, with a thin, flexible sole that provides good feel and connection with the ground. It also benefits from a shock-absorbing EVA midsole, plus an embedded TrailProtect rock plate between midsole and outsole to protect from lumps and bumps on the trail.

Breathability is good thanks to the recycled mesh upper, an external rear sling secures the heel in place, and the thin toe bumper offers protection from water and any minor bangs around the front of the foot. The grip seems decent in both dry and wet conditions, but this certainly feels like a shoe designed more for tarmac and solid trails than mud and wet rock.

One of the key considerations for parents when buying outdoor kit for kids is often multi-functionality. When you’re looking for a pair of kids’ running shoes, obviously the performance they deliver for running is the most important factor. But there will always be a nagging thought in the back of your mind, telling you that you’d like those shoes to deliver in a few other areas too.

With that in mind, one of the things we really love about the Merrell Trail Glove 7 AC Junior is its versatility. As well as regular running, this would be a great choice for an everyday school shoe or PE trainer.

Our primary school-aged tester has been wearing them every day for the past couple of months for everything from running and tennis to gymnastics and indoor football, and they’ve stood up well to every activity. We’re also big fans of the elasticated laces with Velcro strap, which makes them quick and easy to slip on and off.

Pros

  • Good for multiple sports
  • Minimalist feel
  • Breathable upper
  • Grippy rubber outsole
  • Protective rock plate
  • Anti-stink lining

Cons

  • Less grip on muddy trails

Best for racing

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This kids’ running shoe is all about speed! What you’re essentially getting here is a shrunken-down version of Saucony’s popular adult Kinvara running shoe, with all of the same benefits.

The Kinvara 14 A/C Junior is unashamedly lightweight, flexible and airy, with a soft FORM2U memory foam footbed that provides superb bounce and comfort. The lightweight mesh upper is built for breathability rather than protection, although the lightly reinforced toe cap will at least deflect minor knocks and bumps.

What our little runner loves about these shoes, though, is the comfort, and that’s all down to Saucony’s PWRRUN midsole. For a start it’s nice and thick, with all of that signature Saucony squashiness and rebound as the foot strikes the ground. The outsole itself has decent grip and is non-marking (great for indoor PE lessons), with enough flexibility that twisting, turning, and fast starts are no issue at all.

It isn’t a shoe we’d recommend for muddy trails, but is a superb option for road, track, and even other children’s sports like tennis. Our tester flies across the ground when he’s got them on, and they score extra points for having a Velcro strap rather than standard laces to reduce the faff-factor.

Pros

  • Cushioned and comfortable
  • Lightweight and flexible
  • Breathable upper
  • Grippy rubber outsole
  • Anti-stink lining

Cons

  • Not much protection
  • Prepare for wet feet!

Best waterproof running shoe

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The Salomon Speedcross sits in a halfway house between trail running shoe and general mud mayhem shoe for kids. This isn’t the smartest option if speed and flexibility are what your little runner craves, but if you’re looking for great grip and full protection from the elements then you’ll be hard-pushed to find a better option.

The midsole is cushioned EVA foam and, according to our tester, surprisingly bouncy for a shoe that otherwise feels fairly rigid. The big selling point, though, is the Contagrip outsole with its aggressive lug pattern that provides excellent traction on just about every type of surface. We’ve used these shoes on some of the muddiest junior parkruns in history, plus local hills and trails that are caked in mud after the winter floods, and grip has never been an issue.

There’s a lot to be said about the upper too, which thanks to the Climasalomon membrane is fully waterproof. This is the only pair of waterproof kids’ running shoes we’ve reviewed as our tester doesn’t mind soggy feet while he runs, but he soon changed his mind when he slipped these on. They’re now his default choice for seriously wet runs, as well as hiking trips.

The coolest feature of the Salomon Speecross CSWP Junior is the Quicklace system, which uses a drawstring to tighten up the shoe and lock your child’s foot in place. We were a bit bamboozled by the amount of excess lace sticking out of the top of the buckle the first time we used them, until we spotted the clever little pocket on the front of the tongue to stash it. All in all, this is a superb kids’ trail running shoe.

Pros

  • Tough and durable
  • Fully waterproof
  • Excellent Quicklace system
  • Impressive grip
  • Still lightweight

Cons

  • Not overly flexible

What to look for in a pair of kids’ running shoes

Firstly, remember everyone has different preferences when it comes to footwear. While some favour the flexibility and speed of lightweight running shoes, others place more value on protection and durability. And although they may not know it yet, kids will be no different. So it’s best to look at a few different styles before making your choice.

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There’s also the question of where they will be running. If you’re just planning to jog around local pavements, then the shoe you need will be a very different one designed for chewing up mud and grass on junior parkruns or school cross-country events.

But once you’ve got those questions out of the way, there are some obvious basics you should be looking for. To maintain foot health and prevent things like blisters, kids’ running shoes should be lightweight, flexible and well cushioned to ensure they’re comfortable with a good level of shock absorption. If your kids are really young it’s also worth considering the lacing system – do you really want to be constantly tying wet and muddy laces when a simple Velcro strap could take all of that pain away?

Kids’ running shoes have come a long way in recent years, with many of them now taking the form of shrunken versions of their adult-sized counterparts. So it’s also worth reading up on adult running trainers to see what key features are out there.

Meet your tester

Kid running on forrest trails
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Sonny Reed (aged 7) is the son of our editor Oli, and has taken great pleasure in smashing this selection of shoes along every trail and through every puddle and patch of mud he could find. Sonny’s an active lad who regularly runs, hikes, and plays lots of sport, and isn’t shy on dishing out opinions on what makes a good (or bad) piece of kit.

Sonny’s heading for Ben Nevis this summer where he hopes to add Britain’s highest mountain to the list of peaks he’s climbed, so look out for reviews of the best kids’ hiking kit when he gets back.

And big thank you to sportsshoes.com who supplied all of the products we reviewed in this article. It isn't always easy to find performance running shoes in the right size for kids, especially the younger ones, but Sportsshoes have a very comprehensive range of junior footwear from the major running brands.

Caring for your trail running shoes

Outdoor footwear gets a hard life. If you want to keep yours performing as well as they can for as long as possible, a little TLC is needed. Keep fabrics clean to maintain breathability, and waterproof fabrics need reproofing every so often to maintain water repellency. Here are the products we'd recommend to help extend the life of your running trainers...

Keep your shoes dry

sidas cedar wood dryer bagSidas

While the other products in this list will keep your shoes squeaky clean on the outside, these dryer bags will help soak up the moisture from your running shoes on the inside. Keeping them feeling fresh and free of that post-run 'pong'. We've never come across such a handy product to help refresh our kicks after wet runs. These sacks are stuffed with 100% cedar wood, which absorbs moisture out of the inside of a shoe four times quicker than air drying. They're also re-useable – simply hang them up to dry after use for six hours in between runs, then they're ready to go again!

Keep your shoes clean

Nikwax Hiking Care KitAmazon
Price: £17.99

This Nikwax bundle is a footwear care kit for leather and fabric materials, complete with a brush and a dry bag. This kit earns high marks for its sustainability credentials, and the included dry bag proves invaluable during extended running trips and adventures.

Keep your feet protected

This compact Footcare Kit from Sidas contains a bundle of mini-sized items geared towards caring for your feet over long distances, and getting you to the finish line pain-free should any issues flare-up mid-run. This is truly a Hail Mary rolled up in one smart little pouch!

Those who enjoy long days out on the trails will know that they often come hand in hand with sore feet, black toes, and sometimes blisters. The Sidas Footcare Kit is small enough to fit into any running pack and includes heel and toe protection pads to stick over blisters, gel toe sleeves to protect against black toes, or lessen any pain from black toes already forming (make sure your trail running shoes have a little extra room in the toe-box to accommodate these). Along with two 15ml tubes of anti-friction cream and recovery cryo gel.

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