What to Look for in Track Spikes & Field Shoes

What to Look for in Track Spikes & Field Shoes

Spikes are designed to meet the needs of runners of various event disciplines, not merely for runners in one event. It is rare to see a spike that is only compatible for the 400m, 800m, 5000m, or any singular race. Spikes are manufactured to fit the needs of athletes who fall into five categories: short sprints, long sprints, middle-distance, long-distance, and cross country.

Field shoes and spikes are tailor-made for specific events, making them easy to spot. Usually, the names of the models will represent the event for which they are worn. For example, the Saucony Uplift HJ is used for the high jump. Abbreviations such as “TJ” for the triple jump, “SD” for shot put and discus, and “Jav” for javelin are very common.

Which track spike is best for my event?

Sprint Spike

Sprints

For sprinters, forward propulsion, minimizing the time spent on your feet, and your drive phase is of vital importance. Sprint spikes are designed to enhance your form and speed from the starting blocks to the finish line.

How a sprint-specific spike can help you
You can quickly detect a sprint spike by observing the plate on the outsole. They often sport an aggressive plastic mold underneath the forefoot to force runners on their toes and to decrease foot contact with the ground–exactly what speed demons need to shave valuable fractions of a second.

Spikes designed for sprinters of the linear variety–55m or 100m dashers–have a full-length plate–one that spans from the forefoot to the heel. These best serve runners who compete in events that have one or no turns—the shoe is designed for sprinting down straightaways and are relatively stiff.

Sprint models with 200m-500m runners in mind usually do not contain a plate that covers the heel and are more flexible.

Both short and long sprint models employ a firmer spike plate beneath the forefoot to yield a “recoil” effect, so that with every step, the shoe is responsive enough to give you some more “spring” in your stride. More spring = quicker steps.

The outsole is largely made of plastic, so it will feel firm and rigid upon first wear. The overall fit feels more comfortable and natural when running on a rubber track surface.

The upper of the shoe is designed with sprinters’ needs in mind as well. The upper in any spike is, generally, more narrow than what athletes are accustomed to in running shoes. Sprint spikes grip the foot firmly to lock it in place to encourage better running economy. Some models may even employ a strap above the shoe tongue or a zipped upper.

The spikes
Now let’s talk about actually wrenching the spikes in. As a rule of thumb: The shorter the event, the more spikes you’ll need.

Traditionally, short sprint spike plates will have about 7 – 10 pins per shoe to foster greater traction. Since flexibility is a greater concern for longer sprints, spikes for these athletes will only have 6 – 8 pins. Wrench the spikes in securely lest they fall out mid-race. Do not wrench them too tight as you may risk stripping the spike wrench.

NOTE: Long sprinters may prefer a full-length plate, which is perfectly suitable for the 200m and up. Just make sure that you’re comfortable, you don’t want to question yourself while you’re in the blocks.

Middle Distance Spikes

Middle Distance

For the runner who has found his or her home in the 800m or 1500m/1600m/Mile (herein referred to as “the mile”), shoe companies have built spikes with both your leg speed and endurance in mind.

How a middle-distance spike can help you
For those running a multi-lap race and making at least two turns (yes, I’m directing this to the half-milers and milers that have a spot on the 4x400m relay) middle-distance spikes will have an appropriate blend of flexibility, torsion (ability to turn and flex), and rigidity. They will be less rigid than sprint spikes, so they should feel less stiff.

Take a look at the middle distance spike plate. Compare it to the plates you see on both sprint varieties. You may notice that the forefoot is not completely covered in plastic. You may also observe that the shoe looks a tad softer underneath the arch. Unlike sprint spikes, mid-distance performance shoes have a very thin layer of ultralight EVA foam to provide a small dose of cushioning. After all, you’re spending more time running your event, so you need to be a little more comfy.

Manufacturers create inlets of the EVA foam in the spike plate to allow some flexibility and torsion–a necessity for the proper toe-off in each stride. With a semi-aggressive spike plate and a razor-thin midsole, you have a perfect shoe for control in the early stages of the race as well as some pop for your finishing kick. You’ll be glad you’re in the proper footwear when you’re driving home in the final 150 meters. Just be sure to shake your competitors’ hands after you win.

Most importantly, these bad boys are light. Technology has vastly improved in the past few years, leading many to marvel at the featherweight nature of middle-distance and long-distance spikes. Some shoes are as light as three ounces; you may even forget you have them in your bag.

Ultimately, a middle-distance spike is firm enough to keep you on your toes when you need to be, but flexible enough to go the distance.

The spikes
Spikes for 800m runners and milers often come with a 6-pin plate and can be worn by an athlete who dabbles in the 400m too. Less pins = lighter weight.

Wrench the spikes in firmly. The longer the distance you’re running, the greater the chance of losing a few. Don’t forget to take the time to clean the spike plate. Middle distance and long distance runners manage to accrue dirt and debris around the spikes. If not cleaned properly, it can make removing old spikes quite difficult.

Long Distance Spikes

Long Distance

When endurance is the name of the game, every bit counts: You want a shoe to be light, flexible, and durable.

How long-distance spikes can help you
For long-distance spikes, manufacturers introduce a bit more foam than they do at the middle-distance level to achieve greater flexibility. Likewise, shoe companies implement slightly larger foam inlets in the spike plate for pliability’s sake. A less aggressive plate is especially important for those competing in the 5,000m or 10,000m. Being propped up on your toes for 3.1 miles or more may result in calf pain and soreness, among other injuries.

The upper of the distance spikes is also important. Luckily, shoe durability is improving along with shoe weight. Each company uses special techniques to ensure that the mesh in the upper is durable but also breathable–and more importantly, really light. So, even on those hot days (when the track is 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature), the shoe will ventilate efficiently.

Long-distance spikes are often a few fractions of an ounce lighter than middle-distance spikes. .

The spikes
The spike plate for distance runners requires the least maintenance: There are usually only 4 – 6 pins.

Long distance runners should monitor the condition of the spikes. Since these runners are covering the longest distances at meets, the spikes will dull at a much quicker rate. Remove the spikes before they become too dull. Otherwise, the spikes (or what used to be spikes) may be stuck for good.

NOTE: Some athletes will opt to wear a middle-distance shoe for long-distance races and vice versa. This is perfectly fine, as long as you can do so without injuring yourself.

Cross Country

If hill and dale is your bread and butter, make sure you have the appropriate performance shoe. You may wear cross country spikes on the track. While taking your track spikes to the dirt is much less common, many elite runners opt to do so because they must have their ultralight spikes for all races.

If you’re running cross country, odds are you’re tough, gritty, and have formidable stamina. Your spikes should reflect this.

How cross country spikes can help you
Cross country spikes will have the thickest foam midsole to offer the necessary cushioning for covering long distances over a multitude of terrains. The foam midsole is protected by a rubber outsole designed to take a beating from trails, grass, and mud. Additionally, the upper of the shoe is very breathable and will hug the foot well to provide some stability. Special meshes are used to keep dirt, wood chips and other earthy interlopers from invading the shoe.

The spikes
Most spike plates will only have 4 or 5 pins to minimize weight while still yielding great traction. Cross country spikes are not quite as light as long-distance spikes, but you’ll be pleased with the durability when it comes to race day.

Have questions about track spikes? Check out our “Answers to Your Track Spike Questions” post.



47 thoughts on “What to Look for in Track Spikes & Field Shoes”

    • Hi Ankush,

      What track/field events do you participate in? I can help point you in the right direction when I know what your specialties are.

      Greg
      Holabird Sports

  • What type of shoe would be most suitable for the events: hurdles, pole vault, and the 200m. I would prefer only one shoe.

    • It won’t affect you in the sense that it will hurt you. Distance spikes, usually, are lighter, but they are not equipped to propel you off your toes as well. Sprint spikes have sturdier spike plates and have more pins in the plate to give you more traction.

  • I am a 15 yrs old track athlete. In track I run the 400, 200, 300hh, and 4×4. What type of track shoes would you recommend? And if possible could you tell me what specific shoe you think would apply best.

  • 7 year-old son runs 800 and 1500m. He wears a 2-2.5, possibly 3 (if run small). What spike is best for him?

  • It would depend on 2 things; track experience of the young person, and which event they participate in the most. The 200, 300hh and 4×4 are on the higher mileage end of a sprint spike, the 400 is on the lower mileage end of middle distance spike. People in this age group are generally both practicing and racing in the same spike. That said, I think if this individual is beginning his or her track career, there may be more value in the middle distance spike. As far as specific style goes, that’s an individual choice based more on fit than brand/look.

    Middle distance spikes are here: http://www.holabirdsports.com/running/shoes/track-field/shopby/hb_shoe_type-middle_distance_spike.html and sprint spikes are here: http://www.holabirdsports.com/running/shoes/track-field/shopby/hb_shoe_type-sprint_spike.html

    • I wouldn’t recommend using a sprint spike for longer distance runs—they simply aren’t designed for longer events. The lack of cushioning and the rigid spike plate of a sprint spike may cause or contribute to injuries if used in longer-distance events. It’s also important to remember that track spikes (including your sprint spikes) are specifically designed for use on rubberized tracks that inherently provide some cushioning, so taking your sprint spikes for a run on hard cement or pavement is an especially bad idea. I’d recommend trying to exchange your sprint spikes (if they’re unused it’s usually not a problem to exchange or return them) for a pair of racing or training shoes—depending, of course, upon what exactly you need/want. Please let me know if there is anything else we can help with!

  • Thanks for the respone. I usually train and race on rubberized track only. Yet, i will take into considerations on what you’ve said. May i know any LD spikes that can be brought at a reasonable price online?

  • I am looking for a mens size 17 track sprinter spikes for a high school student. Do you carry them? Can you get them? Do you know where I might find some?

  • I am a 14 year old and I run the 800 and mile. I have some idea what to get now, but I have no idea where or what specifically. Do you have any recommendations for a reasonable price?

  • The advice about track and field shoes and spikes was excellent and something that I enjoyed doing as always, thanks for taking the time to explain everything so clearly, so that new people like me can understand.

  • Hi, my 7 yo daughter runs the 50 yard dash. She wears a 2/2.5 in her regular sneakers. We just ordered a 2.5 and it fits like a glove with virtually no room near the toe. They were a total of $75 with expedited shipping for a Sunday meet. Should we return them since it’ll be like we paid $75 for the last meet remaining this season. Please advise.

  • I am trying to figure out what type of running spikes my daughter will need. She is in HS and I believe will be doing the hurdles. I’m new to the whole track and field and need some direction.

    • My case exactly. She is the youngest HS student in hurdles and good in both sprints and distance so the coaches can’t decide which events to place her.

  • My son will be running the 400m and 800m this year as a sophomore in high school. We’d like to buy just one type of spike shoe that he can use for both events instead of buying sprint spikes for the 400m and mid-distance spikes for the 800m. What do you all recommend?

    Thank you!

  • My 14 year old son runs 300M hurdles, 400M, and 800M. He has had issues in the past with pain in the balls of his feet when wearing sprint and middle distance spikes. How much do you think a XC spike with more fore foot cushioning would adversely impact his times?

    • Hello there!

      The events your son run are shorter distances, which require running on the ball of the foot. Running with sprint spikes forces this action of striking on the ball, which provides greater drive and force. These two aspects are needed especially in 300M hurdles and the 400M. Although track spikes are preferred to engage the muscles needed for those distances, cross country spikes could be worn to improve your son’s situation. XC spikes are built with spikes scattered around the entire side (of the bottom) of the shoe. They are designed this way since long-distance runners normally strike at the midfoot or heel. Cross country spikes are heavy as well for extra support. Due to the fact your son keeps having pain with sprint spikes, it might be wise to try out cross country spikes to see if the extra support helps. His times should not get worse, it might just take some getting used to, regarding striking. I hope this helps!

      ~Betsy

  • My son is new to track and looking for something that will benefit him for the shot put and 100m. I would like to stay away from him having two pairs but from what I have researched that may not be the case. Any recommendations

  • 17 yo son will be running track this year. 3km plus possibly 400 & 800 m. In the fall he runs xcountry, looking for a shoe that he could use for all disciplines. Any recommendations?

    Thanks for your time

    • Hey Todd,

      Congrats to your son in advance for running! That’s exciting. We’d recommend two shoes, actually. The XC shoes are inexpensive, on the bright side. They range from $29 to $49.95 on our website: http://www.holabirdsports.com/running/shoes/cross-country.html

      For the other 3 events, two being mid-distance (the 400m is considered a sprint but it’d be fine to do a MD spike), and one being long distance (the 3km), we’d say he’d be good running in a middle distance spike. But there are many factors here. We’ll need to figure out which event will be his strongest and pick the shoe off of that information. If his best race is the 3km, we might go with a LD spike. If it’s the 800m, MD spike. And if it’s the 400m, a sprint spike.

      But since it’s his first year, a middle distance spike will be your best bet. Check out our website for the ones we have! We like this one: http://www.holabirdsports.com/hoka-one-one-rocket-md-spike-mens.html

      But we have many to choose from. Just look for the “MD” or in the description, “middle distance” or “400 to 800m”: http://www.holabirdsports.com/running/shoes/track-field.html

      Hope that helps, Todd!
      -Shea

  • I am 17 year old boy that runs 100m,long jump, and triple jump. I currently just bought the Under Armour Kick Sprint Spikes which are primarily designed for sprinting. Do these work for jumping as well?

    • Hi Nednal!

      From Under Armour’s website: “The UA Kick Sprint Spikes with a 3/4 length Pebax® cleat plate, is ultra-strong and flexible for explosive propulsion and the total package for a wide variety of sprint events.”

      That being said, these are solely sprint spikes, and when competing in those other events, you should use jump-specific spikes to avoid injury and aid you in the right way.

      Thanks!
      Shea

  • Hi,
    i’m considering getting new long jump spikes and was wondering whether getting triple jump spikes would be better as they have additional support. Would this negatively affect my jumping if i got triple jump spikes for long jump? i was looking at the Nike jump elite (hyper) triple jump spikes.
    Thank you!

  • I am a 1600 m runner in my Freshman year. I was looking for a pair of spikes that would be effective, but at a really good deal. Any ideas?

  • I have a 13 year old who is going to be competing long, triple, and high jump, and the 200. Can you advise on which spikes are appropriate? 5’6″ and ladies 9 shoe.

  • I am a girl in high school and run hurdles (100,300) as well as the relays . I want a spike that is flexible enough for hurdles but also a spike that can be used for plain sprints . What spikes would you recommend ? Can I have two in one or should I buy different spikes to accommodate each domain? I am confused because my events range from 100-400 sometimes with or without hurdles I don’t know if I should compromise explosiveness for flexibility or vice versa. I look at both men’s and women’s spikes and liked the Under Armour speed form sprint pro 2’s but after the UCLA track shoe quality report idk if I should just stick with a brand I know I like such as Nike or branch out.

    • Hi Kaia! Our track expert would suggest staying with the sprint spikes to cover both hurdles and 100-400 m, unless you are looking at a college scholarship for one or both event types. If you are that skilled, then it may be worth getting dedicated spikes for hurdles and also for sprints. The brands and shoes fit everyone differently, so if you feel comfortable in your Nikes, then keep sporting those. But Hoka One One has great spikes if you wanted a brand you haven’t used.

  • Hi, I run hurdles and the 100m. My school does not have a real indoor track. It instead has a grey sports court type material for indoor races, What shoes would you recommend me wearing for races?

    • It would be helpful to know what the surface actually is. I would recommend asking your coach the best spike length or even if spikes are allowed before making any decisions to purchase.

      Feel free to reply back once you know! But best to ask your coach.

      Thanks!
      Shea

  • My son does 200 relays and 100/200, as well as triple-jump. Triple-jump is his what he most likes to do. We just got the Asics Hyper MD 5 and the Asics Sonicsprint. I gather the Hyper MD 5 is more suited to the triple-jump and the Asics Sonicsprint is more suited to the 200. I would prefer he only keep one, and wondering which and why. I am suspecting the Hyper MD 5 is adequate for the sprints while the Sonicsprint might be bad for the jumping since there is no heel cushion, so therefore we should go with the Hyper MD 5. However we are new to this and would like advice on what to do. He is in 8th grade, Varsity track.

    • Hi Frances!

      You are correct. While the Sonicsprint would be more ideal for the 100 and 200 meter sprints, using them for the triple-jump could result in an early end to your son’s track season due to the lack of cushioning in the heel. I personally made the mistake of competing in the triple-jump with sprint spikes in high school and ended up with very painful bruises on both of my heels. The Hyper MD 5 should help prevent this from happening to your son.

      Best of luck!
      Curt

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