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Ask A Gear Guru: What Is The Best Post-Workout Recovery Footwear?

You put in the miles, what should you put on your feet to keep them happy?

Triathletes work out a lot (thanks, Gear Guru, duh). When you work out a lot, you need to recover a lot—this is something triathletes are kind-of-sort-of good at. I’ve definitely gone out for “cool-down” runs after a race where triathletes feel it’s the perfect time to “throw in some speedwork.” It is not a good time to throw in speed work. It is very much not. If you want to get better, you need to work out hard and you also need to rest hard. The good news is that the recovery market is busting at the seams with things from percussive massagers to CBD to compression tights and so on. While some recovery techniques require you to put in some work (percussive massagers), some could flag you for a positive drug test (CBD), and some could cause cramping while you struggle to even get them on (super-compressive tights, I’m looking at you here), the best post-workout recovery item is the one that literally requires no effort at all: recovery footwear.

What Does Recovery Footwear Do?

Each brand has their own terminology and sometimes function, but the idea for most recovery footwear is that the shoes or sandals allow your toes and foot bones to splay out after being so tightly packed into a pair of running or riding shoes. Particularly if you’re running on trails, which require a lot of weird gripping from your toes and foot muscles to ensure traction on uneven terrain and over bumps and rocks, you can end up with very fatigued feet at the end of a workout. Even if you’re on the roads or riding, the simple fact is that your foot (toes in particular) is bunched up inside tightly tied or buckled shoes. Our feet were not designed to always be bound up like that—hence some theories about barefoot running, but we’ll leave that alone for now—and some people develop injuries based on those bound-up feet. In fact, there are a few shoe brands, Altra for example, who insist that a natural toe splay is so important that they widen the toe box to allow for that natural movement while running. There are arguments for and against that type of design, but most recovery footwear is made in an effort to help your foot “spread out” post run. While recovery footwear can do more than one thing, other types of designs do things like use soft foam to support the foot and relieve impact on joints—or even use textured material on the insole to stimulate nerves on the bottom of your feet that have been beaten into a pulp while you run.

What Kind Of Recovery Footwear Is Best For Me?

Well, it depends. If you live in an area that’s often cold and slushy, you’ll probably want a full shoe and/or something that’s insulated. Cold feet after a run are a sure-fire way to open yourself up for sickness, and require a lot of energy to warm up that your body would probably be better off using to recover. Similarly, if you live in a warmer area and/or you drive to runs, sandals are a good option because your feet won’t overheat, and you can toss them in a bag without taking up a ton of space. Like most gear, the best recovery footwear is only good if you actually use it a lot. Also, some brands have certifications from groups like the American Podiatric Medical Association. This is good to look for because this means the footwear is more than just a “comfy pair of slip ons” and could have some intrinsic physical therapy value. Finally, since your footwear could be used immediately after some mucky, stinky runs, think about getting a pair that could be hosed off easily, making them appropriate for in-house wear, even if you make them messy apres-run.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some top recovery footwear picks by Podium Runner’s Adam Chase

Recovery Footwear Picks

Crocs LiteRide Clog

$60, rei.com

recovery footwear

The Crocs of yesteryear are evolved. Now they feature LiteRide foam footbeds that weigh less and are sink-in soft yet bounce right back, and uppers that are both secure and easy on the skin, even when worn with bare feet. The outsole provides dependable grip and the optional ankle strap is there for additional hold if you want — when you don’t, you can rotate it forward and out of the way when you slide right into these sporty clogs. – AC

Dansko XP 2.0 Black Waterproof Pull Up

$145, dansko.com

recovery footwear

With low expectations from what, at first take, looked like heavy, clunky clogs, these turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The XP 2.0 clog is lighter in weight than other Danskos. It elevates with its considerable stack height 1.75” and features an ergonomically design, rocker bottom, removable dual density PU footbed, memory foam and Natural Arch technology, all of which had our testers’ feet craving time in them. The clogs are durable, waterproof, have slip resistance and are incredibly supportive and comfortable with a wide toe box and leather uppers. – AC

Deckers X-Lab KO-Z SNPR Low

$120, deckers.com

recovery footwear

The fact that Deckers owns Uggs shines through in these “performance slippers,” footwear especially suited for colder temps, where the sheepskin and 10mm wool interior and water repellant treatment help with warmth and dry comfort. The well-cushioned, rocker geometry and EVA foam midsole give athletic elements and recovery foot support to what could otherwise pass as fashionista comfort shoes or house slippers on ‘roids. – AC

HOKA Ora Recovery Shoe

$80, hokaoneone.com

recovery footwear

It only makes sense that the company that brought us marshmallow maximalist cushioning would make a lofty recovery shoe. The Ora uses HOKA’s thick EVA cushioning and an early stage rocker for roll-through walking or even light running. HOKA integrated grooves to make the Ora more flexible and add traction. The upper is stretchy, breathable and comfortably accommodating, with a soft mesh heel that you can collapse to slide into the shoe like a slipper, or fully deploy it for a more secure hold. – AC

On Cloud

$130, roadrunnersports.com

recovery footwear

On didn’t have to do much to change its light performance running shoe into a comfort shoe, what they call “Active Life” all-day footwear. The CloudTec mid/outsole Cloud element technology has been slightly reshaped and they’ve tweaked the fit of the upper, plus used a stretchy, speed-lacing system for slip-on-and-off ease. The feel is light and breezy while still athletic, as if a race is eminent — you could, in fact, lace these up completely and use them as flats. The breathable antimicrobial mesh upper makes them excellent for warmer weather and all-day wear, especially when traveling. We found the Cloud runs small, so consider sizing up a half step or trying on before purchase. – AC

Oofos Oomg eeZee Low Shoe

$120, oofos.com

recovery footwear

A hit in many categories, the Oomg eeZee was a favorite because it just begged to be on our testers’ feet. Or was it our testers’ feet that begged to be in the eeZees? The OOfoam footbed did, indeed, feel like a bed for one’s feet, a shock-absorbing mattress that was also firm enough that it provided solid arch support. The 4-way stretch woven canvas-like material upper was both comfortable and conforming enough that it embraced the foot and held securely without strangling. A bonus: the closed-cell foam is machine washable and designed to fight odor. – AC

Topo Rekovr 2

$115, topoathletic.com

recovery footwear

With the traction and durability of its Vibram outsole, the Rekovr 2, is well suited for indoor or outdoor wear. The wool upper keeps your foot temps regulated and resists odors while the contours of the Ortholite footbed stimulate and massage your foot with a relaxing, soothing touch. As a bonus, the Rekovr 2’s clean looks are good enough they can even pass in more formal settings in a post-pandemic world. – AC