Best Running Shoes

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These reviews cover what I consider to be the best running shoes as well as some strong contenders and a few promising shoes that missed the mark. I believe that a running shoe should not interfere with the way you run, and therefore I favor shoes that have less of a raised heel and don't resist the way your foot moves as it lands. I categorize shoes as thick soled 'minimal drop, maximum cushioning' (Minimax), well cushioned a lightweight (Optimal) and the thin soled minimalist style of shoe.

1 Where to Buy

I generally recommend buying shoes from as they allow you to run in the shoes and still return them for an exchange. It's hard to know how a shoe works for you until you've run in it for some distance. Another good option is which provides free shipping both ways, which allows you to spend time wearing the shoes around the house to see how they fit, though you can't run in them and return them.

2 Shoe Categories

I've classified my shoe recommendations into several categories, each with their own pros and cons.

  • Minimax (Minimum Drop, Maximum Cushioning). The minimal drop has been the hallmark of minimalist shoes, but these shoes also include lots of cushioning. At their best, these shoes can be like running barefoot on a cushioned track. Minimax shoes offer lots of protection and comfort. They are great for longer ultramarathons where sore feet become a problem and for trail running where the cushioning makes it easier to ignore smaller rocks and stones. However, the extra cushioning may increase the risk of injury compared with minimalist shoes and the extra sole thickness increases the stress on your ankle.
  • Optimal. These shoes ideally have just enough cushioning to improve Running Economy without the weight penalty of the Minimax shoes.
  • Minimalist. These shoes vary between the almost barefoot and those with a little more protection.
  • Traditional. The classic running shoe has a high heel, normally about 10mm higher than the forefoot. . The biggest advantage of traditional shoes is the wide variety to choose from, making it far easier to find the right fit.

3 Shoe Brands

You're probably familiar with brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, etc., but you may be less familiar with Hoka and Altra.

  • Hoka One One. The Hoka shoes started the 'Minimum Drop, Maximum Cushioning' style of shoe. The Hokas generally use extremely soft foam, with a wide base to improve stability. Their soles are thicker than most shoes so they are quite heavy, though not as heavy as they look. Most of the Hokas do well on both asphalt and rocky trails. The Hokas provide remarkable protection from rough trail surfaces, and the thick, soft soles mold themselves around stones to provide more grip on rocky trails than you'd expect. Other than the sole, the Hoka is a poor design, with a remarkably tight toe box and they are typically rather inflexible.
  • Altra. The two distinctive features of the Altra shoes are their zero drop and their shape which mirrors the shape of the human foot. Originally their shoes were quite minimalist with a thinner sole that was typically made of quite firm foam. More recently they have moved towards softer cushioning and the Minimax style.

4 Shoe Reviews

Category Shoe Full Review Favorite Weight Performance Penalty Drop Sole thickness Subjective
Forefoot Use Notes
Minimax Hoka Clifton Hoka Clifton Top Pick 7.8oz (8.5oz) 9.9 sec/mile, 6.2 sec/Km 6mm 23/29mm 8 7   Also considered an optimal shoe
Altra Olympus Altra Olympus Top Pick 10oz (11.8oz) 15.1 sec/mile, 9.4 sec/Km Zero 36mm 6 4.5 Road/Rocky Trail  
Altra Paradigm Altra Paradigm   10.2oz (10.2oz) 12.6 sec/mile, 7.8 sec/Km Zero 25mm 8 4 Road  
Hoka Bondi Hoka Bondi   11.1oz (13oz) 16.9 sec/mile, 10.5 sec/Km 5mm 30/35mm 8 4 Road/Rocky Trail  
Hoka Mafate Hoka Mafate   15.1oz (13.6oz) 17.9 sec/mile, 11.1 sec/Km 6mm 35/41mm 9 1 Muddy Trail The most cushioned shoe
Hoka Stinson Hoka Stinson   11.8oz (13.2oz) 17.3 sec/mile, 10.7 sec/Km 6mm 32/38mm 9 2 Road/Rocky Trail  
Skechers GOrun Ultra Skechers GOrun Ultra   9.5oz (9.8oz) 12 sec/mile, 7.4 sec/Km 14 mm (10mm) 26/40mm (24/34mm) 8 (heel) 7 Road A nice attempt, but too much drop and wears too quickly.
Adidas Energy Boost Adidas Energy Boost   9.3oz 11.2 sec/mile, 6.9 sec/Km 9mm 17/26mm ~5-7 6 Road A remarkable shoe with new midsole technology
Optimal Altra One2 Altra One2 Top Pick 6.6oz (7.3oz) 8.1 sec/mile, 5 sec/Km Zero 19mm 3 8.5 Road A wonderful balance of weight and cushioning
Mizuno Cursoris Mizuno Cursoris Top Pick 6.8oz 7.3 sec/mile, 4.5 sec/Km Zero 18mm 3 8 Road Soft, light and comfortable. Still available, but discontinued
Saucony Virrata Saucony Virrata Top Pick 6.7oz (7.3oz) 8.1 sec/mile, 5 sec/Km Zero 17mm 2 8 Road Similar to the Altra One2
Skechers GO Bionic Skechers GO Bionic   6.5oz (6.2oz) 6.4 sec/mile, 3.9 sec/Km Zero 10mm 1.5     Good value
Adidas Takumi Sen 2 Adidas Takumi Sen   6.3oz (6.9oz) 7.4 sec/mile, 4.6 sec/Km 5mm 17/22mm 1     An unusual Japanese racing shoe
Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit Nike Free   7.1oz 7.8 sec/mile, 4.8 sec/Km 4mm 17/21mm 2 8 Road Highly flexible
Modified Nike Free Modified Nike Free   5oz (5oz) 4.5 sec/mile, 2.8 sec/Km Zero 17mm 1   Road  
Saucony Kinvara Saucony Kinvara   7.6oz (7.9oz) 9 sec/mile, 5.6 sec/Km 4mm 18/22mm 2   Road Seems heavier than the scales would sugest
Altra Torin Altra Torin   9oz 10.7 sec/mile, 6.7 sec/Km Zero 20mm 1 7 Road  
Brooks PureCadence Brooks PureCadence   8.4oz (9.4oz) 11.3 sec/mile, 7 sec/Km 5mm 17/22mm 2     A little heavy for the cushioning
Saucony Hattori     4.4oz 11.8 sec/mile, 7.3 sec/Km Zero 15mm 0.5   Road Not quite enough cushioning. No laces
Minimal Mizuno Wave Universe Mizuno Wave Universe   2.8oz (3.2oz) 18.2 sec/mile, 11.3 sec/Km 2mm 11/13mm 0   Road Ultralight weight!
NB Trail Minimus     6.5oz (6.5oz) 23.3 sec/mile, 14.5 sec/Km 5mm 10/15mm 0   Road/Trail  
NB Road Minimus     6.4oz (6.2oz) 22.8 sec/mile, 14.2 sec/Km Zero 11mm 0   Road  
Merrell Trail Glove     7oz 24.1 sec/mile, 15 sec/Km Zero 10mm 0   Road/Trail  
Merrell Road Glove     6.9oz 23.9 sec/mile, 14.9 sec/Km Zero 11mm 0   Road  
Vibram FiveFingers     4oz 19.4 sec/mile, 12.1 sec/Km Zero 5mm 0   Road/Trail  
Vivobarefoot One     7oz 24.1 sec/mile, 15 sec/Km Zero 3mm 0   Road  
Not recommended Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac     10.7oz 13.4 sec/mile, 8.3 sec/Km 4mm 26/30mm 2   Road Thick, but too firm
Hoka Conquest Hoka Conquest   11.9oz 15.2 sec/mile, 9.5 sec/Km 4mm 28/34mm 2 3 Road/Rocky Trail Thick, but too firm
Hoka Huaka Hoka Huaka   9.2oz (9.9oz) 12.1 sec/mile, 7.5 sec/Km 5mm 21/26mm 4 6   Thick, but too firm
New Balance Fresh Foam 980     9.1oz 10.9 sec/mile, 6.8 sec/Km 4mm 21/25mm 2   Road Thick, but too firm
Brooks Transcend     11.8oz 15.1 sec/mile, 9.4 sec/Km 8mm 22/30mm     Road Thick, but too firm
Patagonia EverLONG Patagonia EverLONG   9oz (9.2oz) 11 sec/mile, 6.8 sec/Km 4mm (measured 9mm) 20/24mm (measured 16/27mm) 2   Road Too much drop
Asics GT 2000     10.9oz 13.7 sec/mile, 8.5 sec/Km 9mm 20/29mm     Road A shoe that almost defines 'traditional', including for comparison
  • Cushioning. Shoes vary in the mount of cushioning they provide. There is reasonable scientific evidence that higher levels of cushioning increase stresses on joints and have higher rates of injury. However, cushioning is also one way shoes provide protection from stones (the other is inflexibility). Cushioning can also reduce foot soreness on longer ultramarathons.
  • Weight. The weight of a shoe makes a big difference in the energy cost of running. Even small changes in weight can make a big difference in how fast we run. The weight in parenthesis is my measurement, which is size 9.5-11.0 depending on the shoe. This helps compensate for shoes that claim to be lighter by making their shoes small for any given size.
  • Performance Penalty. Most studies show that for each 3.5oz/100g of shoe weight performance drops by 1%. However, there is also good evidence that cushioning can improve performance, so some allowance is made for the padding. The figures here are based on 4 hour marathon pace, which is 9:09 min/mile or 5:41 min/Km pace.
  • Drop & Sole thickness. The drop is difference in sole thickness between the forefoot and heel. Larger drops can interfere with natural running form, and may increase the probability of heel strike. Numbers in parenthesis are without the insole.
  • Minimax. Minimax shoes have thicker, softer soles, and far less of a high heel (drop) than traditional running shoes.
    • Hoka Clifton. This shoe is a lighter weight version of the Hoka Bondi. It's a little thinner, but otherwise it feels just the same. (I even ran with one on each foot, and other than the thickness, they feel the same.) The light weight makes these shoes an Optimal shoe as well as a Minimax shoe, which is a tough combination to beat. Hoka Clifton Review.
    • Altra Olympus. The Olympus has become my primary running shoe for longer ultras. I tend to view this issue as an evolution and improvement of the [Hoka One One]]. Like the Hoka it has a thick softly cushioned midsole, but unlike the Hoka it has a much better to books and overall design. Altra Olympus Review.
    • Altra Paradigm. The Olympus and Paradigm are similar shoes, and you could think of the Paradigm as the road version of the Olympus. However, the Olympus works fine on the road, and while the Olympus is a little thicker and heavier, I generally prefer it. Altra Paradigm Review.
    • Hoka Bondi. Until the Clifton came out, the various Bondi shoes (Bondi B, Bondi 2, Bondi 3 and Bondi Speed) were my favorites. Like all Hokas, the Bondi has a horribly small toe box, it's easily modified. Hoka Bondi Review.
    • Hoka Mafate. The Mafate is a huge shoe, and the heaviest and thickest of the Hokas. Hoka Mafate Review.
    • Hoka Stinson. The Stinson is a little heavier and thicker than the Bondi variants, and is available in road and trail versions. Hoka Stinson Review.
    • Skechers GOrun Ultra. A Minimax shoe for $80? Not quite. There's a lot to like about the shoe, but there are some significant issues you should be aware of before trying these out. Skechers GOrun Ultra Review.
    • Adidas Energy Boost. The Boost uses a new type of foam, so while the design is quite traditional, the increased cushioning produces a far better shoe than you'd expect. It's not really minimal drop, but I can forgive it that due to the novel cushioning. Adidas Energy Boost Review.
  • Optimal. These are the shoes for the best Running Economy.
    • Altra One2. This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite running shoes, combining soft cushioning with a lightweight. Altra One2Review.
    • Mizuno Cursoris. The Cursoris is a lovely light weight shoe that almost feels like it's not there. While it's not expensive to buy, it doesn't last particularly longer, so the cost per mile is quite high. They've been discontinued, but are still available. Mizuno Cursoris Review.
    • Saucony Virrata. While visually quite different from the Torin, the feel of the shoe is remarkably similar. Saucony Virrata Review.
    • Skechers Go Bionic. The Go Bionic is a highly flexible, zero drop shoe that offers great value for money. It's not quite as comfortable as some of the others here, but it's a worthy contender. [[[Skechers Go Bionic| Skechers Go Bionic Review]].
    • Adidas Adizero Takumi Sen 2. This Japanese racing shoe is light weight and relatively stiff, with an extremely grippy outsole for traction on asphalt. Adidas Adizero Takumi Sen 2 Review.
    • Nike Free. One of the earliest minimalist shoes, the Nike Free has grown to a wide range of shoes that offer great flexibility and lightweight. Nike Free Review.
    • Modified Nike Free. With modification, the Nike Free 3.0 can provide a minimalist shoe with just enough cushioning to provide good protection. I prefer the Modified Nike Free to Vibram FiveFingers, as the small amount of extra padding protects my feet much better, while the flexibility gives a surprisingly similar experience. The longevity of the Modified Nike Free is good, lasting for 2,000+ miles. How to create the Modified Nike Free
    • Saucony Kinvara. The Saucony Kinvara is an evolution of the traditional running shoe towards a minimalist design. It looks like a traditional running shoe, but lowers the heel and reduces the weight. It's failing is that it's not quite as light as the competition. Saucony Kinvara Review.
    • Brooks PureCadence. Like the Kinvara, the Brooks Pure range of shoes moves towards a minimalist design. The PureCadence retains a good level of cushioning, but like the Kinvara, it needs to be lighter. Brooks PureCadence Review.
    • Altra Torin. This is a good example of the firmer shoes that Altra produces. It's a nice balancing act between weight and protection, but the cushioning is not soft. Altra Torin Review.
    • Saucony Hattori. The Hattori is a lightweight (4.4oz), zero drop shoe, but the sole is less flexible than the Nike Free and the sock style upper limits the fit. Zappos has the Hattori LC which has laces instead of a sock upper.
  • Minimalist. These are not zero drop, but they have less drop than a traditional shoe, are lightweight and flexible.
    • Mizuno Wave Universe. The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is a significant change from previous versions. It's radically lighter and thinner, dropping its weight from 3.8 down to 2.6oz. Mizuno Wave Universe Review.
    • New Balance Minimus. The Minimus is a range of minimal shoes from New Balance that has created a lot of interest in the minimalist running community as the trail shoe was designed with the help of ultrarunner Anton Krupicka. There is a Trail Minimus and a Road Minimus which share similar names, but are rather different shoes. The Trail Minimus worked well for me on mild trails, but I prefer the Modified Nike Free to the road version.
    • Merrell Gloves. Merrell sells a trail glove and a road glove. The trail glove has a thin forefoot plate and both are zero drop.
    • Vibram FiveFingers. Vibram FiveFingers are popular Minimalist Running shoes. They are a thin sole combined with just enough material to hold them to your foot and a separate pocket for each toe, hence the name FiveFingers. They were originally created for boating, not running, but they have become hugely popular. The FiveFinger soles generally last a long time, but the uppers can be prone to tearing. Getting FiveFingers that fit can be tricky depending on the shape of your foot, so they don't work for everyone. The Bilika LS are slightly wider and have laces, which improves the fit for some people.
    • Vivobarefoot. Terra Plana make a range of thin soled shoes under the 'Vivo Barefoot' name, such as their Vivobarefoot One M , with a flexible but tough sole. I'd also strongly recommend the Vivobarefoot Ra, which is close to a dress shoe, but remarkably comfortable. I got mine for a wedding and new wear them regularly.
  • Not recommended. These are the shoes that looked promising, but failed.
    • Asics GT 2000. The Asics GT 2000 has been around for many years in one form or another, a reflection of its popularity. The GT 2000 series could be considered one of the best "average" running shoes, and it is often used as the starting point when a new runner is looking for their first shoes. The original GT 2000 was introduced back in 1995 and has been updated many times. (They did add 10 to the number every year until the 2170, then reverted to 2000 and added a version number.) So I've included the GT 2000 here partly as a good starting point for those looking for a traditional running shoe and partly as the shoe that is probably closest to the average running shoe.
    • Brooks Transcend. The Brooks Transcend is included in this section, not because it is one of the best running shoes, but because it is sometimes considered a "maximum cushioning" shoe, and Brooks claim it is "the Ultimate Plush Ride". However, when compared with a traditional running shoes, the transcend is only 1-2 mm thicker, and the foam is too firm to be considered a Minimax shoe.
    • New Balance Fresh Foam 980. The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 has less of a drop than a traditional running shoe, but it does not have the same soft cushioning of a Minimax shoe. This is not a bad shoe for someone looking for slightly less of a drop than a traditional shoe while avoiding the thin sole of a minimalist shoe.
    • Hoka Conquest. While this is as big and heavy as a Hoka Bondi, the overly firm foam rulings the shoe. Hoka Conquest Review.
    • Hoka Huaka. This is not quite as heavy as the Conquest, it's still too firm to provide the cushioning a Minimax shoe deserves. Hoka Huaka Review.
    • Hoka Rapa Nui. The Rapa Nui 2 is lighter, thinner and a little cheaper than the other Hokas, but I found it even firmer than the Conquest. In fact, the Adidas Energy Boost feels far more cushioned to me, though it does not offer the same level of protection from stones or uneven surfaces.
    • Newton Brand. Newton shoes focus on forefoot running by adding extra height to the forefoot of the shoe. The result of this high forefoot is an unstable shoe. I believe the Newton takes a bad idea (the traditional running shoe) and makes it worse. You can get a better alternative to the Newton just by hacking the sole heel off an old pair of running shoes. (The Newton is mentioned in The 4 Hour Body as a shoe that is correlated with injuries.)

5 Shoe Modifications

Main article: Shoe Modifications

Clockwise from the top: Nike Free 3.0 (early version) cut open more than most to form a 'running sandal', Saucony Hattori, NB Trail Minimus, Nike Free 3.0 and the non-minimalist Hoka.

With the exception of the FiveFingers, and the Mizuno Curoris, I find that all shoes benefit from cutting open the toe box. This allows the toes to spread out as you toe off, creating more natural biomechanics and preventing toe blisters.

6 Shoe Dissection

A comparison between the Altra Olympus and Hokas.

I've cut many of my shoes in half to reveal their construction, as you can see above. You can see a gallery at Shoe Dissection, as well as in the detailed shoe reviews.

7 Foot Shape

Very few shoes have a shape that mirrors the human foot. It often seems like shoe companies have never seen a human foot before given the strange shape they make their shoes. This is especially true of Hoka, which have a particularly small toe box. The main company with shoes for the human foot is Altra, and once you've tried their shoes the traditional shoe shape seems even more bizarre. (The Mizuno Cursoris is a notable exception that also has a nice toe box shape.)

A light hearted look at how other shoe makers seem to be designing for a strange shaped foot.

8 The Outsole

To achieve a light weight with maximum cushioning, many shoes don't use a hard rubber outsole over the softer midsole. This can result in uneven wear patterns when the midsole erode away from around the patches of outsole. In the image below, the red arrows mark the soft midsole and the blue arrows mark the hard outsole, with the green arrow indicating an intermediate toughness material.

From left to right is the Torin, the Cursoris, the Virrata and the Bondi B.