Best Running Shoes
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. Based on The Science of Running Shoes, I believe that What to Look for in Running Shoes is a shoe that does not interfere with the way you run, though I include some shoes that can be useful in transitioning from a more traditional shoe.
1 Where to Buy
I generally recommend buying shoes from RoadRunnerSports.com 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 Zappos.com 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 The Best Running Shoe
What constitutes the best running shoe will depend a little on what you're looking for. Right now, there are five shoes that I would consider to be 'the best' in their categories.
- Best Transition Shoe: Saucony Kinvara. If you're moving away from a heavy, over-engineered shoe like the Asics GT 2000, then the Kinvara is a great halfway house on way to one of the shoes below. It's useful to make changes gradually in order to let your body and biomechanics adapt. It will also help you get a feel for what direction you'd like to go – minimalist, optimal, or Minimax. You may find that like me, you end up with several shoes in different categories for different lengths or types of run.
- Best Minimax Shoe: Hoka Clifton. This is by far the best Minimax (minimum drop/maximum cushioning) shoe available. It's remarkably light and remarkably cushioned. So far, nothing else comes close.
- Best Optimal Shoe: Asics Gel Hyper Speed. The Hyper Speed is a wonderfully light shoe that's far better cushioned than you might expect. It's billed as a 'racing flat', but I consider it a wonderful general purpose running shoe, proving just what you need and little more. The Nike Zoom Streak LT and Puma Faas 100 R are remarkably close to the Hyper Speed.
- Best Optimal Shoe: New Balance RC5000. So I had to include the RC5000 as well as the Hyper Speed, as they are both 'the best'. The RC5000 weights less than half the Hyper Speed and provides barely enough cushioning to be efficient. This may not be enough shoe for you, but if you can handle it, the RC5000 is a wonderfully fast shoe. I'm happy to run marathon distances in this shoe, but I wouldn't go further, and you may want a little more cushioning even at that distance (unless you're into a minimalist shoe, in which case it probably has too much cushioning.)
- Best Minimalist Shoe: Merrell Trail Glove. I recommend the trail glove for road running in spite of the 'trail' moniker. It's not a fast shoe by any means, but it's comfortable and will last well.
- Honorable Mention: It's not really a running shoe, but the Vivobarefoot Ra is comfortable, minimalist and can more or less pass as a dress shoe. I've worn mine to weddings with a suit and they've not looked out of place. You can run in the Ra, but the leather means it doesn't breathe well.
I don't generally review trail running shoes, but check out the Hoka Mafate if you're after a shoe with remarkable abilities on a wide range of surfaces.
3 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. These shoes are often called "racing shoes", or "racing flats", but I don't believe this term is appropriate any more. Many years go, a "racing flat" had little cushioning, but with the advances in materials science, these shoes are now surprisingly comfortable.
- Minimalist. These shoes vary between the almost barefoot and those with a little more protection. I consider a shoe to be minimalist if it has insufficient cushioning to improve Running Economy.
- Balanced. These are shoes that are part way between minimalist and Minimax, but are too heavy to be considered Optimal.
- 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.
4 Unfamiliar 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.
5 Comparison Table
|Full Review||Rating|| Recommended
|Saucony Type A6 Review||5.5||$100||5.3||6.1||9.5||17||21||4||5.0||8||3|
|Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review||1.7||$140||3.0||8.6||13.4||17||27||11||4.0||7||4|
|Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review||6.0||$95||4.1||7.0||10.9||15||18||2||4.5||9||2|
|Hoka Bondi Review||5.8||$150||5.2||10.9||17.0||41||45||5||8.8||0||3|
|Hoka Clifton Review||9.4||$130||6.1||8.2||12.8||28||32||4||7.8||5||3|
|Hoka Clifton 2 Review||8.4||$130||5.8||9.1||14.2||31||36||1||8.2||5||3|
|On Cloudracer Review||2.5||$130||3.7||8.2||12.8||19||27||5||4.7||8||3|
|Hoka Conquest Review||3.1||$170||3.2||11.9||18.5||28||34||5||6.0||3||3|
|Saucony Cortana 4 Review||1.4||$150||2.3||9.9||18.7||22||28||5||4.3||5||3|
|Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review||5.3||$110||5.3||7.0||10.9||21||26||6||5.8||6||3|
|Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review||2.6||$115||2.2||5.7||14.6||13||18||6||3.2||8||3|
|Adidas Energy Boost Review||4.4||$160||4.6||10.0||15.6||20||30||7||7.2||6||4|
|Puma Faas 100 R Review||7.2||$90||5.4||6.1||9.4||15||20||1||5.1||9||2|
|Nike Free 4.0 Review||3.3||$120||3.2||8.2||13.6||24||30||6||4.4||6||3|
|Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review||3.8||$90||5.1||7.3||11.4||17||24||4||5.8||9||3|
|Skechers GOmeb Speed Review||2.9||$120||2.5||7.3||15.4||16||22||2||3.8||8||2|
|Skechers GORun 4 Review||4.5||$100||3.9||7.5||11.7||15||23||3||4.5||7||2|
|Asics GT 2000 Review||3.7||$120||3.1||11.2||17.4||28||35||5||5.4||4||3|
|Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 Review||8.4||$85||6.5||5.9||9.2||19||25||5||6.0||8||3|
|Altra Instinct 2 Review||8.0||$130||3.8||10.6||16.5||23||23||0||6.3||6||3|
|Altra Instinct 3 Review||7.9||$110||3.5||9.0||14.0||22||23||-1||4.8||6||3|
|Saucony Kinvara 6 Review||5.9||$100||4.9||8.6||13.4||24||26||3||6.5||7||2|
|Nike LunarSpider R5 Review||5.1||$125||4.4||6.7||10.4||17||21||3||4.6||7||3|
|Hoka Mafate Speed Review||6.1||$170||4.9||11.9||18.5||39||40||4||9.0||3||2|
|Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 Review||4.5||$100||4.5||6.9||10.7||15||20||6||4.8||8||3|
|New Balance 980 Review||3.1||$110||2.9||10.1||15.7||21||30||5||4.6||5||3|
|Hoka Odyssey Review||6.8||$130||5.5||9.4||14.6||37||45||5||8.0||4||3|
|Altra Olympus Review||5.5||$130||3.5||11.8||18.4||27||27||3||6.4||4||3|
|Altra One 2.5 Review||7.0||$100||5.4||7.1||11.1||22||25||2||6.0||8||1|
|Altra Paradigm Review||7.2||$130||4.1||9.9||15.4||25||25||1||6.4||4||3|
|Brooks PureCadence 3 Review||5.5||$120||4.5||9.4||14.6||24||29||1||6.5||7||2|
|Brooks PureConnect 3 Review||4.6||$100||3.7||9.0||13.9||20||23||0||5.2||7||2|
|Brooks PureFlow 3 Review||2.7||$100||3.5||9.5||14.8||22||27||3||5.2||7||2|
|New Balance RC1600 v2 Review||6.6||$110||5.6||5.6||8.7||15||21||5||4.9||8||3|
|New Balance RC5000 Review||10.0||$125||7.8||3.4||5.3||13||17||3||4.2||8||3|
|Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review||3.0||$85||3.8||8.5||13.2||18||28||6||5.0||9||1|
|Hoka Stinson Lite Review||6.6||$160||4.7||11.6||18.1||35||40||6||8.5||2||3|
|Nike Zoom Streak LT 2 Review||7.6||$75||6.0||5.5||8.6||15||19||4||5.2||9||3|
|Adidas Takumi Sen 2 Review||2.2||$150||2.0||6.9||16.5||17||22||6||3.2||7||3|
|Altra Torin Review||6.7||$120||4.0||9.0||14.0||20||20||3||5.5||5||3|
|Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review||4.6||$100||0.8||6.9||24.7||11||11||0||2.0||9||5|
|Brooks Transcend 2 Review||3.3||$170||3.3||12.6||19.6||30||36||6||6.5||4||3|
|Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review||3.8||$90||4.8||10.0||15.6||28||34||8||7.5||5||1|
|Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review||5.2||$125||3.1||3.1||10.6||9||12||1||3.3||9||1|
|Saucony Virrata 2 Review||6.2||$90||4.5||7.3||11.4||20||20||1||5.1||8||2|
6 How Long Will They Last?
There are a lot of variables in how long a running shoe will last, involving both the runner and the shoe. The 'longevity' field in my table can be used as a very rough guide, but don't read too much into the value. You'll need to understand your running style to understand how long a shoe is likely to last for you.
- A runner that lands harder will wear out their shoes more quickly.
- If the landing forces are concentrated, this will dramatically increase shoe wear. So a runner than lands with a midfoot strike will tend to spread the landing forces, where a runner that lands on the edge of the heel will focus the forces in a small area.
- Good Running Form ensures that the shoe doesn't scrape as it lands. Without this 'paw back', the scraping will wear away the rubber or foam quickly. If the scraping is combined with a concentrated landing area, the effect is a rapid removal of material under the initial contact patch.
- For most shoes, the limiting factor in shoe life is the foam midsole rather than the harder rubber outsole. The means the foam becomes compressed and offers less cushioning. The reduced cushioning is generally not the problem, but rather it's the uneven reduction across the shoe that starts to cause biomechanical problems. A common situation is that the foam under the ball of the foot wears and so the foot is tilted inward.
- Thinner shoes tend to last longer than thicker shoes, which is perhaps counterintuitive. This is because a shoe with a 40mm midsole that loses 20% of its thickness due to wear would be 8mm thinner, where a shoe with only 10mm would only lose 2mm.
- The life of the hard rubber outsole is rarely an issue, and by the time the outsole is worn through the foam is dead. However there are shoes that use relatively soft outsole that can wear more quickly.
- Shoes that don't have a hard rubber outsole can suffer from abrasion wearing away the foam. With these shoes the scraping due to lack of paw back has a much bigger impact on shoe life as the foam is much less resistant to being scraped.
- Temperature can play a factor in shoe life. Hot temperatures can soften shoes and cause them to wear quickly. At Badwater I've had shoes wear away more in 30 miles than I would normally see in 300. On the other hand, foam gives far less cushioning in cold weather, so a shoe that might be okay in the summer might feel worn out in winter.
- The running surface changes the rate of abrasion if that's the limiting factor. Rough concrete or asphalt will erode the shoe more quickly than a smooth surface or dirt.
- How much wear is too much also depends on the individual runner. Some runners may tolerate very little wear, but I know runners that can continue to run injury free in shoes that most people would consider destroyed.
7 How Far Can I Run In That Shoe?
Many shoe reviews talk about "this shoe is good up to half marathon", or some other distance. Such advice is based on the idea that many people find that as the distance increases, they want a little more cushioning to protect their feet from the pounding and to offset a little of the fatigue that sets in over time. However, because different runners want radically different levels of cushioning, generalized advice is unhelpful at best. Some runners may want a Minimax shoe when they run a 5K, while others will run a 100 mile race barefoot. There is no maximum distance that can be run in any given shoe; it depends on what you want. I compare cushioning levels provided by the shoes I review, but remember a thicker, firmer shoe would have the same cushioning rating as a thinner, softer shoe, but would feel rather different.
8 Shoe Gallery
Images of the shoes reviewed on this site can be found in the Shoe Gallery.
9 Shoe Modifications
Main article: Shoe Modifications
With a few exceptions such as the Mizuno Curoris, I find that most 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.
10 Shoe Dissection
Main article: Shoe Dissection
Ever wonder what the inside of your shoe looks like? Take a look inside; 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.