Last updated: January 2018.
Every year we purchase (with our own money, no freebies) about one hundred pairs of running shoes and run at least 50 miles in each. Whenever we find a truly great shoe with come back here and update the list of the best running shoes.
Don’t trust people who talk about shoes without even trying them, or get them for free from the brands!
If this is your first time buying running shoes, take a look at two resources we created specifically for you:
Best Neutral (Cushioning) Running Shoes
The neutral category is the bread and butter of the running shoe world. If you have never bought a running shoe before, trying one of these three is a good bet.
The Ghost 10 is a very solid, no-nonsense neutral running shoe that delivers on all aspects. A new seamless upper improves on an already great fit. The cushioning is soft and the traction great even on wet surfaces. It's a traditional neutral shoe with a 12mm drop and approximately 10oz. of weight, but it feels lighter. They perform well for every day running and high mileage but are at ease even on the track for fast workouts.
The Pegasus is one of the longest-standing running shoes on the market and it keeps improving year over year. With a fairly universal fit it can be worn by runners of all shapes and sizes, this year with improved room in the toebox vs the already excellent version of last year. $120 is a more than fair price for all the technologies it packs. It is a great shoe for the beginner or for the experienced runner who wants reliability over their long mile runs, even though it wouldn't be out of place during a marathon. It's durable, reliable... hard to go wrong.
Newest introduction to the Asics family, the DynaFlyte is a premium well cushioned neutral shoe. It is the first Asics shoe to utilize the FlyteFoam derived from the ultra-expensive MetaRun and makes for a fantastic shoe, although on the expensive side compared to the competition. Similarly to the Saucony Ride, the DynaFlyte is a shoe that can double everyday long mileage training and long distance races.
Best Support (Stability) Running Shoes
Although the effectiveness of Stability shoes has been put to test in the past few years, there is a large part of the running population that does indeed need added support. I am one of them!
The Adrenaline GTS (go-to-shoe) is a staple support shoe from Brooks. This shoe offers a very supported run while still allowing you to go fast when needed. Our tester says that it is a step above the rest in the stability game. Its biggest advantage is to provide a great amount of support while not feeling cumbersome and heavy.
Another usual suspect is the Asics GT-2000. This year's version updates the upper to a fresh, modern look and feel with an especially improved lacing system. The GT series is a traditional support shoe that will make you feel safe while not being overly guiding. It's a solid shoe that you can trust to last for hundreds of miles.
The 1260 is a classic New Balance stability shoe, but with a lower drop than usual. Pairing great, soft cushioning with good stability and the 8mm drop, it is a shoe that is meant for daily training and long runs without sacrificing protection. The stability is outstanding.
Best Maximal Running Shoes
After the minimalist boom that started in 2009 and collapsed a couple of years ago, new brands (I am thinking of Hoka ONE ONE) came with a new proposition.
What if instead of shoes with extremely low stack heights we went the opposite direction and created extremely high, super-soft shoes?
The Bondi 5 is a solid maximum cushioning shoe, Hoka's most cushioned one. It has a comfortable upper and a smooth cushy ride. Whether you’re used to max cushioned shoes or are thinking about making a switch you will be happy with the Bondi 5. The rockered design gives the shoe a tapered shape at the heel and toe creating a very smooth heel to toe transition no matter what type of foot strike you have.
The combination of a soft midsole and a very comfortable upper with the ability to lock down the fit are what make this shoe really great. This shoe is a really good workhorse for high mileage daily training. It is a little on the heavy side but doesn’t feel all that heavy while running. It provides great responsiveness and ground feel compared to a lot of shoes in its category. It could easily be used as a multipurpose shoe for training and racing for those preferring cushion over lightweight.
The Brooks Glycerin 15 is an update to an already great shoe model. For those not familiar with the Glycerin line, it is their most cushioned shoe and its built to withstand high milage while providing comfortable and soft ride. The previous version of this shoe was outstanding. I was glad to see that the new version included minor updates and maintains mostly the same platform as last year.
Best Lightweight Neutral Running Shoes
Although minimalist running shoes have gone as fast as they arrived – they changed running shoe design forever. Runners now expect light weight from every kind of shoe, they appreciate lower drops and value the need for more than one pair of running shoes in their rotation.
Here are a few shoes that weight little and feel fast.
The Nike Zoom Fly is the little sister to the amazing - and unavailable - Vaporfly 4%. At $150 MSRP, 10mm drop and 8.4 ounces of weight, it's possibly the best fast trainer or long distance racer that you can buy in this price range. So good that Frank, Boston competitor that tested them, declared them 'the best marathon racer shoes he's ever tried'.
This is the first major update to the Clifton models midsole material and it is a great one. All of my worries about the potential for disaster in increasing the density of the material for longevity quickly subsided on my very first run in the shoe. In fact on my very first run in the shoe I found myself quickly saying “Woah!” to myself about the rebound coming from a midsole this soft. This new model provides everything the old one did with an actual improvement in the ride. The design creates a shoe that no matter where your foot strikes, Gravity propels your foot forward. This shoe provides so much versatility because it’s got more than enough cushioning for any distance but it’s also lightweight enough to race in.
The Kinvara 8 is substantially similar to the 7 and retains the significant changes in outsole, upper, and midsole that debuted in last year’s shoe. However, updates to version 8 include two key improvements that take the shoe to the next level: a wider toe-box and softer ride. This version undoubtedly lives up to the cult-status of the Kinvara. In a departure from the firm midfoot of the Kinvara 7, the light and luxurious ride of earlier models returns in this update due to the extension of the EverRun topsole through the full length of the shoe. The Kinvara 8 is true to form and continues to provide lightweight, high-performing comfort for neutral runners of all types.
Best Lightweight Support Shoes
Support running shoes have historically been the heaviest of the bunch. But we see every year new models added to the “lightweight stability” category.
The Adidas Adizero Tempo 9 is the shoe you’ll run your next PB in. It is light, responsive and fast giving you just the right amount of support along the way. This is the 9th edition of the Adizero Tempo. It is true to its name; ideal for hard workouts and races. It offers just the right amount of support for those needing to counteract against over pronation.
Completely new for this year comes the Saucony Liberty ISO. Born as a stability counterpart to the widely successful Saucony Freedom ISO, it's a fast-feeling (and performing) shoe with a great degree of stability. The upper is particularly well executed with what we reckon being the best implementation of the ISO construction yet.
This for runners looking for maximal cushioning but still needing some stability. HOKA ONE ONE has expanded its well-cushioned line by introducing its first stability shoe, the Arahi, which offers a fabulous combination of support and stability fused with lightweight cushion, with an upper fit that is very similar to what I've experienced previously from HOKA. We ranked this shoe very highly because it lives up to the company’s claim to offer a lightweight, highly-cushioned shoe with just a touch more stability and support.
Best Trail Running Shoes
Trail Running is quite a generic term that includes running over a variety of terrains, inclines and mileage. We believe the shoes listed below offer a good choice for all your trail running needs.
If you are looking for an introduction to trail running, the Speed Instinct is what we call a road/trail hybrid. Comfortable enough to run on pavement, but rugged enough to take you through some non-technical trails. Combine this with very light weight, low stack height and a stable base and you have found your very first trail running shoe.
The Lone Peak 3.0 improves over already incredibly successful 2.0 and 2.5 - Liked for the zero drop, toebox design that allows for maximum toe spread and a particularly grippy outsole, it is a shoe we recommend to all kind of trail runners, but particularly for ultra runners for 50 milers and up.
The New Balance Vazee Summit Trail v2 is a soft, sleek and fast trail shoe that allows the runner to confidently run as quickly as the terrain will allow. The Vazees’ combination of speed and protection will allow runners to handle virtually any kind of terrain. I firmly believe that they may provide the best combination of speed and traction for such races among all my trail shoes.
Best Cheap Running Shoes
Although our recommendation is to buy a previous version of a current running shoe (you can easily find last year’s version of a shoe for up to 40% discount, scoring you a $100 shoe for $60), some of the running shoes in the $60-$80 range are actually quite good.
Here are our favorites, and watch this video to let Frank explain to you why you shouldn’t buy EXTREMELY cheap running shoes.
Saucony Cohesion 10
The Cohesion continues its tradition of being an amazing value for its money. It's a very versatile choice for daily use and our main recommendation if you are looking for a good running shoe on a budget. It also comes in a wide version.
New Balance 560v6
A very traditional but solid entry-level running shoe from New Balance. Ideal for runners training for their first 5k.
Asics Gel-Contend 4
The Asics Gel Contend is a budget shoe that offers a cushioned ride in an inexpensive package. This focus on cushioning makes the shoe slightly heavier than similar models, but does not take away from the overall great performance of the shoe.
What are the best running shoes?
Possibly the most asked questions by our readers and any person who knows I run this site, “what are the best running shoes” is not an easy question to answer!
Running shoes are a very personal matter. So personal in fact that a recent medical research established that comfort and fit are the most important matter while selecting a running shoe in terms of minimizing the risk of injury.
For this reason, it is impossible to make a list that will be valid for everyone.
We are a team of testers with different running experience, body shapes and sizes, individual bio-mechanics. This always updated list is divided into different sections so that every runner can find the best running shoes for them.
Here are a few pointers and definitions to help you choose correctly.
Neutral (or cushioning) running shoes vs stability (or support)
This is based on the concept (lately less popular) that the height and elasticity of your foot arch determines what your shoe should do for you.
- Runners with high arches don’t amortise the shock of impact with the ground enough, therefore needing shoes with extra cushioning
- Runners with low or flat arches have their arch collapse under the impact resulting in mis-alignment of the running gait, therefore needing shoes that correct this issue
Although there is much more to choosing a pair of running shoes than this, most runners will be find in Netrual (cushioning) running shoes. Some runners though (like me) absolutely do need stability in their shoes in order not to get injured.
Low drop or zero drop running shoes
A running shoe drop, or heel-to-toe offset, is the difference, measured in millimiters (mm) between the height of the shoe sole in the heel area vs the height of the sole in the toe area.
For reference, traditional running shoes usually have an offset (drop) of 12mm. Low drop are considered shoes with a drop between zero (called zero drop) and 4mm. Everything in between is also possible.
The logic is: shoes with a higher heel will favor heel strike during running, while shoes with a zero or low drop will favor a more forefoot or midfoot running gait. It is largely a matter of preference, but running on your toes requires a completely different set of muscle activation and switching from one kind of shoe to the other without proper conditioning and a very gradual approach might result in injury.
Minimal vs maximal running shoes
In a nutshell minimal vs maximal refers to the amount of cushioning that the shoe gives to the runners.
Starting in 2009, more and more runners have been promoting a barefoot running idea: shoes are bad for you, you should run barefoot or, if that is not possible, with “as little shoe as possible”. Milions of runners made the switch to minimalism and quite a few got injured. As a result, companies came out with running shoes that are lightweight (one of the principles of minimalism) but with very high, soft soles that really cushion the foot.
There is not a right or wrong type of shoe here – it entirely depends on the runner, their style and preferences.
Premium running shoes vs cheap running shoes
A high price tag is not a guarantee that a shoe is better than another. This said, we always recommend to shop for running shoes that have a recommended retail price of $100 or more.
This does not mean you need to pay more than $100! New versions of running shoes are released every year and – most often than not – changes versus the previous version are small and incremental in nature. This means that instead of buying this year version of a shoe, you can very often buy last year’s model for a fraction of the price, often as low as 50% less.
Trail running shoes vs road running shoes
While the distinction might seem obvious, it’s good to mention some points that differentiate a trail running shoe from a road one.
- Trail-specific outsoles: the bottom of a trail running shoe usually has a layer of very grippy rubber to avoid slipping over ice, rocks or wet pavement. The shoe will often present aggressively designed lugs to maintain traction in grass, mud or gravel.
- Rock plates: some trail shoes ahve rigid inserts that protect the foot from sharp rocks or stone bruises. This makes the shoe stiffer, but this protection is mandatory on certain kind of terrain
- Protective toe bumper: similar to the rock plate, most trail shoes have hardened toe areas to protect your toes from the damage caused by, for example, kicking a rock
- Weather resistant uppers: very often trail running shoes have water resistant upper, higher collars or special lacing systems that help keeping water, mud or small rocks outside of the shoe.
Daily training running shoes vs racing/speedwork running shoes
The last distinction we want to highlight is the difference between high mileage, every day shoes vs shoes for speedwork and racing.
It has become a common practice for runners all over the world to have at least two separate pair of shoes:
- A pair of traditional, highly cushioned and comfortable running shoes in which they log the majority of their training mileage. These shoes are usually heavier and with a high drop.
- A pair of lightweight, low drop shoes to be used when they train at slower distances and higher paces. Or on race day.