Best affordable running shoes

by Solereview editors

Best Affordable Running Shoes 2021

This article has been updated with current models for July 2021. The Asics Excite 7, Nike Downshifter 10, Nike Flex Experience Run 9, Nike Winflo 7, Saucony Cohesion 13, and the Saucony Cohesion TR13 have been replaced with their updated versions. The adidas Galaxy 5, adidas Terrex Agravic TR Trail, Asics Hyper Speed, New Balance 680V7, Nike Renew Run 2, Reebok Energen Run are new additions. The Asics Contend 6, New Balance Arishi V3, and Nike Juniper Trail have been removed. The introduction is a complete rewrite.

There’s never been a better time to buy a running shoe.

Most brands are firing on all cylinders, churning out new products at a never-seen-before pace. And this doesn’t apply to just the top-tier running shoes with their Carbon plates and fancy lightweight midsoles; even the sub-$100 segment is finally getting the attention it deserves.

For a very long time, entry-level models were a reluctant afterthought for running shoe brands. With the notable exception of products like the adidas Duramo, Saucony Cohesion, and Nike Downshifter, there weren’t many popular go-to products with prices in double digits.

In the past, entry-level prices also meant entry-level material and technology package. The midsole was always a standard EVA foam block, and the upper designs were basic. Back then, the situation was so dire that even a $100 shoe stank badly.

That has changed for the better.

In 2021, many brands offer a sizeable collection of budget products. adidas had a credible under-$100 assortment to begin with, and there’re now many new models to choose from. Recently, even Reebok has upped its budget running shoe game, so this guide features products like the Energen Run.

The future of affordable Asics running shoes also appears hopeful. The Gel Contend used to be the only Asics running shoe (under $100) worth mentioning. It’s still in the line-up, but let’s face it – the Contend 7 is very basic and visually disconnected from the new crop of Asics running shoes like the Metaracer, Novablast, and Metaspeed Sky.

The $55 Asics Jolt 3 also serves a similar purpose as the $65 Contend 7, so we haven’t featured it here either.

However, that’s about to change – and we’ll update this guide when that happens. After the GT-1000 10, it’s now the turn of the Pulse 13 to get a visible Gel pad.

Not only does the upcoming Asics Pulse 13 have a visible Gel unit, its midsole and upper profile adopts a contemporary visual scheme. The $10 less expensive Kumo Lyte 2 also gets a visi-Gel pad. The way things stand today, we may need to revisit this curated list later this year to include a couple of Asics products.

The technology trickle-down we’re witnessing in Asics is a strategy that Nike has honed to an art form.

Nike products like the Winflo 8 lean heavily on the older Pegasus models for inspiration; look no further than the Winflo 8’s dual Air bag setup or the Flex Experience 10 that is inspired by the Nike Free.

So while running shoe prices can be downright ridiculous, there are plenty of competent models with double-digit prices.

And yet, most of the running shoes we hear about are the expensive ones. Brands spend their hype dollars on premium products, so the value assortment rarely receives marketing attention.

It’s important to talk about lower-priced running footwear because not all countries sell shoes at the same (US) retail prices.

A shoe priced at $100 stateside could cost $130-160 in international locations depending on the import duties and taxes – and that’s before taking the potential difference in purchasing power parity into account.

In other words, the same money that gets US-based consumers a brand-new Asics Gel-Nimbus or the Saucony Triumph will only fetch a ‘budget’ running shoe in many countries.

The search for a sub-$100 shoe can get confusing, so we’ve curated a selection of 14 running shoes that retail for under $100. However, the final selling price will depend on the retailer and your location.

This buyer’s guide consists of daily trainers and non-technical trail shoes. The Asics Hyper Speed is an exception, as it’s not a daily trainer but a racer – and that makes it a rare sub-$100 beast.

1) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8

The Nike Winflo 8 is the price of entry into the Zoom Air platform. The Winflo 8 features two Zoom Air units inside an EVA foam midsole to deliver responsive cushioning.

The Winflo has received numerous upgrades over the years, and the Winflo 8 is no different. While it shares the same midsole and outsole, the new upper is an improvement over the 7.

The midfoot side panels now include Flywire-assisted lacing along with an inner sleeve, thus resulting in a more secure fit environment. The toe-box also has a fused bumper for a higher level of protection.

Though the Winflo’s $90 price makes it an expensive shoe on this list, it offers excellent value through its do-everything character.

The EVA foam stack complements the Zoom Air cushioning and makes the Winflo ideal for daily runs and slightly faster training. The fully-clad rubber outsole provides dependable traction and protection.

2) Reebok Energen Run

Like many other brands, Reebok is gradually elevating its game in the sub-$100 segment.

Of noteworthy interest are two products – the $90 Floatride Energy Daily and the $75 Energen Run. We’ve featured the latter, because a shoe like the Floatride Energy Daily will inevitably bring up the following question – isn’t it a better idea to get the Floatride Energy 3 for just $10 more?

After all, the $100 Energy 3 has a full-length midsole made of expanded Polyurethane, as compared to the lowly heel-only plug of the Floatride Daily.

Thus, the $75 Energen Run is more deserving of a spot here. Its single-density EVA foam midsole delivers a cushioned and consistent ride for everyday use.

A full-length rubber outsole is inspired by the Floatride Energy 3, and delivers the necessary traction and protection. This isn’t a softly cushioned shoe, but then, the firm undertone bodes well for the quality of stability and transitions.

One of the less talked about things in recent times is Reebok’s switch to its classic Vector logo. The stripes not only make the upper look better, but also serves as supportive structures.

The Energen Run’s spacer mesh upper is reinforced with fused forefoot and midfoot overlays, thus eliminating the need for stitched panels. This construction makes the fit smooth, comfortable, and sufficiently ventilated. The foam-padded heel and tongue add interior comfort as well.

Since the sizing runs a bit long, we assume that Reebok uses the same last for the Energen as the Floatride Energy.

3) Asics Gel-Excite 8

From a ride perspective, there isn’t a lot of difference between the Gel-Contend 7 and the Gel-Excite 8. Both models feature a mostly-foam (Amplifoam) midsole with a rearfoot Gel pad insert. Both the shoes are equipped with an Ortholite insole.

Though there is a $10 price difference between the two, the Excite and Contend work equally well as neutral daily trainers.

Most of the difference lies in the Gel-Excite 8’s upper design. Using no-sew overlays over an engineered mesh shell results in a (more) contemporary styling while making the interiors smoother than the Contend.

At a suggested retail price of $75, the Asics Gel Excite 8 is excellent value. The Excite 8 is redesigned from the outsole up, so it shares no parts with the Excite 7.

4) adidas Duramo SL

It’s hard to go wrong with the Duramo SL. This $65 shoe is a sensible buy; it’s the kind of shoe that marries everyday functionality with a please-all styling.

A full-length EVA midsole (adidas ‘Lightmotion’) provides ride comfort as well as smooth transitions. The Duramo SL has a full rubber outsole that helps with the traction and ride stability.

Even the upper is well kitted. The padded heel and tongue lining add fit comfort while making the fit secure. The 8-row lacing is also proof that this is a functional running shoe; cinching the laces result in a confidence-inspiring fit.

The near-seamless upper fits smoothly on the inside, whereas the layering supports the upper externally.

5) Nike Downshifter 11

The Downshifter 11 is a Nike shoe that retails at $60. Yes, you heard that right. And depending on the day, it’s possible to get a good deal, thus effectively pricing it below $50.

It may come as a surprise to many that Nike retails shoe models under $100. The Downshifter is one of them and has been in Nike’s line for nearly a decade. It is one of Nike’s best value for money performance running shoes. The Nike Dart used to be the ultimate no-frills shoe but it was discontinued (in 2017?) after 12 long years.

There’re no fancy foam components or Zoom Air bags on the Downshifter; just a comfortable foam midsole that is paired with a near-seamless upper. The resulting product is a functional, everyday running shoe.

The rubber outsole and its waffle-shaped lugs makes the Downshifter durable and traction-friendly. Last year, the Downshifter 10 received a contemporary visual update that was inspired by the Vaporfly. The Downshifter 11 is based on the same sole unit but with a different upper – so not much has changed.

The no-sew upper has a sleek exterior that uses a thin mesh and fused overlays for support. The midfoot panels are vented to keep the interiors cool during runs. The fit runs a bit narrow, but the Downshifter sells in a wide as well.

Also see: The Quest 4, Revolution 5.

6) New Balance Fresh Foam 680 V7

One of the reasons why we featured the New Balance Arishi V3 on the previous edition of this guide was its Fresh Foam midsole. Its $70 retail price also made it an attractive value proposition.

However, things have changed with the introduction of the new 680 V7 and its Fresh Foam underpinnings.

For just a $10 price premium over the Arishi, the 680 V7 proves a better pick due to its dual-density Fresh Foam midsole and a more structured upper. Even the outsole has a dual compound geometry. In other words, the 680V7 offers superior versatility and mainstream appeal over the low-profile Arishi V3.

The 680 and Arishi are also fundamentally different. Whereas the 7.2-ounce Arishi is a shoe that’s better suited for speed runs, the 680 is a standard neutral trainer for everyday runs and training.

If the dual-density midsole and full outsole doesn’t give it away, the 680 V7’s 9.5-ounce weight should; it’s two ounces heavier than the Arishi.

There’s not much happening on the engineered mesh upper. It’s a basic engineered mesh shell with minimal layering and a smooth fit. There’s a choice of an extra-wide fit.

7) Saucony Cohesion 14

The Cohesion has been a regular fixture on our affordable shoe lists. The Cohesion 14 reserves a spot in this guide as well – it is an excellent budget shoe with very little to dislike. This isn’t just about the price; the Cohesion is a no-frills running shoe that covers most bases.

The Cohesion won’t win prizes at a beauty contest, but it has a solid and well-fitting (albeit snug) upper, a cushioned and supportive ride, and is durable. And what’s more, the 9-ounce weight makes it pretty lightweight too.

Its $60 retail price gives you more shoe per dollar and is proof that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a functional pair of running shoes.

And by the way, if you’re looking for a 2E (wide) sizing in the Cohesion, Saucony sells that too.

Also see: The Asics Gel-Contend 7.

8) Asics Hyper Speed

The Asics Hyper Speed is a legit speed shoe, so it’s unlike any other on this list.

We wear-tested the shoe and found its performance to be exactly as advertised – its firm and low-profile cushioning make it an excellent shoe for fast runs and races.

The midsole stack exceeds 20 mm in the front and rear, so this is not a traditional racer. It’s not a regular daily trainer either; it’s somewhere in the middle. Its cushioning makes 10K speed runs less punishing on the feet; at the same time, the firmness makes it suitable for higher paced runs (4:30 min/km, 7 min/mile, and faster).

Asics Hyper Speed outsole

The Hyper Speed may be inspired by the plate-fitted Metaracer, but all we have here is a single-density EVA foam midsole without an internal plate. So while there’s some help from the grippy outsole and firm ride, the foot has to do most of the transition work.

Above the midsole is an extremely breathable upper that offers a smooth interior and optimal fit security.

9) Brooks Pureflow 7

The Pureflow’s 4 mm heel-to-toe offset isn’t the only reason why it’s here.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the Pureflow is a remnant from the minimalist running shoe era, a time when low heel offset shoes were the norm. Today, only the Saucony Kinvara and Brooks Pureflow survive from that period.

However, though the Pureflow has the same 4 mm gradient as the Kinvara 12, it has a different fit and ride character.

The midsole is lower profile and more flexible because of the thinner stack and generously grooved outsole. The outsole rubber is applied selectively so there’s sufficient grip without additional weight; the 9-ounce weight is proof of that.

These attributes make the Pureflow a versatile trainer that balances cushioning comfort with a tempo-friendly demeanor.

The upper is plush, smooth, and possesses a snug fit – and that works well for speedy training runs. The Pure series has always had a narrow fit with a pointy toe-box, so buying a half size larger will address potential fit concerns.

10) Nike Flex Experience Run 10

The Flex Experience Run is heavily inspired by the Nike Free’s outsole and upper design. Most of the original Nike Free line no longer exists, so the Flex Experience is what you should buy if you want the flexible midsole experience.

The 2021 model is based on the same design as the V9 that swapped the hexagonal outsole grooves for a simpler (and more functional) side-to-side slits – like how the original Nike Free was designed. The V10’s upper undergoes a minor facelift without any change in functionality.

This geometry delivers a unique quality of cushioning and transitions, as it’s very flexible in the front and rear. The ride is also sufficiently cushioned, so these traits make the Flex Experience Run 10 an excellent trainer for everyday runs.

The soft and pliable upper is a perfect match for the flexible midsole. There are no superfluous layers that restrict the range of motion, and the interiors fit smoothly while locking the foot over the midsole.

11) Nike Renew Run 2

Think of the Nike Renew Run 2 as a budget version of the React Infinity V2. It has similar aesthetics as the Infinity, except that most of the midsole is made of EVA foam rather than React.

We say ‘most’, as there’s a softer foam core under the heel which Nike mentioned as Lunarlon foam in the previous Renew Run. We no longer see it on Nike’s website, so maybe it is Lunarlon. Or maybe it is not.

Nonetheless, the dual-density midsole serves the same purpose as the Infinity Run. It’s a cushioned neutral trainer that works for daily runs and the occasional high-mileage training. Other features like the soft insole add a layer of step-in comfort.

The sleeved upper fits snug and smoothly with a plush heel collar and tongue.

Also see: Nike Renew Ride 2.

12) adidas Galaxy 5

Though the adidas Galaxy 5 is the cheapest running shoe on this guide, it still offers a lot of value for its $50 retail price.

Even with a basic upper and midsole setup, the Galaxy 5 gets all the functional bits right. A single-density EVA midsole (Cloudfoam) adds supportive cushioning for easy miles or casual everyday wear. There’s plenty of rubber coverage on the outsole, so the traction quality is decent.

However, we don’t recommend that the Galaxy 5 be used for serious runs of a high-mileage or speedy nature. If that’s what you plan to do, we recommend getting a higher-priced adidas shoe that’s on sale instead.

The upper is basic as it gets. A thin mesh is supported with a combination of stitched and fused overlays – the snug upper gets the job done, that’s all.

Do keep in mind that the shoe is built to a price, so the Galaxy looks cheap when compared to the higher-priced models. But that’s fair considering the asking price.

13) adidas Terrex Agravic TR Trail

We don’t know how adidas does it. Over the years, it has built a reputation for offering solidly-built outdoor shoes that also happen to be priced sensibly. The Terrex Agravic TR Trail is one such example; it’s priced at $80.

The firm, EVA foam-based midsole provides plenty of stability and cushioning over the trail. The stack heights are a mere 17 mm (forefoot) and 24 mm (rearfoot), so the Agravic doesn’t feel bulky at all. While it’s no speed demon, it’s not going to slow you down either.

The traction is delivered by a full-length rubber outsole with aggressive lugs. Given its sub-$100 retail price, Continental rubber isn’t used here. Adidas calls this outsole ‘Traxion’ – which we assume is a hard-wearing rubber for trail running shoes, similar to what the adiwear is for road shoes.

The upper is built the old-school way, and it’s function over form. Thick, stitched-on layers crowd the closed mesh upper, and the thin laces thread through the cinch-friendly loops.

From a fit viewpoint, the Agravic TR Trail’s upper is secure and very protective. The wide toe-lip of the outsole partially protects the toe-box from the stray bumps, and the sleeved upper is good at keeping the debris out and the foot locked in.

By the way, spending just $20 over the standard Agravic TR gets you the Gore-Tex version. We did say that adidas’s outdoor shoe assortment offers excellent value.

14) Saucony Cohesion TR 14

Do you love the road-going version of the Cohesion but want it in a rugged form factor for trail use? The Cohesion TR14 is just that, and there’s no upcharge – both the road and trail Cohesions are priced the same.

The TR 14 has an identical upper and midsole design as the road Cohesion but with an outdoor-oriented outsole and a denser mesh.

Due to the road-biased design, the TR14 isn’t meant for technical trails but should be limited to unpaved flats and gentle slopes. We also view the Cohesion TR14 as a budget-friendly road-trail hybrid.

Otherwise, the Cohesion TR14 has a ride and fit character that’s nearly identical to the road model. The layered upper is protective and fits snug, whereas the EVA foam midsole has adequate cushioning for mild off-road use.

If the Cohesion TR doesn’t meet your trail running requirements, consider the Saucony Excursion TR14. It’s a more serious trail running shoe with an outdoors-oriented upper design and outsole geometry for better on-trail performance.

Also see: The Asics Gel Sonoma 6.

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