Best affordable running shoes

by Solereview editors


This article has been updated with current models for November 2020. The Asics Contend 5, Asics Excite 6, Nike Downshifter 9, Nike Flex Experience RN 8, Nike Winflo 6, New Balance Arishi V2, Saucony Cohesion 12, and the Saucony Cohesion TR12 have been replaced with their updated versions. The adidas Duramo SL, Brooks Pureflow 7, and the Nike Juniper Trail are new additions. The adidas Duramo 9, adidas Terrex CMTK, Asics GT-1000 8, Brooks Anthem 2, Nike Zoom Rival Fly, Nike Quest, New Balance 680V6, and the Saucony Clarion have been removed.

Running shoe prices can be downright ridiculous. A case in point is the Nike ZoomX Alphafly Next%; we bought our pair for $310 (after taxes). Let’s round that to 300 dollars and list a few things one can buy with that money.

You can buy not one, but two Instapot 10-in-1 Ultras. You can buy a generously specced, non-Apple smartphone. You can buy a used, high-end task chair like the Herman Miller Aeron or the Steelcase Leap that’s perfect for a home-office. Or, that amount gets us a couple of GPS-guided fitness watches.

Even more outrageous is the notion is that $100 running shoes are considered cheap. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the pricing model of the running industry is broken. And it’s not like the brands and retailers are printing money – we know that. It just shows how inefficient the value (or the lack thereof) chain is.

In the past, Solereview did not do a great job of writing more about lower-priced products. We’ve been trying to change that recently.

There are plenty of good models with retail price tags in double-digits, and yet most of the running shoes you hear about are the expensive ones. Brands spend their hype dollars on premium products, so the value assortment barely receive marketing focus.

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 shiny 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 11 running shoes that retail for under $100. The final selling price will depend on the retailer and your location.

This hand-picked list consists of daily trainers and non-technical trail shoes. The list reveals a few (pleasant) surprises; some of these budget running shoes use tech and components found in more expensive models.

For instance, the New Balance Arishi uses a Fresh Foam midsole and the Nike Winflo comes with Zoom Air cushioning tech. There’s also a lot of value in entry-level trail running shoes like the Nike Juniper Trail or the Saucony Cohesion TR/Excursion TR.

1) adidas Duramo SL

The Men’s Duramo 9 no longer features on adidas’s website; perhaps the Duramo 10 is just around the corner?

Whatever the outcome, it’s hard to go wrong with the Duramo SL. There’s a reason why we’ve put this model at the top of this list. We see this $65 as excellent value for money, the kind of shoe that marries everyday functionality with style appeal.

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

Even the upper shows no signs of cost-cutting. The padded heel and tongue lining feel comfortable over the foot 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 lockdown.

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

2) Saucony Cohesion 13

The Cohesion has been a regular on our curated affordable shoe lists. The Cohesion 13 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 all the 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, are you looking for a 2E (wide) in Cohesion? Saucony sells that too.

3) Nike Downshifter 10

The Downshifter 10 is a Nike shoe that retails at $60. Yes, you heard that right.

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 rubber outsole with its waffle-shaped lugs makes the Downshifter durable and traction-friendly. The Downshifter 10 receives a contemporary visual update that is vaguely inspired by the Vaporfly.

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.

Also see: The Quest 3, Revolution 5.

4) Asics Gel-Excite 7

From a ride perspective, there isn’t a lot of difference between the Gel-Contend (see the next shoe) and the Gel-Excite. Both models feature a mostly-foam (Amplifoam) midsole with a rearfoot Gel pad insert. The Ortholite sockliner is present on both the shoes as well.

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

The difference lies in the Gel-Excite 7’s upper design. Using no-sew overlays over an engineered mesh shell creates a (more) contemporary styling, while making the interiors smoother than the Contend.

At a suggested retail price of $75, the Asics Gel Excite 7 is excellent value.

Also see: The Asics Gel Pulse 12.

5) Asics Gel-Contend 6

The Contend 6 is the Asics’s answer to the Saucony Cohesion. The upper has a traditional cut, stitch, and assemble design that feels solidly put together. While there’s no evading the fact that the materials aren’t very premium, the affordable retail price makes up for the aesthetic compromise.

The midsole is a simple affair. A single-density EVA foam with a coin-sized Gel pad results in a firm cushioned and supportive ride. The grip of the rubber-clad outsole is passable at best but it adds miles to the life of the midsole.

Though the Contend retails at $65, it usually sells for less, thus making it a sensible value proposition.

6) Brooks Pureflow 7

The last edition of this guide did not have a running shoe with a low heel-to-toe offset. Let’s change that by adding the Brooks Pureflow 7.

The Pureflow’s 4 mm drop 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 cushioned low-offset shoes were the norm. Today, only the Saucony Kinvara and Brooks Pureflow survive.

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

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

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

The upper is plush, smooth, as well as snug-fitting – 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.

7) Nike Air Zoom Winflo 7

The Winflo 7 is the price of entry into the Zoom Air platform. The Winflo 7 features two Zoom Air units for responsive cushioning and there’s plenty of rubber coverage providing outsole grip. The forefoot Zoom is thicker than the one in the rear for snappier transitions.

The Winflo has been constantly upgraded over the years, and the Winflo 7 is one of the best versions yet. Though the Winflo’s $90 price makes it one of the more expensive shoes on this list, it offers excellent value in the form of its well-rounded character.

The engineered mesh equipped upper fits snugly, helped by the mesh upper with minimal overlays. Be mindful that the toe-box is a bit pointy and shallow, something that’s frequently experienced in Nike’s sub-$100 assortment. But why? Don’t ask us, we have no idea.

The midsole design language draws design inspiration from the Vaporfly; cue the heel ‘lip’ of the midsole. The high foam volume complements the Zoom Air cushioning and makes the Winflo ideal for daily runs and slightly faster training.

On a related note, we don’t see the water-resistant and reflective Winflo Shield in the line yet.

8) New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi V3

The New Balance Arishi V3 gets you the Fresh Foam experience without the price premium. This $70 retail is a great neutral daily trainer that doesn’t skip on the fundamentals.

A breathable engineered mesh upper has a smooth interior, and the single-density Fresh Foam midsole possesses ample cushioning for daily training needs. The full-coverage rubber outsole delivers satisfactory traction and durability levels.

A part of the Arishi V3’s appeal lies in its 7.2-ounce weight and 8 mm heel-to-toe offset. And yes, the V3 gets an updated insole as well. Watch out for the long tongue, though.

9) Nike Flex Experience RN 9

The Flex Experience RN series is heavily inspired by the Nike Free’s outsole and upper design. The 2020 Flex Experience RN 9 ditches the hexagonal grooves of the RN 8 and opts for simpler (and more functional) side to side grooves – like how the original Nike Free used to be.

The new grooves yield good results. The Flex Experience RN 9 is unique in its cushioning and transition delivery as it’s very flexible in the front and rear.

There’s no dearth of cushioning either, so these traits make the Flex 9 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 heel is even collapsible – not many shoes have that.

10) Nike Juniper Trail

In the last edition of this guide, we had an adidas shoe occupy this spot. That’s now changed; a new Nike trail running shoe fills this position. We haven’t seen an affordable trail runner from Nike in a while, so the Juniper trail is a sight for sore eyes.

This $70 shoe isn’t a hardcore trail running shoe like the Terra Kiger or the Wildhorse. In the absence of a rock plate and aggressive outsole lugs, the Juniper’s use case would be that of a mild off-roader.

The dual-density midsole offers sufficient cushioning and protection on non-technical trails. Underneath that is a rubber outsole with a trail-oriented lug geometry with a decent bite. Generous forefoot grooves allow the Juniper trail to flex and adapt over slightly uneven terrains.

11) Saucony Cohesion TR 13

Do you love the road-going version of the Cohesion but want it in a rugged design for trail use? The Cohesion TR13 is just that, and there’s no upcharge – both the road and trail Cohesions are priced the same.

The TR 13 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 TR13 isn’t a shoe for technical trails but should be limited to unpaved flats and gentle slopes.

Otherwise, the Cohesion TR13 has a similar ride and fit character as 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 much serious trail running shoe with an outdoors-oriented upper design and outsole geometry for better on-trail performance.

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