Best breathable running shoes for hot summers

by Solereview editors


This article has been updated with current models for November 2021. The Asics Novablast, Saucony Endorphin Shift, and Saucony Endorphin Pro have been replaced with their updated versions. The adidas Boston 10, New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 2, and Saucony Triumph 19 are new additions. The Brooks Ghost 13 has been removed.

It’s almost winter in many parts of the world, but our readers from Australia and New Zealand are preparing to welcome the summer season.

If it’s just apparel, dressing for summer running is fairly simple. Wear a breezy and lightweight top over a pair of running shorts, a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, and you’re good to go.

Running shoes? Not so much.

Over the years, we’ve realized that determining the level of ventilation in a running shoe is somewhat of a dark art. After reviewing hundreds of shoes, a pattern has emerged – one that tells us how good or bad a shoe will be at circulating air.

Where it gets confusing is that not all shoes that appear breathable pass muster under real-world conditions. The sensory aspect of ventilation is also equally important.

The internal bumper of the Saucony Endorphin Speed

The total ventilation factor is the sum of a perforated mesh and roomy toe-box.

The insides of the Asics Metaracer

Not only does the Asics Metaracer have a breathable mesh, but the outsole also has a drainage hole.

For example, many knit upper designs have a generously perforated surface. Based on outward appearances alone, these shoes should be very breezy. But some of these uppers are stretchy and fit snug. Since the upper is in close contact with the foot, it feels hotter than a shoe with a regular mesh upper. 

A more spacious forefoot makes the shoe feel cooler – even though the mesh may not be generously perforated.

It gets even more complicated. Even if the upper mesh isn’t stretchy and doesn’t have an inner sleeve, how a shoe fits around the midfoot also alters the perception of ‘hotness’. A shoe could have a super breathable forefoot but a stuffy midfoot makes the shoe feel warmer.

There’s more.

If a running shoe has an insole top-cloth or a midsole geometry that results in friction, then heat is produced under the foot. That, or if we’re talking about a shoe where the midsole doesn’t offer sufficient thermal insulation from the warm road. Here, pancake-flat racing flats come to mind.

Even indoor running can get surprisingly warm – say, in cases of naturally-ventilated gyms without air conditioning. A treadmill inherently runs warm; given the high RPM of electronic treadmills, rubber belts acquire heat both through friction with the shoe and the warm motor.

Walking instead of running leads to different ventilation outcomes. A running shoe that breathes well at a 5:30 min/km pace may run warm during standing or walking.

If the principle sounds familiar, that’s because air-cooled combustion engines work in the same way. At slower speeds, air circulation becomes inefficient.

A scientific way of determining trapped heat would be to use an infrared thermal reader and measure the temperature of each shoe immediately after a run. But since we do not possess such an instrument, our recommendation is based on a sensory wear-testing experience.

Now that we’ve established the context, you’ll understand why we’ve excluded running shoes with knit uppers.

You also won’t see shoes with full inner sleeves here. That means that products like the Structure 24 and Brooks Glycerin 19 are out. The lightweight trainer and road racer category is a great place to discover well-ventilated shoes, so you’ll find a few of them on this guide.

At the same time, there’re many regular neutral trainers to pick from. To make it simple, we’ve grouped shoes under their categories. This curated list is sorted alphabetically.

Daily neutral trainers:

1) Asics Novablast 2

There are two reasons why the Novablast V2 is well-ventilated. The first one is pretty obvious; the engineered mesh upper has large vents on its surface.

The second reason is the slightly longer sizing that results in a roomy toe-box. The abundance of space leads to better air circulation.

Besides the well-ventilated upper, the Asics Novablast’s cushioned and responsive midsole is perfect for long-distance runs without compromising on speed. It may not be the most stable running shoe due to its slim heel, but that doesn’t pose a problem as long as the runs do not involve turning into fast corners.

The rocker shape of the Flytefoam design delivers a satisfying blend of distance-friendly ride comfort and tempo-pace capabilities. In many ways, the Novablast 2 is a leaner version of the Hoka Clifton 8.

2) Brooks Launch 8

In the past, the entry-level Brooks Launch used to be a firm trainer that worked for high-paced training. For 2021, the Brooks Launch 8 goes through a significant transformation. Our review takes an in-depth look at the newest iteration of the Launch.

The midsole is much softer, thus increasing its versatility and widening its appeal to a broader set of runners. The newly acquired softness packs sufficient comfort for daily runs, whereas the low-profile midsole is efficient enough for tempo runs.

Brooks Launch 8 toe-box

The Brooks Launch 8 (and GTS 8) have a thin upper mesh that breathes well.

Its breathable upper is the reason why the Launch 8 appears on this list. The engineered mesh shell isn’t very thick, so the vents allow unrestricted air circulation.

As a bonus, the lightweight build of mesh upper disappears on the feet during runs.

3) New Balance FuelCell Rebel V2

A highly-ventilated upper is among the Fuelcell Rebel’s many talents. When New Balance decided to update the Fuecell Rebel with the midsole foam from the RC Elite, it must have known that this shoe would become a runaway hit.

And it has, and then some. The hyper-light and responsive midsole foam make the Rebel V2 an excellent shoe for either daily runs or tempo training. The Fuelcell foam midsole also packs sufficient comfort for long-distance runs.

Besides the versatile ride character, the lightweight upper does an excellent job at air circulation. The thin engineered mesh creates an airy feel inside the forefoot and midfoot.

However, there are concerns with the flimsy upper tearing in the midfoot. So if you’re a wide-footed and/or heavy runner, just know that the upper durability may be a potential problem area.

Other than that, the Rebel V2 is one of our favorite running shoes of 2021.

4) Saucony Endorphin Shift 2

Though the Endorphin Shift 2’s upper has been completely redesigned for 2021, it continues to be a breathable running shoe. The thin, engineered mesh is generously perforated. This particular construction makes the Endorphin Shift an excellent choice for summers.

The superb breathability isn’t the only reason why one should buy it.

While the 4 mm offset midsole has a firm ride character, there’s plenty of cushioning for high-mileage training. The firmness also makes the ride stable and suitable for tempo runs.

5) Saucony Triumph 19

The Saucony Triumph 19 makes a surprise appearance on this guide. The past few versions had a structured and layered upper design that got in the way of ventilation.

However, that changes with the V19. The Triumph 19 uses a similar mesh as the Endorphin Shift 2, and that results in a higher level of ventilation than the 17 and 18.

It’s hard to tell from the outside, but the thin engineered mesh is generously ventilated. A colony of small pores is knit into the mesh, thus allowing for excellent air circulation. Owing to the changes, the fit is more accommodating than the last edition.

Under the lightweight upper lie a cushioned Pwrrun+ midsole and a ‘topsole’ made of the same E-TPU foam.

The midsole isn’t overly soft, and has a resilient feel that works for a variety of runs – be it everyday training or high-mileage workouts.

Cushioned speed trainers:

1) adidas adizero Boston 10

Though the adizero Boston 10 is nothing like the V9, its ventilation levels haven’t been affected. The Boston 10 uses a traditional racer-like upper that breathes very well.

The midfoot is sleeved for support, but the thin mesh on the forefoot allows plenty of air circulation.

The outer sleeve of the adidas adizero Boston 10.

The Boston 10’s mesh is well-ventilated.

Under the airy upper is a completely redesigned midsole that uses adidas’s newest ‘Lightstrike Pro’ foam. It’s a resilient foam (TPE, perhaps?) that makes the ride much softer than the previous Boston. Of course, it helps that the midsole is way thicker now because of its 39.5 mm (R) and 31 mm (F) stack heights.

Despite all the changes, the Boston 10 delivers on its brief. It’s a cushioned trainer that’s also tempo-friendly. That’s made possible by the Nylon ‘Energyrods’, heel board, and the firm ‘Lightstrike’ EVA base that make swift transitions happen. The tenacious grip of the ribbed Continental outsole doesn’t hurt either.

If you want to know more, our detailed review is here.

Also see: The adidas adizero adios 6, adidas SL 20, Brooks Hyperion Tempo.

2) Saucony Kinvara 12

If we had to pick just one lightweight summer running shoe to do it all, the Saucony Kinvara 12 would be it. We heaped praise on the K-12 in our comprehensive review.

Everything about it is summery – be it the ventilated upper with the spacious interiors, or the overall lightness of the shoe. The 2021 model has a much better upper than the Kinvara 10 and 11.

Saucony Kinvara 12 toe-box

The Kinvara 12’s upper is made of a soft and breathable mesh.

At a mere 7.5-ounces, this 4 mm drop trainer creates a lightweight running experience with ample cushioning for longer runs. The designed midsole and outsole result in improved stability over the previous version.

There’s a bit of foam padding around the heel collar, but the rest of the upper is very breezy and non-stuffy.

Road racers:

1) Asics Metaracer

The Asics Metaracer is one of our favorite racing shoe picks of 2021. It’s not a conventional racing flat, but a Carbon-plated kind with a surprisingly high level of ride comfort.

And it’s also not just any plated running shoe; the plate-foam integration is perfect. The plate rests below the soft Flytefoam layer, so it works silently in the background without being conspicuous. It’s great for speed-work without trading ride comfort.

The insides of the Asics Metaracer

Along with a breathable mesh, there’s a drainage hole punched into the outsole.

The heel collar of the Asics Metaracer

Even the heel is breathable. How’s that for ventilation, eh?

But we’re digressing here. Above the efficient midsole is an upper that breathes extremely well.

As if the well-ventilated mesh wasn’t enough, the outsole tip has an in-built drainage hole. Don’t believe it? That’s why we included a picture. And that isn’t the end of it; even the heel has breathable windows. Now that is a rarity.

Our detailed review has everything worth knowing about the Metaracer.

2) Saucony Endorphin Pro 2

The Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 is very breathable, and the Endorphin Pro 2 is even more so. The mesh upper has large vents that let the air circulate inside freely.

The lack of layering on the deconstructed-style upper results in a lightweight wearing experience.

If you don’t know what kind of shoe the Endorphin Pro 2 is, here’s a quick summary. The Endorphin Pro 2 has a full-length Carbon plate inside a soft, bouncy, and lightweight midsole made of a high-performance PEBA foam that Saucony calls Pwrrun PB.

From a ride viewpoint, that translates into a cushioned and comfortable midsole that also encourages high-speed excursions. The Pro v2 uses the same midsole as the V1, so our review contains a lot of relevant information.

Do you own any of these shoes? Improve this review by sharing your insights – submit a review here.

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