Best Brooks running shoes

by Solereview editors


This article has been updated with current models for October 2020. The Brooks Ghost 13 has been replaced with is current version.

It’s very difficult to be truly innovative in the hyper-competitive sports footwear industry. Also, the perception of ‘newness’ is as much about marketing hype as it about the actual product.

Say, a brand ‘A’ comes up with something ‘new’. The said brand also has the marketing dollars to increase the chances of a successful launch. With a tightly-executed and wide-spread promotional campaign, even otherwise average products have a high possibility of finding their way into the consumer’s shoe-rack.

In short, the image of innovation can be skewed by advertising spend. Smaller brands launch new products all the time, but you don’t necessarily hear about them.

Brooks is a fairly small running shoe brand. It’s also just that – though there’re a few walking and lifestyle sneakers, the Brooks footwear assortment is mostly running. A small company has equally small advertising spend, so you’re unlikely to see a 360° marketing campaign for a Brooks product.

A single-category focus also means that Brooks cannot monetize other shoe categories, simply because they don’t sell them.

That approach seems to have worked well for Brooks. They’re near the $1 billion revenue threshold, which is impressive considering their narrow focus. They’re growing steadily, and according to this Barron article, Brooks had over 20% of the market share in the $100+ running footwear category. That makes it just second to Nike; an impressive feat by any benchmark.

Though Brooks gets some hate from hardcore runners for their safe (and rather clunky) models, most of the consumers think otherwise – with their wallets. Mainstay models like the Adrenaline, Glycerin, Ghost, and the Ravenna have been go-to crowd favorites.

These models aren’t the latest and greatest. At the same time, there’s a reassuring sense of familiarity – a comfort-food version of running shoes if you will.

And come to think of it, Brooks has done okay with product innovation.

We mustn’t forget that the ‘Guiderails’ debut on the 2014 Transcend charted the course for the ‘supportive neutral’ trend in the industry. Everybody today – adidas and Nike included – now use a variation of this sidewall design instead of traditional medial posts.

Though it has its performance limitations, the DNA AMP midsole is an interesting concept. Polyurethane midsoles aren’t new, but wrapping them in a Urethane skin was. The odd-looking Neuro showed up a few years ago, but it didn’t do much for Brooks.

That being said, Brooks has continued to update the DNA AMP-based Levitate and Bedlam year after year. Though the Levitate and Bedlam aren’t on this guide, they’re worth trying just for their unique ride character.

The recently released Hyperion Tempo is based on a new Brooks foam. But it takes very little imagination to see that it’s inspired by Skechers Hyperburst. The Elite is the pinnacle product in the Hyperion collection. It’s a nice shoe, but its Carbon fiber embedded midsole and a $250 price tag is a shockingly unoriginal idea.

This recommended assortment mostly covers familiar names for Brooks – both for the road and trail.

1) Neutral cushioning: Brooks Glycerin 18

If you want just one running shoe to do it all, then you’ll discover the Brooks Glycerin 18 to be a safe and dependable option. And no, the midsole isn’t hyper-light, super-bouncy, or pillowy-soft.

What it does have in spades is a very smooth and supportive ride quality. You can thank the single-density midsole that feels just right in its cushioning delivery. It’s neither too soft nor too firm, and that’s what gives this running shoe a balanced character.

There’s ample cushioning for longer runs, and the medium-soft density of the wide midsole keeps things stable. A grippy rubber outsole and a rounded heel edge eases landings and makes the transitions smooth.

Brooks has a reputation for making plush and seamless uppers, and the G-18 doesn’t disappoint. The plump heel collar and a padded tongue create a secure yet plush fit in the back. The upper is also lined, and that leads to smooth-fitting interiors. However, it can get a bit warm in there compared to shoes with single-layer mesh uppers.

Though 10.2-ounces is a fairly respectable weight, the Glycerin is best used as a daily trainer at medium speeds. There’s plenty of cushioning underneath, so the distance isn’t a limitation.

2) Neutral cushioning: Brooks Ghost 13

Neutral running doesn’t get any safer or dependable as the Brooks Ghost 13. And it also gets better for 2020. We say that because we believe so, and not because of Brooks’s marketing spiel.

Though design features such as the smooth and soft-touch upper make the interiors plush, it’s the midsole that makes the difference. Here, instead of a separate heel plug, the Ghost 13 now comes boxed with a single-density midsole.

This is the first time for the Ghost, and in a way it reflects the design journey of competing models like the Saucony Ride or the Nike Pegasus. The switch to an one-piece midsole makes the ride smooth while giving up none of the cushioned feel.

We’ve always seen the Ghost as a great value proposition; a neutral trainer that derives its genes from the pricier Glycerin yet separates itself with a light-on-the-feet personality. It’s not the weight that makes the difference. After all, both shoes hover just above 10-ounces.

The Ghost just feels lighter over the foot, and the less stuff upper (vs. the Glyerin) plays a major part in the fit experience.

The Ghost 12 was an excellent daily trainer with loads of versatility, and we’re happy to report that the Ghost 13 is too.

A waterproof and winterized Ghost 12 GTX (Gore-Tex) version is also available for a $30 upcharge over the regular Ghost.

3) Neutral cushioning: Brooks Ricochet 2

The Ricochet (and the Bedlam) is based on the Levitate – the first Brooks running shoe with the distinctive encased Polyurethane midsole.

The PU foam core makes the Levitate’s ride cushioned and responsive, whereas the firmer ‘skin’ prevents the midsole from bottoming out. This gives the Levitate’s DNA AMP sole a vertically-biased cushioning. Very unique at the time of its release, and it still is.

But the Ricochet 2 isn’t the Levitate.

Its midsole is part DNA AMP and part EVA foam. The upper midsole gives the ride a snappy feel without making the shoe very heavy. Underneath, the EVA layer (DNA Loft) forms a cushioned layer that is closer to the ground.

The knit upper will divide opinions. In our view, Brooks should have stuck to a regular upper (like the GTS or Ghost) instead of the sock-like design. While the fit is secure and seamless, the lack of a tongue and traditional lacing increases the top-down pressure and also makes it harder to get into the shoe.

If the upper isn’t a concern, then the 9.7-ounce is a competent and comfortable trainer suitable for daily runs and the occasional long-distance workout.

Also see: The Brooks Bedlam 3 – the stability version of the Ricochet at a $30 price premium.

4) Lightweight trainer with a low heel drop: Brooks Pureflow 7

Most of Brooks’s running shoe assortment hovers around the 10 mm range, so what are the lightweight and cushioned shoe options with a lower offset?

You buy the PureFlow 7 with its 4 mm drop, that’s what you do.

We have to thank the barefoot running/minimalist shoe era for the PureFlow. The latter is part of a two-shoe collection; the other is the PureGrit 8 – a low-profile trail running shoe. There were other products in the ‘Pure’ collection, but the PureConnect was discontinued several years ago. The Pure Cadence got dropped in 2019.

The Pureflow is the odd one out in Brooks’s running assortment, and we say this in a good way. Not only does the low-profile 4 mm offset midsole enhance the ground feel, but it also allows you to build up pace without punishing your feet. The sub-9-ounce weight also makes runs (mostly) distraction-free.

5) Firm and lightweight neutral trainer: Brooks Launch 7

We’ve realized that the Brooks Launch is an acquired taste. A cursory glance at the Launch 7 creates the impression that it’s a Ghost-lite. However, the Launch is anything but.

The differentiating factor is the Launch 7’s noticeable – and surprisingly – firm ride. Stiff is another word to describe the midsole. That said, the firm ride bodes well for runs at higher speeds. When you combine the 9-ounce weight with minimal midsole compression, the result is a shoe that feels at ease during fast-paced training.

The minimally-constructed upper is a good fit for the midsole design. A single-piece mesh exterior locks the foot down, while the standard heel and tongue keeping the insides comfortable.

6) Lightweight Tempo trainer: Brooks Hyperion Tempo

The Hyperion Tempo is clearly inspired by the Skechers’ Hyperburst pack, so the results are remarkably similar. The Tempo is a 7.2-ounce shoe with firm cushioning – a combination that works like a charm for fast distance runs.

And just like Skechers, the Hyperion Tempo’s upper fit is good but far from great. The lacing takes some effort to get right, and the tongue could be longer. The DNA Flash midsole isn’t the only thing that Brooks copied from Skechers – even the collar has the adidas-inspired signature Achilles ‘lip’.

The Skechers GoRun Razor 3 Hyper and the Brooks Hyperion Tempo – both feel like a chip off the same block.

6) Super stability: Brooks Beast 20

What? No medial post? What kind of Brooks Beast is this?

But here we are. 2020 has been a strange year already, so the Beast 20 losing the medial-post shouldn’t come as a surprise. With this update, three of Brooks’ most popular stability running shoes – namely the Adrenaline, Beast, and the Ravenna – have ditched the firmer wedge in favor of the ‘Guiderail.’

The Beast is still very stable, but it does a couple of things differently. The raised sidewalls (Guiderail) cup the foot on either side, with the arch-side Guiderail being firmer than the outer side.

Removing the medial-post transforms the midsole into a single-density chunk of foam, so the ride is softer and smoother than before. The wide midsole and outsole footprint carries over from the Beast 18, so that results in the familiar planted feel.

The upper is roomy and very plush. The Beast used to have a super narrow fit before version 18, but things have changed in the last couple of years. The Beast 18 got an interior space upgrade, and the 20 is more of the same. The standard width has enough splay room, and if you want more space to accommodate a custom insole, there’s a wide and extra-wide available too.

Even with the medial post-free design, the 11.7-ounce Beast lives up to its name. It is obvious that this isn’t your typical daily trainer, but a product to be had when copious amounts of cushioning and stability become a priority.

By the way, if you prefer your stability shoe to be served old-school style, consider the medially-posted Addiction 14.

7) Motion-control/stability: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20

The Adrenaline GTS 20 is Brooks’ long-running stability trainer, similar to the role that the New Balance 860 or the Asics GT-2000 plays for their respective brands. However, the GTS 20 couldn’t be more different than the Asics GT-2000 8.

The firmer medial-post that used to be a part of the older-generation Adrenalines has been replaced with ‘Guiderails’.

The raised midsole sidewalls claim to make the ride supportive by creating a cup-like design for the foot to rest on. Does it work? Who knows. Does it feel good? More or less.

Owing to the single-density primary midsole, the GTS has also become a much softer Adrenaline than before. We now see the GTS as a Ghost 12 with Guiderails. In short, it’s a versatile and well-fitting running shoe that works under a variety of conditions.

If you’re used to neutral running shoes, the Adrenaline GTS 20 will deliver – along with added under-arch support, that is.

8) Supportive neutral trainer: Brooks Transcend 7

We’ve said this before on other buyer’s guides. If most of the Brooks’ stability shoes have swapped their medial posts for Guiderails (raised sidewalls), does that make the Transcend irrelevant?

Back in 2014, the Transcend was the first Brooks shoe to feature the Guiderail.

In doing so, it offered an alternative for runners seeking a stability shoe without the firmer wedge. The broad and cushioned midsole brought together a neutral ride experience and high levels of support. That template has now been copied by others – as well as inspiring other Brooks products to follow suit.

Even the Transcend has changed over the years. The Transcend 7 is a much milder version of the original; the Guiderail and upper design have been noticeably toned down. The present-day version is a roomy Transcend with a relatively slimmer outsole footprint.

With these changes, the Transcend’s value proposition has evolved.

If you want the feel of the original Transcend, the Brooks Beast 20 has a lot of that. Rather, we think of the Transcend 7 as a stability version of the Glycerin 18.

As odd as that may sound, the signs are all there. A single-density DNA LOFT midsole produces a smooth and cushioned ride that is at par with the Glycerin while being a mite more supportive – thanks to the Guiderails and the wider geometry.

To sum up, the Transcend 7 is a decent daily supportive-neutral trainer with distance-friendly cushioning for easy runs.

9) Mild stability: Brooks Ravenna 11

The Ravenna 11 is the ‘flanker’ stability shoe for the Adrenaline GTS 20. This is the running shoe that is positioned a couple of rungs below the GTS 20 within the stability category.

In functional terms, that means that the Ravenna has the mildest ‘Guiderail’ design. It also has the least ‘built-up’ design within Brooks’s stability assortment. There’s a lot less going on over and under your foot, and that helps build the Ravenna 11’s case as a ‘faster’ shoe than the GTS.

Sure, you have a cushioned ride that is the result of a single-density midsole. At the same time, the slimmer and lower profile midsole means that there’s less bulk to deal with during runs. That works well when you’re trying to coax higher speeds out of the shoe.

That doesn’t imply that the Ravenna lacks ride comfort. There’s enough foam underfoot to make most runs go easy on your feet. It’s just that you won’t get Adrenaline GTS levels of cushy foam underneath.

Even the upper is a simple affair. The heel and tongue have the expected levels of Brooks plushness and lock-down; the rest of the upper has a seamless and true-to-size fit profile.

10) Lightweight racer: Brooks Hyperion

There aren’t many lightweight trainers/racers in Brooks’s current line-up; the other one is the Asteria with its small medial posting. To be honest, the tight-fitting Hyperion falls short of the standards set by the ST5 and the T7.

So within Brooks, is this the best lightweight trainer/racer at the moment? Yes. But your needs are better served by shoes from other brands. Buy the New Balance 1400V6 if you do not have to stick to Brooks.

11) All-around trail running: Brooks Cascadia 14

The Cascadia 14 is a robustly constructed trail shoe with a superior grip and versatile character. The heavy-duty Cordura and overlays on the internally saddled upper keep the debris out. The upper is also reinforced with a synthetic mudguard and toe-box that prevents the slush from sticking to the upper edge.

The foam midsole and the stability wedges deliver cushioning and support for the longer trail miles. The Cascadia 14 gets a new stickier Trailtack rubber compound for improved grip on wet and dry surfaces.

And if you plan to wear gaiters with the shoe, there’s a velcro loop over the heel which keeps it locked in place. A waterproof Cascadia 14 GTX (Gore-Tex) is available for $30 extra over the regular model. Available in a 2E (wide).

Also see: Brooks Caldera 4, Brooks Divide.

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