(This list has been updated with current models for July 2019.)
Just for a moment, imagine an alternate reality in which Mizuno running shoes did not have a Wave plate. What would that world look like?
For starters, the midsole will need a compelling replacement for the Wave system. A cushioning material which replicates the trademark snap of the Wave plate. And a new upper design to go with it, of course.
In real life, that is a very hard thing to do. The Wave plate currently defines Mizuno; unlike other brands, there is no fallback. Take the rigid plate out of the midsole and the Mizuno-ness is lost.
Here’s a good example – would you rather have the Wave Sonic or the Ekiden as a racing shoe? Yup – we thought so.
As they say – be careful what you wish for. The Wave Sky 3 – or now called the Wave Sky Waveknit 3 – is the successor to the Wave Sky, but without the hard TPE plate. The new midsole has two different foam densities, and one on top has a wave-shaped design.
We’re at a loss for words here. The Wave Sky 3 is a comfortable fitting and a plush trainer, but is it a really a Mizuno?
Until the time Mizuno comes up with a new foam worthy of competing against Pebax and e-TPU, we think that the best approach for Mizuno is the safest one. Keep the Wave plate and make small annual improvements. So far, Mizuno has done a great job with that. You’ll be hard-pressed to tell major differences in performance between the Wave Rider 18 and the 23 – that’s how consistent Mizuno has been.
We also think that Mizuno takes the consistency thing too seriously. Running shoes like the Prophecy and Creation still exist; those models are from the same high-school yearbook as the adidas Megabounce and the Nike Shox.
But here we are.
In a way, Mizuno is the Japanese version of Brooks. The brand has a small assortment of running shoe franchises which have been around for at least a decade. The names roll off the tongue easily – the Wave Rider, the Inspire, Creation, and the rest.
The staples are what most of this guide is about. You won’t see the Prophecy or Creation here. Though we understand that there are customers for those models – the same way there’s a market for the Nike Air Max 720 or the hideous Vapormax.
But these are expensive shoes. The Prophecy 8 retails at $240 and the Creation 20 at $170; we don’t need to lay it out that money is better spent elsewhere.
You can, however, opt for the Waveknit version with a $10 up-charge and a snugger fit.
The key thing to remember when going through this guide is that ‘support’ and ‘neutral’ tags aren’t the same as other brands. Mizuno hasn’t used a medial post in over a decade so categorization is determined by the design variation of the Wave plate.
The Inspire is supposedly a ‘support’ shoe because of the Wave plate’s more rigid structure on the medial side. While that is true for the Inspire, even the Rider 23 has a supportive medial Wave plate.
In short, when it comes to Mizuno, ’support’ and ‘neutral’ aren’t binary choices. You can trade one for another and be none the worse for it. The only exception is the Wave Horizon 3 which has a much harder Wave molding on the inside.
To cut a long story short, we end up with a curated guide which distills Mizuno’s catalog into just five models. Note that there’s no trail shoe in this guide – the Hayate’s availability is very limited at this time,
1) Cushioned Neutral: Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3
In what’s an unexpected development, the Wave Sky Waveknit 3 breaks away from the tried and tested Mizuno template. Instead of the layered upper and WavePlate of the Wave Sky 2, the upper now uses a knit design and no Wave plate. For Mizuno loyalists, this is borderline heresy.
Regardless of the sweeping changes, the Wave Sky 3 is still a very cushioned neutral trainer with plenty of midsole and upper plushness. The thick foam stack provides plenty of cushioning for the road, and the thick insole feels plush underfoot. The upper uses soft-touch materials, so the Wave Sky has a smooth-fitting and comfortable interior.
Here, a knit upper doesn’t necessarily mean a minimalist fit and feel. The Wave Sky combines the single-piece outer mesh with a plush collar and tongue.
The lack of external overlays makes the interiors very smooth – perhaps the smoothest a Mizuno has ever been.
The Wave Sky does lose the characteristic snap of the Wave plate. And while the Sky 3 is still supportive due to its wide outsole footprint, its all-foam construction isn’t as stable as the Wave plate edition.
If you crave the Wave plate of the Sky2, you could try the Wave Horizon 3. It’s a stability shoe but is plush and supportive at the same time.
And why should you not get the Prophecy or the Creation instead? That’s a good question. Both the Prophecy and Creation have less foam and more Wave plate. Though more Wave and less foam add springy responsiveness, it increases firmness in a ride character which is an acquired taste.
Due to its foam midsole, runners will find the Wave Sky more comfortable than the Prophecy and the Creation.
2) Cushioned Neutral: Mizuno Wave Rider 23
The Wave Rider has been Mizuno’s neutral running workhorse for over two decades now and offers an optimal blend of cushioning and support.
The foam midsole delivers padding while the sandwiched Wave plate makes the ride firm and supportive. While the upper isn’t the epitome of plushness, it is spacious, breathable, and comfortable.
And what’s new for the 2019 Wave Rider 23? Not a lot. Unlike the Wave Sky 3 which ditched the TPE plate, the Wave Rider features a similar design as the Rider 22. Which translates into the presence of the familiar Wave plate under the heel and a roomy mesh upper on top.
Also see: The knit upper version (Waveknit R2) for $10 more.
3) Lightweight road racer: Mizuno Wave Shadow 3
If either the Wave Rider or the Inspire feel too much of a shoe, get the lighter Shadow 3. It’s an excellent Mizuno for fast-training runs and half marathons. The Shadow is a relatively new shoe (in its 3rd year) but think of it as a cross between the Mizuno Sayonara and the Hitogami.
The snug and conforming upper fit feels just right for speed workouts, and the midsole provides adequate insulation without slowing you down. The Wave Shadow 3 has the same sole as the V2 but with a smoother upper without the midfoot overlay.
Also see: The Mizuno Wave Sonic.
4) Cushioned mild-support: Mizuno Wave Horizon 3
If the Wave Sky is Mizuno’s top-end neutral shoe, the Horizon 3 is its stability counterpart. But unlike in the case of the Wave Rider and Inspire, the Horizon’s Wave plate is molded solid on the inner side. This does make the Horizon noticeably firmer on the medial side than the Sky 2.
Its $160 retail price makes it an expensive shoe. The Horizon serves up mid-2000’s nostalgia in the form of a plush upper and a cushy Wave-plated midsole. There’s not a lot you can do with the Horizon; this is a 12-ounce shoe after all. As long as you’re running slow and not going far, the Horizon gets the job done.
5) Cushioned mild-support: Mizuno Wave Inspire 15
The Inspire 15 is in the same weight class as the Wave Rider, except that it’s categorized as a support shoe. Regardless, both shoes have a supportive and cushioned ride with a spacious upper.
The Inspire 15 has a more aggressive Wave plate design on the inner midsole. This limits the flexing motion of the Wave plate as compared to the Rider 22.
It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘neutral’ or ‘stability,’ the Inspire 15 will work for both use-cases.
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