This article has been updated with current models for January 2023. The Brooks Ghost 14 has been replaced with its updated version.
In this product guide:
- 1. Factors to consider
- 2. Everyday neutral trainer: Nike Pegasus 39
- 3. Everyday neutral trainer: Brooks Ghost 15
- 4. Everyday stability trainer: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22
- 5. Everyday winter running shoe: Nike Pegasus 39 Shield
- 6. Tempo/speed trainer: adidas Boston 11
- 7. Tempo/speed trainer: Asics DS Trainer 26
- 8. Tempo/speed trainer: Brooks Hyperion Tempo
- 9. Racing flat: Saucony Type A9
- 10. Versatile trail runner with wet/dry traction: Altra Lone Peak 6
- 11. Versatile trail runner with wet/dry traction: Salomon Speedcross 6
- 12. Tempo trail runner with wet/dry traction: Saucony Peregrine 12
- 13. Versatile winter running shoe with grip on wet and slush: Saucony Peregrine ICE V3
- 14. Versatile winter running shoe with snow and ice grip: Salomon Snowspike CSWP
The outsole often gets overlooked amidst the hype surrounding new midsole foams and cushioning tech.
But it shouldn’t be – an outsole can make or break a running shoe. No amount of midsole cushioning or springy responsiveness can salvage a running shoe with a poor grip.
An outsole doesn’t stop at just providing traction; it adds value in many other ways. A well-designed outsole works together with the midsole to improve the quality of cushioning and transitions.
Depending on the material and geometry, the outsole also acts as a defensive layer against the small rocks and debris on the road and trail. Some brands use a (more) durable compound to deliver more miles per dollar spent.
But let’s not get distracted. This guide is about shoes with excellent outsole traction, so what are we looking for here?
As with most running shoes, things are never straightforward. Looking back at over a decade of running shoe wear-testing, a combination of two factors decides how good or bad the outsole grip will be. Exceptions always apply, but the following selection criteria can help find shoes that grip the best.
THE OUTSOLE MATERIAL
An automobile tire is a classic example of how various rubber compounds take surface characteristics into account.
Firmer summer tires work on dry roads while a grippier and softer rubber is used for winter driving. Off-road motorcycles have knobby tires with aggressive lugs for grip over loose soil and gravel.
Running shoe outsoles work similarly. As a general rule, softer rubber lugs or sticky compounds deliver better grip than harder outsoles. That’s one of the reasons why Brooks models are a part of this guide – their softer outsoles offer plenty of road grip.
Brands also offer specific rubber compounds designed to grip better.
They go by different marketing names like adidas Continental, Asics Wetgrip, New Balance AT Hydrohesion, Salomon Contagrip, or Altra MaxTrac. The Saucony PwrTrac is another tacky rubber material.
So far, we’ve assumed that the outsoles are made of rubber. But what if the shoe lacks a separate outsole or limits the use of rubber?
Examples of this would be models like the Hoka Carbon X2, the NB Beacon, or the Nike Free variants.
Foam outsoles deliver adequate grip on dry/wet roads, clean sidewalks. But throw in some slush, and the traction level decreases drastically. Likewise for smooth artificial floors that are dusty or freshly waxed.
EVA foam outsoles also stiffen in the cold, thus reducing their traction.
Related read: The best running shoes for wintery conditions – including snow and ice.
THE OUTSOLE GEOMETRY
Not everything about outsole grip is about the materials. The geometry also influences the level of traction – or the lack thereof.
Smaller and deeper lugs generally grip better than flat slabs – even if they are made of the same compound.
However, using a high-tech rubber compound on a flat geometry works just as well. The Asics Metaracer and adidas adios Pro are proof.
The outsole articulation or grooving also plays a role. A geometry that divides the outsole into separate sections lets them operate semi-independently. This way, targeted traction is available where and when necessary.
Trail outsoles aren’t built the same way as road shoes. While a higher count of longer lugs is preferred, these need to be spaced wider to minimize clogging.
Some geometries are also optimized for both downhill and uphill traction. For instance, the forefoot lugs could be angled forward and downwards whereas the rear does the opposite.
Also, trail running shoes need to perform equally well on wet and dry terrain. This means that the rubber compound needs to deliver reliable performance under ever-changing surface conditions.
We know; outsoles are complex. The best we can do is to list running shoes with above-average levels of outsole traction, and you can work your way up from there.
The following list of shoes is grouped by their use-cases.
Category 1:Everyday trainers
1) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39
The Pegasus 39 is marketed as Nike’s do everything trainer, so it should grip well. And it does.
The aggressive lugs on the Carbon rubber outsole deliver satisfactory traction during most run types. The secure upper also helps with the traction by bringing the foot closer to the midsole for better transfer of power.
For 2022, Nike has redesigned the Pegasus 39 with a brand-new upper and sole. The changes include a spacious and secure upper with an inner sleeve, and a React foam midsole with separate forefoot and heel Zoom Air bags.
In short, the Pegasus 39 is back to the Pegasus 34 form factor, and is an improvement over the Pegasus 38 and 39. For more, our detailed review is here.
2) Brooks Ghost 15
Two factors give most Brooks running shoes an edge in the traction department. The forefoot outsole uses soft blown rubber that’s molded into small lugs for optimal grip over most running surfaces.
That applies to the Ghost 15 as well. The flex grooves also allow the outsole sections to work independently of one other, and their ‘pistoning’ effect (compressing into the midsole) also helps with the traction.
The outsole grip isn’t the only reason to buy a Ghost 15. This Brooks model is very popular for a reason; the cushioned midsole has enough versatility with a do-everything character, and the plush upper is the icing on the cake.
It’s very hard to go wrong with the Ghost.
Also see: The Brooks Glycerin 20.
3) Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22
With its firmer outsole and ‘Guiderails’, the Adrenaline GTS 22 is the stability version of the Ghost 14. Here’s our full review of this running shoe.
In the context of this guide, that’s a good thing – the Adrenaline has a similar outsole with excellent traction.
Most of the Adrenaline GTS 22’s outsole is made of a soft rubber that grips very well under most everyday conditions, including rained-on roads. It also helps that the outsole geometry maximizes the contact area.
The rest of the shoe is quintessential Brooks. The spacer mesh upper is soft, comfortable, smooth, and has a true-to-size fit profile. Though the ride is firmer than the GTS 21, the midsole is cushioned enough for long-distance runs and tame enough for daily runs.
4) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39 Shield
Though the Pegasus 39 Shield shares an identical midsole with the standard Pegasus, it’s an entirely different product.
The Shield variant is a winterized Pegasus that not only features a water-repellent and insulated upper, but also has an outsole with a superior grip.
The Pegasus 39 Shield uses a ‘Storm-Tread’ outsole geometry that uses small grooves made of a tacky rubber compound. While it’s no match for hardened ice, it performs very well on wet roads.
From an outsole grip viewpoint, the Pegasus 39 is similar to the Pegasus 38 Shield – a shoe that we reviewed here.
Category 2: Road racers and speed trainers
1) adidas adizero Boston 11
The adidas adizero Boston is no longer the low-profile speed shoe that runners grew up with. The upper retains the fit and feel of the classic road racer silhouette, but the new midsole (first seen on the Boston 10) is an entirely different beast.
Unlike the firm and flat ride of the Boston 9, the dual-compound foam stack makes the ride cushioned as well as quick. The midsole contains ‘Energy rods’ – or stiff PEBAX tubes that make the transitions efficient.
And the grip is excellent under the forefoot and heel. The completely redesigned Continental rubber lugs deliver a powerful bite on the road; a grip that’s much better than any of the previous Boston models.
Both the adizero Boston 10 and Boston 11 share the same outsole, so there’s no difference in how they grip.
2) Asics DS-Trainer 26
Though this lightweight speed trainer has made its fair share of changes to the outsole design, the latest model still delivers an excellent grip.
The DSP (Dual Stencil Process) forefoot lugs of the older DS Trainers will be missed, but the dense colony of rubber lugs on the DST 26 (still) packs plenty of bite.
The 26th edition of the DS-Trainer isn’t all that different from the 25. The sole design stays the same, and the upper receives minor tweaks.
The knit upper has a very smooth fit, and the Flytefoam midsole makes those fast runs cushioned, smooth, and quick.
It’s worth mentioning that this is one of the few racers (along with the New Balance 1500V6 and Saucony Fastwitch 9) with a midsole that is designed with a higher level of medial support.
3) Brooks Hyperion Tempo
Unlike the Brooks Ghost and Adrenaline, the Hyperion Tempo’s excellent grip isn’t just because of the rubber compound. The outsole doesn’t even use soft blown rubber; the aggressive lugs are molded out of a hard-wearing rubber compound.
By allowing better power transfer to the ground, the firm midsole also plays a part in the grip delivery.
The Hyperion Tempo’s dense colony of lugs is ideal for multi-surface and multi-season traction. It possesses confidence-inspiring traction on wet, dry, and wintery roads, and we say this from experience.
5) Saucony Type A9
The Type A9 is another road racer that uses an outsole made of specialized rubber.
Not only does the outsole have a sharp geometry that means business, but it also uses Saucony’s PwrTrac compound for enhanced grip on the road. The narrow upper also helps the foot connect better with the ground for quick push-offs.
Category 3: Trail Running shoes
1) Altra Lone Peak 6
If a 0 mm heel-to-toe offset (uniform midsole thickness) isn’t your jam, feel free to skip to the next shoe on the list.
On the other hand, if you’re already used to zero-drop trail shoes or open to trying one, we recommend giving the Altra Lone Peak 6 a try. Let’s begin with the primary reason why the Lone Peak is on this guide – its outsole grip.
Altra’s aptly named ‘MaxTrac’ rubber compound delivers traction on dry and wet surfaces alike. The lug geometry is an equal partner as well; the large lugs deliver a deep bite, and have wide spacing to minimize clogging.
The zero mm offset isn’t the only Altra trick. The wide toe-box accommodates a range of foot shapes, and extras like the gaiter attachment points and unique, removable rock shield (not a plate, though) make the Lone Peak 6 a versatile tool for the trail.
2) Salmon Speedcross 6
The Speedcross 6’s deep lugs made of a sticky rubber compound offers excellent traction on slush and snow. But there’s more to the Speedcross than just its lug length; our detailed review explained why.
The slim outsole profile distributes the pressure over a smaller area – thus improving the bite on the trail. The midsole is also double-lasted, meaning that the upper wraps the midsole for a superior lock-down.
Lastly, the Quicklace upper secures the foot and keeps it closer to the ground for better power delivery.
3) Saucony Peregrine 12
Besides being an excellent all-around trail running shoe, the Saucony Peregrine 12 also delivers great outsole grip traction. For that, we have the tacky PwrTrac rubber compound and aggressive lug geometry to thank for.
The specially formulated rubber delivers multi-surface traction, and components like the rock plate and firm midsole help connect the foot to the ground.
The Peregrine 12 is an extremely do-it-all trail running shoe in the market that doesn’t cost the earth. Our review involved testing the Peregrine on different terrains and running conditions.
It packs phenomenal value and use-case versatility for its $130 retail price. The cushioned midsole is firm enough to be supportive; the rock plate protects the foot from jabbing roots and rocks, and the upper is comfortable while providing fit security over uneven terrain.
For 2022, the new model also gets an E-TPU (Pwrrun+) sockliner.
4) Saucony Peregrine ICE+ V3
We were pretty clear in our detailed review of the original Saucony Peregrine ICE – that his was one of those products where the marketing hype got ahead of itself.
However, we have to give credit where it’s due. The Vibram Arctic Grip delivers phenomenal traction over wet, but non-frozen surfaces. The sandpaper-like texture of this special rubber compound delivers confidence-inspiring traction over otherwise slippery surfaces.
The firm midsole has a comfortable and supportive ride, and the closed mesh upper does a decent job at repelling moisture. The Peregrine ICE V3’s upper design is fairly similar to the standard Peregrine 12, and it also uses the same midsole and insole as the Peregrine 12.
5) Salomon Snowspike CSWP
The Salomon Snowspike CSWP is the nuclear option for winter running when all other alternatives have failed.
The name of the shoe should give it away, but if you’re still clueless, we’ll break it down for ya. Not only does the outsole have point rubber lugs for grip on slush, but it also has 11 Tungsten Carbide spikes for the ultimate in winter-ready traction.
These spikes bite into frozen surfaces where ordinary rubber cannot, thus vastly improving the safety when the pavement is either snow, ice, or both.
There’s also a waterproof upper and a comfortable midsole that goes on top of the spiked outsole, so this is a complete package. We tested the Snowspike over several months before writing our review.
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