(This list has been updated for 2018. We’ve included a few shoes with moderate cushioning because not everyone prefers to race in a true flat.)
5K races are great. Most people in reasonable shape can do it, and even if you trod along at a very leisurely pace, the race is over within 30 minutes. You don’t have to train for months or go through a carb-loading ritual, and for most, recovery is a non-existent problem.
But where’s the fun in spending over 20 minutes to finish a 5K?
These short distance races are where you can go full out for the entire duration. You can maintain a rate of speed which is otherwise hard to sustain in distances of half-marathon and beyond. It’s like a road version of your speedy track workouts, except that it’s a fun social event.
And shoes – that’s what we’re here for, yes? You need the right pair of running shoes to make the best of those 20 minutes. So the $100 question is – which one should you get?
5K is one event where racing flats and their kind come in handy. The fact that they do not possess a lot of cushioning is immaterial given the short distance. In lieu, you get a featherweight shoe with superlative road grip – exactly what you need for a 5K.
On the following list, most of the shoes loosely belong to the category of racing flats. We say ‘loosely’ because technically speaking, only zero-drop shoes qualify as true racing flats. The Mizuno Ekiden 11 and the Nike Speed Racer are very close to a flat but have a few millimeters of offset.
Others like the Asics LyteRacer, Brooks Hyperion, and the Nike Streak LT4 are ‘ road racers’ rather than unadulterated flats. For the 2018 list, we’ve thrown in more cushioned models like the New Balance 1400V6 as well.
One of our selection criteria was to choose shoes with a DSP outsole. A Dual-Stencil-Process (DSP) construction uses small pieces of outsole rubber attached to a fabric base.
A DSP outsole construction gives the shoe a superior grip advantage, as the small lugs do a far better job than regular rubber slabs. And boy, do they feel good on short runs; the crunching sound which the DSP makes when gripping the road is addictive. That, and there’s a far better sense of connection with the road.
In the spirit of brand diversity, we’ve put together recommendations from various manufacturers, so not all models have a DSP outsole. To make the selection process easier, the product description includes what the outsole is made of.
The following list is in solereview’s order of preference:
1) Mizuno Wave Ekiden 11
The Ekiden is the only shoe on this list with a full-coverage DSP outsole – in other words, it’s the road equivalent of a track spike.
The outsole provides a stupendous amount of grip, the firm midsole feels fast, and the breathable upper works just right for those blazing 5K paces. The Mizuno Ekiden is our top pick for the second year running.
2) Nike Zoom Speed Racer 6
Given its heel drop, the Speed Racer 6 cannot be categorized as a true racing flat. But for all practical purposes, it is. And we have to thank Japan for this one – it’s a well known fact that the country is racing flat heaven.
The entire forefoot outsole is made of lightweight DSP lugs and the midfoot is bridged by a plastic shank for rigidity. Under the heel, a solitary Zoom Air bag delivers snappy cushioning.
The upper fits super narrow throughout which is great for keeping the foot locked down.
3) Asics LyteRacer TS 7
There’s no fancy tech here. The LyteRacer TS 7 is as traditional a road racer can get. The upper has a secure fit, courtesy of the regular mesh and synthetic suede.
The low-profile EVA foam midsole has a 8 mm offset and a plastic midfoot shank. There’s no DSP under the forefoot but the small lugs offers excellent grip during toe-offs.
4) Nike Zoom Streak LT4
The Streak LT4 is a lightweight racer with a snug-fitting yet extremely breathable upper. There isn’t a whole lot of cushioning due to the thin stack of foam except for the heel area which has a snappy Zoom Air bag.
The forefoot outsole is covered with a colony of micro lugs which grip extremely well.
5) Brooks Hyperion
At just over 6 ounces, the Hyperion is a speedy racing shoe. It’s also got a 10 mm heel offset and a rearfoot stack higher than the most on this list, so the cushioning level is similar to the 1400.
6) New Balance 1400V6
We’ve put the New Balance 1400V6 at the end because this shoe has more cushioning than the others. So if you crave more cushioning and upper room, then get the 1400.
When we say ‘more cushioned’ or ‘spacious’, that’s purely relative in the context of this guide. The 1400 fits snug but without the narrowness of racing flats. While the midsole is low profile, there’s enough Revlite foam to prevent your feet from getting beat down.