Being a frequent business traveler can take a toll on your health. When your week is packed with red-eye flights, multiple destinations, and long days, it can be hard to squeeze in time for exercise.
When you’re short on time, running is the best solution. You can get 30 minutes of an intense workout without access to a gym. Lace up your running shoes, and you’re good to go.
But as most travel – whether for business or leisure – involves airplanes and airports, you need to optimize your packing. Because if you don’t, it might mean the difference between having a checked-in bag and not having one. A single checked-in bag attracts a fee of $20 or more, so the best way to travel is without one.
Ok, you might have an Airline status card and do not have to pay for extra baggage. But then, who wants to waste time dropping bags at the counter or waiting for the carousel to spit up your luggage when you land?
Frequent travelers can attest that traveling without a check-in bag is such a liberating experience.
So let’s say you need to pack for a single overnight bag, and space is at a premium. Running shoes tend to occupy quite a bit of room, so how does one make the best of the situation?
The easiest way to carry a running shoe is to simply wear them. But while this works for holiday travelers, your corporate overlords might frown upon such a casual attire. Or maybe you just want to look dapper with your wingtips or high heels.
Every traveler has to follow standard packing best practices, such as rolling your apparel instead of stacking them; or stuffing the insides of your shoes with smaller items or undergarments. Also, bags with a softer shell (textile) accommodate more items for the same size than bags with a rigid shell.
But if you play your running shoe card right, not only will you free up space inside the bag, but make it lighter too.
So which running shoes are the best for traveling? You can scroll down straight to the list, but we considered the following criteria for selection.
Follow these golden rules, and you can also explore options outside the limited assortment presented in this guide.
The running shoe has to be lightweight.
There’s a Spanish proverb which goes something like this: “On a long journey, even a straw proves heavy.”
While this was written well before the age of air-travel, but regardless, a lighter shoe means more weight off your shoulders. So all the shoes on the list weight less than 290 grams/10 ounces for the median size.
The midsole should be flexible.
Ever wonder how professional contortionists fit into an unimaginably cramped space? Besides proper technique, the artists manage it by being extremely flexible.
Apply the same analogy to running shoes. A flexible build allows the shoe to access space previously unavailable, as the midsole better adapts to its confinement. A chunky midsole equipped with moon-foam or switch-blade technology isn’t going to cut it, sadly.
At the very least, the upper should be semi-collapsible.
You don’t want a stiff upper which hogs all the space. Just like the flexible midsole, you need an upper which flattens to make room for the rest of your essentials.
A collapsible heel counter design is preferable; the second-best option is to have a heel with a thin and flexible counter.
Avoid running shoes with thick midsoles
This one’s a no-brainer for saving space. Thick midsoles equate to more room occupied by the shoe. So while we don’t recommend ultra-flat midsoles, it shouldn’t be too thick either.
As a general rule, the thickness should be somewhere between a regular trainer and a racing flat.
And last but not the least, the shoe should be cushioned and supportive
Often, many of us travelers mix gym workouts with running. So the running shoe should be supportive for weight training and calisthenics while being cushioned enough for road or treadmill running.
Some go for the full-minimal approach in their choice of a travel shoe. While that is great for saving space, the lack of cushioning might not suit everyone.
Now let’s get into the thick of things; here’s our top-ten pick of shoes. Nike takes most of the spots, which makes sense given the availability of Nike Free and other derivatives with a similar flexi-sole concept.
It’s a pity Nike discontinued the Free 4.0 Flyknit, which would have otherwise taken the top spot as a travel-friendly product.
1. Asics Gel-Zaraca 5
The Zaraca isn’t very well known, but it fits this list better than any other Asics shoe. Though the heel is not collapsible, the rest of the upper has a minimal yet comfortable fit and feel.
Below, the Zaraca features a very ‘un-Asics’ midsole design. The single-density unit packs a small rearfoot Gel unit, and the outsole rubber strips are placed strategically to allow flexibility without adding weight.
A removable insole above the midsole makes the ride cushioned and smooth.
Weight: 280 grams/ 9.9 ounces, 10 mm offset, available in a single width.
2. Nike Free RN (Solereview’s pick)
Nike is gradually whittling down its core Free assortment. We haven’t heard of new Nike Free models in 2017, so the Free RN is your best bet, and solereview’s top pick as a travel-friendly shoe.
The engineered mesh upper is completely collapsible and drapes over the foot with softness. The Nike Free midsole is extremely flexible, but without sacrificing cushioning.
Also see: The Nike Free RN Distance 2.
Weight: 247 grams/ 8.7 ounces, 8 mm offset, available in a single width.
3. Nike Flex 2016 RN
The Nike ‘Flex’ series is inspired by the Free design. The Flex 2016 RN is somewhat similar to the Free RN except for the slightly less flexible midsole than the latter.
Still, a great travel shoe with adequate cushioning. It is $20 cheaper than the Free RN too.
Weight: 232 grams/ 8.2 ounces, 7 mm offset, available in a single width.
4. Nike FS Lite Run 4
Another lightweight Nike shoe with a cleaner upper design than the Flex 2016 and the Free RN. The injection-molded EVA foam has plenty of padding, and is a bit chunkier than the Flex and the Free.
The differentiating factor here is the 3 mm heel-to-toe offset, which is much lower than other Flex or Free models.
Weight: 255 grams/ 9 ounces, 3 mm offset, available in a single width.
5. Nike Flex Experience RN 6
The Flex Experience is the cheapest of all Nike shoes listed here. Both the upper and the midsole design are very basic, and unlike the others, the Flex Experience features a properly-sized stiff heel counter.
The funny thing is that the entry-level Flex Experience offers sizing widths but the others don’t. All in all, it’s great value for the price.
Weight: 227 grams/ 8 ounces, 7 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
6. New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V3
The Zante isn’t the most flexible shoe, and yet it makes sense as a travel shoe. The low-profile midsole is reasonably flexible and cushioned, and the upper is semi-collapsible.
Weight: 249 grams/ 8.8 ounces, 6 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
7. New Balance Vazee Coast V2
The Vazee Coast has a completely collapsible heel counter and upper, and foam midsole is lightweight and cushioned. Its sub-$100 retail price makes it an excellent value shoe.
There are a couple of things you should know about the Coast. The build is rather flimsy, so don’t expect the shoe to take much abuse. Also, the raw collar edges might be a bother when worn without socks.
Weight: 227 grams/ 8 ounces, 8 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
8. Reebok Print Run Smooth ULTK
Reebok used to make excellent running shoes once, but those glory days are dead and buried. That said, Reebok has a shoe or two which make for good travel companions. The Print Run Smooth ULTK is quite a mouthful, but it is surprisingly competent.
While the heel is propped up with a rigid internal counter, the remaining portion of the seamless upper is collapsible and fits well. Most of the outsole is populated with a colony of square lugs, making the Print Run Smooth packing-friendly.
For an MSRP below $100, this Reebok shoe provides a lot of value, both in form and function. By the way, the ‘ULTK’ stands for UltraKnit – a name for an engineered mesh material.
Weight: 283 grams/ 10 ounces, 10 mm offset, available in a single width.
9. Saucony Kinvara 8
The Kinvara has held its own in the lightweight, 4 mm trainer category because of its no-fuss and economical ride quality. The latest version uses an Everun topsole for a consistent cushioning layer throughout, and the minimal upper is semi-collapsible.
The new outsole places only small strips of rubber under the forefoot, making the shoe easy to bend.
Weight: 224 grams/ 7.9 ounces, 4 mm offset, available in a single width.
10. Skechers GoMeb Razor
A fast training shoe the Razor may be, and that’s what makes it ideal for a trip. The 7.7-ounce weight helps in reducing the overall weight of your luggage, and the upper is semi-collapsible. (There’s an internal heel counter).
Ample cushioning is packed inside the supportive midsole, making the Razor ideal for both road and treadmill.
Weight: 218 grams/ 7.7 ounces, 4 mm offset, available in a single width.