(This list has been updated for 2019)
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 Airline status 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 will attest that traveling without a check-in bag is a very 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 do it?
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 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 hard cases.
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 what kind of running shoes make the best travel companions? 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, a lighter shoe means more weight off your shoulders. So all the shoes in this guide 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? Apart from applying 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
Many of us travelers mix gym workouts with running. So the running shoe should be supportive for weight training and calisthenics. At the same time, it should be 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 pick of shoes. Nike takes most of the spots, which makes sense given the availability of Nike Free and similar shoes. In 2019, New Balance comes a close second. The 890 now features a knit upper, and so do new models like the Fresh Foam Solas and Cruz Sockfit.
1) Nike Free RN 2018 Flyknit
A fully collapsible upper? Yes. A flexible midsole? Very. Super lightweight? Of course. Good for treadmills, roads, and everything in between? Check.
That’s all you need a travel-friendly shoe to be, really. The Free RN 2018 Flyknit is Solereview’s top shoe pick in this category.
2) Nike Free RN 2018
The Nike Free RN has a supportive upper along with the same flexible midsole which powers the Flyknit version.
This shoe is great for short road runs, gym workouts, and casual everyday use. The upper can be folded flat to save space.
3) Nike Flex Experience RN 8
The Flex Experience RN 8 is an extension of the Free platform at a sub-$100 price.
Its generously grooved foam midsole makes the ride cushioned and flexible. Its 7-ounce weight and pliable construction help you create room for more important stuff in your bag.
04) Reebok Fast Flexweave
The Reebok Fast Flexweave combines a flexible foam midsole with a rubber outsole frame, thus making it a good dual-purpose shoe. The Flexweave’s blend of cushioning and stability means that you can switch between treadmills and gym floors.
The upper fits true-to-size but considering the shallow toe-box and snug forefoot, you might want a half-size up. Else, the seamless upper is comfortable with sufficient lock-down for weight training and short runs.
5) Saucony Liteform Miles
The Liteform’s seamless upper has a semi-collapsible heel counter which makes it luggage friendly. The foam midsole and the memory foam insole combine to produce a cushioned ride.
And true to its name, the Liteform weighs a lightweight 9-ounces.
6) New Balance Zante Solas
The Fresh Foam Zante Solas equals the Nike Free when it comes to being a travel-friendly shoe. The most noteworthy aspect of the Zante Solas is its weight. At a mere 5.3-ounces, the Zante Solas towers – sorry, floats above other shoes on the guide. This is one of those shoes which can be slipped into your carry-on bag without any worry.
What makes the Solas so lightweight? The foot covering is nothing but a single piece of collapsible knit mesh. The sole is a midsole-outsole composite so there’s a surprising amount of cushioning comfort for a shoe this light.
New Balance must be the only brand offering widths on shoes with knit uppers. The Solas comes in a wide too.
7) New Balance Fresh Foam Cruz Sockfit
If you want a knit upper with an easy-going fit, then we recommend the Fresh Foam Cruz Sockfit. The upper can go pancake flat when packed, so you just need to make room for the midsole.
Speaking of which, the Cruz Sockfit has a full-length Fresh Foam EVA midsole and a full outsole. You get plenty of cushioning and grip for light workouts or a short run around the block.
The upper has a relaxed fit so the Cruz works best when not pushed on the gym floor and the treadmill. For $100, it’s an excellent do-it-all travel shoe.
8) New Balance 890V7
The new 890V7’s updated fit and ride quality is a topic to be discussed in a separate review. Purely in the context of this guide, the changes on the 890 make the latter very travel-friendly.
The V7 loses 2-ounces over the V6 to end up at 7.2-ounces – which is the ideal weight for a travel shoe. There’s plenty of smooth cushioning for road and treadmill runs.
New Balance puts in a proper padded tongue over a breezy knit upper for interior comfort. The upper packs almost flat except for the heel.
9) Skechers Flex Advantage 2.0 – Missing Link
Ok, the Flex Advantage 2.0 looks like an unapologetic Nike Free 5.0 knock-off. That doesn’t stop this Skechers from making this list.
The midsole/outsole is very flexible, allowing you to mold it to the shape of your luggage. The upper combines a knit construction with heel and tongue padding for a spacious and seamless fit.
The Flex Advantage can manage mild athletic activities like short runs. If you need something more performance oriented, we suggest you consider other shoes on this guide – such as the New Balance 890.
10) On Cloud
The On Cloud is a lightweight, do-it-all running shoe with a comfortable upper. Its elasticated, cord-based lacing is great for frequent airport transits and the security lines which come with it.
The foam midsole has a colony of the trademark hollow chambers, making the On Cloud great for runs of short to medium distances.
Weight: 230 grams/ 8.1 ounces, 6 mm offset, available in a single width.
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