It’s that time of the year again; the time to reflect on the year that’s almost gone by and pick the best running shoes money can buy.
2020 has been a very unusual year for all of us. But if we talk just about running shoes, then there’re plenty of reasons for cheer.
The last couple of years have been exciting times for running shoes. It was almost as if all brands snapped out of their inertia to introduce a slew of genuinely innovative models.
If you follow Solereview regularly, you’d know that we are not ‘fans’ of any brand, big or small. We give merit where it’s due. At the same time, we don’t hold back criticism whenever it’s necessary – even though the rest of the world may not agree.
That being said, we can’t overlook the fact that three recent developments have shaped – and sped up – the evolution of running shoe design.
The first was the introduction of the adidas Boost – it was the catalyst for other brands to come up with comparable or superior alternatives. And they did – as evidenced by the Saucony Everun, Brooks DNA Flash, Skechers Hyperburst, and the Saucony Pwrrun+, among many others.
The second factor was the release of the Nike Vaporfly 4%. It destroyed the long-held paradigm that racing shoes required to be flat and uncomfortable. By combining an internal Carbon Fiber plate with a super-light and responsive foam, Nike created an entirely novel category of running shoes.
Today, most brands sell their variants of the plated shoe concept, all of which have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Be it the Asics Metaracer, Saucony Endorphin Pro, the New Balance RC Elite, or other shoes from Hoka, all of them are inspired by the Nike Vaporfly.
The third – and under-reported – phenomenon would be the gradual disappearance of the traditional stability running shoe. Just a few years ago, midsoles with a firmer wedge (medial post) were a ubiquitous sight.
In 2020, only a few conventional stability shoes remain. The rest have switched to a ‘supportive neutral’ format or have whittled their medial posts to near nothing. Pertinent examples would be the Brooks Adrenaline GTS and the Saucony Guide.
For the stability shoe evolution, we need to thank the 2014 Brooks Transcend – the first shoe to break free from the medial-post universe and use ‘Guiderails’ instead.
At the end of it all, runners have been presented with a veritable smorgasbord of high-performance running footwear.
All this is fine, but what relevance does this discussion have in the context of this guide?
One of the drawbacks of new running shoe tech is the higher upfront cost. Also, some of these hyped products tend to have limited distribution. So being the ‘best’ running shoe shouldn’t be just about the hard product, but other aspects need to be considered as well. For example:
1) Easy to find and buy: Not all shoe models and brands are readily available across all retail channels and territories, so this guide focuses on the popular models that are likely to be sold in most places.
2) Price-value ratio: Except for the Nike Vaporfly Next% and the Salomon Snowspike CSWP, all the shoes have a US retail of $130 or lower. At this price range, one gets all the important bits required in a running shoe without any compromise on performance.
3) Safe, non-polarizing choices: Some shoes tend to divide opinions. That’s why we recommend the Brooks Ghost 13 over the Pegasus 37 – the soft heel, firmer forefoot midsole isn’t for everyone.
Though we applied the same reasoning for the last version of this guide, this time we chose just ONE shoe for each category. For example, our best daily neutral trainer is the Brooks Ghost, and the best trail running shoe is the Saucony Peregrine 10.
You get the idea. We thought this was a less confusing way of compiling this buyer’s guide.
1) Everyday neutral trainer: Brooks Ghost 13
Some runners may look at this recommendation, and wonder: why not the Saucony Ride or the Pegasus 37? After all, did Solereview not recommend the Ride ISO 2 last year?
That’s because the Brooks Ghost has changed, and so has the Nike Pegasus. The Saucony Ride has stayed more or less the same – its ride is still firm, and the upper still fits snug.
And yet, the Ghost is a safer pick and a crowd-pleaser.
Making that happen are two things. The 2020 Ghost 13 gets a single-density midsole without a separate heel crash pad, as was the case with the Ghost 12.
The midsole is softer too, thus making this popular Brooks neutral trainer more comfortable. At the same time, the foam isn’t overly mushy there’s a fair bit of stability as well. As typical of Brooks shoes, there’s a full rubber outsole that grips very well.
The smoothness is present inside the upper as well. The near-seamless mesh covering hugs the foot softly and securely, helped by some plushness packed within the heel and tongue.
It is this combination of a soft ride and smooth upper that gives the Ghost 13 an edge over the rest.
2) Max-cushion neutral trainer: Hoka One One Clifton 7
Here, it was a tough choice between the New Balance 1080V10 and the Hoka Clifton. We chose the Hoka shoe because of its better-balanced ride and fit character. It also undercuts the 1080’s retail price by $20.
Though the Clifton 7’s ride quality was never in question, there were a few years when it felt sub-par when compared to the Clifton 1.
This year, the deep cushioning of the Clifton hits the sweet spot between distance-friendly cushioning and transition quality. The thick, responsive foam stack keeps the feet going through miles of punishing runs while the rocker-shaped midsole assists in quick roll-offs.
Even the upper is great, with none of the pressure spots that used to be commonplace on the older versions of this model. The forefoot is relatively spacious and allows enough room for the toes to splay.
A roomy and soft upper is useful during long-distance runs. The Clifton 7’s deeply cushioned midsole helps, but the running experience is made even better by the redesigned upper that has nearly no flaws.
Also see: The New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V10.
3) Low profile cushioned trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t at least heard of the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante. The low-profile trainer with a 6 mm heel-to-toe offset was extremely versatile – it was comfortable enough to be used as a daily trainer but could switch to a ‘fast’ mode during higher-paced sessions.
The Fresh Foam Tempo is a Zante by another name. The Tempo’s midsole packs sufficient cushioning for daily runs, whereas the low to the ground profile makes the shoe suitable for faster days. The two-piece outsole grips well, and works together with the midsole to make the transitions smoother.
Even the upper is reminiscent of the Zante. The midfoot and forefoot are made mostly of mesh with minimal overlays for support. The sizing runs half-size smaller and the fit is snug – and that works well during speedy workouts. The plastic heel counter cups the foot for better rearfoot stability.
4) Traditional stability running shoe: Asics GT-2000 9
One could argue that the Saucony Guide 13 or the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 are more deserving of this spot. Aren’t those stability shoes as well?
Sure they are. But they aren’t ‘traditional’ stability shoes with a medial-post. The soft ride of Adrenaline almost makes it a Brooks Ghost now, and even the Saucony Guide 13 only makes do with a plastic stabilizer instead of an old-school medial post.
On the other hand, the Asics GT-2000 9 is still very much the GT-2000 everyone know it to be. In the back is the familiar pairing of visible Gel and a firmer medial post that gives the cushioning an outwards-favoring bias.
For this year, the midsole uses softer Flytefoam, thus increasing the levels of ride comfort and flexibility. Other cushioning layers like the Ortholite insole and the foam lasting add step-in comfort. At the same time, legacy features like a plastic midfoot shank give the shoe plenty of midfoot stability.
The engineered mesh upper has a familiar fit, feel, and styling with a true-to-size interior that is smooth and comfortable. So now you know why we recommend the Asics GT-2000 9 as our traditional stability trainer pick.
5) Best max-stability running shoe: The Brooks Addiction 14
We chose the Brooks Addiction 14 for similar reasons as we did the Asics GT-2000 9. The Addiction is a traditional stability running shoe, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in true stability and cushioning.
The wide midsole has a high volume of foam that makes running in the Addiction 14 comfortable. The underside of the midsole is completely covered with rubber; the large outsole lugs deliver ample traction and helps the overall stability.
When viewed from the outer side, the Addiction 14 could easily be mistaken for a Brooks Beast 20. It’s only when one turns the shoe around is that the large medial post becomes visible.
The integration of the firmer wedge is nicely executed to avoid foot-poke. Though the ride has a bit of motion-control character, the Addiction 14 scores very high on the ride stability – medial post or not.
The foot is securely covered by a roomy upper with plush materials around the heel and tongue. The engineered mesh upper breathes well, and strategically-placed layers support the midfoot and the heel.
6) Best low heel-to-toe drop trainer: Saucony Kinvara 11
If the idea of an 8-10 mm drop trainer doesn’t appeal to your running shoe tastes, consider the Saucony Kinvara 11 – a near-perfect lightweight trainer with a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset.
A lower weight doesn’t come at the cost of ride and fit comfort. The Kinvara’s 28.5 mm rear and 24.5 mm foam stack translates into plenty of foam to pad your runs, no matter what the distance.
Also worth noting is the Kinvara 11’s use-case versatility. The comfortable ride is packaged in a way that feels at home during faster-paced runs. This has been a defining characteristic of this series, and we’re glad to see it unchanged after all this while.
Last year, the Kinvara 10’s traded the K-9’s Pro-lock system for a simple gusset that made the interiors smooth and more comfortable.
The Kinvara 11 is more of the same. The breathable forefoot has plenty of room, and the padded tongue and heel add step-in comfort while helping make the fit secure.
7) Best road racer: New Balance 1400 V6
There exists a spot between lightweight trainers and racing flats, and that’s where the 1400V6 thrives. The 1400 is much firmer and grips better than a shoe like the New Balance Tempo or the Saucony Kinvara. At the same time, its midsole and insole provide more cushioning than a racing flat.
Upgrade pick: The Reebok Floatride Run Fast Pro – if you want the ultimate in the racing flatness.
8) Best trail Running shoe: Saucony Peregrine 10
This one is a toughie – having to pick just one trail running shoe out of all what’s out there. We chose the Saucony Peregrine 10 for similar reasons why we picked other shoes on this curated list.
The Saucony Peregrine 10 is a somewhat under-rated, yet quintessential do-it-all trail running shoe. Bear with us; it’s going to be evident in a moment.
This model checks all boxes that make a trail running shoe functional from a performance perspective. The outsole is made of a tacky rubber compound with bidirectional lugs for traction on up/down routes.
A rigid rock plate protects the foot from the pointy roots and jagged rocks. The cushioning is delivered by the firm Pwrrun midsole that delivers both comfort and ride stability.
Lastly, the upper is cleverly designed to include both a mesh and layering component to balance fit comfort and protection. A closed mesh on the forefoot and a perforated tongue works together with the padded heel to make the interiors comfortable and secure.
A trail shoe also needs to be protective, so that’s where the synthetic toe-guard and midfoot layering comes in.
As you can see, the Peregrine 10 doesn’t do just one thing spectacularly. Everything’s in moderation here, and together they make a very functional trail running shoe.
Also see: The Saucony Peregrine 10 GTX – the waterproof variant with a Gore-Tex lining.
9) Lightweight and cushioned road racer: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next %
So far, if none of the shoes on this guide have piqued your interest, the Nike Vaporfly Next% will surely change your mind.
There’s nothing we can say about the Vaporfly Next% that hasn’t been said before, but for whatever it’s worth – here we go again.
If a traditional road racer with its punishingly flat midsole is too less of a shoe for you, the Nike Vaporfly Next% will make you happy. Nike crams its latest and brightest into the midsole, namely the full-length Carbon Fiber plate and the super-light ZoomX foam.
Both of these technologies come together to deliver a superlative ride experience. The ZoomX foam produces a soft and responsive cushioning that reduces foot fatigue during high-mileage runs. At the same time, the Carbon fiber plate creates a springboard-like effect that propels the foot forward.
The barely-there upper fits snug and disappears over the foot. That’s not surprising considering the Vaporfly Next % weighs only 6.6 ounces or 187 grams.
Also see: The Nike Alphafly Next%.
10) Best running shoe for snow and ice: Salomon Snowspike CSWP
You’ve tried running in the Saucony Peregrine ICE+. You’ve given the New Balance 880V10 GTX a go. And if nothing has worked on the snow and ice so far, you need to bring out the cavalry. Or to be more specific, the Salomon Snowspike CSWP Waterproof.
We reviewed this winter running shoe in great detail earlier this year, but here’s the low-down.
If the idea of cold-weather running on slippery, icy surfaces gives you the chills, then the Salomon Snowspike CSWP is almost foolproof – and might we add, waterproof. Its spiked outsole bites hard into frozen surfaces for the ultimate in traction, while the foam midsole and multi-density insole provide the necessary cushioning comfort.
Zipping the above-the-ankle gaiter keeps the water, snow, and slush out. Inside the gaiter, there’s a proper ‘shoe’ with a speed (bungee) lacing that cinches easily and keeps the foot secured.
It is expensive, but it’s a small price to pay for safe winter runs.