2018 was an excellent year for new shoe releases and 2019-20 is also shaping up nicely.
Here’s what happened the last year. adidas revamped their Supernova product lines and merged them into Solar. Brooks brought the DNA Loft to game day. Reebok surprised everyone with the Floatride. Nike brought the React and ZoomX foam into the mainstream. Saucony and New Balance made small but visible improvements to their existing line.
Yes, we know, it’s still Fall 2019 so this guide is far from conclusive. We hope to update the list before the close of this year. We chose just one shoe for each category based on the following selection criteria.
1) Easy to find and buy: Not all shoe models and brands are readily available across all retail channels, so this guide focuses on the popular models which are likely to be found in most places. So even limited releases from major brands are excluded. That’s also the reason why you won’t see the Reebok Floatride Fast here. Or for that matter, brands like Hoka, Altra, Salomon, or On.
2) Price-value ratio: Except for the Brooks Beast, all the shoes have a US retail of $120 or less. At this price range, one gets all the important bits required in a running shoe without any compromise on performance. Not everyone can afford a $180 – 200 shoe.
3) Safe, non-polarizing choices: Some shoes tend to divide opinions. That’s why we recommend the Ride ISO 2 over the Pegasus 36 – the full-length Zoom Air bag isn’t for everyone.
4) Versatility: For a specific category, only one shoe should be able to do it all. It might not be a perfect choice – we understand that preferences on the ride comfort and interior room will vary. But if you choose a shoe from this guide, it’s a good place to start.
Frankly, we didn’t expect the list to be dominated by New Balance, Saucony, and Brooks, but here we are. We initially assumed that there would be a couple of adidas and Nike models here, but they came up short based on the selection factors.
1) Daily neutral trainer: Saucony Ride ISO 2
The EVA midsole is firmer than other neutral trainers and it always has been so. This makes the Ride more useful on faster runs and not just the long/easy workouts.
There’re two stacks of foam above the midsole – the first being the Everun topsole and the second is the molded insole on top. This setup gives you a great blend of step-in softness and ride efficiency. The heel has an offset of 8 mm and the overall package weighs just under 10-ounces. That’s good a sweet-spot as any.
The ISOFIT upper is designed to provide greater comfort than the outgoing version, and it does.
2) Daily neutral trainer: Reebok Forever Floatride Energy
Reebok has made a lot of progress with their performance running line in the past couple of years. The $100 Reebok Forever Floatride Energy is a result of that renewed focus, and boy, is it a great shoe.
Reebok borrows the foam-tech from its parent company (adidas), and fine-tunes the e-TPU Boost formula to achieve a denser yet responsive and cushioned ride. The full-length Floatride midsole makes the Forever Energy a versatile daily trainer for runners of all experience classes.
The mesh upper isn’t cutting edge but it is breathable with a smooth interior fit. As a whole, this Reebok shoe has the best price-value on this guide.
3) Daily neutral trainer with a soft ride: New Balance FuelCell Propel
At times, you don’t want a hyper-responsive or efficient running shoe. Instead, cushioning softness is what makes you happy. If that’s you, try the New Balance FuelCell Propel.
The uber-soft cushioning under the foot is perfect for unhurried runs. The best thing about the softness is that it doesn’t feel mushy or dead – there’s enough life in FuelCell to keep your feet fresh over long distances.
It’s not just the midsole which is easygoing; even the soft upper has plenty of space to accommodate various foot types.
4) Daily mild-support trainer: Saucony Guide ISO 2
If you’re buying the Guide ISO 2, you’re probably doing so with the hope that you get a supportive running shoe with a firm and cushioned ride. And you would have made the right choice, for the Guide is truly supportive yet comfortable.
The midsole is firm so the medial post isn’t conspicuous. It blends in perfectly with the rest of the shoe while doing its job as an additional support element. The Everun ‘Topsole’ gives the Guide a bit of cushioned responsiveness.
The interiors are very comfortable, just like the Ride ISO 2. Except that there’re a few extra bits to make the fit more supportive. Like the different mesh, and the structured upper of the inner midfoot. And areas like the ISOFIT straps are reinforced with fused lamination.
Don’t be scared of the firmer midsole wedge. Just treat the Guide as a firmer version of the Ride ISO 2 – because that’s exactly what it is.
5) Best max-stability running shoe: the Brooks Beast 18
C’mon. Do we really need to tell you about the Brooks Beast 18?
All 13 ounces of this shoe is designed towards making the ride as stable as possible. There’s a triple-density midsole with a medial post and an ultra-wide outsole footprint. The upper is packed with creature comforts such as plush lining materials and a breathable air-mesh.
The Beast 18 has lots of ride comfort. The removable insole is perhaps the cushiest in its class, and the midsole and the blown rubber outsole add a lot of cushioning.
6) Best low-drop daily trainer: Saucony Kinvara 10
If the idea of an 8-10 mm drop trainer doesn’t appeal to your taste in running shoes, the Saucony Kinvara 10 is the perfect lightweight trainer with a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset.
A lower weight doesn’t come at the cost of the ride and fit comfort. The Kinvara’s stack heights of 23 mm rear and 19 mm forefoot means that there’s plenty of foam to pad your runs, no matter the distance.
The Kinvara 10’s upper trades the K-9’s Pro-lock system for a simple gusset which makes the interiors smooth and more comfortable. The forefoot has plenty of room and is airy. The padded tongue and heel add step-in comfort while securing the foot.
7) Best lightweight trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit
Let’s be very clear; the Zante Pursuit is not the replacement for the standard Zante. This is an ounce lighter than the latter and it’s easy to see why. The snug-fitting upper is nothing more than a single piece of knit upper with a gusset.
There’s just enough cushioning packed within the low-profile midsole to pad your feet from getting beat up. The foam isn’t hard like the 1400 but similar to the original Zante – but just 30% less of it.
When the minimal upper and low-profile midsole is paired with the grippy outsole, you get a shoe that works perfectly for fast-paced training.
8) 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 NB Zante, Asics Dynaflyte or the Saucony Kinvara. At the same time, its midsole and insole provide more cushioning than a racing flat.
9) Best Trail Running shoe: Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5
A good trail shoe is hard to get right because many design features need to come together in the perfect proportions.
For example, if there’s too much protection, it can make the shoe stiff and reduce proprioception. Conversely, if the shoe has a cushioned midsole without a plate, will it stop the roots and pointy rocks from poking through?
So how do you add a sticky outsole and a durable upper design without making the shoe too heavy? And importantly, how does one pack everything together without jacking up the price?
There’s a reason why the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 is listed here; it does a fine job at achieving an optimal balance of features. The Kiger 5 has been redesigned from the ground up. The outsole gets an aggressive, lugged geometry made of a sticky rubber compound for traction over wet and dry surfaces.
The Kiger 5 gets a segmented rock-plate which limits stiffness by flexing better under the forefoot. The midsole React foam works together with the heel Zoom Air unit for an improved cushioning experience.
There’s ample toe-box protection provided by the rubberized bumper and the loop-based saddle lacing system keeps the foot locked-in during trails runs. Though the tongue is a minimal affair without foam, the padded sections on top are effective at filtering lacing pressure.
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