The Best Road Running Shoes

Looking for reviews of the best running shoes? Each season, our experts test the best road running shoes and trail running shoes head to head against each other. Two dozen experienced wear testers spend approximately 2-3 weeks running in each shoe, providing objective feedback on comfort, cushioning, fit, ride quality and other criteria. Each shoe is compared against other similar shoes for fair comparisons. And we never let our advertisers or brand biases influence our reviews in any way, so you get unfiltered, candid assessments directly from our experts.

Road Running Shoes Reviews
Brooks Glycerin 15

Of all shoes tested this season, the Glycerin 15 stands out as “one of the most enjoyable comfort rides,“ and excels in just about every category. It offers unmatched comfort, fits like a glove, and protects from the hardest impacts while maintaining responsiveness. Compared to other shoes tested the Glycerin 15 has a steeper heel drop at 10mm but it doesn’t feel cumbersome or reduce the overall ride quality.

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Hoka One One Clifton 4

Each go-around, Hoka One One modifies the Clifton series making it a slightly better shoe and this year is no different. Noticeable changes to the upper and midsole make the Clifton 4 a more comfortable and responsive shoe. The soft mushy underfoot feeling is replaced by a firmer, better performing midsole. While the upper is more comfortable and pliable than its predecessor, testers still wished there was more width and room around the midfoot.

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Asics GEL-Cumulus 19

The Asics GEL-Cumulus is a moderate level cushioning everyday trainer that is more performance oriented than other shoes tested due to a responsive midsole and lower stack height. The GEL–Cumulus is a perfect one-shoe quiver for beginner to intermediate runners who tend to land towards the rear of the foot.

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Adidas UltraBOOST ST

The Adidas UltraBOOST ST is a perfect comfort shoe for runs when performance, speed and responsiveness are not a priority. Built with mild stability, the UltraBOOST ST hands down offers one of the softest rides of all the shoes tested this season, but at the cost of performance. Retailing at $200 the UltraBOOST ST is by far the priciest shoe of the test.

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Altra Escalante

Altra introduces a number of design innovations on the Escalante, and many of them are a success in terms of comfort and performance. The upper is snug but comfortable, and the outsole is grippy and responsive, but the standout feature of this shoe is the remarkable Ego midsole material that effectively combines plush cushioning and strong energy return. The Escalante is recommended for fast training as well as road racing for any distance up to and including a marathon.

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Nike Zoom Fly

There are no shortcomings in the Zoom Fly’s ability to help runners of all abilities run faster. The midsole configuration of resilient EVA plus midsole plate is remarkably effective for transition of energy from one foot strike to the next. Comfort is compromised a bit with the narrow forefoot and rigid all-around construction, but if you’re cool with the fit, the Zoom Fly is an ideal shoe for fast track workouts up to marathon racing.

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Hoka One One Hupana

Although this is marketed as more of a hybrid athletic/casual shoe, the Hupana is completely credible as a solid high performance road running shoe. The primary drawback is the fit issue through the heel for some users, otherwise the comfort of the knit uppers works well. Our testers were impressed by the energy return and durability of this material, and the Hupana would be suitable for fast workout days as well as long distance road racing.

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New Balance FuelCell

The magic is in the midsole on the New Balance FuelCell: the dual-construction combination of the company’s lightweight REVlite EVA plus firmer nitrogen infused TPU provide great responsiveness and underfoot feel. Our testers generally like the overall comfort after working out some initial wrinkles due to general stiffness in the heel collar and midfoot. A 6mm drop is right in the sweet spot for midfoot or heel strikers. The FuelCell is probably too heavy for a racing shoe, but well positioned as an everyday trainer that helps you feel faster and lighter.

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EXPERT GUIDE: ROAD RUNNING SHOES

To pick the best running shoes, you need to understand what you’re buying. This is our simplified, comprehensive primer to the most important piece of gear for runners.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD RUNNING SHOE?

There is no one running shoe that’s best for everyone. All runners and all feet are different, and what’s good to one runner, like thick cushioning, may be bad for someone who prefers more speed and responsiveness. That said, the best running shoes share certain common characteristics.

Great Fit

Fit is completely relative to each person’s unique footshape, and there are dramatic differences in the size, volume, and shape of runners’ feet. But a road running shoe should always feel comfortably snug through the heel and midfoot without needing to crank down the laces. The best running shoes make it easy to find a snug fit with a lacing design that slowly, evenly cinches around the foot, and also minimizes the amount the laces slip back through the grommets when released by your fingers. This helps make it easy to customize the fit of a shoe as it wraps around your midfoot. After testing hundreds of running shoes over the years, we believe this is one of the single most significant differentiators between a well-made running shoe and one that deserves more time in the design lab.

Certain running shoe companies error on the side of higher volume fits in order to fit the greatest number of customers, and that can cause an overly roomy fit for fairly mainstream runners. One sign you have a shoe that is too wide is when you feel slippage inside the shoe on downhills or when you see the vamp—the part of the shoe above your toes—”puckering” or folding over itself when you cinch the shoe up. A loose-fitting road running shoe is much less of a handicap than a loose-fitting trail running shoe, but a properly fitting shoe will reduce hotspots and provide a more responsive feel. (A quick remedy for a shoe that’s a bit too roomy: Use a thicker, higher pile sock or an aftermarket sockliner).

Each running shoe company has its own “last“, or foot mould, that it builds its shoes around, and there are often several different lasts within a company’s line. The shape is particular to a brand, and a matter of personal preference. Adidas shoes tend to have a shallower and narrower fit, Brooks running shoes are a bit narrower than Asics, Altra caters to higher volume feet with a wide toe box, etc. Occasionally, companies will describe their shoes as “curved lasted,” which have a slight crescent shape to the shoe, gearing toward neutral or supinating runners, or occasionally “straight lasted” which are straighter, clunkier, and geared more toward runners with flatter feet and severe overpronators. The only way to find the right last for your foot is to try on lots of running shoes.

One indicator of a good lacing structure is the number of “lace crossings” or X’s that the shoelaces make on the top of the shoe. Some shoes (notably the Adidas Boost) have only three lace crossings. Most have four and many have five. The fewer X’s you see, the more weight a shoe can save in its laces, but the more difficult it will be to dial in a perfect fit.

Low Weight

Generally, the lighter a shoe is, the faster and more efficiently it will move. Studies have shown that for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of additional weight on a shoe, oxygen consumption goes up by one percent. Running shoe weights have dropped substantially over the last few years. In the mid-2000s, road running shoes for higher mileage training commonly weighed 12-13 ounces for a Men’s size 9, whereas most of the best are now in the 10-ounce range and many are in the 8-9 ounce range. However, although shoes that are too light can slow runners down because the body expends more energy to compensate for the lack of cushioning and structure.

Speed

Not every runner wants to go fast, but certain shoes are slower than others—and often without much of a corresponding benefit. More structured shoes tend to be heavier, which has the advantage of providing foot support for high mileage efforts or for heavier runners, but dramatically slow turnover.

One often overlooked factor in a running shoe’s speed is the foam itself. The thicker and softer a running shoe’s foam is, the slower it will feel on the road—with each step requiring losing energy in the name of shock absorption. The thinner and firmer a running shoe’s foam, the more efficient it will be. Like running in sand, an overly soft shoe can be exhausting. The best running shoes have highly responsive foams that provide adequate cushioning and underfoot structure but also minimize the amount of energy lost with each stride. They feel energetic and fun, while overfoamed shoes feel sluggish, “cruisey” and dull.

Comfort

Running shoes boost interior comfort by adding various amounts of padding in the tongue (to protect against lace pressure) and around the heel cup. Most of what runner’s perceive as comfort in a running shoe comes from the softness of the midsole and the lack of pressure points throughout the upper, usually combatted by various amounts of padding around the heel collar, tongue, and flexible structural elements around the upper. Adequate padding in the tongue can reduce the pressure of laces across the top of your foot, although too much can make the shoe feel disconnected and imprecise. The material lining the heel cup should be a smooth, non-abrasive, sweat-wicking fabric.

Responsiveness

Some running shoe foams feel soft and dead—they have a very comfortable ride but feel slow and plodding. Others feel downright firm, but spring off the pavement. The best running shoes have a good balance of cushioning and an energetic feel—what we sometimes refer to as “pop.” The right place on that spectrum is a matter of personal preference, and highly dependent on a runner’s weight (for example, a 200-pound male runner may find a shoe “soft” while a 110-pound female runner might complain it is too firm).

Smoothness of Stride

The best running shoes have a smooth, even feel underfoot between footstrike and takeoff. The more structural elements the midsole is composed of, the greater the chance of a clunky ride. The thinner the midsole, the greater the chance that you will feel the contours of the outsole, and occasionally we’ll come across a shoe with midsole gimmicks or components that can actually be felt underfoot. With the exception of aggressive pronation control devices, a running shoe should feel completely smooth, even and fluid underfoot.

Structure vs. Flexibility

The best running shoes provide the right balance of structure and support underfoot to handle significant mileage without feeling stiff. Generally, the more flexible a shoe is, the more efficient it will be on the road, but with more strain on your foot and lower leg. Finding the sweet spot between structure and flex is a matter of preference, but certain shoes find that balance better than others.

Structure

The right amount of structure to a shoe’s upper is almost completely a matter of preference. Some runners prefer light, deconstructed shoes with few overlays. Some like, or require, stout structural overlays and a tall, stiff heel counter to help lock the foot in place and control its movement. For many years, running shoe companies added extra overlays to the upper for purely aesthetic, marketing-based reasons. This added one or two completely superfluous ounces to a shoe’s weight. Thankfully, there has been significant pressure from consumers to pare back on unnecessary components to the upper in recent years. The best running shoes do not have unnecessary structural elements, nothing more than what is absolutely needed and absolutely nothing that adds weight and is just for show.