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We tested dozens of new running shoes and reviewed 13 models we recommend as training partners this spring. We divided the shoes into three categories: Most Innovative, Inspired Updates, and Feels Like Old Times (Only Better).
Five Most Innovative Models of 2019 (so Far)
This is an exciting time to be a runner. Not long ago, every brand seemed to make the same shoe, with minor modifications year after year. Then came the great disruption, a battering of the status quo from minimalism, maximalism, innovative new materials and an increasingly overwhelming body of research that says shoes don’t work like we used to think they worked. Now, every year we see radical new designs that continue to redefine what a running shoe is and how they look and perform. These five exciting new models win our recognition for their innovation.
Photo: Brad Kaminski
Salomon Predict RA
Weight: 9.4 oz (M); 8.0 oz (W)
What’s Innovative: The Predict RA reimagines how a running shoe interacts with your foot, creating stability through geometry rather than density. Truth is, shoes themselves are largely responsible for instability in running: A bare foot on a firm surface is the most stable you’re going to get. But we need cushioning to protect our feet from hard surfaces and that cushioning platform introduces distance from the ground and squishiness underfoot, which contrive to torque our feet out of their stable paths. Most shoes to date have tried to reduce these forces by blocking them with firmer materials in strategic places. The Predict RA, instead, removes the torques by “decoupling” the sole with deep grooves on both the outside and inside of the shoe that echo the major joints of the foot. The result is a sole with 10 “platforms” that can adapt independently, cushioning and supporting when needed as forces change throughout the stride—just as the foot does.
How They Ride: The shoe seems to deliver as promised. The feel is firm underfoot, but not stiff, making the shoe supportive while not at all controlling, with a comfortable, smooth ride from landing to toe off. One tester who has had ankle and shin pain found no trace of it running in the Predict RA. The segmented sole shines the most during the transition from mid to forefoot, where the arch is supported independent of the ball of the foot, and each toe feels cared for and engaged in the stride—all the way from the first to the oft-ignored 5th one.
Other Highlights: The comfortable heel is a form-fitting cup, molded in a bra factory.
Skechers GORun 7 Hyper
Weight: 7.8 oz (M); 6.1 oz (W)
What’s Innovative: The GORun 7 Hyper moves Skechers to the forefront of innovation due to its new, ultra-light, ultra-bouncy HyperBurst foam. HyperBurst begins as EVA foam, the same material that has been cushioning running shoes since the 1970s. But Skechers saturates the EVA with heated and pressurized liquid CO2 that then returns to its normal gaseous state, expanding the foam by creating thousands of gas-filled bubbles trapped within the midsole. “The larger-than-typical bubbles is what makes this foam so light, since the large bubbles displace the solid mass of more typical EVA,” says Kurt Stockbridge, Skechers footwear development vice president. “Also, thicker than normal cell walls are what provides the runner with higher resiliency and durability.” Skechers molds the foam into a simple, single-density design with a low heel-toe drop and a pronounced rocker shape from heel to toe.
How They Ride: The HyperBurst foam feels different than anything you’ve tried before, even to the touch. It reminds us of high-end packing materials you’d find around expensive scientific instruments, materials that cushion while holding their shape to protect the sensitive cargo. On the run it provides this sensation for your feet, coddling the contours without sinking in too much, with a quick, bouncy return that, combined with the toe rocker, gets you off the ground and back in the air quickly. Bottom line: you fly. “The cushioning was just right,” said a tester. “It was enough to protect impact without losing the feel of the road.”
Other Highlights: The booty-like upper stays out of the way, and coddles your heel and ankle.
Under Armour HOVR Infinite
Weight: 10.75 oz (M); 8.75 oz (W)
What’s Innovative: Under Armour introduced their HOVR technology last year, but it comes into its own in the Infinite, which uses more of the energy-return foam in a full-length mid-sole layer. The holy grail of midsoles is to provide both a soft cushion and a firm platform for stability and push off. HOVR technology creates this effect by encasing a light, soft foam inside a mesh fabric “energy web” that keeps it from losing its shape on compression so it bounces back quickly. This webbed foam is then surrounded on the bottom and sides by a firmer “carrier” that enhances stability and transition. Together, the midsole promises a “zero-gravity,” floating-over-the-ground feel.
How They Ride: Because they have to bounce back at the precisely right time, energy-return foams are by nature more finicky than cushion foams. Tester experience in the Infinite reflects this. One found the sole firm and stiff, another said it was “a little on the squishier side.” One didn’t feel any responsiveness, while most agreed with the tester that described it as, ‘“Lively—it put noticeable energy into my stride.” The shoes inspired testers to use seemingly contradictory terms to appreciate them: “Stiff but flexible,” “Firm yet comfortable.” In general, the ride leans toward bounce over cush, with little displacement and a fast-cadence feel, while still well-protected from the ground. Among the increasing number of “energy–return” foam options on the market, the HOVR technology provides a unique sensation that is worth trying.
Other highlights: For no additional cost, the shoes have a built-in sensor that syncs with a free MapMyRun app and automatically records the time and distance of your runs, plus reports data like cadence and stride length.
Puma Speed 500
Weight: 10.9 oz (M)
What’s Innovative: One of the big challenges of creating a running shoe upper is that feet differ, not just in length and width, but in subtle but important ways such as the height and shape of the instep or the relative length of the arch and toes. When you don’t know where the metatarsal heads (ball of the foot) lie along the length of the foot, it’s hard to create a shoe that holds without constricting. You want it to lock down right behind the ball to prevent side-to-side slippage and make the shoe move with the foot. Too far forward toward the toes, however, and you interfere with flex and splay; too far back toward the ankle, the footplant gets sloppy and you can constrict how the arch forms.
Puma’s NETFIT technology solves this problem by letting you customize the placement of the laces nearly anywhere across the upper. So a runner with slightly longer toes, for example, can move the start of the laces back, exactly where she or he needs them. You can further customize the fit by wrapping the laces farther down on the medial or lateral side, or place them closer together or farther apart at different points.
How They Ride: This version of NETFIT seems to work better than previous models, given the thin, stretchy, highly-flexible inner bootie that adapts in shape to however we laced the NETFIT saddle. After some experimenting, testers were able to dial-in a customized, foot-hugging, supportive fit that flexed in the right places. The smooth, thin, high-top ankle collar also holds and moves comfortably. Underfoot, the new ProFoam EVA is lighter and firmer than Puma’s ignite, giving a connected, responsive ride.
Other highlights: The PROPLATE, A thin, y-shaped plastic piece embedded in the forefoot, loads when you flex your foot and releases on push off, adding a small propulsive “pop” to your stride while still bending easily enough to not feel like a stiff track spike.
Weight: 10.2 oz (M); 8.5 oz (W)
What’s Innovative: Since its founding, the Swiss brand On has used mechanical “clouds” to create what we call “energy-return” but is more accurately “less-energy-loss”—regardless of the foam or technology. What the clouds provide is a combination of cushioning (when the clouds compress) and responsiveness (when you push against the firm platform of the bottomed-out clouds). With the Cloudswift, On is introducing a new, proprietary foam, Helion, that has its own energy-return properties. Helion makes now-familiar claims of providing both cushioning and bounce back while retaining its characteristics in heat or cold and over time—yet it is lighter than most competing foams, with a unique feel underfoot. The new foam is also shaped in On’s signature cloud shapes, multiplying the cushioning and rebounding effect.
How They Ride: The clouds on the Cloudswift are larger than those on many On models. They collapse diagonally to reduce horizontal forces and they don’t seem to bottom out as easily. The sole has a wider base than most Ons, and the fit seems more generous, with more plush, step-in comfort. All that combines to make the ride feel a bit more mainstream, for better or worse, but making it perhaps a good model to start with in the On line. Testers in general found the sole quite firm, yet one gave a contradictory report—as happens with energy-return foams—and felt the heel sunk in too much. All reported the ride as light, responsive and adaptable, with individual clouds compressing under force and rebounding as the foot moves through the stride. The Cloudswift provides a distinct ride not found elsewhere and is worth exploring in the quest to find the energy-return system that’s dialed to your stride.
Other highlights: At the heart of every On is a resilient plastic “Speedboard” that provides a smooth transition through the stride, as well as flexes and rebounds, enhancing the spring of the toe-off.
Inspired Updates: 5 Models That Fit and Perform Better than the Originals
Shoe brands feel the need to update nearly every model every year—mostly to get your attention. Sometimes the updates are merely cosmetic: a color change or minor alteration of the upper. Sometimes the updates mess with a beloved ride, infuriating fans. And sometimes the updates fix problems, introduce better materials, improve fit and function. These five sequels are the latter: New versions that perform better than the originals.
Hoka Mach 2
Weight: 8.0 oz (M); 6.6 oz (W)
Why they’re better: The light, flexible, foot-wrapping and forgiving upper makes this arguably the best-fitting Hoka to date. The Mach’s predecessor, the Clayton, was supposed to be more accommodating than the typically narrow Hoka, but it had a weird fit issue that bloodied the arches of many. The Mach was better, but its upper was somewhat stiff and hard to lock down to the foot. The Mach 2’s thin, engineered mesh stays out of the way while wrapping close to the foot, and the last provides room for real feet, even allowing some splay.
How they ride: Besides no longer rubbing the wrong way, the Mach also delivers an improved underfoot feel. The full midsole is now molded from a rubberized foam that is softer in the heel and firmer in the forefoot. There’s still considerable distance between you and the ground (more than one tester preferred), but the footplant is far less squishy than other Hokas, and, combined with the wide base and aggressive toe rocker, the ride feels both stable and swift. One tester who has never before found a Hoka he wanted to take home found himself reaching for the Mach 2 for daily runs and tempo work.
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit
Weight: 7.3 oz (M); 6.1 oz (W)
Why they’re better: Most everything about the new Zante Pursuit is a bit less than the v4—less weight, less stiffness, less control—which makes the shoe more for many runners. New Balance pared the weight down by a good ounce, reduced the density of the midsole, and lost the lock-down midfoot saddle on the upper. The new upper, made of soft, stretchy Hyperknit, makes this model stand out in both comfort and style.
How they ride: From the beginning the Zante has provided an inimitable, quick-transition, high-cadence, rolling ride off its moderately-firm sole with sharply upturned toe. “This shoe pushes your speed and encourages a rapid turnover,” said one tester. This version delivered that happy-feet feel of the first Zante, with an even smoother roll due to the slipper-like upper that avoids the sometimes awkward transition from tight midfoot to open forefoot in previous uppers. It is a testament to the way the sole moves with the foot that the stretchy upper provides adequate control for running at most paces, although not enough for races. Testers raved about their comfort and said they often kept the Zante Pursuits on after runs were over.
Brooks Glycerin 17
Weight: 10.6 oz (M); 9.2 oz (W)
Why they’re better: The 17th edition of the Glycerin saw minor changes in how the shoe surrounds your foot, but those tweaks improve the feel and ride of Brook’s uber-cushioned model. Directly underfoot, the standard-foam footbed was replaced with an Ortholite sockliner, which is thinner, more flexible and provides energy-return properties—soft but bouncy, light but resilient. The engineered mesh upper became softer and more flexible, particularly around the heel and midfoot where what was a solid and somewhat rigid saddle overlay is now a much thinner pattern of flexible 3-D-printed hexagons.
How they ride: The updates let the shoe wrap and move with the foot superbly, allowing you to better feel and appreciate the beauty of the light, flexible and cushy DNA Loft midsole foam introduced in the Glycerin 16. The shoe transitions smoothly through the stride and provides excellent cushioning without wallowing. “The Glycerin is the perfect balance of light and zippy as well as cushioned and secure feeling,” said a tester. “The cushion is ample for double digit runs along with the feeling that you could throw in some fast strides or even a fartlek.”
Nike Odyssey React Flyknit 2
Weight: 8.2 oz (M); 6.9 oz (W)
Why they’re better: The new Flyknit upper makes the Odyssey React 2 a far more comfortable shoe. Nike designers swapped out the constricting neoprene “booty” of the original model for one made of stretchy, breathable, engineered Flyknit wrapping the foot from toe to tongue. They’ve also added a more substantial saddle from heel to instep to improve the rear- and midfoot lock down. This new version is still quite narrow, particularly at the toe, which some testers felt was too snug, but the upper stretches to accommodate most feet, and holds and moves comfortably through the stride.
How they ride: When React foam came out early last year it was a breakthrough in providing superior energy-return in an ultra-light package. Other foams are now competing in that space, but React still provides a distinct, soft bounce that works well at a variety of paces. The Odyssey adds a hint of stability and durability to the React’s ride with a more substantial “heel clip” and more outsole rubber, plus that supportive midfoot saddle. Many—even some neutral testers—found the ride superior to the Epic React Flyknit, the Odyssey’s flashier sibling, as the heel squished a bit less and seemed to roll quickly down the 10mm drop and off the rockered toe. “The shoe was responsive, especially at faster speeds,” said one tester. “It makes you feel smooth and quick when increasing the cadence.”
Topo UltraFly 2
Weight: 10.4 oz (M); 8.2 oz (W)
Why they’re better: Topo improved the fit of their most-cushioned shoe by replacing the upper fabric with a more breathable and durable mesh, plus reducing the amount of overlays. They also replaced the insole with an Ortholite-X Series sockliner that provides a plusher, long-lasting, bouncy feel underfoot and lets the properties of the midsole material shine.
How they ride: The UltraFly uniquely delivers a combination of foot-shaped comfort created by a wide, squared-off toe box, the natural ride of a low heel-toe drop, and the stability of a 3-density midsole, with a softer crash pad and firmer medial post. The new upper wraps the foot closer and allows for a smoother and easier flex. Even with the stability features, the feel is mostly smooth-rolling cushion, although, as with other Topos, the ride is firmer than many of today’s shoes, the way a high-quality mattress is firmer than a futon. “The shoe feels stable and cushioned without being spongy—a springy platform that keeps me connected to the ground without getting beat up by it,” said one tester.
3 Models that Feel Like Old Times (Only Better)
Many of today’s running shoes have a significantly different ride and feel than shoes did a decade ago. New styles, new materials, new approaches have altered the shape of shoes and how they interact with your feet and the ground. And for many runners, that is a good thing.
But the traditional running shoe shape and ride still works for a lot of runners. Even biomechanical researcher Benno Nigg, whose work was central in proving that “motion control” shoes don’t actually control foot motion, says, “Certain people like those shoes—there is nothing wrong with that. Some people like to have support under the arch, and some people don’t like that. And the group that likes support under the arch is not a small group.” Nigg argues that while we can’t prove that they prevent injury, if they feel right, they are right for your body and stride now.
If you’re one of those people who prefer the feel of “stability shoes,” you’re in luck. Some of today’s models preserve traditional design elements and provide a familiar, comfortable ride, while subtly improving your experience with new materials and technologies. The following shoes feel like old times, only better.
Mizuno Wave Inspire 15
Weight: 10.3 oz (M); 8.7 oz (W)
Why it’s the same: The Wave Inspire retains a pre-minimalism 12mm heel-to-toe drop, additional support on the medial (arch) side of the familiar Mizuno wave plate, and a flexible forefoot. The upper is mesh with supportive overlays, a padded ankle collar and straightforward lacing, holding the foot more securely than new knits.
Why it’s better: That upper mesh has engineered zones for breathability and support, and is softer and more flexible than in the past. A combination of responsive U4ic foam directly underfoot and uber-soft U4icX under the wave plate in the rearfoot tune the ride and provide superior performance with less weight.
How They Ride: The mixture of foams, wave plate and geometry create a soft, smooth, supported landing with a surprisingly quick, responsive toe off. Overall, they give the feeling of a smooth-rolling ride, particularly for heel strikers, that insulates you from the harshness of the road and can go the distance. “The shoe never made me feel sluggish, but it doesn’t provide a nimble/agile feel to it either,” said one tester. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing—these Mizunos are very comfortable road cruising shoes.”
Asics Gel-DS Trainer 24
Weight: 8.7 oz (M); 7.1 oz (W)
Why it’s the same: The DS Trainer has been providing stable speed since before Y2K. This is a shoe that launched its own category: lightweight stability trainer/racer. Underfoot, the features remain remarkably similar to those worn by 20th-century runners: An 8mm heel-toe drop, a gel pad under the heel, a long, firmer-density, medial post under the arch, and a plastic shank that provides additional support under the midfoot and reaches into the forefoot to enhance the toe-off spring.
Why it’s better: This 24thedition sports Asics first knit upper, which is stretchy, breathable, and, most importantly, no longer too narrow in the forefoot—as many of the preceding DS Trainer models were. On the contrary, testers specifically praised the toebox fit, and “how the midfoot material thinned out really well for a lightweight, breathable and somewhat flexible fit.” The upper is comfortable and accommodating, and the knit also looks cool and modern. Additionally, the Flight Foam midsole reduces weight without losing cushioning or durability.
How They Ride: The DS Trainer makes you feel connected to the ground. The ride is firm and snappy—a welcome change from the mushy cushiness of many of today’s shoes, for those who prefer to dance quickly over the road. One tester raved that the ride was, “One of the best I have ever experienced in terms of propulsion.” Despite having “trainer” in its name, the DS serves as a racing shoe for many. Lot’s of people have run marathons in this shoe, but some testers felt that they’d reserve it for speed training and races shorter than the half marathon.
361 Strata 3
Weight: 11.1 oz (M); 9.3 oz (W)
Why it’s the same: 361 still is a relatively new player in the US market, but they’re not trying to make their mark with gimmicks or novelty—one of their recent ad slogans was “Not Trending.” Instead, they’re unabashedly creating shoes with familiar, dependable profiles and rides, using modern materials and know how. The Strata recalls the ubiquitous, early-2000s stability trainer with a multi-density midsole (softer crash pad, firmer medial post), plastic stability shank with vertical pillars under the arch, flexible forefoot, and plush, supportive upper with a traditional heel counter and ankle collar.
Why it’s better: The early 2000s had nothing like 361’s QU!KFOAM that you’ll find in a full-length top layer of the midsole, in the crash pad on the outside of the heel, and layered into the forefoot. The foam compresses easily for a soft, luxurious feel, then firms up and bounces back to keep your ground contact quick. Tests have shown it also holds up better than traditional EVA over time. The Strata 3’s upper is also state of the art, with a foam-padded tongue that insulates your instep from the laces, an internal webbing that hold the foot securely, and engineered mesh for select areas of breathability or support.
How They Ride: The Strata 3’s ride is all about comfortable, stable cushioning. The oh-so-padded upper holds with a soft, secure grip. The heel cushions on touchdown and quickly anchors the rearfoot. You roll smoothly through the supported midfoot and the toe flexes easily on toe off. It doesn’t try to rocker you forward or provide propulsion. And that’s a good thing for many runners. One tester called them a, “Comfortable, good utility shoe: Did not provide energy, nor feel sluggish. Did not detract from running.” It isn’t the sexiest description, but that’s more than can be said for many shoes, and the Strata 3 will take you through a lot of undistracted miles.