Spring 2014 Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide
Here are 30 of the best models you'll find in running stores this spring!
Here are 30 of the best models you’ll find in running stores from late winter to early summer!
Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about running shoes, things have continued to evolve. While minimalist shoes are still progressing, it’s the maximalist models and the wide range of enhanced, everyday neutral and light stability trainers that are creating the buzz in 2014. New, more resilient midsole foams; flexible, dynamic uppers; and lighter models in all categories are among the many highlights. While these advancements may compel you to expand your quiver of shoes, the good news is that there are more quality options for every runner. Here’s an overview of 30 of the best models you’ll find in running stores right now.
RELATED: 12 Things About Maximalist Shoes
Spring 2014 Fit, Feel, Ride Awards
Best Ride: New Balance Fresh Foam 980
Best Innovation: Hoka One One Conquest
Best Update: Mizuno Wave Rider 17
Best Value: Skechers GoRun3
RELATED: 2014 Running Shoe Trends
Adidas Boost 2, $160
9.6 oz. (men’s); 8.4 oz. (women’s)
32mm (heel), 22mm (forefoot)
Fit: Like the first version of the Energy Boost, the updated model serves up a socklike fit that feels locked down to the midsole from heel to toe.
Feel: Built around the innovative Boost midsole foam adidas debuted last spring—made from tiny balls of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) fused together with steam instead of glued-together layers of traditional ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA)—the feeling under foot is decidedly soft and springy. They’re slightly lighter than the first version, and similarly flexible and responsive.
Ride: These shoes provide considerably energy return in every stride—bordering on too much for a few of our wear-testers. If you can get used to the springiness—it’s uncanny, like any other shoe in our spring test—you can settle into to a smooth-striding rhythm. But you can’t force it, otherwise the bouncy behavior can get squirrely. “The best advice is to run easy and let the shoe do the work for you,” said one of our wear-testers.
Adidas Supernova Glide 6 Boost, $130
10.4 oz. (men’s); 8.7 oz. (women’s)
31mm (heel), 21mm (forefoot)
Fit: Comfortably snug from the heel cup to the toe box, with just enough room up front to accommodate some foot swelling on longer runs. Very cozy feel to the upper with a glove-like fit throughout.
Feel: The popular Supernova Glide was updated with the hyper-energetic Boost midsole foam, and that liveliness combined with its athletic fit give this sturdy and stable mid-weight trainer an energetic sensation, creating a springiness that allowed it to feel lighter than it really is.
Ride: The springy midsole foam gives this shoe a decidedly responsive, yet well-cushioned ride. Pegged as a workhorse trainer with a twinge of versatility in its DNA for tempo runs, our wear-testers said they felt consistent energy return while running in this shoe, even late in long runs. “Adding the Boost foam to this shoe made a good shoe better without any sacrifices,” said one wear-tester.
Altra Olympus, $130
10.9 oz. (men’s); 9.1 oz. (women’s)
36mm (heel), 36mm (forefoot)
Fit: Like other Altra shoes, the fit is nailed-down in the heel and comfortably snug at the midfoot but rather wide-open in the foot-shaped toe box to allow toes to splay.
Feel: At first glance, this shoe looks like a monster of a shoe. But it’s surprisingly light for its size and actually quite nimble once you get used to running in it. It lacks the complete proprioceptive connection to the ground that typical trainers offer. (However, it improves as you near the toe-off phase.) The trade-off, of course, is a copious amount of lusciously soft cushioning.
Ride: Running in the first true zero-drop (flat profile) maximalist shoe is like running on air. It’s one of the highest shoes ever produced, but it’s not at all bulky. Not only is it one of the lightest max-cushion shoes in stores this spring, it also has a noticeably rockered profile in the forefoot (a beveled upward curve) that contributes to forward momentum. “It’s like you’re floating into your next stride automatically and effortlessly,” one tester remarked.
ASICS GEL-Kayano 20, $160
11.2 oz. (men’s); 9.5 oz. (women’s)
30mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)
Fit: Revamped upper materials have helped improve what was already a near-custom fit. It locks in your heel and midfoot and remains spacious in the forefoot.
Feel: An updated midsole has created a more dynamic cushioning package. Even though it has more techy features, it’s softer, smoother and lighter than previous models. The Kayano still offers a twinge of medial stability, but, as with previous models, it feels like a cushy everyday trainer.
Ride: A classic model two decades in the making, the Kayano 20 remains a durable workhorse, a go-to shoe capable of high-mileage training and, for some, even an option for running a half or full marathon. It’s not particularly fast or agile though, and it’s not nearly as light as many of its contemporaries, but the updates to this shoe have made the ride even more sublime. “Very nice for long runs and moderate paces,” one tester chimed, adding that “it felt a bit overbuilt and a tad heavy for faster running.”
ASICS GEL-Lyte 33–3, $90
7.3 oz. (men’s); 6.2 oz. (women’s)
22mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)
Fit: With a lightweight, seam-free upper, this shoe wraps the heel and midfoot like a glove and the absence of forefoot overlays helps it to accommodate a wide variety of foot types.
Feel: For a light shoe with an uber-flexible midsole that feels so low to the ground, it packs a surprising amount of protection between your foot and the pavement, making it a good long-distance racing option for many runners.
Ride: The GEL-Lyte 33-3 could easily be mistaken for a neutral racing flat but it packs quite a bit more into its lightweight package than its more minimal cousins, and that gives it versaitlity. It’s built with a thin layer of soft foam under the foot sandwiched on top of a thicker, semi-firm layer of foam beneath that.
Brooks Pure Flow 3, $100
9.0 oz. (men’s); 7.3 oz. (women’s)
22mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)
Fit: The updated Pure Flow has a locked-down fit in the heel and midfoot (thanks to a wide, stretchy arch support band and burrito-style tongue that wraps the foot from medial to lateral) with copious room in the toe box.
Feel: An easy-flexing shoe with a soft, neutral midsole and a fairly low-to-the-ground design, the updated Pure Flow 3 has a new upper that offers an improve fit without taking away from the uninhibited ride. The profile is slightly narrower than its predecessors, making it slightly more agile while still being wide enough to offer a twinge of inherent stability.
Ride: Although vastly updated, this high-mileage trainer runs similarly as the first two Pure Flow versions, only better. This shoe offers a good blend of cushioned comfort and proprioceptive feel for the road, but the enhanced fit and ride allow it to have more zip, making it more conducive for running faster workouts like tempo runs or progression runs or even longer races. The low heel-toe drop encourages a mid-to-forefoot strike, lending to a smooth ride for runners looking to try less of a shoe without sacrificing protection.
Brooks Transcend, $160
12.2 oz. (men’s); 10.1 oz. (women’s)
30mm (heel), 22mm (forefoot)
Fit: While the buzz of this shoe is mostly about the cushioning, it also offers a superlative fit. Wear-testers loved the secure heel, snug midfoot and spacious toe box.
Feel: With an extra-cushy footbed, tongue and interior, the Transcend oozes luxurious comfort from the moment you slip your foot inside. Brooks set out to create a shoe with the “ultimate float” feeling and our wear-testers considered it a mission accomplished. But it’s also a super stable shoe too, thanks to firm rubber guide rails that run the length of the shoe on each side of the foot. For a maximally cushioned shoe, it feels pretty low to the ground and provides a more responsive ride than some of our wear-testers were expecting.
Ride: With 25 percent more plush foam than any other Brooks shoe, there’s no question the Transcend serves up a cushy ride. While its considerable girth results in a lack of agility and reduced feel for the ground, it provides an exquisitely smooth ride from heel to toe that is also surprisingly stable. “It’s best of both worlds—a soft and sturdy ride,” said one wear-tester. Still, the rather stiff midsole takes some getting used to, and might be a turnoff for more nimble runners.
Hoka One One Conquest, $170
11.8 oz. (men’s); 9.6 oz. (women’s)
34mm (heel), 28mm (forefoot)
Fit: Aided by quick-pull laces and a gusseted tongue, the Conquest snugs up the foot into a soft rear-locking fit. The heel and arch are snug, but the high-volume forefoot area is decidedly roomy.
Feel: Yes, the unique, high-off-the-ground maximalist sensation that Hoka has built its brand around takes some getting used to, but a runner’s foot actually sits down in an interior chassis that nests inside the midsole/outsole structure. While the Conquest isn’t impressively light or nimble, most of our wear-testers thought it felt lighter and more stable than they had expected.
Ride: The oversized geometry and soft cushioning of this shoe offer a sublime pillowy sensation. (However, it’s not as marshmallowy as some of Hoka’s original models.) While the proprioceptive feel for the ground is a bit muted, the slightly rockered profile adds to the easy-rolling sensation from heel strike to toe-off. Wear-testers loved it for long runs and recovery runs, but a few found the Conquest to be responsive enough for faster running.
Inov-8 Tri-X-Treme 245, $130
8.5 oz. (men’s); 7.1 oz. (women’s)
21mm (heel), 15mm (forefoot)
Fit: Designed to be an easy-on shoe in a triathlon transition area, it fits like a sleek racing flat throughout.
Feel: This lightweight, low-to-the-ground speed merchant has a few tri-specific features, such as bungee quick-lacing, drain ports and a slightly wider opening. The no-fuss upper offers little support, but many of our wear- testers appreciated how the stretchy mesh fabric of the seamless and completely unencumbered forefoot held the toes in place. Like most Inov-8 shoes, it offers excellent foot-to-ground proprioception and amazing agility at faster paces.
Ride: Even if you’re not a triathlete, this easy-flexing, minimalist-inspired racer is everything you need and nothing you don’t for short- to medium-length runs or speed workouts. In other words, it’s going to enhance your run. The midsole is made from a blend of traditional foam and blown rubber, which give it a responsive, semi-firm sensation, especially at faster speeds.
Karhu Fluid3 Fulcrum, $125
9.6 oz. (men’s); 8.3 oz. (women’s)
20mm (heel), 12mm (forefoot)
Fit: This shoe fits snug in the midfoot/arch area but has a slightly wider heel (some runners needed the extended eye loop to cinch it down) and is adequately roomy in the toe box.
Feel: Moderately soft and sufficiently light to be an everyday trainer for efficient runners, the Fluid3 is a versatile shoe with enough pop to do the trick for faster workouts. It has a low-to-the-ground sensation with minimalist inklings but still offers enough cushion and outsole protection to make it a well-rounded lightweight trainer.
Ride: More than with any other Karhu shoe, the ride of the Fluid3 is energetic, smooth and natural. There’s nothing to get in the way of your foot’s ordinary flex (including the subtle fulcrum lever under the heel and arch). It’s certainly one of the most versatile shoes in our test group, having the chops for both longer and shorter runs at all speeds. “It’s fairly light, it’s flexible and it has just enough cushion,” said one wear-tester. What more do you need than that?
Merrell All-Out Fuse, $110
8.0 oz. (men’s); 6.5 oz. (women’s)
18mm (heel), 12mm (forefoot)
Fit: Narrow-fitting and snug in the heel and midfoot, this shoe widens out considerably in the forefoot and toe box.
Feel: Although not quite a “barely there” shoe, it’s pretty low to the ground and the scant amount of cushioning feels semi-firm. But those are good things if you want to have dynamic proprioceptive interaction with the ground. It has a moderate heel-toe drop and just enough foam and rubber to offer protection without reducing the feel for the ground very much.
Ride: The ride is somewhat basic and very natural (but not bone-jarring or raw), offering up an infinitely agile sensation in every stride. Combined with the easy flex and no-frills design, it’s a shoe that stays out of the way of your natural foot movements. “I like this shoe for what it’s not,” said one wear-tester. “I can’t wear this kind of shoe all the time, but I really like the proprioceptive aura it gives off.” As with other barely there shoes, the key is having strong feet, lower legs and core strength.
Mizuno Wave Hitogami, $100
8.0 oz. (men’s), 6.2 oz. (women’s)
23mm (heel), 14mm (forefoot)
Fit: Like many of Mizuno’s lightweight performance training flats, the Hitogami has a narrow shape that fits snug throughout, with just a little wiggle room in the toe box created by the stretchy seamless upper in the toe box.
Feel: Sleekly designed, with a semi-firm feel built into its low-to-the-ground profile, the Hitogmia is a lightweight, high-performance neutral trainer that offers considerable impact protection and a go-fast vibe.
Ride: It’s a neutral shoe with little structure and almost no support, a model best for strong, agile runners. For those runners, the ride is energetic and almost completely uninhibited. The semi-firm feeling under foot makes this shoe very conducive to running faster workouts or short-distance races.
Mizuno Wave Rider 17, $115
8.9 oz. (men’s); 7.8 oz. (women’s)
31mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)
Fit: Like previous versions of the Wave Rider, this model has a secure feeling in the heel; however, it’s slightly wider in the midfoot and more roomy in the toe box than previous models.
Feel: Lighter is better, especially in this case. The latest edition of the Wave Rider has a completely overhauled upper with a new pliable and very breathable mesh fabric that’s supported by TPU overlays. The undercarriage has been tweaked too, but the soft sensation in the heel, snappy flex and semi-firm feeling at toe-off remain.
Ride: The continued evolution of the Wave Rider (which includes a new blown-rubber outsole configuration and a new premium sock liner) has resulted in a smoother, quieter ride. It’s a high-mileage trainer with a penchant for speed, a combination that offers enough versatility to be a one-quiver shoe—it’s adept at going long, running shorter, faster workouts or racing from 5K to the marathon. “This is the best version of the Wave Rider yet,” one wear-tester gushed.
New Balance 1080v4, $140
9.4 oz. (men’s); 7.8 oz. (women’s)
27mm (heel), 19mm (forefoot)
Fit: Snug and secure in the heel and midfoot, the 1080v4 has a little extra room in the toe box.
Feel: With a posh step-in feel provided by a softly lined interior and a stretchy, seamless upper, the 1080v4 offers high-end comfort for high-mileage running. It’s not as light as many other neutral trainers, but what it gives up in agility it makes up for in cushion, protection and durability.
Ride: The multi-layered midsole is made of a smart blend of super soft and moderately soft foams, which allows for a reliably smooth heel-toe transition and a soft feeling without being mushy. Although not geared to run as fast as many of its contemporaries, it is a trustworthy and comfortable companion for long-distance jaunts.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980, $110
8.8 oz. (men’s); 7.3 oz. (women’s)
25mm (heel), 21mm (forefoot)
Fit: Narrow from heel to toe, this shoe has the snug, athletic fit of a racing flat, thanks in part to an extra foamy tongue.
Feel: A plush interior makes it feel like there’s a lot of material snugly wrapped around your foot. But the dynamic midsole foam, combined with a form-fitting upper mesh, creates a flexible, glove-like sensation that allows this shoe to be surprisingly nimble. (The concave and convex patterns of the midsole sidewalls play a role in how stiff, soft or stable the foam is in those areas.)
Ride: A moderate heel-toe drop and new Fresh Foam technology in the midsole offer a unique ride that’s cushioned enough to offer plenty of protection underfoot for longer miles on the road but responsive enough to run fast. Our wear-testers like this shoe as an everyday trainer because of the extra cushion and pep provided in every step. One tester admiringly referred to the “spunky energy return,” while another summed it up by saying, “It’s a great all-purpose shoe.”
New Balance Minimus Zero v2, $110
5.9 oz. (men’s); 4.8 oz. (women’s)
11mm (heel), 11mm (forefoot)
Fit: The Zero v2 fits almost as if it’s been painted on your skin—as snug and secure in the heel and arch/midfoot and slightly more width in the forefoot for the toes to splay.
Feel: Quite simply, this shoe feels barely-there—but in a good way. It’s super-light and exquisitely flexible, but the thin layer of foam and patches of durable outsole rubber offer enough cushioning and protection so that you don’t feel every nook and cranny of the road without sacrificing the unparalleled proprioceptive feeling evident in every stride.
Ride: If any shoe has an enhanced barefoot-sensation to it, it’s this one. Light, flexible and secure, this shoe moves exactly how your foot wants it to move. While the upper provides locked-down support, there’s little inherent stability built into to this—that has to come from your foot. It takes a very strong, efficient and agile runner to run medium and longer distances in this shoe, but it could be an ideal model for shorter runs, faster workouts and drills for some runners.
Newton Motion III, $175
9.3 oz. (men’s); 7.8 oz. (women’s)
26mm (heel), 22mm (forefoot)
Fit: This shoe has a locked-down fit in the heel and arch areas and just enough room in the forefoot for the toes to wiggle and splay.
Feel: The Motion III has a wider profile than previous editions, which accommodates Newton’s new, wider five-lug propulsion unit in the forefoot and adds stability by way of additional ground contact. The revised upper, which includes a microsuede arch saddle and two flexible meshes, contributes to both its supportive feeling and easy-flexing demeanor.
Ride: By removing the medial post and widening the forefoot, Newton enhanced both the uninhibited ride and the inherent stability of this shoe. It clearly serves up more energetic pop than previous Motion models, a sensation wear-testers attributed to the more lively and responsive energy-return system in the forefoot. (Newton calls it +One Technology, in which five firm external rubber lugs press into an elastic chamber in the forefoot of the midsole instead of four as with previous Newton models.) “I like the ride of this shoe more than any Newton I’ve run in before,” said one wear-tester.
Nike Flyknit Lunar2, $160
8.3 oz. (men’s); 6.9 oz. (women’s)
28mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)
Fit: True to a Nike fit, the Flyknit Lunar2 fit most feet snug from heel to toe, including in the toe box and medial arch area.
Feel: The entirely knitted upper construction seamlessly integrates areas of high breathability, flexibility and support in different parts of the shoe. It’s lightweight and flexible, but it also feels sturdy, thanks to the locked-down, reinforced feel of the medial arch. “The mix of just-enough support, good flex and lightness gave these a lovely nimble, lithesome feel,” one of our wear-testers said.
Ride: The ride is soft, responsive and uninhibited, but it’s also stable and firm. That’s an uncommon mix, one made possible by the unique dual-density foam blend in the midsole. Our testers appreciated the buttery cushion for longer runs but liked the energetic pop and agility for faster types of running. “The engineering of the upper is certainly impressive, but it definitely contributes to the fit, feel and ride of the shoe,” one tester suggested.
Pearl Izumi EM Road M2, $110
9.8 oz. (men’s); 8.8 oz. (women’s)
25mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot)
Fit: The M2 is snug and secure in the heel and midfoot area (although it does have a decidedly flat arch, which creates a gap under some foot shapes) and has ample wiggle room up front.
Feel: Although it appears to have a slightly higher (but not quite maximal) level of foam, the M2 is considerably more firm than it is soft. It’s a lightweight and quite supple stability trainer with a large medial post under the arch aimed at slowing overpronation at the mid-stance phase of the gait.
Ride: Depending on the pace and length of a run, the firmness of this shoe can either seem relentlessly stiff or full of snap. While the lack of softness rankled some of our wear-testers on longer runs, several said they enjoyed this shoe for shorter runs and faster workouts.
Puma Faas 300v3, $90
7.4 oz. (men’s); 5.8 oz. (women’s)
20mm (heel), 12mm (forefoot)
Fit: The latest incarnation of the Faas 300 has the locked-down feeling of a racing flat, snug from heel to toe and enhanced by a seamless upper.
Feel: Low to the ground and minimally constructed, the revised 300 keeps the best traits of its predecessor models—namely that it’s super flexible and has been built with a less-is-more design ethos—while offering an improved upper (stretchy yet secure), a lighter, more energetic foam package, supreme flexibility and a race-ready feel.
Ride: Footloose and fancy-free, the ride of this shoe is completely unencumbered yet very responsive. Although it a good amount of cushioning underfoot, it runs with a barely-there sensation that allow the foot to move freely with a bit of extra giddy-up. Although our testers liked this shoe mostly as a fast workout shoe and a short-distance racer, there’s enough cushion to run moderate distances for strong, agile runners.
Puma Faas 500v3, $100
9.8 oz. (men’s); 8.1 oz. (women’s)
28mm (heel), 22mm (forefoot)
Fit: Enhanced by a new upper, the Faas 500v3 has a narrow, low-volume fit throughout, with slightly more room in the forefoot.
Feel: This shoe has the identical sleek undercarriage as the 500v2, but it has a new reinforced stretchy mesh upper that (with the help of an interior saddle) locks the foot in place while allowing unfettered foot flex. The snug fit and soft, plush interior give it a moderately energetic vibe.
Ride: Somewhat of a cross between a minimalist-inspired racing flat and a traditional high-mileage trainer, this shoe evokes a semi-firm sensation in every stride. Most of our wear-test team felt this shoe was ideal for short- to medium-length runs but also versatile enough for faster workouts, tempo efforts and fartlek runs.
Saucony Mirage 4, $110
9.0 oz. (men’s); 7.4 oz. (women’s)
24mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)
Fit: Snug in the heel and midfoot/arch area, the Mirage offers a tiny bit of extra room in the forefoot for the toes to splay.
Feel: With a good blend of softness and structure, the revamped Mirage feels light and springy while still offering support under the foot. The wide surface area of the outsole adds to its stable medial-posted construction, while the updated seamless mesh helps give it a feeling of agility.
Ride: This lightweight stability trainer offers plenty of pep, making it ideal for progression runs, fartleks and racing from 10K to half marathons. (In fact, many of our wear-testers said it feels like a neutral performance shoe at faster paces.) Whether you need support all the time or if you’re a neutral runner who only needs a twinge of extra stability during longer runs, this is a versatile option.
Saucony Virrata 2, $90
6.6 oz. (men’s); 5.9 oz. (women’s)
18mm (heel), 18mm (forefoot)
Fit: An improved fit—enhanced by a new upper with thin, stretchy inner and outer layers and a touch more heel-cup support—offers security in the heel and midfoot but room for toes to wiggle and splay.
Feel: Is it possible to have maximal cushioning in a minimalist-inspired shoe? That’s what the Virrata 2 is all about. Crazy light, softly cushioned and with a zero-drop profile (meaning it’s flat from heel to toe), the Virrata 2 continues to be in a rare category.
Ride: It’s not a “barely there” minimalist model, but it sure runs like one. There’s plenty of cushioning and protection underfoot, but the easy flex (aided by deep outsole grooves) and lithesome effect make it feel like part of your foot. Our testers universally liked this shoe, even though a few admitted the zero-drop profile was too little for their running needs. “I like this shoe a lot, but I would love it if it came in a 4mm heel-toe offset,” one-wear tester said. (The Saucony Kinvara 5 has a 4mm offset, but it’s not quite as light or nimble.)
Scott eRide AF Trainer 2, $140
8.1 oz. (men’s); 7.4 oz. (women’s)
29mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
Fit: A dynamic mesh upper and lightweight welded overlays help create a form-fitting seal that locks down the heel and arch, while the forefoot and toes are free to move.
Feel: Soft and light underfoot, this energetic shoe inspires a quick cadence and an agile sensation in every stride. A wide footprint that allows for considerable ground contact provides inherent stability without inhibiting the nimble feeling. The subtle genius of this shoe is the thick layer of next-generation Aerofoam midsole, which is resilient and responsive without feeling springy.
Ride: Our wear-testers loved the subtle but distinct rockered profile (curved from heel to toe), suggesting that it encourages forward propulsion and is the catalyst for the smooth rolling ride this shoe consistently produces. The AF Trainer 2 excels as a high-mileage trainer but it has all the tools to be a consummate marathon shoe too. “A very responsive ride and the curved shape of the midsole encourages forward propulsion,” one of our wear-testers remarked. “I liked the first version of this shoe and like the second one even more,” another chimed in.
Skechers GORun 3, $80
7.0 oz. (men’s); 5.2 oz. (women’s)
15mm (heel), 11mm (forefoot)
Fit: This shoe feels securely locked down at the heel but is quite spacious from the mid-arch area to the toe box.
Feel: The GoRun 3 feels pillowy soft and a bit high off the ground when you step into it, but those qualities become more subtle out on a run. It’s definitely light, very soft and infinitely flexible, but it’s also surprisingly stable (thanks to a slightly wider footprint) at slower speeds and fairly agile for a shoe with such a soft foamy midsole/outsole configuration.
Ride: This long-haul distance trainer produced one of the softest rides in our wear-test. Although our wear-testers found this shoe a little sloppy for faster speed workouts, most loved them for tempo runs, long runs and recovery runs because of how conducive they are to running long periods of time at a steady pace. “I found this shoe to be amazing for long runs,” one wear-tester said. “It felt the same after 2 hours as it did in the first 5 minutes.”
Skechers Go Run Ultra, $85
8.7 oz. (men’s), 7.5 oz. (women’s)
27mm (heel), 23mm (forefoot)
Fit: This shoe feels securely locked down at the heel but is quite spacious from the mid-arch area to the toe box.
Feel: With a soft (but not marshmallowy soft) feeling under foot, this shoe’s thick foam midsole offers superb cushioning without being sloppy or smooshy. Like other Skechers models, this shoe is very light and infinitely flexible, but it offers little support or structure aside from the dual-density cushioning.
Ride: One of the lightest maximally cushioned shoes available, the ride is buttery smooth and surprisingly doesn’t feel as high off the ground as it appears. Our wear-testers found it to run best at slower and moderate speeds, making it ideal for long-distance training. Although built with the trails in mind, our wear-testers found the knobby lugged outsole excels on a wide range of surfaces from paved roads to smooth dirt trails.
Skora Fit, $95
8.2 oz. (men’s); 6.6 oz. (women’s)
16mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot)
Fit: An asymmetrical lacing system does a good job of comfortably cinching up the heel and midfoot while leaving plenty of room for the toes to splay and wiggle.
Feel: The latest zero-drop shoe from Skora has modest cushioning underfoot and an infinitely flexible disposition. Our wear-testers appreciated how the sliver of foam and thin rubber outsole offer a noticeable amount of softness and just enough protection from impact and various obstacles on the ground.
Ride: As you might expect from its lightweight and extremely pliable construction, the Fit has an infinitely flexible and uninhibited natural ride. The 16mm of rubber and foam underfoot keeps it from being a “barely there” shoe, but it doesn’t get in the way of amazing foot-to-ground proprioception. “It’s kind of like a dance slipper with more cushion,” one wear-tester said. “It’s above a barefoot ride but not so much that it feels like a cushioned trainer either.” Several of our wear-testers thought it would also be a good shoe to wear while not running to strengthen foot muscles.
The North Face Ultra Smooth, $110
9.3 oz. (men’s); 7.7 oz. (women’s)
24mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot)
Fit: Built on a wider profile than many of the shoes in this review, this model fits snug in the heel but has more room at the midfoot and additional room in the toe box.
Feel: This shoe was designed with a super-light upper and a thick layer of moderately soft midsole foam. It’s not very agile or fast, but it is stable, secure and comfortable for long-haul running on a variety of surfaces.
Ride: The North Face has been making smooth-riding, smartly cushioned trail running shoes for ultrarunners for years. This is a similar incarnation, only with a smooth-surfaced outsole for paved surfaces and dirt roads rather than a grippy lug pattern for more technical trails. The result? It’s a workhorse mileage shoe that lives up to its name with a silky smooth heel-to-toe transition. “It’s ironic that it used to be the road shoe companies trying to make trail shoes,” one wear-tester said, “and now a trail brand has created a pretty nice road shoe.”
Under Armour SpeedForm Apollo, $100
7.0 oz. (men’s); 5.5 oz. (women’s)
24mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot)
Fit: Like its predecessor that came out last year, this shoe wraps the foot snugly with a thin, molded seamless upper that fits like a second skin.
Feel: Light and airy, this shoe feels as if it’s almost painted on your foot. It’s extremely flexible and cozy with or without socks. It effectively straddles the line between feeling soft and semi-firm, ultimately offering a sensation that is soft enough to be comfortable but firm enough to maximize the sensation for the road without actually feeling the rugged surface. “It’s wicked light, almost like it’s not really there,” said one wear-tester.
Ride: The Apollo offers an agile ride that’s a stellar mix between an uninhibited minimalist model and a modern lightweight trainer/racer. Your foot will definitely control the movements in this model while the shoe follows along, providing appropriate flexibility, cushioning and protection. “It’s a unique mix: There’s not much there, but then again, there’s plenty there,” one of our wear-testers said.
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Evo, $120
5.0 oz. (men’s); 4.1 oz. (women’s)
8.5mm (heel), 8.5mm (forefoot)
Fit: As with previous FiveFingers models, the Bikila EVO fits like a glove from heel to toe. The key, which can be tricky, is getting the correct size for your foot.
Feel: While this version of toe shoes is still a low-to-the-ground minimalist model in every sense of the word, an additional 2mm of cushioning gives this one a little bit more substance. It’s still a “barely there,” barefoot-style shoe, but the thin slice of foam is noticeable and appreciated.
Ride: This is as natural as your foot can move while still wearing a shoe. Our wear-testers found that the minimal amount of foam isn’t conducive for heel-striking gaits, so most adapted and ran with a midfoot or forefoot strike as they did with previous FiveFingers models tested. Although the increased cushioning was noticeable, the ride is nearly identical to previous incarnations of FiveFingers shoes. The key to running in this type of shoe remains having strong feet, lower legs and core strength. As with all uber-minimalist shoes, make your transition in moderation.