In a year when most running was limited to competing against oneself, it only seems appropriate that we keep our “best running shoes of 2020” safely within brand bubbles, picking each company’s outstanding shoe for the highly-unusual year. In a few cases we chose both a road and trail entry, in the end totaling 21 shoes — to go one up on the year and get us into 2021. All of these models are still on the market; time to snatch them up — maybe at discount? — before they get updated, or use this as a guide for shoes to watch out for when new, improved models start rolling in during the new year.
adidas Adizero Adios Pro $200
Weight: 7.9 oz Unisex
Offset: 8.5 mm
Adidas was late to the super shoe party but made quite an impression with the Adizero Adios Pro. It’s not quite as light as some of its contemporaries in the high-tech marathon racing shoe genre, but it still manages to serve up a well-cushioned, slightly bouncy, efficient ride. With the new, thick and bouncy Lightstrike midsole foam, the Adizero Pro is designed with a far-forward rocker that starts just past the ball and falls away quickly under the toes. As such, it creates an interesting interaction with the stride, seeming to maximize the rebound property of the foam under the ball before speeding the toe roll. It’s a true go-fast shoe that is impressive in its ability to help you turnover your gait, not just to the forefoot but specifically to the big toe for optimal efficiency and lift-off power. It feels best when staying forward-balanced over the foot with a quick cadence, but they are comfortable (just not as energetic) at slower paces. Upper is surprisingly generous for adidas, while holding the foot securely as befits a racer.
Asics GEL-Nimbus Lite $150
Weight: M 9.7oz, W 8.6oz
As a real change to its sibling GEL-Nimbus 22 — and a new direction for the brand — the Nimbus Lite is a smooth, simple ride with a well-cushioned, one-piece flexible foam midsole and a comfortable, breathable, sustainable upper made of recycled materials. It is well suited for long runs, given its efficiency and the smooth transitions from heel to toe that come from its turnover-friendly and flexible midsole. The shoe serves as a well-cushioned yet lightweight trainer/racer that’s good for the distance. The Flytefoam midsole has impressive rebound qualities and Asics incorporated GEL technology in both the fore and rear for shock attenuation and general cushioning. The heel-to-toe transition of the neutral Nimbus Lite was seamless. The shoe is true to size and testers found the upper fit comfortably, with a somewhat standard forefoot volume, meaning those used to a wide toe box and full splay might find them a bit constrictive.
Altra Timp 2.0 $140
Weight: M9.9oz, W8.7oz
Offset: 0 mm
The Timp 2.0 is a well-fitting, smooth-riding, springy, balanced shoe that can take on long, rugged trails, but won’t beat you up on roads. The first Timp — and version 1.5 — delivered an adaptable, well-cushioned ride, but it felt a bit slow and clunky. No more. This second version of the Timp is softer, lighter, more flexible, bouncier and smoother. The outsole is slightly less sluggish (but still plenty grippy), with multiple flex grooves that allow it to move with the foot and flex naturally through the stride. Combined with 29mm of bouncy Quantic midsole, the feel underfoot somehow delivers both plush comfort and responsive performance that allowed our test team to feel the ground underfoot but not worry about bone bruising. The streamlined mesh upper with flexible overlays completes the package.
Brooks Catamount $160
Weight: M 9.6oz W 8.8oz
Built with the same bouncy DNA Flash foam that powers the Hyperion Tempo and Elite, the all-new Catamount is a performance model designed to let you go fast on the trails. It doesn’t skimp on protection underfoot, however, with full-coverage sticky rubber outsole and a ballistic rockplate blocking sharp things from poking through. Our testers said that plate makes the ride feel rather stiff on step-in and when starting out — but once on the run and picking up speed the shoes rolled along nicely and runners began to feel the lively rebound of the foam. The simple, breathable, stretchy (white!) mesh upper held comfortably but not as securely as other trail racers, making them feel more suited to slightly tamer trails. In fact, they hold their own on roads as well, despite the stiff underfoot protection, making them a great candidate for long runs where you cross over multiple terrains.
Brooks Hyperion Tempo $ 150
Weight: M7.2oz, W6.7oz
Offset: 8 mm
The Brooks Hyperion Tempo is a speedy new model that delivers a smooth, responsive, and comfortable ride. Using a single-density DNA Flash midsole — a nitrogen-infused foam that maximizes energy return with minimal weight — the Tempo showed off when it came to acceleration while also holding up well over long miles. Unlike today’s super shoes — including its sibling, the Hyperion Elite — it shines without a carbon plate or a massive stack of cushioning. The Hyperion Tempo is less aggressive than the Elite but it’s more versatile, and still very well-suited for tempos, speedwork and road races. The upper is breathable, pliable, and featherlight. It is also well perforated, keeping the cool and dry enough on hot, humid runs. Brooks paired the DNA Flash midsole with an outsole containing minimal carbon rubber, strategically cut out and placed on the heel, forefoot, and in front of the toes — to reduce weight and enhance flexibility while improving durability in high-wear areas.
HOKA Speedgoat 4 $145 (GTX $160 and Mid-GTX $170)
Weight: M 10.8oz, W 9.2oz
Version 4 of HOKA’s maximalist approach to the trail is a stalwart yet light shoe that rolls right over trail obstacles with a cushioned and aggressively-tractioned platform that accommodates wide feet. The Speedgoat 4 has a more responsive midsole and firmer ride, wider forefoot fit, printed upper overlays for added durability, support and security, and a gusseted, thinner tongue for breathability, making it ideal for those who are heavy-footed, especially late into a long trail run when you want the comfort of being able to confront rocks, roots and slop with confidence and cushion. If you think of the sole as an ice cream sandwich, it feels like HOKA froze the middle layer a little more to stiffen the ride, compared to previous versions of the shoe which had more of a melted, squishy feel. The Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole, with 5mm lugs and zonal rubber placement, is stout and provided wet and dry traction, but tended to retain mud.
HOKA Carbon X $180
Weight: 8.7 oz Unisex
HOKA was an early adopter of the curved carbon plate, as only the second brand (after Nike) to release a super shoe. The Carbon X is designed for going long and fast, and is perfect for mid-pack runners or triathletes on tired legs, all of whom want to run as fast as possible while still feeling comfortable, stable and efficient. The fit is generous enough to accommodate larger runners and runners with wider feet. Not as squishy as some models, the Carbon X’s ride is semi-firm and very secure. The pronounced, very early rocker (before the ball of the foot) keeps you rolling forward constantly — you don’t really have a stance phase with these. As such, they feel best at higher speeds (at least sub-7-minute pace, but faster is better), where we found we could still push off at the high cadence required. But, unlike a lot of the super shoes from other brands, the Carbon X still felt like they helped at slower paces, thanks in part to the larger sweet spot in the curve and cushioning of the carbon plate and midsole material compared to other super shoe options.
Inov-8 TerraUltra G-270 $160
Weight: M 9.5oz W 8.2oz
Inov-8’s TerraUltra G-270 is a welcome departure from the brand’s usual fell-running shoes that are built more like a soccer cleat to take on muck and high grassy terrain. While the TerraUltra is well suited for hard, wet, and technical trails, the responsive, moderately-cushioned shoe also serves well on less arduous terrain, when a comfortable, smooth, and fluid ride is welcome. Delivering more cushioning and bounce than other Inov-8s, but maintaining the brand’s low profile and agile approach, the TerraUltra combines high-tech traction with serious comfort making it the ideal ultra running shoe for those who prefer to be closer to the ground, running with the trail rather than plowing through it or crushing it underfoot. Inov-8 built this shoe with a higher volume fit and bolstered the 4mm outsole traction with Graphene compound for durability and hardness. The result is well suited for going long on challenging trails with sloppy and slick mud or wet rock.
La Sportiva Jackal $140
Weight: M 10.7oz, W 9.3oz
La Sportiva went wide, opening up its well-crafted mountain goat shoes to those with bigger toes or who favor toe splay. The Jackal’s midsole, featuring compression-molded EVA with PU inserts, delivers a dependable and steady feel. It’s not overly soft underfoot but the firmness is evened out by a subtle suppleness. A dual-density rock guard with flex groove inserts helps balance the bottom unit with ample push-through protection and a stable stance. The upper, while durable and protective, has a smooth, near-seamless bootie-like interior with a gusseted, padded tongue. Even though there is more forefoot volume than most La Sportivas, go up a half or full size anyway because the shoe fits small in length.
Mizuno Wave Horizon 4 $160
Weight: M 11.1oz, W 9.7oz
These posh, cushioned, supportive trainers will lull you over many a soft mile as Mizuno throws all its cards on the table in the fourth version of the Wave Horizon, deploying its newest foam wave technology with multiple material midsole sans plate for a more flexible yet lofty supportive ride, and its AeroHug upper to secure the foot in an adaptive less-is-more hold. The newest Horizon serves up an impressively smooth, luxurious ride with a hint of stability and a taste of energy-return pop — if you don’t mind a bit of weight. What stands out most is the flow of the Wave Horizon, producing a ride that is buttery smooth. And it is a durable flow, with long-lasting midsole cushioning that is resistant to compacting due to its tri-level construction that softens the ride, attenuates impact shock — especially in the heel — and provides energy return along with resilience in the forefoot for takeoff.
New Balance FuelCell Propel v2 $99
Weight: M 9.2oz, W 7.1oz
Offset: 6 mm
The FuelCell Propel v2 is the deal of the year! A high-mileage workhorse of a trainer that is lively yet firm enough for controlled placement and protection from the road. Compared to the first Propel it feels like NB has dialed in the FuelCell foam density and geometry. The midsole is firmer and more responsive, providing a springy, neutral ride that flows at any pace. The radiused heel makes for smooth landings and the late toe spring rolls the stride smoothly. The simple, roomy upper was, as is the goal in great running shoes, mostly unnoticeable.
Newton Fate 6 $140
Weight: M 9.2oz, W 7.4oz
Offset: 4.5 mm
Like a tightly-strung tennis racket, the action of Newton’s Fate 6 is highly responsive. And, in this latest round, it is also tuned for gender specificity. The new sole technology focuses on optimizing women’s performance by dialing in different impact settings and fit. Newton’s five action diffusion plates under the forefoot are designed to compress then spring back under pressure at just the right time. Even if the “Action Reaction” isn’t obvious the shoe performs nicely, especially at a higher cadence, encouraging running at a faster pace and with a forward-weighted posture. The new lining, softer tongue and upper overlays are also a bonus creating a seamless fit that is snug and secure.
On Cloudboom $200
Weight: M 8.1oz, W 7.8oz
Offset: 9 mm
On’s carbon-fiber-infused, rockered “speedboard” boosts propulsion as it flexes and rebounds and provides a proprioceptive platform between two layers of independent Cloud pods of semi-firm, bouncy Helion foam that have variable densities and rebound characteristics based on where they are positioned under the foot. The fit is exceptional, hugging the heel and midfoot while leaving slightly more room in the forefoot. The ride feels low to the ground, connected, smooth and speedy, while limited segments of outsole rubber optimizes traction while keeping the weight down. The upper gives off an airy, “barely there” sensation, making the CloudBoom feel lighter than it is, giving the impression of a surprisingly comfortable track spike for road racing, one that rides softly and smoothly enough to wear for long miles.
Honorable (Green) Mention: Cyclon
Reebok Forever FloatRide Energy 2 $100
Weight: M 8.8oz, W 7.3oz
Offset: 9 mm
An outstanding value, the FloatRide Energy 2 combines modern, light and bouncy “energy return” foam with a simple upper to deliver a smooth, comfy, neutral ride. The foam is soft and flexible, molding to your foot and providing ample cushioning, then firming up and springing back. The design feels almost retro, with no molding on the flat top of the slab of foam, giving a straight foot shape with a simple, full-coverage rubber sole and a thin, flat, glued-in sock liner. The second version’s upper is made of a softer, more engineered mesh that wraps closer to the foot and, inside, a stretchy wrap connects the tongue to the sides. The new heel is a high, molded swoop that looks fast and holds the heel in place well for most runners. The Floatride is a remarkably durable shoe, delivering its smooth, light ride with little change over hundreds of miles.
Honorable (Green) Mention: Floatride Grow
Salomon Sense Ride 3 $130
Weight: M10.6 oz, W8.3oz
This versatile off-roader is well positioned for a variety of trails and can even cross over smoothly to roads, with an improved fit and optimal balance between protection and feel for the trail. The third version is a bit smoother and less of a race-oriented shoe than its predecessor — and that’s a good thing for most. The new midsole sidewalls encapsulate the foot and provide more of a proprioceptive fit and, underfoot there’s burlier traction and a rock plate that covers more of the foot, while the upper mesh is denser and lets in less trail dust. Those looking for a versatile, all-surface shoe to take on almost any trail condition with finesse and confidence will love the classic Salomon performance, with a responsive and protective bottom unit and an enhanced single-density Contragrip rubber compound outsole.
Honorable (Green) Mention: Index.01
Saucony Endorphin Speed $160
Weight: M 7.8oz, W 6.8oz
The middle model of Saucony’s trio of the Endorphin line, the Speed has a semi-flexible nylon plate embedded in a similar midsole as the Endorphin Pro, made from the same responsive PWRRUN PB. While the Endorphin Pro is a sharp, race-day shoe, the Endorphin Speed was designed as a performance trainer, but it also plays well as a high-mileage, everyday trainer. With a slightly less curvy plate, the Speed lacks the snap of the Pro but instead has a soft, smooth, and slightly bouncy ride that is versatile enough for effective running at faster paces for tempo workouts, fartleks, intervals, and races for the majority of us mortals, as well as delivery comfortable efficiency at moderate paces for long runs. If you aren’t going to be spending all your time up on your toes with a race-fast turnover, these might well be a better bet than the rigid-plate racers.
Saucony Switchback 2 $140
Weight: M 8.8oz, W 7.8oz
Kitted out with BOA’s lacing system, the Switchback 2 delivers a superior, predicable, dialed-in fit and allows for on-the-fly adjustability and quick transitions as an off-road wonder-shoe. The first Switchback was a favorite, and this version improves everything — from the asymmetrical wrap of the BOA closure system to the braided nylon rock plate. With a low stack height and only 4mm offset, the Switchback 2 is minimalist — and that close-to-ground trail feel allows for tremendous proprioception and capricious agility. The feel may be a bit much for heavier-footed trail runners but the rock plate in the forefoot and Saucony’s proprietary, bouncy cushioning material provide more protection than one would think, imbuing a level of confidence, even on technical descents. The flexible outsole with outstanding grip only helps to boost an aggressive attack on the trails.
Skechers GOrun Razor+ $135
Weight: M 6.4oz, W 4.9oz
Yes, you read those weights or, rather, the lack thereof, correctly. This spin-off should perhaps be the Razor minus rather than the plus. Compared to the original Razor 3 Hyper, the Razor+’s upper is more pliable, outsole more durable, and it has more toe spring. Skechers also altered the last, producing a shoe that’s straighter and more tapered than its predecessor. And, as the lightweight would indicate, the Razor+ is very much a go-fast shoe that excels on workout days and, for some, in races. Even better, the changes make the Razor+ is versatile enough to be used as a daily trainer by runners accustomed to lightweight shoes. It is a durable, adaptable, lightweight shoe that feels fantastic at all paces.
Topo Athletic Ultrafly 3 $130
Weight: M 9.6oz, W 7.7oz
Offset: 5 mm
Topo went to town while updating this third round of the Ultrafly and the changes are worth celebrating. The upper now uses engineered mesh to raise the level of comfort, security and stability, and the new Zip Foam midsole is more energetic, producing a not-too-soft, not-too-firm sweet spot between cushioning and ground feel. Further, the external heel counter and low, long, firmer-density medial post provide a touch of guidance and stability without interfering with the natural ride encouraged by the low drop, flexible forefoot and wide toe box. Given all those positive changes, the Ultrafly 3 makes for a “go to” trainer for a wide variety of runners.
UnderArmour HOVR Machina $150
Weight: M10.4oz, W8.7oz
Under Armour’s new HOVR Machina: a shoe that coaches you, a shoe that coaxes you. With its digital connection to MapMyRun and neutral, high-rebound, engineered cushioning, these shoes do both as a smart distance trainers. The Machina does this via “Un-caged” HOVR foam and a full-length Pebax propulsion plate for a responsive and well-cushioned ride that provides cues to monitor and improve your form. The Machina’s HOVR energy-returning midsole is both forgiving and carrot-like, coaxing you through the gait cycle with encouraging engineering to get you quickly onto your forefoot for toe-off. The two-pronged carbon-filled Pebax propulsion plate, a technology UA borrowed from its track spikes, provides for quick transitions and roll-through. UA tuned the Machina’s midsole geometry with modifications to the configuration allowing for 20% more HOVR cushioning and energy return than the other models. HOVR’s secret sauce is a waxy synthetic foam from Dow Chemical, called Olefin, that is both resilient and durable. The smart technology that uses an imbedded chip to connect with UA’s MapMyRun not only tracks your speed and distance, but monitors your stride length and cadence, even providing real-time, personalized tips. These tips are based on patterns and correlations gleaned from Under Armour’s extensive MapMyRun database, showing relationships between cadence, pace and physical characteristics such as age, weight, height and gender.
361 Fantom $120
Weight: M9.9 oz, W8.2 oz
361’s neutral, moderately-cushioned Fantom provides ample underfoot protection and a lithe performance for a well-balanced, middle ground trainer. As with many 361 shoes, the Fantom feels a bit retro – in a positive way – with a ride and fit that long-term runners recognize from previous shoe generations. The Fantom features a well-padded ankle collar, traditional geometry and grooved, flexible forefoot, all with a moderate drop. The top layer of QU!KFOAM provides a modern, exciting bounce-back underfoot, and the performance-knit, engineered upper is state-of-the-art for its fit, hold and durability. The sole inspires confidence and handles long miles and even grips on gravel without adding a lot of weight. The Fantom is a gimmick-free ride that won’t get in the way of your run.