Finding the right pair of shoes is a highly subjective exercise, but we've simplified the task by reviewing 23 top new modelsBy: Brian Sabin, Warren Greene, and Martyn Shorten, PhD
“Oooh la la!” That's Cheryl Miller, an 80-mile-a-week runner from East Lansing, gushing about the Trance 11. "I felt as if I were running on clouds." Miller isn't our only smitten wear-tester: 26 of 29 rated this shoe above average or better. Credit the rave notices to smart cushioning. (Related: 8 Features of High-End Performance Gear) Brooks essentially has made three different versions of the Trance, each with a varying amount of foam density in the midsole. The women's version uses the softest, lowest density amount because women have lower body masses and do not need a thick, firm sole. By contrast, there's a firmer version for midsize guys (men up to a size 10.5 foot), and the even-bigger guys get the firmest, most dense foam of all. (Are you trying to lose weight by running? Try Run Your Butt Off today) (Note: The cushioning and flexibility scores to the right reflect a men's size 9.) The result? Each pair of the Trance feels like it's made just for you. Because, in a way, it is.
Bottom line: A shoe suited for bigger runners with normal to flat arches. Softer overlays help limit the chance of hot spots and blisters. The density of the midsole varies depending on shoe size. $140
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Talk about a weight-loss program: The Guide 5 shed almost two ounces from its previous version, but didn't lose a shred of cushioning while keeping all of its stability features. Saucony got more with less by lowering the heel-to-toe drop by 2 mm and using lighter rubber on the shoe's outsole. "This was the lightest Saucony I've ever tested, yet it was easily the most comfortable," says Mariliz Killeen, 45, an Allentown, Pennsylvania, wear-tester who's run in the past three versions of the Guide for us. "When I hold the Guide 4 and the Guide 5 in my hands, the Guide 5 is noticeably lighter." The one complaint we heard most from a number of testers: shoelaces that are too long. (Video: Need help picking out new kicks? Get expert advice now)
Bottom line: For many runners, the Guide 5 provides nearly as much as the Etonic DRP Epic, but in a lighter and more flexible shoe. Fewer overlays and softer upper mesh provide more comfort. The lower heel height encourages more midfoot landing. $100
Is Less More? The Pros and Cons of Minimalist Footwear
Simply put, the Kayano is a titan. Over its 18 iterations the shoe has consistently performed well for our wear-testers. This latest version earned higher marks than any other shoe in our test for comfort, cushioning, and stability. The shoe feels like a padded boxing glove that you can use to pound out mile after mile, pain-free. Testers raved about the fit--especially in the rearfoot, where a new external heel counter keeps a firm grip on your heel while wrapping your Achilles in cushy padding and soft fabric. Even with the addition, the Kayano is a half ounce lighter than its previous version. Points awarded.
Bottom line: Surprisingly light, it delivers maximum protection. Less plastic under the arch allows for a smoother heel-strike/toe-off transition. Returned to a traditional lacing setup, rather than off-centered. External heel counter locks in the heel to deliver a better fit. $150
Pain Relief Products
Let’s be honest. At first glance, the Instinct doesn't dazzle. The horizon-line-level sole. An enormously wide forefoot. The less-than-cool gray color. But look again, and you'll see that the shoe appears this way for a reason. The sole is level because of "zero-drop," meaning the sole's almost a flat surface beneath your feet. And the forefoot is so wide because the shoe is built on an "anatomical" last, so it lets your toes splay out the way they would if you were barefoot. The design resonated with testers, who loved the extra width up front. All of these elements combine to give you a barefoot-like feel but without those barefoot-like intense slaps of your sole against the road. (Note: The cushioning and flexibility scores to the right are for The Instinct.) (Related: Should you try barefoot running?)
Bottom line: A perfect shoe for someone transitioning to barefoot running but seeking solid protection underfoot. Flat-bottom sole stays in contact with the ground through the gait cycle. Offset laces follow the top of the foot for a comfortable fit. $100
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You know when something just feels right? That's how several testers described their first run in the Flow. Runners with normal arches and efficient biomechanics (they don't overpronate) seemed especially fond of the shoe--80 percent of them gave the Flow their highest-possible performance rating. (Search: What types of arches do I have?) Our lab tests attribute the love to high-quality foam in the midsole, which provides a comfortable, cushioned ride despite the shoe's low profile. The Flow is built on an "anatomical" last, meaning it has a roomy toebox designed to let your toes splay out naturally, as if you were barefoot. But the Flow isn't nearly as wide as other "natural" shoes like Altra's The Instinct.
Bottom line: A lightweight yet durable shoe that's a steal at its price point. Deep flex grooves for impressive flexibility. "Stay-tied" laces: a perennial tester favorite. They work! An elastic band provides arch support. $90
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So you're a bit heavy and want firm footing. (Want to slim down? Check out Run Your Butt Off) What shoe might work? The Creation 13. It absorbs the weight of beefier runners without feeling mushy. Credit that to a midsole with two plastic plates separated by rubber shock absorbers. But even smaller runners appreciate the Creation. "I roll my ankles," says 113-pound Nicole Potvin, a wear-tester from East Lansing, Michigan. "I had no problem in these shoes."
Bottom line: Offers excellent stability and locks the arch snugly. $150
Look above. Notice how the midsole of the Max is not cut out under the arch, as is the case with the other shoes on these two pages. With the entire outsole touching the ground, the transition from heel impact to toe-off is extremely smooth.
Bottom line: A shoe whose sole delivers a faster-than-expected feel. $125
The Right Pace for Your Training
The Glide is like a utility infielder: good at many things, though rarely exceptional. Testers liked its independent crash pad, which offers extra protection for heel-strikers. And the shoe's mostly filled-in arch supplies extra support under the midfoot. Some testers complained that the heel collar comes up too high and irritates ankles.
Bottom line: A slim-fitting shoe durable enough for everyday training. $115
After a three-year hiatus from the running market, Etonic--formerly the shoe of choice of running legends like Bill Rodgers--has returned, and with encouraging results. Flat-footed runners, or anyone who overpronates, will appreciate the impressive stability this shoe has to offer. The Epic's special features include a rounded heel and a wrap that places more material on the inside of the arch.
Bottom line: For flat-footed runners who need cushioning and support. $110
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The stretchy upper makes this shoe (designed with triathletes in mind) super easy to put on. (Yes, you can be a triathlete!) Grab the loop behind the heel and the hole in the tongue and--voila!--you're ready to run. The midsole's carbon-fiber plate makes for a firm, fast ride. Note: Testers questioned whether the Kalani had enough support for long-distance runs.
Bottom line: A good shoe for an efficient runner requiring little padding. $140
Testers raved about the Nirvana 8's protective qualities and comfort. "The cushioning was better than average," says Tara Steffie, 30, a 20-mile-a-week runner from Allentown. Then there's the "fast feel." A sharp ramp angle--the heel is 13.1 mm higher than the forefoot--gives the sensation you're running downhill, even on flat surfaces. Just beware of looseness near the Achilles.
Bottom line: Balances a "performance" feel with protective features. $150
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Testers loved the Glide's deep traction, although the soles tended to trap roadside debris. The Glide best accommodates runners who prefer a roomier fit.
Bottom line: An everyday trainer for the normal-to high-arched runner. $120
Big guys, look no further. While the Triumph earned generally positive reviews from all who tested it, men weighing 170 pounds or more were especially high on this shoe. Saucony added padding to the forefoot of the Triumph, giving the heavier runner a softer, more comfortable ride up front. But the change comes at a cost: This Triumph is a lot less flexible than previous versions. Lighter runners may find the shoe to be less responsive than it used to be.
Bottom line: Forefoot-strikers can expect more protection in this update. $130
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It's rare that a shoe can provide this much cushioning and still be this flexible. Usually, the extra protection makes the midsole harder to bend. But Asics placed deep flex grooves in the outsole of the Excel, so runners of all sizes can bend the forefoot with ease. The sole also allows for a smoother, more energy-efficient toe-off. The one concern about the shoe, voiced mostly by women, involved stability. Says Janice Trudgeon, 55, of East Lansing, "It didn't provide enough support through the mid-and forefoot."
Bottom line: High-arched runners who want a flexible forefoot, look here. $120
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Step aside, Toyota Prius; this is what we call a hybrid. The 890 V2 delivers cushioning-shoe protection in a build so light (nine ounces) you could mistake it for a racing flat. "The 890 had enough to get me through several long runs with no 'pounded knee' syndrome," says Ann Whitmer, 47, of East Lansing. She often feels muscle soreness around mile 12 of her runs. In the 890 V2, Whitmer ran a 20-miler pain-free. The shoe offers a lower-to-the-ground feel now that New Balance reduced its heel and forefoot heights.
Bottom line: Offers wore stability than the Excel 33, but is less flexible. $110
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The Elite was praised for its lightweight feel and fast ride. The shoe's build provides plenty of cushioning to protect fast runners from injury, but it doesn't feel squishy. And a look at the scan below shows a generally comfortable fit.
Bottom line: A fast shoe that lightweight runners should thrive in. $105
The LunarEclipse has an insole unlike any other in this guide. Where most are molded layers of memory foam, the LunarEclipse's includes Nike's Fitsole technology, a plastic-backed sockliner that reinforces the arch. It essentially acts like an exoskeleton supporting your midfoot. High-arched testers raved about the shoe. The LunarEclipse has the sharpest ramp angle in the guide; the heel sits more than 15 mm above the toes. One knock: The sizing runs a little small, and some testers had to bump up a half-size.
Bottom line: Provides ideal support for a wide range of runners. $135
Your Perfect Day of Fitness
We don't usually comment on a shoe's color, but--dang. The Noosa's flashy pigments are a conversation starter. Once you get past the flash, however, this is a performance machine. It's lightweight yet supportive and provides enough cushioning to cover any distance. The Noosa is designed for triathletes. That's why there's a sewn-in tongue and a mostly seamless upper.
Bottom line: Light, cushioned--and snazzy for the competitive racer. $120
The Elixir is the most flexible shoe among its peers (Asics Gel-Noosa and Brooks Pure Flow) but is also firmer in the forefoot. Mizuno's signature Wave technology--a plastic plate runs under the heel--provides a smooth transition that's especially nice for heel-strikers. And wide-footed runners will appreciate a little extra space across the toebox.
Bottom line: A smart choice for lighter runners as an everyday trainer. $120
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What comes to mind when you think "Boston"? Probably "Boston Marathon," the race this shoe was named after--which makes us think "fast." And that's what this shoe is intended to do: go fast. The Boston feels as if it's propelling you forward, thanks in part to firm forefoot cushioning and higher than average heel-to-toe drop. "The shoe felt firm, allowing me a good push off for the faster pace," says Rique Campa, 55, of East Lansing. As the Shoefitr scan below shows, the Boston will comfortably fit most runners, though it is slightly narrower than average in the toebox. Wide-footed runners may want to look elsewhere.
Bottom line: A nice fit for narrow-footed, light-to middle-weight runners doing up-tempo workouts. $110
If you mated a Nike Free with Skechers' now-famous Shape-ups (you know, the ones Joe Montana was slinging), you'd get the GOrun. Like the Shape-up, the GOrun has a rounded heel to promote more of a midfoot landing rather than a heel-strike. (Heel-striking actually hurts in this shoe.) The shoe is also feather light and, like the Free, has a sole that is flexible in many directions--you can bend this shoe however you want. This allows your feet to move as they would naturally--except GOrun gives you a little nudge forward. Most runners will find the GO-run works to help strengthen feet but is too light to be an everyday training shoe.
Bottom line: Built to help a runner develop a forefoot stride. Added rubber provides extra durability at key landing zones. Light air-mesh upper wraps foot like a glove. Rounded heel promotes midfoot landing. $80
The sole of this Merrell is molded and reinforced under the arch to provide good support. And the (mostly) seamless upper delivers a comfortable feel. What the shoe lacks is cushioning. The outsole appears padded, but offers little more than abrasion resistance. So those new to barely-there running should be cautious.
Bottom line: A generally supportive shoe for the barefoot-inclined runner. $110
The lightest shoe in this guide, the Minimus feels like a sock with an outsole. The synthetic mesh upper wraps the arch well, though it provides breathing room through the toes. The Minimus is not as wide as the other minimal shoes reviewed on this page. Only efficient runners should log a lot of miles in these shoes.
Bottom line: The Minimus Zero offers a barefoot-like experience; also works as a racing flat. $110
Want More Reviews? Besides the 23 shoes in this guide, our online database provides technical analysis of hundreds of shoes. Go to runnersworld.com/shoefinder to discover more shoes fitting your personal running profile.
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