Our Editors Chose the 30 Top Running Shoes You Can Buy Right Now

·33 min read
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill


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You know what you want from your running shoes: light weight, cushioning, support, and a comfortable fit. Of course, the most important part of any shoe is your experience over the hundreds of miles you’ll take it on. To help you find your next great pair, and to get a sense of how updates to your favorite road or trail shoe may change how it fits or performs, we review hundreds of men’s and women’s shoes each year. Scroll farther for longer reviews of our 30 top picks, a look at how we test and select these models, and helpful buying tips and insight from our gear experts.

How We Test Shoes

Runner’s World has the most comprehensive shoe testing process in the industry. We work with more than 250 local runners of all abilities, ages, and sizes for real-world wear-testing on paved roads, dirt paths, and rocky singletrack. After a month of running more than 100 miles in their respective pairs, our testers report back their findings on features like fit, comfort, performance, and ride. While they’re putting miles on the shoes, the same models undergo a battery of mechanical tests in our RW Shoe Lab, where we objectively measure each shoe’s cushioning, flexibility, sole thickness, and weight. Our test editors combine their own experience in the shoes with data from the lab and feedback from our wear testers to create reliable, useful reviews of every pair we run in.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Does a Shoe’s Cushioning Matter?

Some runners care a lot about weight, and research shows that you expend more aerobic energy with heavier shoes. Lighter shoes typically have less cushioning, which can make them feel faster, but new midsole foams now make a plush ride possible without adding much heft to the shoe. If you’re going long distances, some extra cushioning might be a better option, as it provides impact absorption.

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To test softness, we go to our Shoe Lab to take individual measurements of both the heel and forefoot, since the overall experience can vary based on where a runner touches down and toes off. The cushioning scores are given on a scale of 1 to 100, with one being the firmest. (A harder-feeling shoe won’t necessarily lack cushioning, and according to some biomechanical research, a midsole that’s too soft can actually increase peak impact forces.) In addition to those key stats, we also look at the shoe’s stability features, flexibility, and energy return to help you find one you’ll love.

What Does “Drop” Mean?

A shoe’s drop—sometimes referred to as offset—is the difference between the heel and the forefoot measurements, or how much your toes “drop” below your heel. It’s important because a higher drop can lead to more heel striking and also transfers some strain away from the lower leg and up toward the knee. Conversely, a lower offset will shift that load farther down the chain of motion during your gait cycle to the calf and the Achilles. Neither option is necessarily better than the other; when deciding on a shoe’s drop, choose what feels most natural and comfortable to you, taking into account your personal running mechanics and injury history. Many shoes have a drop between 8 and 12mm, but some shoes have less than 6mm. A few based on minimalist designs have no drop.

SOFT

Hoka Mach 4

Weight: 8.2 oz. (M), 6.8 oz. (W)
Drop: 5mm

After testing the Mach 4, deputy test editor Dengate said that it is “the best Mach yet, and perhaps the best current Hoka.” It’s so good that he ran in nothing but the Mach for six weeks straight. Our other testers agreed. One declared that it was her new favorite cushioned road shoe. And another, a first-time Hoka wearer, said the shoe impressed her after a single run. We already loved the light weight and explosive rebound of the first three Machs. But Hoka went next level, adding design features borrowed from the Carbon X and Rocket X. In this way, the Mach 4 is like Saucony’s Endorphin Speed or the Brooks Hyperion Tempo—a dynamic training shoe that’s more versatile than the pure racers in each brand’s line. Don’t be shocked if you’re compelled to zoom while running in the Mach 4. It owes this giddyup to the responsive Profly foam and early-stage Meta-Rocker (a slightly curved sole shape) that feels like it catapults you forward. This shoe is generously cushioned without turning your run into a slog, so you can rock it for everything from easy jogs and recovery runs to an interval session on the track. The upper is woven with heat-pressed TPU embroidered yarns, and hugs your foot more securely than the Mach 3. A sportier looking heel collar provides padding without any friction on the Achilles.—Amanda Furrer, Test Editor

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Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

Weight: 10 oz (M), 8.2 oz (W)
Drop: 10mm

Last year, the Pegasus’s midsole switched from older Cushlon foam to more-responsive React, and Nike added two more millimeters of it underfoot. Still not as light and bouncy as ZoomX, React feels medium soft, and moderately flexible. Nike also lowered the pressure in the air unit in the women’s model (15 PSI, compared to 20 PSI for men) to make it a touch softer, doubled the size of the forefoot unit for extra pop on toe off, and scrapped the air unit from the midfoot and heel. The outsole got a facelift, too, with more flex grooves and a rectangular tread pattern that slightly improves grip for short stints offroad.—Morgan Petruny, Test Editor

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New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v11

Weight: 9.1 oz. (M), 7.4 oz. (W)
Drop: 8mm

Last year’s 1080 earned NB an Editors’ Choice award, and this update was a hit with our test crew too. That’s because it’s almost identical to last year’s model. Perhaps the biggest change is v11’s knit upper, which has a stretchier forefoot that makes the shoe fit better for runners with wide feet. That change also makes the shoe a little more breathable. But a few wear-testers noted that the upper creates extra pressure through the midfoot, making the shoe a little uncomfortable on long runs. The sole remains unchanged, except for a slight cosmetic tweak to the dot pattern on the sidewall. You still get the thick slab of Fresh Foam X, which boasts higher energy return and comfort than the classic Fresh Foam. On the run, it doesn’t feel overly soft or slow, which we like because that boosts the shoe’s versatility. Those small tweaks might make the new version a better option for some runners; if not, you can probably find last year’s equally good model at a deep discount.—Jeff Dengate, Deputy Test Editor

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Reebok Floatride Energy Glow

Weight: 9.6 oz (M), 7.7 oz (W)
Drop: 9mm

Sustainability is a key story for most brands in 2021, but Reebok was leading the charge back in 2019. Reebok now focuses on two planet-friendly initiatives: ReeCycled (at least 30 percent of the upper materials are recycled) and ReeGrow (at least half the shoe is made from USDA Certified bio-based content). The Floatride Grow falls into this second category. Its upper uses a knit material made from Eucalyptus bark, and the outsole’s natural rubber has no petroleum-based additives. Oil extracted from castor beans forms the Floatride Grow foam’s beads. Compared to the standard materials used on the regular Floatride Energy, the Grow’s updated materials perform generally well. The outsole doesn’t skimp on grip, but the eucalyptus tree upper doesn’t maintain its shape quite as well as the traditional synthetic material. Still, testers said it felt just as breathable and comfortable after a few runs.—M.P.

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Adidas UltraBoost 21

Weight: 12.0 oz. (M), 10.9 oz. (W)
Drop: 10mm

Less than a decade ago, Adidas upended running shoes when it introduced Boost, launching today’s foam wars. In the years since, new compounds have delivered insane levels of comfort without the weight penalty of Boost. Adidas itself has moved on to other lightweight materials; Boost is steadily disappearing from its performance line. But the material retains all its plush glory in the UltraBoost. In fact, the 2021 version actually gets 20 percent more Boost than the original and 5 percent more than UB19. The shoe signals a commitment to performance running, and its new design departs from the silhouette that has been embraced for lifestyle and casual wear. Another big update is the company’s use of recycled materials. The Prime Blue upper is made from 92 percent recycled ocean plastic. Speaking of plastic, the darn cage is back for midfoot support, but, fear not, it isn’t really a bother. All of our testers praised the shoe’s soft, luxurious upper, which cradles your foot and secures it to that extra-thick sole. It’s a heavy shoe, no doubt, which means you’ll reserve this tank for easy jogs and recovery days.—J.D.

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Brooks Ghost 14

Weight: 8.9 oz. (M), 7.9 oz. (W)
Drop: 12mm

From the dyeing process to the tongue’s recycled-mesh material, the Ghost has undergone a climate-conscious makeover. Brooks is also transitioning to sustainable manufacturing and shipping, and recycling used shoes instead of dumping them in landfills. But when tinkering with your best-selling model, you don’t want to mess it up. Rest easy, Ghost fans: Neither quality nor performance was compromised in this update. Brooks removed the BioMoGo DNA portion of the midsole, so the Ghost 14 has only DNA Loft foam, just like its plusher counterpart, the Glycerin. Our testers found this adjustment doesn’t change the Ghost’s ride noticeably. “It had a nice balance of cushioning and firmness during turnover,” said a tester, adding that the Ghost felt more responsive than the Glycerin and Adrenaline GTS.—A.F.

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FAST

Saucony Endorphin Pro 2

Weight: 7.5 oz (M), 6.3 oz (W)
Drop: 8 mm

The Endorphin Pro 2 has undergone subtle changes, so runners smitten with the OG can exhale a sigh of relief. This second iteration of Saucony’s carbon-fiber-plated racer continues to offer what its competitors fall short on. For example: The thin, cloth-like, single-layered engineered-mesh upper envelopes the foot without any unnecessary pressure. It doesn’t overheat like Nike’s Vaporweave when you’re six miles into a marathon. And it has a more secure ankle fit than Brooks’s unisex Hyperion Elite, which women found to have a loose collar and heel—a common problem for women running in unisex shoes. The 2 provides more support around the heel with an even more secure fit, though runners with weak ankles may still feel wobbly cutting corners. And, the new closure system has elastic bands strategically placed to prevent the tongue going askew.—A.F.

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Mizuno Wave Rebellion

Weight: 8.7 oz (M), 7.3 oz (W)
Drop: 8 mm

Plates are nothing new for Mizuno, which has been using Wave technology for years. But the brand made a big shift in the material it chose to use in its newest uptempo trainer—fiberglass. This light and firm introduction has a bio-based wave plate made from castor beans and nylon, reinforced with glass fibers. That makes it stronger and snappier than the Pebax plates used in other Wave models, and more than 10 times more responsive according to Mizuno. The increased responsiveness comes from both the new materials and the shape of the plate itself. The plate runs nearly the full length of the shoe, extending all the way to the forefoot, where it splits into two pieces, like a lobster claw. This gives the shoe a peppy feeling at toe-off, especially for those who land closer to their midfoot. When running up- and downhill, we noticed a pronounced quick-rolling flick accompanying each footstrike.—M.P.

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Puma Deviate Nitro

Weight: 9.3 oz. (M), 7.5 oz. (W)
Drop: 10mm

Behind the scenes, Puma has worked to re-establish itself as a manufacturer of serious running shoes. The Deviate Nitro is the first indication that the company is on the right track. Like just about every other brand, Puma wanted a shoe with a carbon-fiber plate to earn some cred. This is that shoe. It also has a lightweight, bouncy foam—it’s TPE, not the pricier, springier Pebax that some other brands use and which makes you really want to kick your heels to your butt. The foam is nitrogen-infused, however, giving it a responsive sensation underfoot, and it proved durable in our testing. Puma’s foam choice means the shoe doesn’t feel quite as fast as some of the latest top-end racing shoes, but at just $160, it’s an affordable, versatile option that you can use for training and racing. “These shoes blew me away,” gushed one tester. “I wore them for everything from a 9-minute-per-mile cruise to a 10K PR, and they felt fully capable doing both.” The one knock: Padding on both sides of the heel is a bit high and thick, which could create a little slippage for some runners.—J.D.

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Hoka One One Carbon X2

Weight: 8.4 oz. (M), 7.0 oz. (W)
Drop: 5mm

When we initially ran in it a year ago, the Carbon X had us going fast over mid- to long-distance runs. But after our wear-testers clocked hundreds of miles, we determined that midfoot-strikers got the most out of the shoe. A heel-to-toe roll propelled by the early-stage Meta-Rocker (Hoka’s construction of a slightly curved sole) felt quite aggressive to some testers, especially heel-strikers. Those runners won’t feel left out with this update, though. A protruding heel, which is similar to Hoka’s TenNine (though not as massive), absorbs shock and provides stability for runners who touch down on the back of their foot. “If I raced a marathon or less, I’d go with the Saucony Endorphin Pro,” said a heel-striking tester. “If I raced a 50K or more, I’d use the Carbon X2.” As a heel-striker and tester of the Endorphin Pro, I agree. As in the Endorphin Pro and Hoka’s other racing shoe, the Rocket X, a carbon-fiber plate in the midsole promotes quick and snappy transitions. The X2 feels hardy for longer mileage, as well as versatile enough for speed training. Our test team liked the refined upper—the reinforced lacing and engineered support zones made it feel
more secure.—A.F.

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Asics MetaSpeed Sky

Weight: 6.7 oz. (M), 5.5 oz. (W)
Drop: 9mm

The Sky is built for that “stride” runner. With a 5mm drop and almost uniformly thick midsole from heel to toe, it helps those runners increase their stride length while making them roughly 3 percent more economical—runners use less energy to cover a given distance. Buried deep in that foam block is a full-length carbon plate. It’s curved to reduce ankle flexion, so you expend less energy from the joint. This is something Asics has tried on shoes like the MetaRide, claiming its “Guidesole” construction reduces energy loss at the ankle by 19 percent. In that shoe, Asics uses an extreme rocker so when you land, your foot rolls directly forward to toe-off, rather than requiring you to stabilize your footstrike. Over a dozen runs in the MetaSpeed Sky, I found it to feel—and even sound—quite a lot like the Vaporfly. There’s plenty of comfort and it’s undeniably faster than most other shoes we’ve tried, thanks to a good mix of cushioning and responsiveness.—J.D.

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Salomon S/Lab Phantasm

Weight: 7.0 oz. (unisex)
Drop: 6mm

The S/Lab Phantasm received a lot of hype late in 2020 as Kilian Jornet attempted to break Yiannis Kouros’s ultra-stout 24-hour world record. It isn’t the first road-racing shoe from the company better known for its trail runners, but it is Salomon’s most minimal. Ultimately, Kilian missed the record, but you can’t fault the shoe. The featherweight design gives you just enough material to keep the S/Lab Phantasm stuck to your foot and going fast. One tester agreed that, even though there are lighter options out there, somehow this shoe feels like it weighs less. That lightweight design, however, makes the shoe better suited for shorter road races than marathons or ultras. The midsole is a thin slab of “Energy Surge” foam, which combines EVA with a copolymer compound that makes it more bouncy and softer than EVA alone. Even so, the Phantasm has a pretty harsh, if smooth-rolling, ride. And the single-layer mesh upper is so thin that I can look through the shoe and see details on my socks. Of course, it breathes well—you’ll be cold on winter runs—and that lack of structure means you need to make sure the shoe fits.—Pat Heine-Holmberg, Video Producer

Hoka Rincon 3

Weight: 7.4 oz (M), 6.2 oz (W)
Drop: 5mm

When the Rincon made its debut, runners raved about its low weight and versatility. “Literally can’t say a bad thing about this shoe,” gushed a tester. On its third iteration, the Rincon continues to impress. The 3 is even lighter while still maintaining that thick midsole Hoka is known for. Its cushioning strikes a balance between comfortably soft and supportively firm. It’s the speed-training counterpart to Hoka’s daily workhorse, the Clifton (the Rincon is almost 2 ounces lighter than the Clifton), making it ideal for tempo runs and track sessions. “It has a great ground contact that doesn’t feel too soft or mushy compared to my other highly cushioned shoes,” said a tester. “I ended my long runs faster than I started them, thanks to the shoe’s light weight.” Testers appreciated the redesigned mesh upper, which is more breathable—we tested them during a string of 90-degree days in the Northeast—and appreciated that the shoes don’t cause blisters or pinch your feet.—A.F.

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New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2

Weight: 7.8 oz (M), 6.3 oz (W)
Drop: 8mm

Typically, running shoes only see major updates every other year. But, for v2 of this plated racer, New Balance rebuilt it from the ground up—all for the better. The v1 was an admirable first attempt at getting something in NB’s lineup that could compete with Nike’s Vaporfly. It fell short, mostly because the sole was thinner and just didn’t deliver a similar bouncy, propulsive ride. But v2 is way softer and springier than before, thanks to a much thicker midsole. The heel stack—a measure of everything between your foot and the road—is up to 39mm, 7mm taller than before. And the forefoot got an even bigger boost, reducing the drop from 10 mm to 8mm. That extra thickness not only improves cushioning, it also gives New Balance more space under the hood to beef up the engine: The carbon-fiber plate has been reshaped with more curve, delivering better responsiveness and propulsion. It had our wear-test team running faster than they’d planned, even on easy days. —J.D.

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Under Armour Flow Velociti SE

Weight: 8.5 oz (M), 8.0 oz (W)
Drop: 8mm

The sleek Flow Velociti SE (sports edition) is a long-run shoe disguised as a racing flat. It offers a minimal underfoot experience for runners who prefer a firm ride, even when they venture into double-digit territory. While some runners may want more cushioning, our most efficient testers found it adequate to take the harshness from the pavement. “The foam and rubber combination held up on this shoe, even though it has a lightweight construction,” said one tester. “I tend to heel strike, and this shoe gave me confidence on my longer training runs.” Other heel-strikers found the shoe surprisingly forgiving on hard efforts, though midfoot-striking testers wished the forefoot was more supportive. Because of the midsole’s durability and abrasion resistance, Under Armour could save some weight by eliminating outsole rubber. Instead, thin grooves in the foam provide grip, though testers weren’t as keen on its performance over wet surfaces.—A.F.

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STABLE

Altra Paradigm 6

Weight: 10.8 oz (M), 9.3 oz (W)
Drop: 0mm

You could reserve Altra’s cushiest trainer for easy runs and recovery days. Or use the Paradigm 6 as an everyday shoe like Altra-sponsored athlete Kara Goucher, who says she wears it for 70 percent of her workouts. The 6 features Altra’s Ego Max midsole, which provides more energy return from the thick slab of firm cushioning. You can partially thank Goucher for the increased rebound. In testing prototypes, Goucher gave insight into stability shoes that typically don’t feel as snappy, asking for a couple of tweaks including “just a little more responsiveness off the bottom of the foot.” With these minor changes and the new Ego Max midsole, this Paradigm isn’t for slogging. “Though I first thought the Paradigm was going to be too bulky, I even used it for speedwork,” said one of our wear-testers. The Paradigm’s high stack (33mm) and guide-rail system lend support, making it an ideal choice for runners who want to try a zero-drop shoe but want some extra comfort.—A.F.

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Asics Gel-Kayano Lite

Weight: 10.2 oz. (M), 8.6 oz. (W)
Drop: 10mm (M), 13mm (W)

The Kayano is a titan, lasting through 27 iterations. So you don’t mess with that name (or shoe) without some serious forethought. It delivers boatloads of cushioning and stability, but not every runner needs that level of protection. For those who want something less beefy, there’s the “Lite.” Unlike its namesake, the Lite uses just a single piece of midsole foam to provide cushioning and stability; the standard model has a dual-density post on the medial side plus a hard plastic Trusstic bridge in the midfoot. To help guide a pronating foot, Asics scallops the Lite’s lateral (outer) edge while bolstering the foam’s medial side. The design helps the sole compress on landing, and then provides extra resistance as you roll to midstance. Our wear-testers, including longtime Kayano wearers, felt the shoe delivered in both areas and felt faster underfoot. Even neutral runners like myself found the shoe less intrusive than a traditional post—I could feel a little extra pressure under my arch, but nothing that was irritating. We also like that the shoe retains some of the Kayano’s premium qualities like a soft tongue and collar, which dial up comfort for long runs.—J.D.

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Mizuno Wave Inspire 17

Weight: 10.9 oz (M), 9.2. oz (W)
Drop: 12mm

Sad news first: As Mizuno trims its lineup to make room for fresh models, the Prophecy and Shadow will join some of the discontinued greats in retirement. (Moment of silence for some of our personal favorites here at RW, like the Elixir and the Precision.) The good news is that Mizuno has kept several standouts, including the Inspire. The 17th version of this stability trainer provides a soft experience much like the popular Wave Rider, but with a more supportive structure that suits overpronators. The Inspire uses a zigzagging Pebax wave plate to help stabilize the arch; it won’t stop your foot from rolling inward, but its grooves will slow down those rotational forces to keep you steady. There’s also a wedge of Mizuno’s new Enerzy foam in the heel, which feels super plush and bouncier than EVA-based U4icX. The only downside is that the 17 is a little heavier than the previous version, with a high drop that felt off-kilter to mid- and forefoot strikers. But overall, it’s an update that’s certainly earned its spot in Mizuno’s more focused lineup.—M.P.

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Hoka One One Arahi 5

Weight: 9.7 oz (M), 7.8 oz (W)
Drop: 10mm

Cushioned stability shoes are undergoing a small resurgence. Runners who tested last year’s Arahi raved about its versatility for speedwork and 5Ks, too. We experienced more of the same from the Arahi 5. It weighs tenths of an ounce less than its predecessor, and it feels even lighter when on foot. And it’s comfy, too; a padded tongue and heel collar lock in your ankle without causing much friction. The new pull-tab, which looks like the spoiler on a sports car, allows you to slide into the trainer without crushing the heel counter. As a stability shoe, the Arahi lends overpronators support with a dense EVA J-Frame, so called because it wraps around the heel and medial side of the shoe in a J-shape. I used to save trainers like the Arahi and Brooks’s Glycerin GTS for easy jogs and recovery runs. But, gliding down my usual route, I changed my mind about the Arahi, thanks to the snug fit that’s really been dialed on this version, and the secure, planted ride that feels faster than a traditional stability shoe. It looks fast, too, which impressed several other wear-testers. “Cosmetically, it blew away my perception of Hokas,” one tester said.—A.F.

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Brooks Launch GTS 8

Weight: 8.8 oz. (M), 8.1 oz. (W)
Drop: 10mm

You’re not wrong if you thought “GTS” stood for “Go-To Shoe.” This year, Brooks is simplifying its naming convention by pairing stability shoes to its neutral siblings and tacking on GTS—now redefined as “Go-To Support.” The next Transcend and Bedlam, for example, have been named the Glycerin GTS and Levitate GTS. And, in the case of the Ravenna, it’s now being called the Launch GTS—a light stability shoe that’s speedy like the neutral Launch. Testers appreciated the comfortably firm cushioning and found Brooks’s holistic guide-rail system (firm foam along the medial and lateral sides of the heel serve as bumpers to align the knee and ankle) supportive. The most noticeable revamp—besides the name—is the new air mesh upper. Testers liked that it was light and breathable, yet some wished for a more traditional padded heel collar instead of the oddly shaped one here. “It felt to me that the heel collar was too high on my ankle,” said a tester, “and it rubbed my lateral ankle bone, causing discomfort.”—A.F.

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361 Degrees Strata 4

Weight: 11.0 oz. (M), 9.7 oz. (W)
Drop: 8mm

Now one of China’s top sportswear companies, 361 initially needed a hit to establish itself among American runners. The original Strata stability shoe delivered. Now in its fourth version, the shoe still uses an old-school medial post for support—even as other brands gravitate toward newer tech like guide rails. But there’s innovation here, too: Its midsole uses two foams underfoot: 361’s original EVA-based QuikFoam wrapped in polyurethane for durability, plus a newer QuikSpring+ formulation that feels a touch softer, bouncier, and lighter. On the upper, a redesigned tongue wraps the foot from the medial side with three stretchy nylon cables to personalize the midfoot fit. The foam and fit updates made a huge difference: Testers who found the Strata 3’s ride overwhelmingly stiff and the fit too narrow said the 4 feels smoother, yet just as supportive and durable. “I am a bigger runner with a strong heel strike,” said one tester. “I’ve had some trainers that are completely shot in the lateral heel after 150 miles, but these still look and feel fantastic.”—M.P.

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Saucony Guide 14

Weight: 10.5 oz. (M), 9.4 oz. (W)
Drop: 8mm

Saucony’s versatile stability shoe now looks race-ready with 3D-print overlays adorning the engineered-mesh uppers and sharing the same color scheme of the racier Kinvara. The Guide has plush padding in the heel collar and gusseted tongue. This stability version of Saucony’s Ride has a lightweight TPU medial post and sturdy heel counter to lend support, which testers found comfortably supportive. One tester even had a revelatory moment wearing the shoe. “I often lean toward more cushioned shoes with the assumption that, being a ‘curvier’ runner, the weight striking the hard surface was the cause of some injuries,” she said. “The Guide gave me some cushioning, but the shoe’s stability helped fix my pain.” This shoe is still soft, though, thanks to Saucony’s Pwrrun midsole, combined with a top layer of Pwrrun+. The latter is composed of a lightweight foam that promotes a springier step while absorbing impact.—A.F.

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TRAIL

Saucony Peregrine 11 ST

Weight: 11.2 oz. (M), 9.2 oz. (W)
Drop: 4mm

One might guess that “ST” stands for “Stability” or “Speed Trainer,” but Saucony actually uses it here to designate that this version of its popular trail shoe is tuned for “Soft Terrain”—though its ride would make those other guesses accurate, too. A wide platform and low drop give the Peregrine its stable feel, and an upgrade to premium Pwrrun+ cushioning this year offers more go-fast energy return. But you’ll also find that on the standard model. What sets the ST apart is its muck-loving outsole and upper, which are built for a full send along swampy singletrack. The toothy lugs are 1.5mm longer, with more spacing between each to shed mud quickly, and the upper is switched to an abrasion-resistant mesh outfitted with quick lacing. To secure the shoe, just cinch the skinny bungee cords and stow them inside the tongue—there’s no fiddling with wet bunny ears. Plus, the entire shoe is cloaked in its own mud guard. If that’s still not enough splatter protection, you’ll find additional loops to add your own gaiters. “The Peregrine was exceptional across the board,” said one tester, “wonderfully responsive and capable across deep mud and loose gravel to snow, with an amazing fit that needed none of my usual lacing tricks.”—M.P.

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Skechers GOrun Razor TRL

Weight: 8.0 oz (M), 6.3 oz (W)
Drop: 4mm

Longtime readers of RW shoe reviews know that we love the Skechers GOrun Razor 3. That road shoe is light, fast, and fun. And it’s remained completely unchanged for almost three years now because it’s just that darn good. But, Skechers has expanded upon the model, releasing a carbon-plated version for road races as well as this off-road model, with a grippy, go-fast sole. The midsole is exactly the same as the road shoe, built using the brand’s Hyper Burst foam. It starts out as a solid block of EVA plastic that is exposed to a supercritical fluid—basically, CO2 gas is heated under pressure until it returns to a liquid state. There’s a lot of science behind how it happens, but it creates a cell composition which makes the shoe lighter, yet still responsive and well-cushioned. It also makes the foam surprisingly protective when you’re dancing over rocks and roots. Because this is a lightweight trail shoe, it doesn’t have a rock plate, so you’re likely to want a beefier model if you bash over gnarly ground.—J.D.

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Inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max

Weight: 10.6 oz (M), 9.6 oz (W)
Drop: 6mm

Compared to max-cushioned shoes with 40mm heel stacks, the TrailFly is technically not in the same class. Still, at 30mm, it’s definitely a chunky shoe for Inov-8. To maintain flexibility and ground feel, Inov-8 turned to graphene. When isolated from graphite, graphene’s chemical structure looks like a honeycomb of pure carbon atoms. It’s one of the thinnest materials on Earth, yet is 200 times stronger than steel. Since 2018, Inov-8 has been infusing graphene into liquid rubber to make outsoles that are sticky but also durable. With the material incorporated into its cushioning, called G-Fly, the TrailFly’s midsole better resists compression and wear over big mileage. Inov-8 added a deep flex groove in the middle of the sole, which helps the shoe bend easily, while a rockered shape preserves the quick, nimble ride you’d expect from the brand. Your foot sits a little deeper inside the midsole as well—almost like a sports car’s bucket seat—so you don’t feel unsteady on technical trails and twisty singletrack.—M.P.

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Altra Superior 5

Weight: 9.6 oz. (M), 8.6 oz. (W)
Drop: 0mm

The Superior is the closest you can get to running barefoot while still reaping the benefits of a traditional trail-running shoe—gaiter attachments, resilient mesh, a grippy tread. One standout feature of the Superior is the removable stone guard, a pliable yet protective full-length insert you tuck under the insole. This “take it or leave it” component caters to trail runners who want the extra buffer underfoot as well as those partial to the ground-feel that a thin, flexible midsole delivers. Yank it and you save nearly an ounce of weight, too.—A.F.

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Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro

Weight: 10.4 oz. (M), 8.2 oz. (W)
Drop: 5mm

Take the wide and well-cushioned Ultraventure, make it a little firmer and more secure, add a rock plate for more protection, and keep the grippy Vibram outsole with its pronounced lugs. The end result is the stout Ultraventure Pro, meant for tackling harsh, rocky, wet terrain. The rock plate in the forefoot safeguards your foot when stomping over boulders and roots. The Zipfoam cushioning, though sufficient on trails, left some testers wanting a little more comfort when they jogged road miles to a trail head. “Particularly on longer runs, my foot began to feel sore in places,” said a tester more accustomed to the beefier Hoka One One EVO Mafate and Challenger ATR. “But these excel at mid-range distances.” An external TPU heel counter provides stability, keeping ankles in check should you need to skirt around obstacles. The tacky Vibram Megagrip outsole held fast to loose mud. I did have to pick out some dry clumps of dirt, but this didn’t affect my run, nor did it slow down my pace.—A.F.

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Salomon Sense Ride 4

Weight: 10.2 oz. (M), 8.3 oz. (W)
Drop: 8mm

The previous version of the Sense Ride was incredibly comfortable, reliable, and durable for everyday trail running and racing, and you can see from the silhouette of this update that Salomon didn’t mess with it. Updates on the 4 largely center around fit and comfort in the upper, as well as reducing some weight. Our favorite feature remains the shoe’s traction—4mm diamond-shaped lugs bite into soft dirt and mud but are made of sticky rubber that grips both wet and dry ground. One tester said the new model boosted her confidence. “I can run downhill and not have to worry,” she raved. “They did well on the rocks and leaves.” The upper continues to make use of minimal overlays and stitching to reduce the risk of hot spots, though there is more coverage over the toes for protection than in the 3. The soft, mesh upper has a tongue that wraps around the midfoot like a sleeve—a design that Salomon fans love. There is less fabric around the upper part of the heel, but cushioned pods lock your foot in place and limit unwanted sliding.—P.H.

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Brooks Caldera 5

Weight: 10.6 oz. (M), 9.4 oz. (W)
Drop: 4mm

Hitting gnarly trails? You’ll appreciate the BioMoGo DNA midsole in the Caldera 5. Its softness rivaled Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 4 GTX for one tester, who had formerly declared herself “a loyal Hoka gal.” That foam, made of durable and lightweight EVA, conforms to your foot, providing a responsive ride and a thick-enough sole that buffers rugged terrain without a stiff rock plate. While testers lauded the shoe’s softness, I wish Brooks had returned to the low weight of the Caldera 3. For faster efforts, the Caldera 5 feels heavy; if you’re looking for a lighter shoe that can even be used for racing, look at something like the Catamount or Topo Athletic’s Runventure. However, the Caldera 5 presented a different kind of service that I hadn’t expected: It kept me running in spite of the seasonal elements, shielding my feet when I broke through ice-covered snow and keeping me upright over slippery patches post-snowstorms. Other wear-testers said the shoe allowed them to run confidently over slick surfaces, and they appreciated how the tread gripped mud without collecting dirt or pebbles. “This is proving to be a very solid and durable shoe that I believe I will enjoy for many miles to come on sloppy or rocky trails,” said another tester.—A.F.

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The North Face Flight Vectiv

Weight: 9.8 oz. (M), 8.6 oz. (W)
Drop: 6mm

The Flight Vectiv brings carbon fiber to the singletrack. TNF developed it to compete against Salomon’s S/Lab and Hoka One One’s EVO collections for supremacy in long, technical races. I was skeptical when I heard TNF was putting a carbon plate in a trail shoe—the first company to do so. In previous testing, the brand’s shoes didn’t hold up to long miles of technical trail punishment, but the Flight Vectiv does, making it a great option for fast ultrarunners chasing a W on race day. The upper uses Matryx—a Kevlar and polyamide weave—which is durable and creates a locked-down fit. It’s the same stuff found in Hoka’s EVO Speedgoat, which I wore for 80 miles of the Tor des Géants 220-mile race, and also withstood a winter on Pennsylvania’s rocky, icy trails. The rest of the upper is a breathable knit that’s snug in the mid­foot and heel but didn’t cause me any hot spots. A 3D-shaped carbon-fiber plate directly beneath the sockliner boosts the shoe’s stability and makes the rocker midsole feel even more propulsive. I expected the plate to feel harsh, given its proximity to your foot. But paired with spongy foam, it creates a really stable platform. Plus, the rocker design creates an incredibly smooth transition from heel to toe, which anyone with tired legs at the end of an ultra will appreciate.—P.H.

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VJ Ultra

Weight: 9.3 oz (M8.5/W10)
Drop: 6 mm

While VJ models like the Maxx and the XTRM are specifically built for obstacle course racing and trail running, the Ultra is the first shoe from the brand that is specifically designed for mega-distance. It adds considerably more cushioning underfoot for spending hours to days on the trail. The best part of VJ shoes is still the outsole, and the Ultra lives up to the brand’s hashtag #BestGripOnThePlanet. The butyl-rubber outsole is studded with 4mm, chevron-shaped lugs, which give the Ultra a really tacky hold on wet, jagged surfaces. “The traction this shoe had in all conditions was insane,” said one tester. “I ran these shoes through everything from bone-dry trails to monsoon summer rainstorms and was blown away—definitely the most grip I’ve had on a trail shoe, hands down. On short road stretches, the feeling is like walking across a dirty dive bar floor on a hot summer day—sticky.”—M.P.

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