The Best Affordable Running Shoes You Can Buy Right Now

Amanda Furrer, Morgan Petruny, Caitlin Giddings
·11 min read
Photo credit: Staff
Photo credit: Staff

We get it. Everyone loves to say, “All you need to do is just step out the door and start running.” But, you at least need a good pair of shoes. And some models can be expensive, costing upwards of $250—hello, Nike VaporFly Next%. Even though a quality running shoe is a worthy investment, you don’t need to shell out a big chunk of change when you’re just getting started. Or ever, to be quite honest. We’ve tested options to fit any budget, and can recommend many that cost $100 or less.

How We Tested

The shoes included in this list received the same treatment as all of the running shoes we’ve tested. We evaluated them in our shoe lab, where we measured their cushioning, flexibility, and stability features among other things, while our wear testers took to the road and trails to assess their comfort, ride, traction, cushioning, and durability.

Our team of 225 testers, plus some our most experienced shoe reviewers, logged at least 100 miles over a month of running on the pavement, track, treadmill, and trails. Depending on the season, we’ve also gauged the shoes’ abilities over snow, ice, and wet mud. Runners have worn them for both long runs and speed workouts—earning a few trial-and-error blisters along the way—and even raced a half marathon in some of the shoes below to determine where each performs best.

While some of these options may lack the extra features of their pricier counterparts, these running shoes still provide a smooth and comfortable ride with all the basics you’ll need to put your best foot forward. We considered all aspects of each shoe, from the lacing and upper materials to the outsole tread and midsole cushioning, in selecting these models. Check out our top picks for the best budget-friendly running shoes—including both road and trail models—that most impressed us for their resilience and reliability over the months and miles of testing.

—BEST FOR NEW RUNNERS—

Brooks Trace

Weight: 8.9 oz (M), 7.9 oz (W)

Testing a new shoe like the Trace can be thrilling but also a little unsettling: You don’t know what you’re attaching to your body, how it will perform, and whether it will make you soar (or sore). Brooks made a bold move etching a “1” into the tag on the tongue—indicating there’s more to come—but this rookie is a top pick. For both minimalists who want a bit more cushioning and Ghost loyalists seeking a soft and speedy option like the Saucony Kinvara, the Trace delivers. The new model has adequate cushioning, enough flex at toe-off, a responsive midsole, and all-around comfort. There is ample wiggle room in the toebox, and our testers reported that the padded heel collar helped reduce blistering and nicely cradled their foot. It’s also sufficiently durable; several runners noted how well the shoe held up after strenuous workouts in tempestuous winter weather. Given the Trace’s price and solid performance, we’d love to see Brooks release a stability version with guide rails for overpronators.

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—MOST COMFORTABLE—

Skechers GOrun Pure 2

Weight: 8.3 oz (M), 7.1 oz (W)

The Pure’s sequel keeps the hallmarks that got us hooked on the original, but sprinkles in a few key updates. Skechers swapped its Ultra Flight foam for Ultra Go; both are responsive TPU-based materials, but this newer midsole helps shave more weight from what runners felt was already a pleasingly lightweight trainer. (Given its exceptional comfort and plush feel, testers were also shocked the Pure had a price tag of $95.) The only issue was that, while the upper breathed well, it lacked a secure locked-in feel. Engineered mesh in the latest version provides a tighter weave for a snug fit in areas that felt unstable.

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—BEST FOR LONG RUNS—

Nike Renew Run

Weight: 10.8 oz (M), 9.0 oz (W)

There’s no denying that you’re paying for both running performance and the unmistakable Swoosh aesthetic when you lace up a pair of Nikes. Though it doesn’t use top-tier ZoomX foam, the Renew Run doesn’t skimp on speed or style. Testers said the Lunar foam midsole provided balanced cushioning that felt much softer than they expected on long runs, but still felt light and responsive during quicker intervals. “This shoe has a fit similar to the Pegasus,” one tester said. “It has a stiff collar, good traction on wet pavement, a roomy toe box, and still feels stable.” While some testers favored the shoe’s high drop for its propulsive feel and ability to lessen Achilles strain at the end of long runs, others found it a touch too obtrusive.

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—SPEED DAY STABILITY—

Brooks Launch 8 GTS

Weight: 8.8 oz (M), 8.1 oz (W)

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, respectively. 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.

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—LIGHTWEIGHT DAILY TRAINER—

Reebok Floatride Energy 3

Weight: 8.5 oz (M), 7.0 oz (W)

Though the latest version of Reebok’s impressive entry-level shoe has dropped the “Forever” from its name, it maintains the best part of both the original Floatride Energy and its sequel—the midsole. Floatride Energy Foam provides a lively, well-cushioned ride that feels great during long efforts and tempo runs alike with energy return that punches way above many running shoes in its $100 class. The 3 also swaps in a redesigned, more comfortable mesh upper that wraps the foot more securely and breathes better than that of its predecessor. “Lighter than some bulky trainers I’ve been in, this Reebok still has enough foam underfoot for big mileage without feeling too chunky. I prefer springy cushioning over super soft, so really enjoy this shoe’s energy return and bounce,” one tester said. “The full rubber outsole is very durable—I strongly prefer daily trainers that coat all touchpoints with outsole rubber, rather than exposed foam, and this shoe had that element. My only concern is that there isn’t much support at the arch.”

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—BEST ZERO-DROP—

Topo Athletic ST-3

Weight: 7.2 oz (M), 5.9 oz (W)

A roomy toe box and a lightweight design make the ST-3 a fast and flexible trainer that our testers favored for racing short distances. The breathable upper dries fast if you’re caught in a rainstorm, and fits snugly over your foot. One caveat that comes with being a lightweight: There is very little cushioning or arch support. “Since I am a mid to forefoot striker, I liked the zero drop of these shoes. They’re extremely light and my foot lands perfectly every time,” one tester said. “It promotes my natural gait and feels very quick—every training run was faster than usual. These will be my 5K racing shoes!”

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—STABLE DAILY TRAINER—

Asics GT-1000 10

Weight: 9.8 oz (M), 8.2 oz (W)

For the past decade, the GT-1000 has delivered as a simple and comfy daily trainer that serves up a few added stability features alongside Asics’s signature soft Gel cushioning. This tenth version places a section of firmer foam beneath the arch, and a midfoot support truss to help guide the foot through the gait cycle, while extra Gel at the outer heel absorbs shock on touchdown. Overpronators will find the GT gives them the support they desire, while neutral runners looking for a stable trainer can also slip into this versatile shoe. Though it’s a smidge heavier than the ninth version, the 10 gets a new engineered mesh upper for improved breathability. Plus, Asics has also upgraded the outsole to the more premium, more durable iteration of its high-abrasion rubber.

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—BEST FOR RECOVERY RUNS—

Adidas Supernova

Weight: 10.9 0z (M), 9.2 oz (W)

The new Supernova is a revelation for Adidas’s Supernova line—and for the $100 shoe category across the board. Previous renditions of the shoe were well-cushioned and protective for long runs, but felt clunky and a little sluggish on toe off. Now, it feels like one of the smoothest shoes around, with Boost heel cushioning that soaks up braking forces and seamlessly transitions to a soft EVA foam forefoot. At 10-minute pace or 5-minute pace, the Supernova feels brilliant and livelier underfoot. The mesh upper is similarly great, with no hot spots or uncomfortable seams, and a snug midfoot fit that opens up into a spacious toe box.

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—BEST FOR UPTEMPOS—

New Balance FuelCell Propel v2

Weight: 7.2 oz (M), 5.6 oz (W)

We like that the Propel shares the same energetic FuelCell foam and similar “go-fast” feel of models like the Rebel and TC, but with fewer dollar signs attached. The major difference is that this shoe is better equipped for everyday runs than racing, although according to our testers, it certainly won’t shy away from speedwork or a start line. “This shoe felt lighter than it was, springy, and responsive,” one tester said. “The cushioning was spot on and the ride was soft. It made me want to crank up the speed.” Plus, the v2 nixes the bungee-cord eyelets for more traditional lacing, which adds more support for tight cornering at top speed.

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—MOST VERSATILE—

Brooks Revel 4

Weight: 8.9 oz (M), 7.9 oz (W)

The Revel is designed for pure versatility. It excels at everything from intervals to middle distances, and even has a clean enough design and color scheme to moonlight as office footwear. From the second to third version, the shoe lost a few ounces—and four millimeters of heel-toe offset—but the 4 keeps most of what we liked in its predecessor. It still has plenty of springy cushioning from EVA-based BioMoGo foam (though it’s not quite as soft as Brooks’s DNA Loft) and also gets a revamped outsole tread for solid traction on wet pavement. Wear it to the gym, the coffee shop, or a socially-distanced group run—the shoe is up for any workout or setting.

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—BEST CARBON-FIBER RACER—

Atreyu The Artist

Weight: 7.3 oz (unisex)

One hundred dollars for a lightweight racer with a carbon-fiber plate? Crazy. So was starting a shoe company in 2020, but that’s just what founder Michael Krajicek did. And since he didn’t come to his gig the way a lot of shoe company pioneers do—through retail—he’s taken a new approach to slinging shoes: a subscription model. Commit to buying a pair of Atreyu every month (or every three months) and they’ll cost you a fraction of what you’d pay for shoes from other brands. Atreyu’s first model was a $55 racing flat that was too thin and firm for most of our testers. But this follow-up is a thicker shoe that boosts comfort and speed. It uses supercritical EVA—not the pricey, bouncy Pebax you’ll find in Nike’s Vaporfly Next%—sandwiched around a curved carbon-fiber plate. But don’t let that deter you: The sole is slightly squishy when you land heel-first, but firm and snappy when you push off the ground.

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—BEST LIGHTWEIGHT TRAIL SHOE—

Merrell Bare Access XTR

Weight: 8.0 oz (M), 6.0 oz (W)

If the Topo Athletic ST-3 is for runners predisposed to minimalist shoes, the Merrell Bare Access XTR is for the minimalist skeptics. The lightweight trail shoe provides just enough foam underfoot for a connected-to-the-ground feel without leaving you vulnerable to sharp debris. A zero-drop platform and flexible midsole add to the free-running vibe, but the shoe’s comfortable mesh upper is far from sparse; traditional lacing offers a familiar fit, while a breathable mesh with zig-zagging TPU overlays add some protection. The outsole pairs deep flex grooves with sticky 3mm Vibram lugs to capably grab ahold of loose dirt, gravel, and wet leaves.

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—BEST CUSHIONED TRAIL SHOE—

Merrell MTL Skyfire

Weight: 9.0 oz (M), 8.1 oz (W)

Merrell designed this shoe to be lightweight and affordable for going fast at high, rocky elevation. Deep 5mm lugs provide solid traction on slippery surfaces, and a firm rock plate within stiffer EVA foam protects your foot over technical terrain. While the midsole doesn’t lack cushioning, it’s not a marshmallow—our lab data showed a firm forefoot and a very firm heel. But, if you’re like one tester who prefers a harder shoe, it may be just what you want. “Whether I was hiking steep, leafy hill repeats; rock-hopping on gnarly, technical terrain; or going fast on groomed trails, I could take this shoe out for several hours without beating up my feet.”

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