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We’ll state the obvious: Running shoes are a significant purchase. And depending upon the fit, they can make or ruin a run, not to mention your racing mojo. They also function as more than running shoes. At work, running through the airport, in the grocery store—a good pair can take mythical status and nearly become an extension of you. Sadly, shoes only last for 350 to 500 or so miles, making for a short but sweet partnership.
Luckily, there’s a whole new crop of fresh runners this season. We recruited the Maroon Belles Trails Club, based out of Carbondale, Colo., to put the latest models to the test. From experienced ultrarunners to three-days-a-week beginners, runners of all backgrounds beat up the latest styles on paved roads, technical trails, vacation jaunts and races. In total, our testers vetted more than three dozen styles to make it easy for you to find your new sole mate.
Reebok One Guide 3.0 (top)
Three meshes join seamlessly in the upper and three foam densities fuse in the midsole to create a pleasantly maneuverable feel. The medium guidance keeps feet fresh, even for long, slow distance runs. Testers were willing to overlook the energy-neutral return thanks to consistently pleasing running comfort: “Awesome, awesome, awesome! I really enjoy wearing this shoe not just for longer runs, but also around town.”
9mm drop, $125, reebok.com
Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road N3 (bottom)
A smooth footstrike and fun ride are the notable hallmarks of Pearl Izumi’s most cushioned neutral shoe. The midsole foam has a responsive balance of protection and zippiness, leaving testers happy to wear them for both long and short runs. Internal and external overlays add structure to the seamless mesh upper for a secure but not-too-snug fit. “I could wear these all day,” said one tester who did just that when she went straight from wearing them for an eight-hour shift in a steamy kitchen to a 5K run on a sandy road.
7.5mm drop, $130, pearlizumi.com
Brooks Glycerin 13 (top)
No bell, whistle, cutting-edge fabric or innovative cushioning was spared in the making of this shoe—and your feet will thank you for your high-end taste. “Eye-catching styling and an amazing fit make these like lingerie for my feet. I feel happy, sexy and ready to run!” said one tester. From the sectional crash pads to the no-socks-needed upper, every detail works toward a luxe run.
10mm drop, $150, brooksrunning.com
Montrail Fluid Flex ST (middle)
Pick a trail, any trail. One dirt-loving tester remarked, “These have very nice traction and a great tread for all surfaces, including pavement. They even worked for longer stretches of road.” The lightweight, real-ground feel and airy upper of these neutral trail shoes make them ideal for mid-distance runs on varied surfaces. Small multi-directional forefoot treads work in concert with energetic foam for a secure grip and quick turn-over. The pronounced heel cup and upper overlays enhance stability and fit for trail confidence. 4mm drop, $95, montrail.com
Sketchers GoRun Ultra Road (bottom)
This brand has a great reputation for fun, fast shoes—but some Skechers fans have complained that in the past, the shoes lacked a bit in the durability department. The Ultra Road addresses this issue head-on. Its outsole incorporates strategically placed rubber pods to let this pair last for miles and miles. “I’m adding these to the rotation for marathon training shoes,” one tester reported. “They make me want to keep on running.” Overlays and a medium heel counter add welcome support, and the toe box works for wider feet. 4mm drop, $115, skechers.com
New Balance Pace Vazee (top)
A sleek design and firm-yet-forgiving midsole foam make it easy (at least easier!) to hit a fast pace. Despite the race-inspired lines, these don’t sacrifice comfort for performance. The soft mesh upper, padded tongue and flexible heel cup make for a road-slipper feel on a fresh outsole. They even look fast—we dare you to see if these help you drop a second or two during your next tempo workout or race! “I definitely noticed quick flow through my stride and toe-off ,” said one runner.
6mm drop, $110, newbalance.com
Adidas Supernova Sequence Boost 8 (middle)
Adidas’ proprietary Boost foam lightens the midsole and lends a fresh take to a traditionally styled stability shoe. “I feel like there is a nice cushioned barrier between my feet and the ground,” one fan reported. With midfoot overlays that attach to the laces, the shoe can be as roomy or cozy as you’d like de-pending upon how tightly you cinch. The fabric is a closed mesh that, while warm for summer, is just right for chillier runs.
10mm drop, $130, adidas.com
Hoka One One Clifton II (bottom)
In this update, the style that’s often considered the Queen of Cushion keeps her dreamy ride. The change comes in the lighter weight, less-roomy upper and plush tongue. Testers, first hesitant about the sole’s thickness, became converts after experiencing the ethereal yet responsive ride, preferring this style for longer runs: “These really do feel like running on pillows.” A wide platform delivers stability on varied terrain, from uneven sidewalks to marshy trails.
5mm drop, $130, hokaoneone.com
361° Spire (top)
“This is my Goldilocks and the Three Bears of shoes; they fit just right,” said one tester, who gave them a score of 11 out of 10. Medium- to wide-footed runners appreciated the accommodating fit and responsive support. And there is enough room for toes to splay without feeling sloppy. They also have a “smooth, like buttah” ride with a dialed mix of cushion, responsiveness and support.
10mm drop, $140, 361usa.com
Saucony Kinvara 6 (middle)
Lightweight and low to the ground, these neutral road shoes let your stride take center stage. Features, like the heel cup and tongue that have just the right amount of cushioning, support feet where needed without being overbearing. The upper is supremely breathable, which also means it may be chilly on colder days. One runner reported: “When I wear these, my feet feel fresh even after a hot, 10K run. Speedy foot turnover also seems to come a little easier when it’s time for mid-run sprints.”
4mm drop, $100, saucony.com
Nike Air Zoom Odyssey (bottom)
The secret of these shoes is in the midsole: Hidden air pods provide a super-cushy ride. But one tester’s favorite feature was the fabric: “The woven upper is soft and breathable and stretches for a comfortable fit even with my wider feet.” The Odyssey has the lower profile of a more traditional road running shoe, with the winning performance of a responsive yet forgiving high-mileage pair.
12mm drop, $150, nike.com
Scott T2 Palani 2.0 (top)
Think of the gently rockered outsole design as your secret weapon for a finish-line push. Whether you’re actually rocking forward is debatable. What’s for sure is the no-slip toe-off, locked-down fit and breezy ride. Bonus feature: the drainage ports—just in case you need them while running in the rain or transitioning mid-triathlon.
11mm drop, $130, scott-sports.com
ASICS Gel-Kayano 22 (middle)
Kayano loyalists, take a collective sigh of relief. The cult favorite stays true to form in its 22nd version. Updates—a seamless, stretch-mesh upper and a more pronounced heel cup—add enhanced comfort and fit. Contrary to market trends, ASICS added 3mm of heel drop to the Gel-Kayano to help take pressure off of runners’ tender Achilles. As far as supportive shoes go, these fit a lot of technology into a reliable shoe. “A great combo of cushion and stability, just what I need!” said one strider.
13mm drop, $160, asicsamerica.com
On Running Cloud (bottom)
The Cloud lives up to its name with a sleek upper and a bottom with individual cushion pods or “clouds.” The separate pods generate a dynamic running experience for quick-footed striders, yet still allow for plenty of comfort. The perforated tongue is integrated into the upper—meaning less bulk, lower weight and no slippage. “These are crazy comfortable and the unique lacing system really works for my narrow feet,” said one tester. Plus, the slipper style is easy-on and easy-off for dashing through airport security lines!
6mm drop, $120, on-running.com