Midsole: Squeezed between the upper and the sole is the midsole, a hefty chunk of foam that provides the cushion for a smooth ride. Runners generally will have specific desires for their midsole, like if they want to mimic the sensation running on a cloud or they actually want to feel some of the feedback from the ground.

Outsole: Here’s the part of the shoe that actually makes contact with the road. Road outsoles tend to consist of smooth, grippy rubber, while trail runners will have chunkier lugs for traction on slippery dirt and treacherous inclines.

Ankle collar: The part of the shoe that surrounds your ankle is known as the ankle collar. It’ll keep your foot securely planted in your shoe, but you’ll need to actually try out a shoe to make sure that that ankle collar won’t rub your Achilles tendon raw by mile five.

Heel-to-toe drop: When you’re standing still, the height distance between your heel and the front of your foot is considered the heel-to-toe drop. Picking the right ratio (which is measured in millimeters, typically between eight and 12) is all about personal preference, and you’ll only really get a feel for it during a test run. If you’re not heading into a store in-person to test out the shoe, you’ll need to take a beat after you buy one to confirm whether your running stride feels natural and comfortable, and how you want your preferred heel-to-toe drop from there.

So, whether you’re training to run a marathon in 2024 or just want to hop on the treadmill every now and then, here are the best running shoes for every kind of activity.

The Best Nice, Normal Road Running Shoes: Brooks Ghost 16

Finding the best running shoe for you is usually all about fit, and the Ghost comes in narrow, medium, wide, and extra wide, making it the most inclusive shoe on this list. The midsole is also broadly appealing, ensuring a soft landing and cushiony rides for everyday running, no matter the surface. The Ghost 16 is slightly lighter than the Ghost 15, thanks to updated foam and revamped outsole rubber. Even though this is technically a high-stack shoe (meaning it has a good amount of cushion), don’t expect it to feel as squishy as some other extra plush models out there. The Ghost is widely loved, and in our testing we found it to be predictable in the best, most reliable sort of way. If you’re new to the whole pavement-pounding thing, this is a great place to start.

Image may contain Clothing Footwear Shoe Sneaker and Running Shoe

© 2024 Tanner Bowden

Image may contain Clothing Footwear Shoe and Sneaker

© 2024 Tanner Bowden

The Best Maximalist/Ultra-Cushioned Running Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13

New Balance

Fresh Foam X 1080v13

Maximalist shoes—those that look like they’ve got a mound of foam strapped to the bottom—have been around long enough that they’re no longer odd-looking in the way they used to be. However, looks don’t always tell the full story anymore, and big foam platforms don’t always translate to big foam feelings underfoot. With the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13, they do. The shoe’s huge 38/31mm stack (38 mm at the heel and 31 at the toe) is comfy on the first step but as you settle into a 10K or half marathon distance, it gets bouncy. While some max-cushion shoes can sap energy with too much squish, the 1080v13 is actually quite responsive, which makes it great not just for recovery runs but also for longer efforts. The engineered mesh upper is nice and breathable and both stretchier and more supportive than previous versions of this shoe as well.

The Best Everyday Running Shoes: ASICS Novablast 4

Training for a race involves doing recovery pace runs, easy pace runs, long runs, and speed workouts. It’s best tackled with a roster of shoes, but the Novablast 4 makes a strong case for one being all you need. The shoe has a ton of cushion (just look at that heel), but the foam that ASICS uses in that platform is responsive and springy. It’s also stable with a wide chassis and a plush upper that feels secure but not claustrophobic. Even still, the Novablast remains lightweight, somehow offering the best of all worlds. For whatever kind of running you want to do, this shoe can probably help.

The Best Running Shoes for Racing: Nike Vaporfly 3

With the Nike Vaporfly 3, you’ll feel like the shoes are literally launching you forward on the road, because they are. This so-called “super shoe” can actually make you faster, and Nike’s no longer the only shoemaker doling them out. Anecdotally speaking, the model most pros and serious amateurs are choosing is the Vaporfly 3—a few generations beyond the prototype that Eliud Kipchoge strapped to his feet at the 2016 Olympic games while trying to break a sub-two-hour marathon. The shoe’s lightweight construction won’t weigh you down, while the full-length carbon fiber plate adds stability. But the show’s real star is Nike’s ZoomX foam, which returns a little energy back to your legs, meaning you’ll have more drive to push it a little further on your next run—and isn’t that every racer’s dream?

The Best Lightweight Daily Trainer: Hoka Mach 6

Hoka made its name with max-cushion shoes. The Mach line, however, slimmed things down (relatively speaking) with an aim at lightness and speed; the brand’s latest iteration maintains these traits, but it does so with a little more underfoot. The shoe still has a closer-to-the-ground feel, but it feels cushioned and springy, not minimal and firm. Unlike in past versions, Hoka used supercritical EVA here, along with new outsole rubber and a tweaked upper. While Hoka bills it as a speedy, race-oriented shoe, we’ve found that it behaves more like a lightweight trainer for daily running that’ll go fast when you need it to.

The Best Uptempo Everyday Trainer: Saucony Endorphin Speed 4

Saucony designed the Endorphin Speed for racing, but this shoe is for a lot more than that. Yes, it excels at going fast—that’s thanks to a combination of high-end foam, a rockered sole shape, and a winged nylon plate inside for stability and spring. With these, the Endorphin Speed 4 is part of an emerging class of shoes some call “super trainers” with elements of top-tier race shoes but are made for daily use. The shoe just feels really great to run in—our only knock against it is for a mesh tongue that can bunch up—no matter how fast you’re going. At $170, you’re also getting a lot of bang for your buck.

The Best Supportive Running Shoes: Saucony Tempus

Stability shoes aren’t a dying breed, but there hasn’t been a ton of innovation in the category the way there has been with shoes made for speed. They often feel overbuilt, heavy, and clunky, which doesn’t inspire going the extra mile—yet, the Tempus is different. With a blend of foams, it feels poppy and responsive like a more traditional everyday trainer, but there’s also extra structure and support to keep things moving in the right direction. Our feet sat in the shoe like it was a cockpit, with the midsole supporting from below and the upper hugging from above. It might not provide enough stability intervention for some runners, but we think it’s worth a try-on at the very least, and a certification from the American Podiatric Medical Association echoes our sentiment.

The Best Technical Trail Running Shoe: Norda 002

The 002 is the aptly named second release from Montreal-based upstart Norda. Where the 001 was made to be versatile, if slightly leaning in on long-distance trail running, the 002 wants to be a technician. Unlike its sibling, this shoe has a padded heel collar and a lower stack to bring it closer to the ground for technical running in rugged terrain. It maintains everything that made the 001 a success—a super-durable Dyneema upper, outsole rubber, and midsole foam by Vibram, and a dialed-in look with minimal branding. In our testing, the shoe performed as promised; it was perfect for rocky, rooty trails with many ups and downs and plenty of turns. If the price tag scares you, know that Norda shoes have been known to last for hundreds of miles.

The Best Road-to-Trail Running Shoe: On Cloudsurfer Trail

On Running

Cloudsurfer Trail

The Cloudsurfer might be the best shoe for everyday running in On’s quickly evolving lineup. Thanks to On’s overhauled midsole tech called CloudTec Phase, it works for everything, including trails. Like its roadie sibling, the Cloudsurfer Trail has CloudTec Phase made from the company’s Helion “super foam,” which is both supportive and responsive. What’s different here is a more weather-resistant upper and beefier outsole made with On’s Missiongrip rubber. The lugs are relatively shallow, and since not much else has changed here, the shoe is perfect for routes that involve some pavement on the way to the dirt. Anyone who’s run in older On models will be pleased that there’s no pebble-grabbing channel on the underside, anymore.

Most Versatile Trail Running Shoe: Hoka Speedgoat 5

The Speedgoat is one of those shoes that seems to be good at everything. We’ve run in it on technical trails with plenty of boulder hopping and casual jaunts on packed dirt. (We’ve even worn it for all-day walking around cities while traveling.) It’s fairly lightweight for a trail shoe and has that signature Hoka comfort, too. The formula for such success is a lightweight midsole that feels responsive and bouncy, a wide platform that provides stability, a double-layer engineered jacquard mesh upper that conforms to the foot, and five-millimeter lugs that provide plenty of grip. The low drop is more approachable than zero-drop for those who aren’t used to it and gets at that natural feel. Hoka makes a waterproof Gore-Tex version, a mid-height version, a version with spikes, and another for wide feet; chances are one of them will work for you.

The Best-Looking Running Shoe: Tracksmith Eliot

In the pursuit of a good-looking (aka not aggressively neon) running shoe, you might think you need to pass up on some key technical advancements. But in the past decade, Tracksmith has revived the relatively pedestrian category of running gear by bringing back some of the sport’s old spirit. The Boston-based brand has put aesthetics at the forefront of its performance-forward gear. Its Eliot Runner is its first foray into footwear, bringing the brand’s signature preppy, retro style to your feet. More than just good looks, though, these sneakers offer a surprisingly smooth ride courtesy of the Pebax foam midsole, which we found hits the right balance between firmness and springiness—much like the pine needle-laden roads of New England that they were designed to mimic. The shoe is slightly narrow in the toe, but its super-thick insole just feels good underfoot, and partly because these look so damn sleek, they might actually encourage you to lace up more often.

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