October 28, 2021

Dare Quill

The Real Estate Maniacs

Best Running Shoes Fall 2021

16 min read

Road racing has returned this fall, after an 18-month hiatus, and that means it’s time to lace up the fastest new shoes to test your fitness. But whether you’re racing or just enjoying your daily mileage, there are fantastic new models that leverage the latest bouncy foams and irritation-free uppers to ensure you get the most from every run.

To find this season’s best shoes, our test team and more than 250 wear-testers piled miles on 78 different models, with each tester logging more than 100 miles in their test pair. We examined how each shoe performed on the road or trail and evaluated key qualities like cushioning, flexibility, stability, and overall ride. After all that, these 20 pairs came out on top.


FAST


Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2

Weight: 6.9 oz (M), 5.8 oz (W)
Drop: 8 mm

When you make the world’s fastest shoe, you don’t mess it up. And, good news: Nike didn’t. In fact, the changes to version 2 were limited just to the upper, focused on improving comfort and durability. The sole of the shoe is still where the magic happens, thanks to the exceptionally lightweight, soft, and springy ZoomX foam and rigid carbon-fiber plate that help you bound down the road with less effort. It’s the kind of package that allows elite marathoners to race well under five-minute pace, but we love that it delivers a screaming ride whenever we push it hard, even at shorter distances. If you’re going long, you’ll appreciate the small yet important updates this version received. The previous Vaporweave upper, a ripstop nylon–like material that didn’t absorb water, has been replaced with an engineered mesh. We found that the Vaporweave just didn’t stretch at all—particularly a problem for those of us with high insteps—and created a lot of pressure late in a race. The new mesh resolves that problem. —J.D.

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New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2

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

FuelCell RC Elite v2

New Balance
newbalance.com

$225.00

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 39 mm, 7 mm taller than before. And the forefoot got an even bigger boost, reducing the drop from 10 mm to 8 mm. 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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Asics Magic Speed

Weight: 8.1 oz (M), 6.5 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

ASICS Men’s Magic Speed Running Shoes, 8.5, Glacier Grey/Thunder Blue

The Magic Speed was designed with some trickle-down knowledge from shoes like the MetaRacer and has more budget-friendly components from shoes like the NovaBlast, making it a good race-day option for those of us running marathons competitively in the three-to-four-hour range. We also love this shoe because it holds up to a heavy amount of speed training. To help you sustain those long efforts, it uses a lively FlyteFoam Blast midsole that’s bouncy and springy underfoot. You won’t mistake it for the Pebax found on a Vaporfly Next% or Asics’s own nylon-based foam from its top-of-the-line MetaSpeed Sky, but it offers an excellent combination of cushioning, energy return, and durability. Instead of a full-length carbon-fiber plate, the Magic Speed has one made from carbon and TPU (a plastic polymer) that spans only the front half of the shoe. The result is that the shoe isn’t nearly as stiff from heel to toe, so you lose a little of that snappy turnover you’d get from a fully-plated shoe. But it’s softer on heel strike and still manages to feel peppy.—Jeff Dengate

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Hoka One One Rincon 3

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

Rincon 3

Hoka One One
hokaoneone.com

$115.00

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.—Amanda Furrer

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Mizuno Wave Rebellion

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

Wave Rebellion

Mizuno
mizunousa.com

$180.00

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.—Morgan Petruny

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Saucony Endorphin Pro 2

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

Lakota Gambill

Endorphin Pro 2

Saucony
zappos.com

$199.95

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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Under Armour Flow Velociti SE

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

Flow Velociti SE

UnderArmour
underarmour.com

$130.00

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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SOFT


Brooks Ghost 14

Weight: 9.9 oz (M), 9.0 oz (W)
Drop: 12 mm

Ghost 14

Brooks
amazon.com

$129.95

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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Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38

Weight: 10.0 oz (M), 8.2 oz (W)
Drop: 10 mm

Before Phil Knight claimed it for his shoe brand, the name Nike belonged exclusively to the Greek goddess of victory. She accompanied Zeus for luck in battle as he hurled thunderbolts from a blazing chariot pulled by Pegasus. And, like Zeus’s reliable stallion, the 38th Peg upholds its legendary descriptor as a capable “workhorse with wings.” Last year, the shoe’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. The outsole got a facelift, too, with more flex grooves and a rectangular tread pattern that slightly improves grip for short stints off-road. Those tweaks remain on the 38, but the upper sees a bunch of problem-solving fixes. The previously cramped toebox is roomier, and a deeper heel cup helps eliminate the slippage we felt in the 37.—M.P.

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Brooks Aurora-BL

Weight: 8.5 oz (M), 7.6 oz (W)
Drop: 6 mm

Lakota Gambill

Aurora

Brooks
zappos.com

$199.95

Race shoes that match the Aurora’s price are usually set aside for competition and typically last 250 miles. For all those other days when you’re training and recovering, that’s where the Aurora comes in. What separates it from your average max-cushioned shoe is that it mimics the same turnover as a speedster. The midsole is sculpted to promote a gliding transition, while a decoupled heel and forefoot encourage flexibility and, according to Brooks, your foot’s natural movement. The nitrogen-injected DNA Loft v3 midsole is lighter, softer, more responsive, and more durable than traditional EVA foam or the brand’s original DNA Loft. “Initially, I was afraid it was going to be too soft, like I was running on quicksand, but it was not like that at all,” said a tester. “The cushioning allows for higher mileage and harder efforts without beating up your feet.”—A.F.

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Puma Magnify Nitro SP

Weight: 10.5 oz (M), 8.6 oz (W)
Drop: 9 mm

In an attempt to sink its claws back into running, Puma has been reworking its image, launching more streamlined, race-ready trainers, like the Deviate Nitro. But not everybody wants a carbon-fiber plate in their shoe. Enter the Magnify, which proves the brand is making solid performance shoes for all runners—not just the PR-minded ones. Pegged as an everyday trainer, the Magnify has a two-layer midsole that amps up cushioning and rebound, thanks to a nitrogen-infused foam layer positioned above a slab of EVA-based Profoam Lite. Unlike the Puma’s bulky yet bouncy Hybrid foam, this midsole combo provides a soft, supportive ride without the heft. Testers couldn’t resist adding on a few more miles, favoring the Magnify’s soft feel. A self-described “cushioned running shoe junkie” said the shoe is “plushy” in the best way possible.—A.F.

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Altra Paradigm 6

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

Paradigm 6

Altra
altrarunning.com

$160.00

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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Newton Gravity+

Weight: 8.5 oz (M0, 7.0 oz (W)
Drop: 3 mm

Lakota Gambill

Gravity+

Newton
zappos.com

$189.95

Newton’s forefoot lugs, designed to give you trampoline-like responsiveness, are a contentious shoe feature. Some runners love them, others take time to warm up to the way they feel. And some runners want nothing to do with them. If you haven’t run in Newton shoes before, it usually takes an adjustment period to reap the benefits. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some of us would rather get to it right out of the box. The testers who gradually incorporated the Gravity+ into their shoe rotation, however, were glad they did. As Newton’s flagship model, its cushioning has remained consistent. Testers have long noted the punchy combo of the five forefoot lugs (one under each metatarsal) and a layer of lightweight EVA foam. The “plus” model gets a tweaked midsole formula that has even more rebound, and Newton added something called EcoPure to the foam. When you’ve retired your pair to the big oval in the sky, this organic compound attracts naturally occurring microbes to help the shoes decompose more quickly.—M.P.

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Reebok Floatride Energy Grow

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

Floatride Energy Grow

Reebok
amazon.com

$119.95

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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TRAIL


Craft CTM Ultra Carbon

Weight: 10.3 oz (M), 7.2 oz (W)
Drop: 10 mm

CTM Ultra Carbon

Craft
craftsports.us

$249.99

The Craft CTM Ultra Carbon looks like one of the new marathon super shoes and shares many of the same features—thick sole, carbon plate, and even that winged heel everybody’s slapping on shoes since the Vaporfly was released. But this shoe isn’t necessarily meant to compete with those on marathon racecourses. While still best reserved for race day, the CTM is genuinely designed as an “any surface, any distance” shoe. Craft claims the shoe is aimed at ultra-distance running, so right out of the box I took the shoes on a 34-mile run with more than 12,500 feet of elevation gain on a mix of gravel roads and leafy, rocky singletrack trails. The narrow sole and tall stack height is unstable on technical singletrack, but that’s to be expected since it’s not a pure trail shoe. However, on gravel and pavement, the Ultra Carbon is sturdy, responsive, and snappy. The aggressive 10-mm drop pushes you onto your toes immediately, and the extreme rocker under the forefoot helps each step roll effortlessly.—Pat Heine

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Skechers GOrun Razor TRL

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

Skechers Go Run Razor TRL

Skechers
amazon.com

$129.95

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: 6 mm

Lakota Gambill

TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max

Inov-8
inov-8.com

$190.00

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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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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Hoka One One Zinal

Weight: 8.5 oz (M), 6.9 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

Zinal

Hoka One One
hokaoneone.com

$160.00

Trail shoes are usually decked out with all the beefy features needed to take on any scourge that blocks your way: a rock plate to shield your soles from getting jabbed, aggressive lugs to bite into loose ground, and gaiter attachments to keep the elements out where they belong. By eliminating these features that tend to weigh down a shoe, Hoka launched this lightweight, no-fuss trainer meant for speed and agility. Its 4mm lugs are grippy on uneven surfaces but unobtrusive over stretches of pavement you may hit on the way to a trailhead or when linking up sections of trail. Dare we call this shoe a hybrid? “On some of the downhill slopes, I was impressed with my stopping ability, considering the tread pattern is not overly aggressive,” said one tester. The shoe isn’t totally free of trail-specific features. The upper has a toe bumper as well as a gusseted tongue, which is designed to block out debris on loose ground.—A.F.

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Salomon Ultra Glide

Weight: 10.1 oz (M), 7.8 oz (W)
Drop: 6 mm

Lakota Gambill

Ultra Glide

Salomon
salomon.com

$140.00

Traditionally, Salomon’s speedy kicks earn their reputation for being fast, for sure, but also are quite firm, aggressive, and narrow—better suited for elites than midpack runners. The Ultra Glide is Salomon’s most cushioned and most accessible trail shoe. The first time I wore the shoe was on day 5 of a 327-mile FKT run in April. After over 250 miles, the hills, rocks, and hours piled up, and I was craving more protection for the final stretch. The upper provided enough protection for my tired feet when I inevitably kicked rocks and roots, while the rocker design and extra cushion underfoot took the sting out of pavement and extra-rocky sections, enough for me to keep the shoe on for 75 miles. The shoe held firm on runnable ground and while climbing over boulders, but the traction didn’t inspire confidence on flat, wet slabs of rock near the summits. In those conditions, it’s better to reach for a shoe with sticky rubber designed for wet terrain.—P.H.

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