Minimalism is dead! Long live minimalism! These days, runners get it both ways.
Brooks PureFlow 3
With a redesigned tongue that eliminates a bulge over the top of your instep and a revamped heel, the PureFlow ($100) has gone from good to absolutely great. The combination of minimalist DNA (a midfoot-striking four-millimeter drop, roomy forefoot, and socklike fit) with a generous helping of springy foam made it an instant tester favorite. “The best of both worlds” is how one reviewer put it. The forefoot is as thick as those in Brooks’s comfort trainers, but the heel is lower by six millimeters. Brooks also moved the location of the faux split-toe design into a more natural spot between the toes, but testers didn’t really notice the change. Light heel strikers will find the impact a bit unforgiving, but midfooters will enjoy excellent arch support and fatigue-fighting stability. 8.8 oz; 4 mm drop
BEST FOR: Speed work; efficient runners with minimalist leanings.
THE TEST: The Cloudracer’s ($130) rubber springs are no gimmick. Though the Swiss-engineered shoe sports a thin, almost minimalist mid-sole, the rubber pads compress on each impact, so it takes almost all the sting out of the road while still feeling fast and low to the ground.
>>Read the full review
Saucony Virrata 2
BEST FOR: Efficient midfooters.
THE TEST: Last year’s Gear of the Year–winning Virrata ($90) is back with a revamped upper and improved lacing system. Once again, it drew unanimously rave reviews. “I LOVE this shoe,” wrote one tester with a sticky caps lock. “It flies when I need it to, but it’s also cushioned and supportive enough for slower, easier runs,” said another. The zero-drop midsole is meaty but snappy, though the thin tongue can cause some lace pressure. Unlike most shoes, the Virrata 2’s outsole has very little traditional rubber, which is both good (it makes the shoe lighter) and bad (it’s not as durable).
THE VERDICT: A thin-crust shoe with deep-dish comfort. 7 oz; 0 mm drop
New Balance Fresh Foam 980
BEST FOR: Speedy foam addicts.
THE TEST: Don’t wear this on a recovery day. “It’s almost impossible to run slowly in these shoes,” one tester said. Despite plush softness and fat-tongue comfort, the 980 ($110) is exceptionally light and offers great rebound—the four-millimeter drop and thick, springy heel all but launch you forward. Hexagonal bumps and cavities on the midsole deliver a dose of stability, but not enough for heavy heel strikers or pronators. Got wide feet? Beware the narrow toe box. And if you count yourself among the Clydesdales, you may want a trainer with more structure.
THE VERDICT: You won’t find another shoe this comfy that’s also this much fun. 9.1 oz; 4 mm drop
Hoka One One Conquest
BEST FOR: Open minds.
THE TEST: Hoka’s trademark giant foam ($170) polarized our test group. Some loved it, especially the way the rockered sole felt on long downhills. Others hated it. But all noted how light, responsive, and stable the new rubbery injection-molded midsole material is, considering its elevator-shoe proportions. “There’s more bounce than squish in these Frankenstein midsoles,” one said, although the foam is firmer than you might expect. The upper drew similarly mixed opinions: some found it comfy and secure, while others found it underpadded and boxy.
THE VERDICT: Try it—you might love it, especially if you’re a hill climber or a long hauler. 12.3 oz; 4 mm drop
Asics Gel-Kayano 20
BEST FOR: Cruising; wide feet.
THE TEST: The Kayano turns 20 this year (we remember when it was a wee lad), but it still ranks among the best traditional stability trainers. The high-volume fit, generous upper padding, and smooth-rolling stability are an enduring formula. The ten-millimeter drop doesn’t force you to land on your heel, and the shoe ($160) is just low enough to the ground (there’s 12 millimeters of padding under the forefoot) that you don’t feel like you’re sinking into bottomless mush. “Excellent comfort and cushion,” said our largest tester (men’s size 14). “A great shoe for everyday use.”
THE VERDICT: Slow and steady—in the best possible sense. 11.3 oz; 10 mm drop
Adidas Supernova Glide Boost 6
BEST FOR: Neutral midfoot strikers; smooth cruising and tempo runs.
THE TEST: Testers loved the radically updated Glide ($130), but it was hard to pinpoint exactly why. Was it the bouncy feel of Adidas's much-hyped Boost foam? The smooth transition from touchdown to toes-up? The Glide's talent at both long hauls and speedy tempo runs? All of the above, probably. “It always feels like the right shoe for the day,” said one tester. Midfoot strikers, don’t sweat the ten-millimeter heel drop—the shoe’s ramp angle feels less pronounced than the spec suggests. Hot spot: watch for lace pressure through the thin tongue.
THE VERDICT: An enjoyable trainer, regardless of speed. 10.6 oz; 10 mm drop