Salomon Snowcross CS Running Shoes
GEAR OF THE YEAR: This is the most winter-specific running shoe we’ve ever seen, with an above-the-ankle gaiter, glove-friendly one-pull laces, ankle pads to prevent snowshoe bruising, and nine carbide-metal spikes embedded in those big snow lugs for goatlike grip even on black ice. While all of this makes pounding out miles in the depths of winter fun, the reason the Snowcross CS earned our highest honor is that incorporated underneath that water-resistant gaiter is a real running shoe—Salomon’s superfast, nimble Speedcross, which won our Gear of the Year nod in 2010. This winterized version has the same racing DNA: fast, extremely smooth, and low to the ground for great trail feel. Most impressive: despite all the winter armor, it still weighs less than some summer-only shoes. 12.7 oz; 11-mm heel-to-toe drop
Merrell Mix Master Aeroblock Running Shoes
BEST FOR: Midfoot-striking minimalists; cool and wet conditions.
THE TEST: Looking to try out less shoe? With just a hint of heel, the ultralight Mix Master Aeroblock is easier to adjust to than zero-drop, true barefoot shoes. But just because it’s pared down doesn’t mean you can’t rail it in the rough: there’s enough foam and sticky rubber to make it capable of real speed. Testers had no trouble going full-tilt on technical terrain, though the most narrow footed found the fit a bit loose. Plus, the shoe doesn’t mind foul weather. The tightly woven, wind-blocking upper is essentially waterproof.
THE VERDICT: Fast, with four-season chops. 8.5 oz; 4-mm heel-to-toe drop.
NEED TO KNOW: HEEL-TO-TOE DROP: The term, popularized after the book Born to Run came out in 2009, refers to the difference between the height of a shoe's heel and the height of the forefoot. (Got a 14-millimeter heel and a 4-millimeter forefoot? The heel-to-toe drop is 10 millimeters.) Whereas a shoe with a traditional heel height (12 to 14 millimeters) all but forces you to heel-strike, a flatter, more minimalist shoe (0 to 5 millimeters) demands midfoot running—the key to an efficient, low-impact gait. Shoes in the middle allow you (sort of) to strike either way, making them good transition shoes. Just remember that a lower heel means your Achilles has to stretch farther with each foot plant. Ease into lower-heeled shoes to give your body time to adjust.
Montrail Bajada Running Shoes
BEST FOR: Tempo workouts, mountain running, and just about everything else.
THE TEST: The narrow performance fit, firm midsole, and best-in-class midfoot security of the upper put the Bajada at the top of the charts for agility, responsiveness, and—yep—fun. The 10-millimeter heel-to-toe drop slightly favors heel strikers, but even midfooters will appreciate the extra slab of foam during downhills. On dodgy mountain singletrack and mellow fire roads, the high-traction Bajada proved to be a true utility player, though the subdued lugs and mesh upper were overwhelmed in sloppy mud.
THE VERDICT: One of very few shoes that actually made us say “Wow” out loud. 10.3 oz; 10-mm heel-to-toe drop.
Saucony Kinvara TR Running Shoes
BEST FOR: Speedy midfoot strikers; flat terrain in dry weather.
THE TEST: This trail version of Saucony’s extremely popular Kinvara road shoe does the family proud. A low and responsive midsole provides the familiar floats-on-your-foot feel and lightning-quick turnover. But it’s also armed with mildly aggressive lugs and just enough cushioning to allow you to hammer down mellow trails. Note: while the fit is decidedly narrow, it’s not completely secure—the stretchy overlays give the shoe an initial slipperlike comfort but let your foot slide and squish around disappointingly on the rocky stuff.
THE VERDICT: Screamingly fast and fun. 7.9 oz; 4-mm heel-to-toe drop.
Adidas Supernova Sequence Running Shoes
BEST FOR: Heel strikers, mild pronators.
THE TEST: With an extra-thick slab of foam in the forefoot, a double helping in the heel, and an extremely well-padded upper, the Supernova was hands down the most comfortable heavily cushioned road pounder in the test. “I felt like I could go 100 miles in these,” said one tester. The best part? At under 12 ounces, they feel sprightly, not lethargic like many comfort-minded shoes. A bit of pronation control helped heel strikers stay steady on long runs, but the roomy fit will have narrow-footed runners pulling hard on the laces.
THE VERDICT: Surprisingly fast. 11.5 oz; 12-mm heel-to-toe drop.
Brooks Ghost GTX Running Shoes
BEST FOR: Heel strikers on winter roads and mellow trails.
THE TEST: Brooks bills the Ghost GTX as a straight-up road shoe, but we found it to be more of a road-trail hybrid—a good thing, especially if you run on a variety of terrain, from flat and paved to hilly and rocky. There’s just enough midfoot structure to feel reasonably secure on off-camber terrain, while the Gore-Tex liner keeps things warm and dry and the soft, understated lugs provide decent slop-season traction without feeling like overkill on dry pavement.
THE VERDICT: All-weather cruiser, though we had some durability issues with the outsole. 11.4 oz; 12-mm heel-to-toe drop.
Run a lot in cold rain, slush, or wet snow? The Brooks and Gear of the Year-winning Salomons are the only fully waterproof shoes here.
Asics Gel-Lyte33 Running Shoes
BEST FOR: Neutral midfoot strikers with a speed jones.
THE TEST: The Gel-Lyte33 is a sweet little category straddler, combining the high-gear turnover of a race shoe with the soft and easy landings of a laid-back trainer. Pared to the basics—with barely any outsole rubber, a mushy heel counter, and minimal padding—it’s the rare shoe that makes your foot do the work (as a minimalist should) without slowing you down. The heel foam is soft but shallow, so heavy landers may feel it bottom out.
THE VERDICT: For those with a perfectly neutral foot strike, this is the speediest, best-fitting minimalist design we’ve seen from ASICS. 7.8 oz; 6-mm heel-to-toe drop.