The 7 Best Running Shoes of Winter 2012

Power Grid Cortana

Saucony Power Grid Cortana Running Shoe    Photo: Courtesy of Saucony

Saucony PowerGrid Cortana Running Shoe

Finally, a midfoot running shoe for the masses. With a pillowy tongue, exceptionally soft and accommodating midsole foam, wide forefoot, and wear-it-all-day comfort, the Cortana feels like a traditional high-mileage trainer. What's missing? Only the built-up heel: there's a scant four millimeters of drop between the hell and the marshmallow-soft forefront, so the flexy Cortana gently fosters a more barefootlike midfoot-striking gait, without the harsh impact on the feet. And because the forefoot is close to the ground, the shoe still feels reasonably responsive. "I can't think of a softer shoe that still runs fast," our 10K specialist wrote. The fit? "Like a slipper" was a common tester refrain. Speedy minimalists might find it a touch heavy (and squishy!), but that just means that for most progressive-leaning runners, it's probably just about perfect. 11.2 oz; 4mm heel drop

Responsiveness: 4 (Out of 5)
Comfort: 5

New Balance RC1400 Running Shoe

New Balance RC1400
New Balance RC1400 Running Shoe   Photo: Courtesy of New Balance

THE SELL: A PR-ready racing flat. THE TEST: This shoe hammers on race day. (One of our testers, Mbarak Hussein, won the U.S. Masters 10K Championships in it this past June.) But what sets the RC1400 apart from most floppy racing flats is its potential as a minimalist trainer. The foam cutout in the heel centers foot strikes for stability and springiness, and the shoe is high enough off the ground to cushion steep downhills. The airy and almost stitch-free upper is plush by minimalist standards, and there's plenty of rubber in the sole for tempo runs. THE VERDICT: The funnest shoe we tested for speed work and shorter runs. 7.2 oz; 8mm heel drop

Responsiveness: 5
Comfort: 4

Nike LunarGlide+ 3 Running Shoe

Nike LunarGlide+ 3
Nike LunarGlide+ 3 Running Shoe   Photo: Courtesy of Nike

THE SELL: Heel strikers deserve better. THE TEST: Pronation-control shoes tend to feel clunky and dull, like you're running with a hangover. THat's what's great about the new LunarGlide+ 3: its subtle medial post—that wedge of dense foam inside a stability shoe's heel—is effective without being obtrusive. The updated design also adds a pair of broad plastic wings that clamp down around the midfoot; they add a secure feeling that offsets the tippiness of the cushioning. It's also first-class in comfort, thanks to a seamless upper and padded heel. THE VERDICT: As light, smooth, and responsive as a stability trainer gets. 12 oz; 10mm heel drop

Responsiveness: 4
Comfort: 4

Asics Gel-Blur33 Running Shoe

Asics Gel-Blur33
Asics Gel-Blur33 Running Shoe   Photo: Courtesy of Asics

THE SELL: A natural running shoe for everyday training. THE TEST: The lightweight Gel-Blur33 aspires to minimalism, with a pared-down upper and flexy midsole. And though the shoe was quick, it still felt like a well-cushioned, high-milage trainer—one that will forgive errant heel striking while still coddling midfoot runners in pillowy foam. That's a boon for comfort but a bust for responsiveness, as the gummy foam sucked a bit of energy out of every step. Also a bummer: the wide groove running the length of the sole, intended to improve the shoe's flexibility, felt distracting to some testers. THE VERDICT: A friendly departure from thick foam toward minimalism. 10.4 oz; 10mm heel drop

Responsiveness: 2.5
Comfort: 4.5

Vasque Mindbender GTX Trail Running Shoe

Vasque Mindbender GTX
Vasque Mindbender GTX Trail Running Shoe   Photo: Courtesy of Vasque

THE SELL: A waterproof beast for technical trails. THE TEST: "This shoe is a tank!" said one tester. "It brushed off softball-size rocks." In its element—rough singletrack during mud season—the Mindbender's huge toe bumper, thick but not overly stiff midsole, toasty Gore-Tex liner, and armored upper shone. The understated lugs gripped better than expected on both dry gravel and slop. Just don't expect it to double as a fast every-day training shoe. Note: narrower-footed testers found the high-volume fit a bit sloshy. THE VERDICT: Tough enough for long mountain hauls; hefty enough to double as your light-hiking shoe. 14.4 oz; 10mm heel drop

Agility: 2
Protection: 5

K-Swiss Blade-Max Trail Running Shoe

Blade Max Trail
K-Swiss Blade Max Trail Running Shoe   Photo: Courtesy of K-Swiss

THE SELL: A hydrophobic, high-mileage trail runner. THE TEST: "Barely felt any rocks!" exclaimed one tester. THe highly water-resistant Blade-Max Trail smothers roots and stones under a thick layer of foam sliced with airy gaps that deform around trail contours. While all that cushioning sounds slow, its flexy forefoot, narrow toe box, and low weight make for a respectably quick turnover. Even so, some testers weren't sold. The plastic lace grommets are too sticky to dial in a confident fit, and it's too soft and high off the ground to deliver precise footing on truly technical trails. THE VERDICT: Comfortable cruiser for mellow trails and roads. 13.6 oz; 10mm heel drop

Agility: 2.5
Protection: 3.5

La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0 Trail Running Shoe

La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0
La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0 Trail Running Shoe   Photo: Courtesy of La Sportiva

THE SELL: Fast in all conditions. THE TEST: The big teeth, narrow fit, and fast flex that made the first generation of the Crosslite such a nimble technical trail shoe remain, but testers reported that this new version felt slightly higher off the ground and softer in the heel than its predecessor. We found no better shoe to wear on loose downhills or snowy fire roads and trails. "When the terrain becomes an oil slick, this shoe shines," one tester enthused. Thumbs down, though, on the built-in gaiter, which makes adjusting the forefoot laces next to impossible. Note: runs a half-size small. THE VERCICT: Rally-car cornering with 4x4 traction. 10.9 oz; 8mm heel drop

Agility: 5
Protection: 4

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