Picking our favorite road shoe was particularly difficult this year. There are now true standouts in every category, from minimalist flats to maximalist megafatties. And in between those extremes is a veritable flood of inspired trainers—shoes that pair minimalist construction with thick foams that are springier, more durable, and more responsive than prior generations. After testing 36 of the top shoes from 19 different brands, we found these seven to be best in class. Each is a big winner in our book, though the new Brooks Launch 2—the ultimate hybrid of a speedy lightweight trainer and a high-mileage comfort shoe—shone brighter than the rest.
Brooks Launch 2
When Brooks released the original Launch in 2009, it was onto something big, but the project was placed on the back burner during the minimalist frenzy. Six years later the lightweight, deep-cush formula that made the original a cult favorite is back with a modern twist. Read the full Gear of the Year review.
Newton Distance IV
Best For: Mid- and forefoot strikers with an evolved stride who like to boogie.
The Test: Little changes in the Newton from year to year, and that’s fine with us. The Distance IV ($155) has a new paper-thin tongue and fewer overlays around the toe box to fit a wider range of feet, but it still offers the same things that make the shoe such an efficient speedster—the ridiculously low weight and lightning-quick turnover, plus a hyperefficient forefoot with Newton’s five-pod lug design. “I can’t run slow in these,” said one tester.
The Verdict: If you dig the boost of those wide and springy forefoot lugs, the Distance IV is screaming fun. 7 oz; 2 mm drop; newtonrunning.com
Best For: Training in racing flats.
The Test: Nike designed the new Lunartempo ($110) as a more foot-friendly version of its Lunaracer, giving the shoe a softer landing but a similarly silly-low weight and close-to-the-ground, flexy, almost minimalist feel. The fit is more slipper-like than that of any other shoe here, thanks to the snug Flymesh upper. The ride? Impossibly smooth, albeit a bit close to the ground for heel landers. We appreciate the just-enough rubber on the outsole to slow wear.
The Verdict: An antidote to harsh minimalism for those addicted to quick turnover and great ground feel. Strong feet will really love this shoe. 7 oz; 8 mm drop; nikerunning.com
Mizuno Wave Rider 18
Best For: Heel strikers looking for an energetic, supportive trainer.
The Test: In its 18-year streak, the Wave Rider ($120) has been defined by its firm feel. While the stiffness can come off as harsh, it makes the shoe one of the most supportive and responsive in the lightweight class—the plastic wave plate in the heel turns each foot strike into forward motion. And there’s more spring up front than in prior generations. “What it lacks in comfort, it makes up for in efficiency,” said one tester. The stouter build also translates to great durability.
The Verdict: Heel strikers who don’t need pampering will love this classic. 9.2 oz; 12 mm drop; mizunorunning.com
Saucony Triumph ISO
Best For: Foot-pillow addicts who like high-mileage cruising.
The Test: Saucony overhauled the Triumph ($150) this year to make it the comfiest shoe in its line. Designers added 20 percent more cushioning than prior generations, there’s three more millimeters of it, and the upper has a new tongueless bootie construction that makes pulling on the Triumph feel like slipping into a sock. The best part: the shoe dropped half an ounce from last year and still feels reasonably energetic. We did notice some top-foot pressure under the overlays, though.
The Verdict: Peppy, light, and deeply cushioned without overdoing it. 10.4 oz; 8 mm drop; saucony.com
New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay
Best For: Midfoot strikers looking for a responsive trainer.
The Test: The Boracay ($120) offers all things in moderation. It’s certainly thick, but the “ultraplush” cushioning New Balance touts is not in the same ballpark as the padding in giants like the Saucony and Hoka One One. By comparison, the Boracay is way more conducive to faster paces yet still amply padded underfoot. The heel feels squishy and deep, and the forefoot is thin enough not to seem sluggish. The stitchless upper was the most comfortable in the test, with nary a pressure point.
The Verdict: A speedier, welcome alternative for fat-shoe fans. 9.3 oz; 4 mm drop; newbalance.com
Hoka One One Constant
Best For: Bigger runners who need a trusty platform.
The Test: The thickest shoe in our test (by a hair), the Constant ($160) was also the softest (by far) and was built to be more stable than other megafatties. It has less outsole rocker, a stout plastic heel counter, and a dual-density midsole to help steady wobbly feet. There are drawbacks: it’s slow, and testers complained that it didn’t feel secure around the top and midfoot. But high-volume feet should be happy.
The Verdict: If you’re after a steadier version of Hoka’s signature deep, soft salvation—and don’t mind sacrificing some zip to get it—this is your shoe. 10.7 oz; 4 mm drop; hokaoneone.com