In the age of big foam, the ghost of minimalism lingers— making for versatile kicks.
Saucony Freedom ISO ($160)
Gear of the Year
Freedom indeed. “By far the most liberating shoe I tried,” one tester said of this lithe new trainer. The Freedom epitomizes this year’s broader trend, blending the energetic style of minimalism with the cushioning and foam of the fattie era. Saucony ditched as many modern-day luxuries as possible without sacrificing comfort or requiring a delicate, tenderfoot gait. The soft, flexy midsole is just thick enough to cushion average runners but offers an energetic, low-to-the-ground ride that’s ready for tempo runs and faster days. The Freedom’s addictively smooth transition had us reaching for it more than any other shoe we tested. And then there’s that innovative upper. With the help of riblike overlays, it expands and constricts for a snug fit on most foot shapes. “It’s hard to pick just one thing that stands out about this shoe—it has it all,” one tester said. Midfoot strikers will appreciate the four millimeters of drop, although landing on the heel can cause the midsole to bottom out. 9 oz (men’s) / 8.1 oz (women’s);
4 mm drop
Skechers GoMeb Razor ($110)
Best For: Rolling light.
The Test: If you still think Skechers isn’t a serious running brand, the featherweight GoMeb Razor will set you straight. Flexible and fast, the Razor (the women’s version is shown here) lives up to its celebrity namesake. The midsole is emphatically soft—usually an energy-sapping quality, but the turnover in this überlight shoe is sharp and the midsole thin enough that the result is still a quick gait. “The Razor is a blast,” said one tester. The last is on the wide side, but the stretchy upper cinches down nicely for a secure fit on narrow feet. Just note: the midsole is too structureless for long-run support, so hard landers should steer clear.
The Verdict: A surprise standout for comfy quickness. 7.7 oz (men’s) / 6.1 oz (women’s); 4 mm drop
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V3 ($100)
Best For: Quick midfoot strikers.
The Test: Speed simply oozes from the Zante. Equal parts tempo runner and proper lightweight trainer, it has a rapid, responsive toe-off and very quick turnover. “This shoe gives back whatever I put into it and propels me forward,” one tester raved. It’s almost the same ride as in prior years, just with a new “engineered” mesh upper (none of the old floating overlays here) and a cool bootie-like integrated tongue for a secure fit that boosted efficiency by eliminating sloshing. We had only one minor quibble: the midsole foam felt a bit firm when we headed out on longer, slower runs.
The Verdict: Our team’s favorite lightweight speed trainer. 8.8 oz (men’s) / 7.5 oz (women’s); 6 mm drop
Mizuno Wave Rider 20 ($120)
Best For: All-day responsiveness.
The Test: After 20 years, the Wave Rider’s genius is still in its balance. This is a durable, stable daily driver that can tackle 500-plus miles of abuse, yet “it doesn’t run like a heavy, high-stack, high-drop trainer,” as one tester reported. It’s relatively snappy, offering especially good energy return from the forefoot. The plastic suspension plate in the heel is a bit softer than in past generations, so while it feels like a firm ride at the moment of touchdown, it compresses quickly into a softer, more accommodating transition. The upper is nicely formfitting and snug, with ample but not excessive padding.
The Verdict: If you’re used to fast shoes but are tired of flimsy, structureless slippers, the Wave Rider is your choice. 9.6 oz (men’s) / 8.3 oz (women’s); 12 mm drop
ASICS Noosa FF ($140)
Best For: Fleet-of-foot heel strikers.
The Test: The Noosa is the most responsive, energetic, exciting shoe we’ve seen from ASICS in years. With a fairly meaty heel (24 millimeters for the men’s version, 23 for the women’s, shown above), there’s no shortage of cushion, but this shoe still manages to deliver a remarkably lively ride. “It’s got a pulse!” one tester said. ASICS’s new FlyteFoam is noticeably light and resilient and was designed to resist compression, thus maintaining its springiness over many miles. The meshy forefoot is as breathable as they come. Folks with narrow feet, note that the last is on the wide side and the ten-millimeter drop means lots of heel striking.
The Verdict: A great balance of speed and forget-your-form cushioning. 8.9 oz (men’s) / 7.2 oz (women’s); 10 mm drop
Brooks Ravenna 8 ($110)
Best For: Long-distance training.
The Test: The Ravenna is a great compromiser. While you get a moderately thick midsole, a swollen tongue, and heel-collar padding, plus the supportive architecture of a traditional high-mileage trainer, this shoe’s ride was remarkably quick, responsive, and energetic—right in the sweet spot where a soft landing feels comfortably crisp, not sluggish. An extra dose of structure makes the shoe a tad stiffer than its sibling, the Launch, but the support was a welcome partner on longer runs. “I put in 15 miles one day and felt really good in them,” a tester said. Bonus: a gap in the laces keeps pressure off the bony bits of your arch.
The Verdict: A quick shoe that isn’t afraid to go long. 10.5 oz (men’s) / 8.9 oz (women’s); 10 mm drop
Nike Air Zoom Vomero 12 ($140)
Best For: Putting in lots of fun, fast miles.
The Test: So much can change in a year. The 2016 Vomero was a clunky dog. This time around it’s a responsive, smooth, exciting trainer. The outsole consists of a new, squishy slate of rubber bumps that dampen what was once a slappy ride in the forefoot, while a new segmented crash pad on the lateral outsole smooths landings. “Puts a snap in your stride,” a tester said. It’s also one of the most comfortable shoes here, courtesy of an internal bootie, best-in-class fit (if on the narrow side), a plush tongue, and thick upper padding. Take heed on hot days—breathability isn’t great.
The Verdict: Quite nearly our Gear of the Year and certainly the most improved shoe we looked at. 11.8 oz (men’s) / 9.4 oz (women’s); 10 mm drop
Adidas Supernova ($130)
Best For: Easy coasting.
The Test: Formerly the Supernova Glide, this neutral Adidas now has 20 percent more foam than its predecessors (26 millimeters in the heel) and rides on a wide, extremely soft Boost midsole, giving it a gummy landing. While the Supernova (women’s shown above) is no speedster, it offers a decently responsive feel in the forefoot and an energetic lift-off. “A similar feeling to maximalist shoes without the bulk or weight,” one tester said. That luxuriant foam may stay plush in cold weather, but it’s so compressible that it can bottom out under larger runners and force you to sink back on your heels.
The Verdict: Some testers loved it, others shrugged. All agreed it’s a comfy, laid-back softie with a bit of pep at toe-off. 10.8 oz (men’s) / 9.8 oz (women’s); 10 mm drop
Hoka One One Arahi ($130)
Best For: Pronating cushion junkies.
The Test: Most big-foam shoes are for neutral, high-arched runners. The Arahi, on the other hand, is for those with flatter arches and for pronators who may need some extra support. An innovative, J-shaped band of dense foam wraps around the midsole’s heel and extends into the medial forefoot, lending both pronation control and a more structured feel than Hoka’s typical towering offerings. But don’t mistake the Arahi for a plodding clunker. The stability blends in seamlessly with the natural fat-tire ride. And “it still has that cool Hoka spring,” as one tester put it.
The Verdict: Yes, there are smoother Hokas out there, but none with this much stability. 9.3 oz; 4 mm drop (men’s) / 7.6 oz; 5 mm drop (women’s)
Altra Paradigm 2.0 ($130)
Best For: Big guys.
The Test: Zero-drop runners are their own breed—landing perfectly flat-footed requires great form and limber calves. For the max-cushion fans among them, there is the Paradigm. The new generation of Altra’s fattie keeps the company’s signature roomy toe box, deep cushioning, and forgiving fit that snugs down nicely. The foam is springy enough to avoid feeling sluggish at a decent clip yet soft enough to support heavy strikers. Just don’t think of it as a speed shoe—the Paradigm is best for long, slow hauls and recovery days. “Perfect balance between cushion and performance,” one tester said. It’s a thick slice of cake, but a tasty one.
The Verdict: For Altra’s target niche, the Paradigm is a bull’s-eye. 9.7 oz (men’s) / 8 oz (women’s); zero drop