(Inga Hendrickson)
2021 Summer Buyer’s Guide

The Best Road Running Shoes of 2021

Kicks for getting faster, from race day to recovery jog


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Nike ZoomX Invincible ($180)

(Courtesy Nike)

When Nike introduced the Vaporfly 4% in 2017, no other shoe received more attention. Now there’s a new supreme in town. The ZoomX Invincible might not break speed records, but it rules for recovery runs. Calling it thick-soled would be a gross understatement. The heel stack starts at 35.1 millimeters and goes up incrementally with each size (36.6 millimeters in men’s 10). It’s one of the most generous maximum-cushion road shoes we’ve seen, and perfectly executed, too. The massive Pebax midsole feels fun and playful, like a moon bounce for your feet—a pleasant surprise for such a high-stack shoe. It pairs that responsiveness with plentiful shock absorption. One perpetually sore-legged tester noted that the shoe minimized all of her aches and pains. Meanwhile, the engineered knit upper is soft and airy. From top to bottom, Nike has created the best max-cushion shoe we’ve ever tested. Performance-oriented runners: pair the Zoomx Invincible with the Vaporfly 4% for an A-plus race-recovery two-shoe quiver. 11 oz (men’s) / 8.9 oz (women’s); 9 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Asics Gel-Nimbus Lite 2 ($150)

(Courtesy Asics)

Best for Everyday Miles

From recovery runs to up-tempo days, the Nimbus Lite 2 proved to be a smooth, reliable neutral trainer. It feels like a well-worn favorite right out of the box, with a plush design underfoot (the heel stack is 25 millimeters for men and 27 for women) and a well-padded upper that’s made with 80 percent recycled polyester. The part-EVA midsole, which also incorporates bio-based cellulose nanofibers, features a futuristic protruding heel for a remarkably stable ride. As one tester put it, the shoe “easily disperses impact without clunkiness.” Overall, it’s a refreshing departure from the traditionally stiff and firm Asics platform. 9.1 oz (men’s) / 7.8 oz (women’s); 10/13 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Hoka One One Mach 4 ($130)

(Courtesy Hoka One One)

Best for Long, Speedy Runs

When Hoka introduced the Mach in 2018, it earned our Gear of the Year award. “Thick, quick, and easy to love,” was how we described it. Version four made us fall in love all over again. It loses a few ounces while adding an extra five millimeters of soft but energetic dual-density midsole. (The heel stack is 27 millimeters for women and 29 for men). “Not too firm and not too soft,” said one tester. A wide platform with a flared, fishtail-style rear adds stability and dampens impact for heel strikers without compromising efficiency for fore- and midfoot runners. “It checks all the boxes,” said one runner. “It’s comfortable, lightweight, and stable.” 8.2 oz (men’s) / 6.8 oz (women’s); 5 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Salomon Predict 2 ($160)

(Courtesy Salomon)

Best for Comfort

The updated Predict retains its predecessor’s anatomical design—segmentation in the midsole and outsole that matches the major joints of the foot. The goal is to support a natural yet cushioned foot strike, which reduces hip and knee stress. Outsole grooves (deeper in version two) help these foam platforms move somewhat independently for a smooth heel-to-toe transition. But it’s the new midsole that wowed us. Salomon uses injection molding to infuse plastic with nitrogen gas, creating a soft, more responsive foam. A padded, 3D-molded heel cup and socklike mesh upper boost comfort, while TPU overlays add structure. 9.7 oz (men’s) / 9 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Puma Deviate Nitro ($160)

(Courtesy Puma)

Best for Marathon Racing

If the Nike Vaporfly had a less famous, slightly heavier, more affordable cousin, the Deviate Nitro would be it. From the carbon-fiber plate to the tall stack height (38 millimeters in the heel) to the über-soft foam, not to mention the bright colors, the two bear striking similarities. Words like “bouncy,” “springy,” and “fun” echoed across our crew’s test notes. Some felt the midsole was “excessively soft.” On the other hand, the cushion addicts in our test group praised its responsiveness. “Puma has entered the next-level racing-shoe game,” reported one happy runner. Note: these run about a half-size small. 9.4 oz (men’s) / 7.6 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop 

Men’s Women’s

Under Armour Flow Velociti Wind ($160)

(Courtesy Under Armour)

Best for Training

Even without the embedded sensor that connects to Map My Run, the Flow Velociti Wind is the ideal training partner. It’s lightweight and secure, with a low stack (26 millimeters under the heel) and a rubber-free outsole—just exposed midsole foam that offers surprisingly tacky traction for a quick toe-off and great ground feel. That slim profile, combined with a peppy ride that’s firm but not too hard, is perfect for fast road efforts or squats and box jumps. Pair it with the app for real-time coaching cues or leave yourheadphones at home and geek out on your data post-run. 8.5 oz (men’s) / 8 oz (women’s); 8 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

Brooks Launch GTS 8 ($100)

(Courtesy Brooks)

Best for a Quiver of One

Brooks took its feathery, flexible Launch 8 and beefed it up ever so slightly for those who need extra support. The new Launch GTS 8 provides light stability by way of small sections of dense foam integrated into the top of the midsole. These strips run from the inner and outer heel to the midfoot to limit pronation. Meanwhile, the midsole foam changes viscosity based on the force applied to it. This means it adapts to your stride, weight, and speed to both absorb pounding and return energy. “These feel snappy,” raved one tester. Our crew reached for the Launch GTS 8 for long runs and short, speedy efforts alike. 8.8 oz (men’s) / 8.1 oz (women’s); 10 mm drop

Men’s Women’s

From Summer 2021 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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