The Best Running Shoes of 2016
Faster, more comfortable kicks for all conditions
There is a great divide among runners: those who pick their shoes for speed and those who choose for comfort. The firmer and thinner the midsole, the faster and more efficient a shoe will be, but the harder it will be on your feet. The softer the midsole and the more supportive the shoe, the better your legs will feel—at great cost to your pace. Or so we thought. Today’s most innovative footwear has been developed at the intersection of these conflicting design principles. Every shoe our team selected this year found a new, refreshing balance in the yin and yang of rush and plush. And no shoe traversed that divide better than Nike’s Pegasus, now in its 33rd year, with equal doses of speed and comfort that no other contender could match.
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32
Gear of the Year
It’s hard to decide if this is a speed shoe for the masses or a training shoe for the fleet of foot. That’s a great sign. Pliant, light, and soft, it immediately wooed faster runners looking for a responsive, tempo-ready shoe, as well as our cruise-minded testers, who appreciated the soft foam and moderately heel-strike-oriented midsole. But it was the new, customizable fit of the mesh upper that sold us. The Pegasus uses a lattice of overlapping cables that independently apply tension to keep almost any foot shape locked in place. Where this shoe hit its limits was on longer outings and under heavier loads—the flexy forefoot and thin midsole can feel under-structured for tired feet or bigger runners. But on most days, this is as good as a lightweight trainer gets. 10.8 oz; 10 mm drop
Price $110 Comfort 5 Speed 4.5
New Balance Vazee Pace
Best For: Going fast and long.
The Test: “These shoes are absolutely amazing,” said one tester after several long runs. “Lightweight, and incredible fit.” Equal parts feathery racing shoe and stable, midfoot-striking trainer, the Vazee was one of the more impressive new entries of the year—an extremely responsive ride that still feels steady and supportive on longer hauls. We loved the second-skin fit, nicely padded tongue, and flexy heel counter. Heavier landers and less-efficient runners might find the foam a bit thin, but most of our team thought there was enough squish to sap road sting.
The Verdict: A great-fitting shoe for faster and efficiency-minded runners. 7.5 oz; 6 mm drop
Price $110 Comfort 4.5 Speed 5
Mizuno Wave Enigma 5
Best For: A bit of pop in your long-haul truckers.
The Test: The Enigma is a workhorse—a durable, high-mileage comfort shoe with a heel-strike-oriented midsole, good structure, and a forgiving feel. “Plush and just plain easy to wear,” one tester said. A shoe-length plastic plate gives the narrow-fitting Enigma considerably more responsiveness than its foamy cousins (although it loses some smoothness in the transition from heel strike to midstance). We loved the snug fit, thick tongue, and stretchy laces. While it’s by no means a slow shoe, you’ll want something else for sprint days.
The Verdict: Our favorite high-mileage trainer this year. 10.9 oz; 12 mm drop
Price $150 Comfort 4 Speed 3.5
Adidas Supernova Sequence Boost 8
Best For: Cruising in comfort.
The Test: Like a good summer blockbuster, the Sequence Boost is going for mass appeal. It has what most runners look for in a traditional trainer: a secure and structured upper, generous padding around the tongue and heel, and a roomy toe box. The midsole is half EVA foam and half Adidas’s soft, springy Boost material, creating a damp, almost sluggish ride. A few plastic structural pieces in the midfoot and medial heel add stability. While the Sequence Boost pays a bit of a weight penalty, we still loved it for going long.
The Verdict: A dependable, confidence-inspiring shoe if you’re happy taking it easy. 11.9 oz; 10 mm drop
Price $130 Comfort 4 Speed 3.5
The North Face Ultra MT
Best For: Technical running.
The Test: This shoe has the DNA of a mountain goat. With five-millimeter lugs for bite in loose turf, a sticky Vibram outsole, and an exceptionally secure fit, the Ultra MT was born to motor over gnarly trails. The heel is firm and thick enough to blunt the pain of hard landings and long outings, while the forefoot is thin, fast, and responsive on variable terrain. Chief quibbles: the slender laces quickly go from loose to too tight, and the thin tongue can rub on high insteps. Wide and weird feet beware, the fit is not all that forgiving.
The Verdict: A true top-caliber mountain runner without much of a lazy streak. 10.4 oz; 8 mm drop
Price $130 Comfort 4 Speed 4.5
Vasque Pendulum II
Best For: All-condition cruising.
The Test: The Pendulum settles halfway between the minimalist and maximalist camps. It has the moderately toothy outsole, protective rock plate, and fairly thick and firm midsole of a muscular trail shoe, but a pared-back upper and six millimeters of drop keep the stride natural. Multiple testers noted the secure, locked-in midfoot. “Sticks to you with no tight spots or sloshing,” one said. Still, the Pendulum is rather roomy, so it’s best for wide feet or thick socks. Bonus: the midsize lugs make muck runs a breeze.
The Verdict: A highly versatile, protective winter runner that doesn’t overdo anything. 10.2 oz; 6 mm drop
Price $120 Comfort 4.5 Speed 3.5
Best For: Soft. Soft. Soft.
The Test: Imagine running on Wonder Bread. With 33 millimeters of foam in the heel and 28 in the forefoot, each step sinks into virtually bottomless mush. It’s billed as a race shoe for technical routes, but we found the midsole too high off the trail and the light upper too unstructured to speed over rocky terrain. While the flat-tire feel saps forward energy, it’s a lifesaver on epic days and punishing downhills, and the turnover is still pretty quick. Said one tester, “The most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn on-trail. Period.”
The Verdict: The leg-saving float of your dreams, but steer clear of turbulence. 9.7 oz; 5 mm drop
Price $140 Comfort 5 Speed 4
Altra Lone Peak Neoshell
Best For: Staying dry.
The Test: The Lone Peak’s coolest feature is its upper, a highly breathable Polartec Neoshell waterproof barrier (instead of the usual Gore-Tex insert) that prevents snowmelt from soaking the body and weighing it down. Beyond that our team was split. Some testers praised the minimalist ride—the soft, zero-drop midsole has a natural “house-slipper feel,” as one tester put it. Others lampooned the ultra-high-volume forefoot and zero-structure upper.
The Verdict: A minimalist, waterproof cruiser without the road slap, but the design feels a bit undercooked. 11.5 oz; zero drop
Price $150 Comfort 3 Speed 3.5
Merrell All Out Terra Ice Waterproof
Best For: Frozen trails and roads.
The Test: The nine carbide-tipped spikes in the sole of the All Out Terra Ice offer amazingly confident purchase even on glare ice, and the waterproof upper made this shoe a standout on packed snow. The nicely padded tongue and comfortable midsole make for a warm ride, although its nearly 13 ounces of heft slows the turnover a bit. One obvious quirk: the loose heel gave an unusually insecure rear-foot fit—a strange feeling but not a deal breaker.
The Verdict: A winter warrior that will rescue much of your cold-weather running. 12.8 oz; 6 mm drop
Price $180 Comfort 4.5 Speed 4
Brooks Adrenaline ASR 12 GTX
Best For: Easy winter days.
The Test: The Adrenaline is an emphatic traditionalist. With thick overlays and a plush upper, it was a go-to for our heavier runners and moderate pronators who crave stability, comfort, and high-mileage support without the weight penalty. On inclement days, the Gore-Tex upper and tightly packed lugs made it an excellent crossover shoe. While the thick, moderately firm midsole is responsive, the shoe is a bit slow. Note the 12-millimeter drop, which steers the Adrenaline toward heel strikers.
The Verdict: A steady, versatile workhorse for nasty conditions. 11.8 oz; 12 mm drop
Price $150 Comfort 4.5 Speed 3