Choosing a running shoe isn't easy. Not when wall displays seem like they run 100 meters wide, and not when the theory on how to pick a pair correctly keeps changing. Shoe brands and specialty shops used to and often still seek to correct pronation — how the ankle rolls inward as it absorbs shock — despite evidence that it doesn't actually play a role in instances of running injuries. Newer thinking says to simply go with the shoe that feels most comfortable to you.
And just last month, Outside reported on a 2020 study that raises the notion of a "habitual motion path" that describes how an individual's joints prefer to move. The thinking is, the shoe that lets you match that path most closely is the one to go with. But assessing such a thing in a store is tricky and, right now, imprecise. Regardless, researchers say that shoe choice isn't as impactful in causing injuries as overtraining.
Whether you find this sometimes conflicting information encouraging or paralyzing, know that we live in a golden age of running gear. There's a shoe for every foot, for every surface and for every running routine. Here are some of the latest efforts to get you headed in the right direction.
Hoka One One Carbon X 2
When the first Carbon X came out in 2019, it was one of the few running shoes to feature a carbon fiber plate in its midsole for additional spring and propulsion — and the only one made for everyday runners versus elite racers. The sequel is just as fast and, in a world now thickly populated with carbon-boosted shoes, still unique. That's due to its elongated swallow tail heel, which helps roll runners through strides, and its lightweight foam. So how fast is it? Well, Jim Walmsley wore it to run 100 kilometers in six hours, nine minutes and 26 seconds, 12 seconds short of a new world record.
Nike ZoomX Invincible Run
It was Nike who pioneered the carbon plate design in running shoes, helping its athletes win races and break records in the process. But its newest shoe, the ZoomX Invincible Run, is about getting runners to race day. It's carbon-free, but it does have the same foam as its famous Alphafly NEXT%. That foam forms a broad platform to land on, facilitating a fluid stride that Nike says is ideal for long training runs. (We've put a few dozen miles on a test pair and can attest to comfort and stability that holds up through that long last mile.)
Altra made its name in trail running, but its newest model is for the road. Still, the Rivera utilizes the core features Altra is founded on, including a balanced cushioning platform (meaning the heel and toe are the same height off the ground) and a wider, foot-shaped toe box. These, along with grooves in the outsole that flex along with your bones, work to create as natural of a running experience as possible.
The North Face Vectiv
Not to let road runners monopolize the carbon fiber market, The North Face recently unveiled the Flight Vectiv, the first trail running shoe to utilize the tech. It's doing so differently, though — the patented 3D Vectiv Plate sits just underfoot and curls up on the edges to provide stability in addition to spring, which is ideal for uneven trail surfaces. The Vectiv line includes new trail running shoes with plates made of other materials for shorter distances and more casual runs too. You can pick up a pair by joining The North Face's VIPeak program (it's free) or wait for the wide release.
Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2
Arc'teryx's take on speed is to strip out everything that isn't necessary. At six ounces, the Norvan SL 2 is the lightest trail running shoe we've seen (for comparison, the Flight Vectiv above is 10.05 ounces). Arc slimmed the Norvan down by using Vibram's Litebase outsole, which has a lot of tread but nearly no bulk. It also has a flexible, barely-there upper designed to keep out trail crud.