2022 has a much different feel than the previous few years. Stores are reopening. Mandates are lifting. But still, some habits we learned during lockdowns have proven their staying power. One of those positives is an unmatched enthusiasm for running.
According to World Athletics, the running boom of 2021 has no plans of slowing down. And running brands are taking notice, giving athletes of all skill levels a slew of innovative products and releases, keeping spirits high and the streets, trails and routes filled with excitement.
If you’re part of this in-step crew, what better way to kick off another year of movement than with a premium pair of running shoes? We’ve been keeping tabs on the latest releases, trying them out to see which kicks live up to the hype. We’ve also connected with field experts to ensure you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to lace up your next perfect pair. From classic silhouettes, to green-friendly daily trainers. From cushioned rides to responsive speedsters. No matter how you run, we’ve got you covered.
When should you buy a new pair of running shoes?
The lifespan of running shoes varies and can be greatly impacted by how many miles you’re running in them. Director of Physical Therapy and Road Runners Club of America Level I and II Certified Running Coach Lauren Wentz states, however, that it’s important to realize that running shoes do, in fact, have a lifespan, and it may be shorter than you think. “An orthopedic specialist I work with told me that shoes expire every eight months,” Wentz says. This is due to the fact that the materials in the sole can start to break down over time, regardless of use.
“Even if it’s a pair of shoes that you’ve only run in a couple of times, but you’ve owned them [for example] five years. The cushion, the foam, is already deteriorating. So, I think that’s something that I try to make sure people understand; that even if you’re not running a ton of miles, you should consider getting a new pair of shoes every six to eight months.”
A good comparison to this notion would be to look at your car’s tires. The rubber can break down and dry rot over time, regardless of how many miles you’ve driven on them. You wouldn’t drive on tires that aren’t up to speed, so why would you run with shoes that are past their expiration date, too?
If you’re more distance-focused than time-focused, you can also view your running shoes’ lifespan in miles. A few brands will list a shoe's predicted mileage on its product page, but most don't. Consider 400 miles a ballpark figure — that's five months of running 20 miles a week. Some can take more, some less.
It can also be good practice to rotate your running shoes. According to Wentz, the cushioning foam in a shoe’s sole takes at least 24 hours to return to its proper stack height, and constantly trudging along can wear out this foam, leading to discomfort and a drop in performance. To keep your kicks in tip-top shape for months to come, consider training in different shoes for different workouts. “Even if it’s a new runner who’s not doing specific workouts, they’re just running to run every day,” Wentz says, “They could have the same exact pair of shoes but just two different pairs.”
How do I know which running shoe is right for me?
If you’re new to running, or just want a running shoe that’s in-tune with your step, the best way to confidently determine which running shoe is right for you is with a gait analysis. Many reputable sporting goods stores offer such service, with some even taking analysis into the digital realm with 3D foot scanners.
Wentz also notes that determining the right running shoes can be as easy as looking at the soles of your favorite sneakers. “That’s what I do in evaluations with patients. Like, are they a heel striker? Are they wearing out more on the medial side, meaning they pronate? Or, are they [wearing] more on the outside, meaning they supinate?” These hints and signs can be a great roadmap to help you get into the right pair for your step.
Now, let’s lace up and get into our list of the year’s best picks.
The Best Cushioned Running Shoes
Running should be a comfortable activity. You want everything, from the hat on your head to the socks on your feet, to create a cozy aesthetic that’s enjoyable at any distance. Well-cushioned running shoes can boost that comfort to unthinkable levels. Here are five picks we think really push the plush in 2022.
- Weight: 11 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5 mm
The award-winning Bondi X is back and better than ever, with Hoka's well-known ultra-cushioned ride as its foundation. The Bondi X features plush cushioning — it's designed to provide a forgiving impact without adding a ton of weight. An early stage meta-rocker provides a smooth step, too, to make every stride as enjoyable as the last. The newest Bondi also features a carbon fiber plate, which maximizes efficiency without sacrificing comfort. If you're looking for the plushest of rides, you'll find it in Hoka.
- Weight: 11.07 oz. (size 10)
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 9 mm
The ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit builds on the foundation of the original ZoomX: a big platform made of foam designed with maximum shock absorption. A wider forefoot adds stability to the ride, along with a more curved outsole for easier heel-to-toe transitions. Nike topped this shoe off with a Flyknit upper, enhancing breathability and a secure fit.
- Weight: 9.9 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 12 mm
The Ghost 14 makes subtle improvements to its predecessor, including an updated midsole of 100 percent DNA Loft cushioning. This Brooks technology provides a durable, comfortable step that doesn’t feel squishy or weighed down. The Ghost 14’s midsole pairs perfectly to the Segmented Crash Pad for smooth transitions from landing to toe-off, too. These shoes also work with you to build a personalized level of comfort, as the 3D Fit Print upper offers a great blend of balance and structure that adjusts to your foot with every wear.
- Weight: 11.7 oz. (size 9)
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10 mm
When Adidas launched Ultraboost in 2015, it was revolutionary. The foam, fit and feel package was strong, and people loved the crossover value each sneaker carried.. The latest version of the popular silhouette is 0.3 ounces lighter than the Ultraboost 21 and features a revised strobel lasting underneath the insole. This thinner lasting with large, oval cutouts in the heel and ball of the foot can help the sole expand more for a squishier, more comfortable ride than previous models.
- Weight: 9.3 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8 mm
Wentz notes that New Balance running shoes are a favorite among physical therapists, and for good reason. New Balance nails the fit on version 11 of the well-cushioned and comfortable 1080s. Testers praised the previous iteration's supreme comfort, and nothing has changed with v11. Pull these on for your weekly long runs to feel supported yet springy, so your legs are fresh the next day. Testers also found the Fresh Foam in the midsole to be incredibly responsive and on par with the plushest foams in any shoe. The new form-fitting synthetic/mesh upper is the icing on top of this cake, though one tester says it was a little snug and can be uncomfortable in the midfoot for some.
The Most Responsive Running Shoes
Another perk to the wide variety of running shoes is there’s a fit for every running style. Want kicks that really let you kick it into high gear? Want that rush of speed? Take a lap with these five picks, offering support and performance where you need it most.
- Weight: 9.88 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 9 mm
Like all its shoes, the Cloudflyer includes On's proprietary CloudTec midsole pods. The company built them with lots of its Helion foam, which isn't as bouncy as others on this list but is plenty supportive and responsive. Additionally, the Cloudflyer has a super-comfy upper and stable 3D-molded heel; it's pretty light, yet feels solid underfoot.
Editor's Note: Our testers found the outsole channel on this and other On shoes can pick up gravel if you're running on dirt trails, so it may not be the best for offroading.
- Weight: 8.8 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0 mm
Made to move, however you want. The Rivera 2 from Altra offers its Balanced Cushioning platform, meaning your heel and forefoot are equally distant from the ground for better alignment and form. Speaking of your stride, the segmented outsole is designed to help promote natural movement, too. Combine this with the responsive and energy-filled Altra Ego foam, and you have a lightweight, fast-paced running shoe that’s simple in design but grandiose in performance.
- Weight: 7.2 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 6 mm
To kick the FuelCell into high gear, New Balance injected it with the highest-rebound foam the brand makes. Then, it deconstructed the heel counter to make it lighter without losing too much support and created a close-fitting upper to buckle your foot into the proverbial cockpit. "The ride is soft and bouncy, but it doesn't sink in," says one tester, who also gave it top marks for cushioning, comfort and overall performance. "If this isn't the best shoe on the market, it's the best shoe under $130." The same tester noted that the upper blew out after roughly 150 miles, but added, "I'll probably buy another pair."
- Weight: 8.4 oz. (size 9)
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 9 mm
Easy to like and easy on the wallet, the Floatride Energy 4 is a great running shoe at a significantly lower price point than other options on this list. Boasting a new speed shift upper for structure and support, the Floatride Energy 4 is another addition to Reebok’s Ree[Cycled] platform – it’s made with at least 30 percent recycled or repurposed material. The Floatride Energy foam midsole pairs well with a beveled heel for a comfortable ride that’s responsive enough for daily performance and soft enough to make you yearn for your next training session.
- Weight: 10.2 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10 mm
The Gel-Kayano is a mainstay in the Asics stable, though the Lite version is much newer. To reduce its weight, Asics gave it a lighter, sustainably-sourced mesh upper and tweaked its overall construction to move some of its stability-providing elements inside of the build. Those include firm shapes on top of the midsole — there's a concave one on the outside and a convex one on the inside — in an effort to, according to Asics, “Slow the rate of pronation and improve the cushioning experience.” Because of this feature, runners who supinate may want to opt for a different style.
The Best Running Shoes for Trails
Trail running shoes are designed for variable terrain — they typically feature bigger lugs on their grippy, rugged outsoles that can efficiently maneuver through muddy, rocky trails without losing traction. Trail runners are also known for their stiffer midsoles, which offer more support on uneven surfaces. When you want to walk – or run – on the wild side, this is the footwear you want.
- Weight: 9.7 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm
When its namesake is the fastest bird on the planet, it’s no surprise that the award-winning Peregrine 12 is built for speed. The 5 mm lugs of the redesigned PWRTRAC outsole provide plenty of aggressive traction to keep you moving in the right direction. The Peregrine 12 also boasts a more minimal upper with pliable overlays, perfect for keeping your feet protected from intruding rocks and other obstacles. But don’t think this speedy trail runner forgot about comfort. The soft, springy PWRRUN cushioning provides plenty of plush for a well-rounded ride.
- Weight: 12 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10 mm
Salomon is known for engineering top-of-the-line trail runners, and the Speedcross 5 Gore-Tex continues that tradition. Built to withstand the rigors of trail running across seasons, the latest iteration uses a new Gore-Tex construction with a floating tongue that improves comfort (and streamlines the look of the shoe, if that's important to you). The Contagrip TA sole is made with muddy and soft conditions in mind, boasting deep-penetrating 5 mm Chevron lugs, so you'll have no problem lacing up on rainy days.
- Weight: 10.05 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 6 mm
The Flight Vectiv made waves when it was introduced in early 2021, thanks to its propulsive 3D carbon fiber plate and rocker midsole, along with its Sole Vectiv tech, designed to maximize energy on the trail. The Flight Vectiv's design works in concert with your body's motion to propel you forward while stabilizing your foot. The 3.5 mm lugs, reinforced, breathable knit upper and responsive TPE footbed can handle any trail, from snowy to sandy, with ease.
- Weight: 12.36 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 7 mm
Allbirds came out with its rugged, all-condition Trail Runner SWT this fall, and we haven't taken them off since. Made from sugar, wool and trees (hence the name) the shoes continue the sustainability mission of the brand. The FSC-certified Tencel Lyocell (eucalyptus tree fiber) and ZQ Merino Wool blend upper are a one-two punch of breathability and comfort, while the SweetFoam midsole is a sugarcane-based material that provides a durable and stable ride. The multi-directional 4 mm lugs can help you stay on your feet wherever your trail leads, too. While a little on the heavier side, the shoes make up for it with superior grip, balance and comfort.
- Weight: 10.3 oz.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm
When Hoka released this latest iteration of the trail running icon, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. An updated outsole features Vibram Megagrip with Traction Lug that’s great for tackling loose trails and soil. The lighter midsole compound provides ample room for your feet and pairs perfectly with the supportive upper to give the Speedgoat 5 that cushioned feel Hoka is known for. With little to no break-in required, these workhorses are ready right out of the box for whatever challenge you plan to conquer.
How We Test Shoes
Throughout the year, our crew tests and reviews some of the most buzzed-about running shoes. We work with a variety of brands to make sure we’re on top of what you’ll see when you walk into your local running specialty store.
We take to the roads in 90-degree weather and 0-degree weather, noting how the temperature affects the foam and gel. We also wear the shoes to walk around all day, as well as on long travel weekends to get an overarching picture of what each shoe can actually do. Beyond pure fit, we evaluate shoes from a durability, comfort and reliability perspective. We note if the shoes make us feel zippy, help us slog through training miles or fall a little flat.
Your run, your way
As a closing statement, always remember that your running shoes should reflect how you want to run. Especially if you’re just getting started, there’s no need to get caught up in the technical specs and luxury features like zero drop or enhanced footplates. For example, Wentz states she loves racing in shoes featuring a carbon footplate, but this technology is not meant for everyone taking to the streets. “They do make you fly, it does feel good, but I think, because those are what elite [runners] are now wearing, people read about it and they get caught up in it.”
At the end of the day, your best run starts with shoes that you’re comfortable with and kicks that provide support where you need it. If you do want to experiment with other specs, take a gradual approach rather than drastically changing your shoes – maybe with a pair of insoles or heel cups to start.