Summer heat waves are on the edge of winding down, and that’s good news: you can run without your shoes melting to the road. If you’ve been stuck all summer plodding along on a treadmill in the gym or running in the predawn hours to avoid the heat, now is a great time to reassess your aging kicks and consider an update. We could go on about minimal vs. conventional, the merits of cushioning and drop angles and tread patterns, or we could just find the best shoes of the year to help you with one thing: working on your fast. Our search for the best running shoes of the year yielded more than a few contenders, and unless you plan on leaving them in your closet to collect dust, there’s not a single shoe here that won’t help you get to the front of the pack.
Brooks Ghost 6
Best cushioned shoe Brooks eschewed the minimal design of their Pure line for unadulterated cushion and comfort when they designed the ridiculously smooth Ghost 6. Removing a midfoot shank allowed for even more flex than previous iterations and accommodates a nearly symmetric flat platform. The Caterpillar Crash Pad wraps the entire heel to prevent unwanted lateral movement; your ankles are safe over any terrain, no matter how fast you push the pace.
New Balance 1080V3
Best long-distance runner: While New Balance has become known for their minimal line, their more conventional shoes consistently prove that pared down isn’t everything. The third version of the 1080s features an overbuilt heel and midfoot outsole. The perfect combination of N2 foam cushioning and a lightweight TPU shank for arch support provide balance and shock resistance for even the longest runs. A blown rubber outsole ensures that even after back-to-back hundred-mile weeks your shoes will be ready for anything. Your legs… probably not so much.
K-Swiss Kwicky Blade-Light N
Best triathlon trainer: The new Blade-Light N was designed around the Superfoam midsole and rear crash pad. The shoe bolsters form from the inside out by providing a solid platform for heel or forefoot strikers. This is especially important for the triathlete whose form fades fast after long miles on the swim and bike before even putting running shoes on. The added arch support and side drainage accents provide a marked touch of comfort whether you’re just out for a short tempo run or pushing through Kona on your quest to become an Ironman.
Asics Gel Kayano 19
Best updated shoe: The 19th(!) version of the Kayano proves that even the best shoes can be improved. Asics updated their Impact Guidance System to complement every aspect of a natural stride from strike to toe-off. The exo-skelton system around the heel cup locks your foot into place, freeing forefoot and toes for more ground feel on every step. Finally, the shoe’s gel cushioning, Asics’s hallmark, has been refined to provide both shock absorption and lateral stability — calming worries about about spraining an ankle during your sprint to the finish (or the ice cream truck).
Under Armour UA Spine Vice
Most responsive shoe: Under Armour set out to design a shoe that can handle anything a
sadistic knowledgeable coach can throw in to a day’s training. A morning session of wind sprints? The Micro G foam that extends through the sole provides a solid frame for pure power transfer. Agility drills? The foam cage built into the upper keeps your foot secure for quick direction changes. Most importantly though, the Spine chassis creates a flexible, lightweight platform that stands up to long-distance runs on the road or the practice field. Take a lap.
Best new innovation: Adidas’s flagship running kicks take their name from the revolutionary cushioning material found in their midsole. The solid granular material (TPU) is literally blown up to create thousands of so-called “small energy capsules” that store and unleash energy more efficiently than existing shoe padding. Most importantly, the material maintains this quality across the life of the shoe, even in temperatures ranging from 104 to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. The new material works in conjunction with previous adidas advances like an ADIWEAR outsole and TORSION SYSTEM for stability and durability, an external heel counter (which is miCoach compatible) and techfit technology for a secure, flexible fit. The result is a new breed of running shoe — an alternative to today’s ultralight trend that still appeals to serious mile loggers.
Nike FlyKnit Lunar 1+
Best lightweight shoe: Nike’s exploration of pairing minimalist features with a well-cushioned shoe keeps producing faster, lighter, and most importantly, more comfortable shoes. Rather than approaching the running shoe as a sole plus upper, the FlyKnit line targets precise fit and dynamic support from the ground up. Fore and rear blown rubber lugs absorb road bumps, and the seamless transition from insole to sock liner to tongue and toe box will have you wondering if you’re running in a truly barefoot-style shoe. The ability to walk after setting a PR during your next half marathon is proof enough for this light, ultra-cushioned shoe.
Mizuno Wave Rider 16
Best neutral shoe: Mizuno prides itself on a “just enough” ethos. The Wave Rider 16 is truly a neutral platform, the product of decades spent refining the balance between cushioning and stability. Wave plate technology imparts a natural feel, whether you land on your heel, midfoot, or anywhere in between. The mesh honeycombed upper was designed with long summer runs in mind. You’ll also notice a lack of seams: your foot doesn’t have any, and your shoe shouldn’t either, says Mizuno. The bottom line? This shoe begs to go the long way home.
Saucony Kinvara 4
Best for heel strikers: Line up at any local race and you’ll be sure to see more than a few pairs of Kinvaras in the crowd. The PowerGrid material that Saucony uses in the midsole of the heel provides smooth impact protection no matter how hard you pound the pavement (seriously though, you don’t have to stomp through the race). A wicking mesh upper and naturally shaped toe box round out this well-balanced shoe.
Newton Distance S
Editor’s Pick: The Newton Distance skirts the line between conventional and minimalist running, fusing features from each school of thought to create a nearly flawless running experience. The Action-Reaction sole technology in the heel and forefoot provides the stability of a much heavier shoe; it also encourages a quick, energy-efficient stride. With a heel-to-toe drop of only 2mm, a break-in period may be necessary — but the trade-off is a sub-8-ounce everyday training shoe more capable than many racing flats.