This is the newest and most talked-about category. Touting the idea that having less shoe leads to stronger feet and fewer injuries, this category has attracted droves of runners looking for the next big thing. But as most coaches will tell you, there’s no cure-all shoe.
If you want to give barefoot-style footwear a spin, do so with caution. Begin by wearing them a few times a week for 5 to 10 minutes each time and slowly ease into more mileage. That means you’ll need to keep your old, more traditional shoes around for the rest of your runs. The idea is to slowly build up strength in the necessary supporting bones and soft tissues before pushing your body to injury.
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
The KSO, which is based on the original FiveFingers, is a true barefoot shoe. Like its predecessor, it's light and comfortable, dries quickly and feels great off-road (park, field, dirt, etc.), though it comes with a sturdier closure system that makes your foot feel secure on the go. If you plan to run on pavement, look into the FiveFingers Bikila, which better protects the toes and forefoot.
New Balance Minimus Zero
This barely-there, zero-drop shoe weighs in at a scant 6.4 ounces. The mesh upper is breathable and conforms to the foot almost like a sock (which makes sense, since New Balance designed it to be worn with or without socks). But for such a lightweight shoe, the Minimus still packs more foam than its competition, allowing the sole to be flexible and absorb shock from pebbles and small debris. This is a very fast shoe that simply won't get in the way of your run.
The same advice applies to many minimalist shoes, however, the process of transition can often be quicker. Minimalist shoes look more similar to regular running shoes, but they tend to be lightweight and have a lower profile. While we’ve recently started calling them “minimalist” (it’s better marketing-speak than “Spartan,” I guess), most experienced runners simply call them “racing flats.”
As the name suggests, runners looking for an extra edge use these shoes for competition and speed workouts. By putting the majority of their miles on regular (read: heavier) training shoes, then switching to lighter minimalist shoes for races, runners can hit a quicker, more efficient stride when it really matters. With the newfound popularity of barefoot and minimalist shoes, though, more runners are putting major training miles on these shoes. Should you choose to lighten your load, be sure to transition slowly and listen to your body.
The Phase, available March 1, is the most lightweight, flexible shoe ever from SKORA. It was built with a breathable, single-layer mesh upper and laminated reflectors for visibility. Like every SKORA, it has asymmetrical lacing that follows the shape of your foot and a wide toe box that gives your digits better purchase and propulsion. It's fast and light and comes with a removable anti-microbial (read: anti-stink) sockliner.
Altra is another zero-drop shoe company, and the Samson is its middle-of-the-line model. Like the rest, its designed to strengthen feet and promote natural running technique. The upper is a quick-dry mesh that ventilates feet effectively while keeping grit away from toes, and the sole is grippy enough for easy trail runs. Inside, you have the option of using an included 3mm insole, or running directly on the BareSole footbed, which brings your feet within 7mm of bare ground. Think you might need a bit more cushioning? Try Altra's ever-so-slightly beefier, much lauded Instinct.
This category offers a well-cushioned shoe without any medial posting or extra arch support. This is a hot category for runners with fairly high arches. Since a higher arch usually means a rigid foot, a stiff shoe isn’t necessary. Neutral shoes simply cushion a runner’s footfall, but also flex with his/her natural foot motion to balance out what’s already a structured step. This type of shoe comes in many flavors, including highly cushioned, heavier shoes and less-cushioned, lighter-weight options.
Brooks Ghost 5
This award-winning neutral trainer from Brooks gets it just right. The right amount of cushion, a cozy fit and all-terrain versatility without giving you too much shoe. They're fairly lightweight (11.3 oz.) given their durable, sturdy (not stiff!) build. Expect to get a lot of miles out of these.
Mizuno Wave Precision 13
The neutral Precision is a traditional trainer, with a lot of underfoot cushioning and a fairly high heel-to-toe drop. But it's lighter than most of its neutral counterparts (at 9.6 oz.) and encourages good form while providing everyday, all-purpose utility. The upper is roomy enough for wide and tall feet, but lacing options allow it to snug in for lower-volume feet, too. Consider this a go-to training shoe.
The stability category is where the majority of runners tend to migrate. Stability shoes offer ample cushioning, but also added arch support. If you have flatter feet—which are more flexible, causing them to roll inwards, or overpronate—the medial posting helps control excessive foot motion by supporting the arch and eliminating inward torque. It’s a great solution for runners with chronic knee pain associated with overpronation. Like the neutral category, there are many levels of stability to choose from.
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 13
The GTS—or "go-to shoe"—is the most popular shoe in Brooks' lineup, and for good reason. This classic stability shoe features a medial post that's firmer toward the shoe's inside edge, helping reduce the foot's inward roll. Yet for all the extra stability it offers to overpronators, the Adrenaline remains pretty light (11.3 oz.) and flexible, thanks to the addition of deep groves in the midsole foam. This is a solid daily trainer.
Saucony ProGrid Guide 6
Saucony's flagship shoe is also one of its lightest, at only 10 oz. After a major overhaul last season, this year's Guide is only slightly updated, increasing flexibility in what's always been a warrior of a stability trainer. As always, this classic provides a good balance of mild stability and lightness while providing adequate cushioning for plenty of miles.
A dwindling category, motion control shoes are the heaviest of the bunch. These shoes are also the stiffest shoes around, specifically made to offer supreme support to runners with extremely flat feet and weak ankles. With a growing movement towards lighter weight shoes, though, there are fewer and fewer motion control options every year. Even still, a small number of runners will find this to be the best shoe to keep them up and running.
Mizuno Wave Alchemy 12
The Alchemy is a lightweight control shoe with a flat midsole, high support and wider base that deliver the smooth run and uncompromising structure required by severe overpronators. Plastic plates protect feet from inward rolling, and durable carbon rubber helps keep the whole package light and extremely firm. In short, this protective trainer is the solution to your problem feet, though it may require some breaking in.
Brooks Trance 12
The more control and stability you require, the heavier your shoe will generally have to be, and for good reason. It takes a lot of cushioning, and a lot of smart technology to provide adequate support to severe overpronators without significantly slowing them down. The Trance has all the design work of the Batmobile, including Brooks' proprietary Caterpillar Crash Pad to smooth heel-to-toe transition and DNA Technology gel cushioning that responds to the amount of force placed on the foot, providing custom support. If that's not enough to keep your stride in line, you're probably out of luck.
For the most part, trail runners are heavier than road shoes, and are designed to support and protect the foot on rugged terrain—roots, rocks, mud and other obstacles. They tend to have durable soles fortified to protect against these uneven surfaces and aggressive treads for better off-road traction.
Of course, some road shoes will do just fine on fire roads and tamer trails, but when the going gets rough, you'll be happy to have trail shoes.
Asics GEL FujiRacer
This fast and light (8.8 oz.) trail racer is pretty much an Asics road shoe upper with a tough sole. It sports burly, x-shaped lugs on the tread for better grip on the trails, as well as a plastic plate beneath the outsole for protection against sharp sticks and rocks. Diamond-shaped "drain holes" extend from the footbed all the way through to the outsole, allowing water to be quickly and effectively pushed out of the shoe when you're splashing through streams or wet, slushy snow.
Brooks Cascadia 8
This traditional trail runner offers a good mix of cushioning, fit and agility on the trails, which comes at the cost of a little weight (11.9 oz). The woven microfiber uppers keep out grit while shedding water, a rock protector in the forefoot keeps sharp sticks and uneven rocks at bay, and the tread is burly and grippy. In short, the Cascadia will take on any terrain you can throw at it—rugged technical, mud, rocks, roots, you name it—with ease and aplomb. Looking for something similar, but with a touch less bulk? Try the 10-ounce Brooks PureGrit 2.