While the big story of the last few years has been barely-there barefoot and minimalist shoes, this year begins the backlash of increased cushioning. It's not that there wasn't a lot gained from the boom of minimalism. In fact, many runners who were initially inspired by Chris McDougall's best-selling Born to Run are still out there, cruising around the parks in their Vibram FiveFingers, marked by their shorter strides and forefoot striking.
Just as many, perhaps, went too hard too soon, and were injured. Those runners are now flocking towards a new category created by shoe companies to fill the gap between minimalist shoes and their overbuilt, over-cushioned ancestors, which we're simply calling "lightweight." Companies like New Balance and Brooks realized they could strip away a whole lot (think decorative features and heavy plastic lace grommets) and produce a much sleeker, lighter-weight shoe with substantial cushioning. And because they're made in nearly every configuration—zero heel-to-toe drop up to 10mm or more, with cushioning portioned out for heel-, midfoot- and forefoot-strikers—to custom-fit most every style of running, these shoes are allowing runners to find the perfect Cinderella shoe that will take them farther and faster than ever before. Here are some of the best bets for on and off-road in 2013:
Merrell Mix Master 2 (Men's) and Glide (Women's)
Versatile options from Merrell, the Mix Master series allows you to tackle everything from roads to more technical trails. Balancing durability with lightweight features, these models allow for a more natural footstrike, while still cushioning your feet during a long haul.
Terrain: Road and Trail
Best For: Efficient runners who train on mixed terrain
Weight: 8.1 oz (M); 7 oz (W)
$110 (M); $100 (W); merrell.com
Brooks Pure Grit 2
Providing an alternative to traditionally stiff trail options, the Pure Grit 2 does a nice job of combining cushioning and stability, while still remaining lightweight. Its asymmetric upper construction and aggressive tread insure that the shoe holds onto your foot over your favorite trail's every twist and turn.
Best For: Runners looking to transition from a more traditional shoe to a lighter-weight option, but who aren’t interested in embracing barefoot
Weight: 10 oz (M); 8.2 oz (W)
Newton Distance Neutral LW Trainer
Featuring Newton’s signature forefoot lugs, these trainers promote an optimal strike pattern. Designed for short and mid-distance racing, this lightweight option is perfect for speedy, efficient runners. Highly breathable and fast-drying, the open-air upper insures comfort on even the hottest summer days.
Best For: Encouraging forefoot running in a lightweight package
Weight: 7.8 oz (M); 6.8 oz (W)
Named to Outside’s “Gear of the Year” list for 2013, the Virrata is garnering plenty of attention since its release. Saucony’s lightest and most flexible training shoe built on a zero-drop platform, it allows for natural movement, while still providing good cushioning. An airy mesh upper furthers the lightweight feel and allows for quick drying in inclement weather.
Best For: Saucony fans looking for a featherlight option with traditional fit and feel
Weight: 6.5 oz (M); 6 oz (W)
Skechers GOrun 2
Entering the already saturated running market is no easy task, but Skechers has pulled it off with its GOrun line. The GOrun 2 will satisfy Skechers converts with its rocker shaped outsole, which promotes optimal toe-off. Additionally, the signature lightweight upper allows this shoe to form to any foot and flex with ease.
Best For: Speed work and shorter road running
Weight: 6.8 oz (M); 5.3 oz (W)
Nike Flyknit Lunar+
Featuring a knitted upper, the Flynit Lunar1+ has more than just good looks. Special stitching techniques that help secure the foot in the shoe give it a sock-like feel. A soft, flexible midsole leads to a more natural ride underfoot, but still provide ample protection from the roots and ruts of the road.
Best For: Running fashionistas in search of a functional, lightweight road shoe
Weight: 8.2 oz (M); 6.6 oz (W)