Neutral running shoes offer 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. Here are some of the best bets for on and off-road in 2013:
Brooks Cascadia 8
A popular trail shoe option, the updated version sticks to Brooks' signature fit, adding BioMoGo foam to the midsole to provide a softer feel. Shedding 2mm off the previous version’s heel-to-toe angle, the trimmed-down Cascadia 8 touts a 10mm drop. With an aggressive outsole for a more responsive ride, this shoe can handle just about anything the trails throw at you.
Best For: Aggressive trails in just about any weather condition
Weight: 11.9 oz (M); 9.8 oz (W)
A unique approach to the neutral shoe, the Torin takes a cue from the barefoot movement and offers zero drop from heel to forefoot, as well as a wide toe box that allows the toes to splay. Even still, this model provides plenty of cushioning, keeping it in line with the mainstays in the category.
Best For: Runners who want to try minimalism on for size, without losing all the cushioning
Weight: 8.9 oz (M); 7.2 oz (W)
Hoka One One Stinson EVO Tarmac
Part of the new wave of maximally cushioned shoes, the Stinson Tarmac can be worn door-to-trail on a wide variety of terrain. The supremely cushioned midsole and rocker shape gives it a soft ride, while still allowing the foot to make a natural heel-to-toe transition via a 6mm drop.
Terrain: Road or Trail
Best For: Going the distance without running into a flat feeling midsole 20 miles in
Weight: 10.4 oz (M); 9.1 oz (W)
Salomon Sense Mantra
Designed to promote forefoot striking, the Mantra is built on a racing last with a 6mm drop. Second skin seam construction and Salomon’s Quicklace system help the shoe hug your foot without being too snug. This model is ideal for trail runners looking to put in high mileage while transitioning to forefoot running. The treads are multi-directional, offering grip on both ascents and descents, and have been proven to withstand hundreds of miles of wear.
Best For: Runners looking for an alternate upper system that provides a slipper-like feel, no matter the turns and terrain underfoot
Weight: 9.2 oz (M); 8.4 oz (W)
Adidas Energy Boost
The Boost features a new approach to cushioning, utilizing tiny thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) pebbles blended together to create a bouncy feel. Combined with a lightweight construction, it offers a decidedly fast ride. And, with a 10.6mm heel-to-toe drop, it still mimics the sensation of a more traditional running shoe.
Best For: Runners looking to try a cutting-edge midsole technology that offers a bouncy, light ride
Weight: 9.8 oz (M), 8.1 oz (W)
La Sportiva Helios
Dropping just 5mm from heel to toe, the Helios marks a new iteration of trail options on the market. It offers a soft ride, proving, once and for all, that trail shoes don't need to be stiff. Even still, the midsole cushioning incorporates a rock pad to protect your feet from the sharp rocks of even the most technical trails.
Best For: New trail runners who are accustomed to the feel of traditional running shoes, but need more aggressive tread and a protective upper
Weight: 8.1 oz (M); 6.8 oz (W)
Puma Mobium Elite
Built for runners who tend to strike midfoot, this model is made to flex with each step, allowing your feet to move naturally. Expansion pods on the outsole and a soft mesh upper make for a shoe that expands and contracts longitudinally, laterally and vertically—just like your feet would do if you weren’t wearing any shoe at all.
Best For: Runners who want to try a wholly new approach to the neutral running shoe
Weight: 10.6 oz (M); 8.7 oz (W)