Built on Skora’s Injection Blown Rubber platform, this model offers a close-to-the-ground experience, while still protecting your feet from abrasions. The lightweight flexibility and asymmetric lacing system give runners a customized fit, in addition to the removable insole that changes the stack. Touting 360-degree reflectivity, you can wear these shoes day or night with the extra assurance of safety. Available August 2013; in the meantime, you can grab the very similar—though somewhat less reflective—Phase ($100).
Best For: A minimalist who needs 24/7 visibility
Weight: 7.2 oz (M); 5.8 oz (W)
With a close-to-the ground fit and zero drop from heel to toe, the Trail Glove stays true to the natural running ethos. Meanwhile, a Vibram outsole and TrailProtect pad still offer good protection from rough patches and rocky spots on the trail. Merrell’s unique Omni-Fit Lacing System insures this shoe lives up to its name by giving your foot a truly sock-like fit.
Best For: Barefoot running on gravel or rocky trails
Weight: 7 oz (M); 5 oz (W)
Vibram’s first trail running-specific model, this FiveFinger model has a 3.5mm Vibram rubber outsole that protects your feet and provides ample traction on rocky and rutted surfaces. The upper is both breathable and adjustable, thanks to the hook-and-loop closure that secures your foot in place.
Best For: FiveFinger fanatics who need a more durable shoe that will provide a bit of protection underfoot on unpredictable trails
Weight: 6.88 oz (M); 5.11 oz (W)
The most minimal of Brooks’ Pure Project line, the Drift offers a barefoot feel, but still provides a bit of cushioning underfoot. Marked by a wide toebox, zero-drop, and a mesh upper, the toes can splay for stability and the feet breathe as if you weren’t wearing any shoes at all.
Best For: Runners looking for a barely-there feel with an ultra-wide toe box
Weight: 5.6 oz (M); 5.1 oz (W)
Designed on a narrower forefoot platform, the Levitas is the lightest model offered by Mizuno. Lightweight construction and a zero-drop insure a close-to-the-ground experience. Staying true to the brand, they still feature Wave Technology in the midsole to provide protection and a smooth ride.
Best For: Mizuno diehards who are looking to lighten up the Wave Technology and experiment with minimalist running.
Weight: 6.4 oz (M); 5.1 oz (W)
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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Part of New Balance’s trail running collection, this midweight shoe is built for the long haul, as its name implies. Featuring an 8mm drop, they are well-cushioned and supportive without feeling stiff. The dual-density Vibram outsole also insures adequate traction on a variety of surfaces.
Best For: Trail runners with knee or lower leg issues who are in need of a little support
Weight: 10.3 oz (M); 8.1 oz (W)
For hardcore trails and soggy spring conditions, the Edict has you covered. Feet stay dry and blister-free, thanks to a waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex membrane in the upper. Also, a unique cradling system helps to stabilize your foot and insure comfort, while a triple-density EVA midsole supports the arch and improves heel-to-toe transition.
Best For: Trail running in wet, muddy conditions
Weight: 10.6 oz
A mainstay on the high-stability scene, the Kayano employs a gel cushioning system, as well as dual-density midsole foam for both comfort and stability. For runners who care less about weight and more about protecting their feet for the long run, this tried-and-true model will keep you up and running for miles to come without feeling too bulky or cumbersome.
Best For: Road runners in need of a high-stability shoe and plenty of soft cushioning throughout the midsole
Weight: 11.3 oz (M); 10 oz (W)
The Hurricane is a high-stability shoe that relies upon both midsole construction and the upper to provide support. Traditional medial posting helps support the arch, while a unique combination of materials in the upper locks your foot into place and keeps the heel from slipping. An injection-blown rubber outsole keeps the shoes responsive and durable without adding unnecessary weight.
Best For: Runners in need of plenty of stability and a narrow heel to hold their feet in place
Weight: 11.2 oz (M); 9.7 oz (W)
While the Trance isn't the lightest shoe available, it comes loaded with Brooks’ most cutting-edge technologies and materials. Impact is effectively dispersed upon each footstrike, thanks to a crash pad that segments the midsole, and a very effective, proprietary cushioning system. A high-stability option, the Trance offers both comfort and pronation control.
Best For: Runners who need the support of a dual-density midsole, in addition to a wider toe box
Weight: 12.5 oz (M); 9.9 oz (W)
Built for severe overpronators, the Stabil provides plenty of cushioning and support. Utilizing Saucony's ProGrid technology, the impact of each footstrike is dissipated, allowing the foot to make an easier transition to toe-off. Characterized by dual-density foam in the arch and a 12mm heel-to-toe drop, these shoes will provide maximum support, while still maintaining some flexibility.
Best For: Runners with various foot and lower leg issues who require the ultimate in support
Weight: 13.6 oz (M); 11.6 oz (W)
The Beast and Ariel have long led in popularity among runners seeking the utmost in support. The sturdiest of Brooks’ options, this model remains surprisingly flexible, thanks to the Caterpillar Crash Pad underfoot. For runners who excessively pronate or are in need of the ultimate in support, the Beast and Ariel offer heel-to-toe protection.
Best For: Runners who need the highest level of stability from a very high-volume shoe
Weight: 14 oz (M); 12.3 oz (W)