It’s nearing mid-January, precisely the time when running stores start to get shipments of their first batch of new running shoes. You might not be ready to buy new shoes yet, but by mid-February (when you might start to think about it), the shoe wall at your local specialty retailer will be chock full of new kicks.
What’s the buzz about what’s coming out? Here are a few trends:
1) Minimalism isn’t dead. No, not at all. In fact, there are better barely-there minimalist shoes available in 2013 than ever before. A few notable models include the New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez ($120, 4.3 oz., 0mm heel-toe drop), New Balance MR10v2 ($100, 6.5 oz., 4mm drop), Brooks Pure Drift ($100, 5.6 oz., 4mm drop), and SKORA Phase ($110, 7.2 oz., 0mm drop). However, you’re bound to see decidedly less focus on minimalism in running magazines, at retail shops and in internet chatter this year. Why? Two reasons: 1) It’s pretty clear most people don’t have the strength, form cues and durability to wear barely-there shoes on an everyday basis (or perhaps the willingness to try to get there); 2) The more moderate lightweight trainers that have proliferated in the last two years have turned out to be minimal enough for most runners who have been interested in ditching their more traditionally built shoes.
2) Moderate alternatives. Perhaps it was started by the launch of the original Nike Free and bolstered by the first Saucony Kinvara and some of the original Newton models, but the real sweet spot of the running shoe revolution has been the advent of numerous very light (but not featherweight) everyday trainers that offer enough cushioning and protection without impeding with the natural flex of a foot or the sensory connection between the foot and the ground. (Most have a slightly wider toe box.) The range of heel-toe height differential ranges from 0 to 8mm, but most still have somewhere between 14 to 25mm of foam and rubber between the foot and the ground for a more cushy feeling than the bony ride offered up by their minimalist brethren. Among the many compelling 2013 models are the Saucony Virrata ($90, 6.5 oz., 0mm drop), Altra Torin ($115, 9.7 oz., 0mm drop), Brooks Pure Flow 2 ($100, 8.5 oz., 4mm drop) and Karhu Flow Light ($110, 8.0 oz., 8mm drop).
3) Emerging brands. Someone asked me recently why so many new shoe brands have appeared on store shelves in recent years. The simple answer is that many of those brands have brought innovation to what had been an industry that was too stuck in its ways and unwilling to change. (Most have also paid attention to the trend of running with optimal mechanics, too.) The key to their long-term success, though, is getting in the door of enough specialty run shops. Look for the continued growth of brands like Newton, Hoka, Inov-8, Skechers and Altra as they continue to gain shelf space. Also, Scott Sports, a Sun Valley, Idaho-based brand with a European parent company and strong heritage in skiing, motocross and mountain biking, should make a big splash with their new shoe trail and road shoes.
4) New materials and manufacturing. What has often been overlooked (or at least not discussed much) in the running shoe revolution of the past four years is the explosion of new materials and manufacturing techniques that have become available. Expect to see more new foams, plastic formulations, mesh coverings and outsole rubber and the continued development of new build techniques this year (including many of the shoes mentioned above and Nike’s new FlyKnit Trainer). Actually, you might not notice (or care), but you’ll appreciate the end result of shoes being slightly lighter, more flexible, more dynamically cushioned and more responsive. There’s a new line of shoes from a certain German shoe manufacturer with a new type of midsole foam. News of the shoe is technically under embargo until Feb. 14, but we can tell you that it’s definitely more cushy and energetic than most traditional EVA-based foams.