Looking for new kicks this year? Here are a few things to consider.
The latest and greatest running shoes are about to hit running stores, as most of the first round of 2014 models will hit stores in late January to early February. Here’s a brief overview of the biggest trends, with a few models to highlight each tendency. (Scroll through the photos below.) Despite the hot trends, flashy colors and wide variety of shoes from minimalism to maximalism, neutral to stability to motion control, the bottom line for every runner is that you have to find what works for you, your feet, your fitness and your running gait. Your best bet? Go to a specialty running store and try on several pairs before you decide on the shoes that are best for you. Rely on the shoe-fitters’ knowledge of the shoes, but also pay attention to how the shoe fits and feels on your foot, as well as how it allows your foot to interact with the ground when you run in it. It’s more art than science and your feet, your brain and the rest of your running physique often know best. (Note: All shoe weights listed in this story are for a men’s size 9.0 as supplied by the brands. Look for our full review of new shoes in our March issue and online here on March 1.)
Hoka Is Red Hot
Hoka One One (pronounced "Onay-Onay") is all the buzz right now. The company that pioneered "high cushioning" or, as some say, "maximalism," is gaining considerable traction four years after it debuted in the U.S. Getting bought by Deckers Inc. (which also owns Ugg and Teva) has given the brand financial resources that will help everything from design and manufacturing to distribution and sales. Hoka and the maximalist category aren't the answer for every runner, but many who have converted to Hokas say, aside from the additional cushioning under foot, they appreciate that the notion that the oversized foam midsole tends to slow the rate of pronation without any rigid posts or bottoming out, reduces joint impact and also allow for quicker recovery time after long runs. This is the Hoka Clifton model ($130, 7.9 oz., which expected to up the ante as one of the first super-light maximal shoes when it hits stores this summer. In the meantime, the Hoka shoe that should make a big splash this spring is the Conquest ($170, 11.8 oz.).
New Midsole Foams
Hoka isn't the only brand pursuing the maximalism category with new super-resilient/energetic foams. Adidas was one of the first to hit the market last spring with its springy Boost foam. It brings that material into several shoes in 2014, including the Energy Boost 2 ($160, 9.9 oz.). Other models with new foam configurations include the Skechers GoRun Ride Ultra ($80, 8.7 oz.), Pearl Izumi Road M2 ($110, 9.8 oz.), Brooks Transcend ($160, 12.2 oz.), New Balance Fresh Foam 980 ($110, 9.1 oz.) and Altra Olympus ($170, 11.2 oz. (not pictured). The ride and feel of each shoe is noticeably different, so take your time trying on shoes at your speciality retailer before deciding on which (if any) you might buy.
Shoes have gotten lighter across the board, thanks to new materials and a less-is-more design mentality. Among the lightweight trainers that have impressed our wear-testers so far are the Scott eRide AeroFoam Trainer 2 ($140, 8.1 oz.), Mizuno Hitogami ($100, 8.0 oz.), Puma Faas 300v3 ($90, 7.4 oz.) and Saucony Virrata 2 ($90, 6.5 oz.). Lightweight neutral and lightweight stability shoes will still make up the lion's share of the market, but it is expected that there will be a big spike in the maximalist category. The motion control category is on the verge of going extinct—given that many retailers, runners, coaches and studies now agree that extreme support and control greatly inhibits the natural flex and movement of the foot—but it won't go away completely.
Minimalism Isn't Dead
The minimalism trend has cooled off quite a bit, but it certainly hasn't died. A lot of people tried it and went away from it (either because they got hurt or it just didn't feel right), but it also attracted plenty of converts — either as a full-time running shoe or as part-time training and strength-building tool. Four key models for 2014 include the Xero Shoes Cloud, a huarache-style sandal with a 3mm layer of EVA foam on top of a durable outsole rubber ($50, 2.5 oz.), Skora Fit (a low-to-the-ground, uber-flexible shoe with modest cushion; $95, 8.2 oz.), Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO (with slightly more foam that previous FiveFingers models; $120, 5.0 oz.) and the Merrell All-Out Fuse (a lightweight low-to-the-ground cushioned trainer with a slightly thicker midsole than some of Merrell's barely-there models; $110, 8.0 oz.)
Functional design and technological advancements continue to be a key trend in running shoes. Nike's Flyknit Lunar 2 ($160, 7.2 oz.) incorporates an entirely knitted upper and Flywire support bands to secure the foot to the Lunar Foam undercarriage. Newton's Motion III ($175, 7.3 oz.) continues the brand's recent change to using five forefoot propulsion lugs (instead of four in its previous models), to offer more foot-to-ground interaction, a wider profile, more stability and a more propulsive ride. ON Running, a Swiss brand that's new to the U.S. market in recent years, uses collapsible "clouds" in the midsole/outsole design of its CloudRunner ($140, 10.8 oz.) and other models to enhance cushioning and propulsion.
If you're one of those runners who likes to run in the same shoe year after year with little change, you've probably been frustrated over the past few years with major overhauls of many classic models. While that trend hasn't gone away entirely, most brands are using new technology, materials and construction techniques and more wear-testing and focus groups to make positive functional changes. (As opposed to in the recent past, when shoe companies added "stuff" to shoes only for the glitz and glam factor.) For example, the Brooks Ravenna 5 ($110, 10.3 oz.) incorporates a free-floating saddle for greater connectivity to the foot, plus less stitching and fewer overlays for a half-ounce reduction in weight. Saucony's Mirage 4 ($110, 8.9 oz.) incorporates two new lightweight materials in the upper, helping reduce the weight by about a half ounce: a flex film support material and a more durable mesh foam. Mizuno's Wave Rider 17. Mizuno's Wave Rider 17 ($115, 8.6 oz.) has a new upper and new undercarriage that has made this veritable classic considerably lighter than in previous years without sacrificing the familiar fit and feel of the most recent models. Meanwhile, the ASICS GEL-Lyte33 3 ($100, 6.8 oz.) was completely overhauled, but the changes were for the better. A new upper design (lighter, stronger materials and sans overlays) and a new midsole foam result in a much lighter shoe (almost 2 oz. lighter), a much better fit and an exquisite ride.
More Dynamic Trail Shoes
The evolution of trail running shoes extends into 2014, following some of the same trends in road running shoes (lighter materials, fewer overlays, more responsive foams and even maximalist cushioning, etc.), but also continues to differentiate down the two-pronged structure of durable/protective mountain runners or smooth-riding, versatile cruisers. Clockwise from the top right are the lightweight, low-to-the-ground Montrail FluidFlex II ($90, 8.3 oz.), rugged and durable La Sportiva Bushido ($125, 9.5 oz.), maximalist Vasque ShapeShifter Ultra ($170, 10.5) and three versatile models suitable for a lot of different types of natural terrain—Brooks Cascadia 9 ($120, 11.5 oz.), The North Face Ultra Trail ($110, 9.9 oz.) and Scarpa Ignite ($125, 10.2 oz.).