Every year, our wear-test team puts more than 50 pairs of running shoes through the rigors of training and racing, making notes about the fit, feel and ride of each shoe. Here are the road and trail shoes that earned our Editor’s Choice awards for this spring.
ROAD RUNNING SHOES—Editor's Choice: Hoka One One Vanquish 2, $170
HIGHLIGHT: Thickly cushioned and amazingly light
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: Impossibly light for a shoe with as thick of a midsole as it has, the Vanquish 2 is remarkably flexible and offers a nice mix of soft landings and energetic toe-offs, especially at moderate to fast paces. Not only is it considerably lighter than the previous edition (almost 2 full ounces lighter per shoe), it also rides more smoothly and is more responsive than the original. It still features a cradle design in which the foot and interior structure of the shoe are encased on the sides and bottom by a durable two-layer foam shell. Given the thickly cushioned chassis, a sense of ground-contact proprioception and agility are understandably less in this shoe, but that becomes irrelevant once you find your groove out on the run. Our testers found it best for long runs, progression runs and tempo runs, although it is still more than adequate for slower recovery runs—even though it doesn’t feel quite as smooth or responsive. “This shoe was a blast,” said one wear-tester. “It is one of the most responsive shoes I’ve ever run in. It sets the standard for energy return in a running shoe.”
Weights: 9.8 oz. (men’s), 8.3 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 5mm; 32mm (heel), 27mm (forefoot)
ROAD RUNNING SHOES—Best Debut (tie): Mizuno Wave Catalyst, $110
HIGHLIGHT: Low to the ground and stable, yet light and fast
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: Sometimes a shoe falls between two traditional categories, and this one is definitely an interesting ’tweener. Mizuno serves up a nice mix of stability and lightweight performance in this versatile, new everyday trainer. It’s lighter and faster than most high-mileage trainers, but it’s also more durable and stable than most performance trainers. (It’s somewhat of a blend of Mizuno’s Sayonara and Elixir shoes.) The key element of this shoe is the plastic Wave plate in the midsole that is tuned to offer a little bit of structure. It has a fairly low-to-the-ground design, but it’s still a well-balanced trainer with just enough cushioning and protection for long road runs. The bottom line is that it offers a touch of responsiveness with enough cushioning. “This is a great do-everything shoe,” said one wear-tester.
Weights: 9.4 oz. (men’s), 8.0 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 10mm; 26mm (heel), 16mm (forefoot)
ROAD RUNNING SHOES—Best Debut (tie): Skechers Performance GoRun Forza, $120
HIGHLIGHT: The first high-mileage stability trainer from Skechers Performance
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: Although Skechers entered the performance running category with lightweight, low-to-the-ground models, it’s now venturing into shoes with more structure. The Forza is a well-balanced, high-mileage stability trainer with a modern rendition of a medial post that’s integrated into the softer layer of foam from the heel to the forefoot, a sleek, seamless upper and a slightly wider footprint. It’s a super-sturdy shoe, but all of that stability and support is hidden in a comfortable, smooth-riding cruiser that even has a touch of responsiveness. It’s the shoe Kara Goucher has been training in, which makes sense since she played a role in developing it. Regardless of the weight, it’s a shoe that runs a lot lighter than it feels out of the box. “The best Skechers has ever made,” one wear-tester gushed.
Weights: 10.8 oz. (men’s), 8.2 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 8mm; 30mm (heel), 22mm (forefoot)
ROAD RUNNING SHOES—Best Update: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v6, $150
HIGHLIGHT: Soft, stable and supremely smooth
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: New Balance continues to evolve its Fresh Foam neutral shoes using data derived from a wide range of runners. (That data helps create a stride with more flow, smoothing the foot’s transition between touchdown and takeoff.) Our wear-testers loved the thick, soft cushioning of this edition and the extra-wide footprint. One of the biggest changes to this shoe is the addition of flex grooves in the midsole and outsole that help increase flexibility and lend a smoother heel-toe transition. This edition also has a new engineered mesh upper that offers both greater flexibility and comfort, while an interior bootie fit system helps keep the foot in place. Our wear-testers loved the comfortable interior and stable ride of this high-mileage workhorse, noting its slightly wider footprint and locked-down fit.
Weights: 10.3 oz. (men’s), 8.5 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 8mm; 29mm (heel), 21mm (forefoot)
ROAD RUNNING SHOES—Best Value: Zoot Solana 2, $100
HIGHLIGHT: More stable, more breathable, but same ride
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: The brand known for triathlon gear and its surf-oriented Southern California style continues to make a shoe for the heartland. The second edition of this easy-riding neutral trainer is even better than the award-winning original. The biggest changes are its updated heel construction that secures the foot better and a new, more breathable and flexible upper that helps create a snazzier fit. It retains the luxurious blend of softness, snappy responsiveness and just enough inherent stability from the injection-molded midsole, making it a versatile, smooth-running everyday trainer with a little bit of kick to it. It has a plush, seamless interior that will tempt you to wear it barefoot—and then you might never wear socks again! This is a solid trainer at any price, but at $100 it’s an amazing bargain.
Weights: 9.5 oz. (men’s), 8.5 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 8mm; 28mm (heel), 20mm (forefoot)
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES—Editor's Choice: Brooks Cascadia 11, $120
HIGHLIGHT: Protective, stable and versatile
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: If you want a trail shoe that tackles most types of terrain pretty well, this is the shoe for you. You can run on technical routes with sharp, jagged rocks in the Cascadia (it has a forefoot rock plate) or you can run smooth dirt trails to your heart’s content, and anything in between. The slight tweaks to the latest edition of this tried-and-true trail fiend make it the best all-around version yet. It still offers a supportive ride, thanks to four pivot point posts throughout the midsole—they work like a medial post on a stability-oriented road shoe, but are less rigid and controlling. The posts do a good job at providing support over changing terrain without overcorrecting stride. Ample cushioning and a comfortable upper make this shoe feel good from the get-go, and the array of small knobby outsole lugs underfoot grips even slick dirt and rock. The updated, more rugged toe box is durable and protective, while a new saddle configuration and more sensibly placed overlays offer a better fit with less material. Some of our wear-testers found this shoe a little bit stiff, but we loved that it’s versatile enough to run on all types of trails (and even roads when necessary). Rare is the trail shoe that can conquer so much ground, which is why like this one so darn much.
Weights: 11.8 oz. (men’s), 10.1 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 10mm; 27mm (heel), 17mm (forefoot)
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES—Best Debut (tie): Montrail Caldorado, $120
HIGHLIGHT: Moderately rigid, very supportive
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: Montrail, one of the original trail running shoe brands, is back in a big way this year, starting with the Caldorado. For a firm, noticeably supportive shoe that can handle burly mountain terrain, it feels lightweight and comfortable, and fl exes well at the forefoot for a smooth ride. The mid-foot stability was appreciated by those who tend to pronate on smooth terrain, and helped neutral runners fight foot fatigue on long runs. The midsole/outsole blends responsive cushioning with solid traction and a jab-blocking, hard plastic protective rock plate under the forefoot. The seamless upper is comfortable and breathable, while overlays and a toe bumper provide structure and abrasion protection. The insole wraps high around the sides of the foot, adding to the seamless feel of the interior.
Weights: 11 oz. (men’s), 9.1 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 8mm; 19mm (heel), 11mm (forefoot)
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES—Best Debut (tie): Scarpa Neutron, $129
HIGHLIGHT: Cushion, protection and trail “feel”
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: This shoe seems a bit firm and stiff out of the box, but testers were pleasantly surprised by the responsive cushioning underfoot and smooth ride. The Vibram outsole and widely spaced lugs do a great job at grabbing everything from dirt trails to slick rocks. The traction, along with the protective upper wrapping feet securely, inspired confidence going both uphill and down. Overall, the Neutron made testers feel notably nimble. It’s a full-volume shoe that might feel too roomy to some, but many of our testers appreciated the breathing room. The smartly designed “lace pocket” lets you tuck in laces to avoid getting tripped up by a snagging branch. If your aim is to run fast or maintain the same consistent gait you might on the roads, the Neutron will be right up your alley.
Weights: 9.7 oz. (men’s), 8.2 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 6mm; 25mm (heel), 19mm (forefoot)
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES—Best Update: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2, $130
HIGHLIGHT: A forgiving—but not too squishy—ride
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: The updated Challenger ATR has a more secure upper for less foot movement within the shoe on technical terrain. And the 4mm lugs on the outsole grab the trail, but aren’t too pronounced; this shoe runs fairly smooth on pavement. The Challenger ATR is a more firm-feeling Hoka than many in the line, and has a lower-to-the-ground ride while still serving up plush Hoka cush. The result is a forgiving yet somewhat agile shoe. One tester likened its capabilities to “a monster truck,” rolling over terrain while protecting the driver; yet on off-camber trails, the ATR 2 can still feel a bit wobbly. The toe box is a tad narrow and shallow; some complained of pressure on toes after many miles. The first edition of this shoe was our top pick last year and this updated version was one of our favorites this year.
Weights: 9.5 oz. (men’s), 7.8 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 5mm; 31mm (heel), 26mm (forefoot)
TRAIL RUNNING SHOES—Best Value: Merrell All-Out Crush, $100
HIGHLIGHT: Super-flexible, lightweight, low-profile
FIT-FEEL-RIDE: The All-Out Crush is a shoe that gives you a tactile running experience—its slight cushioning and low-to-the-ground profile forces you (in a good way) to feel your way along the trail, picking your way through rocks and roots like a ninja. Its featherweight construction, major flexibility in the forefoot and minimal feel overall is speed-inspiring, as is the grippy traction underfoot. The mesh upper breathes well, and drain holes at the bottom of the arch make this a good choice for wet climes. We also liked that the insole is connected to the shoe, which seemed to add to the proprioceptive feet-to-trail feel of this shoe. Although a few testers thought this shoe had too spacious of an interior, we liked how the thermoplastic polyurethane overlays add a bit of structure to the upper without adding weight.
Weights: 8.0 oz. (men’s), 7.0 oz. (women’s)
Heel-to-Toe Offset: 7mm; 21mm (heel), 14mm (forefoot)