This summer, we took 40 pairs of running shoes and threw them onto the feet of our staff and 30 wear testers. From road runners to trail warriors, track sprinters and ultramarathoners, our testers are serious about all things running and finding the best shoe for each type of activity.
To guarantee that we found the best wear testers for our review, we made sure that each tester had an acute understanding of not only the technical mechanics of a running shoe but also how its shape and fit work together to enhance your experience.
Over the last three months, we put these shoes through the ringer—testing them on out on everything from tempo sessions to hill work and over 20-mile endurance runs. Making sure our testers wore each pair on different distances, various surfaces and during both fast and slow runs, we then asked them to fill out an extensive questionnaire with their honest thoughts and comments.
After combing through form after form, we compiled a list of the best running shoes of the fall 2018 season—all based on performance, fit, feel and look. Here are our picks for the top shoes to purchase this year, starting with Editor’s Choice in road and trail and followed by a gallery of more of our top recommendations.
Editor’s Choice: Road
Brooks Levitate 2
Road | $150| 9.9 oz. W, 11.2 oz. M| 8mm drop
From its 2017 release to now, Brooks has kept much of the Levitate’s best features intact but has made a few improvements such as restructuring the shoe to include a full knit upper to add lightness and more breathability. The brand’s second iteration provides a snappy ride with a subtle energy return that was most noticeable toward the end of extra-long runs. After a 20-mile run, one wear tester even felt no need to remove them immediately once home, citing they were “the most comfortable shoes they’ve ever worn.” The neutral shoes also offer a good level of cushion that allows runners to still slightly feel the ground underfoot. If you see one of our editors running on the streets, chances are they’ll be donning a pair of these kicks.
What We Loved Most: Their roominess. The shoes are generous in the toebox and midfoot yet tight enough that our feet felt secure and protected while running.
Most Ideal For: Half Marathon, Marathon
New Balance FuelCell Impulse
Road | $120 | 6.7 oz. W, 8.1 oz. M | 6mm drop
New Balance’s FuelCell Impulse debuted in July of this year and we’ve had a blast getting to run in them all summer. The Impulse features a bootie construction with an outer engineered mesh layer for a great sock-like fit. On the midsole, it boasts nitrogen-injected foam segments which allow for better energy return on fast runs. The thin, flexible heel counter also delivers just enough support for a secure fit around the back of the foot. One tester liked its overall fit, “especially in the heel and around the tongue.” With medium cushioning, these shoes feel firm and more responsive on the road than maximalist shoes. As far as looks, we love the aesthetics of this shoe’s colorways, especially the women’s gray with pops of coral..
What We Loved Most: Their responsiveness. Thanks to its lightweight feel and comfortable fit, we felt we had more energy to give on each run.
Most Ideal For: 5K, 10K, Half Marathon
Reebok Floatride Run Fast Pro
Road | $250 | 3.5 oz. unisex | 3mm drop
We almost didn’t believe a shoe this light could actually perform well—while also not hurting our knees due to a lack of cushioning. Weighing in at around 3.5 oz. (unisex), Reebok’s Floatride Run Fast Pros are seriously agile and give off a need for speed. Although a minimalist trainer, they still have enough cushion so that you have a comfortable ride. When it comes to breathability, because they come with a single-piece, thin engineered mesh upper, hotspots weren’t an issue. Plus, thanks to their ultra-thin, high-traction outsole, our wear testers found they provided optimal grip. In case you thought these weren’t 26.2-mile appropriate, ZAP Fitness/Reebok runner Nicole Dimercurio wore them at this year’s Boston Marathon and placed 6th overall in the women’s division.
What We Loved Most: Our pace. These shoes beg to go fast and invited us to challenge ourselves to up our speed when hitting the pavement.
Most Ideal For: Intervals, tempo workouts, 5K
Editor’s Choice: Trail
Under Armour Horizon BPF
Trail | $130 | 9.2 oz. W, 10.6 M | 7mm drop
Lightweight, fast and still rugged, Under Armour’s Horizon BPF (which stands for “bulletproof feather”) are one of the best trail shoes we’ve run in this year. The upper is made with a thin mesh underneath a one-piece polyurethane cast that promotes durability and support. The shoe also boasts a substantial toe-cap for added protection, and while the BPF looks stuffy, it breathes very well thanks to venting holes in the mesh. UA also introduced a new outsole utilizing Michelin rubber and featuring small rubber squares in between the lugs. We could definitely feel the solid grip on them while on varied trail surfaces. One tester noted that the shoes “allow for quick transitions and speed increases while on technical trails.” Yet, some noted a more sluggish feel when running at a moderate pace, possibly due to the thickness of the Ortholite insoles. Overall, these are worth a buy for new or expert trail runners.
What We Loved Most: The high-traction rubber on the outsoles that grip every part of the trail and helped us feel sturdier.
Most Ideal For: Everyday trail runs both short and long and races under 50K.
Inov-8 TerraUltra G 260
Trail | $150 | 8.1 oz. unisex | 0mm drop
Inov-8’s TerraUltra G 260 latest trail model is a seriously durable shoe that is meant to hold up against tough conditions and long-distance runs. One of its most-discussed features was its graphene-enhanced rubber outsoles which provided some of the best traction amongst our group of trail shoes. “The noticeable grip on rocky terrain and during downhill sections made it easier to stop worrying about slipping or having to change directions quickly,” one tester said. Those with wider feet also praised the roominess in the forefoot and the shoe’s mesh upper, which expands to support feet swell. The G-260 also boasts a sturdy exoskeleton with Kevlar (a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fiber) mixed into its fabric to add protection against trail debris. Because of its minimal cushioning, we suggest this shoe for advanced trail runners who enjoy a good technical dance with their trails.
What We Loved Most: The graphene-enhanced rubber which allows them to perform well over diverse surfaces and the Kevlar durability which means we’ll be running in these for months.
Most Ideal For: Hard-packed, steep or technical trails.
Altra Lone Peak 4
Trail | $120 | 8.7 oz. W, 10.7 oz. M | 0mm drop
Built for rugged landscapes, the Altra Lone Peak 4 is a serious trail shoe with a no-slip grip and tough angled lugs on the multi-directional outsole. Designed with Altra’s wider toebox to encourage natural foot splay, its zero-drop heel-to-toe ratio is meant to promote good posture and prevent a painful foot strike. Inside, the midsole cushioning is thicker than typical trail shoes but still thinner than a road shoe, giving runners a good balance of ground feel and support. With a full-length rock plate to mitigate the impact of trail debris, testers found that they were able to tackle rocky terrain without worrying about where their feet were hitting the ground. “I feel l like I could tear up any surface I run on and I liked the foot-shaped tread positioned under the metatarsals,” said one runner who could feel the benefits of its toe-off traction on hills. The shoes also feature a 4-point gaiter and a water-draining mesh along the footbed. Testers found that even when their feet got wet, drying time was quick and staying in control while on muddy surfaces or slick rocks was never an issue.
What We Loved Most: The traction is some of the best we experienced and we feel confident slipping these on for long runs across burly terrain.
Most Ideal For: All terrain and technical trail races
Fall 2018 Road & Trail Shoes
Scroll through the gallery below to see the rest of our top picks for the Fall 2018 season.
Salomon Sonic RA
Road | $130 | 8.1 oz. W, 9.6 oz. M | 8mm drop
The Salomon Sonic RA is a versatile road warrior that is lightweight and stable with a minimalistic feel. Our testers found the shoes to be very responsive when on concrete, putting energy back into every stride and allowing for a more optimal cadence. While we found their traction to be best on the cement or asphalt, they did not perform as well on dirt, grass or gravel. As far as cushioned support, one tester stated, “it was a bit firm and too hard at first, but after several runs became somewhat more comfortable—yet still firm.” Overall, we found these to be best for running at speeds, tempo or for 5K and 10K races. They are also good for runners wanting a wide, neutral shoe with average support.
Brooks Glycerin 16
Road | $150 | 9.4 oz. W, 10.6 oz. M | 10mm drop
Brooks’ Glycerins have been a tried-and-true model for years among runners of every experience level. With its 16th iteration, the brand isn’t straying too far from what already works well with the trainers. “The shoes felt nimble and agile with a quick response; my running splits decreased,” one tester said. As always, the Glycerins feature a heavy dose of cushioning which means we felt less ground underfoot. Runners with high arches also found a good level of support in the insole (some even noted not having to use their own insoles). Wear testers who supinated found the shoes encouraged a more neutral strike. Although most opted for these shoes on runs over six miles, they weren’t their go-to kicks for short, speed workouts.
Reebok Fusion Flexweave
Road | $120 | 7.2 oz. W, 8.4 oz. M | 7 mm
Reebok has been making moves in the performance department over the last couple of years. And we’re really enjoying what they’ve been putting out. The Fusion Flexweaves are a neutral road trainer that offer a good amount of impact-absorbing cushioning. After logging double-digit miles in them, we found that they still provided a high level of durability long after their initial wear. Although comfortable, some testers noticed moderate heel slippage, possibly due to a lack of support around the ankles. These shoes are great for shorter runs and tempo workouts, but be sure to order your true foot size rather than sizing up. They run a little big.
Hoka One One Bondi 6
Road | $150 |8.6 oz. W, 10.9 oz. M | 4mm drop
The Hoka One One Bondi 6's are a maximalist’s dream. If you’ve never experienced Hokas, they may seem intimidating at first because of how much shoe you’re actually carrying on your feet. But many testers enjoyed the cushiness of the trainer, noting running in them actually didn’t feel as heavy—although they may be too much for runners with knee problems. We were also surprised by their breathability, and one tester mentioned that even with the extra cushioning, they didn’t feel disconnected from the ground. On downhill portions, they did well with keeping us stable and helping us gain momentum. When it came to tight turns or technical runs though, some felt the Bondi 6’s maximum support made these maneuvers difficult. Lastly, because of their shorter laces, you may find yourself fighting to get just the right fit.
Asics Gel Cumulus 20
Road | $130 | 8.3 oz. W, 10.1 oz. M | 8mm drop
We found Asics’ Gel Cumulus 20s to be one of our top, daily-use trainers for cross-training workouts, long runs or recovery days. Right out of the gate, runners found that the neutral shoe performed well, offered good stability and fit nicely. Even so, one tester noted that the shoes felt “a little too high around my ankle for me to call it a perfect fit.” Within the midsole, the ample cushioning felt just right for most runners but too squishy for a small set of testers. The addition of the gel technology and level of support in the heel makes these a great option for heel strikers. Though the mesh upper was found to be generally breathable, for those who regularly suffer from hotspots, they did present a noticeable problem while on 60+ minute runs. “I almost took them off and ran barefoot,” one wear tester said.
361 Degrees 361-Spire 3
Road | $150 | 8.7 oz. W, 10.4 oz. M | 9mm drop
Wear testers found the 361-Spire 3s offered a good level of stability and a firmness that helped lock the heel in place. If you’re looking for support, this is a perfect addition to your closet—plus they're still a (somewhat) lightweight shoe. One of our wear tester’s favorite features was the cushioned tongue which allowed for a more comfortable and flexible fit. These probably aren’t your best option though if you want more of a springy shoe. When running fast, these shoes perform well, providing a well-balanced combination of natural foot strike and controlled support. Although great for moderate terrain, some experienced less traction on technical trails, gravel and dirt surfaces.
Under Armour Hovr Sonic CT
Road | $110 |9 oz. W, 9.6 oz. M | 8mm drop
With the release of the its Hovr Sonic and Hovr Sonic CT, Under Armour is aiming to take on the major players in the running world. The connected version of this shoe did well with testers, many of them enjoying all of the data available on UA’s MapMyRun app that is transmitted directly from the trainer. (Note: it can even record your data without having your phone on you and will sync once you’re back). For fit, we liked the snug feel of the heel which prevented slippage, and because the shoe’s upper is a flexible mesh, the toebox feels roomy and malleable. However, if you have high arches, you may need to opt for a different pair or use your own insoles to support your arches. Because of their firmness and somewhat wide base, testers did feel a little less nimble/agile moving side to side and around corners.
Nike Pegasus Zoom Turbo
Road | $180 | 6.9 oz. W, 8.4 oz. M | 10mm
After its success with the Pegasus 35 and Zoom VaporFly 4% (the Breaking-2 shoe), the brand’s latest model to join the Peg family is the new Zoom Pegasus Turbo. The shoe features two of the brand’s midsole foams found in both of the aforementioned models: the ZoomX and the React. Testers were initially skeptical about the buzz around the Zoom foam but found it did produce a high energy return and buttery ride. “I felt like I didn’t have to work as hard, that each stride was literally boosted by the bounce in the shoe,” said one runner. Along with increasing our cadence, we loved the heel collar which comes to a point in back, pulling the material away from the Achilles. A few testers did note the shoes lacked breathability and weren’t their favorite for running in warmer temperatures. The Turbos are a great multi-purpose trainer, appropriate for long runs, recovery sessions or tempo workouts and less recommended for track work.
Puma Speed FuseFit
Road $130 | 9.8 oz. W, 11 oz. M | 8mm drop
Puma’s Speed FuseFit trainers are all about fit. Based on the width of your foot, the brand’s lacing system gives you various options around the foot to either open up the shoe for wider feet or squeeze it in tight for more narrow feet. While some enjoyed this feature, others found it made no difference on the comfort of the shoes or was too confusing to figure out. As far as breathability, we felt they did a great job of keeping us cool in the heat. One tester found the best part of the shoes to be the heel, stating that it is “snug and has a nice padded lining for comfort to prevent slippage.” The FuseFits did well on the feet of speedsters, many of them noting their easy transitions and improved pace while in them. “They put noticeable energy back into my step but were not super nimble or agile,” one tester said. These are least ideal for long distance runs and off-road terrain since you’ll feel everything, including small pebbles. (Available January 2019).
Merrell Agility Synthesis Flex
Trail | $110 | 8.5 oz. unisex | 6mm drop
Merrell’s Agility Synthesis Flex model is a lightweight, less cushioned trail option that provides good stability for easy trails and light runs. Right out of the box, the shoes are easy to slip on and have a natural fit that doesn’t require breaking in. Unlike a lot of trail shoes, the Flex's don’t come with a ton of bells and whistles. Instead, they keep it simple with a padded heel collar, a dual-directional flex-groove EVA midsole, breathable mesh and TPU upper, and a synthetic toe-cap. One tester noted that they liked “the level of connection” the shoes provided as well as their traction on wet terrain. We enjoyed this model for runners who sprinkle in both trail and road runs during the week and aren’t looking for a hyper-technical trail shoe.
The North Face Flight RKT
Trail | $150 | 6.5 oz. W, 8 oz. M | 8mm drop
The first thing we noticed about The North Face Flight RKT's was how lightweight they felt while still being durable enough for trails. Featuring a thin mesh upper, the trainers allow for a more natural foot splay inside the roomy toebox. One user noted that the “in-shoe security and lightweight material made me feel agile, especially when tackling hills.” On the outsoles, patches of multidirectional lugs feature just enough grip just without dampening the foot strike. One area the shoes could improve upon is their support around the heel and ankle—some users noticed their heels slipping a bit no matter how tight their laces were tied. Although one of our top choices, the shoe is best for less technical trails and anyone looking to transition from road to trail.
New Balance Summit K.O.M./Q.O.M.
Trail | $120| 9.2 oz. W, oz. M | 8mm drop
New Balance’s Summit K.O.M./Q.O.M. (meaning: King of the Mountain/Queen of the Mountain) shoes are a technical trail option with minimal cushioning and added firmness for support. But of all the shoes tested, these got the most mixed reactions. For some, they needed a few extra-long runs to fully get comfortable in the shoes, but saw the stiffness as a benefit. Others noted that after running over 10K, their arches began to hurt because of the shoe’s lack of flexibility and they were eager to take them off post-run. One thing we enjoyed was the level of stability and control these shoes brought to our runs. While out on the trails, it was quickly apparent that they minimize shock and feature an impressive grip that lets you feel more confident on rocky terrain. “They have great support downhill and overall were a comfortable ride during long runs,” shared one wear tester. When it comes to responsiveness, some runners noticed a lack of energy return while others were encouraged to quicken their pace in them. Guess you'll need to try them for yourself.
Skechers Go Run Maxtrail 5 Ultra
Trail | $125 | 6.7 oz. W, 8.3 oz. M | 4mm drop
With a sock-like knitted collar and flexible mesh upper, the Skechers Go Run Maxtrail 5 Ultras were a pleasant surprise for our testers who enjoyed the tighter fit the shoes provided. “I like them more snug due to the terrain and jostling of the foot. And these fit pretty close to a glove.” Some runners, however, noted that the sock-like upper didn’t provide enough support and cause their feet to slide around on uneven terrain. This iteration of the shoe features harder claw-like lugs in the forefoot and an outsole that did well on both road and trail. Because of its thick midsole foam, wear testers found a good spring in their step and benefited from a notable layer of protection underfoot. These shoes are ideal for short, non-technical, any-pace trail runs and for no more than a 10K race.
Hoka One One Torrent
Trail | $120 | 7.4 oz. W, 9 oz. M | 5mm drop
It’s not a Hoka One One shoe if it’s not cushioned, right? Like most of its shoes, the brand’s Torrent model features a thick cushioning that somehow manages to feel more lightweight than other trail shoes we tested. Runners were impressed with how agile they felt while on runs, especially on ascending and descending portions. One tester noted that the shoe’s outsoles acted “like shocks and took a huge amount of strain out of each landing.” When dealing with steeper trails, the roomy toebox comes in handy, especially when loose rocks are present. Some testers did note though, that the lack of rock plate, enhanced their feel of sharper rocks and minor heel slippage occurred after putting a higher number of miles into the shoes.