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.