Updated September 2017
To keep ahead of the game, we updated our review this summer to include new competitors. We've added in the Brooks Ghost 10, new for our review this fall, and notable in the comfort realm. The Brooks Pureflow 6 remains our Editors' Choice award winner, while the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 secures its new spot as the Best Buy, thanks to its high scores across the board and excellent price point. Last but not least, we've added in a new model from On Cloud and HOKA, which you can read more about below.
Best Overall Men's Model
Brooks PureFlow 6
Not the most durable
Our Editors' Choice Award in 2017 goes to the neutral, plushly cushioned Brooks PureFlow 6
. This versatile model balances the key aspects better than the rest, combining comfort, weight, durability, flexibility, breathability, and responsiveness to make this an unrivaled shoe. It's also the most comfort of all contenders, from the first mile through the last. The shoe's plush, wrap-around collar hugs the ankle and heel and has a snug-fitting, synthetic mesh upper. The lack of a midfoot trusstic allows full contact with the ground during landing, creates a more natural heel-to-toe transition for heel-strikers, and creates a smooth ride, complete with an innovative segmented crash pad. This cushy crash pad is polished off by nubs on the outsole that offer plenty of traction in all road conditions and allow for a responsive ride. Brooks released the PureFlow 6
in 2017 as a replacement to the previous PureFlow 5, and our reviewers are stoked this shoe just keeps getting better.
Read full review: Brooks PureFlow 6
Best Bang for the Buck
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34
Comfort for miles
Lacks robust support
The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34
wins our Best Buy Award, scoring highest in both landing comfort and upper comfort and finishing above average in each of the other measures. As you probably know, many models can break the bank. The Pegasus 34
maintains an affordable $110 retail price, which is one of the least expensive products in our group. This model gives lots of comfortable miles and will earn its dollars back. You can't go wrong with this shoe if you're on a budget looking for a high-performance road running sneaker. At 22.4 ounces, this shoe is a bit on the heavy side for a lightweight racing flat, but in the end, it is a highly padded, cushioned contender that performs up alongside the best trainers out there while serving a broad community of runners. It is still a superb, versatile shoe that brings a lot of value to the pavement.
Read full review: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34
Top Pick Award for Lightweight Racing Flat
Second skin fit
Outsole gathers debris
The On Cloud
is lightweight, speedy, minimalistic, and versatile, propelling it to win our Top Pick Award. Jump into this light shoe and channel your inner gazelle. At only 17.3 ounces per pair of men's 11 and 6mm of heel-to-toe drop, it offers a reasonable amount of cushioning with just enough firm response. It is resilient enough to provide comfort through daily runs, workouts, and even runs up to marathon distances. Runners who want to make a gradual move towards minimalism will find solace in the On Cloud
. It presents a considerable change for those who have always used a traditional road shoe, most of which have a 10mm or more heel-to-toe discrepancy. Remember to adjust gradually to footgear like this. We have done the unexpected transition thing and had the stress fractures of shame. So go slowly, do your homework on biomechanics and muscles, allow for recovery, and build yourself up over time. These put a lot more stress on your lower legs and Achilles tendon in comparison to traditional trainers. Don't be surprised if your lower legs are super sore after the first few runs in these fast racers.
Read full review: On Cloud
Top Pick Award for Stability Shoe
HOKA ONE ONE Arahi
Our favorite stability model is the Arahi
. Given this shoe's plush ride, upper comfort, high stability, and great out-of-box comfort, we rate the HOKA ONE ONE Arahi
as a better stability shoe overall when compared to the other road footwear. For the stability class, it's lightweight and comfortable. At 18.6 ounces per pair of men's 11, it's one of the lightest stability shoes in the lineup and lighter than six other pairs in our cohort. Often, shoes need a few miles to break in, but this is by far the most comfortable pair of pavement pounders tested straight out of the box, thanks to the compression-molded EVA foam cushioning in the midsole. This shoe features unmatchable out-of-box landing comfort, a well-cushioned upper, and creatively designed landing platform that guides each step back to a neutral position, which HOKA ONE ONE calls "dynamic stability". With its unique J-Frame guidance structure, this one comes highly recommended for all over-pronators.
Read full review: HOKA ONE ONE Arahi
Notable for Offering the Most Comfort
Brooks Ghost 10
Extremely high level of comfort
Offers an exceptional amount of room
Highly protection and supportive
Lower level of responsiveness and breathability
It would be a serious dereliction if we didn't add an honorable mention worthy of an award. Every runner on the planet knows what it's like to feel the creaking, percussive impact of the road, exacerbated by stiff, chafing, hurty uppers. Brooks
puts out great designs that eliminate those concerns, as seen in the PureFlow 6 and the 5 before it, but the Ghost 10
goes all out. This is why we have decided to extend an award in comfort. This model has a great, cushy landing enabled by its extra thick BioMogo DNA midsole and an upper with a great deal of plush padding covered by a silky sock liner and a foot-hugging mesh that absorbs shock and protects from rub and chafe. Without question, this is the most comfortable shoe in our lineup and sure to impress anyone looking for a cushy ride.
Read full review: Brooks Ghost 10
Analysis and Test Results
Our testers are running fiends, and they put each model through the paces to test their performance abilities in a range of conditions and environments. We measured them on our scales, designed tests, and ran hundreds of miles in these products to tease out the differences between them. Our notes, experiences, and results were compiled into mutually exclusive metrics, which we describe below. We also highlight top performers in each category. The overall score, shown in the table above, for each model comes from a cumulative tally of the metrics, weighted according to their importance and relevance to this type of running footwear.
These 12 pairs of shoes aren't going to test themselves.
Deciding which model has the highest responsiveness is fairly simple to grade. We posed the question, "Which kicks give us the most propulsive feedback through the landing to toe-off phase in our gait cycle?" A more responsive design will often have a stiffer and minimally cushioned outsole which facilitates a propulsive "pop" feeling and avoids that running-in-mud feeling. The most responsive models on the market are racing flats with an integrated stiff midsole system.
For the most part, we prefer running in road footwear with higher responsiveness. But the thick soles of responsive models like the HOKA ONE ONE Arahi
do a lot of the work for your feet, ankles, and lower legs that other highly cushioned models don't. This type is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a minimalist or barefoot model, and we believe can create weaknesses in those areas if used for too long. How long we can't say, and it depends on the individual. If you're looking to improve your lower leg and foot strength, then a model with less responsiveness is likely ideal for you.
Firm EVA provides great responsiveness in this model.
We rate the HOKA ONE ONE Arahi as the most responsive in the group
, though two other stability models, the New Balance 1540v2
and Saucony Hurricane ISO 3
, also do quite well. Notably, the responsive feedback from landing to push-off in the On Cloud
and Adidas Adizero Boston 6
is beyond what we feel from any of the other lightweight racing flats we tested. From our first stride to the last, the Arahi
provided us with solid, propulsive assistance. This propulsive feel has to do with the firmer EVA midsole and J-Frame guidance structure that give this shoe its high responsiveness.
The J-Frame guidance structure greatly improves the stability of this shoe.
Even though we get that efficient roll and pop feeling while running in the HOKA Arahi
, it isn't the fastest shoe in the group given its wideness and bulk, especially compared to the racing flats. At 21.7 ounces a pair, though, it's a good deal lighter than the Saucony Hurricane ISO 3
at 25.0 ounces a pair.
To the majority of runners testing out new shoes, landing comfort is the most important factor. To decide which design has the best landing comfort, we take into account comfort while running from the first mile through the last (at least six miles at a time). Out-of-box comfort is always nice, but it's not a deciding factor for the best landing comfort. It's never fun finding out halfway through an hour-long run that the shoes that were so comfy when you ran from one side of the shoe store to the other are now the most ridiculously regrettable things you've ever put on your feet, leaving you not remembering why you even run anymore. No one wants that.
We experienced that change in comfort with the Newton Running Distance VI
. Thanks to the wide toe box and unique Action/Reaction midfoot platform, this contender felt great when walking and trotting around the room. Unfortunately, after taking them out for a few miles, it was apparent that they were tough to adjust to and had difficulty in accommodating different running styles.
Brooks' segmented crash pad and thick midsole help it push up near the top of landing comfort.
Unsurprisingly, a design with more cushioning like the Brooks Ghost 10
typically scores higher in landing comfort. The usual formula for the best landing comfort is a balanced design that is not too cushy and not too firm. You need balanced cushioning to find consistent comfort. We find this with the Nike Pegasus 34
, which scored near the top of our measure. Its secret is that it embeds Zoom Air units in the forefoot and heel of its stiff, but cushy Duralon blown rubber midsole.
Zoom Air units are placed within the midsole of the forefoot and heel to improve responsiveness and cushioning while the outsole includes Duralon blown rubber to increase cushioning.
When we finished our first run using the Brooks PureFlow 6
we knew it would be hard for another model to top its landing comfort. Indeed, we feel the Brooks PureFlow 6
is the most comfortable, fast, and well-balanced road shoe we tested, which is why the Brooks PureFlow 6
comes away with our Editors' Choice Award and making it into the top ranking in landing comfort. It lands just a bit ahead of its more rigid stability cousins, which typically need to have more cushioning and comfort.
For the midsole cushioning, Brooks
uses what they call Biomogo DNA LT - a much more biodegradable DNA which responds to and conforms to everyone's feet independently, depending on their landing pattern. When the Biomogo DNA LT cushioning receives pressure from your foot during landing, it spreads through the midsole in reaction to the pressure.
The updated Brooks PureFlow 6 retains the same successful grippy BioMoGo DNA outsole layout and cushy DNA LT midsole as the 5, including 22mm of cushioning at the heel and 18mm at the forefoot.
As for the outsole of the PureFlow 6
uses their innovative segmented crash pad system, sometimes described as caterpillar-like. This unique outsole allows you to have full outsole ground contact that produces a smooth ride while dispersing impact energy. Taken together with its low heel-to-toe drop, 4mm, it makes the shoe a fast, ideal all-around shoe.
Make sure and find the appropriate fit and style of running shoe for your feet and running style to enhance your performance and reduce the chance of injury.
The first thing we notice when trying on a new pair of road running shoes is the fit and comfort of the upper. An array of components come together to create a comfortable upper. When deciding on a score for this metric, we take into consideration the overall fit, snug or roomy, toe box fit, tongue position, seam and stitch design, lace eyelets, and heel counter rigidity and fit.
The top of the line for upper comfort is usually determined by plushness of padding and the smoothness of the liner. In the case of the top scoring Brooks Ghost 10, a silky sock liner covered a pillowy tongue and collar
to become the most comfortable kick in our group. After that, the Brooks PureFlow 6 grabs one of next two top spots
in the rating for this category. Its plush, conforming upper creates one of the best feeling uppers in the cohort. The other high scoring spot is occupied by the Nike Pegasus 34
. It has a well-balanced fit that's snug along the heel and midfoot while giving good room in the toe box. The heel support isn't as stiff as other models in the group, and we like that as well.
The updated PureFlow 6 retains most of the features of the PureFlow 5, but comes in low-key colors and fixes the chafing issue of the tongue that was so confounding with the 5.
The PureFlow 6
features a smooth sock liner, plush collar padding, and a close, natural fit that ensures long-term comfort. The Pegasus 34
offer a similar feel, especially with its Flyknit upper that helps the shoe hug your foot, but flex with movement. We spent time running with different sock thickness and in all sorts of weather to ensure we weren't throwing the results off. We wore socks that provided plush padding and a close, flexible fit.
While it did not score quite as high as the PureFlow 6
and Pegasus 34
, the Saucony Hurricane ISO 3
sat just below the top two scorers. Each of the three focused on snug, plush uppers, especially placing thick, soft padding along the heel collar and conforming mesh along the top of the foot, but the Hurricane
s had a more rigid, locked-in feel than the more natural-feeling racing flats.
John testing out the Saucony Hurricane ISO 3.
Running in a shoe that regulates the temperature of your feet during a run is important not just for comfort, but for the overall health of your feet. Uppers that breathe poorly can trap in moisture which could cause chafing, blisters, foot fungus, and other foot problems. Most models on the market have pretty decent breathability. Commonly, a sneaker with higher breathability comes with a more minimally designed upper and thin, light mesh materials.
If your feet regularly sweat during runs, we recommend looking into our picks for higher breathability. If you live in an area where it rains often or you are often running through creeks, you might want to consider a waterproof Gore-Tex version, if it's available. The models that provide this waterproof Gore-Tex are not as breathable as ones without, but they will keep your feet much drier during very wet runs. Because of their lack of breathability, we don't recommend Gore-Tex footwear unless you'll be running through creeks or heavy storms.
We give the highest breathability rating to the New Balance Minimus 10v1 (they have a mostly mesh surface area)
, the On Cloud
, and the Brooks PureFlow 6
. Our feet return from runs much drier in these models when compared to all the other road shoes we tested, and they dry faster when wet. Of course, the tradeoff is that if the water is coming from the outside, these well-vented shoes are more permeable and will soak your socks, which is not always a favorable scenario when you aren't expecting a puddle run. The rapid drying of these shoes has to do with seamless and lightweight minimal uppers.
On managed to use minimal padding while still maintaining a very slick, natural feel.
Given this minimal upper, the Minimus 10v1
does a poor job of keeping moisture out and is not a great choice for intense winter conditions. The On Cloud
and PureFlow 6
are better options to keep your feet dry and protected across seasons and through the broadest range of weather conditions. The least breathable models are the New Balance 1540v2
and ASICS GT-2000 5
stability models, featuring thick, impermeable uppers and heavy padding, which will keep heat and moisture in during both the summer and winter, with desirability varying accordingly.
The strong mesh upper is secured to the superstructure support bands with thick, strong threading.
No runner wants to feel like they are lugging around bricks on the ends of their legs, so shoe weight is an important factor when choosing the best road running shoe. Typically, a lighter shoe facilitates a more natural foot strike, though some heavier models can still run better overall, like the Pegasus 34
and PureFlow 5
. Take note though; there is often a relationship between lighter designs and less durability since many models will sacrifice durability for weight.
The mostly mesh minimalist Minimus 10v1
, which sits at 17.2 ounces in men's 11.5, and the On Cloud
take the cake for the lightest racing flats. At just 17.3 ounces per pair in a men's size 11, they edge out the 17.6-ounce Kinvara 8
. Each of these employ some form of light EVA foam in their midsole, limited use of rubber on the outsole, judicious use of padding in the collar and tongue, and a very thin mesh upper.
The Kinvara 8 (left) and Cloud (right) go head to head as the author and marathoner John air them out.
The HOKA ONE ONE Arahi
was the lightest stability model we tested, at just 21.7 ounces in a men's 11. These models typically run heavier than the racing flats because they require tougher uppers that will restrict movement as well as more substantial internal structures like heel counters and shanks, not to mention meatier mid- and outsoles to cushion and limit flex.
The bulky Arahi actually only weighs 21.7 ounces in a size 11, placing it among the lighter racing flats.
When you fork out over $100 bones on a new pair of digs, you want to make sure they last for a certain number of miles. We use a few different factors when rating the durability of the footgear in our test group. Ideally, a few hundred miles should be logged in each pair for an accurate sense of the rate of wear (a few runs a week for a year). Taking note of the wear we observed through logging 15-plus miles in each pair, we were able to get a good idea of the life of each model. We also researched hundreds of user reviews looking for personal feedback regarding the durability and last of the shoes. When rating the durability, we also take into account the design, outsole rubber density, mesh upper thickness, and upper design.
At the 100+ price range for performance shoes, most of the models will use solid, long-lasting materials that will get runners through a few seasons without any serious problems and the chart bears that out. However, durability is typically associated with the stability models. Unsurprisingly, two stability models hit the top: New Balance 1540v2
and ASICS GT-2000 5
. Because stability models need to control motion and focus the gait cycle, they need to reinforce their designs, often resulting in heavier, more resilient materials like thick, sturdy rubber, additional overlays, and thicker, coarser mesh and synthetics (usually a synthetic substitute for leather).
The author (left, ASICS GT-2000 5) and John (right, New Balance 1540) compare notes on stability shoes.
There was also a notable exception to the stability rule found in the New Balance Minimus 10v1
, which is a nontraditional, minimalist design in the lightweight racing flat category. They are meant to be put through all sorts of abuse and are equally at home on mountain trails and flat roads, with thick, durable rubber on the outsole and sturdy mesh with a good deal of stitching.
Tough mesh, structural overlays, and thick Vibram rubber help this shoe withstand a lot of abuse.
We have logged more than 15 miles in each of our 11 test models, which has given us a base for evaluating running shoes. After this extensive research, we have found some favorites, but this is still fairly subjective. Keep in mind that everyone's feet are different. If our favorite doesn't fit your foot, you may want to explore some of the other models that we tested to find the proper footwear. All-in-all, each model that we tested is worthy, and we are sure there is something for everyone in our test field.
The Best Buy Pegasus 34 and Top Pick Racing Flat On Cloud go head to head.