For the past 9 years, we've made it our mission to buy and test 65 different running shoes to find the best. For this 2020 update, we bought 13 top competitors for full side-by-side testing to bring you this comprehensive review. It was right about the time we got our photographers lined up and dates nailed down that the world shut down. Like everyone else, we were obliged to isolate and limit our running in crowded places and with friends. That doesn't mean we didn't still run the hell out of the shoes in this review, but it does mean that all of our running was done solo and at off-peak hours. The shoes still went through rigorous testing, as per usual; it just took a little longer, and our options for terrain were a little less varied. Rest assured, we still garnered a ton of useful information to help you pick your perfect shoe.
The Best Running Shoes of 2020
Best Overall Running Shoe
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36
The Nike Pegasus 36 is a slightly tweaked, improved design over its predecessor, just barely paring back a few aspects of the upper and a handful of other odds and ends. We liked them so much this go-round that they picked up our Editors' Choice Award. The natural-fitting upper is one of the best parts of this speedster. It doesn't overwhelm with padding or crowd you out, and neither is it too Spartan. The landing has a good pop to it, making the ride really nice when you're putting a lot of hard watts into the ground. They come in at a pretty fair price point, so it's hard to argue they're not a good purchase.
These speedy award winners are best employed as racing flats. They're light, lean, and have a natural fit that makes you want to Run-Run, Kick, Sprint! That said, as much as we love them, they're not perfect, and they certainly have some detractors. Perhaps most concerning for some runners is the newer heel design that might allow slippage. The landing is also a bit stiff for some runners. The other main issue is with outsole durability, which might have been confined to a few batches missing proper glue, but in any case, it could be a concern. Overall, however, we love this shoe and think you should give it a spin.
Read review: Nike Pegasus 36
Best Bang for the Buck
Saucony Kinvara 11
The Saucony Kinvara 11 wins our Best Bang for the Buck Award. Their premium features and excellent performance on the road are packaged in an affordable bundle, climbing their way to the top of our list for value. Instead of crowding the show with padding, they exercise a little economy and use molding to shape the shoe to your foot while preserving the padding needed to do the job. The result is a really natural feeling shoe, almost like a fortified, responsive sock. It's quite a nice ride. These are also among the lightest in our group at just 17.6 ounces for a pair of men's 11.
The biggest mark against the Kinvara 11 is its outsole — or, more accurately, the lack thereof. The outsole is exposed EVA foam across almost the entirety with two small segments of carbon rubber covering the high-wear areas. Also, despite a fat stack (28.5mm at the heel, 24.5mm at the toe), this feels a lot like a minimalist shoe — runners after a more controlled ride might not be as pleased with this model. While maybe not for everyone, those looking to get in some fast, comfortable miles will love the Kinvara 11 — we certainly did.
Read review: Saucony Kinvara 11
Best for for Responsiveness
Nike Air Zoom Vomero 14
Typically our most responsive models are big, heavy shoes. Brooks tends to put out a lot of good, responsive models with all sorts of internal stability structures and giant stacks. It's rare that we get a speedy model like the Nike Air Vomero 14 that will approach the performance of the current leading contenders to this crown. Nike uses its own patented foam, React, and an internal air unit to beat out the competition with its forgiving cushion and quick pop from the midsole. But they didn't win our Top Pick for superior responsiveness alone. You'll notice that the shoes are pretty good looking too. Sleek, refined, intense colors if you want them. And they're comfortable too. You'll have no problem wearing these out to do your long, hard, hot miles.
As you might imagine, there are some drawbacks with these shoes. They come at something of a premium, so if you can find them on sale, jump. They're also, like most of the more responsive models, a wee bit heavy and might feel stiff, especially if you're doing speedwork or hitting hills. The higher heel-to-toe discrepancy (10mm) can feel cumbersome to some runners as well. All that aside, if you want something with great landing, comfort, and good looks, this is one to seriously consider.
Read review: Nike Air Zoom Vomero 14
Best for Comfort
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 earns our Top Pick for Comfort. It comes to that by balancing natural comfort with performance. Frequently, super comfortable running shoes end up being full of pillowy goodness to the detriment of speed and sometimes stability. This shoe maintains a moderately firm midsole with good stability while its supportive upper employs just enough padding to gently cradle, without coddling or smothering. Overall, it's an effective design that feels really forgiving upon strike and really fast for the rest of the transition through to toe-off.
The upper could stand to be a little more breathable. The sockliner improves comfort, but at the expense of aeration, and the thick padding running around the collar and down the tongue acts as a net insulator and moisture retainer. The GTS 20 is ideal for cool and cold weather, though you'll still be fine in temperate and warm conditions. You're also not going to get a big comfort model without paying a weight penalty. It's not the heaviest in our lineup, but it's not featherweight either. But, bottom line, if you're looking for excellent comfort and don't want to sacrifice speed and performance, you'll want to take a serious look at the Adrenaline GTS 20.
Read review: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20
Why You Should Trust Us
Ryan Baham brings this road running shoe review to you. He has been an avid runner since the day he took his first steps, gradually moving on to the stereotypical country boy running around the woods and swamps of Florida barefoot and foolish. Since those early days, he's done everything from track to football to wrestling on to mud runs and half marathons in all sorts of footwear (and barefoot), surfaces, and weather. His next ambition is to move to the marathon and ultra-marathon disciplines.
Ryan has lived, ridden, and ran in Florida, Spain, New Mexico, Virginia, and California with at least 100 miles logged on foot and hundreds in the saddle in each place. These days he's based in San Diego, California working as an analyst in procurement and supply chain. When not being a productive citizen, you'll find him out for a constitutional stroll, running, riding his road bike, reading at a cafe, or chatting politics and taboos with friends. With many years as a runner and athlete under his feet, you can count on his advice — whether you're running a 5K or your next marathon.
Each model in this review was put through the paces to test their performance in a range of conditions and environments. We measured them on our scales, designed tests, and ran hundreds of miles to tease out the differences between each shoe. Our notes, experiences, and results were compiled into performance metrics, which we describe below. We also highlight top performers in each category. The overall score for each model comes from a cumulative tally of the metrics, weighted according to their importance and relevance to this type of running footwear.
Related: How We Tested Running Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
A good pair of running shoes and some great technique will keep your legs locomoting out on the road. In this review, we investigate a group of the top road running shoes on the market. Take a gander to see what recommendations we have after a vigorous testing and rating process.
Related: Buying Advice for Running Shoes
Looking to upgrade your running shoes without breaking the bank? We compared all of the shoes in our test based on overall scores vs. list price to help decipher which kicks offer the best value. The Best Buy award-winning Saucony Kinvara 11 represents a killer value and low price tag. Our Editors' Choice Nike Pegasus 36 and the Brooks PureFlow 7 also do an incredible job of balancing price and performance over the long haul.
When we talk responsiveness, we typically look at two things. The first and most basic is the bounciness of the midsole taken together with its rigidity of stiffness. The second is the collective performance of all the different structures throughout the shoe meant to snap it back into place. You can have a shoe with differing levels of severity for each of these two areas, but the most responsive models tend to have rigid, bouncy midsoles and uppers chock full of tough lateral bands, serious heel counters, arch support, and all sorts of other features meant to snap both the shoe and your foot back into place. These are the characteristics of stability shoes, but a lot of comfort shoes use similar design features, just with significantly more padding and a little more forgiveness in the rigidity of the support structure.
We spent a long time determining the most responsive models, looking to get 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 reduces that running-in-mud feeling. The most responsive models tend to use foams that have been doped with rubber, air, or some such similar composition that preserves the padding and cushion of the foam while adding in some stiffness to return the energy. Some of the more traditional stability models tend to add in rigid medial posts, aggressive heel counters, stiff upper designs, and maybe even hard lasting boards.
For the most part, we prefer running in road footwear with higher responsiveness. The thick soles of responsive models do a lot of the work for your feet, ankles, and lower legs that other highly cushioned models don't. However, this type is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a minimalist or barefoot model, and we believe it can create weaknesses 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.
We rate the Nike Vomero 14 as the most responsive in the group, alongside the Nike Pegasus 36 and Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20. Despite being such similar models, the Pegasus 36, our Editors' Choice Winner, but doesn't quite have the pop of the Vomero. From our first stride to the last, the Vomero 14 provided us with solid, propulsive assistance. This propulsive feel has to do with the firmer Zoom Air unit that gives this shoe its high responsiveness.
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. No one wants that.
Unsurprisingly, designs with more cushioning like the Adrenaline GTS 20 typically score 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 both the Vomero 14 and its cousin, the Pegasus 36, both of which score near the top of this measure. The secret is the embedded Zoom Air units across the entirety of the midsole. You'll find this balance with the Kinvara 11 too. Mostly uniform cushioning throughout the upper give it nice natural comfort.
We were extremely surprised by the landing comfort offered by the On Cloud X. We knew from other On models that they were great, but the X offers both more solidity and more spring from its awesome CloudTec midsole — the individuated Cloud Elements comprised of hollow EVA structures cushion exceedingly well. That difference in sensation could be partially explained by the rigid speedboard, which gives more pop and stability to each stride.
No runner wants to feel like they are lugging around bricks on the ends of their legs, so weight is an important factor when choosing the best road running shoe. Typically, a lighter shoe facilitates a more natural footstrike, though some heavier models can still run better overall, like the Air Zoom Vomero 14 and Brooks PureFlow 7. Take note, though; there is often a relationship between lighter designs and less durability since many models will sacrifice durability for weight.
Our Best Buy Winner, the Kinvara 11, is our current lightest shoe at just 17.6 ounces for a men's size 11. Meanwhile, just behind at 17.8 ounces, sits the Cloud X. The Altra Solstice XT is also highly impressive at a mere 18.6 ounces. Most of these running shoes 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.
HOKA ONE ONE typically has a handful of entrants that make up the ranks of the lightest stability models. The best stability running shoes are usually quite heavy, but HOKA is good about stripping down many of the internal structures that add weight to other stability models. They do it all in their uniquely designed midsole, with differential densities, a special meta-rocker, and their wishbone design. These models typically run heavier than racing flats, however, 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.
When you fork out over a bucket of 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 durability, we also take into account the design, outsole rubber density, mesh upper thickness, and upper design.
At the upper end of the price range for high-performance running shoes, most of the models will use solid, long-lasting materials that will get runners through a few seasons without any serious problems, and our findings bear that out. However, durability is typically associated with the stability models. Unsurprisingly, one stability model did hit the top: the Saucony Hurricane ISO 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 other shoe that most impressed us here is the Brooks Ghost 12.
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 the plushness of padding and the smoothness of the liner. The Brooks Ghost 12 is well-aligned with that expectation. It uses thick padding in the upper and a plush midsole to make sure your ride is luxurious. It also lacks a lot of the harder stability structures that can make a comfort model somewhat unpleasant.
In the case of the next top-scoring model, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20, a silky sock liner covers a pillowy tongue and collar to become the most comfortable kick in our group. The primary difference between these two is in their stability. The Ghost 12 is more of a plush model with less in the way of stability while the Adrenaline GTS 20 is a little more versatile with a responsive pop, but still extremely comfortable.
After that, the Brooks PureFlow 7 (notice a Brooks trend?)) slides in as one of the most comfortable in the group. Other high scoring spots are occupied by the Nike Vomero 14 and Cloud X. Both have limited foam padding that makes for a well-balanced fit that's snug along the heel and midfoot while giving good room in the toe box. The Cloud X is perhaps the most natural-feeling, with even lighter padding and a loose-fitting upper that gently clasps the foot instead of hugging firmly.
Both the Nike Pegasus 36, our Editors' Choice, and the Nike Revolution 5 offer a similar feel. With its Flyknit upper, the Pegasus 36 hugs your foot quite nicely, though it flexes a bit less with movement. We spent time running with different sock thicknesses 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.
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.
The Vomero 14, Solstice XT, Cloud X, and PureFlow 7 are our top performers here. All get to their spot by minimizing their padding and maximizing their mesh. Our feet return from runs much drier in these models when compared to all the other road shoes we tested, and they also 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 an ideal scenario when you aren't expecting a puddle run.
We write these reviews because we're runners who want to put out reliable, honest advice on the gear we most love: shoes. To get there, we take an in-depth look at the running shoe industry to see what the trends are and where they're going. All the while, we try to stay sober and grounded in our judgment and recommendations.
As for the reviews of each tested model, we work hard to keep them objective, which is why we devise specific performance measures and spend so much time running and researching. We want to make sure we understand what's good and what's not about each of these shoes, and we want to make sure we can make a 1:1 comparison across brands and even styles. We can then lean on our expert reviewers to translate their experience and judgment into meaningful advice for other runners.
We hope that you get the same value from our reviews as we got from performing them: the boil-down on the best running shoes for you. When you're trying to find the right shoes, it's hard to beat firsthand experience in dozens of models, side by side. We hope that we can give you that same experience while saving you the expense and hassle of doing it yourself — or at least help you narrow it down to a few good prospects with solid return policies.
Good luck and happy trails!
— Ryan Baham