For the past 9 years, we've made it our mission to buy and test 60 different running shoes to find the best. To start 2020, we bought 10 top competitors for full side-by-side testing to bring you this comprehensive review. Our experts wore them on roads, casual trails, and through varying conditions to better dial in each pair's performance, comfort, and versatility. As runners who seek to truly understand the shoes we're buying, we've scored and ranked the lineup to help you select the right companions for your feet. Even if you just want an affordable pair, we've found many quality options at a great price.
The Best Running Shoes of 2020
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36
The new 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! However, as much as we love them, they still have some detractors. Perhaps most concerning is the newer heel design that may allow the heel to slip. The landing is also a bit stiff for some, and the outsole durability gave us pause. The issues we saw may have been confined to a few bad batches missing proper glue, but it's something to pay attention to as you forge ahead.
Read review: Nike Pegasus 36
Best Bang for the Buck
Brooks PureFlow 7
The Brooks PureFlow 7 stands out as an exceptional lightweight racing flat, but it comes in well below the price of most other competitors, earning it our Best Buy Award. It's hard to find such a high-performing model that won't make you wince when it's time to pull out the card or type in the CVV code. Its upper uses robust padding yet remains very light, making it both comfortable and quick. Add to that a supple midsole, and you get a shoe that you can use to light up the road.
Well, sure, it lacks a little responsiveness. There are typically two approaches to fast shoes: stiff and stacked or lean and flexible. The PureFlow 7 is much more the latter. The slab of BioMoGo DNA is enough to absorb the shock of hard pace-setting, but it doesn't have a ton of kickback. It feels more like running on a nice grass field than a trampoline. Runners who don't want or need much support will get the most out of these. If you can imagine something like a barefoot pillow, you might get an idea of what these are like. If you need a lot of energy return and motion control, these might not be the best choice for you.
Read review: Brooks PureFlow 7
Best for Lightweight Racing Flat
Brooks is primarily known for its big, bulky comfort models, like the super padded Glycerin 17. Even its speedy racing flats are full of plush padding and midsoles, like the PureFlow line. But we see a slight departure in the Brooks Hyperion, our new Top Pick for a Lightweight Racing Flat. Putting this shoe on was an immediate trip back to the old track days. They seem a lot like racing spikes without the spikes. They're incredibly light and feel super fast — a pair of men's 11 are just 14.5 ounces. On top of that, they are also highly breathable, and the BioMoGo DNA midsole takes a good deal of shock out of the stride while still being lean enough not to interfere the way some of the highly cushioned midsoles in comfort models do.
Given their track-like design, the Hyperion might not suit everyone for long, hard runs. And the super-light design comes with some durability caveats, so they're best employed for race day performance (but make sure to get some training in with them). We should also mention that those looking for zero-drop flats might find the higher heel-to-toe drop (10mm) a bit much, but their design makes them seem closer to zero-drop with minimal interference from the thicker heel. For runners looking for an awesome speedster to tear up the short- and mid-distance events, the Hyperion is an excellent starting point.
Read review: Brooks Hyperion
Best for Comfort
Brooks Ghost 12
Our Top Pick for Comfort goes to the Brooks Ghost 12. It's the full package of landing cushion, upper padding, and well-rounded performance. This is an all-around shoe that happens to also be one of the most comfortable options out there. It's probably best suited to longer, slower runs, but you can get away with taking it out for just about any running pursuit — even out on dodgy trails — without getting in too much trouble. Of course, that also means that it's a tougher shoe that can take some abuse, another pro in our book.
One draw-back to the Ghost is that it's maybe a little too cushy for some runners, making it a bit too slow for racing. It also doesn't have all the stability features you'd expect in a big Brooks model, and the toebox may be a little cramped for certain folks.
Read review: Brooks Ghost 12
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 before moving on to mud runs and half marathons in all sorts of footwear (even barefoot) and weather. His next ambition is to move to the marathon and ultra-marathon disciplines.
Ryan has lived, ridden, and run 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.
Our testers are running fiends, and they put each model through the paces to test their performance in a range of conditions and environments. We measured each shoe on our own scales, designed rigorous testing criteria, and then ran hundreds of miles in each model to tease out the differences between each. 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 PureFlow 7 represents a killer value and low price tag.
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.
To come up with the best running shoes, companies put tons into R&D, trying to innovate and find the next wonder material. There is a lot that goes into midsole materials, and some exciting new developments in the world of running shoe materials as a whole.
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 Air Zoom Vomero 14 as the most responsive in our current lineup, though a few other stability models, like the Brooks Glycerin 17, also do quite well. It's worth mentioning that the Pegasus 36, our Editors' Choice winner, also make it up here, without hitting the top. It's awesome, 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 the 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, 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.
Unsurprisingly, designs with more cushioning like the Brooks Glycerin 17 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 our measure. The secret is the embedded Zoom Air units across the entirety of the midsole.
We were extremely surprised by the landing 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. Its awesome CloudTec midsole has a lot of offer, and the individuated Cloud Elements comprised of hollow EVA structures cushions expertly. The difference in sensation can partially be 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 PureFlow 7. Take note, though; there is often a relationship between lighter designs and less durability since many models will sacrifice durability for weight.
The stripped-down Brooks Hyperion racing flat sits at 14.5 ounces, blowing the competition out of the water. Meanwhile, just behind at 17.8 ounces, sits the On Cloud X. Despite being heavier than the Hyperion, the Cloud X still sits in the upper tranche of super light speedsters.
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 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). However, taking note of the wear we observe through logging 15-plus miles in each pair, we can 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 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. However, durability is typically associated with the stability models. Unsurprisingly, stability models did well here. Because they are built to control motion and focus the gait cycle, they need to have reinforced designs. This often results in heavier, more resilient materials like thick, sturdy rubber, additional overlays, and thicker, coarser mesh and synthetics (usually a synthetic substitute for leather).
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 whether they are snug or roomy, the 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. Our Top Pick for Comfort, 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 Brooks Glycerin 17, a silky sockliner covers a pillowy tongue and collar to become one of the most comfortable kicks in our group. The primary difference between these and a lot of other big comfy models is their stability. The Glycerin is a purely plush model with less in the way of stability while other big plush models tend to be a little more structured and rigid.
After that, the PureFlow 7 (notice a Brooks trend?)) slides in as another of the most comfortable in the group, as does the Vomero 14 and Cloud X. The Vomero and Cloud X 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 Nike Pegasus 36 offers a similar feel, especially with its Flyknit upper that helps the shoe hug your foot, but 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. 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.
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 can cause chafing, blisters, foot fungus, and other 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 like to run through creeks, you might want to consider a waterproof Gore-Tex version if it's available. 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, however, we don't recommend Gore-Tex footwear unless you'll be running through rivers or heavy storms.
We gave the highest breathability ratings to the Brooks Hyperion, Nike Air Zoom Vomero 14, On Cloud X, and Brooks PureFlow 7, all of which 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.
We also want to make sure you're there with us as we go through our reviews, so we have another page set aside as a primer on running and how to determine whether you need trail shoes or road shoes and what type (maximalist, minimalist, racing flats, etc.)
As for the reviews of each tested model, we work hard to keep them objective, which is why we devised our 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