For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
As you’re logging miles this winter to build the foundation for next season, make sure you have the shoes to match up with each important workout on your schedule — whether it’s on trails, through snow or on pavement. To guide your search, we recruited a diverse crew of wear testers — ranging from experienced runners to novices — to put this wide range of footwear through the paces.
Adidas AdiZero Adios Boost
A classic low-to-the-ground racing flat with high-tech midsole foam, the AdiZero Adios Boost definitely has a speedy demeanor. It’s crazy light and has a low-profile sole similar to previous Adios models, but it also has a mild springy feel underfoot. That’s because it features Adidas’ responsive new Boost foam, which offers resilience and energy return that our testers said contributed to their forward momentum. Although it has a 9mm heel-toe drop and a modest crash pad in the heel, there’s not much cushioning in the forefoot, which is why our testers felt it was best for shorter road races, speed workouts and possibly sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons.
8.0 oz. (men’s), 6.4 oz. (women’s)
Pearl Izumi Road N2
Versatility is the hallmark of this energetic neutral-cushioned shoe. It has ample cushioning and enough protection for long, slow training runs, but its responsive midsole gives it a peppy feel for faster workouts or races. A midrange 9mm heel-toe drop and a seamless upper that conforms to and moves with a runner’s foot add to the N2’s smooth-riding quality at any pace. Summed up one tester: “I really liked the light feel, the flexibility in the N2, yet I still felt protected.” (The similarly equipped EM Tri N2 shoe, $125, is a triathlon-specific racer built with a quick-lace system and an airy open mesh upper that helps encourage drainage and evaporation of sweat and water.)
9.6 oz. (men’s), 8.1 oz. (women’s)
Nike Free FlyKnit+
Nike has taken big steps to adapt its natural motion Free running shoes with an upper as snug and comfortable as a sock — a rather sturdy one. Yes, the company’s been down that road before with a variety of shoes in the 1980s and early 1990s. But new technologies and materials (and several years of R&D and 17 rounds of prototypes) give the Free Flyknit+ a soft, conforming feel that is mated to the über-flexible undercarriage of the standard Free 5.0. In combination, it wears like a dreamy extension of your foot. It has a modern 9mm heel-toe drop and the agility of a triathlon race shoe.
6.8 oz. (men’s), 5.4 oz. (women’s)
Road Shoes (Cont.)
Simultaneously lightweight and protective, this race-day triathlon shoe has been designed with minimalist traits while still offering a reasonable amount of cushioning. Like all Altra shoes, it’s built with a “zero-drop” profile (meaning a runner’s foot sits level with the ground) and offers plenty of “feel” for the road. It serves up a smooth ride without the pounding common to most “barely there” shoes. The lightweight and very breathable upper is secured with one-pull, elastic quick laces for an easy-on experience in T2, while the midsole has drain holes in the heel and forefoot. Efficient runners will reap the most benefit from this shoe’s unique design features and low-profile construction. An added bonus is a removable stability wedge that offers additional medial support with 5mm of additional foam.
8.2 oz. (men’s), 6.4 oz. (women’s)
Inov-8 Road X-Treme 208 (X-Treme 188 for women)
This trainer feels light and fast from the moment you lace it up. It has an easy-flexing quality that moves with the natural motion of the foot. In other words, it doesn’t get in the way of the runner’s stride. The low-profile design and modest and effective undercarriage promote speed and good form. Testers praised the cushioning for blending soft comfort and responsive firmness. It’s a versatile shoe that can be used as an everyday trainer for efficient, nimble runners or a speed specialist for faster-paced workouts and progression runs.
8.3 oz. (men’s), 6.9 oz. (women’s)
Picking up where Mizuno’s successful Precision shoe left off, the Sayonara offers an awe-inspiring combination of speed, comfort and protection. It has just enough foam to feel like a cushioned shoe with a minimal amount of structure that offers guidance on longer runs. The Sayonara exudes uptempo performance and versatility. With a lightweight, low-to-the-ground design and extreme flexibility, it felt fast, semi-firm and very dynamic. A few testers thought it felt too firm for longer runs, but still appreciated its versatility for a variety of runs.
8.1 oz. (men’s), 6.3 oz. (women’s)
Road Shoes (Cont.)
Newton Energy NR
A lightweight trainer for runners who predominantly heel-strike, the Energy NR is meant to ease the transition between more traditionally designed trainers and other Newton models. If you have run in any other pair of Newtons, you’ll notice a decidedly different sensation in the forefoot due to the reduced lugs, which protrude less than previous models. Our wear-testers, including those who hadn’t run in Newtons before, felt the Energy NR served up a smooth and agile ride that has ample cushioning for long runs and plenty of pep for speedier efforts, too. The soft-but-firm feel and the 2mm heel-toe drop — which is lower than most of the Newton lines — gives it a much more minimalist feeling than other Newton models.
9.0 oz. (men’s), 7.4 oz. (women’s)
Under Armour SpeedForm
Just glance at the SpeedForm, and you can tell it’s unique. But more compelling than the aesthetics is how the shoe fits. The SpeedForm’s stitch-free upper wraps a runner’s foot like a glove, starting with a snug, seamless heel cup and a secure mid-foot saddle connection. On the run, it feels fast, flexible, light and responsive. The foam midsole provides plenty of cushioning and energy return while still offering a feel-the-ground sensation.
6.0 oz. (men’s), 5.1 oz. (women’s)
Scott T2C Evo
This is a shoe with a split personality, and in this case that’s a very good thing. “It’s almost too good to be true — all shoes should be this versatile,” one tester remarked. The T2C is cushioned enough to be an everyday trainer and light and zippy enough to be a speed workout shoe (tempos, intervals, fartleks) or a long-distance race shoe. The catalyst behind the dual-purpose functionality is its super-light and resilient AeroFoam in the midsole. There is ample cushioning in the heel, but it’s rather low to the ground in the forefoot (it has a 10mm heel-toe drop). A quicker cadence seems to come naturally due to the slightly rockered shape of the sole. The foot is comfortably supported by the closed-mesh upper with subtle reinforcements that still maintain flexibility. These features all contribute to great versatility and the ability for the T2C Evo to be the only shoe in a budget-minded athlete’s quiver.
8.8 oz. (men’s), 7.5 oz. (women’s)
Road Shoes (Cont.)
Brooks Glycerin 11
A heaping quantity of buttery-soft materials underfoot give this premium neutral cushioned shoe a “floaty” sensation out on the roads. The significant updates include a lighter, more flexible and more agile makeup, which is partially due to the removal of a plastic mid-foot shank. Aside from the cloudlike sensation, testers also raved about its foot-conforming fit. “If you want high comfort and lots of cushioning, this is an ideal choice,” said one tester. Most of our reviewers categorized the Glycerin as a long-distance trainer or for post-race recovery runs, but all agreed it’s just too much shoe to make it appropriate for fast running.
11.7 oz. (men’s), 9.6 oz. (women’s)
New Balance 1260 v3
All hints of bulkiness have been taken out of this stability shoe. The third version offers a plush ride, great support and long-wearing comfort. It’s lighter, more flexible and less firm than the v2, resulting in an agile feeling as opposed to clunky. It’s a shoe designed for larger runners or those who need significant support to combat overpronation. Several wear-testers commented on the luxurious forefoot cushioning, something that many stability shoes fail to deliver. But the best aspect is the comfort factor. “I don’t realize that I’m wearing them, which is what I always want my shoes to feel like,” said one of our wear-testers, who has been training in stability shoes for more than a decade.
10.9 oz. (men’s), 8.4 oz. (women’s)
Saucony Ride 6
A few improvements to Saucony’s flagship neutral cushioned trainer make it more flexible and agile than its predecessor. Most notably it has a plusher midsole and deeper flex grooves — changes that make it feel smoother and lighter, and aspects our testers raved about after long weekend training runs. It has midrange stats for heel-toe drop (8mm), but still offers decent foot-to-ground connectivity. All of that combined produces a vibrant, nimble feeling but with plenty of support and the comfort you’d want out of a high-mileage cushioned trainer. A few of our wear-testers thought this shoe could double as a long-distance racer, but most said they would prefer to use the Ride as a trainer.
9.6 oz. (men’s), 7.1 oz. (women’s)
Mizuno Ascend 8
Built on the well-cushioned sole of a premium road running shoe, the Ascend offers up a smooth, soft ride on dirt roads with a semi-aggressive, outsole capable of tackling milder off-road terrain. The biggest change to this edition is a new upper configuration. It features a more breathable mesh with subtle overlay supports to dial in fit for a variety of foot shapes. There is minimal protection against trail obstacles, although Mizuno’s Wave insert from the heel to mid-foot doubles as a rock guard. It’s far from being a lightweight shoe, and its traditional heel-toe drop (11mm) and high-off-the-ground design limit the Ascend’s agility.
11.2 oz. (men’s), 9.2 oz. (women’s)
Saucony Xodus 4
Aggressively tooled and built for technical terrain, the Xodus 4.0 meets off-road requirements yet is also sublimely comfortable. All discussions about this shoe should begin with the aggressive tread of the Vibram rubber outsole, which combines softer and firmer densities of rubber for control, grip and technical agility on varying terrain features. The shoe is built on a supportive and somewhat stiff chassis with a 4mm heel-toe drop that aids in stability but detracts a bit from its overall flexibility and performance at faster speeds. A pliable midsole rock plate, reinforced toe cap and abrasion-resistant upper materials offer smart protection against the natural elements on the trail, while a thick layer of soft cushioning gives it a smooth ride even on hard-packed dirt trails and gravel roads. Said one tester: “The traction is great and the lift that you get from the sole is a great height — it’s not so high that I’m concerned about rolling my ankle on every rock but high enough to keep the upper out of the mud and shallow wet areas.”
10.7 oz. (men’s), 9.0 oz. (women’s)
The North Face Single-Track Hyasa II
Athletes who often head out the door, run over pavement and finish on trail will love the updated Hyasa II. It has a thin, flexible rock plate that is limber enough to perform well on smooth trail and pavement, which makes for a dual-purpose shoe but one that is less suited to gnarly technical terrain. Despite the 9mm heel-toe drop, it still feels fairly low to the ground, and the new cushioning package is much more responsive and lively than in the first Hyasa. The low-profile lugs are not particularly knobby, though the rubber compounds allow for reliable traction on most surfaces. Although a few wear-testers thought the Hyasa II was a bit too narrow, most liked the fit and thought it was enhanced by the fully gusseted tongue. A well-balanced platform, reinforced heel cup and a foot-hugging upper give it just enough stability and support for longer runs.
9.1 oz. (men’s), 7.4 oz. (women’s)
After years of tweaking road shoes for trail use, Nike is back in the game with a purpose-built off-road shoe, the light and agile Wildhorse. It has ample amounts of cushioning in the heel, a super-flexible forefoot and a dynamic upper that wraps the foot under the arch to create a near-custom fit, even for wider feet. Our testers loved the smooth ride and low-to-the-ground feeling of the Wildhorse’s 4mm heel-toe drop on a variety of surfaces, including paved roads, gravel roads, soft dirt trails and even moderately technical trails. However, the lack of underfoot protection keep it from thriving over technical trails with roots, rocks and other obstacles.
8.4 oz. (men’s), 7.2 oz. (women’s)
Skechers GObionic Trail
Infinitely flexible like Skechers’ road running models, the GObionic Trail feels like a road racing flat that’s been beefed up with a mildly luggy outsole. It has a minimalist-inspired 4mm drop, but can be converted to a zero-drop platform by removing the built-up insole. Said one wear-tester: “It’s not the most rugged trail shoe, but a nice lightweight option for going off-road. I like how flexible and free it feels.” This shoe is versatile enough to log long miles on roads, gravel trails, dirt roads and gentle rollers with an energetic, easy-striding ride but enough trail-specific features to run nimbly on mildly rugged terrain, too. It has a super-bendable outsole supported by a thick, flexible rock plate and a slightly reinforced toe for basic protection from the occasional scrape and scuff.
8.0 oz. (men’s), 6.8 oz. (women’s)
Follow Triathlete on Twitter @Triathletemag for inspiration, new workout ideas, gear reviews from our editors and more.