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Triathlete’s Fall 2021 Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide

Run your way to a PR this off-season with the help of our run shoe guide.

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Fall is the perfect time for some run-specific fun—increasing your mileage, focusing on your form, and even venturing off-road for some trail adventures. We had all of this—and more—in mind as we tested the 15 shoes below, which span the run-shoe spectrum from maximalist to lightweight super shoes to heavy-hitting trail options. We’ve covered at least 50 miles in every pair, literally putting them through their paces on trails, pavement, track, and treadmill to bring you this comprehensive guide for your fall running needs.

Before you dive into the details of the fall favorites, make sure you understand the role stack height and cushioning play (to varying degrees) in modern running shoes. And then read on to get run ready.

RELATED: Ask a Gear Guru: When Should I Replace My Running Shoes?

Adidas Ultra 4D 5.0
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Adidas Ultra 4D 5.0

Sleek and comfortable, the Adidas Ultra 4D 5.0 is a different-looking shoe, with its open lattice midsole that’s designed to provide greater cushioning and responsiveness. The result helps put a spring in your step, but it doesn’t feel hugely durable or supportive.

Weight: 13 oz (M); 13 oz (W)
Stack Height: 32.75 mm/24.25 mm
Price: $200
Cushioning: ★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: A performance shoe that is breathable and lightweight.

Impressions: There’s something just a little too fragile about the ground feel of these shoes that stops us from wanting to run too far or too fast in them. While they’re undoubtedly comfortable, we’re not entirely sure they’ll be the most durable shoe in your run shoe collection this fall. 

Brooks Glycerin GTS 19
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Brooks Glycerin GTS 19

This is a well-cushioned and comfortable run shoe that feels lighter than it is. What these shoes lack in responsiveness they certainly make up for with fit, comfort, and stability.

Weight: 9.4 oz (M); 9.4 oz (W)
Stack Height: 38 mm/28 mm
Price: $150
Cushioning: ★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: You’ll notice how well-cushioned these are from the first step, and that translates into a super smooth ride, from toe-off to foot strike.

Impressions: These shoes lack ground feel and snappiness, so don’t reach for them when it comes to a tempo run or track workout, but they definitely deliver for simple miles and provide a good fit with plenty of comfort and support.

Sketchers GORun Razor Excess
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Skechers GORun Razor Excess

The GORun Razor Excess feels so lightweight it’s almost like you’re putting on slippers. They are nimble, responsive, and have excellent ground feel—but don’t bank on their durability.

Weight: 7.2 oz (M); 5.7 oz (W)
Stack Height: 30 mm/26 mm
Price: $140
Cushioning: ★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: A nimble, neutral road running shoe that’s great for speed and tempo run days: simple, lightweight, fast.

Impressions: These shoes are a lot of fun to run in, especially on days when your legs are feeling fast—the Razor Excess will match you. Not really a longer-run shoe option, especially for the injury prone.

 

Puma Deviate Nitro
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Puma Deviate Nitro

The Deviate Nitro is a high-performance shoe that is fast and snappy, but not the most comfortable. Best used for shorter road runs and speed workouts. These took us a while to break in.

Weight: 7.7 oz (M); 7.7 oz (W)
Stack Height: 36 mm/28 mm
Price: $160
Cushioning: ★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: The Deviate Nitros are lightweight with moderate cushioning.

Impressions: We found the ride of the midsole to be a little harsh in these shoes, especially on the first few runs. The fit and feel of the mesh upper and gusseted tongue helps with support and stability, but we were surprised to get heel chafing from the high-rising heel tab.

Asics Nimbus Lite 2
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Asics Nimbus Lite 2

This is a well-cushioned shoe that’s as comfortable as it is versatile. We’ve used these on the road and on trails, and they perform well across the board. They offer a decent level of support through the midsole and upper and after 150+ miles logged appear to be highly durable too.

Weight: 9.1 oz (M); 7.8 oz (W)
Stack Height: 31 mm/23 mm
Price: $150
Cushioning: ★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★★

Basics: These have superior support, comfort, and versatility—a good all-around option.

Impressions: We’ve used these for plenty of steady, aerobic runs as they’re extremely comfortable and cope well with all kinds of terrain. Definitely more of a trusty easy run shoe than they are a snappy speed option.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

NB FuelCell RC Elite v2

This is a super snappy speed shoe that delivers great comfort, cushioning, and performance. These receive top marks for fit and feel, with a carbon plate that offers good energy return and gentle propulsion—one of our favorite shoes on test. Fun fact: we used these shoes for a spontaneous swim-run adventure in California this summer and they performed remarkably well!

Weight: 9.5 oz (M); 6.5 oz (W)
Stack Height: 39 mm/31 mm
Price: $225
Cushioning: ★★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★★★

Basics: Comfortable and well-cushioned, this shoe still feels performance-oriented and the carbon plate provides just the right amount of propulsion.

Impressions: While some carbon-plated shoes can feel too aggressive when it comes to rocker capabilities, these shoes perfectly blend performance with comfort: you can feel their benefits while also enjoying plenty of road feel, and the lace structure/upper gives good support. A reliable shoe that we keep coming back to.

Nike Pegasus 38
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Nike Pegasus 38

The Pegasus 38 is a plush, well-cushioned shoe that never fails to put a pep in your step while also offering plenty of support and durability. This is not a lightweight, über-performance shoe, but it’s perfectly versatile for easy aerobic runs and, at a push, tempo runs.

Weight: 9.2 oz (M); 8.9 oz (W)
Stack Height: 24 mm/14 mm
Price: $120
Cushioning: ★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★★

Basics: Comfortable and supportive with a tough and durable outsole, if you’re looking for a shoe that you can use for a range of runs, then you won’t be disappointed with the versatility of the Pegasus 38.

Impressions: If you have wider feet or prefer a roomier toebox, then these shoes likely aren’t for you, especially when running in warmer conditions.

On Cloudboom Echo
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

On Cloudboom Echo

These shoes scream performance and, if you’re anything like us, will have you bouncing out the door to chase your next PR. Designed for fast marathons and road races over 10K, the On Cloudboom Echo feels ridiculously lightweight, responsive, minimalist yet supportive. An absolute pleasure to run in with a rocker that delivers just the right amount of energy return.

Weight: 6.7 oz (M); 6.7 oz (W)
Stack Height: 35 mm/27 mm
Price: $270
Cushioning: ★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★★
Rocker: ★★★★

Basics: This is an extremely comfortable carbon-plated speed shoe that offers moderate cushioning and solid support, and great energy return and responsiveness. Intelligently designed and made.

Impressions: These shoes are unabashedly fast. They offer slipper-like comfort and fit, while also giving fantastic road feel and responsiveness. The carbon plate gives superb energy return, helping you run well and feel smooth without being too aggressive. Another favorite feature worth mentioning is the minimalist mesh upper, which help make these shoes feel like a serious racing flat—even though they’re designed with long runs in mind.

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max

(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max

The Trailfly Ultra is a truly versatile trail shoe that also performs well on the road too. The G-FLY (graphene-enhanced) midsole delivers surprisingly good energy return—especially for a trail shoe—which combined with excellent support and traction makes this a smart choice for long runs on or off-road.

Weight: 10.5 oz (M); 10.5 oz (W)
Stack Height: 25 mm/19 mm
Price: $190
Cushioning: ★★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: Well-cushioned and extremely comfortable with solid support, this is a shoe that really pays dividends on trails. An impressive amount of spring and road feel for a trail shoe, too.

Impressions: We’ve worn these for longer runs of 20+ miles on all kinds of terrain and they deliver a smooth and stable ride, even on muddy, rocky trails. The cushioning and versatility of these shoes will have you reaching for them time and again. The bright green colorway isn’t for everyone, though, and they do come up about a half-size small compared to regular sizing. Brooks Cascadia 16

(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Brooks Cascadia 16

As with the Inov-8 shoes, the Cascadia 16s are a beast of a trail shoe that you can pull on for almost any adventure, and your feet will thank you for it. We’ve worn these for epic runs of all kinds (including water crossings and mudfests), and they offer nothing but comfort, protection, and durability.

Weight: 10.6 oz (M); 9.5 oz (W)
Stack Height: 33 mm/25 mm
Price: $130
Cushioning: ★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★

Basics: These shoes offer great comfort and good road feel (for a trail shoe), while also providing solid traction and support.

Impressions: There are few trail shoes you can wear that help keep you upright and stable off-road, yet are nimble and light enough for the road. We’ve put these shoes through just about every adventure you can think of and they’re still ready and waiting for more.  

Hoka Mach 4
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

HOKA Mach 4

The fourth version of these responsive and highly cushioned trainers now incorporate “Intelligent Cushioning” in the springy, energetic midsole, with a rocker shape that makes for smooth recovery runs.

Weight: 8.6 oz (M) 7.1 oz (W)
Stack Height: 35 mm/30 mm
Price: $130
Cushioning: ★★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★
Rocker: ★★★★★

Basics: Riding the thin line between cushion and resilience, the now-lighter Mach features a new midsole foam that is softer and less firm than earlier models. The revamped upper includes a reconstructed collar to relieve Achilles pressure.

Impressions: These lightweight trainers feature airy uppers, albeit with too-long laces, a wide toe box, and a secure foothold. With a rather pronounced rocker, the heel-to-toe transition is fluid.

Mizuno Wave Inspire 17
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Mizuno Wave Inspire 17

For those seeking a stable, foot-guiding ride, the Wave Inspire steps in with a variety of upgrades, including a heel wedge, strategically-placed flex grooves, and a well-cushioned midsole. The mesh upper is comfortable and locks the foot down to match the midsole’s motion-controlling qualities.

Weight: 11.3 oz (M) 9.3 oz (W)
Stack Height: 36 mm/26 mm
Price: $135
Cushioning: ★★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: With lots of technology woven into it, the Wave Inspire 17 still boils down to a stable, smooth ride. This shoe accommodates a wide variety of runners but is especially helpful to those prone to losing form later in their runs, when a little mechanical assistance increases your efficiency. 

Impressions: With old-school heft and heel-toe differential, the Wave Inspire 17 runs like shoes of the past, only with updated technologies that provide welcome guidance for overpronators, in a non-intrusive, plush way.

Altra Rivera
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Altra Rivera

New to Altra’s lineup, sitting between the Escalante and the Torin, this is a natural-running uptempo trainer or a 10K-to-half-marathon racer that is equally responsive and cushioned for those who prefer a flexible feel that moves with your foot.

Weight: 8.2 oz (M) 6.9 oz (W)
Stack Height: 28mm/28mm
Price: $130
Cushioning: ★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★★★
Rocker: ★★

Basics: This shoe has a low-profile, natural feel without insulting your feet by depriving them of comfort and response—exactly what minimalism should be.

Impressions: These boast simplicity for natural running without compromising performance or comfort with a ride that really resonates with efficient runners. Altra stripped away all that is superfluous, leaving only what you need with a neutral, lightweight, stable platform.

Reebok FloatRide Energy Symmetros
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Reebok FloatRide Energy Symmetros

The magic is in the midsole of these highly resilient, almost bouncy trainers as they compress down and rebound for a responsive ride. Light in weight, the upper doesn’t skimp on comfort or hold as the mesh gently holds the foot in place. 

Weight: 8.6 oz (M) 6.7 oz (W)
Stack Height: 24 mm/14 mm
Price: $130
Cushioning: ★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: The 3D-molded heel counter holds the foot securely in place while the Floatride Energy Foam enhances the pace, putting some excitement into tempo training and long runs in these neutral trainers.

Impressions: The midsole comes close to bottoming out for heavier-footed runners or those who land primarily on a concentrated part of their feet but the bounce-back action is somewhat immediate so the resilience of the Symmetros just takes some preliminary miles to break in and then you’ll want to let them rip.

On Cloudultra
(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

On Cloudultra

The gravel grinder of run shoes, these hybrid cruisers do well on and off roads with efficiency, yet they’re a soft enough ride that they roll over smooth and rough terrain with ease. Using two layers of On’s CloudTec and Helion superfoam to absorb underfoot protrusions and rebound with some pop, the Cloudultra is well suited for long runs on mixed surfaces.

Weight: 10.4 oz (M) 8.6 oz (W)
Stack Height: 22 mm/15 mm
Price: $180
Cushioning: ★★★★
Responsiveness: ★★★★
Ground Feel: ★★★
Rocker: ★★★

Basics: The new “FlipRelease” system allows you to snug things down or release for more toe room with a quick twist of the lacing.

Impressions: The upper is better suited for cooler climes, as the booty-type sleeve holds in warmth but also keeps dirt and debris from getting in. The thin laces slide through the lace loops to allow for an adapted fit that moves with your foot. The outsole is un-On-like in a welcome way: It doesn’t collect or retain small stones and gravel.

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