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These lightweight cushioned trainers balance a minimal feel with substantial foot support.
Admit it: You knew the paradigm shift to minimalist shoes wasn’t going to be as far-reaching or as long-lasting as it first appeared, right? Few, if any, of us could run more than once a week in low-to-the-ground, barely-there shoes without succumbing to excessive soreness or risking injury. The good news is that the minimalist revolution isn’t taking over the world after all. However, the “less is more” principle did serve a few purposes.
First, it allowed each of us to examine our own running form and how our gait reacts to different shoe types to find out what best suits our individual needs. Secondly, it allowed shoe designers to finally break free from 30 years of trying to put more features into shoes—a competitive process that typically made shoes heavier, more structured and less performance-oriented—and start from scratch with the aim of creating functional, lightweight training shoes, developing new assembly techniques, using new materials and, most of all, starting from the point of view of how a foot moves through the gait cycle.
This shoe roundup includes a broad range of lightweight training shoes that incorporate some of those modern elements while still offering cushioning and protection.
New Balance 1600
5.4 oz. (men’s); 4.7 oz. (women’s)
Fit: Testers confirm the 1600 is sleek and snug with a classic racing flat fit, providing exceptional foot hold for a variety of foot shapes. Its no-frills, low-volume interior doesn’t inhibit the foot in any way.
Feel: The shoe feels like it’s barely there, but still has enough cushioning to soften the blow of every step. It has a resilient feeling underfoot testers described as “not too soft, not too firm,” and a fairly flat profile (6mm heel-toe drop).
Ride: Our testers raved about the fluid ride this shoe produced, both for short-distance speedwork and longer race-paced runs. One tester called it “the best shoe I’ve had in a few years.” Although most considered it best for faster workouts and 5K races, a few of our testers considered it the consummate half-marathon shoe.
7.9 oz.; 6.8 oz.
Fit: With its narrow heel and slightly roomier forefoot, the Distance fits like a modernly appointed racing flat. Our wear-testers thought it provided exceptional heel-hold.
Feel: The first thing you’ll notice after stepping into any pair of Newtons is the unique lugs protruding from the forefoot. The lugs give the Distance a relatively flat profile (3mm drop), which helps promote foot strikes near the mid-foot. The Distance feels super-light, airy and enveloping thanks to a new upper that has enhanced comfort, fit and stability over its predecessor.
Ride: Although intended for a mid-foot and forefoot style of running, the forefoot lugs help generate forward propulsion for most gaits. It takes some getting used to, but one of the keys to finding the sweet spot, our testers said, is to run with a high cadence and light footsteps. The Distance is semi-firm, and our testers reported that relative stiffness contributes to the shoe’s responsiveness.
Zoot TT Trainer
10.4 oz.; 9.3 oz.
Fit: The TT Trainer has a super-snug fit from heel to forefoot, with just enough room for the toes to wiggle. An interior bootie construction, quick-pull tongue and one-pull lacing system add to the ease of entry and snug fit.
Feel: The interior bootie creates a form-fitting, wrap-like feel, which not only makes it very comfortable without socks, it also allows the shoe to feel and run lighter and more nimbly than most shoes in its weight class.
Ride: A bit less flexible but also slightly more supportive than other neutral cushioned shoes in this review, the TT Trainer serves up a semi-firm, responsive ride. Our testers reported it providing an absorbent, stable feeling that is best for moderate to slower training runs.
Reebok RealFlex Flight
10 oz.; 8 oz.
Fit: The airy upper serves up a snug fit from heel to toe, with a smidge of extra room in the toe box. Our testers said the soft, seamless interior and reinforced micromesh upper provide reliable hold to a wide variety of foot shapes.
Feel: Stepping into this shoe reveals its somewhat split personality. Although it has a rather robust, supportive rear-foot section, its snug fit and low-to-the-ground forefoot give the Flight a natural, agile feel.
Ride: With the unique blend of rear-foot support and the multi-directional flexibility in the low-slung forefoot, the Flight offers up both a stable and dynamic ride. “It provides the right amount of stability while allowing for a free-flowing cadence that makes for an enjoyable run,” reported one tester. Our test team was unanimous in thinking the shoe ran lighter than it felt.
Mizuno Wave Precision 13
9.6 oz.; 8.0 oz.
Fit: A traditional fit—snug in the heel and mid-foot and a tad roomier in the forefoot—has been enhanced by a redesigned open mesh upper with a lower heel collar, greater foot-to-ground proprioception and long-wearing comfort.
Feel: The Precision 13 has a step-in feel that inspires good form and fast running. One tester called the shoe “perfect for fast sessions on the roads and tempo runs.” It’s lighter than most of its mid-range contemporaries in the neutral cushioned category, although still not super-light.
Ride: Because the Precision 13 is smartly proportioned with the right amount of cushioning relative to the weight of the shoe, it runs light and feels comfortably smooth at all speeds. The shoe’s propensity for heel striking, due to its surprisingly high heel height, was the only drawback some of our wear-testers found.
Puma Faas 350
8.6 oz.; 7.2 oz.
Fit: Fit in the heel and mid-foot is close and cozy, with a semi-loose toe box. Testers raved about the seamless interior and step-in softness, but a few thought the shoe was a bit sloppy in the rear with the absence of a heel counter.
Feel: Low to the ground but still well-cushioned, the Faas 350 feels like a cross between a racing flat and a lightly cushioned neutral trainer. The cushioning (which is more spongy than springy) offers enough softness and protection without interfering with the foot’s connection to the ground. However, two testers complained that their feet felt hot when running in warmer conditions.
Ride: One of the most flexible, agile shoes in the bunch, testers raved about its low-profile forefoot, responsiveness and quick heel-toe transition despite the dramatic heel-toe drop (13mm). Even with the built-up heel, our testers still found it suitable for up-tempo training runs and race-pace workouts—and several said they’d be eager to race in it.
9.6 oz.; 7.3 oz.
Fit: This shoe offers a race-ready fit with a traditional low-volume cut that creates snugness from heel to toe. The soft, semi-gussetted tongue and exoskeletal micromesh add to the secure feeling in the mid-foot/arch area.
Feel: This shoe feels light and energetic, thanks in part to superior flexibility, a semi-soft midsole and level, low-to-the-ground construction. Our testers raved about how the fit connected the foot to the shoe, which in turn promoted a strong sense of connection to the ground.The midsole is reinforced by a carbon fiber plate, which adds a bit of stability without inhibiting the flex or adding weight.
Ride: The ride is fast, light, smooth and surprisingly stable. Those qualities combined to make it versatile enough for all types of uptempo running, including speed workouts, tempos, fartleks, and short- and long-distance racing.
Asics Gel-Blur 33 2.0
10.5 oz.; 8.5 oz.
Fit: The interior is comfortable and soft with a slightly wider fit than most shoes, especially in the toe box. It’s not loose or sloppy, but it’s not as locked-down tight in the heel or mid-foot as some of the other models tested.
Feel: This “cushioned yet responsive” neutral trainer is fairly flexible and soft throughout. It is also moderately high off the ground with a robust heel-toe drop of 11mm that is well suited to heel strikers and runners acclimating to minimalist shoes.
Ride: The Blur 33 offers a bit more support than most lighter cushioned trainers. “It’s a good choice for someone who wants a flexible, lightweight shoe but needs more support than some of these options provide,” said one tester.
Skechers Go Bionic
6.1 oz.; 5.0 oz.
Fit: A relaxed, semi-snug fit in the heel and mid-foot gives way to a liberatingly open forefoot. The upper is thin, conforming and mostly seamless, although our testers reported it was not quite as ventilated and breathable as some of the others in this review.
Feel: This true minimalist shoe feels decidedly light and supple. It has a zero-drop profile, no arch support and a “barely there” aura, enabling a runner to easily feel and react to the ground. The pliable and completely unstructured midsole offers maximum flexibility and natural foot movement, but demands the runner possess a decent level of strength and agility.
Ride: With no heel counter and little cushioning, the Go Bionic encourages a nimble mid-foot gait pattern with a quick cadence. “A perfect shoe to adapt to true minimalism” said a tester, but not so ideal for anyone needing stability or support.
Adidas AdiPure Motion
7.2 oz.; 6.1 oz.
Fit: This low-volume, low-to-the-ground training model comfortably wraps around every part of the foot. It’s reliably snug in the heel and mid-foot, and has an elastic upper that secures the forefoot while still giving toes a little bit of horizontal wiggle room. (Our testers almost unanimously suggested it felt better barefoot than with socks.)
Feel: This is exactly what a functional minimalist shoe should be: lightweight and low-to-the-ground, with a good combination of semi-firm cushioning and protection. It allows a runner to feel enough of the ground to cue good form but not enough to let a stray pebble shoot into your foot.
Ride: Infinitely flexible and completely unstructured aside from a dual-density midsole, this shoe moves with your foot through the gait cycle. “It was light and flexible, and performed well during short, fast training runs,” reported one tester. There is plenty of cushioning for heel strikers, but it seems to flow better with lighter foot strikes.
10.4 oz.; 8.7 oz.
Fit: The fit is generous to accommodate wider feet and a variety of foot shapes. The wrap-like functionality of the upper helps snug the foot down at the mid-foot, but the toe box is decidedly roomy. (Our testers generally felt the shoes ran a half-size large.)
Feel: Softly cushioned (especially in the heel) but not marshmallow-like, the Forward3 feels fairly light, airy and dramatically forward-leaning. Testers reported they had to “force themselves” to use a mid-foot gait to run comfortably in the Forward3.
Ride: There’s a unique feeling of forward propulsion created by the hard plastic lever structure imbedded in the midsole under the arch. The ride was smooth, natural, responsive, fast and self-perpetuating. On the contrary, wear-testers said heavy heel-striking in this shoe (in other words, landing behind the tipping point of the plastic levering wedge) created an awkward gait without any forward roll.
Nike LunarGlide 4
9.5 oz.; 7.5 oz.
Fit: Like previous versions, this LunarGlide serves up a plush, wrap-like fit all around. The flexible mesh upper is both snug and forgiving, allowing it to offer consistent hold while letting the toes move and flex naturally and comfortably.
Feel: This shoe is decidedly high off the ground with a very soft, cushioned feeling underfoot. It’s light enough that it doesn’t feel too bulky, but it’s not a shoe for agility or precise proprioceptive interaction between foot and ground. Some testers reported the absorbent sole has a “dampening effect.”
Ride: This shoe offers a nice blend of free-flowing smoothness and subtle support. Several testers remarked at the shoe’s effortless transitions while rolling from heel to forefoot, but many also suggested the thick, cushy material underfoot kept it from being very responsive or suitable for running at faster speeds.
Saucony Ride 5
9.8 oz.; 8.6 oz.
Fit: Like many sturdy trainers, the Ride 5 has adopted the versatile fit style introduced by minimalist shoes. Testers found it “roomy in the toes and snug around the heel.” It has a soft and comfortable interior, but it’s not overly plush.
Feel: This lighter version of the Ride feels light, soft and flexible. Although it is sufficiently cushioned, it doesn’t feel high off the ground or bulky, thanks in part to its 8mm heel-toe differential, which is especially low for a shoe with this much support. Saucony’s removal of unnecessary add-ons enhances the shoe’s free-flowing feel.
Ride: This shoe serves up a balanced and responsive ride that is also surprisingly stable. It has exceptional smoothness while rolling through a stride from touchdown to toe-off. Our testers raved about it as a high-mileage everyday trainer, and a few said they’d even consider racing long distances in it.
Brooks Glycerin 10
12.5 oz.; 10.5 oz.
Fit: The plush interior foam and wrap-like upper helps create a super-snug fit in the heel and mid-foot, while the toe box offers just enough wiggle room as your toes splay out from impact to toe-off. One experienced wear tester called it “the most comfortable shoe right out of the box that I’ve ever had.”
Feel: The sole is more cushy and comfy than a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers, but not to the point of interfering with performance. It doesn’t allow much of a proprioceptive connection with the ground and tips the scales on the heavier side, but our testers said it runs considerably lighter than it weighs.
Ride: It feels buttery smooth no matter where or how hard your foot strikes the ground. Our testers found these shoes best for long runs at slow to moderate paces, and especially beneficial to high-impact runners.