There’s no such thing as the perfect running shoe. When it comes to running, all sorts of things come into play – your biomechanics, your weight, the surface you run on and the shape of your feet, meaning no one shoe will suit every kind of runner.
Yet there are shoes that stand out from the crowd. To help you find your perfect shoe and get a sense of how brand updates may change how your favourite trainer fits or performs, we review hundreds of shoes each year.
To find the best running trainers for 2018, we’ve put the following shoes through their paces in vigorous testing, both on the road, and in the Runner’s World lab in Oregon. Once the wear-test and lab-test results are in, we crunch the data to work out which models are worthy of a place on this list and which are best for the type of runner you are.
How to choose the perfect running shoe
Each shoe on the list below was chosen due to its high overall performance scores, but we also looked at three important categories that should help you find the best model for you:
Weight: Lighter shoes typically have less cushioning, which can make them feel faster. That said, if you’re going long distances, the extra cushioning of a heavier shoe might be a better option.
Drop: A shoe’s drop is the difference between the heel and forefoot measurements, or in simple terms, how much your toes drop below your heel. A higher drop can lead to more heel striking. Most shoes have a drop between 8 and 12 millimetres, some shoes have less than 6mm and a few minimalist designs have zero drop.
Cushioning: Cushioning provides impact absorption. In the lab, we looked at cushioning measurements in the heel and forefoot, to give you an idea of the overall cushioning in each shore.
The best running shoes 2018
The following running shoes stood out from the rest, and are our best buys for 2018:
This is one of the top sellers in the Brooks range. The updated version of the trainer features a more durable outsole rubber, fewer seams, a revamped stability feature to provide slightly more support with less weight, and more modern aesthetics, all of which combined to ensure this was one of the top-rated shoes. Testers found it was highly versatile and reported fantastic levels of comfort, speed and reliability on everything from speed sessions through to 20-mile runs. A very well-executed update, to an already impressive shoe.
Designed to be a mass-appeal, utility model for all distances, there’s no doubt the Hovr Sonic is well-cushioned, has a durable outsole and a simple outline that will handle both long runs as well as fast, short sessions, and a rock-solid heel fit. However, some testers complained about the lack of support around the ankle and found the mesh upper far too open.
The Salomon Sonic RA was rated highly by our testers, who thoroughly enjoyed wearing it, but were unsure why – a range of runners, from big to super-slim, just found it comfortable and non-intrusive. In our book, if you don’t notice a shoe while it’s on that’s normally a sign that the brand has done its job correctly. It’s also very durable: a couple of ultrarunners clocked some serious mileage in them and reported barely any wear to the outsole or midsole.
Another great shoe from the rapidly growing Swiss brand. The best way to sum up the Cloudflyer is that it closely resembles in its performance the Saucony Kinvara – by this we mean it hits the middle spot in a Venn diagram of flexibility, comfort and speed. The high price will turn out to be good value for money, since every one of our testers found it did the job just as well for speed sessions as it did for longer, slower runs. A multi-faceted, highly reliable option for all except wide-footed runners.
This Chinese brand is one of a number of companies who are disrupting the traditional running shoe market right now. 361°’s offering is well-suited for bigger runners – the durability and comforting sense of heft (despite the low weight) all helped to make long runs a niggle-free and comfortable experiences time after time. However, both lab and wear testers reported a lack of responsiveness, meaning it felt sluggish on tempo-paced runs and faster. Solid and reliable, but not adaptable.
Winner of our Runner’s World Editor’s Choice award, for 20 years, the Gel Nimbus has been a plush, comfortable, premium neutral cushioning shoe with a slim fit. Asics took a slight risk by making a few changes to a shoe that has a fiercely loyal following, but they’ve paid off. The new gel is designed to provide more cushioning as your feet fatigue, and the fit around the midfoot has been tweaked, meaning you don’t have to pull the laces super tight to get a secure fit. Finally, the new 3D printed mesh upper was noticeably better at moving with, rather than holding in, your foot. Everyone who wore this shoe loved it.
The Spinject is a lightweight, neutral shoe that avoided offending any of our testers, who praised the cushioning, support and midfoot lockdown given by the mesh upper, and particularly the flexible forefoot, which enabled faster runners to get up on their toes and push off quicker. The amount of technology for the price is excellent, and fans of Brooks, Asics and Saucony should think about checking this brand out.
The latest update to New Balance’s premium cushioning shoe has pulled off the trick of producing something that feels reassuringly hefty and stable to bigger runners – no surprise given its relatively hefty weight – yet nimble and lightweight to quicker runners, who reported it a great option for long runs. Both testers and the lab reported it had quite an inflexible ride, despite deeper outsole grooves in this update, but the supreme fit and comfort make it a reliable option for all runs except speedwork.
Despite the impressively low weight for a shoe with such heft, these trainers feel like a couple of pillowy tanks for your feet. The massive wedge of midsole cushioning and excellent outsole traction (as you would expect from off-road specialists) allowed our testers to bounce, crunch, waddle, pound and skip their way over anything in their path without worrying about where to place their feet. The toebox is wide and the heel fit is snug. On the downside, the sub quality tongue rubbed anyone not wearing thick socks.
Since Adidas submitted the women-only Ultraboost X alongside this shoe, we only tested the men’s version of the updated Ultraboost. The results? It’s a case of ‘same old, same old’, but in a good way. It has the same great combination of bounce, support, responsiveness and comfort, but the upper has been tweaked to make it a little stiffer in the midsection, while the heel counter has also been beefed up for a more rigid grip.
Fans of the Guide take note: this is really the Guide version 11, but Saucony has changed the name because this latest shoe contains its ISOFIT technology, which is essentially an extra inner wrap in the midfoot, which provides a snugger, more adaptive fit and disperses pressure from the tight lacing. Elsewhere, this remains the same, gently supportive, durable, non-threatening shoe it always has been, suitable for neutral runners and mild overpronators alike. Will perform best on distances between 10 miles and a marathon.
Part of a new range of three road shoes (one for speed, one for everyday use and one with maximal cushioning), this one is a decent effort from a brand that specialises in offroad footwear. Although priced a little too steeply for what it offers, it gets the basics right – ie, decent breathability, durability, excellent heel fit and a good lockdown in the midfoot area. While heavier testers loved the cushioning, lighter runners found it spongy and didn’t like the lack of flexibility.
There may be some cheaper shoes in this guide, buy when it comes to the Cavu, the price represents outstanding value. Designed as a multi-purpose shoe for running, gym and general mooching around, the Cavu managed is varied workload well. It might look hefty, but it was the lightest shoe we tested: the combination of soft heel cushioning and a firmer ride under the toes for a better push-off was applauded. The mesh was also extremely breathable, yet rugged.
A close contender for the Best Update award; the GT2000 has been substantially changed and these updates have been a huge success. There’s a new, more breathable mesh, a higher toe spring which resulted in a quicker toe off, a snugger heel fit, a wider toe box to allow your toes to splay more naturally upon landing, and less ‘blocky’ pronation support on the medial side. All this contributed to what is an excellent high-mileage option for moderate overpronators.
This is the second iteration of the women-only Ultraboost, and while, as ever the Boost midsole material wowed everyone, and boasted the highest heel cushioning tested in the lab, the high ‘floating arch’ (with a gap between the upper and midsole) once again caused discomfort. Our testers found the deliberately tight mesh upper was too tight, meaning the shoes are only suitable for shorter runs.
The 890 is back, with a totally overhauled spec. Designed to be one of the fastest shoes in the New Balance range, it achieves its aim. The 6mm heel drop was low enough to give a feeling of speed, while still being suitable for everyday use. The unusual configuration of outsole grooves and a high toe-spring led to high responsiveness ratings, which faster runners loved. However, these are not ideal for heavier runners, who found there was a lack of cushioning in the heel section.
With the Adrenaline, think support and premium-level comfort. It’s a long-run shoe: high-mileage runners can use it as an everyday training model, but for everyone else it does its best work from 10 miles and up. It provides subtle overpronation support, which you won’t notice if you don’t need it. The only changes from the popular version 17 are a more modern upper aesthetic and more flexible outsole grooves.
There’s little new to say about this popular shoe, which is the premium neutral cushioning model in the Mizuno stable. Version 20 saw substantial updates, so impressive it won our Editor’s Choice award last year. Mizuno has decided to stick with this, so fans of number 20 will find 21 just as smooth, responsive, quick in transition from heel to toe and slim-fitted. It’s a super reliable, high-mileage option for neutral runners who like a slightly firm ride and want one shoe for all their sessions.
A fairly light shoe that provides hefty medial support. Moderate-to-severe overpronators will love the feeling of freedom they get in this shoe – hence the name. The Liberty ISo is built like a minimal shoe, with added structure where it’s needed most. The reviews were mixed – speedy runners loved the low-slung toe drop and high responsiveness levels, others felt like a fish out of water without more shoe to give them a reassuring feeling on the run. That said, the overpronation support was praised by everyone.
This shoe is designed to be a sleek, general-purpose speedster with an incredible fit, and it does just that. New Balance has done such a good job of making this a quick shoe, in our testing, only experienced, lightweight runners got on with it. Our testers gave the bootie construction inner mixed reviews and also found that the fit was too snug.
Since their launch six years ago, Swiss brand On has gained a loyal and growing following for their shoes, which feature distinctive hollow cushioning pods on the outsole. This shoe, however, doesn’t meet the brand’s usual high standard. It’s On’s first attempt at a shoe for both running and gym, and our testers found it neither responsive enough for regular runs, nor stable enough for gym work, with the heel drop on the men’s model deemed too steep for such a slim shoe. However, the fit of the upper was superb.
This is fast becoming one of New Balance’s most popular models, and one of its most reliable. The Zante is light and responsive enough to do faster runs in, but robust enough to withstand the rigours of regular mid-level mileage (five to 13 miles). The fit has been tweaked, and our runners loved the way it softly gripped and controlled the foot but still allowed it to move naturally. One small problem all of our testers noted was the leaky mesh, which resulted in wet feet during winter testing.
This new model is Hoka’s premium neutral-cushioned road shoe. The outsole is remarkably durable, with pairs that had done 150 miles showing hardly any signs of wear. The lab rated it as the least flexible shoe on test, and this was borne out by testers who found it a stiff-but-fast ride. Whether or not you like this depends on whether you’re after comfort or speed. It’s hefty enough to stand the rigours of high mileage, but we reckon the best distance for the Elevon is between 10K and half-marathon.
In keeping with its predecessors, this is a maximally cushioned, neutral road shoe, aimed at being your best friend on long runs. It proved to be that and more for several testers, who used it for every type of run with no quibbles. Despite the weight and dimensions, it feels light and responsive, and there are ‘guide rails’ – horizontal plastic strips running along the outside of the shoe – to give subtle support to mild overpronators. The only downside is that in the rain, the grip is variable.
A multi-purpose shoe that actually works for running too. Our testers liked the super-snug, sock-like inner (which does take some getting into), and the bounce. Considering the chunky weight, it didn't feel like a heavy shoe on the foot, but the downside was that the plastic overlays on the midfoot and heel, designed to help with lateral movements in the gym, felt a little constrictive to some lighter runners.
Saucony’s heavy duty, neutral, long run shoe has had a complete overhaul with a series of well thought-out changes. The heel section has been decoupled to disperse impact forces better, the vamp (the section behind the toes) has been made less baggy, the fit around the top of the foot has been improved, the outsole grooves have been deepened and the midsole has been made plusher by the addition of more of Saucony’s cushioning foam, Everun. The extra foam has added weight to the shoe compared to previous versions, but high responsiveness and overall comfort meant this wasn’t noticed at all.
Part of Hoka’s new ‘Fly’ collection, this replaces the popular Clayton model if you’re after a shoe that’s firmly focused on distances from 5K to half marathon. The midsole is tuned to be softer in the heel for comfort and harder in the forefoot to aid propulsion and toe-off. Seams and overlays have been kept to a minimum and the midfoot wrap is simply provided by thicker, closer mesh than elsewhere. The mix of low-slung heel drop and bounce went down well with our testers, who felt they could run without worrying about lack of stability.
Good value for money, this shoe feels like a budget version of the Saucony Liberty ISO. It’s quite low to the ground, it’s lightweight and narrow in the midfoot and heel. The midfoot section feels a little clunky in transition and it wasn’t very supportive when it comes to securing the foot, but for the price, this is a good shoe. Suited to everyday, efficient runners.
Seven years in development, the key technology in the Levitate is an entirely new type of midsole cushioning foam (‘DNA Amp’), which provides, says Brooks, the best energy return on the market. Our testers disagreed and thought Brooks had slightly overdone it on the cushioning, making the shoe overly soft and padded, which, while comfy, gave a sluggish ride. This and the relatively high weight means it’s best for those who value comfort over performance.