We found a number of lesser-known running shoe brands worth considering, many of which were launched by former runners trying to fill a perceived gap in the market.
Author's Note: For shoes tested in-house, we've provided a "How it Rides" section.
AMPLA1 of 8
Channeling Jedi Master Yoda, AMPLA uses "the force" to help runners go faster and farther. Founded by sports scientist Dr. Marcus Elliott, the brand's only model, the AMPLA Fly, harnesses a runner's energy and propels them forward.
The Fly, available in both men's and women's sizes, features a strange design that the company says is revolutionary for the running shoe industry. A flexible carbon fiber Forcepower plate—extending from the toe to the midfoot—is meant to guide footstrike and push the runner forward, much like a spring would.
The AMPLA Fly is available for $120.
How it rides: Standing in the Fly feels odd because of the Forcepower plate that lightly pushes you forward, but running in the shoes provided a very responsive ride. You can feel the shoe straightening your ankles and propelling your legs upright and forward. For runners looking to improve their foot strike and form, this is definitely a shoe to consider.
inov-82 of 8
Need a pair of shoes that will take you on your favorite trail, but also make it through a challenging mud run? Inov-8 focuses on all-terrain footwear for adventurers, racers and thrill-seekers.
Founded in 2003, inov-8's product line features footwear that is meant for extreme environments like trails, mud, obstacle courses and even ice. One pair can be integrated with gaiters, while another features a protective toecap to protect your feet from rocky terrain. There's even a model with tungsten carbide spikes for ice and snow.
The X-Talon 212, one of their most popular shoe styles, is a flexible, lightweight racing shoe that can pull double-duty over loose terrain or an obstacle course. The shoe has a firm grip and weighs just over 7 ounces.
The X-Talon 212 retails for $120.
Salewa3 of 8
Since launching its successful crampon set in the 1960s, Salewa has become a provider of a range of alpine products. From helmets and harnesses to footwear and apparel, Salewa offers climbing, hiking and trail gear. If you're a technical trail runner looking to push the envelope, this brand's shoes are definitely worth trying.
Salewa's Lite Train is a new shoe for 2016 that was developed in partnership with Michelin Technical Soles. The shoe's grooved outsole is inspired by mountain biking tires to give trail runners better traction in even the toughest environments.
The Salewa Lite Train is available for $129.
Karhu4 of 8
Karhu (Finnish for "bear") shoes have been around since the early 1900s, but the brand developed their signature "fulcrum technology" in the '80s. The fulcrum, a foam piece located in the midsole, guides runners to bounce less and run more efficiently.
Karhu's technology claims to reduce overstriding and activate the calf muscles for more forward propulsion. The shoe is available in both neutral and stability versions.
The Karhu Flow6 IRE is available for $120.
How it rides: The Karhu Flow6 IRE is a solid trainer for both short- and long-distance runs. The fit was snug, and the toebox was roomy. The fulcrum felt strange at first, but we didn't notice it for long. Best of all, the shoe is very cushiony and each step felt responsive, especially on sidewalk runs. You could easily put a lot of miles on this shoe with no problems.
On5 of 8
On started as an idea from three-time IRONMAN winner Olivier Bernhard, who wanted to develop a running shoe that would give him the "perfect running sensation." He teamed up with a Swiss engineer to develop a basic concept: a shoe with a cushioned landing but a firm take-off. The brand officially launched in 2010, with test runners claiming the On shoes made them feel like they were "running on clouds."
One of On's most popular shoes is the Cloudflyer, a lightweight stability shoe built for tackling long runs. Twelve so-called Cloud elements, located in the sole of the shoe, cushion each step and keep the runner from turning the foot inward. The sole is also built with Zero-Gravity foam, so the shoes weigh in at less than 300 grams.
The On Cloudflyer is available for $160.
How it rides: The Cloudflyer was both supportive and comfortable, delivering an overall smooth ride. The insole felt plush, and the Cloudflyer's pods aided in a powerful and cushioned push-off.
Topo Athletic6 of 8
Topo Athletic, named from an abbreviation of founder Tony Post's name, only launched three years ago, but Post is no stranger to the world of running footwear. He's a former college runner who worked at Rockport Company, and later served as the CEO of Vibram USA.
Topo's newest shoe, the Ultrafly, focuses on a roomy toe box for a natural toe splay during running. The Ultrafly also has a 5 mm heel-to-toe drop to encourage a natural foot motion and, although it has 3 mm of extra cushioning than its predecessors, it still manages to stay lightweight.
The Magnifly is available for $110.
How it rides: While the Ultrafly wasn't available for testing, we were able to get our hands on the Magnifly. This style feels like a minimalist shoe but with a little more cushioning. The roomy toe box and wide shape were a big plus. The run felt comfortable, and the shoe was lightweight and breathable. For those looking to try a more minimalist approach to running, the Magnifly is a good place to start.
La Sportiva7 of 8
La Sportiva has a long history of providing rugged footwear for hard-working men and women but, in the 1950s, Italian Narciso Delladio and his son expanded into ski and mountain boots. By the 1980s, the brand had branched into the climbing and trail running sector, too.
One of La Sportiva's signature shoes is the Akasha, which Jared Campbell wore during his 2016 win at the notoriously arduous 100-mile Barkley Marathon. With extra shock absorption at the bed of the foot, the shoe is built for long-distance trail runs and ultra marathons.
The Akasha is available for $140.
How it rides: After a hard rain in the area, we took the Akasha to a local trail. They were comfortable and rugged over the muddy terrain, without being heavy. The shoe's outsole easily kicked through thick grass, and the tread bit well into mud and dirt, keeping us upright in even the slickest conditions.