The weather is getting nicer and you're probably running more than ever thanks to COVID-19. Now is the perfect time to invest in a new pair of shoes. That's where this guide comes in handy. We brought testers in from all over the country, including veteran runners at ACTIVE, to try the shoes in this guide. All of our testers put their shoes through a minimum of 20 running miles while paying attention to comfort, fit, weight, breathability, flexibility and ride.
What did we find? Updates of old favorites had our feet singing and new releases that will ensure you'll find something to motivate your miles well into summer. We know money might be tight right now, but if you can, treat yourself!
Adidas Ultraboost 20
Adidas' Ultraboost line has become known for being one of the comfiest trainers on the market. You may not have thought it could get any better, but get ready to be proven wrong. The Primeknit upper not only feels great but looks great too. It's extremely breathable yet still supports your foot well and keeps it from moving or slipping around as you run or change speeds. The thick woven material is also surprisingly durable—it stood the test of miles and miles of testing without degrading much at all. The 3D Heel Frame is an added perk, providing even more cushioning than past iterations without an increased feeling of bulkiness. Plus, for a cushioned shoe, the responsiveness still stands out, making it not only great for recovery runs but tempo and speed work as well.
One Favorite Thing: "The increased cushion in the heel especially is much appreciated. These are my go-to shoes for runs where my body's feeling a little less than 100 percent."
One Area for Improvement: "The lack of a true tongue isn't something I prefer in a running shoe, but that's scraping the bottom of the barrel."
Style: Neutral Road
The Adidas SL20—or "super light"—lives up to its name. Made for the everyday runner who wants more speed than the more cushioned Ultraboost might provide, this shoe is perfect for the occasion. The Lightstrike midsole is brand new for Adidas and lighter than the brand's traditional Boost technology. The upper comes off as unassuming but actually does quite a good job of supporting and keeping your foot in place. However, what might be the biggest draw to the SL20 is the affordable price point. Everyday runners might not necessarily have a different pair of shoes for long runs vs. racing vs. speed workouts, but if they're looking to take the next step and buy a pair specifically for speed, this shoe is a great option.
One Favorite Thing: "The price is attractive for someone like myself who can't afford to drop $150 on a second pair of shoes for speed work."
One Area for Improvement: "For someone with slightly wider feet, the narrower design took some getting used to. I would have loved a bit more room for my foot to do its thing."
Style: Neutral Road
Altra Provision 4
The Altra Provision 4 does double duty, serving as a solid option for neutral and stability shoe runners thanks to the medial guide rail system that provides support for those overpronators but isn't overbearing. Plus, the ergonomic tongue eliminates friction that might otherwise be caused on the top of the foot. The InnovArch, a full-length mesh footbed, is incorporated to help prevent heel sliding and toe bumping inside the shoe while running. Overall, the fit is perfect, and the shoe can withstand fast runs and long ones. There's just enough cushion to get you through the miles but not too much as to wear you down when you're looking to pick up the pace.
One Favorite Thing: "They are my first zero drop shoe, and they are more comfortable now than my previous go-to brand."
One Area for Improvement: "The shoe runs just a bit tight around the midfoot and takes some breaking in to fully feel comfortable."
Style: Neutral & Stability Road
Altra Timp 2
The Altra Timp 2 got a major face lift over past iterations. While older models seemed to get heavier and feel overall bulky when wet, the Timp 2's upper is lighter and overall more breathable, as well as more secure, keeping our foot in place even on tricky sections of the trail. Altra's Quantic midsole is unique to the Timp 2 and is a lighter yet more cushioned version of the brand's EGO foam technology. However, probably the most important feature when it comes to trail shoes is the tread and lugs. While not the best in wet and slippery situations, the outsole on the Timp 2 performed well on traditional trails. In fact, we'd call this the ideal shoe for taking from your door to the trail and back again.
One Favorite Thing: "No more Trail Rudder!"
One Area for Improvement: "The toe box is narrower and a bit snugger than I've come to expect with Atras. It's not a deal breaker, but I like more room for my toes when running."
Style: Neutral Trail
Brooks Caldera 4
If you are looking for a good all-around trail runner, Brooks Caldera 4 is one to consider. Out of the box the cushioned fell is noticeably plusher and springier than other iterations and translates well to the trail. Be sure to try these on first, though, and watch out for a little extra volume in the midfoot. Pay special attention to where the rubberized toe protection hits your toes; you may want to add a little more tape or antiblister lubricant to that area before heading out.
Aside from the extra cushion, the stability provided by an ample strike plate and a tacky tread is noticeable. While our tester found the tread pattern to be a little less aggressive, the wider spacing easily cleared any mud you may encounter. Also, the ability to add a gaiter, which will help keep all that trail debris out of your sensitive foot area, is a definite plus.
One Favorite Thing: "The cushioning and support is right where it needs to be, and while the tread pattern on the sole is open and will shred mud well, it is also not 'aggressive' like other brands."
One Area for Improvement: "I'd like to see the base of the shoe be a little more aggressive, possibly widen the base and go with a lighter-weight upper that is more breathable."
Style: Neutral Trail
Brooks Glycerin 18
The Brooks Glycerin 18 is can be summed up in one word: dependable. It's all about comfort, from the moment you slide your foot in and lace up for the first time and feel the soft seamless upper, to slogging out your "nth" base mile training run of the week and appreciating the springy midsole. It really is the trainer's trainer, where the no-frill construction and reliable fit and feel make it a go-to for days when motivation is lacking and you're looking for something that feels "familiar." If cushion is a priority when picking a pair of running shoes, the Glycerin 18's DNA Loft midsole foam is a must-try. It promotes an ultra-smooth heel-toe transition while protecting from mile after mile of pavement pounding. While it's not the fastest on the block, it's arguably the most comfortable.
One Favorite Thing: "It's easily the DNA Loft midsole. The springy feeling is what separates itself from the pack for me, the energy return is clear."
One Area for Improvement: "This shoe is a tad too flexible for me. Despite what the running community probably likes, I think I personally preferred the structure of the 17s more."
Style: Neutral Road (Cushion)
Brooks Launch 7
The Brooks Launch 7 is a light, speedy shoe with just enough cushion to get through the final miles of a long run. The upper is quite stiff; noticeably more so than in previous iterations. Our tester found that they were not ideal for recovery or casual runs, since the midsole cushioning is quite minimal. They also aren't the best for runners with lingering ankle soreness or issues; runners would do well to take a lap in the store in a pair before purchasing if they have any lower extremity pain. However, the lightness of the overall design is a positive change. Our tester noted it specifically, saying it's so nice to have a pair of long run capable shoes that aren't clunky or feel too heavy.
One Favorite Thing: "The lightness. It's so nice to have a pair of long run capable shoes that are so light."
One Area for Improvement: "I'd keep the old uppers! I'm getting used to that stiffness, but I still prefer the older iterations there."
Style: Neutral Road (Speed)
Brooks Levitate 3
The Brooks Levitate 3 is a very springy shoe with enough cushion to keep your feet happy on the last interval of a speed workout or the final mile of a tempo run. The energized ride is what you've come to expect from previous Levitate iterations, with a few tweaks to the ankle and tongue that make the fit more like the "sock" shoes making the rounds. The heel is a bit stiffer than in previous models and requires the right pair of socks to avoid blistering—if a runner is prone to that issue. Overall, it's a great shoe with an exciting ride.
One Favorite Thing: "I love the midsole. The cushioning is just enough without making the shoe feel sluggish."
One Area for Improvement: "I'd probably move back to the old tongue. I get where Brooks is going, but I've never had to spend so much time getting the laces right on a new pair of shoes in my life!"
Style: Neutral Road
Brooks Ravenna 11
If you're in search of a lightweight stability shoe, the Brooks Ravenna 11 is unmatched. Similar to the Launch in Brooks' neutral line, the Ravenna 11 stands out from the pack thanks to its GuideRails Holistic Support System, which helps secure and support your heel when running. However, unlike some stability shoes, the features to keep your foot moving the way it should aren't overbearing. Our tester even forgot it was there soon after lacing up the shoe and hitting the pavement. The BioMoGo DNA technology used in the midsole is snappy and responsive, and paired with the GuideRail system, it makes the shoe cushioned yet structured—a rare combination.
One Favorite Thing: "I loved how the GuideRails were supportive enough to keep my foot in place without being too stiff or uncomfortable."
One Area for Improvement: "The upper was great for its breathability but otherwise a little too stiff for my liking."
Style: Stability Road (Speed)
Brooks Transcend 7
The Transcend 7 is an adaptive running shoe that provides a unique blend of cushion and stability. Brooks was able to accomplish this with the combination of plush materials that compose the shoe coupled with its GuideRail technology to add structure and support. If you are someone who strikes with your forefoot when running, this shoe will take some getting used to with the, uh, "junk in the trunk" a.k.a. the slightly bulkier heel. If you are a heel striker, you're in luck! It's an even more fantastic shoe for you right out of the box. Brooks impresses with each iteration of the Transcend, and the 7s are no exception.
One Favorite Thing: "The GuideRail technology keeps my foot positioned correctly to find the 'sweet-spot' in my stride, as well as keep me aligned. I truly believe this has a positive impact on my knees when running."
One Area for Improvement: "I don't want to say the heel feels heavy, but it does feel a little clunky."
Style: Stability Road (Cushion)