Our verdict

In our lab tests, we discovered that the Brooks Trace 3 carries forward the excellent value-oriented design of its predecessor and enhances it with superior foam, all while maintaining the same $100 retail price. Despite a slight increase in weight and a less breathable upper, we found that this shoe excels for heel strikers seeking an affordable, versatile option with a durable outsole.

Pros

  • Still lightweight
  • Foam upgraded to DNA Loft
  • Great for winter
  • Massive value at just $100
  • Good heel cushion
  • More spacious toebox
  • Fantastic durability
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Upper downgrade
  • Slight weight gain from v2
  • Not for forefoot strikers

Audience verdict

82
Good!

Who should buy

After testing the Trace 3 in the lab, we think is an excellent choice for:

  • Fans of the Trace 1 & 2 who were left wanting more energy return—this version finally upgrades to the superior DNA Loft.
  • Heel strikers in search of a durable outsole in a high-drop, budget-friendly running shoe.
  • Beginners looking for an affordable, reliable shoe that performs well across all types of runs and daily activities.

Brooks Trace 3

Who should NOT buy

Despite multiple upgrades, the Trace 3 suffers from reduced breathability—this is why we do not recommend it for runners who frequently tackle summer workouts. Instead, we suggest the Nike Winflo 10, which offers better ventilation for warm weather running.

Moreover, we believe the Trace 3 is not the best choice for individuals with forefoot or midfoot striking patterns. We think a better option would be the Saucony Axon 3, another wallet-friendly alternative that features a less steep drop, providing a more suitable ride for these runners.

Brooks Trace 3 parts

Breathability

Our initial test with the Trace 3 was done with a smoke-pumping machine to evaluate the shoe's ventilation.

While it didn't match the top-notch breathability of the Trace 2, we were satisfied. This change could benefit those in cooler climates, providing extra warmth, though it might cause some overheating in hotter conditions.

We then used a light to examine the upper, which Brooks has peppered with numerous ventilation holes. Unfortunately, these holes didn't significantly enhance airflow.

Brooks Trace 3 micro

Upon closer inspection under a microscope, we discovered why—beneath the holes, a layer of fabric hinders air escape.

Brooks Trace 3 mesh

Our final examination involved physically handling the upper to assess its materials and padding. As expected with its lower price point, the materials reflect cost-saving choices.

Nevertheless, the shoe offers substantial padding for comfort, particularly around the heel, and we were content.

Test results
Trace 3 3
Average 3.8
Compared to 227 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Toebox durability

In our lab tests, we confirmed that Brooks' new engineered mesh is less breathable, raising concerns about its performance. To assess its durability, we rigorously tested the Trace's upper with our Dremel tool.

The results were disappointing—the tool quickly produced a large, clean hole in the material. Consequently, we had no other choice but to give it a poor rating of 1/5, reflecting its underwhelming resilience.

Brooks Trace 3 Toebox durability
Test results
Trace 3 1
Average 2.4
Compared to 161 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

After evaluating the upper, we continued our tests, directing the Dremel towards the heel padding—a key concern for many runners.

To our delight, we discovered significant improvement! The heel padding proved to be highly resilient, earning a great 4/5 from our team. This enhanced durability in the rear left us quite satisfied.

Brooks Trace 3 Heel padding durability
Test results
Trace 3 4
Average 3.1
Compared to 157 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

Next, we shifted our focus to the outsole, which closely resembles the previous model, with only minor modifications.

Brooks Trace 3 outsole

The outsole boasts extensive rubber coverage and multiple cutouts to enhance flexibility.

We measured the rubber's hardness, which registered at 86.4 HC in our lab tests. This suggests that durability was emphasized over grip in its design. Let's see if that's true!

Brooks Trace 3 Outsole hardness
Test results
Trace 3 86.4 HC
Average 80.5 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 278 running shoes
Number of shoes
54.9 HC
Outsole hardness
92.8 HC

Outsole durability

To push the limits, we increased the RPM on our Dremel for the third and final test.

Our findings reinforced our initial impressions—the rubber withstood the challenge remarkably well, showing only a minor 0.6-mm indentation, which surpasses the performance of softer compounds. Nonetheless, this robustness sacrifices some traction, which, while adequate, is not exceptional by any means.

Brooks Trace 3 Outsole durability
Test results
Trace 3 0.6 mm
Average 0.9 mm
Compared to 139 running shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

Our final evaluation of the outsole included measuring its thickness, a crucial factor in assessing durability. We were pleased to find a satisfactory thickness of 3.0 mm.

Brooks Trace 3 rubber

This marks a slight reduction from the previous version's 3.3 mm. Given the impressive durability we've observed, we believe the next Trace could effectively utilize a thickness of only 2 or 2.5 mm, which would also aid in reducing the shoe's overall weight.

Brooks Trace 3 Outsole thickness
Test results
Trace 3 3.0 mm
Average 3.2 mm
Compared to 297 running shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole thickness
6.6 mm

Weight

One of the attributes we consistently admire in the Trace series is its remarkable lightness. The previous model tipped our scales at just 8.8 oz or 249g, and although this version is slightly heavier at 9.1 oz or 257g, the increase is nearly imperceptible.

Despite this minor weight gain, we're still thrilled with its lightness compared to many of its rivals—it remains a standout feature for sure.

Brooks Trace 3 Weight
Test results
Trace 3 9.07 oz (257g)
Average 9.38 oz (266g)
Compared to 298 running shoes
Number of shoes
5.26 oz (149g)
Weight
12.56 oz (356g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

After verifying the weight, we used our digital calipers to determine the actual stack height of the Trace 3. Initially, it appeared that Brooks maintained the same midsole as its predecessor, and our measurements confirmed this with a 34.1 mm stack height in the heel.

This finding suggests, as we suspected, that the Trace 3 is once again primarily designed for heel strikers.

Brooks Trace 3 Heel stack
Test results
Trace 3 34.1 mm
Average 33.6 mm
Compared to 297 running shoes
Number of shoes
7.6 mm
Heel stack
42.7 mm

Forefoot stack

Our initial impressions were validated upon taking the second measurement. The forefoot cushioning is notably limited compared with the forefoot, measuring just 22.2 mm.

Brooks Trace 3 Forefoot stack
Test results
Trace 3 22.2 mm
Average 25.0 mm
Compared to 297 running shoes
Number of shoes
7.6 mm
Forefoot stack
35.8 mm

Drop

This measurement confirms that the Trace 3 has an actual 11.9-mm drop, once again making it ideal for heel strikers.

We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the stated drop by Brooks was 12 mm, meaning we observed only a 0.1 mm deviation by following World Athletics guidelines. This accuracy is impressive, as we typically encounter much larger discrepancies.

Brooks Trace 3 Drop
Test results
Trace 3 11.9 mm
Average 8.6 mm
Compared to 297 running shoes
Number of shoes
-0.8 mm
Drop
16.1 mm

Insole thickness

The insole, crafted from EVA foam, features a substantial thickness of 5.1 mm.

Brooks Trace 3 Insole thickness
Test results
Trace 3 5.1 mm
Average 4.5 mm
Compared to 293 running shoes
Number of shoes
1.5 mm
Insole thickness
7.3 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

Despite some minor drawbacks in this update like weight, a major incentive to switch from the Trace 2 to version 3 is the improved midsole.

Brooks has upgraded from the BioMoGo DNA foam to its superior DNA Loft cushioning—a better EVA previously found only in their more expensive models, now available at an accessible price of just $100.

Brooks Trace 3 foam

The DNA Loft foam is noticeably bouncier than BioMoGo DNA, enhancing our running experience. However, the feel of the foam remains quite similar—not plush but balanced—and our durometer confirmed this with a reading of 24.5 HA.

Brooks Trace 3 Midsole softness
Test results
Trace 3 24.5 HA
Average 21.5 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 225 running shoes
Number of shoes
8.5 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
41.5 HA

Difference in midsole softness in cold

Given that DNA Loft is not merely plain EVA but a blend including rubber, we were optimistic about its performance in cold temperatures—a crucial factor as this shoe is better suited for chilly environments.

To confirm this, we placed the shoe in the freezer for 20 minutes and then measured again its softness with our durometer. The results were superb, showing an 11.8% increase to 27.4 HA, which is quite impressive for such a budget-friendly shoe.

Brooks Trace 3 Difference in midsole softness in cold
Test results
Trace 3 11.8%
Average 25.6%
Compared to 224 running shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in midsole softness in cold
100%

Stability

Lateral stability test

Stability in the Trace 3 is adequate, relying mainly on TPU overlays in the upper to provide lateral foot support. However, it lacks significant midsole sidewalls, rails, or other robust stability features.

Consequently, we recommend the Trace 3 primarily for neutral runners who do not have major stability needs. Those with moderate pronation, particularly heel strikers, might also find it suitable.

Torsional rigidity

In our hands-on evaluation, we manipulated the Trace 3, bending and twisting it.

It flexed a bit under pressure, leading us to rate it a 3 out of 5 on our scale. This score reflects its moderate resistance to bending and twisting forces from our hands.

Test results
Trace 3 3
Average 3.2
Compared to 276 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The heel counter in the Trace 3 has been slightly adjusted from the previous version—upgraded from a 3/5 to a 4/5 rating for improved support for heel strikers.

This change, though minor, is a positive modification for a shoe with a high heel-to-toe drop that's catered to beginners.

Test results
Trace 3 4
Average 2.8
Compared to 260 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

Ignoring minor manufacturing differences, we can confidently state that the Brooks Trace 3 maintains the same dimensions as its predecessor. Those seeking a similar ride but with an upgraded foam will find exactly that.

We recorded a width of 113.3 mm in the forefoot, which is quite average and doesn't stand out as exceptional.

Brooks Trace 3 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
Trace 3 113.3 mm
Average 113.7 mm
Compared to 298 running shoes
Number of shoes
100.5 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
126.5 mm

Midsole width in the heel

Moving to the heel, we clocked it at 93.1 mm, which again underscores this shoe as a great option for those with a heel-striking technique.

Brooks Trace 3 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
Trace 3 93.1 mm
Average 90.5 mm
Compared to 298 running shoes
Number of shoes
74.9 mm
Midsole width in the heel
106.6 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

Creating a versatile, do-it-all shoe suitable for running, walking, or even grocery shopping requires excellent longitudinal flexibility.

Thankfully, the Trace 3 excels in this area due to its multiple outsole cutouts, which enhance its flexibility. In our 90-degree bend test, it required only 19.6N to bend, indicating a fantastic level of flexibility for such versatile use.

Test results
Trace 3 19.6N
Average 29.1N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 280 running shoes
Number of shoes
2.2N
Stiffness
94.4N

Difference in stiffness in cold

After chilling the Trace 3 in the freezer for 20 minutes, we repeated the test and discovered that it became notably stiffer than anticipated, showing a 32% increase in stiffness.

While it still performs reasonably well for us, this increase in stiffness is more than we hoped. Perhaps our expectations were skewed by the exceptional results we previously obtained in the freezer test when assessing softness!

Test results
Trace 3 32%
Average 36.2%
Compared to 280 running shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in stiffness in cold
148%

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

We were pleased to discover that Brooks has addressed one of the major downsides of the Trace 2 for some runners—its snug fit. The toebox has been expanded from 96.3 mm to 98.6 mm, making it more accommodating and versatile for a wider range of runners.

Additionally, it's great to see that Brooks offers again this shoe in 2E (Wide) widths in select countries, enhancing the fit of those needing a bit more room.

Brooks Trace 3 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
Trace 3 98.6 mm
Average 98.4 mm
Compared to 298 running shoes
Number of shoes
89.5 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
109.1 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

To gain a more precise insight into the shoe's fit, we conducted a second measurement in the big toe area.

Brooks Trace 3 big toe 2

This measurement yielded 77.1 mm, indicating a moderate taper in the toebox, though it's not overly pronounced. This second reading helps us provide a more comprehensive comparison and understanding of the Trace’s dimensions.

Brooks Trace 3 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
Trace 3 77.1 mm
Average 78.2 mm
Compared to 172 running shoes
Number of shoes
60.4 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
92.5 mm

Tongue: gusset type

The tongue is not gusseted, which is typical for a $100 shoe—no complaints from us on that front.

Brooks Trace 3 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
Trace 3 None

Comfort

Tongue padding

We measured the tongue thickness of the latest Brooks model and discovered a slight reduction in comfort due to their focus on decreasing weight.

Brooks Trace 3 laces

The lacing system is standard, allowing for the option to tie a runner's knot if necessary.

Our findings show that the tongue is 4.5 mm thick, slightly thinner than the 5.3 mm of its predecessor, v2.

Brooks Trace 3 Tongue padding
Test results
Trace 3 4.5 mm
Average 5.6 mm
Compared to 295 running shoes
Number of shoes
0.5 mm
Tongue padding
14.2 mm

Heel tab

In contrast to many current Brooks running shoes and most likely because of feedback from runners regarding the Trace 2, the third version surprises with a handy finger-loop heel tab—a delightful feature we didn't expect!

Brooks Trace 3 Heel tab
Test results
Trace 3 Finger loop

Removable insole

The insole isn't permanently attached and features average width, so this design choice simplifies the process of inserting custom orthotics or alternate footbeds.

Brooks Trace 3 Removable insole
Test results
Trace 3 Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

The Trace 3 lacks reflective elements, but given its budget-friendly price, skipping some premium features is understandable—we're at peace with it!

Brooks Trace 3 Reflective elements
Test results
Trace 3 No