The number of road running shoes is three times larger compared to trail running shoes. Thus, buying a pair can be an overwhelming task, especially if you are new to running.
We have tested over 100 road running shoes in our lab and on a variety of wear tests. If you want nothing but the best, see our top picks from five different categories of road shoes. From a versatile daily trainer and a budget shoe to a premium speed and racing option.
This guide dives into the nitty-gritty of road running shoes. Scroll down to learn about 3 primary things to consider in road shoes as well as runners’ FAQs.
It’s comfortable and lively, it’s cut out to reward the feet. And if you want one go-to shoe for everything road running, we are more than pleased to recommend the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38!
This shoe is a total stunner in everything we put it through. In our daily runs, it was soft and easy on the feet. When we upped the pace, it was bouncy and responsive. And when it was time to log serious miles, this shoe WOWED us with its stability.
When we measured it in our lab, we found that its forefoot is 109.5mm wide while the heel is 80.7mm. Not once did we feel unsteady in this workhorse!
Even better, it’s built tough. After hammering it on the road, this shoe proved itself solid. Despite the React foam being 18% softer than the average midsoles (in our lab tests), it’s still dense, generating both strength and support.
And the outsole only takes sturdiness up a notch! It’s 11% stiffer than the average, meaning it’s built to last. Expect getting 400-500 miles before retiring this shoe.
When it comes to traction, it doesn’t disappoint either. Even on dirt, the overall sensation was surefooted.
If you want great value for money, the Nike Pegasus 38 is THE shoe.
The Asics MetaSpeed Sky didn’t just let us zoom through the blocks. This shoe made us experience true speed.
Easily, it’s the best of the best when it comes to carbon-plated racers! Yes, it’s a big statement, but we gladly stand by it. This shoe does everything great, and nothing wrong.
From top to bottom, this shoe screams fast! The upper wraps around the feet so flawlessly. As in, it’s snug from the rear to the midfoot, and when it comes to the forefoot, it opens up for some swelling room.
And the real showstopper is the midsole. It’s the heart of this speed monster! It’s INSANELY responsive and bouncy, it literally launched us forward.
Want to set PBs? This shoe has got you covered!
Most race shoes don’t really put much effort into stability, but NOT this shoe. If it skimps on anything, it’s weight. At 6.7 oz, it’s among the lightest running shoes on the market.
In our lab tests, we’ve found that it’s 22.5HA in flexibility. Meaning, it’s got a perfect blend of rigidity and softness to create a steady and supportive ride.
Even in slow runs, it’s the superlative of stability among other racers we’ve put our feet in.
We LOVE to be critical of the shoes we test, but it’s just so hard to find any fault in the MetaSpeed Sky. It’s that good!
The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 is probably one of the fastest shoes on the market, but it has some problems that I think the majority of runners will agree with. It’s unstable, a bit too narrow still, looks ridiculous and hits the pocket book hard. If your job is to run fast, or you’re a sponsored athlete I think these shoes may be the tool to help you win, but for the average joe who wants to drop 2 minutes off their 5K time, it may be too much tech in a shoe designed for the 1% club.
If there’s a king among stability shoes, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 is a no-brainer.
Having been around for more than 2 decades, the Adrenaline sure does everything right. Only this time, it takes everything up a notch.
And of all the stability shoes in our arsenal, it’s a certified star. It’s unique in a sense that it’s supportive only when you need it. In simpler words, it’s enjoyable for both neutral runners in need of extra support and for overpronators.
What’s great is that it’s also not taxing to the feet. It’s NOT rock solid, and the upper is what luxurious feels like - it’s amply padded, pampering the feet all-day long!
Upon step-in, the instant feeling is cushy. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not pillowy soft, but it sure does its job in being an easy-day shoe beautifully. But what really blew us away was its pop.
And although at 10.2 oz, it’s not the lightest shoe on our roster (the average weigh in at 9.4oz), it’s still heading in the right direction. Having tested its precursors, it’s much lighter, and certainly deserves a hats off!
Overall, if you want a stability shoe that’s unobtrusive, take the Adrenaline GTS 21 any day and it won’t disappoint.
At $100, the Saucony Axon took us by surprise. It’s even better than its high-end counterparts!
It’s a speed devil and it’s got what it takes to pace you. And if you’re a long-time Saucony fan, you’re in for a treat. It’s built on the platform of the brand’s much-coveted Endorphin series (also Saucony’s top-of-the-line collection).
How does this translate on the run? Simple. It’s going to roll you through your strides effortlessly and it’s going to make the feet cozy!
There’s really no need to push it forward, IT will push you forward.
And if you want a shoe that’s going to give you great value, nothing does it better than the Axon. With 82.5HC outsole stiffness (vs. the average 75.1HC), it’s got the makings of a solid shoe. After pacing it through, the outsole remains unscratched.
We also did some lab tests on the shoe’s midsole. And in our durometer test, we’ve found that it’s 21.5 HA stiff). Meaning, it’s NOT going to pack out easily.
You might be considering using your gym trainers or your trusty sneakers for road running. This may seem like a good idea at first, but keep in mind that these shoes are not specifically designed for you to run in.
Road running shoes are structured in such a way that your feet get the needed support and cushioning. These shoes are prepared for repetitive heel-to-toe movements as they provide you underfoot comfort.
On the other hand, training shoes are designed for comfort and stability on the sides of your foot. Because workouts involve a lot of side-to-side movements, these shoes are built with additional support in the lateral sides.
Meanwhile, long-distance running shoes are packed with features to support longer runs. They are well-cushioned to keep the feet comfortable throughout the run. With a slightly wider forefoot, these shoes accommodate swelling with the prolonged duration of running.
long-distance daily trainer (left) vs. marathon race shoe (right)
One last classification of road shoes according to purpose is frequency. If you see yourself running very often, or using your running shoe a lot, you should get daily running shoes. The more cushioning the shoe has, the greater the comfort level.
Look for a comfortable, tried-and-tested daily cruiser with lasting cushioning and durability.
What is your foot type?
Another factor you need to consider in selecting your road running shoe is the type of gait that you have. Wearing a road running shoe with the correct arch support is also useful when traversing rough and rigid surfaces, like gravel.
If you have high arches, a neutral shoe will provide the right amount of support for you. This kind of road shoe has ample cushioning that adds comfort and prevents pain when running. The cushion also provides shock absorption, which is something your foot might lack.
On the other hand, if your feet are in any way overpronating, a good road running shoe maybe something in between stability or motion control shoe. Both these shoes aid the foot in correcting overpronation by providing varying degrees of arch support.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need separate shoes for trail running? Why?
Although there are many running shoes that claim to be versatile and useful for various terrains, it is still recommended to have separate pairs for road running and trail running. Here is our guide for choosing trail shoes.
Road shoe upper (left) is about lightness and breathability. Trail shoes (right) prioritize foot protection and durability.
The outsole rubber on road shoes (left) is only meant for asphalt or consistent hard-packed surface. Trail shoe outsoles (right) are more hard-wearing, grippy and have a special lug pattern for rocks, mud, snow, etc.
The surface you run on can affect the way your shoes wear. Some road running shoes may not be sturdy enough to handle the rough and rocky paths, and they may also not be grippy enough for mud and puddles.
Jens Jakob is a fan of short distances with a 5K PR at 15:58 minutes. Based on 35 million race results, he's among the fastest 0.2% runners. Jens Jakob previously owned a running store, when he was also a competitive runner. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and the likes as well as peer-reviewed journals. Finally, he has been a guest on +30 podcasts on running.