10 Best Running Shoes in 2021

Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen on
10 Best Running Shoes in 2021

Are you looking for a comfortable all-arounder? A supportive shoe for overpronation? Or a speedy racer for a new personal best? There is no ONE best shoe for everybody.

We have tested over 100 running shoes and put them through our lab to help you find the best pair. See our highly recommended models in several categories below.

And if you want to learn more about choosing the right running shoe, scroll down to our 7-step guide.

How we test and review running shoes

We believe editors disguised as “experts” cherry-pick popular shoes to earn more

Here’s proof that the top 1% most popular shoes are 245 times more likely to be picked in top-10 lists, and WHY expert reviews are biased towards popular models that are not always the best shoes.

Unlike most top-10 rankings, we list the best running shoes, NOT the most popular ones.

Here is how we’re different:

  • As an independent shoe testing lab, we purchase all shoes with our own money to stay unbiased.
  • We cut shoes into pieces and measure over 30 different parameters on cushioning, durability, breathability, and more.
  • Our testers run 30-50 miles in each pair before submitting their in-depth review.
  • Our scores include aggregated ratings from +2 million runners and 10,700 experts. 
  • We consider all ~2000 running shoes on the market, not just the 25 popular ones.

Based on this, each shoe is given a CoreScore from 0-100. Because of this, our list is different from other top-10 lists you might be browsing.

Best overall running shoes

With more than 2000 running shoes in our database, we have picked the Nike Pegasus 38 as the best running shoe overall. We've reached this conclusion from having tested it on slow runs, tempo sessions, on the treadmill and even put it through our lab.

It's an excellent all around running shoe with superb fit (a bit surprising for a Nike). It's a workhorse and if you need just one running shoe, buy this one. It's agile and can be used for a variety of runs. It also lasts long and after 30 miles, there's no sign of wear. We expect 500 miles in this beast.

It has a plush hug around your foot and offers a bit more room the the toebox than the Pegasus 37 and 36, which we appreciate. It has a fully gusseted tongue (we love this!!), which locks the foot down securely and the laces stay tight (above average on our lace slip tests).

It's 18% softer than the average running shoe according to our lab data, and we found it to offer great pep from the Air Zoom unit.

The Pegasus 38 isn't the lightest daily trainer, but positions itself right around the middle (0.7 oz heavier than average).

Overall, a great go-to running shoes that won't disappoint you.

See our full review and facts

An iconic daily trainer, Brooks Ghost 14 is made for runners who prioritize comfort above anything else. 

Well-cushioned underfoot and generously padded around the foot, the shoe feels good straight from the box. It also accommodates a variety of footshapes, coming in narrow to extra wide options.

It’s not the brand’s plushest shoe (see Brooks Glycerin) but a touch of firmness makes it a bit more versatile in use. Be it a 1-5 mile jog, a longer 10K effort, or a slightly quicker tempo workout, the Ghost doesn’t disappoint. Note however, that in colder temperatures this shoe will have a firmer ride.

With its above-average platform width, the Ghost 14 also feels very stable for a neutral shoe.

Looking at the outsole rubber, you can tell that it’s a heavy-duty trainer. This shoe will go the distance (500 miles+). On top of the roads, it can confidently handle weekend hikes on dirt trails.

See our full review and facts

Best running shoes for flat feet

If you are tired of rolling over the shoe’s edge and wearing out your soles on the inner side, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 will fix that problem for you! People with flat feet and overpronation need a shoe that offers more support on the inner side to keep the foot straight and not falling in.

The Adrenaline is a saving grace not only as a stability shoe but also as a go-to-shoe for many purposes (that’s what the GTS stands for). Wear it for slow recovery runs, long-distance efforts, and even a full day of walking. We enjoyed its amply plush, max-cushioned ride so much that taking it off simply didn’t feel right. You just want to keep it on your feet until going to bed.

It is so well-padded and supportive and yet doesn’t feel heavy. From the 270+ stability shoes that we have measured in our lab, the Adrenaline weighs slightly below average (10.2 oz compared to 10.5 oz). It also uses a more advanced support technology which helps to correct your pronation without you even feeling it! Unlike the sturdy medial posts they used in stability shoes before.

The shoe’s plush upper is a miracle. It will hug any foot shape as if it’s a loved one. People with wider feet will find joy in its ample toe space as well as in all the width options available.

The Adrenaline will not blow your mind with looks but it’s got that clean, simple aesthetics that Brooks has been acclaimed for.

If you want to feel pampered and supported, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 is our first recommendation!

See our full review and facts

28 years later, the Kayano continues to win over runners’ hearts and feet, and it did so too for us!

Comparing it to the past Kayanos, we are here to say that this time, it’s definitely a hand-in-hand focus on stability and comfort.

And with its amped-up comfort, it’s easily among the best choices for a single-rotation shoe. Take it out on race day or grab it for long, slow runs.

Among 200+ other stability shoes in our database, we picked the Kayano 28 for its VERY stable ride too. And because it’s more flexible, the ride has also become more peppy and lively.

Like a true Asics, the Kayano killed it in the durability department. In our lab test, we have found that the heel rubber is 31.5% stiffer than the forefoot - an assurance for our heel-striking brothers and sisters out there.

Making it to the ranks of other durable shoes we’ve tested, we expect it to last 400-500 miles.

Overall, the Asics Gel Kayano 28 is a do-it-all shoe for people who have overpronation, while it’s a trusty daily trainer for anyone who needs additional support.

See our full review and facts

Best running shoes for race

This is by far the best carbon plated shoe that we’ve tested. We rarely make such bold statements as there are nuances to every running shoe. However, the MetaSpeed killed it, both in our wear testing and in our lab testing. This shoe is amazing.

It’s light (191g) and in our lab we measured a 2.5mm drop only which is significantly lower than the 5mm reported drop from Asics themselves. It is a low drop, and it worked well.

These days, most race-day shoes come with a carbon plate, however you also pay a premium for the newest tech ($250 for a running shoe is A LOT). Study after study does show how carbon plated shoes are faster, and World records are almost exclusively being broken using race shoes with carbon plates. If you want to set new PB’s, do get a carbon plated shoe.

And if you want the best of the best, buy the Asics MetaSpeed Sky.

As opposed to most other race shoes, the MetaSpeed Sky is comfortable. It is less stiff, and its forefoot is wider than most race shoes. You will appreciate it if you race distances longer than 5k.

In our lab test, it required 41.3 newton to untie the shoes which is 38% better than the average shoe. We also learned that the outsole is 23% softer than average, which might be an indicator of a slightly shorter life span, which, however is expected from a race shoe.

Overall, this is the best shoe to set new PBs in. Our top pick!

See our full review and facts

Got a need for speed? The Endorphin Pro 2 from Saucony will definitely help you set a new personal record. It is another carbon-plated prodigy that is not a Nike Vaporfly.

Together with the MetaSpeed Sky, it is the most comfortable race shoe on the market right now. Which proves that a racing shoe doesn’t have to sacrifice comfort for being light and fast.

Even though it’s not the lightest one, it sits right on the average of 7.6 oz of elite race shoes. However, that extra 0.9 oz of weight translates into more comfort, better fit, and even higher durability.

It’s got a robust 2.85 mm rubber outsole which is 0.5-1mm thicker than what’s found on its competitors. We expect it to outlast most elite racers.  

It is also a race shoe that actually fits a wider foot. Having a forefoot width of 97.8 mm it’s close to the average of daily trainers (98.7 mm). Given how snug most race shoes are, the Endorphin Pro 2 is a welcome change.

Snappy, fast, insanely breathable, and… affordable. Adding to its benefits is the $200 price tag. The Endorphin Pro 2 is $25-50 cheaper than the top-tier race shoes and yet can beat some of them in performance.

We really enjoyed racing in the Pro 2 and hope you will too!

See our full review and facts

Best trail running shoes

The Salomon Sense Ride 4 is a certified beast and it sure took our breath away with its surprisingly responsive ride! 

This trail shoe is everything trail-ready. It’s got an insane grip, and it’s got durability written all over it. 

After doing some nerdy lab testing on this shoe, we’ve gathered that it’s more rigid (at 81.5HC) than the average (75.1HC). Meaning, it can’t get more tank-like than this! 

And if you’re thinking it’s an uncomfortable, brick-like ride, the easy answer is NO. It’s anything but that. We really hammered this shoe, and it showed INSANE prowess in long-distance runs and steep climbs! It’s a super fun and energetic ride, we almost forgot we’re wearing a trail shoe. 

Even better, it’s not the type of tank that’s heavy. It didn’t weigh us down at all. On paper, it sure as hell is heavy, but on the run? It’s the exact opposite! 

With its grip, it just gets better and better. It’s got 3.57mm lugs that are ready to bite just about any terrain. 

Of course, we can’t overlook the super convenient lockdown system this shoe has. The Quicklace system is not only quick, but it’s also very secure and prevents any in-shoe movement. 

And ooh la la, what a stunner! Trail shoes don’t always have the looks, but the Salomon Sense Ride 4 just loves wow everyone.

See our full review and facts

To feel confident on the trails you need a shoe with an outstanding grip and secure lockdown that will survive anything. This is exactly what describes the Saucony Peregrine 11. The shoe nailed our most demanding runs and lab tests.

It is a heavy-duty trailblazer that can handle any terrain, be it steep hills, rocky paths, mud, snow, slush, or ice. Having some of the deepest lugs in our trail shoe collection (4.35 mm) which are also sharp and widely spaced, the Peregrine bites!

Once you’re out there maneuvering the gnarly trails, there is absolutely no foot movement inside the shoe. The moment you lace up, your foot is locked. Warning: it may take some breaking in given how stiff and protective the upper is.

Which brings us to durability. The Peregrine is built like a tank! The debris has no chance of hurting your foot or even leave a scratch on the shoe. This comes with a price of slightly heavier weight and less ground feel but wearing this shoe really makes you feel like you can climb Everest!

See our full review and facts

Best budget running shoes

The Brooks Revel 5 is a budget shoe that can go head to head with its more expensive siblings, and honestly, we are surprised and impressed!

Our expectations were set low for this shoe, but boy were we wrong. The Brooks Revel 5 is not only one of the most comfortable shoes on the market, it’s also very fun and responsive.

And if you’re a runner looking for a solid all-rounder, buy this. Built for mid-distance runs, easy days, and athleisure, you can’t go wrong with the Brooks Revel 5.

It’s accommodating for runners of all foot shapes and sizes, thanks to its foot-conforming wrap. And it’s one of the lightweight shoe options out there. As a matter of fact, way lighter than the average.

Durable? Say no more. That’s the Brooks Revel 5. In contrast to its more expensive rivals, it has the same outsole strength (on average 79.2 HC in our lab testing), which is extraordinary for such an affordable shoe.

Breathability may be one of its defining features, but it’s also one of its downfalls in cold conditions.

Overall, the best choice for beginners and runners on a budget!

See our full review and facts

We couldn’t believe what this shoe does for $100. If that’s the maximum amount that you’re willing to spend on running shoes, get Saucony Axon.

Pulling cues from the brand’s premium Endorphin collection, the comfort and performance of Axon come impressively close to its expensive siblings.

It’s got a rocker profile that just wants to roll your foot forward as fast as possible, making the ride feel so smooth. It’s not a plush shoe: our lab tests show that it’s right at the average across running shoes (the durometer shows 21.5 HA compared to the average 22.0 HA). But the right amount of stiffness makes it feel stable and well-balanced.

The Axon is surprisingly lightweight (under 10 oz) for a shoe with an above-average heel height (35.3 mm). We applaud such a cushion-to-weight ratio.

On top of it all, this thing is going to last. With its rubber outsole being 10% stiffer than most shoes (including the pricier ones!), we expect it to serve you 400-500 miles for sure.

Don’t expect a super fun, bouncy ride from Saucony Axon. However, that’s not what this shoe is made for. It is a bargain for those who want just one trainer for daily runs and walks. 

See our full review and facts

There is no ONE best running shoe

Feet are unique and even some of the best-rated running shoes might not work for you specifically.

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While many would pick the number one best rated running shoe as it must be thee best, note how little difference there is in the overall scores. Our general advice is that as long as you pick running shoes with a CoreScore above 80, you'll get a shoe that is good for most people, given that it's picked for its intended use.

Comfort above anything else

In a study that analyzed 40 years of running injuries, researchers found that comfort plays a significant factor in reducing injuries.

Comfort is made of: 

  • Perfect size. If you’re not sure which size you need, check our ultimate size guide. 
  • Perfect fit. This means your shoe isn’t too tight nor it feels too loose around your heel or forefoot. Additionally, no part of the shoe should give you discomfort - there should be no pinching nor uncomfortably tight areas. 
  • Cushioning. It’s that soft (midsole) foamy layer that makes your feet experience “walking on clouds” feeling. 

Research has shown that comfort might go as far as improving the running economy (source) and decreasing injury risk (study). Runners usually report more comfort with more cushioning. 

Typically, lightweight running shoes offer less cushioning, and we therefore generally don’t recommend beginners to pick running shoes that weigh less than 250 grams. This way, you’ll leave aside two extremes: racing flats and extremely bulky running shoes. More experienced runners can find joy in having a pair of lightweight running shoes for their speed runs.

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a light daily trainer (Saucony Kinvara) vs. a heavy max-cushioned trainer (Adidas Ultraboost)

What is arch support and why it matters 

We have done a meta-analysis of more than 150 studies about arch support, where we interview doctors of physical therapy, podiatric surgeons, coaches, and podiatrists. 

The conclusion is that arch support cannot make a huge difference to injury risk or the performance for runners unless you have a special foot condition, in which case you should seek a specialist. A few rough guidelines: 

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neutral shoe (left) vs. stability shoe (center) vs. motion control shoe (right)

To determine pronation, look at your used footwear - do you wear them evenly? If they’ve been worn more on the outer sides, you’re underpronating. If they’ve been worn more on the inner sides, you’re overpronating. Even wear means neutral pronation.

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Road or trail? 

This one is simple: If you mostly run on road, tarmac, treadmill, 4x4 road or even major forest trails or the likes, then buy road running shoes.

Only buy trail running shoes if you run on single-trails or off trails. Otherwise, you don’t need them. 

TIP. You should not be afraid to run on roads with your trail running shoes once in a while. However, we recommend that you keep it at a minimum as feet and knees can start to hurt. The bigger the lugs, the sooner your feet will start hurting. Quite often, you’d need to run half a mile to your nearest trails, and that is not a problem.

Here are the key differences between road and trail shoes that you should be aware of:

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Outsole: Road shoes have flatter and pavement-ready soles. Trail shoes have lugs (tread patterns), for better traction on uneven terrain.

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Saucony Ride (road shoe) vs. Saucony Peregrine (trail shoe)

Protection: Most trail shoes are equipped with rugged toe bumpers and rock plates to keep the runner’s feet protected from various terrain challenges.

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Toe bumper on Nike Pegasus Trail

Weight: Because of these features, trail shoes tend to be heavier than road shoes.

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Nike Air Zoom Pegasus (9.2 oz / 261 g) vs. Nike Pegasus Trail (11.3 oz / 320 g)

Upper: Road shoes have lighter, more breathable uppers because road races don’t have any obstacles. Trail shoes are reinforced with various protective elements, including additional layers in high-wear areas, which makes them less breathable.

road-vs-trail-shoe-upper.jpg

Lacing: Trail shoes usually have a lace pocket - to prevent the laces from tangling with debris on the run. 

Focus: For road shoes, it’s SPEED. For trail shoes, it’s PROTECTION. 

Heel to toe drop in running shoes

If you’re new, or if you run less than 10 miles per week, there’s no need to know about heel to toe drop as long as you buy shoes with at least 6mm drop (preferably 8-12mm). 

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The only exception is if you have a record or severe ankle, knee, hip, ITB, Achilles, or plantar fasciitis injuries. In such cases, seek out a specialist before buying running shoes.

More experienced runners tend to show interest in the heel to toe drop. There are a lot of opinions on the subject. If you want to learn more, check our in-depth scientific guide to heel to toe drop.

Heel drop effects

Low

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High

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The lower the drop, the greater the potential to improve cadence. Foot switch is slower in higher drop shoes.
Lower and zero drop shoes promote midfoot and forefoot strike. A higher drop allows for rearfoot strike because the elevated heel helps with high impacts when the heel hits the ground.
Lower heel drop might help with ITB, (anterior) knee pain, gluteal overuse syndrome. Higher heel drop might help with plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy (stiff Achilles), calf injuries.
Low drop shoes allow for more ankle flexion during landing. The ankle absorbs the impact and works as a spring. These shoes can place greater stress on the foot, ankle, lower leg. High drop has a higher knee flexion moment. This means it has the potential to load hips and knees more, similar to heel strike.
Overstriding rearfoot strike might be prevented with a lower drop. Overstriding forefoot strike might be prevented with a higher drop.

Minimalist, maximalist, strike pattern, technology, waterproofing, etc. 

As a beginner, don’t get confused by these terms. Ignore them.

Trust your feet, not “experts” and top-10 lists

The best thing to do if you’re buying your first pair of running shoes is to go to the running-specialized store. First and foremost: you’ll try them on and see if they are a good fit for your feet. Then, you might even get good advice from a store employee. Heck, they might even scan your feet and let you know precisely what features they have regarding pronation, arch height, etc. 

If you decide to do your research online first, we’ve written a whole chapter on what to pay attention to! It’s not a good idea to trust “experts” and top-10 lists.

Author
Jens Jakob Andersen
Jens Jakob Andersen

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.