Road, trail, and off-trail… our editors tested diverse shoes this spring running in a range of conditions and across varying terrain.
Running remains a primary method GearJunkie editors stay in shape. As such, we go through a lot of footwear each year, pounding out thousands of miles through rain, snow, and summer heat.
Here are nine pair of running shoes we have tested as of late. Each is distinct and appropriate for its venue, from soft ground to hard pavement and mountain heights.
Modern Minimalist – Skora Tempo
A wild upper made of thin, welded mesh panels has no stitching but hugs the feet. Underfoot are foam modules made to absorb impact but not interfere with a natural stride.
We found all that to be true in our test; the Tempos have a “barefoot” feel with a zero-drop build, meaning the heel is the same height as the front of the foot. But the 22mm of foam dampens the blow as you stride and land flat-footed or, when sprinting, up on your toes.
Lightweight at about 8 ounces per shoe. $129.95, skorarunning.com
Ultralight, Fast And Wide – Altra One 2.5
Altra shoes have a wider forefoot than most, and the One 2.5 is no exception. The wide body allows toes to splay and is a joy for wide-footed runners.
This model has a modest stack height of 23mm and is crazy light at 6.3 ounces, by far the lightest in this review. This (and all Altras) are built on a zero-drop platform, meaning they have the same amount of material under the heel and toe. Many mid- and fore-foot strikers will enjoy the neutral feeling underfoot.
This isn’t a super-cushioned shoe, but it is very fast and light. On mid-distance training runs it feels like there’s nothing there other than a little underfoot padding.
We’re a little worried about durability on this one, as the upper material is quite thin. But so far, so good after a month of running. $100, altrarunning.com
Road Warrior – Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road N2 v2
With a flexible and slightly convex outsole, these made-for-pavement shoes became a go-to this spring. We like the forgiveness of the build — you can land on your foot most any way, from heel to forefoot, and the shoe absorbs and directs you onward into the next stride.
But these are not lazy, padded sneakers. The shoes were fast in our test as trainers (however not so fast we would take them to a race). They weigh about 10.5 ounces apiece.
The company touts the “smoothest running experience possible” with the E:Motion Road N2 v2, and we are close to saying we agree. $120, pearlizumi.com
Long Distance – Inov-8 Race Ultra
Long a favorite brand of ours, U.K.-based Inov-8 makes shoes for tough trails and off-trail pursuits like orienteering and adventure racing. This new model is aimed at the ultra-running crowd who run 30, 50, or 100 miles at a time.
They weigh 10 ounces (per shoe), which is a bit heavier than minimalist models we have long loved from the company. But here you get a wider toe box and more protection underfoot — both requisite upgrades for anyone running ultra distances — without losing Inov-8’s signature flexible, nimble feel. $120, inov-8.com
Speed Racers – The North Face Ultra TR II
Made with a unique ripstop “tent fabric” upper that includes protective suede overlays, the Ultra TR is something different. It is among the fastest shoe in this review, weighing about 9 ounces and built with a low-to-the-ground sole that demands reaction.
On the foot the fabric feels stiff, and it also crinkles when you bend up the heel. But while running it fits close and breathes well. If you want cushion, look elsewhere. This is a minimally-padded shoe that lets you feel the terrain.
The sole is made of sticky rubber, giving adequate traction despite minimal lugs. We wear this shoe for fast training days and for races, on road and on the trail. $110, thenorthface.com
Super Cush Road Shoe – Altra Paradigm 1.5
Following the “maximial” shoe credo, the Altra Paradigm 1.5 puts a lot (34mm!) of foam between your foot and the pavement.
It also is designed with Altra’s extra wide “footshape” toe box, which allows toes to splay wide while running, and it has a zero-drop, neutral design.
Running in these, we felt a little awkward, like a kid whose legs grew a couple inches overnight. While they weigh in at a modest 9.7 ounces, we just felt too clumsy to love these shoes.
That said, another tester we gave the shoes to loved them. For those who easily compensate for the additional stack height and want a cushy ride, these are a contender. $130, altrarunning.com
Protective Trail Runner – Asics Gel FujiAttack 4
These may be a little heavier than many trail runners at 11.4 ounces, but with a stiff, gel-and-rock-plate-enhanced midsole, the FujiAttack 4 gives feet a lot of help over rough, rocky terrain.
For our regular training runs in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Denver, these are one of the first pairs we reach for. While they are a little heavy for race day speed, they keep feet happy and healthy over long training miles.
The outsole provides plenty of traction for loose, rocky soil, and 10mm drop (20mm heel, 10mm toe) isn’t overwhelming and allows for a mid-foot strike and plenty of cushion for fast descents. $110; asicsamerica.com
Precise And Fast – Salomon Sense Pro
Salomon shoes tend to be on the narrow side, which leads to precise foot placements when running rough terrain. The Sense Pro is a great trail shoe on this narrow last.
At 8.8 ounces, the Sense is a lightweight trail runner that has significant protection for sharp rocks — including a film rock plate — in a thin 16mm/10mm, natural running profile.
This is an exceptional trail training and ultra-racing shoe for those looking for lots of trail feedback, good proprioception, and moderate protection in a narrow last. $130, salomon.com
Supportive And Protective – Mizzuno Wave Kazan
A versatile “all terrain” shoe, the Wave Kazan is a supportive trail shoe that eats up uneven surfaces and keeps feet happy for many miles.
These 9.5-ounce trail shoes pack a lot of support in a welterweight package with 12mm heel-to-toe drop. The sole has lots of tread and works well on super rough trails.
These are one of the most supportive trail shoes in the quiver because of a snug fit in the heel. But the forefoot is wide enough to accommodate even wide-footed runners.
This shoe gets a lot of miles from us during training and is a favorite in our fleet. $120; mizunousa.com