During the summer of 2017, we checked in with 50 specialty running stores around the country to see what styles had their feet dancing, then we tried them out ourselves. Read on for the collective favorites, and be sure to tell us about your Sole Mate on Instagram @womensrunningmagazine using #solemates.
oz. refers to the weight in ounces for one shoe in the standard sample size (usually a size 7 for women and size 9 for men).
mm drop refers to the amount of downward slope, or offset, from heel to toe. It’s measured in millimeters. Chances are you have a sweet-spot number that works best for you. (Hint: Check the drop of your favorite running shoes and use that as your starting point.) Mixing it up is good, but it’s also important to have a pair of shoes with a drop that feels like your perfect fit. For a frame of reference, a U.S. dime is about 1mm thick.
Testers enjoyed the sleek styling of these colorful runners for snappy mid-distance runs and speed workouts. They were deemed to “have just enough cushion and a more narrow fit, with a little extra room around the toes for happy feet,” meaning they offered a pleasantly responsive running experience and a secure fit without toe crunch. ( 6.8 oz., 8.5mm drop)Neutral testers, including Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Warren, loved these shoes for their generous cushioning and secure tread. They also have a roomy fit, ideal for runners with wider feet. One tester noted that while they have good arch support, the softness of the cushioning tends to enhance stride issues such as pronation or supination. So, before the comfy fit sways you, be sure to know what your stride needs. (10.7 oz., 8mm drop)The first thing you notice after slipping on these road speedsters is the pleasant way the wrapped tongue holds your foot in a secure, no-slip bear hug. They’ve been updated with firmer, more responsive cushioning underfoot and a more durable upper with good breathability. If this is your first time trying zero-drop shoes, be sure to transition gradually to prevent achy calves. ( 5.7 oz., 0mm drop)Once again, Skechers delivers a lot of shoe at a nice price point. However, testers didn’t know the price, meaning they were fans of the efficient striding and adaptability of this model that has just what you need without being overbuilt. According to one tester, “I loved these for both fit and style. It’s a fun, zippy shoe that gave a great mix of cushion and rebound.” (6.1 oz., 4mm drop)According to one tester, who’s a long-time fan of Mizunos and their firm ride for distance days, these were her favorite shoes of the season. They are a good match for her narrow feet, are durable without being too heavy and have a responsive toe-off that makes you feel as though you’re making the most of every stride. Testers also raved about the locked-in fit and bold bursts of color. Be sure to try them on for size; in our experience, they ran about a half size short. (9.0 oz., 10mm drop)No, this is not a Gel-Kayano, but it does share some of the same features, like Asics’ proprietary foam in the midsole, a firm heel cup for a secure fit and knit mesh in the forefoot, all at a sweet price point. It’s breathable, responsive and—with its seamless upper—looks good on the run and around town. Designed with neutral runners in mind, the easy price point, performance and styling of this shoe added up to a welcome find. (6.7 oz., 8mm drop)Don’t let the light weight and lively ride fool you—these trail shoes deliver aggressive traction. Plus, the mesh upper is breathable and quick to dry after running through water or in humid conditions. These performed well in varied terrain, from sand to damp trails to rocks. However, some testers said the open mesh design picked up more sand than they were used to, while others didn’t notice anything except lively miles flying by. (7.4 oz., 10mm drop)Long-lasting cushion is the hallmark of these high-mileage trainers. Sure, they’re a go-to shoe for bronze medal–winning Olympian Emma Coburn, but “regular” runners love them too! “The second I laced these up, I knew they were a good fit for me,” said one tester. Toes have room to spread thanks to the stretch mesh upper for a fit that’s roomy without being sloppy. As for the ride, the firm cushioning is crisp yet still provides protection from the road. (9.6 oz., 10mm drop)Salomon designed this shoe as a middle-ground option between burly and more minimalist offerings. We tested this shoe on wet and dry trails, sandy and rocky terrain as well as on the road, and its multidirectional tread, cushioned ride and medium fit make it a good all-around trail runner. The one thing we noticed is that the flexible rock plate film did not completely dampen the feel of all rocks and roots on more technical terrain. (8.8 oz., 8mm drop)If you think something is missing in this low-slung racing flat, you’re right—there’s no midsole! A firm energy-return board rests between your foot and the 14 cushioned pods in the outsole for a minimalistic and speedy running experience. Testers said these felt like they “weren’t wearing shoes, in the best possible way” when using these for track workouts. Other former track runners said the sleek look and light feel of the shoes reminded them of wearing spikes during track seasons gone by. (6.2 oz., 5mm drop)Somehow this ultra-cush workhorse of a shoe just keeps getting better. Cushioned without being overbearing, supportive without restricting, these are like a group hug for your feet. With a stretchy mesh upper and printed overlays, they provide a dialed fit, even for narrow feet, and plenty of breathability. (9.2 oz., 10mm drop)With a narrow fit through the heel and midfoot and a wider toe box—testers noted this as a significant difference from other Nike styles—these are designed to hold feet securely and let toes splay for maximum push-off, propulsion and speed. The midsole has a firm plate throughout to maximize stride snappiness as well as a combination of foam densities designed for a smooth and stable ride. Overall, testers were excited to use these in their fall races as they chase new PRs. (6.5 oz., 10mm drop)A favorite moderately cushioned shoe for neutral runners because of its crisp ride, version 10 gets some sharp style and fit updates, beginning with engineered mesh in the toe box and woven fabric in the heel. Both provide a more precise fit and breathability without added weight. One tester wore them for an “accidental double-digit run” and said they felt comfortable for the mileage and were supportive without having too much cushion. (8.4 oz., 8mm drop)Version two of this style has a tread and midsole package that’s a little more flexible and even more comfortable for longer miles. With a unique fit that cradles the heel and holds the midfoot while giving toes plenty of room to splay, these have a different feel from many more traditional running shoes, but your feet will thank you. Even with a somewhat minimal design, these provide good structure and cushioning for neutral runners. (6.9 oz., 3mm drop)These have the “secret sauce” mix of a smooth ride (thanks to the rockered design), airy weight and energetically responsive cushioning. You’ll also look as sharp as you feel with the updated lower-profile appearance, breathable upper and more dialed fit. Our tester consensus says these are made for enjoying both long runs and fast miles. (7.5 oz., 5mm drop)