For the latest edition of FRONTPAGE, Highsnobiety contributor and outdoors enthusiast Alex Rakestraw shares his recommendations on the best running shoes for men, complete with tips and tricks to help you get pounding the pavement this summer.
If you ever wanted to run away from it all, 2020 was the perfect time and it hasn't stopped in 2021.
Quarantined gyms and work-from-home have introduced many to the world's oldest sport. Go outside and you’ll see more people running than ever before — whether old, young, fit, or not-so-fit. With coronavirus forcing people to find new ways to stay shape, we’re in the midst of what we’re playfully calling a runnaissance.
Part anxiety-reducer, part equipment-free workout, running is as natural as the breath it takes away. From the balls of our feet to the curves of our backs, our bodies are quite literally designed for it. And if the “runner’s high” is any indication, they’re designed to reward it, too. What our bodies aren't designed for, however, is the modern impact of foot to asphalt.
Whether you're going for an early-morning social distance jog or running a marathon from your balcony, "pounding the pavement" goes both ways. Runners obsess over running shoes because they're the gear that matters. The best shoes don't just soften the impact — they can make running a pleasure. Deciding to lace up is one thing, but how to choose the best running shoes? That's a whole other question.
Finding the running shoes that work best for you can be an involved — and intimidating — process. But the payoff is worth it. As we approach the warmer months, we put together a guide to the best running shoes for men you can currently buy.
What are the best running shoes?
The best running shoes are those that fit the way you naturally run. That's the big secret.
Some running shoes may be lighter and stiffer and made for racing. These shoes will use "energy-return" technology, like ASICS' Flytefoam or Nike's Zoom Air, to redirect energy from impact into each new step. Others may be bigger and cushier and built for slow miles. These shoes will use "cushioning" technology, like New Balance's FreshFoam or Saucony's PWRRUN+, to lessen felt impact and ease wear on joints.
Some even use hybrid technologies that promise cushioning and energy return, like adidas' BOOST or Nike's ZoomX. These shoes can fit a variety of purposes, depending on how everything north of the sole is kitted out.
But all of that doesn't matter unless the shoe works for you, and for how you run.
A visit to your local running specialty store (if possible) will be the best way to find the right fit. Speaking broadly, running specialty stores (such as JackRabbit in the US or Run and Become in the UK) hire experienced runners as employees and train them to a degree that bigger chains can't. These running shoe experts can then analyze the way you run based on a short jog, and help you find your perfect pair. Specialty stores will likely have an in-store treadmill to facilitate said jog, as well as a wide and impartial selection of brands that a monobrand store does not.
If you're just getting into running, bring questions (and a change of run clothes) to your local specialty store. And if you can't physically make it out to a store, record a video of you running a few steps and send that instead. Shops like New York's Brooklyn Running Company are there to help runners get started right, no matter the times.
How should running shoes fit?
Running shoes are described using two characteristics: cushioning and stability. Every running shoe has these qualities present in some degree, but they're dialed up and down depending on the job of the shoe.
Cushioning is intuitive. A running shoe with more cushion will feel plush and pillowy on every stride. That’s generally nicer on joints over long distance, but it does remove the ground feedback that leads to 1) quicker steps and 2) form corrections. The opposite is true of one with less cushion, or what the running world typically calls “responsive” cushioning.
Stability is a little more heady.
Every step of your run is part of what’s called your “gait cycle.” As your foot hits the ground, your body redistributes the impact of that strike by rolling your foot inwards (like how an action hero rolls after jumping off a roof). That rolling foot motion is called “pronation,” and the degree to which your foot pronates determines how much stability you’d need. If you have flat feet (or low arches), you're prone to underpronating. The opposite is true for those with high arches.
So what does that all mean?
It means that those with normal-sized arches should seek shoes that don’t load up on stabilizing features such as heel counters, medial posts, or Torsion systems. They’ll “overcorrect” a good thing into something not so much. This is different to a shoe being built for durability or feeling “stable” in lateral movement because of features like heavier uppers. Throughout this guide, stability shoes will be referred to as such and have their correcting features called out. These shoes are intended for those with flat feet or high arches.
Generally, running shoes should fit bigger in the toe and tighter in the midfoot than casual shoes. Running as a motion slams your feet forward, so a tight toebox is a quick route to missing toenails.
How to choose running shoes for men?
After you know your stability and cushioning needs (ideally after a visit or chat with your local running shop), picking out one of the best running shoes for men is a matter of personal taste and lifestyle.
Will you be using this shoe exclusively for running, with another pair in your rotation for gym workouts? Double down on a lightweight beast like the HOKA Clifton 6 or Nike’s Pegasus Turbo 2.
Will you be looking for one “workout” shoe to do it all, from pickup football to weekend 5K’s? Look for a heavier, more versatile shoe like the Brooks Ghost 12 or Asics GEL-KAYANO 26.
Regardless, the worst thing you can do is fall in love with a shoe’s looks before knowing your running style and taking it for a spin. Style is nice, but fit is the be-all and end-all. So much of finding the best running shoe for you is trial and error. This is partly why you see runners wearing a wider variety of shoe brands than, say, basketball players. If Nike and adidas don't work for you, find new shoes! It's hard to look cool with a preventable injury. And with runner-friendly return policies like Running Warehouse’s 90 day exchange out there, I’d even encourage new runners to pick a selection and see what works (ideally from somewhere local, since, ya know, shipping fumes).
Experienced runners will have tried dozens of shoes before finding the ones that work best for them — the only shoes I regretted were ones I tried to make into something they weren’t because of their aesthetics. The good news is: regardless of your running style or your needs, there’s a great-looking runner out there. Here are my picks.
Read on to find out the best running shoes for men in 2021
Nike ACG Air Nasu GORE-TEX
Trail running has earned many new uptakers over the past few years. Perhaps that's down to covid lockdowns or perhaps that's down to the number of cool trail runners that are on offer right now. The Nike Air Nasu is up there with the very best when it comes to support on rugged terrain, with an abrasion-resistant upper keeping it looking good even if it takes a beating. It's all finished off with GORE-TEX protection from the elements.
Salomon XT-Wings 2 Advanced
Another one that's capable of getting business done on the more rugged of running paths, the Salomon XT-Wings 2 Advanced blends ultra-lightweight construction with one of the best fits for your feet around — you've got Salomon's toggle lacing system to thanks for that, which happens to look great too.
Brooks Ghost 13
Brooks is a legend of distance running. Founded in 1914, the brand has outfitted athletes for over a century, focusing primarily on track and cross country. It follows then, that the Ghost 13 is a damn good running shoe. Light and balanced, the Ghost 13 is built around the body’s natural stride. Brooks’ “Segmented Crash Pad” shock absorption system keeps every step agile. DNA LOFT cushioning throughout the midsole gives the Ghost some zip, making this pillowy, biomorphic road shoe the best choice for those who want a legit runner they can also bring to fitness class.
adidas Ultraboost 21
The adidas Ultraboost 21 is a Boost-equipped stability runner designed for the long haul. The latest arrival in the Ultraboost family, Ultraboost 21 sees the three stripes take a closer look at performance credentials. A more streamlined construction culminates in a heightened heel for better running posture while a Primeblue upper, made in part with Parley ocean plastic, rounds out the shoe with eco-conscious appeal.
New Balance FreshFoam 1080v11
Between alien egg and Titan skin is the New Balance FreshFoam 1080v11, a devilish neutral runner that’s one of the best daily training shoes out there. A Covenant Elite’s worth of FreshFoam sinks your foot into supreme comfort on each and every step. A bootie fit with integrated heel counter keeps everything tightly connected. For those who plan to train day-in day-out, the FreshFoam 1080v11 is out of this world.
Nike Air Zoom Tempo Next%
The Air Zoom Tempo Next% is up there with the most advanced running shoes on the market. For $200, you get a 7.1oz cruise missile whose performance is both dizzying and disappointing. Dizzying, because the shoe’s no-expense-spared tech package (ZoomX foam, React tech to the heel, Flyknit upper) makes it one of the best marathon shoes out there. Disappointing, because the only excuse for a slow run in it is… well, don’t worry about it.
HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X-SPE
HOKA One One
The HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X-SPE is a weapon. Initially released as part of a (successful) 50-mile world record attempt, the Carbon X has — you guessed it — one of those fancy plates in it. Like in the Vaporfly, a carbon fiber plate complete with a special combination of foams provides an up-tempo run unlike any other. It’s a formidable race shoe and, while heavier than the Swoosh’s top offering, HOKA’s carbon rockets are definitely the more durable of the two.
Newton Gravity 9
Boulder-based Newton Running won't ever show in Milan. But on the streets of Tokyo, Berlin, and Chicago, it's almost guaranteed you’ll catch a glimpse of the brand’s latest and greatest running shoes. Newton is a hardcore running brand famous for its efficient foams and forefoot propulsion lugs, a combination that makes its shoes springy and lightweight, no matter the cushioning. The Gravity 9 is its most versatile shoe — an 8.2oz road runner that can handle everything from 5K's to marathons. Be warned: the ride is firm, and at $175, it's the sort of shoe you buy because you already know it works for you. But if it does, you're in for some globe-trotting quickness.
An “urban” runner built to handle sidewalks, the On CloudSwift is an interesting combination of soft and springy. A plastic plate joins the brand’s Helion foam to provide a firm, even fast ride. I put close to 100 miles on a pair of CloudSwift’s over last summer (including a 10K PR) — they’re a fun shoe to race in, but are best when limited to race days. New York road runners should give them a try as long as they’ve got a more cushioned shoe to chug training miles.
Asics GEL-KAYANO LITE
Asics’ GEL-KAYANO LITE is a stability runner with more tech than a Tesla. As the name suggests, reduced componentry means fewer resources are needed to produce this runner as well as making it lighter than its GEL-KAYANO predecessors. A solid Flytefoam sole is the foundation to a silhouette designed to focus on support, so while this cushiony support shoe is far from a racer, if you pronate, this might just be your best option on the market.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2
The Norvan SL 2 is a trail running shoe from the first name in high-tech outdoors gear. Lightweight, packable, and stylish, Arc’teryx’s design may be the best travel running shoe out there. Fair warning though: the Norvan SL 2’s soles are unforgiving. There’s not much cushion to go around, and outside of dirt trails, it will catch up to you quick. That said: they’re 6.5oz and highly water-resistant. If you’re short on suitcase space or want a runner that can pinch-hit on a hiking vacation, the Norvan SL 2 is a highly capable choice.
adidas TERREX Agravic TR
adidas TERREX is the Three Stripes’ outdoor sub-brand and the Agravic TR is one of its newest trail runners. A light but cushiony running shoe, the TERREX Aggravic TR (“trail running”) is built to make off-road comfortable. A thick, non-Boost midsole and Traxion outsole cushion rocks while an abrasion-resistant open mesh upper provides surprising breathability. If you’ve ever been curious about trail running, find a dirt path and give this shoe a try.
Salomon Speedcross 5
A walking outsole, the Speedcross 5 is a grippy, stability-focused trail runner built for moving fast on uneven surfaces. Huge rubber lugs and Salomon’s SensiFit system make every footfall unquestionably sticky. An OrthoLite insole provides all the cushion you need. Running in these on pavement will shred the soft, sticky sole rubber, but as long as you stick to trails, you’ll be fine. And at $130, they’re a nice alternative to the XT-6 and well-deserving of a place on our list of the best running shoes for men.
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor
La Sportiva’s Ultra Raptor is a trail beast: a burly, cushioned-out, rock-breaker with the heft and confidence of a light hiking shoe. Rest assured, you can still run long in it. But at 12.1oz, it’s best to think of this as a running shoe for those who plan to stay in the woods. I mention it here since, in a cosmic sense, the Ultra Raptor may just be the most versatile running shoe on this list. A capable trail runner that can pull its own weight as a hiking shoe, pavement jogger, and, if you believe A$AP Nast, style piece. “All-terrain,” indeed.
Under Armour Charged Commit TR 2
The Under Armour Charged Commit TR 2 combines two disparate worlds. A chunky midsole section offers the support and protection associated with a trail silhouette while a lightweight mesh upper provides versatility and the propensity for high-performance road running and even indoor training.
Last but not least, there’s the Altra Rivera. Utah-based Altra is famous for its “zero drop” soles, meaning the heel and forefoot rest at the same height when worn (vs. most other runners, which elevate the heel). While “zero drop” was designed to mimic barefoot running for use on trails, in the Rivera, that same design philosophy is transmuted to an ultra-cushioned road runner made for long, loooooong jogging days. Surprisingly responsive, the Rivera is a great choice for neutral runners who seek a minimalist, yet techy training shoe.
To stay updated on everything happening in the sneaker world, follow @highsnobietysneakers on Instagram, check our sneaker release date calendar, and subscribe to our sneaker chatbot on Facebook to receive lightning-quick updates to your inbox.