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
The Cloudswift is one of On's leading performance running sneakers. Aside from its standout futuristic aesthetic, the Cloudswift is revered for how it performs on the move. Donning a very utilitarian silver and black colorway, the Cloudswift comes equipped with the brand's latest tech, such as its CloudTec® in Helion™ super foam. It’s designed to increase cushioning and dampen the impact on the heel. The sneaker is a solid choice if you are in the market for a shoe that offers impact protection, are an urban runner, or need something that is comfortable and looks good on your feet all day.
adidas Ultraboost 21
This year, adidas' premier running sneaker gets another (pardon the pun) boost in performance. The newly revamped UltraBoost 21 is bigger and better than its predecessors, which were already much-loved for their foam footbed and excellent energy return. Most importantly, the Ultraboost 21 is seductively comfortable. The Boost midsole is quite literally a massive amount bigger than the Ultraboost 20, something that is clearly apparent in running shoe's sweeping midsole. The sneaker's Primeknit+ upper is made from recycled materials and has a sock-like fit. The Ultraboost 21 is great for everyday training, recovery running, and half marathon runners.
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.
Brooks Ghost 14
If Brooks running shoes aren’t on your radar yet, they most definitely should be. The brand’s Ghost 13 was one of the best-selling sneakers in January of this year and is still a great option. But if you’re looking for the best Brooks has to offer, the follow-up to that model, the Ghost 14, is considered to be a workhorse among seasoned runners. People who have actually run in this sneaker describe the sneaker as ranging from comfortable to dependable. It rocks a super-smooth engineered mesh upper and Brooks’ own 3D Fit Print technology. This material helps the shoe hug your foot instantly for a supportive fit. All of this sits on top of Brooks's airy and responsive DNA loft foam.
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
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 10
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 10 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.
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 Trail Running Shoes
The trail running wave will not be going away anytime soon. Sneakers such as the adidas abrasion-resistant Terrex Agravic are chunky, functional masterpieces that look good camping and under your techwear fit. We've made an argument for black sneakers before. They are one of the best low-maintenance staples to have in your sneaker rotation. There is something about black-on-black Batman-like trail-runners that look awesome.
If we are going to talk about trail runners, it would be criminal not to mention Salomon. The brand's XT-6 has consistently dominated the wardrobe of outdoors enthusiasts and sneakerheads. Why? The brand has managed to find that sweet spot between functionality and design. The XT-6 features the brand's signature ACS Chassis tech in the midsole and treaded Contagrip on the outsole. Beautiful colorways, such as the above white, gray, and neon yellow, have pushed the shoe into the arms of the style-conscious. It's a running shoe that looks great on and off the trail.
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 Flow Velociti Wind
This is Under Armour's fastest performance sneaker yet. Designed for long-distance runners, the lightweight sneaker weighs only 8.5 ounces. It features UA's Warp upper that molds to the foot and UA Flow midsole technology, which provides unrivaled cushioning. Don’t get spooked by the fact that Under Armour is a relative underdog in the running game. These are great for those upcoming fall marathons.
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.
Want to keep browsing? Head to the Highsnobiety Shop for more products that we love. Highsnobiety has affiliate marketing partnerships, which means we may receive a commission from your purchase.