Running is an uncomplicated sport — which is the way it should be. But it all starts with a pair of shoes. This spring, we’ve sifted through the jargon, new releases, and venerable kicks, and ran miles of road and trail to tease out which shoes rise to the top.
It’s worth noting that this article specifically covers men’s road-running shoes. We also have a separate gear guide for the best women’s running shoes.
And if you’re not sure what’s the right shoe for you, check out our buyer’s guide at the end of this article with feedback from the experts.
Best Running Shoes for Men
Whether training for a marathon, grueling through Tuesday night torture club at the track, or taking an easy ramble with friends, we consider these the best shoes for running on pavement.
Best Neutral Training Shoes: Salomon Sonic 3 Balance ($130)
Salomon branched off the trail a few years ago with its Sonic lineup of road shoes. It was a good first showing, but the initial release felt a little harsh on the road. In its third iteration, the Sonic 3 Balance worked out the kinks (dropping the clunky ride carried over from the brand’s trail DNA).
At the core of the Sonic 3 Balance is the fully revamped midsole. The disc of memory foam wedged under the heel reduces road vibration while the underlying white foam smoothly transitions your energy forward. Firm but flexible, the combination smoothly rolls your stride from strike to toe with proper responsiveness as you turn up the speed.
The one-piece woven upper is durable and perforated with vents so the dogs can breathe on those hot summer runs. We found the padded tongue a work of art. Two mesh wings wrap off the tongue to join the sock liner, keeping it centered.
The Balance is one of the best-fitting shoes we’ve tried this year. It rides over a fantastic outsole (that reminds us of a high-performance Pirelli tire) should you want to balance your runs with some trail time, the Sonic 3 is ready to play.
If you’re in the market for one shoe that can nearly do it all, this is it.
Weight (per pair): 20 ounces (size 10)
Stack: 28mm heel, 20mm forefoot
Drop: 8 mm
Best for: Neutral runners; for tempo, long miles, daily trainer, light trail; this is a fantastic choice for a do-it-all shoe
Best Treadmill Running Shoe: New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo ($110)
With a wider toebox, fantastic heel cup, and sexy good looks, the Fresh Foam Tempo is true in size and specs with New Balance’s traditional lineup. No complex dual-density midsoles here. The no-frills midsole is made from a single piece of New Balance Fresh Foam, engineered with a flexible rocker to keep the turnover quick. Firm out of the box, the foam really breaks into a soft-cushion shoe after a few runs.
The engineered upper is reinforced with a colorful embroidered saddle that adds structure and safari flare, punching above its weight in durability. A continuous tread pattern gives the Fresh Foam Tempo a fantastic feel for the ground.
And while the shoe is plenty durable for the track, this is the shoe we reach for on gym days. Flashy, consistent, breathable, lightweight, and affordable — what more can you ask for?
Weight (per pair): 18 ounces (size 10)
Stack: 18mm heel, 12mm forefoot
Drop: 6 mm
Best for: Neutral runners; treadmill days and speed days at the track
Best Neutral Zero-Drop Running Shoe: Topo Athletic Magnifly 3 ($120)
The Magnifly got a nod on our women’s best running shoe list, and we’ll give another here for men. The latest version gave us smiles on our tarmac test runs, where (even at 10 ounces per shoe) it felt quick and light on the feet.
The midsole is incredibly flexible from heel to toe (you can roll it up in a ball!) and has significant lateral torsion. The shoe has a double-density midsole that feels super-cush underfoot but firm on the road, providing both comfort and responsiveness. It’s ready to rally when you want to take it up a beat, and that’s where we found this shoe excelled.
Unlike a lot of zero-drop shoes on the market, the Magnifly 3 is a marriage of form and function. None of the wide, clownish 1980s Volvo look used on similar zero drops. The engineered mesh upper is sleek and very lightweight, hugging the foot like a sock, but with a good amount of padding on the tongue and collar to round out the edges.
And for those hot summer days, the upper is riddled with vents to spill the heat. We wholeheartedly recommend this shoe for runners in hot, dry climes. If you’ve been on the fence about zero drop, the Magnify 3 is worth a look.
Weight (per pair): 20.2 ounces (size 10)
Stack: 25mm heel, 25mm forefoot
Best for: Neutral runners; uptempo days on the road
Best Stability Shoe: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 ($130)
Look at any list of the best running shoes, and you’ll find Brooks near the top. In fact, Brooks is the top-selling brand sold through running retailers, with its Adrenaline being the brand’s best-selling shoe ever.
You get a sense of its stalwart pedigree through the little things. With refined padding around the collar and tongue, an engineered perforated mesh upper, and TPU overlays, the shoe is incredibly well-engineered and is one of the most comfortable shoes out of the box we’ve tried this year.
With a 12mm drop, the midsole has a fairly old-school, steepish stack. But it’s paired with a fantastic rocker that transitions heel-to-toe motion through a smooth forward inertial frame.
The midfoot is well-cushioned, making the shoe feel a little sluggish at speed. But that’s not what this shoe is designed for. The Adrenaline is a daily trainer looking to put miles under its belt.
To refresh the ride, last year Brooks replaced the medial foam wedge with a pair of “guide rails” to help naturally align pronators. The analogy is like a bowling lane with the kiddy bumpers up — the foot is coached to a more neutral position.
But don’t let this dissuade you, neutral runners. The Adrenaline is comfortable, feels very stable, and encourages forward motion — things we all desire out of a high-mileage shoe.
Whether you’re new to running or a veteran runner who’s accustomed to higher-drop shoes, the Adrenaline is a great shoe for long runs as well as easy days. And with new models releasing yearly, you can find the previous version, the Adrenaline 19 (nearly the same shoe), online well below the MSRP.
Weight (per pair): 22.2 ounces (size 10)
Drop: 12 mm
Best for: Stability; everyday trainer
Best Wet-Weather Trainer: Brooks Ghost 12 GTX ($160)
For runners who want that reliable Brooks ride but don’t necessarily need a stability shoe, the Ghost is Brooks neutral trainer and a no-brainer.
The DNA is nearly identical to the Adrenalines (sans the guide rails). They both have the same cushy ride. And when you flip the shoe over, you’ll notice the robust outsole. We found the thick rubber pads work great on light trails.
We called out the Ghost GTX on our best winter running shoe list and still suggest it for neutral runners who feel the need for a waterproof shoe.
Weight (per pair): 22.8 ounces (size 10)
Drop: 12 mm
Best for: Neutral runners; wet weather
Best Zero-Drop Stability Shoe: Altra Provision 4 ($130)
Altra has been at the front of the zero-drop revolution, solely focused on zero-drop shoes. With a wide, foot-shaped toebox and neutral drop, the shoes encourage a more natural midfoot placement (which reputedly leads to a stronger stride and less injury).
The fourth version of the Provision was revamped this year to “enlighten the runner.” In case you think this is a bunch of hippie-dippy tiki torch talk, hang with us. Step into the shoe, and you immediately notice the pebbly insole, which feels like stepping into a foot massage. It’s super-comfortable and wakes up the feet.
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But the biggest lift this year was adding a dynamic “harness” that wraps up from the midsole to the laces. Tying into the Provisions, the strap effectively supports the arch from underneath, flexing and supporting the foot as it needs.
The medial side still sports a soft guide rail to help nudge the pronator upright. But in a world of medial posts and guide rails, this approach is radically different and is backed by the latest research.
The midsole is soft and provides plenty of cushion — for a specific type of runner. It’s probably a touch too soft for those seeking speed, but not quite soft enough for runners going longer distances. That markets the Provision precisely where Altra wants it: to the average 5- to 10-mile neutral runner who wants a great shoe. And for the zero-curious, this is a great shoe for newbies to step into zero drop.
Weight (per pair): 21.7 ounces (size 10)
Stack: 27 mm
Best for: Stability; middle-distance trainer
Best Race Shoe: On Running Cloudflow ($140)
You’d be forgiven for falling in love with the Cloudflow without even trying it on. The clean Swiss design is delicious eye candy for any runner. Fortunately, its good looks stand over a spectacularly smooth ride, due in large part to the 18 pillowy, donut-like pods made from a soft foam that provides efficient energy return.
They work in concert, compressing and lifting the runner through a smooth transition, keeping the Cloudflows running like a Swiss clock, and supporting runners with an effective midfoot strike.
At about 8 ounces per shoe, the Cloudflows are incredibly light. With lightweight, breathable materials, the upper feels like a glove. The tongue and laces may take the brunt of the pared-down shoe. We found the padding is a little sparse over the top of the foot for long runs.
Weight (per pair): 16.5 ounces (size 10)
Stack: 22mm heel, 16mm forefoot
Drop: 6 mm
Best for: Neutral; trainer and race day
How to Choose a Running Shoe
Staring at a wall of shoes or endlessly browsing an online retailer can be overwhelming. Just look up running shoes on Backcountry and you’ll find over 200 options!
And sifting through research on cushion, stability, and industry speak can pull you down a Reddit rabbit hole of academic papers. To help make sense of it all, we reached out to two experts in the field to cut through the jargon and point you in the right direction.
Dr. Michael Hahn is the director of the Bowerman Sports Science Clinic at the University of Oregon and specializes in neuromechanics and human locomotion. Dr. Hahn helped clarify the current science behind gait and support.
Bob Coll owns the Eugene Running Company, ranked as the top running store in Oregon by Runner’s World. Coll shared some helpful advice on how to pick the right shoe.
Consider Where You Run
These days, manufacturers have dialed shoes for nearly every niche of running. A quick way to hone in on the right shoe is to identify where you run.
Road shoes are primarily suitable for hard surfaces, with breathable uppers and smooth traction for pavement, track, and treadmills. Cushion and stability can vary (we’ll cover that more below).
Trail shoes have an aggressive lug pattern that bites into dirt, sand, and mud. “But not all treads are the same,” Coll adds. “It depends on what you plan to run on. A blocky, cleat-like tread will shed mud in the Pacific Northwest but can feel clunky on hardpack found in the Southwest and can cause trips and falls.”
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Coll also sees two kinds of trail runners come through his shop: “those that bash down the trail, plowing over obstacles, will want a higher-cushion trail-running shoe to suck in the hazards.” Then there are those that dance over the trail, who “can get away with a more minimal, thinner sole.”
Trail shoes also have a more durable upper, a robust toe bumper, and a firmer sole or even a rock guard — all to protect the feet from underlying roots and rocks.
Road or trail? These aren’t hard-and-fast rules. All the editors at GearJunkie run to the trailhead on the road, and we’re all guilty of taking a road shoe for a spin on the trail. If that sounds like you, we’ve indicated where a shoe can cross over effectively.
How Do You Run?
Everybody has a natural gait. And it leaves a thumbprint on your shoes. To get an idea of how you run, flip your shoes over and take a look at the wear pattern on the soles.
Neutral pronation shows a wear pattern that scuffs the outside of the heel and the ball of the foot. A neutral shoe will probably be your best bet. Overpronation shows wear along the inside edge of your shoe (meaning your feet are rolling off the big and middle toes). Hahn clarifies that “people with low arches will certainly pronate, and that can poorly load joints up the chain.” A stability shoe may help, “but don’t overdo it. Just find a comfortable shoe that feels good and naturally supports the foot.” Supination, or underpronation, is identified by long wear patterns along the outside edge of your shoes (caused by the feet rolling out). It can also be caused by inflexible, rigid, or high arches. Supination is less common, but the evidence is pretty clear here. “It always comes down to cushioning,” Hahn explained. “The No. 1 thing you can do is buy a cushioned shoe.” Stability
Stability has drastically changed over the last decade. Coll, who’s been in the business for 40-plus years, explained that “shoes have become more homogenous. Today’s neutral shoe is just as stable as the best ‘stability’ shoe from 10 years ago.” The gap between neutral and stability has narrowed.
“And the approaches to stability are different,” he continued. “Max cushion shoes, like a HOKA, use more cushion to seat you deep in a saddle surrounded by foam. And Brooks replaced the medial foam wedge with their foam guide rail system.”
Regardless of labeling or engineering, the best shoe is the one that feels natural to you.
Stepping into a high-cushion shoe can feel like walking on a cloud. Those running longer distances (or who supinate) will prefer more cushion to dampen the repetitive pounding and provide support. But it comes at a cost. Extra foam adds extra weight — a penalty long-distance runners are willing to accept over the cumulative miles.
Keep in mind that a few millimeters of cushion can reduce your stride length, which will cause a runner to contact the ground earlier in their stride. It’s like applying a micro-break with each step, bottoming out the foam, and transferring that force back up the leg.
“It’s not an impossible amount to overcome,” Hahn said. “The shoe is a tool, and you need to learn how to use it.” Expect to spend some time tweaking your running style to adapt to a new shoe.
So is more cushion better? Not always. Think of the road cyclist. The bike is light, the tires are narrow, and the ride is harsh. The cyclist’s priority is to transfer energy from the legs directly to the road. It’s about efficient speed.
The same principle applies to running. Put your energy toward a PR by looking for a lighter, stiffer shoe with a harder cushion and minimal lug friction.
Flexibility is your friend on the trails. Hahn broke it down, sharing that “on irregular terrain (think trails), the surface is unstable.” You need variability to match the variable terrain.
“Trail runners will prefer a shoe with a firm outsole and less cushion, but a firm toebox to push off of,” he said. Flexibility and torsion can help the foot adapt to the trail and prevent injuries.
Stack and Drop
Unless you’re running barefoot, every shoe has a stack. Measured in millimeters, the stack refers to how high the insole sits off the ground. Shoes with more cushion inherently have a higher stack. Furthermore, most shoes have a “drop” in stack height from the heel to the toe.
If the shoe’s heel and toe stack are the same, the shoe has zero drop. “Like cushion shoes, a larger drop can cause runners to strike a few milliseconds early,” Hahn reminded us. “You’ll need to adapt your style.”
If you’ve been running for decades and are accustomed to a 12mm-stack shoe, don’t try to mix it up too drastically. “Over time, your Achilles and soleus have naturally atrophied. Dropping too much can lead to injuries, and I don’t recommend it for older runners,” explained Coll.
“But if you’re new to running, I always recommend a lower heel drop; it builds a wider range of motion and strength,” he continued. And that makes you a healthier runner.
Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide
Ordering online is easy — and sometimes your only option. If you can, hop on down to your local running shop to get sized up (not the big-box store with shoes that look bright and fast). The crew at the shop has deep wells of knowledge and information about local conditions, all information that can inform your decision. Here are a few tips Coll shared with us.
Shop at the End of the Day
Walking, heat, diet: The day takes its toll on your dogs, and feet naturally swell as the day progresses. And so does running. Trying on shoes at the end of the day, after your run, gives you a better sense of how the shoe will fit miles into a run.
Measure Both Feet
Fit is king. You must know your size. Running shoe models can vary, fit differently than street shoes, and change as you age. Furthermore, most of our feet have a slight variation in size.
Many shoes have a nice, wide toebox, and it doesn’t hurt to give yourself some room, but Coll’s seen it all. “Buying a shoe too small not only causes black nails but can mess with your arch, causing plantar fasciitis, which can sideline you for months,” he warned. Give yourself a half to one thumbnail of room at the end of the shoe.
You can find several apps available to measure both foot length and width. If you can’t get sized up at your local shop, Coll recommended downloading the FootFact app.
Aftermarket Insoles and Orthotics
Most every shoe comes with an insole: that thin foam pad inside the shoe. Aftermarket insoles can be purchased to fit your specific gait, add stability, and provide extra comfort. We particularly like these. If you already have a custom insole, bring it with you to the shop and slip it in the new shoe before you test it.
If you’re considering an insole, talk to your podiatrist. The same discussion about pronation and stability applies here too. Changing your support can change your foot’s energy transfer, and you should consider it seriously.
You don’t run in dress socks, and you certainly don’t want to pull on that dingy test sock that everyone else has worn. Bring your favorite running socks with you to the store when trying on shoes. Better yet, buy new socks with the shoes. You can never have too many.
Any running store worth its lug should let you take the shoe out for a quick test run on the sidewalk. And some brands (like Brooks) back your purchase with a 30-day unconditional trial period (yet only 4% of runners take advantage of this policy!).
If you’re stuck inside the store, do a couple of sprints, jump, and change direction. You want to get a feel for how the shoe adjusts to motion. According to Coll, “That first fit is, in fact, the best indicator of how well the shoe will feel weeks down the road (or trail).”
How Long Do Running Shoes Last?
That depends. Do you pronate? Supinate? Are you a Clydesdale? How many pairs do you run in? Do you only unbox them for race days? Coll shares with his customers that they can expect 400-500 miles out of a shoe.
If you’re savvy, track your shoe’s miles on Strava. If you’re like the rest of us, think of your average weekly miles, then mark your calendar 400-500 miles out. So if you run 25 miles a week, mark on your calendar 4 months from now, and you’ll know it’s time to consider buying a new pair.
Lastly, keep an eye on your new shoes. If you see excessive wear patterns in the upper or the tread is thinning, you’ve gone way past the time to replace your kicks.
“These days, midsole fatigue is the weakest link,” Coll clarified. “Divots in the mid foam can make the shoe ride uneven and can lead to pronation and supination issues. You’ll start to feel the changes through minor aches and pains.”
Running is a simple sport and can be extremely rewarding — but only if your gear is in good condition. Bottom line: Shoes are a great way to get cheap thrills, and a shoe from this list is a step in the right direction.
Have a favorite men’s running shoe we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.
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