No doubt about it, 2021 has been an amazing year for running shoes, from cushioned long run classics to the latest carbon plate race shoes, pretty much all the brands have upped their game. And some, like Puma, have arrived out of nowhere to add to the competition.
But with so many running shoes, how do you find the ones that’ll work best for you?
Well, this video is a great place to start. From the 100s of pairs that The Run Testers have tested, we’ve selected the shoes that stood out most. If it’s made this list it’s a great shoe and well worth consideration.
Here’s the full video on the best runnings available in 2021. Scroll down to see the individual reviews for each shoe, covering the design, fit and how they delivered on the run.
Best race shoes
1. Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2
Price: From £209.95 / $250 | Weight: 186g/6.6oz | Drop: 8mm
Scan the feet in the start corals at any major marathon and you’ll notice a sea of the Vaporfly 2. Despite the arrival of the Alphafly, these carbon-plate racers are still the go-to shoe for chasing PBs over half and marathon distance. They’re lighter and more agile than the Alpha but still punchy when you run with good form and hit the higher paces.
The change in uppers from generation one to generation two is an improvement and the ZoomX foam balances protection and response, and works with that foot-long carbon plate to give you an ideal platform for running fast. These are shoes that make you feel race-ready the moment you lace them on.
2. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%
Price: £269.95 / $275 | Weight: 210g/7.4oz | Drop: 4mm
The chunkier, pricier stablemate of the Vaporfly, the Alphafly uses the same springy ZoomX foam and a carbon plate, but adds Nike’s Air Zoom pods under the forefoot for a punchier toe-off. The Alphafly is more of an acquired taste than the Vaporfly, which seems to work for pretty much everyone, but if you click with the Alphafly it’s a superb long-distance racer in particular.
Run Tester Nick has it as his go-to half marathon and marathon racing shoe, and ran 2:29 and 2:33 marathons in it this year. The Vaporfly is lighter and nimbler, but the Alphafly helps you lock into a pace and cruise through those long events in more comfort, while still being outrageously fast. The real downside here though is the price. At £270 you might well get more value by sticking with the Vaporfly, or opting for the Metaspeed Sky or Adios Pro 2.
For our third pick, we’ve got two racing shoes. Both are worthy of a place in the top spot, but for different reasons.
3. Asics Metaspeed Sky
Price: £225 / $250 | Weight: 190g / 6.7oz | Drop: 5mm
The first is the Asics Metaspeed Sky, one of if not the closest carbon plate shoe experience to the Vaporfly and the Alphafly. The thick chunk of FF Blast Turbo, combined with a full-length plate gives them a propulsive bounce that makes them a fantastic racer from 5k distance all the way up to marathon. The upper gives a comfortable and secure fit while the midsole design manages to be slightly more stable than some other carbon plate super shoes. At £225 it’s one of the more expensive options out there, but in this case, you get what you pay for.
3. Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 2
Price: £180/$220 | Weight: 215g/7.6oz | Drop: 10mm
The Adios Pro 2 aren’t cheap but they’re a chunk friendlier to your bank balance than Nike’s flagship shoes and most other carbon racers. They’re a little less bulky than an Alphafly but still pack plenty of responsive punch for racing up to a marathon distance. The stripped-down racer combines a big wedge of responsive Lightstrike Pro foam with a Wolverine-claw split carbon plate that puts a rod under each metatarsal rather than a foot-long plate.
Despite being heavier than the AlphaFly, the Adios Pro 2 runs lighter and more compact on the foot. It’s nimble, agile and punchy at pace but despite a higher drop makes for a much less stable run overall – largely due to the midsole cut out and a more pronounced lateral cutaway. This is a shoe that works best when you’re running with your best form.
Race Shoes Also Worth Looking At
Saucony Endorphin Pro 2
Price: £190/$200 | Weight: 213G/7.5oz | Drop: 8mm
Another shoe worth looking at in this category is the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2. It has a firmer, more stable ride than many super shoes, but the combination of Saucony’s PEBA PWRRUN PB midsole and a full-length carbon plate still makes for a propulsive feel, with the Speedroll tech in the midsole helping to produce an efficient ride.
On Cloudboom Echo
Price: £210 / $269.99 | Weight: 220g / 7.8 oz | Drop: 9mm
The Cloudboom Echo is a lively carbon plate shoe that offers a smooth and fast ride and excels mainly at shorter events, being firmer than most super shoes. We found it can handle anything up to half marathons well, and also protects the legs enough to use it for your fast training runs, but it might be a bit too firm for most to enjoy for full marathons.
New Balance Fuelcell RC Elite V2
Price: £210/$224.99 | Weight: 219g/7.7oz | Drop: 10mm
At the other end of the scale is, the New Balance Fuelcell RC Elite 2, the most comfortable carbon shoe we’ve come across, but still exceptionally fast thanks to the bouncy FuelCell foam in the midsole. Nick picked up the biggest win of his life at the London Landmarks Half in the RC Elite 2, so it will forever be close to his heart.
Hoka Rocket X
Price: £140/$180 | Weight: 210g/7.4oz | Drop: 5mm
The HOKA Rocket X is a great value option at £140 that has a fast ride that’s also comfortable enough to use for a lot of training, and it’s been Mike’s go-to option for 5k and 10k races this year.
While the EVA midsole lacks the bouncy feel of many super shoes, the Rocket X is still impressively fast and smooth, and it’s a great option for runners who don’t want to splash out over £150 on a racing shoe.
Best daily shoes
Saucony Endorphin Speed 2
Price: £155/$160 | Weight: 232g/8.2oz | Drop: 8mm
The Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 is by far our most talked-about shoe of 2021, much like the Speed was before it. It can basically do anything, from daily runs to race day efforts, thanks to the combination of the PWRRUN PB midsole foam and the full-length nylon plate.
The upper has an excellent locked-down fit, there’s a healthy spattering of outsole rubber and the upper is thin and breathable. If we were sent to a desert island – one that had roads on it – and were only allowed to take one pair of shoes, we’d all opt for the Speed 2. It’s also worth noting that the updates made from the original speed are minimal, so if you can get the Speed cheaper, it’ll save you some cash.
Hoka Mach 4
Price: £125/$130 | Weight: 232g/8.2oz | Drop: 5mm
The Mach 4 is a lightweight cruiser of a shoe that’s capable of handling an impressively wide range of training runs. It’s very comfortable, and Nick logged 20 milers in it during marathon training as well as a load of easy runs, but it also has the pace to handle short interval sessions.
It doesn’t quite have the pop of the Endorphin Speed 2, but is a little more cushioned and comfortable for those long and relaxed efforts when you are easing off the gas. The only fly in the ointment here is that the exposed rubber outsole wears down faster than we’d like in a daily trainer, but you will at least love your runs in the shoe while it lasts.
Saucony Ride 14
Price: £125/$130 | Weight: 266g/9.4oz | Drop: 8mm
If you’re after good solid, reliable comfort and great versatility in a shoe that’s built to last, the Saucony Ride 14 is it. Albeit in a more traditional design than some of the other high-stacked, squishy daily trainers. But if you wanted to buy one shoe for training and racing up to a marathon, this would do the job.
It’s not as punchy or pillowy cushioned as some daily shoes but it can cover everything from easy recovery runs to higher tempo training sessions. All at a price that’s pretty competitive. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
Daily Shoes Also Worth Looking At
New Balance 1080 v11
Price: £135/$149.99 | Weight: 255g/9oz | Drop: 8mm
With great step-in comfort and a disappearing feel on the foot, this 255g midweight daily trainer screams reliable comfort and performance for those easy to mid-intensity miles. The big midsole stack of FreshFoam X is slightly firmer than some big-cushioned shoes but strikes a great balance between soft landings and energy-saving response.
The one-piece mesh uppers make for a sock-like snugness that feels supportive but also leaves plenty of wiggle room for your toes. This is one of those versatile shoes you’re always happy to lace up.
Puma Velocity Nitro
Price: £100/$120 | Weight: 257g/9.1 oz | Drop: 8mm
The Velocity Nitro has been talked about by the Run Testers on hundreds of occasions. It’s a great allrounder that ticks a lot of boxes, from comfort and cushioning to having the versatility to be used for a range of training efforts. The biggest plus point of the shoe is, however, the prices and can often be found around £50 from various retailers.
Asics Novablast 2
Price: £130/$130 | Weight: 271g/9.6oz | Drop: 8mm
The Novablast was one of the most popular shoes for daily training when it was released, but the high stack of FF Turbo midsole foam meant it was noticeably unstable. The Novablast 2fixes that stability to an extent, making it a better all-round option for general running even up to race day. Although the update has made the foam slightly less bouncy.
Under Armour Flow Velociti Wind
Price: £140/$160 | Weight: 241g/8.5oz | Drop: 8mm
The Velociti Wind is less cushioned than some of the other options in this list and is a big winner for Mike and Kieran. It’s a good choice for those who want something more minimal, but don’t want to go all the way, and the lean design makes them a good choice for faster training and race day. It also has built-in technology that links to the MapMyRun app to give data on your run without the need for a watch.
New Balance Rebel V2
Price: £120/$129.99 | Weight: 204g/7.2oz | Drop: 6mm
The Rebel v2 is a light, fun and bouncy option for daily runs that has a similar feel to New Balance’s carbon shoe, just without the pop of a carbon plate. It’s very versatile, with the FuelCell midsole providing a comfortable but speedy ride, though we did find at times that the lack of plate meant it started to lose some of its pop on longer fast runs.
Best Cushioned Shoes
1. Brooks Glycerin 19
Price: £140/$150 | Weight: 290g/10.2oz | Drop: 10mm
The Brooks Glycerin line has long been a favourite of ours for cushioned and comfortable miles. The DNALoft midsole foam used in the most recent versions has a great balance of cushioning, without feeling too soft, which means the shoe can pick up the pace when it needs to.
The traditional upper design has a nice level of cushioning which makes them comfortable from the first time you step in them, and there’s a healthy level of outsole rubber to ensure you’ll be running in the shoe for many miles.
2. On Cloudflyer
Price: £140/$159.99 | Weight: 280g/9.8oz | Drop: 7mm
The On Cloudflyer is a cushioned shoe that has a sprinkling of support. That subtle amount of stability built into it is barely even noticeable, but when you’re clocking up the miles it helps to promote a comfortable and smooth feel, especially combined with On’s Helion foam cushioning. The result is a versatile shoe that excels over many miles of training when you want a reliable workhorse.
Nike React Infinity Run 2
Price: £144.95/$160 | Weight: 302g/10.7oz | Drop: 9mm
Great for casual runs and easy recovery efforts, this second-gen update of Nike’s popular everyday training shoe comes with the same soft and responsive React midsole foam and a wide-base that gives stable and cushioned landings.
A new Flyknit mesh upper – and a padded tongue and heel – also improves the all-round comfort and lockdown fit. They’re plush, roomy and flexible, though at a heavier 302g, these are best laced up for slower miles and those exploratory ambles where you’re running with little time-focussed intent.
Cushioned Shoes Also Worth Looking At
Saucony Triumph 19
Price: £145/$150 | Weight: 286g/10.1oz | Drop: 8mm
The triumph line has been a favourite of ours for a long time, with Nick frequently singing the praises of the shoe. The 19 continues that trend with a cruiser shoe that has loads of cushioning but still feels fast when you need it to be. This is definitely our favourite heavily cushioned shoe from Saucony.
Nike ZoomX Invincible Run
Price: £164.95/$180 | Weight: 287g/10.1oz | Drop: 9mm
If you want ultimate softness in your daily shoe then the Nike Invincible is the one to go for. The midsole is made entirely from the same ZoomX foam used in the Vaporfly, which means it’s extremely soft, but still has a lot of bounce. The main downside to using that foam is stability, and the shoe can feel a bit wobbly.
Skechers MaxRoad 5
Price: £130/$140 | Weight: 235g/8.3oz | Drop: 6mm
Like all of Skechers shoes, the MaxRoad 5 has a great cushioning to weight ratio, being light on the foot despite the chunky stack of nitrogen-infused EVA in the midsole. The responsive feel of the foam, combined with the shoe’s rocker mean that the MaxRoad offers a speedier feel than most easy shoes, making it a little more versatile.
Best All-Rounder Running Shoes
Saucony Speed 2
Price: £155 / $160 | Weight: 232g / 8.2oz (M8) | Drop: 8mm
We’ve already waxed lyrical about the versatility of the Speed 2 as a daily trainer, but the fact it does skew slightly towards speedier stuff makes it even more capable as a shoe you can use on race day as well as in your training.
The fact it’s a little comfier than the Endorphin pro 2 might even make the Speed a better pick for half and full marathons, and it also has the pace for short events, with Nick using the Speed for a couple of 5Ks in the past year. To show off its versatility again, on the same day as one of those 5Ks Nick took the Speed out for an hour-long recovery run. There aren’t many shoes that are so capable of handling both of those runs on the same day.
New Balance Fuelcell TC
Price: £180/$200 | Weight: 264g/9.3oz | Drop: 8mm
Tom’s absolute favourite running shoe of all time, The Fuelcell TC is a rare case of a full carbon plate being used in a daily trainer. The result is an experience that’s very similar to what you’ll find in something like the Vaporfly or Asics Metaspeed Sky.
It’s a bouncy and propulsive shoe that’s perfect for running faster training miles or even races in. The similarity with those super shoes also means that it is quite wobbly though, which may be an issue for those runners that want a more stable ride.
New Balance Rebel V2
Price: £120/$129.99 | Weight: 204g/7.2oz | Drop: 6mm
Thanks to the high stack of FuelCell foam in the midsole, the Rebel v2 has a similar feel to New Balance’s carbon plate running shoes like the TC and RC. It’s not quite as fast and purposeful as those shoes, but it is a little more versatile in terms of handling all your training runs well, including easy and recovery runs, and it provides a light and bouncy ride when you are pushing hard in speed sessions and races too.
It’s probably better suited to short events if you are racing though, with the Speed 2 and Mach being better options for half marathon and marathon training and races, with the Rebel 2 bottoming out a little in our experience when pushing past around 10 miles.
All-Rounders Also Worth looking At
Skechers GoRun Razor Excess
Price: £125/$140 | Weight: 204g/7.2oz | Drop: 4mm
Skechers’s lightweight Hyperburst midsole is the star of the show here, providing a ride with plenty of pop that’s still pretty comfortable on easy runs. The Razor Excess has a firmer feel than some of our other all-rounder picks, and the low drops might not suit everyone, but it’s a terrific fast training shoe that we also rate as a good racing option for all distances up to a marathon.
Brooks Hyperion Tempo
Price: £140/$150 | Weight: 207g/7.3oz | Drop: 8mm
The Tempo is a firmer option that has a more traditional feel than shoes with very springy foams and plates, which will appeal to runners who haven’t bought into the recent revolution in shoe design. The Tempo is a good racing option for short and long events alike, and you will also enjoy racking up the training miles in it too if you do prefer a firmer shoe in general.
Hoka Rincon 3
Price: £105/$115 | Weight: 203g/7.2oz | Drop: 5mm
The Rincon dynasty has found a winning formula of a light, cushioned, versatile ride and largely stuck with it from generation to generation. You get a high stack midsole, Hoka’s trademark rocker and a light mesh upper that creates a run-long, run (fairly fast) or run easy ride that’s firm, with good ground contact. The price is also compelling. The only real question marks over the Rincon are the durability of that midsole foam and the toe box that some find narrow.
Best Value Running Shoes
Puma Velocity Nitro
Price: £100 / $120 | Weight: 257g / 9.1 oz | Drop:8mm
The Puma Velocity Nitro may have an RRP of £100, but it’s been available for much less than that from very soon after it was launched. At around £50 on some sites, it’s an absolute steal and can easily give shoes that cost well over twice that a run for their money, for comfort, versatility and grip.
That makes it perfect for anyone, from beginners who don’t want to invest in a more expensive shoe straight away, for people who want a cheaper workhorse daily trainer to save the durability of their more expensive shoes, or basically just for anyone on a tight budget.
Reebok Floatride Energy 3
Price: £75/$100 | Weight: 24g/8.5oz | Drop: 9mm
The Floatride Energy 3 is a very capable all-round running shoe for £75, and it’s very often available for less than that RRP in sales as well. The shoe has a generous stack of cushioning, and although it’s not a particularly lively ride it doesn’t feel heavy on the foot. That makes it a solid option for a range training runs, even if it is better suited to eating up your easy mileage.
The outsole also grips well in all conditions, helping to make the Energy 3 a great cheap option for rounding out your rotation and handling your base runs in all conditions while saving your pricier, more exciting shoes for speed days, long runs and races.
Puma Liberate Nitro
Price: £90/$110 | Weight: 170g/6.3oz | Drop: 8mm
Another shoe from Puma’s range that offers exceptional value at £90. The Liberate Nitro is an absolute joy to run in, with a very light and flexible design that provides a little bounce while also giving you great feel for the ground. It’s a fast shoe that’s great fun for interval sessions, and can also handle shorter races well. It also offers fantastic grip thanks to the PumaGrip outsole.
In general, we found that it’s less good for longer runs of over an hour, when we preferred the more cushioned and structured Velocity Nitro, and Nick had some minor heel rub issues with the Liberate on long runs, but if you’re generally heading out for 5k and 10k runs and want a fun, lively shoe, the Liberate is a top option.
Value Shoes Also Worth Looking At
Brooks Launch 8
Price: /$100 | Weight: 243.8g/8.6oz | Drop: 10mm
The Launch is a very underrated shoe all round. It might not have an exciting foam in the midsole, but the EVA material used provides a comfortable yet still quick ride that makes the Launch 8 a solid all-rounder pick at a great price.