The best running shoes 2018: top trainers to get you road fit

Go from couch to 5K to 10K to marathons and beyond with the best running shoes for road running (and a few for off-road)

TODO alt text

Summer’s here and the time is right, for running in the streets. In the best running shoes! In this heat you can really test yourself to the limits, but that shouldn't include discomfort or a feeling of sluggishness coming from your shoes.

 Whether you're tackling a road marathon or you’ve just discovered your local 5k Park Run, the most important piece of kit you need is a decent pair of running shoes. Right after a vest and a tiny pair of shorts.

Finding the best running shoes for you can be the difference between slogging out heavy miles and feeling free and easy on your feet. 

With so many brands and styles to choose from, finding the perfect pair for your running style can be a challenge. But don’t worry. I run most days and have done everything from 5K to ultra-marathons and ironman trails. As T3's resident running expert, I've whittled down your options as far as is humanly possible.

What are the best running shoes?

This is a very hard question to answer because runners' needs vary so wildly. 

However, if I had to choose one shoe that’ll deliver for most runners, it’s the Nike Epic React Flyknit. The combination of Nike’s breakthrough midsole foam and the sock-like Flyknit uppers make for a lightweight, cushioned ride without sacrificing too much stability – at least on the tarmac. A challenge to the Adidas Boost foam’s dominance over the past few years, Nike has produced a shoe that’s a winner for the everyday.

Many weather-beaten running purists steer away from Nike and Adidas and I personally also love the ON Cloudrushfor its excellent blend of comfort, innovation, performance and style. It's sure to find favour with very experienced runners but the Cloudrush is not an esoteric shoe; it's suited to a broad cross-section of running styles. 

Those wanting to go in completely the opposite direction might want to try the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%. Possibly the most advanced running shoe ever, this is designed specifically to help elite athletes crack the first sub-two-hour marathon… but who knows? It could also knock big seconds off your next park run.

If you want something even more rare and desirable, this year's Nike elite model, debuting at the London Marathon, is the Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint. I feel exhausted just saying that name out loud, in full.

Best running shoes: a buying guide

A decent pair of running-specific trainers will cushion your feet and legs from the impact of repeatedly hitting the pavement; they’ll be flexible in all the right places and they’ll help protect against common injuries. But choosing the right shoe isn’t as easy as just picking the one you like the look of. 

The difficulty in recommending running shoes is that, while some are better than others, the 'best' shoe for you also has to suit how you run. We all run different mileage, land differently, weigh different amounts, and have different shaped feet, and our shoes should reflect that. 

If you’re a heavier runner you may find a supportive, cushioned shoe will help absorb some of the impact as you run, while lighter runners might prefer a more minimal shoe. Likewise, for longer runs you may want bounce and cushioning for a comfortable ride, while on race day or shorter runs you opt for something lighter, faster and more minimal.

Gait can also be a big factor, in particular, if your gait shows an excess of pronation or supination (inward and outward rolling of the foot as it strikes and pushes off from the ground), as you may need a shoe or insole that addresses this.

While all these variables may sound complicated, particularly if you’re new to the sport, keep the following five golden rules in mind.

1. Get your gait tested

Drop into a shop like Sweatshop, Runner's Need or Vivobarefoot's stores and you can get a full gait analysis test done. This often means running on a treadmill or along the street so staff can help you identify the type of running shoes and support that's best for your running style. 

Most of the staff will be runners themselves, so you’ll also get some handy hints on how to improve your technique.

2. Try before you buy

You may be able to find bargains online but it’s always best to try shoes on before you commit. Sizes can vary significantly from brand to brand, and it’s often worth going a half or full size up to allow for feet swelling as they become hot. 

Even a brisk walk around the store, or in a carpeted area if you’re trying on at home, can give you a good idea of comfort and help highlight any niggling spots – that slightly slipping heel may feel minor now but think what it’s going to feel like after an hour or so on the run.

3. Think about your terrain

Where you plan to run is important: road, trail, or a mixture of both. In general, trail running requires more support and road requires more impact protection, but again this can also be affected by how you run, and what you find comfortable.

4. Racing versus training

In a lot of cases you might want to choose a training shoe for longer mileage and a race shoe that's lighter but better used for shorter periods of time, like a four-hour race. Either way, it's important that you've worn your shoes in before you hit race day, or put in the longer runs.

5. Focus on that first-try feel

When it comes to the crunch, knowing you’ve found the right shoes for you comes down to how you feel when you put them on. A good sign that you’re making the right choice is a pair of shoes that almost melt into the background from the moment you slip them on, to the point that you don’t really notice you’re wearing them. 

Now that you know your style, it's time to choose. Every pair of shoes on our list has been worn, tested and put through its paces. Leaf through the list of the latest tech-filled trainers for your perfect running shoes.

Unfortunately we can't provide the motivation to hit those wintery pavements, but a good shoe is a step in the right direction. I've placed these shoes in my, personal order of preference but more importantly, each is labelled with what it's 'best for', from overall excellence to maximum support to the best minimalist shoe. 

The best running shoes 2018

ON Cloudrush

1. Nike Epic React Flyknit

Best running shoes

Best for: Everyday runners
Built for: Comfort, stability and durability
Reasons to buy
+Great energy return+Long lasting
Reasons to avoid
-Better on smooth tarmac than uneven paths

I choose T3's No.1 shoe based on comfort, innovation, performance and style. We look for a shoe to suit a nice, broad section of runners. The kind of shoe a regular runner, who hits a good weekly mileage and keeps one eye on performance, would enjoy, and a shoe that’s capable of covering a range of distances from 5k to marathon.

And here it is, your latest gold medal winning running footwear: the Nike Epic React Flyknit. 

• Buy Epic React Flyknit direct from Nike

• Buy the women's version

This is the first shoe to feature Nike’s new midsole technology, React foam. This Adidas-Boost-bothering foam features a synthetic rubber compound that’s created by Nike’s clever chemical engineers to be light, responsive, durable and cushioned. 

What this means in practice is 20 per cent more mileage (that’s 600 miles instead of 500 if you were wondering) before your shoes need replacing, 13 per cent more energy return than any other Nike shoe and a midsole foam that’s 30 per cent lighter than Boost foam. 

And this is a light shoe. The Nike Epic React Flyknit comes in at 239g, that’s 5 per cent lighter than its predecessor, the Lunar Epic 2. It’s not just about the new rubber formula either, Nike also used computational design to crunch thousands of runner data points and to whittle away foam where it’s not needed and produce a shoe that copes with pressure in the right places without any foamy excess baggage.

The uppers are fashioned from the familiar Flyknit we’ve come to know and love and that means a snug, comfortable fit that feels secure around the instep, but leaving plenty of wiggle room and flex around the toes. There’s a heel cup for added stability

The Nike Epic React Flyknit is most at home on the road and will cope with everything from a fast 5km to those longer marathon training runs.

ON Cloudrush

2. ON Cloudrush

Best running shoe from a smaller brand

Best for: Advanced runners
Built for: Speed with support
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight and speedy…+But without sacrificing comfort
Reasons to avoid
-At the pricier end of the scale

The ON Cloudrush continues the theme of comfort, innovation, performance and style. It'll suit a nice, broad section of runners, but is also the kind of shoe a regular road warrior, who hits a good weekly mileage and keeps one eye on performance, will enjoy. 

The Cloudrush is a fast, lightweight, versatile shoe that’s as comfortable over 5km and 10km as it is a marathon.

The reincarnation of the ON Cloudracer, which was one of the first shoes launched by the still-young Swiss shoemakers, the Cloudrush has specs that say speed. It weighs in at a ridiculously floaty 220g and has a 5mm heel-to-toe drop and definitely encourages or favours forefoot striking.

However, even though these are built for speed, the Cloudrush are ideal for runners who regularly chase personal bests but don’t want to go the whole hog and lace up the most minimal race shoes on the shelves. There’s a bit more to them than that. 

They feature ON’s instantly recognisable CloudTec sole with 18 responsive, low-friction rubber elements – these are the 'clouds' – that make for a fast but cushioned ride. Beneath those clouds there’s an extremely slim EVA midsole and a flexible Speedboard that provides added propulsion from every step. This Speedboard plate acts much like a taut bow, storing up the energy as your foot lands on the floor and then firing you forward as you lift off and that tension releases.

Let’s face it: speed doesn’t happen without comfort and that’s where the Cloudrush also excels. When it comes to the fit of the uppers, it’s hard to quibble with ON, and with the Cloudrush’s built-in inner sock liner you can leave your socks at home… If you’re willing to put up with the inevitable odour issues that come with sweating directly into your shoe, at any rate. 

When you get tired your running form can suffer and that can mean landing more on your heels. To mitigate ON has also added more cushioning to that area, making for a more comfortable run over longer distances.

The final tick in the box is that while the Cloudrush only currently come in one colourway – white and black and silver – they also have reflective details that’ll make sure you’re seen and safe on those dark winter nights ahead.

Adidas UltraBOOST 2018

3. Adidas UltraBOOST 2018

Best Adidas running shoe

Best for: Everyday runners with like comfort and speed
Built for: Speed in urban spaces
Reasons to buy
+Great energy return+Good for everyday use
Reasons to avoid
-Can be tight on wider feet

Adidas Boost foam is all about charging every step with energy and speed and though you can now get your Boost foam fix from a huge range of Adidas running shoes, the UltraBOOST has always been a popular choice, hence why we’re now being treated to the fourth revamp for 2018. 

• Buy UltraBOOST direct from Adidas

• Buy UltraBOOST at Amazon

This latest generation of UltraBOOST looks much like the last but there are changes. For a start the uppers now feature a newly developed PrimeKnit composition in  Adidas’ one piece woven fabric upper. It’s designed to reduce stretch and provide that close, comfy sock fit but now with additional support. In practice this makes the UltraBoost feel a bit less like running in slippers. 

There’s what Adidas calls a Fit Counter integrated into the heel too, it’s job is to give a bit more freedom of movement for the Achilles tendon as a balance to the bouncy Boost midsole, for adaptability, cushioning and energy return on a range of common urban running surfaces, by which we mean pavements.

A Continental rubber outsole provides added traction in the wet. People with sweatier feet can also rejoice, the ventilation holes that Adidas included in the original UltraBOOST are back on the upper to air out the foot’s sweatier zones – the cage and forefoot.

Adidas running shoes do tend to come up a little tight, so some may want to consider a half size above what you usually take. The laceless version is also surprisingly good: no more laces to worry about coming untied, but the fit feels very secure indeed.

3. Asics Roadhawk FF

Best running shoes for on-road versatility

Best for: Urban running over all distances
Built for: Runners who mix it up
Reasons to buy
+Competitively priced+Versatility over different distances
Reasons to avoid
-Won’t appeal to minimalists

If you’re looking for a versatile neutral shoe that’s just as happy over 5km as it is a marathon the ASICS Roadhawk FF is well worth a look. This solid all-rounder is even suitable for track sessions and speed work, making it a great option for marathon training too. 

• Buy ASICS Roadhawk FF from Wiggle

• Buy ASICS Roadhawk FF from Amazon

The combination of a lightweight, medium-cushioned Flytefoam midsole and seamless Jacquard mesh uppers, make for a comfortable fit that’s not unlike the feel you get from Nike Flyknit or Adidas PrimeKnit uppers. It also helps keep the weight to just 245g. 

At the heel there’s 20mm of midsole foam that might be too much for runners who like to be a bit more minimal and this makes for a 7mm heel drop overall. Because this is a shoe you’re supposed to run in regularly, ASICS has added high abrasion rubber at key pressure points on the outsole for improved durability. They’re also reflective making them a perfect choice if you’re one of those runners who braves the dark winter nights to get the miles.

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34

4. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34

Best running shoes for beginners

Best for: A broad range of road runners
Built for: Comfort and stability
Reasons to buy
+Reliable road warriors+Good cushioning and support

Forget bells, whistles and flashing lights, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus is a reliable workhorse of a shoe (albeit a very attractive workhorse) with a legion of loyal followers. Even Sir Mo Farah uses it in training. 

Often recommended to beginners owing to it’s comfortable foam cushioning and the stability provided by the firm heel cup and cables which wrap the arch, it’s a shoe that once they’ve popped, many runners can’t stop going back to.

While the responsive cushioning makes it comfortable for those whose feet are just adapting to running, it’s also great for more experienced runners as the strategic placing of Nike Zoom Air units helps propel you forwards, which is a boon on longer training runs. Despite the support and cushioning, the shoe is also light, weighing in at a very respectable 285g.

While the Pegasus has evolved slowly over the years – after all if it ain’t broke, don't fix it – there are improvements most seasons. The 34, for example, uses a lighter Flymesh upper to allow your feet to breathe and reduce overheating.

That said, if you like the shoe and don't need Flymesh, you can find previous season’s colour ways online for a bargain price, with minimal differences in technology.

4. ASICS Gel Kayano 24

Best running shoes for longer distances

Best for: Pronators and ultra runners
Built for: Support over long distances
Reasons to buy
+Epic stability and support+Quite attractive for this type of shoe

If you like your shoe with added support, look no further that the ASICS Gel Kayano. Particularly good for overpronators – those whose feet roll inwards as they run – the Kayano is designed to keep your feet comfortable and secure on long runs, even as you tire and your form wilts.

Around for 20 years, this is now the 24th generation of ASICS’ popular stability shoe and the technology has moved with the times. Memory foam heel lining provides a more personalised fit around while heel-holding technology has been improved to reduce rub and slippage. Structured panels in the upper give extra support to overpronators – or tired feet – on endurance training sessions, and the GEL and FlyteFoam midsole mean added comfort.

While all that support does come with a bit of extra weight the Kayano is definitely on the light side for a stability shoe, weighing just 320g. It’s also taken a step away from its predecessors in terms of looks, with a lower heel height of 10mm adding to a faster, sleeker shape.

5. Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%

Best minimalist running shoe

Best for: Elite athletes and urban free runners
Built for: SPEED!
Reasons to buy
+Elite performance
Reasons to avoid
-Elite price

The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% is a slightly tweaked version of the Nike Vaporfly Zoom Elite shoes that helped the world’s fastest runners come within 26 seconds of busting through the sub-2-hour marathon barrier for Nike’s Breaking2 Project. It’s as close to a complete reimagining of the running shoe as you’re going to get. 

Both Eliud Kipchoge and Mo Farah will be wearing them during the London Marathon next spring, with world record holder Eliud calling the system "perfect...really perfect."

A study by researchers at the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, assisted by Nike Sport Research Lab, claims: "The prototype [Nike Vaporfly 4%] shoes lowered the energetic cost of running by 4 percent on average. We predict that with these shoes, top athletes could run substantially faster and achieve the first sub-2-hour marathon."

Offering an elite-like shoe that mortals with a decent bank balance can use to smash their own personal records, the Vaporfly 4% System combines four outstanding, speed-enhancing features. The first is the new Nike ZoomX foam, the company’s most responsive EVA foam to date. It’s ultra-lightweight, soft and capable of providing up to 85-percent energy return, all of which makes this a very fast and surprisingly stable shoe to run in.  

Next, tucked away within that magic foam is a full-length curved carbon fibre plate that covers the entire sole. This increases stiffness, creates a sensation of propulsion and puts more acceleration into each push off. For added traction there’s a blown rubber super-thin outsole but this runs just under just the forefoot section rather than the whole shoe to save on weight. Finally the heel also features another thin layer of Zoom foam with added grip to soften impact. 

Put all of these together into a shoe that weighs just 195g and according to Nike you get an average of 4-percent improvement in running economy – that means you’re 4% more efficientas opposed to 4% faster – compared to their previous fastest racing flat. 

Sadly they are also a little more than 4% more expensive than most other running shoes.

6. Inov-8 Parkclaw 275

Best running shoes for tarmac to trail

Best for: Runners who go off road
Built for: Grip and bad weather
Reasons to buy
+Versatile and tough+Great support
Reasons to avoid
-Weather-resistant rather than waterproof

If you’re a weekend warrior – pounding the pavements during the week but getting off-road and muddy of a Saturday and Sunday – you’ll either need to invest in two pairs of shoes or buy one designed to deal with both tarmac and trail. The pick of that bunch is Inov-8's Parkclaw 275.  

Flip these over and on the bottom you’ll see a slightly more substantial, trail-style stud pattern than you find on Inov-8’s road specific shoes. That makes it great for the easier trails, river paths, but the 4mm lugs still feel smooth when you’re running on roads. 

The Powerflow+ midsole tech provides better shock absorption whether you’re on road or trail plus '25% better energy return than standard midsoles'.

An external heel counter adds extra support and stability in the heel as you cruise over the lumps and bumps, so even when your legs are getting tired of all those muddy hills, your gait should stay true. Cramming all that into a shoe that’s still only 275g is a job well done.

7. ON Cloudflash

An older pair of ON speedsters, now a bit cheaper

Reasons to buy
+Traditional racing design with added comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Lemon meringue styling

Built for speed but comfortable over distance too, last season's Cloudflash combines the flat design of a traditional racing shoe with the added benefit of the Swiss company’s unique CloudTec cushion in the sole

Also along for the ride: a unique Speedboard torsion bar for added propulsion and some seriously minimal uppers.

There are 14 of On’s patented ‘Clouds,’ 8 of which are coated in rubber for added traction. At just 220g, it’s the firm’s lightest runner, a stat boosted by an upper construction that’s so thin, it’s translucent. 

Ideal for speed sessions on the track but with a fit snug enough to wear for a half or full marathon, these are perfect for runners with personal bests in mind.

8. New Balance Vazee Pace v2

A real runner's running shoe and still a great choice

Reasons to buy
+Comfort and speed, mile after mile+Now going pleasingly cheap
Reasons to avoid
-Requires - and rewards - technique

If you want to go fast and keep that up for a long time then these are the shoes for you. 

The Vazee Pace is an ideal marathon shoe with plenty of road-running support geared to midfoot striking, great responsiveness and the ability to just keep giving over long distances. 

This is also a light shoe, which will be appreciated as the miles clock up. As such some might call the foam a little thin but if your technique is correct it won’t be an issue. This trainer, in effect, encourages you to run right… And rewards you for doing so.

9. Inov-8 Roclite 290

Another sterling road/off-road option

Reasons to buy
+Great in multiple environments+Again, now knocked down in price
Reasons to avoid
-Not fully waterproof

A decade in the making, the Roclite 290, named for its 290g weight, was the lightest in the Inov-8 range (the new 275 has surpassed it now) and gives great support and comfort over multiple terrains. 

If you’re the kind of runner who likes to mix up their terrain, then this is nearly perfect, although it's not fully waterproof. Well, it is summer. 

It is, however, designed to withstand wet mountain rock, but is equally at home on tarmac or muddy grass. 

Shaving off weight means this model has one eye on speed, but there are heavier models in the range, like the Roclite 305, that deliver more support and protection.

10. ASICS DynaFlyte

Best for neutral pronation

Reasons to buy
+Continuous cushioning, soft landing
Reasons to avoid
-Too much sole for some

Ideal for neutral pronation, on fast-paced runners looking to go any distance, this is Asics’ most cushioned shoe and also its lightest overall. 

That's down to the full-length FlyteFoam in the midsole, which is 55% lighter than industry standard EVA foam.

The fruit of over 300 prototypes, FlyteFoam promises continuous cushioning with foam that bounces back to its original shape after each run. 

The tech bonanza doesn’t end there, as the DynaFlyte also has an Impact Guidance System that matches your foot’s natural movements.

11. Brooks Ghost 9

Best for a well cushioned run

Reasons to buy
+Superb comfort and support
Reasons to avoid
-Horrible appearance

These Brooks are by absolutely no means stylish, but when it comes to comfortable running, the Ghost 9's smart cushioning is in a league of its own.

These trainers offer 30 percent more cushion than typical thanks to the BioMoGo midsole which Brooks claims 'adapts to your stride'. 

The upper mesh provides support but stretches for comfort while the sole features a segmented crash pad and flexed grooves for a smoother run.