The best running shoes 2018: road ruling trainers from beginners to expert runners

Go from couch to 5K to 10K to marathons and beyond with the best running shoes for road running

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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 running shoes that best suit your feet and your gait can be the difference between heavily pounding the pavement and feeling free and easy while you float over the miles. 

Autumn is a great time to be out running, especially the unusually warm one we're currently having. You can enjoy the sunsets and scenery, you won't freeze to death, but there should be enough of an autumnal chill to keep your own temperature down. You might quite literally slow down for Christmas but the best running shoes for your new year resolutions will be waiting for you here.

This is also a good time to buy running shoes and trainers because it's 'sales season'. Last year's models of these shoes are often worth a punt if they're going cheap. Often the difference compared to the very latest running shoes is minimal. That's also true if you're shopping for trail running shoes

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 Zoom Pegasus Turbo. It features incredible energy return thanks to Nike's magic ZoomX foam, and though a road shoe it can be worn on other surfaces too. 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 Asics Gel-Kayano 25 for its excellent blend of protection and stability, designed for endurance runners who like going the distance. 

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, which debuted 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

Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo

1. Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo

Combining Nike’s best tech in a more affordable, everyday running shoe

Reasons to buy
+The magic of ZoomX foam in an everyday shoe+Incredible energy return will keep you going for longer+A big jump in price from the reliable Pegasus
Reasons to avoid
-The centre stripe design may not suit all

The headline feature on the Pegasus Turbo is the ZoomX foam, which first featured in the revolutionary VaporFly 4% shoe and was used later in the VaporFly Elite. The tech first emerged as part of Nike’s Breaking2 initiative, which targeted – and came within 25 seconds of – a sub 2-hour marathon. Both of those models were really hard to come by for consumers, but now the tech is trickling down to more mainstream running shoes, designed to be worn every day.

Nike says ZoomX builds upon the beloved Pegasus with added speed and responsiveness. The energy return rivals even the Adidas Boost tech, but in a lighter shoe overall.

It performs best on the road, but is versatile enough to carry you further and faster on a number of surfaces, partly because the raised rubber sections on the bottom offer additional support and the protection offered by Nike’s Flywire cables.

 

ASICS Gel-Kayano 25

2. ASICS Gel-Kayano 25

Protection and support for those gruelling long hauls

Reasons to buy
+Built from the ground up to look after your feet+Lots of design options
Reasons to avoid
-A little heavy for achieving top speeds

The Kayano 25 is custom-built for endurance, so whether you’re heading into competition or a long training run, it’ll keep you feeling strong all the way to collapsing in a heap at the finish line.

Protection and stability are the name of the game here. The company’s FlyteFoam Lyte tech promises shock absorption, while the medial support system and metaclutch cradle hold the heel in place. There’s a redesigned, two-layer Jacquard mesh upper, and a more spacious toe box to protect your feet on those gruelling endurance runs.

As always, ASICS offers a number of attractive colour options to keep you on fleek and unique during the slog (the white/blue variant is particularly attractive).

However, all of that support does come at a cost. At 325g it’s a little on the heavy side compared to some of the shoes in our list. If you’re looking for a little more responsiveness and flexibility, you might want to try the ASICS Gel-Nimbus 20. 

Adidas UltraBOOST 2018

3. Adidas UltraBOOST 2018

Best Adidas running shoe

Specifications
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. 

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 – its 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.

On Cloud X

4. On Cloud X

The perfect trainer for running to the gym

Reasons to buy
+Walks the line between gym workouts and road running+Great design and construction
Reasons to avoid
-Might not be your everyday runner

Becoming an elite runner is as much about the reps you crank out in the gym as the miles you rack up on the track.

The On Cloud X is designed to push you through a strength workout, but is a great standalone  good running shoe in its own right.

Billed as the lightest fully-cushioned running shoe in the world (229g for size 8.5), it is much firmer under foot than your average cross trainer, so you may not want to rely on it every day.

However, it has the latest CloudTech midsole, accompanied by Zero-Gravity foam, to provide support for those quick changes of direction. The heel is engineered for comfort and support, while the upper is engineered from a highly breathable lightweight mesh. As always with On running shoes, the design and construction is flawless.

Nike Epic React Flyknit

5. Nike Epic React Flyknit

Best running shoes

Specifications
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.

Adidas Ultraboost Parley

6. Adidas Ultraboost Parley

Are you running to save the world? This is the shoe for you

Reasons to buy
+Made from recycled plastic found in the oceans+UltraBOOST is almost unmatched for energy return
Reasons to avoid
-High-riding upper can come above ankle socks-Quite tight fitting

If you’re looking to give the planet a boost as well as your marathon time, then look no further than the UltraBOOST Parley.

The moisture-wicking yarn used in the Primeknit upper is spun from 85% recycled plastic dredged from the oceans. That’s approximately 11 plastic bottles.

They have been made in collaboration with the charity Parley for the Oceans and, if you’re interested in hearing the full story, there’s an NFC chip in the right foot you can scan with your phone.

Suited for long runs in the gym, on the track or on the road, the Parley features Adidas’ much-heralded UltraBOOST technology. There’s a full-length midsole that’s comprised of 3,000 energy capsules offering superb cushion and energy return.

The sole also utilises Continental rubber for added grip – yep, that’s the same stuff used on the tyres. Considering these things are made from ocean trash, they’re not bad-looking either. 

Hoka ONE ONE Clifton 5

7. Hoka ONE ONE Clifton 5

The everyday shoe is built for comfort, not for speed

Reasons to buy
+All the cushion you could hope for+Lighter than they look at 266g
Reasons to avoid
-Cushion sink when running uphill

If we were to describe the Clifton 5 in one word it’d be 'soft'. If you’re looking to head out for a recovery run, when your legs disagree, this running shoe promises maximum cushion while adding as little weight as possible (266g) to your weary pins.

Brand new for summer 2018, the chunky 5th-generation Clifton is a great everyday runner that includes a full EVA midsole, with the company’s signature cushioning, and a redesigned upper. The engineered mesh construction features fewer overlays, meaning it’ll boost comfort and breathability without compromising support.

With only a 5mm heel drop, the Clifton 5 encourages full-contact, while offering a curve that’ll help your foot roll into the next stride. Like the previous generation, it also offers strategically placed rubber to add a little durability against heel scuffs, without adding too much weight to the shoe.

 

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35

8. Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35

Full-length Zoom Air has you bouncing to finish

Reasons to buy
+Turned-out heel to reduce friction+Good choice for all levels
Reasons to avoid
-That collar may not be as secure-Complaints of inconsistent fit

One of Nike’s historically most-popular running shoes gets an update here. Whether you’re embarking on a couch-to-5K or pushing for a marathon PB, the Pegasus 35 pitches itself as the shoe for all levels.

The key innovation this year is that there is a full-length Zoom Air for the first time ever, which Nike says will provide a smoother, and more natural, stride. Naturally, those Flywire cables are on board, alongside a partial bootie to deliver locked-down speed and support.

That classic design is augmented by a breathable mesh upper, while the collar is out-turned to boost Achilles comfort and reduce friction. Anything that can reduce the chance of those crippling Achilles blisters gets a thumbs-up from us.

Designed for road-runners, there’s a reflective strip on the beveled heel to keep you visible, a welcome feature for running after dark.

Brooks Levitate 2

9. Brooks Levitate 2

Much-improved Levitate is now our favourite Brooks runner

Reasons to buy
+Much improved FitKnit upper+Excellent energy return
Reasons to avoid
-At 317g, quite heavy for a road runner-No second eyelet for those seeking extra lockdown

Last year we had the Brooks Ghost 9 in this list, but it has been usurped by the Brooks Levitate 2. As the name would suggest, this shoe is all about the energy return.

Brooks’ most responsive midsole is equipped with the DNA AMP tech that promises to ‘control, capture and return’ your energy, to ensure you’re bounding along the track or trails.

The company is also adding new Achilles Guard tech to protect that all-important tendon, while the arrow-point pattern on the crystal rubber outsole gives you rapid movement from the heel to the toe.

There’s an internal bootie that promises comfort and support, while the FitKnit upper wraps around the heel to guard against irritation.

Saucony Triumph ISO 4

10. Saucony Triumph ISO 4

A more cushioned ride for long-distance runs

Reasons to buy
+Full-length midsole cushion for a more natural stride+ISOFIT dynamically adapts to your feet
Reasons to avoid
-May be too stiff for some runners

One trend for 2018 has been the full-length cushioned midsole. It makes its first appearance in the Nike Air Pegasus range, and Saucony has done likewise with the Triumph ISO 4 roadster.

The key advantage is a more natural stride with more balanced cushioning from the heel to the forefoot, while the EVERUN topsole also delivers enhanced energy return.

Saucony is also promising the more dynamically fitting ISOFIT upper, which can adapt to the shape and the motion of the runner’s foot. Overall, it’s definitely the American company’s most impressive ISO shoe yet.

Inov-8 Terraultra G 260

11. Inov-8 Terraultra G 260

Graphene sole promises the ‘world’s best grip’

Reasons to buy
+Offers grip and flexibility demanded by rocky trails+Upper offers durability without sacrificing breathability
Reasons to avoid
-Sacrifices cushion for nimble running

If you’re taking to the trails this season, Inov-8 is coming at you hard with a bold statement: The unisex Terraultra G 260 offers the world’s best grip.

These are the first shoes in the world to include the new super-material graphene and, combined with rubber, it delivers a 50% improvement in strength, durability and elasticity, making it perfect for those hard-packed trails.

There’s plenty of science elsewhere, with the Exterofit breathable mesh upper adapting to your movement and foot swelling during long-distance runs, with a drop of Kevlar to increase durability. It also minimises the impact of those unfortunate rock kicks.

Inov-8 say this 260g shoe – with a zero drop heel-to-toe to promote greater range of movement in the ankle joint on those tough trails – will keep you running forever. Steady on, guys. We appreciate the sentiment, but there are limits.

ON Cloudrush

12. ON Cloudrush

Another cult classic running shoe from ON

Specifications
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. 

• On Cloudrush review

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.

Asics Roadhawk FF

13. ASICS Roadhawk FF

Best running shoes for on-road versatility

Specifications
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. 

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 Zoom Vaporfly 4%

14. Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%

Best ultra-minimalist running shoe

Specifications
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.

Inov-8 Parkclaw 275

15. Inov-8 Parkclaw 275

Best running shoes for tarmac to trail

Specifications
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.

New Balance Vazee Pace v2

16. New Balance Vazee Pace v2

A real runner's running shoe from a few years back, 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.

ASICS DynaFlyte

17. 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.