Wednesday, August 28, 2019

2019 Road Running Trainer Comparison Guide-One Runner, 31 Shoe Flavors Tested!

Article by Jeff Beck


Over the last year of reviewing shoes for Road Trail Run, I have amassed a surprising (some might say alarming) number of shoes that fall into some sort of trainer.
In this article I compare 31 different models in three categories: Performance Trainers, Multi-Purpose Trainers, and Easy Comfort Trainers.

For each category I share my top three scoring shoes, biggest surprise, best upper, best ride, and most versatile. The shoe choices, scores, and bests are my personal perspective.


These aren't pure race or trail shoes, just a wide variety of daily wear running shoes. I'll go into greater detail about this whole process at the end. No point in boring you with the running shoe equivalent of 14 paragraphs of how I didn't fully appreciate my Gam Gam's cooking until I spent a summer traveling around her native Ireland, or whatever most websites force you to scroll through before you get to to their game changer guacamole recipe. All you need to know is this:

-Every shoe on this list was either supplied for review, or purchased by me, and has no bearing on the score or review
-All listed weights are published by the manufacturer, and sample weights were done with my shoe on a digital scale
-Stack heights are from published sources, not my own measurements
-Scores are weighted as follows:
         Ride is 50% of total score, covers the feel, energy return, cushion, weight, and fun
         Fit is 30% of total score, covers lockdown, comfort, and sizing
         Value is 15% of total score, covers measure of cost, performance, and expected durability
         Style is 5% of total score, completely subjective of how a shoe looks
-This is based on Sam's revised scoring system of Mac's recent scoring rubric addition. As a result, many of these scores will differ from what I reviewed the shoe initially (if I reviewed the shoe initially)
-Don't take the numeric score too seriously
-I may or may not have participated in the linked Road Trail Run reviews which detail each shoe,
-I have run 20-75 miles in each shoe
-Fit is based on my 10.5 slightly wider than D foot
-Enjoy!

My Running Profile
Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoes and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff is 5’11” and 200 pounds. He runs 40 miles per week on roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach Dave Ames as he trains for his first 50 mile ultramarathon. He spent his teenage years and twenties playing and working in golf, and only started running around the age of 30 - so at least he doesn’t have high school PRs to taunt him.


Performance Trainers


These are shoes that will be at home for daily mileage, but really excel when it’s time to pick up the pace. If you are running speedwork regularly, or you have group runs that inevitably turn into a subtle contest where everyone is running faster than they should, these shoes are what you are looking for.


Top Three Scores: Hoka One One Rincon 10/10
New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel 9.6/10
Hoka One One Carbon X 9.0/10


Biggest Surprise: Hoka One One Rincon


Best Ride: Skechers Performance Razor 3 Hyper


Best Upper: New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel


Most Versatile: New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel



Altra Escalante 2, $130
Listed Weight: 9.2 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 9.8 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 19mm (forefoot) 19mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Most dialed in Altra upper yet
-Bouncy ride
-Durable outsole

Cons:
-Toebox has great width and not much depth
-Shoelaces way too long
-Heavy for a "lightweight trainer"
-Zero drop can be problematic

Conclusions:
The Escalante 2  is the latest in the lightweight Escalante line that Altra introduced a few years ago, only it seems like it has gotten away from what made the original and 1.5 edition fan favorites. The upper is built up enough to give enough support to be a trail shoe, and the weight has climbed with this version. I'm the first to admit it is an arbitrary number, but any shoe approaching 10 ounces should be enough shoe to run 10-15 miles in, and the Escalante 2 doesn't have enough underfoot for me to pull that off comfortably. The low toebox will be problematic for some runners, which is unfortunately since Altra and worry-free toeboxes are an iconic duo. Ultimately it is a very solid shoe, that has a number of minor gripes that will be deal breakers for some runners, and complete non-factors for others.

Best Use:
Uptempo efforts, easy miles, anything wet

Why Escalante 2?
You like big toeboxes and low/zero drop but the Torin 4 Plush, Paradigm 4.5, Phantom, and UltraFly 2 are all too much shoe, more room up front than the Fuel Cell Rebel or Razor 3 Hyper, rubber outsole gives more traction and durable than the Beacon 2.

Score 8.4/10 - Ride:8 Fit:10 Value:7 Style:7 
RTR Review here


Hoka One One Carbon X, $180
Listed Weight: 8.8 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 9.3 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 30mm (forefoot) 35mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Good durability
-Lightweight for all of the cushioning
-Super rocker makes you feel like you're falling forward even standing still

Cons:
-$180 is a lotta money
-Super rocker makes you feel like you're falling forward even standing still
-Toebox could be better

Conclusions:
Hoka's shot across the bow at the Vaporfly, the Carbon X was launched amidst a massive marketing blitz and World Record attempt. It's firm for a Hoka, and has a carbon plate running through the middle to give you a little more forward propulsion, mated with a thin upper that has very little restriction. Ultimately I find the Carbon X a well-cushioned and smooth running shoe that's solid, if not revolutionary. While it isn't quite as divisive as the Pegasus Turbo was when it launched, the Carbon X seems like a shoe that has two very defined camps of Love It vs Hate It. Personally, my biggest gripe with it is the existence of it's sibling Rincon. But more on that in a sec.

Best Use:
Long runs, speedwork, easy runs - Carbon X is here for anything.

Why Carbon X?
You want a long run shoe that's sub 10 ounces and still is approaching the cushion levels of the Glycerin, Triumph, Nimbus, etc, more room up front than the Razor 3 Hyper, more dialed in fit and more extreme rocker than the ZoomFly Flyknit, simplified upper and more forward propulsion than the Fresh Foam More, more shoe underneath the foot than the Fresh Foam Rebel.

Score 9/10 - Ride:10 Fit:8 Value:8 Style:7
RTR Review here  

Hoka One One Rincon, $115
Listed Weight: 7.4 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 7.9 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 27mm (forefoot) 32mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Phenomenal weight to cushion ration
-Great price
-Uncomplicated upper fits well, especially for Hoka

Cons:
-Outsole durability could be an issue
-I can't inject it directly into my veins

Conclusions:
The Rincon is that kid in school that blows the curve for everyone else. No shoe should have this level of cushioning, at such a light weight, at such a low price. Every single run I've had in the Rincon leaves me smiling, and liking it more. If the toebox was slightly bigger I'd be shouting its praises even longer. That said, I was able to put down a twelve mile run on the heels of a sixteen mile run the day before and my feet felt great and I had zero blisters - so the toebox isn't bad. Very few shoes get forefoot cushioning right, many just don't have enough squish up front, or they have too much and the shoe feels unstable. Rincon knocks forefoot cushioning out of the park.

Best Use:
Easy runs, long runs, speedwork - do it all shoe for $115.

Why Rincon?
You like the Carbon X but want a more lively shoe that costs $65 less, more toebox room and more under foot protection than Razor 3 Hyper, more uptempo shoe than Epic React, softer ride than the Fuel Cell Rebel, higher offset than the Escalante 2.

Score 10/10 - Ride:10 Fit:10 Value:10 Style:9  
RTR Review here


New Balance Beacon 2, $120
Listed Weight: 7.3 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 8.0 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 23mm (forefoot) 29mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Price doesn't break the bank
-Lightweight 
-Bouncy ride
-Upper vast improvement over 1st version

Cons:
-Wet traction could be better
-Outsole/midsole durability concerns

Conclusions:
The second version of New Balance's surprise hit Beacon, this shoe is super lightweight for the cushioning it provides. I find between it's midsole responsiveness and geometry I routinely run faster than planned in the Beacon and Beacon 2. The traction isn't hazardous in the wet, but isn't ideal, and the durability is the same - not great but not terrible. The toebox is the unsung hero, even though it looks relatively pointy, it's closer to Altra levels of good than many other traditional shoes. The updated upper had me concerned from sneak peeks due to the similarity of the heel shape to the 1080v9, but I've experienced zero heel slip in the Beacon 2.

Best Use:
Speedwork and easy days - but you gotta force them to be easy

Why Beacon 2?
More room up front than the Razor 3 Hyper and Rincon, smoother running and cheaper than the CloudSwift, delivers on all the promise of the Epic React better than the Epic React, more forgiving than the Fuel Cell Rebel, bouncier than the Escalante 2.

Score 8.6/10 - Ride:8 Fit:10 Value:8 Style:8
RTR Review here


New Balance Fuel Cell Rebel, $130
Listed Weight: 7.2 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 8.0 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 18mm (forefoot) 24mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Outstanding uptempo feel
-Extended flange on lateral side great for supinators
-Lots of rubber where it's needed
-Upper feels great, holds foot well, and breathable

Cons:
-A little more up front cushioning and this could be a marathon shoe
-Not great for easy runs

Conclusions:
New Balance keeps hitting 2019 on all cylinders with the Rebel in the middle of the goodness. It's a lightweight shoe that has a solid amount of cushioning, but excels when the tempo picks up. The upper is as comfortable as any knit upper in the game, with minimal reinforcement but doesn't feel lacking. Toebox is good enough, and the massive rubber up front works well for both durability and traction. The outer flange could be off putting to some folks, but as a dyed in the wool supinator, I'm all over it. Lighter runners may find it works as a one shoe for all (my wife uses hers exclusively for speedwork and long runs), but it definitely likes to be run faster than easy pace.

Best Use:
Medium long runs, speedwork

Why Fuel Cell Rebel?
More responsive than Escalante 2 and Beacon, lighter than Carbon X, more toebox space than Rincon, better traction and more comfortable upper (and better at pace) than Epic React, more comfortable and more dialed in than the ZoomFly Flyknit, better upper than Razor 3 Hyper.

Score 9.6/10 - Ride:10 Fit:9 Value:9 Style:10
RTR Review here


Nike Pegasus 35 Turbo, $180
Listed Weight: 7.9 ounces (Men's 9)
Sample Weight: 8.8 ounces (Men's 10.5)
Stack 18mm (forefoot) 28mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-ZoomX foam is incredibly soft and comfortable, especially in the heel
-Upper breathes well
-Looks cool

Cons:
-Very expensive at $180
-Stripe over toebox restricts stretch
-ZoomX without carbon fiber plate can feel mushy and unstable
-Forefoot cushioning felt thin

Conclusions:
One of the most polarizing shoes out there, the Peg Turbo is one of the shoes I wanted to like and just never found a spot for it in my rotation. Marketing and verbiage printed on the shoe (it literally says "FAST" on the side of the midsole) gave the impression this was going to be the trainer version of the vaunted Vaporfly 4%, and I didn't ever see that comparison come through. The 10mm felt fine, but the heel was very nicely cushioned while the forefoot was definitely lacking. Regardless, the cramped toebox meant this was never going to be a 15+ mile shoe for me, even if many of the Nike Elite runners claim to love it. Sure, lots of rubber on the outsole is nice for longevity, but $180 for a shoe with fit issues and problematic stability in the cushioning is a big ask.

Best Use:
Casual wear and flexing at the mall (just kidding - kind of), mid-length uptempo runs.

Why Pegasus Turbo 35?
Upper breathes better than GRR7 (but both have similar mushy/unstable midsoles), very similar to Vomero 14, softer cushioning than Beacon 2 or Ghost 12, more traditional drop than Escalante 2, ZoomX is softer than the Boost in Solar Glide.

Score 6.4/10 - Ride:7 Fit:6 Value:4 Style:10
RTR Review here

Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit, $160
Listed Weight: 8.4 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 9.9 ounces (men's 11)
Stack: 24mm (forefoot) 34mm (heel)
Fit: Half size up 11, standard Nike sizing


Pros:
-React cushioning plus carbon plate works well
-Flyknit upper has plenty of room up front, and holds the foot well
-Lots of rubber, and concave pockets are deep enough not have pseudo suction cup noise VF has

Cons:
-Ride isn't nearly as smooth or poppy as ZoomX 
-Feels bottom heavy similar to 1st version
-Carbon plate make midsole stiff

Conclusions:
Sam referred to this shoe as the Vaporfly 2.5 in his review, and I think that's accurate. It's not as good as the VF, but it's still a really good ride, especially for the price break. The rubber outsole provides good durability, at least in the front, and the React cushioning should last for hundreds of miles of hard runs. Ride isn't as choppy as the CloudSwift, but it isn't what I would term a smooth running shoe.

Best Use:
Speedwork, long runs

Why Zoom Fly Flyknit?
More stability and forefoot cushioning than Pegasus Turbo, more under foot protection than Fuel Cell Rebel, more toebox room than Razor 3 Hyper and Rincon, lower cost than Carbon X.


Score 8.1/10 - Ride:8 Fit:8: Value:8 Style:10 
RTR Review here 

Nike Zoom Vomero 14, $140
Listed Weight: 9.9 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight:  11.2 (men's 11)
Stack: 17mm (forefoot) 27mm (heel)
Fit: Half size up 11, standard sizing for Nike


Pros:
-Well cushioned heel
-Breathable upper with roomy toebox
-Smooth running

Cons:
-Lacking forefoot cushioning
-Pods around heel to lockdown foot can be problematic

Conclusions:
A massive departure from previous iterations of the Vomero, the 14 gets an aerodynamic aesthetic overhaul and takes the shoe from Nike's big bulky workhorse trainer to yet another mid weight mid-cushion trainer (to go alongside the Pegasus, Pegasus Turbo, Epic React, Zoom Fly, Odyssey React, Zoom Gravity, and Winflo). Unfortunately they carved a little bit too much out of the forefoot, limiting its versatility. Older Vomeros were marathon training workhorses, but after 10 miles in the 14 I was ready to be done. The upper is comfortable, breathable, with plenty of room up front, and while the rear has a resemblance of an elf heel, it holds the foot well, aided by a series of four pods designed to hold the foot in place. The outsole has plenty of rubber, with a large gap running down the middle, but durability and traction are not an issue.

Best Use:
Easy runs, mild speedwork (tempo runs, hill repeats, or fartleks)

Why Vomero 14?
Lighter weight than the big boys Glycerin/Triumph/Nimbus, more responsive than Phantom, bigger toebox than Sonic RA, more plush heel than CloudStratus, not as unstable as Pegasus Turbo, more durable than Epic React, better heel lockdown than 1080v9, more durable upper than Solar Glide.

Score 7.6/10 - Ride:6 Fit:10 Value:7 Style:10
RTR Review here 


Skechers Performance GOrun Razor 3 Hyper
Listed Weight: 6.4 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 7.0 ounces (men's 11)
Stack: 20mm (forefoot) 24mm (heel)
Fit: Half size up 11

Pros:
-Hyperburst is amazing
-Decent rubber underneath for traction/protection
-Upper locks the foot down, and breathes well despite thick materials

Cons:
-Toebox is a bit tight
-Upper material creases after 1-2 runs, can lead to failure

Conclusions:
The Razor 3 Hyper has a near Rincon level of cushioning to weight, and the Hyperburst midsole could be the most explosive material out there - especially considering it does not have a carbon fiber plate. That said, this shoe does not want to be run slow. At uptempo speeds it is very smooth, but the slower you go they almost get blocky, reminiscent of the CloudSwift. Aesthetics are polarizing, personally I'm ambivalent, but the upper materials feel a little dated, especially when you consider the rocket ship midsole the upper is mated to.

Best Use:
Speedwork, medium long runs

Why Razor 3 Hyper?
Lighter than Fuel Cell Rebel, more pop than Rincon or Escalante, smoother than Carbon X.

Score 8.9/10 - Ride:10 Fit:7 Value:9 Style:8
RTR Review here 


Multi-Purpose Trainers
These shoes are ideal if you are the type of runner that prefers to have only one or two shoes in your rotation. They’ll be great for your easy miles, long runs, or even some speedwork. The Swiss Army Knife of shoes.
 
Top Three Scores: Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 9.2/10
Nike Epic React Flyknit 9.1/10
On CloudStratus 9.1/10


Biggest Surprise: Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3


Best Ride: Skechers Performance GOrun Max Road 4


Best Upper: On CloudStratus


Most Versatile: Salomon Sonic RA Max 2


adidas Solar Glide, $140
Listed Weight: 10.5 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 11.1 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 17mm (forefoot) 27mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros: 
-Breathable upper with plenty of toebox room
-Potentially best trainer use of Boost yet
-Comfortable midsole, especially in the heel
-Continental Rubber outsole is super grippy and durable

Cons:
-Heavy considering it isn't *that* well cushioned
-Forefoot could use a hair more Boost
-Upper durability can be a problem

Conclusions:
The middle child of adidas' Solar Line (Solar Boost is $160 and has a more premium upper with one millimeter more stack, Solar Drive is $120 and has no internal torsion system and uses non-Continental rubber) the Glide is their Goldilocks shoe. It runs lighter than its relatively substantial weight, but after 8-10 miles starts to wear out its welcome, specifically in the forefoot. The Continental Rubber outsole will keep you glued to the ground, and will last a long time - likely longer than the upper. The upper has lines built into the toebox that are clearly points of failure and tearing down the road.

Best Use:
Easy Miles, and some speedwork, fartleks, tempo runs or hill repeats, but not intervals

Why Solar Glide?
$40 less than the UltraBoost 19 and has the better ride of the two, more underfoot cushioning than the Ghost 12, more room up front along with much better traction and durability than Epic React.

Score 8.7/10 - Ride:8 Fit:10 Value:8 Style:10  
RTR Review here 


Brooks Ghost 12, $130
Listed Weight:
Sample Weight: 10.8 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 17mm (forefoot) 29mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5


Pros:
-Comfortable/breathable upper with ample toebox room
-On step in one of the most comfortable midsoles
-Vanilla/Camry/Madden/Beatles of running shoe world


Cons:
-Less than an ounce lighter than much more cushioned brother Glycerin 17
-Millions of fans means Brooks won't take risks
-Cushioning is seriously lacking in forefoot considering nearly 11 ounce weight


Conclusions:
Brooks introduced their latest EVA midsole materials, DNA Loft, last year, to great accolades. Unfortunately, there isn't much of it in the Ghost. As a result, the heel is very well cushioned while the midfoot and forefoot are somewhat lacking. The upper is great, and the entire package is pretty good, but as other shoes have gotten both lighter and more cushioned, the Ghost has gotten heavier and seemingly less cushioned. Much like the Nimbus, Ghost faithful will pick it up and have a very predictable running experience, but other shoes have leapfrogged the Ghost performance-wise, and this shoe wall mainstay drastically needs an overhaul to keep carrying on its legacy.


Best Use:
Easy miles, one shoe quiver


Why Ghost 12?
Lighter than the very similar Glycerin 17, a hair lighter than the Solar Glide with a more plush upper, better upper than GR7H, runs smoother than CloudSwift.


Score 7.5/10 - Ride: 6 Fit: 10 Value: 7 Style: 9 
RTR Review here  


Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3, $160
Listed Weight: 11 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 12.1 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 23mm (forefoot) 33mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Plush and bouncy ride
-Premium upper that's still breathable
-Outsole built to last for hundreds of miles

Cons:
-Heavy
-Expensive

Conclusions:
Mizuno threw the plastic Wave plate away and this shoe is the beneficiary. Bouncy and plush, the WSWK3 gives the Glycerin, Triumph, and 1080s of the world a run for their money as a legitimate big mileage daily trainer. The toebox isn't legendary, but is more than adequate, and the knit upper breathes much better than its thick construction would lead you to believe. The rubber outsole is incredibly durable, so while the shoe is expensive at $160, it will last for a lot of miles making the sting hurt a little less.

Best Use:
Easy runs and long runs

Why Wave Sky Waveknit 3?
Bouncier than the Glycerin with an upper that's essentially as comfortable, more svelte than Triumph, much more versatile than the Phantom, bouncier and more plush than the Sonic RA Max 2 and Predict RA, much more forefoot cushioning than Vomero or Pegasus Turbo, more plush than the 1080 or Ghost, smoother running than Nimbus or UltraBoost 19.

Score 8.9/10 - Ride:9 Fit:9 Value:8 Style:9
RTR Review here   

New Balance 1080v9, $150
Listed Weight: 10 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 10.8 (men's 10.5)
Stack: 22mm (forefoot) 30mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-No longer mushy to run in
-Toebox decent sized
-Upper breathes well
-Lots of rubber on outsole, but still flexible

Cons:
-Heel slip issues
-Resembles v8 enough that many runners wouldn't give the v9 a chance

Conclusions:
One of the biggest surprises of the year, the 1080v9 appeared to be a minor update from the sluggish and uninspired v8 - and that couldn't be any farther from the truth. The midsole is plenty cushioned, but has a firm ride that excels at uptempo efforts. It's not the lightest weight shoe, but it does come in 1-2 ounces lighter than most of its direct competitors. It was the first shoe I've had to use a runner's loop to lock down the heel slip issue that this shoe battles - a minor complaint, but for runner's who fight heel slip with all shoes that could be a deal breaker.

Best Use:
Easy runs, long runs, speedwork

Why 1080v9?
A lighter and firmer Glycerin/Triumph/Sky/Nimbus/Solar Glide, more underfoot protection than UltraFly 2 or Sonic RA Max 2, better toebox than Max Road 4, better forefoot protection than Vomero 14, more cushioned than Beacon 2, more conventional than Fresh Foam More.

Score 8.1/10 - Ride:9 Fit:7 Value:8 Style:6
RTR Review here 


Nike Epic React Flyknit, $150
Listed Weight: 7.9 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 9 ounces (men's 11)
Stack: 18mm (forefoot) 28mm (heel)
Fit: Sized up half size to 11

Pros:
-Comfortable upper breathes well and holds the foot in place
-Midsole is middle ground between responsive and cushioned
-One of the best looking shoes ever made
-Sets standard for weight to cushioning ratio

Cons:
-Friction issues at uptempo speeds
-Outsole wear can be uneven
-Wet traction can be problematic

Conclusions:
When the Epic React launched alongside a marshmallow ad campaign, the shoe was misrepresented. This isn't a Bondi, or even a Clifton, but it is one of those Goldilocks shoes that fits many runners "just right' in a number of ways. The toebox is big without being sloppy, the upper is light but still holds the foot, the midsole is cushioned and flexible; the whole thing works for many runners. That said, it's not all porridge and bed sizes, there are problems. With very little rubber on the outsole, the exposed foam wears very quickly at the start and then tapers off some - but that wear can leave flat spots that reduce traction. On a normal day, not a big deal, but slippery conditions with rain (or for Phoenicians like myself, poorly aimed sprinklers) and that can become a problem. I also had issues with friction along the entire bottom of my foot when I wore them for the 4.2 mile Pat's Run. There's enough cushioning to be a great half marathon shoe, but faster speeds seem to have issues. All that said, it is one of the more fun to run in shoes I have put on my feet in the last two years, and that's about the highest praise I can give.

Best Use:
One shoe quiver, can fill virtually any role

Why Epic React?
Better fit than Razor 3 Hyper, much better upper than GR7H, smoother running than CloudSwift or Zoomfly Flyknit, not as mushy as Pegasus Turbo, softer than Beacon 2.

Score 9.1/10 - Ride: 10 Fit: 8 Value: 8 Style: 10 
RTR Review here 


On CloudStratus, $170
Listed Weight: 11.1 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 12.1 ounces (men's 10.5) 
Stack: 20mm (forefoot) 28mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Potentially best upper in running shoe history
-Smooth and firm ride
-Outsole provides decent traction and great durability

Cons:
-Complicated lacing pattern and very thin laces
-Heavy
-Costly

Conclusions:
On Running's best shoe to date, the CloudStratus is their second using their new Helion foam (the first being the disappointing CloudSwift), it is their first shoe I've run in that actually behaves like a running shoe. The CloudStratus has a firm yet smooth ride that is somewhat effortless at easy paces. The upper is where this shoe shines though, it is comfortable, very breathable, and holds the foot well, but a lot of shoes do that. This upper is comfortable on a whole different level, and really takes premium up a notch - but of course you pay for that with the steep price tag. I can't say with any certainty that the star lacing pattern makes the shoe better in any way, but it also doesn't overtly hurt in any way.

Best Use:
Easy miles

Why CloudStratus?
Firmer ride than Mizuno Sky (still feels weird to type that), as well as Glycerin, Triumph, 1080, smoother ride than CloudSwift. Better upper than pretty much everything.

Score 9.1/10 - Ride:9 Fit:10 Value:8 Style:8  
RTR Review here 

On CloudSwift, $150
Listed Weight: 10.1 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 11 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 16mm (forefoot) 23mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-One of the best uppers in running shoe history
-Aesthetically a home run
-Beveled interior pods make it hard for rocks to get stuck

Cons:
-Awkward to run in, felt forced into heel striking
-Heavy and very stiff
-Unique and off-putting noise at foot strike

Conclusions:
This was the first On shoe I'd ever worn, and there were definite highs and lows. The upper truly is one of the most comfortable ever made, from the design to the materials, I have no criticism. It holds the foot well, is incredibly comfortable, and breathes well too. The "softest ride to date" leaves quite a bit to be desired - it is firm in a way I haven't experienced since I ran in a few Mizuno shoes in 2012-14. Durability isn't a concern, most of the pods are covered with rubber and the ones that aren't are still very durable. The ride quality is the main problem, and unfortunately, that's the biggest element of a running shoe.

Best Use:
Easy miles, casual wear

Why CloudSwift?
Big brother CloudStratus brings another ounce of heft to the table (but is much smoother running), Sonic RA Max 2 is a little lighter but both have a firm ride (though the Salomon is smoother by far), has more forefoot cushioning than Vomero 14.

Score 6.9/10 - Ride: 5 Fit: 10 Value: 6 Style: 10
RTR Review here 

Salomon Predict RA, $160
Listed Weight: 8.5 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 10.1 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 19mm (forefoot) 27mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Soft and supple upper breathes well and has great toe box room
-Firm/plush combination midsole
-Lots of rubber outsole, but still very flexible

Cons:
-Expensive

Conclusions:
The Predict RA is a project shoe from famed sports podiatrist Simon Bartold, and it is designed to move and flex along the same points that your foot moves and flexes. That said, I largely didn't feel anything like that, instead it felt like a very good shoe. It rides relatively firmly, but still has a premium plush feel to it, though the highpoint is clearly the upper. The color gradient color scheme takes some getting used to, my brother was convinced they were gray shoes that I got black paint on. The Predict RA feels like one of those shoes that doesn't get anything wrong, but outside of the upper, nothing blows me away either. That's not meant to be a backhanded compliment, but at $160 I expect to be wowed, but more than anything I'd say I was whelmed. 

Best Use:
Easy miles

Why Predict RA?
More comfortable upper, no heel slip, and similar ride to 1080v9, lighter than Glycerin and Triumph, more premium feel than Sonic RA Max, better forefoot protection than Ghost and Solar Glide.

Score 7.9/10 - Ride:7 Fit:10 Value:6 Style:9  
RTR Review here 

Salomon Sonic RA Max 2, $130
Listed Weight: 9.9 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 10.5 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 20mm (forefoot) 30mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Smooth and firm ride excels at faster speeds and easy days
-Tons of rubber for grip and durability
-Upper breathes well and holds foot
-Great value

Cons:
-Upper can be problematic in the toes

Conclusions:
This is my second pair of Sonic RA Max 2, because the first pair was a pre-production model that left my big toe on each foot blistered after every run. Reading around, that's a fairly common issue which makes me think a number of pre-production models got out - but the finished product had no such issues. What it does have is a flexible and well-cushioned big mileage daily trainer that everyone is sleeping on. The toebox isn't incredible, most Salomon toeboxes are cramped by my standards at least, but it is ample sized. The midsole is where this shoe shines, it is one of those shoes that disappears underneath the foot and feels great at all speeds. Salomon uses premium rubber that lasts a long time and provides a lot of grip, but it's all part of the package that just disappears. Much like long snappers in the NFL, if you aren't thinking about it, it is probably doing its job.

Best Use:
Easy runs, long runs, speedwork

Why Sonic RA Max 2?
More versatile and cheaper than big brother Predict RA, more performance oriented than Glycerin, Triumph, or Nimbus, less money and better upper hold than 1080v9, considerably less expensive and smoother running than CloudSwift or CloudStratus, more forefoot protection than Ghost.

Score 9.2/10 - Ride:9 Fit:9 Value:10 Style:9 
RTR Review here 


Skechers Performance GOrun 7 Hyper, $120
Listed Weight: 7.3 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 7.8 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 21mm (forefoot) 25mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Hyperburst midsole among the best ever made
-Rubber outsole pods give durability/traction but don't detract from performance/flexibility
-Two pull tabs and both are fully functional
-Very lightweight for the amount of protection

Cons:
-Upper is problematic for narrow, medium, and wide footed runners all for different reasons

Conclusions:
It is widely known in car circles that the best bang-for-the-buck upgrade you can make to a car's performance is to change the tires. Brakes aren't effective and power can't be delivered if you aren't putting the power to the road. You probably think this is all a long-winded metaphor for a bad outsole, but the GR7H outsole is great, it's the upper that's is the problem. This shoe's midsole feels like it should be run fast, but the upper doesn't hold the foot nearly as well as you'd like. Also, the toe box has odd dimensions, as a relatively wider footed runner the GR7H feels very cramped up front, but reviewers with narrow feet had a problem with midfoot lockdown. In the review Mac devised a few different lacing methods that improved the fit some, but it felt like jumping through a lot of hoops to slightly correct the problem. There's a lot to like about the shoe, perhaps the next version will fix the upper and you'll have a surefire contender for shoe of the year.

Best Use:
Uptempo miles, easy miles, showing your friends how a great shoe can become average with a poorly fitted upper

Why GOrun 7 Hyper?
More cushioning than the Razor 3 Hyper, midsole is miles better than GORun Ride 7, bouncier than Epic React and Beacon, lighter and more fun to run than Ghost 12, easier to adapt than Escalante 2.

Score 7.7/10 - Ride: 10 Fit: 4 Value: 8 Style: 6
RTR Review here   

Skechers Performance GOrun Max Road 4, $125
Listed Weight: 8.4 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 8.9 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 31mm (forefoot) 37mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-So much Hyperburst and so much bounce
-Breathable upper
-Outsole pods provide plenty of traction

Cons:
-Hyperburst can get beaten up pretty easily
-Outsole collects rocks like a five-year-old at the park
-Midsole structural rigidity is lacking, collapsing in on self causing blisters 100% of the time by mile 3 of run

Conclusions:
I feel like this is the shoe I've been waiting forever for. Skechers Performance packed so much Hyperburst underneath these you'd think they'd be heavy, or at least bottom heavy, but sub 9 ounces in my size is anything but heavy, and the weight feels balanced. The upper is nicely breathable, and while it has a decent amount of stretch in the midfoot, it still holds the foot well. The toe box looks great, and feels pretty good, a massive step up from the GOrun 7 Hyper or Razor 3 Hyper. That said, the shoe has a major flaw for me that's a deal breaker. All that super soft and bouncy Hyperburst lacks structural rigidity on the outer edges of the forefoot, so as a 200 pound midfoot striking supinator (I know, that's quite a list of qualifiers) I effectively bottomed out the shoe. With insole in or out, I earned pinch blisters on both small toes on every single run in this shoe, and the blisters would start early - right around mile 3. That said, if I could wave a magic wand to make the shoes stop blistering me, it would probably be my pick for shoe of the year, if not my favorite shoe of all time. My final run in the shoe was supposed to be five miles, but I opted for a pit stop shoe change at mile three into the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit - and one of Nike's premier shoes of all time felt a little dull after the Max Road 4, and I don't know higher praise I could give a shoe.

Best Use:
Easy miles, recovery runs, and long runs

Why Max Road 4?
Substantially more bouncy than Fresh Foam More, significantly lighter than Paradigm 4.5, more plush than Torin 4 Plush, 

Score 8.1/10 - Ride:10 Fit:5 Value:8 Style:7
RTR Review here 


Skechers Performance GOrun Ride 7, $90
Listed Weight: 9.4 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 9.8 ounces (men's 10.5) 9.1 ounces without sockliner
Stack: 24mm (forefoot) 30mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Low cost shoe that has a lining underneath sock liner to let runner fine tune experience
-Solid balance of rubber and exposed outsole that gives good traction/durability as well as good flexibility

Cons:
-With sockliner in shoe feels mushy and unstable with a tight toe box
-With sockliner out shoe feels harsher than its stack should, with a sloppy toe box
-Upper doesn't breathe well, and feels lower than it's budget price would even suggest

Conclusions:
A darling amongst running shoe geeks for the last year, I'm in the minority that has never enjoyed this shoe. I appreciate Skechers Performance for putting a full lining underneath the sockliner to allow for easy customization, but in making two shoes out of one it feels like they missed the mark on both of them. The FlightGen midsole is fine, but the next version will release with SP's revolutionary HyperBurst, and perhaps that will "fix" this shoe.

Best Use:
Easy runs, mowing the lawn

Why GOrun Ride 7?
Outsole durability better than Epic React, softer ride than Beacon 2, not as red as the Rincon (if you don't like red shoes), $50 less than Solar Glide

Score 5.3/10 - Ride: 4 Fit: 6 Value: 8 Style: 6
RTR Review here 


Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2, $120
Listed Weight: 10.4 ounces
Sample Weight: 11.1 ounces ( Men's 10.5)
Stack: 21mm (forefoot) 26mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size at 10.5

Pros:
-Topo shape gives lots of room in toebox while still keeping the midfoot very secure
-Low, but not zero, offset means most runners can jump right in without a transition period
-Substantial rubber outsole and lots of effective cushioning means this road shoe can handle most trails

Cons:
-Upper materials and laces feel on the budget end of things

Conclusions:
Frequently compared to Altra, Topo Athletic makes shoes with ample toeboxes without making anything sloppy. The UltraFly 2 is well cushioned, without being mushy, and while it isn't sexy, is almost criminally overlooked by runners. The near complete rubber covering of the outsole has to add weight to the shoe, but it also means this is a shoe that should last hundreds of miles over any and all terrains (excluding exceptionally technical trails).

Best Use:
Easy mileage

Why UltraFly 2?
Lighter and more lively than Triumph ISO 5, Nimbus 21, and Glycerin 17, much more forefoot cushioning than Vomero 14, better heel hold than 1080v9, cheaper than Wave Sky Waveknit 3, more dialed in fit than Torin 4 Plush.

Score 8.3/10 - Ride:8 Fit:8 Value:10 Style:8


Easy Comfort Trainers

The Cadillacs of the running shoe world. You wouldn’t want to wear these for speedwork or anything that would resemble faster running, but if you want a behemoth of a shoe that puts a premium on major comfort for easy or long days, this is exactly what you want.
Top Three Scores: Brooks Glycerin 17 9.4/10
Altra Torin 4 Plush 8.6/10
Saucony Triumph ISO 5 7.8/10


Biggest Surprise: Altra Torin 4 Plush

Best Ride: Brooks Glycerin 17


Best Upper: Saucony Triumph ISO 5


Most Versatile: Brooks Glycerin 17

adidas UltraBoost 19, $180
Listed Weight: 10.4 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 12.1 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 17mm (forefoot) 27mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Tons of Boost, if that's your thing
-Lots of Continental rubber, in a pattern that still gives plenty of flex
-Comfortable, if form fitting, upper
-Aesthetics

Cons:
-HEAVY
-Expensive
-Toebox could use some extra room

Conclusions:
Formerly a lifestyle shoe branded a running shoe, the UltraBoost 19 makes the crossover to running shoe. Its upper is well constructed, breathes well, and holds up to daily use while keeping the foot locked down. That said, $180 is a ton of money for a shoe that I'd term "pretty good". The all-Boost construction of the midsole may be a great selling point, but the finished result doesn't run as smoothly as little brother Solar Glide. The midfoot cage all but disappears (unlike the previous versions of UltraBoost) which is great, but the shoe ultimately feels as if it doesn't have a soul. Rather than created to be a great running shoe, it was created by checking boxes, and that usually leaves something to be desired.

Best Use:
Easy miles

Why UltraBoost 19?
Better ride and upper than Levitate 2, firmer ride than the Mizuno Wave Sky WaveKnit 3, more forefoot cushioning than the Nike Vomero 14

Score 7.3/10 - Ride:7 Fit:8 Value:6 Style:10
RTR Review here   

Altra Paradigm 4.5, $150
Listed Weight: 10.5 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 11.6 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 31mm (forefoot) 31mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Altra toe  box, 'nuff said!
-Bouncy midsole
-Full rubber coverage

Cons:
-Zero drop can be problematic
-Midfoot fit isn't dialed in
-Laces are way too long
-Midsole flex is almost non-existent

Conclusions:
Altras most cushioned road shoe uses massive amounts of their Ego midsole and the result is a super cushioned, but not mushy/squishy shoe. Altra learned their lesson from early versions and covered the entire midsole with rubber so you won't have uneven premature wear like the first few iterations of the Paradigm. The upper holds the foot well, and is plenty breathable. Minor issue, the rear pull tab is so small it is hard to get a finger in, making it mostly decorative.

Best Use:
Long runs, easy miles

Why Paradigm 4.5?
Bouncier than little brother Torin 4 Plush but still has the same fit, more responsive ride than the Phantom, smoother running than the Fresh Foam More.

Score 7.5/10 - Ride: 8 Fit: 6 Value: 9 Style: 6
RTR Review here   

Altra Torin 4 Plush, $140
Listed Weight: 10.1 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 10.6 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 25mm (forefoot) 25mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Altra toe box width
-Plush but not mushy
-Breathable upper

Cons:
-Toebox is very low
-Zero drop
-Laces too long

Conclusions:
I didn't test the standard version of Torin 4, but I have logged a number of miles over the years in the earlier Torin models. The latest version is easily the most cushioned, and the Quantic midsole works well. As much as I like their Ego midsole, I think Quantic is even better. It isn't as bouncy, but just feels more runnable. The shoe has lots of outsole rubber giving it good durability, but they shaped it in a way that doesn't reduce the midsole flexibility. 

Best Use:
Easy miles, long runs, one shoe quiver (if your calves/Achilles can handle the zero drop profile)

Why Torin 4 Plush?
Not nearly as squishy as Phantom but similar foot shape, more cushioned and softer upper than UltraFly 2, much more cushioning in the forefoot than Vomero 14,  better toebox and more flexible than Fresh Foam More.

Score 8.6/10 - Ride: 9 Fit: 8 Value: 9 Style: 6 
RTR Review here  

ASICS Gel-Nimbus 21, $150
Listed Weight: 11.1 (men's 9)
Sample Weight:  11.7 (men's 10.5)
Stack:21mm (forefoot) 31mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5
Pros:
-Lots of firm cushioning
-How many other shoes have Gel in them?
-Breathable and comfortable upper
-Plenty of rubber on outsole, but has some flexibility still

Cons:
-Dull ride that doesn't feel as cushioned as the weight/stack would suggest
-Plastic Trusstic System feels a decade plus out of time

Conclusions:
The Nimbus is one of the original well-well cushioned daily trainers. Unfortunately, ASICS seems to have lost the will to innovate or evolve the shoe for a decade. I wore the Nimbus 9, 10, and 11 on a nearly daily basis in my previous life as a golf course caddie from 2007-09, and the 21 feels very much the same way it's forefathers did - but running shoes have come a long way in the last five years, let alone the last ten. That said, Nimbus runners are a loyal bunch, and some folks don't like change, and in that case, this is the best Nimbus they've ever made.

Best Use:
Easy miles, running back and forth between golfers to give yardage to the middle, flagstick, and how much wind to factor in before sprinting back to rake the bunker

Why Nimbus 21?
Nimbus lines up with a number of iconic big daily trainers. Toebox is roomier than the UltraBoost 19, more GEL than the Glycerin 17, lighter than the Triumph ISO 5.

Score 6.6/10 - Ride: 6 Fit: 8 Value: 7 Style: 3
RTR Review here 


Brooks Glycerin 17, $150
Listed Weight: 10.9 (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 11.6 ounces (men's 11)
Stack: 22mm (forefoot) 32mm (heel)
Fit: Half sized up to 11


Pros:
-Gold Standard for big mileage daily trainer
-Plush midsole and upper
-Outsole rubber gives protection and traction


Cons:
-Not a fast shoe
-Almost boring to run in its so good


Conclusions:
This bad boy should be in most runners’ rotation. While it isn't the lightest shoe by any stretch, Brooks found the magic ratio to make a truly plush midsole that doesn't feel squishy, and paired it with a plush upper that holds the foot well while still breathing very well. The changes from the 16 to the 17 were minor, but the 17 is one of the best big daily trainers ever made. It isn't the first shoe (or probably even fortieth) that I would recommend for any type of speedwork, but for literally any other kind of run the Glycerin has to be in consideration. It's the Vaporfly of well cushioned trainers - worth trying on, and if it fits you, you'll probably love it. It isn't as fun to run as the Razor 3 Hyper or Rincon, but those are at the other end of the spectrum.


Best Use:
Easy runs, long runs, recovery runs - anything but uptempo


Why Glycerin 17?
Lighter and smoother than Triumph ISO 5, not as mushy as Phantom, more cushioned and smoother than Predict RA (and the upper might be as good as Salomon's - one of the best out there), more cushioned than Vomero 14, smoother running than Fresh Foam More, more cushioned and better upper hold than 1080v9, neck and neck with Wave Sky Waveknit 3 (which is a monster of a shoe) for comfort and cushioning, more comfortable as well as smoother and breathes better than Nimbus 21, lighter and more comfortable than UltraBoost 19.


Score 9.4/10 - Ride: 9 Fit: 10 Value: 10 Style: 8
RTR Review here   

Brooks Levitate 2, $150
Listed Weight: 11.1 (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 12.7 ounces (men's 11)
Stack: 18mm (forefoot) 26mm (heel)
Fit: Half size up to 11

Pros:
-Comfortable upper that breathes well
-Unique ride

Cons:
-Pointed toebox
-Forefoot cushioning lacking for the weight
-Very heavy shoe

Conclusions:
Brooks' second version of their premium DNA AMP cushioned shoe that uses a PU midsole encased in a TPU outer skin, the result is a shoe that runs differently feeling than most. Sam coined the phrase "pneumatic feel" in the review, and I think is incredibly accurate - whether that is a good or bad thing is 100% your call. The outsole may be the best part of the shoe, durable crystal rubber that is segmented in a way to give the shoe some flex, while the knit upper has some good and bad qualities. The toebox is pointed, requiring me to go up a half size for a solid fit, but Brooks introduced a tacky faux-suede around the heel collar that grips your sock unlike anything else I've run in. 

Best Use:
Easy miles

Why Levitate 2?
Slightly lighter than the Triumph ISO 5, hardline Brooks fans who dislike the Ghost or Glycerin have another choice.

Score 6.8/10 - Ride: 7 Fit: 7 Value: 5 Style: 8
RTR Review here 

New Balance Fresh Foam More, $160
Listed Weight: 9.9 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 10 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 30mm (forefoot) 34mm (heel
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Breathable upper
-Lots of firm cushioning

Cons:
-Stiff midsole
-Upper fit, especially around heel collar, can be problematic
-More rockered sole could help

Conclusions:
I was excited for the launch of the More, it seemed like a Hoka Bondi made by someone who knows what a toebox should be shaped like (though with Hoka's recent toebox renaissance I'll have to stop making fun of them for that eventually), but it came out much firmer than the numbers would indicate. I even wore them during intervals, and it wasn't the worst shoe I've worn for speedwork - but not my first choice either. At least one other reviewer had a major issue with the upper, and the pods surrounding the heel collar, digging into his foot in an actually painful manner making the shoe unrunnable. At $160 it is a steep price point, and ultimately lacks the versatility of New Balance's own 1080v9.

Best Use:
Easy miles

Why Fresh Foam More?
Lighter and higher stack than 1080v9, Glycerin 17, or Triumph ISO 5, not even remotely as mushy as Phantom, not zero drop like Paradigm 4.5.

Score 6.2/10 - Ride: 6 Fit: 7 Value: 5 Style: 6
RTR Review here   

Saucony Triumph ISO 5, $160
Listed Weight: 11.3 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 12.9 ounces (men's 11)
Stack: 28mm (forefoot) 32 mm (heel)
Fit: Half size up to 11

Pros:
-Soft upper holds the foot well, 
-Crystal rubber outsole gives protection without sacrificing flexibility
-Can consistently skip leg day because shoe is so heavy
-Smooth ride

Cons:
-Heaviest shoe in this comparison
-Incredibly heavy
-Must be careful when removing so they don't dent floors/foundation

Conclusions:
The five versions of Triumph ISO is the closest this late 30s runner gets into my angry old man phase - Saucony ruined the Triumph after the 11. What used to be a relatively lightweight yet well cushioned shoe has gotten heavier and heavier with each iteration of the ISO. While this version is better the last few, it is still a far cry from what the Triumph was 6-8 years ago. That said, this beast is surprisingly fun to run in despite its heft. Some shoes are heavy on the scale and not so much on the foot, and this isn't one of them - the very dense Everun midsole always makes the shoe feel bottom heavy. For runners who like to train in heavy shoes (so when they put on lightweight race shoes the difference is even more vast) this could be a dream come true. On the plus side, Everun's density means it should hold up very well, as shouldthe crystal rubber outsole, so while this shoe is a premium $160, it should last you many, many miles. Unless all the extra weight has destroyed the connective tissue in your legs.

Best Use:
Recovery day, long slow runs

Why Triumph ISO 5?
It is the Pepsi to Glycerin 17's Coke and while it is heavier, the upper is more comfortable, it has a softer upper and bigger toebox than UltraBoost 19, upper is more dialed in than Paradigm 4.5 and traditional drop is easy on the lower leg, much smoother ride than Levitate 2, more flexible and smoother running than Fresh Foam More, softer ride than CloudStratus.

Score 7.8/10 - Ride: 7 Fit: 9 Value: 8 Style: 8
RTR Review here 

Topo Athletic Phantom, $130
Listed Weight: 10.2 ounces (men's 9)
Sample Weight: 11.1 ounces (men's 10.5)
Stack: 21mm (forefoot) 26mm (heel)
Fit: True-to-size 10.5

Pros:
-Refined upper is similar to UltraFly 2 with better materials
-Great toe box and upper
-Lots of rubber and durable foam

Cons:
-ZipFoam isn't responsive, much more of a soft squish

Conclusions:
Another case of the marketing team running away with a concept that doesn't match reality, ZipFoam was claimed as being a fast, responsive foam that feels great during uptempo runs. The reality is a soft, super cushioned shoe that has a foot-shaped design and excels at pampering your feet the day after you hammered them on a long run or especially grueling speedwork. Looks are deceiving, on paper it is a slight change from it's sibling UltraFly 2, but the ZipFoam squish makes them very different shoes.

Best Use:
Recovery runs

Why Phantom?
Much softer midsole and nicer upper materials than UltraFly 2 for just an additional $10, upper fit is more dialed in than Torin 4 Plush and ride is softer, similar ride to Wave Sky Waveknit 3 but softer while the Mizuno is bouncier.  

Score 7.4/10 - Ride: 6 Fit: 10 Value: 7 Style: 7 
RTR Review here 

Final Conclusion
When I pitched this idea to Sam it was the shoe knock off version of the Car and Driver Lightning Lap - the massive car comparison their editors do each year pitting roughly two dozen cars against each other to figure out which car is the best, and how each one measures up on the track. I'm not a mechanical engine and can't hope to reliably repeat runs to figure out ultimately which shoe is the fastest, all I can do is break down my experiences with each shoe and pit them against each other.

In a vacuum, virtually every shoe on this list does what the marketing claims about it. Sure, the Epic React isn't quite as marshmallowy soft as the pre-launch ads were claiming, but it is a relatively soft shoe. The problem is that none of these shoes exist in a vacuum, and while the devil is in the details, the real value of a shoe review is in the comparison. You may have noticed that there are several shoes on this list that have been replaced by newer versions, but I kept the older ones in because more data points are always good. Even though the Pegasus Turbo 2 exists, if you have run in the Pegasus Turbo you can get a feel for other shoes on the list - and that's more valuable than hunting down every release.
The biggest takeaway I have from spending a few dozen hours on this self-imposed project is the same advice I learned while writing my first novel. PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF GOOD. The constant search for perfection gets in our way, as runners or writers. Odds are if you are reading this you are a running shoe geek of some level, and likely have more shoes in your rotation than you probably should - and are probably eyeing a few more additions to the stable. I implore you, STOP. Don't stop reading, and don't stop looking, but stop obsessing. The lightweight trainers on this list have three obvious winners, the Rincon, the Fuel Cell Rebel, and Razor 3 Hyper. Any of them are great. All of them are great. If you have any one of them, congratulations, you have an awesome shoe. You don't need to worry about if the others will work better for you, because even if they will, it's likely to be minor percentage points. You'd be better off spending the money on a running coach than you would yet another pair of shoes. When you wear the current pair out, replace them with something else if you'd like, but don't feel compelled to go after every release. You'll drive yourself insane, and unless you have a very well paying job, you're making a relatively inexpensive hobby cost much more than it needs to be. And yes, I'm fully aware of how hypocritical that is coming from the guy who just reviewed 31 shoes, but to my credit, I paid full price for three of them.

If you have any questions, please fire away, I'm happy to help however I can, and I hope you got something out of this - even if it was just a chuckle or two.

Most products reviewed were provided at no cost, some were personal purchases.
The opinions herein are the author's.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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20 comments:

Jeff said...

Following!

Mark said...

“-Must be careful when removing so they don't dent floors/foundation”. That comment about the Saucony Triumph ISO 5...very funny 😄! Loved it!! Saucony sure needs to rethink this shoe. It was my go to shoe until versions 4 and 5.

Jeff said...

Hi Mark,

Thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm 100% with you, but there's good news. Sam posted a preview of the Triumph 17 (no more ISO variant, back to the old shoe) and it really sounds like it is going back to the spirit of the Triumph from 5+ years ago, and I can't wait for it.

Jeff Valliere said...

Holy cow, what a round up! Nice work!

Stefan said...

Great review!

As a Topo disciple I am wondering why you choose the Ultrafly instead of for example the Fli-Lyte as your multi purpose runners from Topo?

Anonymous said...

The NB Beacon and 1080 photos are the same shoe.

Jesse said...

This was a very enjoyable read. Will you or other members of the team be generating a similar article for trail shoes? Looking forward to your response, thank you

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Jesse, Thanks for your kind comments. Jeff did a fantastic job here! We are thinking of a trail round up now that most all 2019 are out.
Sam, Editor

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for picking up on the duplicated Beacon pictures. Corrected. Editor Sam was rushing to get this great article up!
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
Great summaries,comparisons and scoring system.
I wonder if your wife minds you having this many shoes. :)
I cant wait to the new Skechers go run ride 8 comes out with the new hyberbust midsole. I see you haven't tried the New Balance Propel and the Reebok line (Harmony Road 3, Forever etc). Looks like the Hoka Rincon will be your shoe of the year. Again great article.
Cheers
Steve

Jeff said...

Thanks Jeff, I appreciate that. I'm just glad it all finally came together.

Stefan, the UltraFly 2 was a personal purchase late last year - if I'd had a pair of the Fli-Lyte I would have included for sure.

Jesse, Thank you very much. I've had a similar (albeit exponentially smaller) idea to compare the many well-cushioned trail shoes, and there may be even bigger plans in the works.

Steve, You are very kind. She doesn't voice her disapproval and I try to keep them from overflowing into our living space. The closet under the stairs is jam packed though. I'm 100% with you on the Ride 8, I'm convinced HyperBurst is one of, if not the best, midsole material out there right now. Haven't had a chance to try the Propel, and the only Reebok I've run in is the Sweet Road 2 - great shoe but I didn't have enough mileage to include it in this piece. Still a few months to go, but if the Rincon doesn't end up as my shoe of the year it'll be a runner up for sure. The Evo Mafate 2 might take the top slot or the Vaporfly Next% - I can't get over how good my legs feel after a big run in the shoe. Might not make me any faster, but seems like they reduce recovery time exponentially. And that's not a small thing.

Mike said...

Thank you, this is a brilliant post and really helpful. And the conclusion is spot on!

Paco said...

Hi and thanks for the amazing article !!!

Are you planning to give a try to chinese brand in a near future ? I have heard a lot of positive comments on the Peak Tai Chi, and I also know that Anta is doing great shoes, I've used some of their pair for Basketball they were amazing but don't know how do they perform for running.

A test would be cool !!

thanks again for the great work, your site is among my favorite's

pug said...

I hear nothing but great things about On Cloud's uppers. However, I wish they would make a shoe with a normal outsole.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article, thanks, Jeff!

How's the wear on the Carbon Xs. Looks extra dark in the middle of the forefoot, not sure if that's just normal dirt or actual wear and tear?

I'm only about 20 miles into mine so far - and love them! First long run coming up this weekend, hoping for the 4% like lack of pounding/quick recovery mixed with a bit more stability (and not having to practically walk around tight turns). How do you compare the Next %s? I only ask because you mentioned in the comment above.

Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this review-well written, informative, and entertaining all in one. This might be my favorite Road Trail Run review yet!

Jeff said...

Mike - thank you very much. I truly think we have an embarrassment of riches right now as far as how many great shoes are out there, just a matter of finding what works for you.

Paco - Thank you, and I hadn't heard of those, but I'm sure we'd all be open to it. I've heard great things about 361, but haven't had an opportunity to check them out either.

Pug - I'm 100% with you. Their uppers are phenomenal, but the midsoles seem to have some challenges. It's kind of like Altra, I'd love for them to release a few shoes with low, but not zero, drop, but that's essentially their design philosophy.

Anonymous - there is just a bit more wear up front in the darker area of the Carbon X, but that's mostly just dirt. I hope you are enjoying them, I like them quite a bit, but much prefer the Next%. Not only for the extra room around the toes, but the feel as you land and transition to toe off has a better feeling for me. But the biggest positive for the Next% is recovery - I used them for a handful of long training runs leading up to last week's marathon and the day after each run (and the race) my legs felt so much better than they normally do whenever I break 20 miles. So I can't speak to them making me run any faster, but the recovery is real. And when I run in the Carbon X the recovery is like any other shoe. By now you should have had your long run in them - what did you think?

Anonymous - thank you very much, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was afraid it might be too big for people to enjoy, but I'm elated that isn't the case.

Anonymous said...

Impressive test done here..... I do hope you will test one day the TRUEMOTION Nevos, which is the first opus from the new german brand.

Anonymous said...

No mention of the Adidas Boston 8?

Jeff said...

Anonymous - the Nevos looks interesting. If we can get some pairs I'm sure there's more than a few of us that'd like to review them.

Anonymous - I have a pair of Boston 8s, but I haven't been able to put enough miles on them to really get into them. Assigned reviews take priority over self proposed side projects like these. But the little bit I have been able to run them has been great. My first go round in the Boston, but I'm a fan.