Best Road Running Shoes of 2023
We tested some of the best road running shoes to find the best ones for anything from tempo and interval workouts to a daily runner.
The right road running shoes can let you comfortably run long miles on pavement. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
The best road running shoes are stable, comfortable, light, and can perform well on pavement and dirt roads because does anyone run exclusively on trails or roads anymore? It’s 2023, after all! We wear our road shoes on the trails and our trail shoes on the roads. We hop into a road half marathon during our mountain hundred-miler build-up.
Sure, lots of us still want our toolbox with all of our specialists for the task at hand, whether that’s trail shoes for the mud or road shoes for our next marathon, light and speedy short-distance racing flats, or plush piles of cushion that will let our legs hammer mile after mile for days. And then, of course, one pair of shoes will work just fine for those of us who like to keep things simple.
This guide is for runners searching for an everyday road running shoe that can handle long runs, easy runs, social runs, and speed sessions. The shoes below, like us, can dabble in a bit of everything — they’re cushioned but not the most cushioned, lightweight but not race-specific, and technically neutral but generally stable. After hundreds of miles of testing, our favorite road-specific shoe is the On Cloudsurfer for its light weight and smoothness. However, we also love road running classics like the Hoka Clifton 9 and Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22.
If you’re looking for road running shoes with a lot of cushion, head to our best cushioned road running shoes guide, and if you know you need a stability shoe, check out our best stability road running shoes article. Or check our our best overall running shoes article.Otherwise, read on, and be sure to look at our testing methodology, buying advice, frequently asked questions, and a roundup of road running shoe lingo.
There are road running shoes to fit any type of runner. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
With so many unique runner bodies, foot shapes, fit, feel, and style preferences, no single best road running shoe exists. Below, we’ve selected five shoes that performed outstandingly in testing and that we believe will work well for a wide range of runners and their specific running needs.
Overall Rating: 9.5 | Upper Comfort: 9.5 | Underfoot Feel: 9 | Responsiveness: 9 | Stability: 7 | Cushion: 9
Smooth is the name of the game with the On Cloudsurfer. There’s something to be said about a shoe that multiple testers describe as one they lace up and then forget they’re wearing. But that’s precisely what happened when our testing team got their feet in these shoes. The smooth ride is thanks partly to what On calls its CloudTec Phase midsole design. The holes in the midsole, or what the brand calls “clouds,” squish down at a forward angle, similar to falling domino pieces, as they absorb the foot’s impact through a full stride.
These shoes indeed feel soft and bouncy, and we were pleasantly surprised with how responsive they felt during a set of strides. They felt stable and nimble on pavement, gravel, and packed dirt. Overall, this shoe is versatile and feels plush and comfortable on an easy recovery run, yet light and snappy when you pick up the pace. One note, however, since this is a new shoe to the market: we have yet to see how durable this shoe’s cushion will be. Since our testers haven’t taken them through a full life cycle yet, we can’t say just how many miles this squishy, bouncy midsole will manage before it feels packed out.
The On Cloudsurfer. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
Our testers also loved the shoe’s upper. It’s cushioned enough to yank down on the laces for a secure midfoot fit without feeling painful pressure on the top of your foot. The heel is cushioned and secure, too. All this padding might compromise the shoe’s breathability during the summer heat — we have yet to test it on a super hot day — but the shoe remains surprisingly lightweight for all that cushion. And like we said, it’s one you can lace up and forget — at least until you finish your run and realize how much fun you just had.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.3 ounces (233 grams) | Drop: 10 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 9 | Upper Comfort: 9 | Underfoot Feel: 8.5 | Responsiveness: 9 | Stability: 8 | Cushion: 8.5
After stepping into the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2, you may find that you feel the need . . . the need for speed. That’s because this ultralight, bouncy, and breathable shoe with its rocker profile will have your legs turning over and your cadence picking up without you even realizing your pace is increasing. At least, that’s what happened with our testers. They described running in these shoes as feeling effortlessly faster than usual. In fact, just as “smooth” was the frequently used word with the On Cloudsurfer above, “effortless” was the word testers kept using for this shoe.
The Topo Athletic Cyclone 2. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
That effortless experience is in part due to the extreme lightness of this shoe. Further, Topo’s Pebax foam in the midsole provides a responsive energy return, and the die-cut rubber outsole adds little weight or friction. The downside of a shoe made from these very light materials is that it won’t last quite as long as other road running shoes in this guide. However, the shorter lifespan may be worth the feeling of flight, especially considering this shoe’s competitive price point. As for the rest of the shoe, testers appreciated the soft, smooth, and breathable upper, though they added that getting a secure fit and heel lockdown may require fiddling with the laces to get it just right. And, of course, not every run should involve a need for speed, so this shoe may not work as a daily trainer for runners who need every reminder to keep their easy runs easy.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 6.7 ounces (190 grams) | Drop: 5 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 8.5 | Upper Comfort: 8.5 | Underfoot Feel: 8.5 | Responsiveness: 8 | Stability: 9 | Cushion: 9
The Salomon Phantasm is a shoe that transitions seamlessly between everyday training runs and speed workouts. The shoe felt comfortable and responsive out of the box with a lightweight foam midsole and smooth rocker profile. However, it took testers a few tries to get the midfoot locked in securely. The platform is slightly roomier than what we typically see from Salomon, especially in the toebox, which our toes loved. Although exceptionally breathable, the upper is a very thin mesh that seemed to wrinkle and fold when we tightened down the laces for the first couple of outings. The heel has a bit more structure and cushion, which helps lock the heel in securely. Despite the initial fit challenges, testers agreed that they stopped experiencing the issue after the first two or three runs as the shoe got broken in.
The Salomon Phantasm. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
While it has a lot of cushion underfoot, this shoe feels firm and bouncy. That’s due to Salomon’s Energy Blade technology, which is a TPU plate added to the midsole to increase stiffness and rebound to the midfoot and forefoot. The design adds springiness to the toe-off. This balance of cushion and rebound makes this shoe an excellent choice for medium-long runs, hill workouts, and longer speed intervals. It’s worth noting that the shoe performed just fine on both pavement and gravel roads. Testers also rated this shoe as feeling more stable than the On Cloudsurfer.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.4 ounces (239 grams) | Drop: 9 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 8.5 | Upper Comfort: 8.5 | Underfoot Feel: 8 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 7 | Cushion: 8.5
The Hoka Clifton 9 was the top pick in our cushioned road running shoes guide, and part of the reason it earned that spot is that it does a lot of things well — and this means the shoe deserves a top spot among everyday road running shoes as well. Although it has 32 millimeters of plush cushion underfoot, it isn’t so soft that you lose all feeling of the ground. Additionally, it’s impressively light, weighing in at less than 9 ounces.
The Hoka Clifton 9. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
We especially love the updated upper of this shoe. It’s smooth, light, and breathable. As a result, the shoe feels ample and supportive without the bulky or clunky experience of “too much shoe,” — making it ideal for everyday miles. This is an excellent shoe for any runner, whether you’re logging miles for daily fitness and enjoyment or training for your next marathon. It transitions well between pavement, gravel, and packed dirt, though it wouldn’t be our first choice for the track or similar short-interval speedwork. The Salomon Phantasm or Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 would provide a more energetic response for high-cadence turnover.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.9 ounces (253 grams) | Drop: 5 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 8 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 7 | Responsiveness: 6.5 | Stability: 9.5 | Cushion: 7.5
We recommend the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22 as a great everyday stability road running shoe for our overpronators. Check out our best stability running shoes guide to learn more about stability shoes and additional top performers in this category. The shoe’s support comes from Brooks’ GuideRails technology, consisting of two foam wedges inside the shoe on each side of the heel that help stabilize the ride without overcorrecting a runner’s natural gait. These firm foam pieces keep the foot from rolling too far toward the inside, otherwise known as overpronating, as the arch absorbs impact and compresses.
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
In testing, runners noted that this shoe feels great out of the box and gets even more comfortable with each run. The shoe’s upper is breathable, and its cushion is soft with a smooth forward transition. It lacks the springiness that we like in a speed workout, so if you’re looking for more bounce, check out the Nike Structure 24 or the Saucony Guide 16, two other shoes in our best stability running shoes guide. Nonetheless, this shoe is time-tested and accommodates a wide range of feet, providing stable support and moderate cushion day in and day out.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.6 ounces (301 grams) | Drop: 12 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 8 | Upper Comfort: 7 | Underfoot Feel: 9 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 8 | Cushion: 7.5
The recently updated Altra Torin 7 is a great everyday road running shoe for runners that love zero drop and lots of wiggle room in the toebox. The newest version of this shoe features an updated tongue that our testers appreciated for its smooth, soft, and slightly cushioned feel. We will not miss the tongue’s laser cut design on previous shoe versions. The cushion also feels somewhat firmer than previous versions, giving runners a nice little bounce underfoot while maintaining a stable experience with adequate ground feel. That said, increased stack height is currently a trend with shoe updates across many brands, including for this shoe, and not all runners want more lift.
The Altra Torin 7. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
Still, this shoe remains relatively lightweight and provides a nimble running experience. Its balance of cushion and responsiveness makes it a versatile shoe for daily runs on roads and gravel. Testers observed that the newest update feels a bit narrower in the midfoot, so if you have a wide or high-volume foot and have relied on previous versions of the shoe to provide ample space, you may want to try this shoe on before purchasing.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.9 ounces (251 grams) | Drop: 0 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 8 | Upper Comfort: 6 | Underfoot Feel: 8 | Responsiveness: 9 | Stability: 5 | Cushion: 9
Though it’s on the more cushioned end of our road running shoe picks, the Craft Pro Endur Distance is light and responsive for daily miles. It’s a solid shoe that makes the easy miles roll by, and the chunky heel doesn’t feel too cumbersome. The Px foam midsole makes it easy to find your groove, and the one-piece engineered mesh upper feels lightweight and incredibly secure around the midfoot.
The Craft Pro Endur Distance. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
From paved roads to packed dirt, the shoe provides an enjoyable experience in which the easy miles feel truly easy. Testers especially liked this shoe on long, gradual climbs where its shape felt smooth and balanced. They noted that the moderate rocker shape appeals to those who prefer a more traditional transition underfoot. Light enough that you’ll forget you’re wearing it, this shoe is ideal for daily running if you like a bit more underfoot cushion.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.1 ounces (257 grams) | Drop: 9 millimeters
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Another ultralight and highly cushioned shoe that performs well for everyday road running is the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3. Alli Hartz, the author of this guide, put more than 100 miles on this shoe in a few months and was pleasantly surprised with it on easy runs and workouts. The foam initially feels chunky underfoot, but the transition feels smooth and seamless once you get going. Saucony’s PWRRUNPB foam is super light and soft, while a winged nylon plate in the midsole provides a snappy energy return. The cushion feels too mushy for speedwork for some testers, but they still liked the shoe for easy efforts and tempo runs.
The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
The stretchy mesh upper on this shoe is delightfully comfortable and secure — these shoes are fun to lace up. The heel and midfoot feel locked in while the toes still have room to move. While it has a more traditional profile, there’s still enough rocker in the toe to roll forward with ease. While we found this a great short- and medium-distance shoe, it lacks the stability for longer miles, like if you’re training for a marathon. As a result, you may find your feet feel tired sooner than they would in shoes with a bit more support. Surprisingly, this shoe held its own through fickle springtime mountain weather, maintaining grip through slushy snow over pavement during long interval workouts.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.1 ounces (229 grams) | Drop: 8 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 7 | Upper Comfort: 8.5 | Underfoot Feel: 6 | Responsiveness: 6 | Stability: 9 | Cushion: 8
Runners seeking comfort and reliability need to look no further than the New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13. This shoe has been around for some time and has a loyal following for good reason. It’s incredibly comfortable, accommodates a wide range of foot shapes, and has a good balance of not-too-soft and not-too-bouncy cushion. It’s also sturdy and durable and priced competitively — overall, a solid choice.
The New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
On the flip side, it’s a relatively heavy shoe compared with others in our guide. It’s also kind of like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You know exactly what you’ll get, and while it may be satisfying and meet your basic needs, it won’t blow your mind. This may not be the shoe that will inspire you to chase a new marathon PR, but not all runners seek that goal. This shoe will be a trusty friend for your daily fitness or cross-training miles.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.1 ounces (287 grams) | Drop: 10 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 7 | Upper Comfort: 8.5 | Underfoot Feel: 6 | Responsiveness: 5 | Stability: 8 | Cushion: 5.5
If you’re a fan of consistency and taking an “if it ain’t broke…” approach, then the Brooks Ghost 15 is your shoe. This is a neutral, moderately cushioned road running shoe that’s been around — and has remained widely popular — for the past fifteen years. It’s a comfortable and reliable daily trainer with a traditional feel and upper. It is pliable and lightweight and sees minimal design changes from year to year, which is nice for loyal fans who love the shoe just the way it is.
The Brooks Ghost 15. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
Of course, something described as traditional could also be called dated, and that’s how our testers felt about the cushioned upper and the underfoot feel. It’s fine but not exceptional. Additionally, the shoe has kept a high heel-to-toe drop. While it’s great to have high-drop options for those who need or prefer that style, this shoe feels abrupt to those accustomed to a smoother transition. At the same time, it is a reliable and trustworthy shoe for runners who prefer a more classic fit and feel.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.6 ounces (272 grams) | Drop: 12 millimeters
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Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 8.5 | Underfoot Feel: 7 | Responsiveness: 7 | Stability: 5.5 | Cushion: 8
The Nike Pegasus 40 is another road running shoe that has withstood the test of time and still holds a position among the best. This neutral, moderately cushioned shoe feels pretty stiff out of the box. It lacked smoothness and felt kind of slappy at first, but it breaks in and becomes more pliable over time as you put more miles on it. The upper feels secure, if anything a bit rigid, but this also softens with time. The outsole grips well if you venture onto dirt or encounter unexpected snow and mud, as our tester in the mountains of Colorado did.
The Nike Pegasus 40. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
Like the New Balance and Brooks options above, this shoe probably won’t blow your mind. It’s a solid and reliable daily trainer but not extraordinary. It feels a bit heavier and stiffer than the Brooks Ghost but lighter than the New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13. If you’re used to running in Nike shoes and know you like the fit and feel, you’ll likely be pleased with this shoe, especially as you put more miles on it and break it in.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.7 ounces (276 grams) | Drop: 10 millimeters
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The Nike Pegasus 40 shoes performed well on both gravel and pavement. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
Road Running Shoes Versus Trail Running Shoes
An easy way to think about the difference between road and trail shoes is to think about the difference between road and mountain bike tires. Road bike tires have a smooth surface meant to glide quickly across smooth surfaces with minimal friction. On the other hand, mountain bike tires have beefy lugs to provide more traction and grip to help move across loose and uneven surfaces.
It’s the same with road and trail running shoes. Road shoes — like the ones featured in this guide — have smooth outsoles and are meant for pavement or smooth gravel roads. Trail shoes will have beefy lugs on the outsoles. Trail running shoes sometimes also have additional features like rock plates and extra protection around the toebox to help deal with rocks and roots on the trail.
If you primarily run on the roads, trail shoes are probably overkill, and the big lugs can be uncomfortable for running on smooth, hard surfaces. If you run most days of the week throughout the year, having a few road and trail shoes could be a good idea to swap throughout your training. If you’re looking for a daily workhorse of a road running shoe, the New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 is durable and comfortable.
Different Types of Road Running Shoes
Finding the best road running shoes can be overwhelming and intimidating. Different types of shoes are designed for everyday running, workouts, and racing. And within those different categories are shoes with varying levels of cushion, drop, and stability. While plenty of road running shoes are specialized for specific situations, the road running shoes in this guide are ideally suited for every day running at a comfortable pace, though they’ll get the job done in a workout or race. Lighter and bouncier shoes like the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 and the Salomon Phantasm will perform a little better in speedier sessions, while the Brooks Ghost 15 and New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 are better suited for a relaxed pace. The On Cloudsurfer strikes a nice balance of doing both well.
To choose the best road running shoes for your goals, determine what type of runner you are and want to become. Are you looking for training shoes to run a few days or more a week? Then an everyday trainer like the Brooks Ghost 15 is great. Having two or three pairs of shoes to rotate between can help prevent injury and lengthen the life of your shoe by allowing the foam in the midsole to rebound between runs fully. If you plan on running faster workouts, like tempos or intervals, or running in races, you’ll also want a pair of lightweight and responsive shoes, like the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3.
Next, you’ll want to decide on the level of stability and cushion for your shoes. We’ll go into more detail for both aspects below, but they’re mostly a personal preference. Generally, low or flat arches respond best to stability shoes, while mid to high arches work best in neutral shoes. Note that these are generalities, and it’s best to visit a running store to analyze your feet and gait and where you can try on a pair of shoes before buying them.
Alli Hartz of iRunFar tests the On Cloudsurfers during an early morning run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
Stability Versus Neutral Running Shoes
The main difference between neutral and stability shoes is neutral shoes allow the feet to move and flex naturally, while stability shoes help guide the foot into a certain position to help prevent overpronation. Our advice before buying a pair of running shoes is to have an expert at a local running specialty store examine your gait. Most people pronate some, but if you overpronate and your feet roll inward after impact with the ground, you might consider a stability shoe. Stability shoes might also help if you’re prone to Achilles tendinitis, runner’s knee, or shin splints.
Another way to determine if you need stability shoes is to look at the wear pattern on the bottom of your current running shoes. If your shoes’ medial — or inward side — has more wear than the rest of your outsoles, you probably need stability shoes. Lastly, consider the height of your arches. It’s not always the case, but a general rule is those with low or flat arches will benefit more from stability shoes than those with medium or high arches.
Some of our favorite neutral road running shoes include the On Cloudsurfer, Craft Pro Endur Distance, and the Hoka Clifton 9. Our favorite stability shoes include the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22, Hoka Arahi 6, and Altra Paradigm 6. Learn more in our best stability running shoes guide.
Generally speaking, you want to measure the length of your foot in inches and then size up a half- to full-size in running shoes, leaving about a thumb’s width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. While there can be slight differences between brands, most are pretty standardized. For example, a size 10 in Nike should also be a size 10 in Hoka or Asics.
You’ll also want to know the width of your foot. The basic rule is you don’t want any part of your foot hanging off the midsole. Many shoe brands — like Hoka, Brooks, and New Balance — offer standard and wide-width models of specific shoes to fit more foot sizes and styles. Getting the correct width is crucial to comfort and shoe longevity, as the upper can tear if the shoe’s width is too narrow for your foot. A shoe that is too wide will allow your foot to slide around. A good fit will allow your toes to splay and wiggle some but not let your feet move around inside the shoe. If you’re looking for a shoe with a wide toebox, consider the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 or the Altra Torin 7.
When choosing a road running shoe, it’s important to consider shape, cushion, and stability. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
Like cushioning, the right toebox shape and size comes down to personal preference. And like cushioning, toeboxes generally come in three styles — narrow, medium, and wide. If you prefer a snug fit around your toes, you’ll want to opt for a narrow or medium-sized toebox. Narrow toeboxes are often associated with higher levels of performance. But pick a shoe with a wider toebox if you like some wiggle or splay room for your toes and are concerned about comfort over long miles.
In this guide, the Brooks Ghost 15 has a fairly traditional toebox that’s not especially narrow or wide. The New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 has a slightly wider toebox but is still fairly average. The Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 and Altra Torin 7 have a wide toebox, and these brands are generally known for offering shoes with a particularly wide toebox that allows feet to relax and for toes to spread out comfortably.
Heel-to-Toe Drop Considerations
The heel-to-toe drop is the difference in the stack height of a shoe between the heel to the toe. Stack height is the distance between your foot and the ground and comprises the midsole and outsole. A common heal-to-toe drop typically falls in the 6- to 10-millimeter range.
While the drop is typically a personal preference, some things must be considered. For example, a higher heel stack height and drop might feel better and help with a smoother transition from the heel strike to the toe-off if you’re a hard heel striker. On the other hand, a lower drop can help with lower back tightness as it can help lengthen posterior muscles and tendons like the glutes and hamstrings. However, a lower drop shoe probably isn’t best if you have had Achilles tendon issues or chronically tight calf muscles.
If you’re looking for a higher drop shoe, we recommend the Brooks Ghost 15, which has a 12-millimeter drop, or the On Cloudsurfer, with a 10-millimeter drop. If you want something more middle-of-the-road, take a look at the Craft Pro Endur Distance and Salomon Phantasm, which both have a 9-millimeter drop. On the lower side, the Hoka Clifton 9 and Topo Athletic Cyclone 2 both have a 5-millimeter drop. And at the lowest end, the Altra Torin 7 is a zero-drop shoe. Altra is an excellent brand to explore if you’re looking into zero-drop shoes.
The Altra Torin 7 is an excellent option for zero-drop road running shoes. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
Every person’s feet and ankles move a little differently throughout the various parts of their gait. A foot’s arch will collapse slightly throughout a stride for shock absorption. If an arch collapses too much, the entire foot and ankle roll inwards, and this is commonly referred to as overpronation. People who overpronate often have issues with their ankles, Achilles tendons, shins, knees, and/or hips. Wearing a stability shoe, like the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22, can guide your foot into a more neutral position. Low arches are often associated with overpronation. On the other side of the spectrum, some people have high arches that don’t collapse enough during their stride, called underpronation or supination. This puts all of the impact on the outside part of the foot and can cause plantar fasciitis, pain in the pelvis, and issues with the lumbar spine.
The shape of your arch and how it moves throughout your stride determines the level of arch support you need in a shoe. Visiting a running store to have your gait analyzed is the best way to determine if you need extra arch support to stay injury-free and running comfortably.
The uppers of road shoes need to be durable enough to stand up for long miles while letting your feet breathe so they don’t get sweaty. Moisture build-up combined with friction and heat can lead to blisters far too quickly, so lightweight uppers are crucial. Since road shoe uppers don’t frequently get scraped against rocks and roots like trail shoes do, they can be much lighter and breathable than their counterparts. Many of the shoes in this guide were selected for the comfort and breathability of their uppers. Our testers especially loved the upper of the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3, finding it stretchy, comfortable, and able to provide a secure lockdown.
iRunFar testers loved the Hoka Clifton 9 and the Nike Pegasus 40 shoes for pavement. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
There are many other factors to consider when choosing the best road running shoes, including the amount you run and the primary surface you’re running on. You’ll also have to decide whether you want to do speedwork or participate in any races. Your history of running injuries should also be kept in mind. If you’re a high-volume runner, a well-cushioned shoe like the Hoka Clifton 9 or Craft Pro Endur Distance can provide impact protection for your joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles, keeping you fresher over longer miles. Unfortunately, as the cushion of a shoe increases, its responsiveness typically decreases. Shoes with a lot of cushion have the potential to feel mushy or slow. If you intend to do a lot of speedwork, a highly cushioned shoe may feel significantly more sluggish than something with a firmer midsole and a lower stack height. The exception to this is shoes that also include some sort of midsole plate, such as the Salomon Phantasm and Saucony Endorphin Speed 3.
This best road running shoes guide has been compiled with the expertise and testing experience of the iRunFar team, supplemented by extensive research by author Alli Hartz and input from seasoned running shoe experts.
We began by compiling and considering a list of available road running shoes. We whittled down this list and sent our top picks to our team of testers, who extensively test dozens of shoes each year, including every shoe mentioned above. Our testers ran in the shoes for several weeks, collectively putting hundreds of miles on each style and providing feedback on fit, feel, stability, cushion, performance, durability, and other factors. With this information, we further narrowed our list of the best to the shoes in this guide.
Please note that shoe models are routinely discontinued in the running world, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing and research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. Most products will likely remain the same when we update any buyer’s guide. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear you’ll use for a long time.
With a traditional shape and design, the Nike Pegasus 40 shoes are a great everyday option for many types of runners. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
What is a road running shoe?
A road running shoe is designed to excel on smooth surfaces. They have smooth outsoles that generally lack the lugs and rock protection that trail running shoes provide. Road running shoes can come with a variety of cushion levels to accommodate different running needs. Some are designed to be lively and snappy for speed workouts, while others are comfortable enough to run endless miles on hard surfaces. Our team placed the On Cloudsurfer at the top of our favorite road running shoes list.
What are the main differences between road running and trail shoes?
The biggest difference between road running and trail shoes is the outsoles. While the lugs and sticky rubber of trail shoe outsoles are designed to provide purchase on a wide variety of surfaces, including hardpack, loose rocks, mud, and more, road shoes tend to have very smooth outsoles that excel on the pavement. This allows them to be lighter than trail shoes and more comfortable running on flat and hard surfaces, namely pavement and dirt roads. The uppers of road shoes may also be less durable than trail shoes since they have to withstand much less abuse from rocks and other trailside debris. The Salomon Phantasm has an incredibly thin upper that could still provide support and a good lockdown.
Can I run on trails in road running shoes?
While it’s technically possible to run anywhere in road shoes, running on loose, steep, or technical trails in them is generally not recommended. With their relatively smooth outsoles, road shoes don’t provide much grip on anything other than pavement—some road shoes you might even want to leave at home if the pavement is wet. If you choose to wear road shoes on trails, you might find yourself slipping and potentially falling and injuring yourself. That being said, on gravel or hard-packed trails that aren’t too steep, road shoes may be perfectly adequate and a good choice, especially if you’re running a fair bit of pavement to get to and from the trails. The Hoka Clifton 9 is an excellent option for a road shoe with enough grip, durability, and support to perform on dirt surfaces.
iRunFar testers enjoyed the fit, feel, and performance of the Topo Cyclone 2 and Salomon Phantasm shoes. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
What are the best road running shoes for beginners?
If you’re new to running and don’t know anything about choosing the best road running shoes for your needs, the best thing to do is to visit your local specialty running shop. There, they’ll be able to measure your feet, discuss the different types of surfaces you want to run on and analyze your gait. They can look at your arch height, determine the amount of pronation in your ankles, and provide recommendations for shoes that will help you have a long and healthy running career.
If you don’t have a local shop to visit, it’s a good idea to get a fairly average shoe in all measurements. Most brands will run true to size, so you should be able to simply buy a running shoe that’s the same size as all the other shoes you wear. When it comes to heel-to-toe drop, choosing a mid-range shoe with 8 to 10 millimeters of drop, such as the New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 or Nike Pegasus 40, will probably work well. If you haven’t run much in the past, choosing a well-cushioned shoe like the Hoka Clifton 9 or On Cloudsurfer may help prevent injuries by protecting your joints, muscles, and ligaments from impact. Increasing your running mileage gradually will also allow your body to adapt and help prevent injuries.
What are the best road running shoes for speed?
When it comes to speed, lighter weight, and bouncier cushion is generally better, especially over longer distances. If you’re looking for a road shoe for speedwork, something with a springy and lively feel is a good idea. Highly cushioned shoes generally aren’t great for speedwork as they tend to be too squishy and slow-feeling. The On Cloudsurfer, Salomon Phantasm, and Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 are great everyday road running shoes that can perform well in speed workouts. However, if you want something more specialized, you’ll want to opt for multiple pairs of shoes to have options for both your fast and slow runs.
iRunFar’s Alli Hartz runs in the Salomon Phantasm in the Colorado desert. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
What are the best road running shoes for marathons?
For longer runs, cushioned shoes like the Hoka Clifton 9 are a great idea to protect your feet, joints, and muscles from the impact of so many steps. Learn more about different cushioned shoes in our best cushioned running shoes guide. While a highly cushioned shoe might be too much for someone trying to run a competitive marathon time, shoes without much cushion could lead to a faster breakdown of your muscles and increased joint pain throughout the run. But as with all shoes, wearing something comfortable that fits your feet well is far more important than having the latest and greatest shoe on the market.
What sort of heel-to-toe drop do I want in my running shoes?
Finding the right heel-to-toe drop is a matter of personal preference, running style, and injury history. Low- or zero-drop shoes, like the Altra Torin 7, are increasingly popular in both the trail- and the road-running world, but they don’t work for everyone. Low-drop shoes can lead to a variety of injuries if you have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles, especially if you don’t gradually ease your way into their use. Low- and zero-drop shoes may be a great option if you frequently experience lower back tightness, as they tend to lead to the lengthening of all of the muscles in the back of your body.
Choosing a shoe with a moderate heel-to-toe drop, generally in the 8- to the 10-millimeter range, like the New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 or Nike Pegasus 40, should work for most types of runners. If you plan on transitioning to a shoe with a different amount of drop than you’re used to, it’s prudent to change over time so that your joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons can adjust without getting injured.
Road shoes can also be used on dirt roads. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
How do I want road running shoes to fit?
Road running shoes should fit like your other shoes: snug yet comfortable. The most accurate way to get a well-fitting shoe is to go to a local running shop where they can not only measure the length of your feet but also consider their shape and width when selling you a shoe.
When you put the shoe on, you should be able to place the width of your thumb between the end of your toes and the end of the shoe. This will keep your toes from slamming into the front of your shoe as you run on different gradients, preventing bruising, blisters, and issues with your toenails. You should be able to wiggle and fully extend your toes. When you’re trying shoes on, be sure to try both feet since many people have two feet that are different sizes.
You’ll also want to ensure that the edges of your feet don’t hang over the shoe’s midsole, as this can cause blisters and lead to the shoe uppers wearing out much more quickly. If you need wider shoes, choosing ones with a larger toebox, such as the Altra Torin 7 or the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2, can help provide the front of your foot with extra space.
What are the best running shoes for walking?
Most running shoes work just as well for walking. However, some will be better than others. Generally, Hoka, Brooks, and New Balance make shoes that excel at running and walking. So out of those shoes on our list, we recommend the Hoka Clifton 9, New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13, and Brooks Ghost 15 as excellent running shoes for walking.
During an early morning training session, Melissa Beaury runs in the Brooks Ghost 15 shoes. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi
Alli Hartz is a member of the gear review team at iRunFar. She’s been writing about outdoor gear, outdoor adventure, and adventure travel for 10 years. Aside from iRunFar, Alli contributes gear reviews and adventure stories to Switchback Travel, Travel Oregon, and other outlets. She also works as a ski guide during the winter season and has dabbled in run-skiing on the Cascade volcanoes. Alli is based in Bend, Oregon, where she loves to run from her front door up into the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Eszter Horanyi identifies as a Runner Under Duress, in that she’ll run if it gets her deep into the mountains or canyons faster than walking would, but she’ll most likely complain about it. A retired long-distance bike racer, she gave ultra foot racing a go and finished the Ouray 100 in 2017, but ultimately decided that she prefers a slower pace of life of taking photos during long days in the mountains and smelling the flowers while being outside for as many hours of the day as possible. Eszter will take any opportunity to go adventuring in the mountains or desert by foot, bike, or boat, and has lived the digital nomad lifestyle throughout the west for the past seven years.On CloudsurferHoka Clifton 9Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22On CloudsurferTopo Athletic Cyclone 2Salomon PhantasmHoka Clifton 9Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22Altra Torin 7Craft Pro Endur DistanceSaucony Endorphin Speed 3 New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13Brooks Ghost 15 Nike Pegasus 40Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:On CloudsurferActual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Topo Athletic Cyclone 2Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Salomon PhantasmActual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Hoka Clifton 9Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Altra Torin 7Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Craft Pro Endur DistanceActual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Pros:Cons:Saucony Endorphin Speed 3Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Brooks Ghost 15Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Overall Rating:Upper Comfort:Underfoot Feel:Responsiveness:Stability:Cushion:Pros:Cons:Nike Pegasus 40Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9):Drop:Heel-to-Toe Drop –Midsole –Outsole –Upper –Toebox –Stack Height –Pronation –Overpronation –Supination –Road Running Shoes Versus Trail Running ShoesNew Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13 Different Types of Road Running ShoesTopo Athletic Cyclone 2Salomon PhantasmBrooks Ghost 15New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13On CloudsurferBrooks Ghost 15Saucony Endorphin Speed 3Stability Versus Neutral Running ShoesOn Cloudsurfer, Craft Pro Endur DistanceHoka Clifton 9Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22, Hoka Arahi 6Altra Paradigm 6FitTopo Athletic Cyclone 2 Altra Torin 7.Toebox ShapeBrooks Ghost 15New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13Topo Athletic Cyclone 2Altra Torin 7Heel-to-Toe Drop ConsiderationsBrooks Ghost 15,On Cloudsurfer,Craft Pro Endur DistanceSalomon Phantasm,Hoka Clifton 9Topo Athletic Cyclone 2Altra Torin 7Arch SupportBrooks Adrenaline GTS 22UppersSaucony Endorphin Speed 3Other ConsiderationsHoka Clifton 9Craft Pro Endur DistanceSalomon PhantasmSaucony Endorphin Speed 3What is a road running shoe?On Cloudsurfer What are the main differences between road running and trail shoes?Salomon Phantasm Can I run on trails in road running shoes?Hoka Clifton 9 What are the best road running shoes for beginners?New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13Nike Pegasus 40,Hoka Clifton 9On CloudsurferWhat are the best road running shoes for speed?On CloudsurferSalomon PhantasmSaucony Endorphin Speed 3What are the best road running shoes for marathons?Hoka Clifton 9What sort of heel-to-toe drop do I want in my running shoes?Altra Torin 7,New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13Nike Pegasus 40How do I want road running shoes to fit?Altra Torin 7Topo Athletic Cyclone 2What are the best running shoes for walking?Hoka Clifton 9New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13Brooks Ghost 15Alli HartziRunFarSwitchback TravelTravel Oregon