Best Carbon Fiber Running Shoes – Great Alternative To The Nike VaporFly 4%

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Today, we are going to be rounding up some of the best carbon fiber running shoes for men and women in 2020.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what a carbon plate shoe is or what it’s for. We’re going to be taking you through why some shoes have carbon plates, what started the trend in the first place, and ultimately, and most importantly, giving you a roundup of some of the very best shoes in this category on the market right now.

And stay tuned to the end because we will be picking our favorites from all of the ones that we’re going to show you.

Before we talk about the best carbon plate running shoes, we thought we’d really quickly take you through what carbon plate running shoes are and why they’ve become such a popular choice for lots of runners.

Related: Best Running Shoes in 2020

What Are Carbon Fiber Running Shoes?

This all started with Nike’s Vaporfly 4% shoes in 2017. And as the name suggests, they claim to give you a 4% improvement on your performance.

And that was down to the spatula-shaped carbon fiber plate that runs through the midsole along with Nike’s ZoomX foam.

So, the reason why carbon fiber was selected as the material was because it gives you a bit of a propulsion effect, therefore giving you a little bit more speed going forwards.

Related: Best running shoes for speed

From the Nike Vaporfly 4%, then came the Nike Vaporfly Next%, which promised even more improvement for runners.

Ultimately, that’s also been followed by the Nike Alphafly Next%, which was based on the prototype shoe that Eliud Kipchoge wore when he broke two hours for the marathon distance back in 2019.

So, we know that these shoes can make you faster, but what is it that’s behind this extra speed?

What’s The Secret Sauce?

Well, this is where there’s some debate. Nike released a study, which seemed to show that it might be the carbon plate itself that was behind the kind of springboard effect that might be responsible for the increased speed.

However, there’s a lot of speculation about whether actually, the foam itself is more important. In some combination, the special new foam, the high stack height alongside the carbon plate provides an improvement in running economy, energy return, and ultimately performance.

Related: Best Maximum Cushion Running Shoes

World Athletics Rules

There have been concerns about these new innovations and technology throughout the elite running world.

And so new World Athletics rules state that for road races, shoes must have a maximum stack height of 40 millimeters.

For track events, it’s between 20 and 25 millimeters and that depends on the distance. But across all shoes, they must only contain one carbon fiber plate.

These rules were brought in by World Athletics to preserve the integrity of competition because, in many parts, people were worried about the fact that the new innovations were placing more of an emphasis on the conversation about shoes than they were on the athletes themselves particularly when athletes are sponsored by different shoe brands and whether or not they have access to the same sorts of technology.

So, even though there’s been a lot of debate around carbon plates in shoes, a lot of brands have followed Nike’s lead and some are even on their second iteration of these shoes.

Now let’s take a look at some of our best carbon-plated running shoes.

Best Carbon Fiber Running Shoes

Comparison of the best 4 carbon fiber shoes

Asics Metaracer

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ON Cloudboom

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Neutral Neutral
9mm drop 9mm drop
6.7 oz 7.9 oz
FlyteFoam & Guidesole Cloudtec midsole
Carbon-fiber plate with rocker Carbon-fiber-infused Speedboard
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NB RC Elite

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Hoka Rocket

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Neutral
Neutral
10mm drop 5mm drop
7.3 oz 7.4 oz
FuelCell midsole
Thick EVA midsole
Full-length carbon fiber plate
 Carbon-infused plate (forefoot)
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Asics MetaRacer

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asics-meta-racer-running-shoes

The Metaracer is probably the most recognizable as a racing flat or traditional road racing shoe for those of us that are more used to traditional-looking shoes.

Low Stack Height

So, if you are looking for something with a lower stack height that can perhaps feel more responsive, more aggressive, and give you more feeling that you’re closer to the road, then this could be something worth considering.

There’s no doubt that the combination of new foam technology and carbon plate does provide a performance boost.

One of the things that a lot of the high stack shoes have in common is that they can feel a little bit unstable when you wear them for the first time and actually take a little bit of getting used to.

But that’s not the case with the lower stack height of the Metaracer.

In fact, putting it on, it immediately felt familiar, definitely fast but familiar.

Stable

And if you do have a gait that becomes increasingly less efficient as you get more fatigued over the course of a longer event where your knees might start to roll in a little bit more, or you might pronate more excessively at the ankle, then the extra stability that’s afforded by the lower stack height might be something that’s a real benefit to you.

With a lot of discussion about the contribution of the new foam technology to the overall performance, there’s no denying that because there’s a lower stack height, there’s less foam in the shoe.

And in fact, recently an Asics sponsored athlete, Sara Hall, ran in a development shoe at the London marathon.

It looked a lot like the Metaracer, but it had a significantly visibly higher stack height.

So actually, that could be an indication of the future from Asics. Maybe one to watch out for. It could also be seen as an admission of what’s required to really compete at the highest level with those shoes with the higher stack heights.

Personally, I really enjoyed running in Asics MetaRacer. They felt familiar straight out the box and they felt fast across a whole range of different activities.

So, right from almost maximum pace, running strides, all the way through to longer intervals, they felt responsive and quick but in a different way to some of the others.

They’re definitely less bouncy, but for that, perhaps more controlled.

ON CloudBoom

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With a stack height of 20 millimeters, the ON CloudBoom is nowhere near as high as the Nike Vaporfly, for example.

It’s an incredibly lightweight shoe.

Price-wise, the CloudBoom comes in a little bit cheaper than some of the other carbon plate shoes that are out there on the market at the moment.

When testing this shoe, it felt like one to be used over shorter distances, maybe fast 5k’s or 10k’s, but anything above that, I would probably struggle because it’s an incredibly firm shoe.

Related: These are some great 5k running shoes

Size-wise, I found that the On CloudBoom did come up very, very narrow.

In fact, I’ve had to take the laces out of a couple of the eyelets there just to give my foot a little bit extra space.

Cloudtec

Technology-wise, what ON have done here is they’ve used Their CLOUDTEC technology. Along the sole, you’ve got alternating gaps in between to give you a bit more of a cushioned ride.

That said, it is still incredibly firm.

The carbon plate within this one is a carbon-infused speed board, which you can see along the sides of the midsole. And you’ve got the speed board in the bottom there as well.

So, if you’re looking for a fast, shorter distance shoe, then the ON CloudBoom could be the one for you.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite

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This is the bigger sister of the New Balance FuelCell TC.

For me, this is the shoe that feels the closest to running in the Nike Vaporfly Next%.

It feels bouncy and there is a feeling of it immediately propelling you forward on contact, right through to toe-off.

There are some differences though. Ultimately, it’s the combination of the way that the carbon plate and the foam work together to provide the feeling when you’re out there running.

Sweet Spot

And for me, that manifested itself as having a very distinct sweet spot where they felt the best.

Also for me, that was between my threshold pace and my 10k pace where they did feel fantastic and like they were real game-changer in the way I was able to run.

Related: These are some great 10k running shoes

They felt good at maximum pace too, but I’d say less revolutionary for me.

So, it’d be interesting to see whether different people with different mechanics would find that their sweet spot for these was at a different pace.

Grippy

I really liked the degree of grip that I felt that the outsole gave me. Some of the other shoes on the test have sacrificed the outsole to save weight, but I didn’t really feel like the case here.

They fit nice and securely. There isn’t a gusseted tongue, but I didn’t have any problems with it moving around.

The very nature of all of the shoe technology that’s under discussion at the moment means that it’s quite likely that there will be non-responders and responders.

That might differ from brand to brand and shoe to shoe. Things like weight, biomechanics, foot shape, and the way that you run are all going to have an impact on whether you find that particular shoe is effective for you.

Midsole

Ultimately, for me, the shape of the shoe in combination with the distribution of the foam technology in the midsole led to a really natural foot movement with a small degree of pronation owing to the fact that there is more foam on the outside compared to underneath the arch.

That small degree of pronation is great because controlled pronation is what leads to fast running.

But if that pronation becomes too pronounced as you fatigue or uncontrolled, then that’s what can lead to injury or inefficiency.

So for me, I’d want to be sure that I had confidence in my nice neutral foot movement to maximize the benefit I would get from wearing NEw Balance RC Elite.

Also from New Balance, there’s the New Balance FuelCell 5280. This is essentially a track spike, without the metal pins, but includes the extra cushioning you need to hammer fast on rock-hard roads.

Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

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The Hyperion Elite 2 is the second iteration of a carbon plate shoe from Brooks.

The upgrade from the Original makes it feel like a much more stable ride.

For some of the shoes in this roundup, I personally found like there wasn’t an awful lot of support in the ankle and that comes down to the fact that they are incredibly light shoes and they’re just not built to support.

So, you do sometimes feel like you’re going to go over on your ankle.

Related: Best Running Shoes for Bad Ankles

Stable

What I would say with the Brooks one is actually, this felt the most stable out of the ones that I’ve personally tested.

So, the Hyperion Elite comes up as pretty true to size. If anything, I do have a bit of a wider foot and so the toe box did feel a little on the narrow side, but nothing too uncomfortable at all.

In fact, it felt like it just hugged my foot and gave me a bit of support like I said previously.

Price-wise, the Hyperion Elite 2 is a little on the expensive end of the scale. But I would say that you do get your money’s worth with the shoe, but you are going to have to be willing to part with a little bit of extra cash in order to purchase the Hyperion Elite 2.

The Hyperion Elite 2 has a stack height of 37 millimeters making it much higher than the CloudBoom, for example, and getting close to the Nike Vaporfly and that limit from World Athletics of 40 millimeters.

Overall, the Hyperion is a really stable and really comfortable ride, and it definitely made me feel pretty fast with that rocking propelling motion with that carbon plate.

So, if you’re willing to spend a little bit of extra money, then the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 is a good shoe.

Hoka One One Rocket X

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hoka-one-one-rocket-x-running-shoes

Actually, the irony here for me is that Hoka have often made a bit of a splash for their shoes looking quite different. I’m thinking the Tennine and the Clifton Edge, for example.

But with the Rocket X, these are actually probably the most normal-looking shoes by Hoka. And that’s in a category where competitive shoes are actually looking increasingly different.

While the shoes in this category are eye-wateringly expensive, the Rocket X is by far the cheapest.

It’s not a cheap shoe, but it is cheaper. And I’ve been excited to test this ever since I saw Aliphine Tuliamuk take victory in the US Olympic marathon trials wearing Hoka Rocket X in a Nike dominated field.

I’ve previously found Hoka shoes to be quite narrow, but I thought that these were a little bit more generous.

They have a gusseted tongue, which provides a really nice fit and ultimately the high stack height and low drop won’t be a surprise to any Hoka fans out there.

Related: Best running shoes for narrow feet

Outsole

The sole gave good grip on the road, but it didn’t feel quite so sure-footed on wet roads as some of the competitor shoes.

In fact, you’ll see that the coverage of the outsole is relatively minimal, which is probably what’s responsible for that.

Whether or not it’s the lower drop that doesn’t allow for the same degree of mechanical assistance, I did find that these left me feeling a little bit more flat-footed than some of the others and provided less of a degree of propulsion from foot contact to toe-off.

So, the Hoka Rocket X is a great option if you’re used to low drop shoes and you’re looking for something light and responsive, but it definitely feels less revolutionary than some of the other brands’ interpretations.

They’re also less bouncy and cushioned.

I actually really enjoyed running in them because, for me, the lower cushioning actually gave me a better feel for the road, which I enjoyed.

I think their pedigree has been proven by that success in the Olympic marathon trials that I mentioned.

But I do think that overall, these are going to be a shoe that are a positive for some people, but other people might not get on with.

Adidas Adizero Adios Pro

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adidas-adizero-adios-pro-running-shoes

The name is easy for you to say but not quite so easy to remember. I always managed to get this one wrong.

Anyway, this shoe is Adidas’ carbon plate running shoe and it has a carbon plate in the heel and carbon rods through it too.

At 7.9oz (225 grams), this is actually the heaviest shoe on test. And you can tell when holding it that it has got quite a bit of weight to it on the sole.

Running in it though, they do feel incredibly lightweight and incredibly fast.

The upper on them is like a mesh and it feels like you’re not really wearing shoes at all. You’ve just got soles strapped to the bottom of your feet.

The rocking motion from this shoe really felt like I was being propelled forward from the minute I put them on.

So, even just walking in these shoes, not even running, it felt like you wanted to get on your toes and go.

I found that this shoe was incredibly comfortable, the fit was perfect for me width-wise and size-wise.

What I was saying about ankles earlier, because of the really low profile around the ankle, it did feel to me at times that there was no support or stability there.

So, if you are prone to rolling on your ankles, then maybe consider that if you’re looking at the Adidas Adios Adizero Pro.

Sole

The sole on this one was what struck me first about it straight out of the box. It’s incredibly smooth.

I’ve run in this shoe in the wet and I was really concerned about the traction on the ground, especially if you’re taking fast corners, for example.

So far, I haven’t had a problem with that, but it is worth noting because I have found in other shoes that have got incredibly smooth soles that obviously the grip just isn’t there in wetter conditions.

Let’s just talk about how beautiful this shoe looks. I am a sucker for a pretty shoe and I really love what Adidas have done with this one.

Overall, the Adidas shoe is up there with one of my favorites, but I do think that I would have some concerns about how long they’ll last you with this sole.

I haven’t done enough miles in them yet to be able to give you a good rough estimate of how long they would last, but it’s a beautiful shoe and a comfortable shoe and one that definitely made me feel faster.

But the great news is the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro now holds two world records:

Now that we’ve taken you through a lot of different options, it’s time for us to let you know our favorite carbon-fiber running shoes and where we’d put our money if we wanted to maximize our return in terms of running performance.

Verdict

Eric

For me, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. And so I really enjoyed the familiarity of putting on the MetaRacer. But ultimately, if it was my money, I’d probably put it into the New Balance RC Elite. I felt like they gave me the most immediate return although it’s hard to say whether that’s better than the Nike Vaporfly Next%.

Ultimately, there’s so much data behind the Nike and so many results out there that it’s pretty hard to get away from just how successful that shoe has been.

Gary

So, my favorite carbon plate running shoe? Well, I do run in Nike’s an awful lot. So, the Vaporfly is there at the top for me.

But picking one of the alternatives for this article, it’s going to have to be the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro.

I love the look of the shoe, the feel of the shoe, and how fast it makes me feel. And I love feeling the propulsion even when walking in the shoe.

When you put the Adios Pro on, it feels incredibly special.

And when you’re going to be spending a lot of money on these carbon plated shoes, you want something that is being kept for best, kept for races, something that is going to make you feel good as well as helping you run that little bit faster.

And I did feel like the Adidas Adios Pro did make me feel a bit faster.

So, there you have it. These were some of the best carbon fiber running shoes.

What do you think about these shoes and all of the new technology? Would you fork out for a pair or have you done so already?

Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll see you next time.

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