Today, I’m going to rank, categorize, and award prestigious titles to the best road running shoes of 2021.
With 2021 behind, we like to take a look back at all the absolute highlights from the running shoe industry that we’ve run in and pick out the ones that have impressed us the most.
But saying that X shoe from X company is the best is not a wise approach to go because shoes are made for different purposes.
Instead, I’m going to award titles in terms of the categories the shoes actually fall in.
Without further ado, let’s kick start things off with the first category…
Best Road Running Shoes
Best Racing Road Shoes
When we’re talking about race-day shoes, we’re looking at shoes to help you run fast, whether that’s interval training, time trials, or flat-out racing.
It’s an increasingly competitive and confusing category with new technologies, super foams, and carbon plates. But we’ve done our best to wade through those and bring you the very best shoes for race day.
The Nike Alphafly was way too extreme for me and it didn’t feel like I was running in a running shoe. It felt like I had two little trampolines strapped to my feet and as far as running tight corners at speed, the shoe was very unstable for me.
Like a lot of athletes out there, I started to lean towards the Nike Vaporfly and the Asics Meta Speed Sky a little bit more because they’re a little bit lighter, a little bit more nimble, and they’re able to take turns better.
My two favorite super shoes for 2021 are the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 and the Asics Meta Speed Sky.
Related: Nike Alphafly vs Vaporfly Next%
Nike Vaporfly Next% 2
Where do I start with this? These have changed the game for running all around the world and personal records. And you’d be hard pushed not to find a pair of these on a start line of any race, anywhere.
The first time I laced up these bad boys and took them out for a run, it was a bit of a revelation.
One of the things I like the most especially when you compare the Vaporfly Next% to my not-so-good experience in the Alpha Fly is the Vaporfly still feels like a running shoe.
I think it’s just a little bit more normal and it definitely feels a lot more stable underfoot.
I didn’t feel like I had to learn how to run again, but I wasn’t taking a crazy wide angle around every bend just to be on the safe side.
This Nike shoe has been designed for running fast marathons and half marathons, but it still provides a bit of comfort when it comes to the upper.
Midsole & Plate
The one-and-only Zoom X midsole offers that brilliant balance between comfort and performance. It’s a shoe that’s super comfy and plush underfoot, but it’s also a shoe that returns bags of energy when you up the pace.
Obviously, there is a full-length carbon plate in that midsole for extra propulsion and it is a match made in heaven when you pair up that high-performance Zoom X foam and Nike’s carbon plate technology.
This new updated upper on the Vapor Fly Next% 2 feels really nice wrapped around my foot. In fact, it’s super breathable that you can feel that wind and air rushing as you’re running along in the shoe.
I was pretty surprised the tongue isn’t gusseted and it is very thin in design. However, Nike have put a little bit of padding at the top of that tongue where the lace is pulled tight making this shoe pretty comfortable across the top of your foot.
Obviously, this is a pretty stripped-back upper because Nike want to keep that weight down to a bare minimum, but I think they’ve got that balance just about right because this shoe has been designed for running efficiency and running economy over distance.
I love those little zonal pods of padding around the heel cup offering you just enough comfort but making sure you’re nice and locked into the back end of the shoe.
We can’t talk about the upper construction without mentioning these clever laces. These laces are brilliant because they’ve got lots of little notches all the way down so you get that really nice lockdown specific hold around your midfoot but then those laces don’t work loose while you’re running.
What I will say is looking at the profile of that outsole, this is a crazy narrow shoe at the midfoot and in the heel and there’s not a great deal of width in the forefoot either. Nike actually said they’ve added a bit of volume to this shoe and so I dread to think how narrow that original version was.
So, if you’ve got quite a bit of width to your midfoot, then maybe this isn’t the best shoe for you.
But there’s nothing better than grabbing a shoe out of the box for the first time, putting it on your feet, and just knowing that it’s going to be really special.
It fits like a glove and all you want to do is get out the door and start running down the road in it.
Again, this is an absolute cracker that has been a pleasure to race in.
Asics Metaspeed Sky
I’ve just been absolutely loving this shoe. I’ve had about 140 miles in the Sky and it still feels absolutely fresh. The reason why it’s my favorite is because it’s just so fun to run in.
It’s got FlyteFoam (FF) Turbo midsole foam which is a foam that compresses quite a bit but that’s what it does. When you land on it, it rebounds just as quickly with a nice springy sensation.
That spring is aided by the carbon fiber plate which is positioned and shaped in such a way that I feel like it gives a nice strong sense of push-off with each stride. It makes it for a very exciting racing experience.
In terms of being able to protect the legs from too much damage from a hard effort, the Meta Speed Sky certainly delivered for me. The upper is strong and flexible and the heel is nice and floppy, which is how I like my race shoes.
However, there’s two little complaints. The first one is that the laces are kind of fraying. There’s really no problem with that, but it just looks a little bit sloppy.
I also feel like this shoe is just a little bit too snug right in the toes just a little bit and that can cause a little bit of discomfort on some of those longer efforts.
Other than that, I feel like the Meta Speed Sky is just about perfect0
Overall, the Sky has a FlyteFoam Turbo midsole, a nice fitting upper, and honestly, it gives me everything I want in a super marathon carbon-plated racer.
Again, both the Nike Vapor Fly Next% 2 and the Asics Meta Speed Sky are incredible race-day shoes and have to be two of if not the most exciting running shoes that I’ve ever put on my feet.
There’s a lot of carbon fiber plate options out there right now and it really comes down to your own stride and personal preferences.
other great fast shoes include…
Saucony Endorphin Pro
The Saucony Endorphin Pro is a high-performance shoe that we’ve seen on the feet of many notable runners.
The aim of the Saucony Endorphin Pro is to help you smash your PBs, and in order to do that, it has Speed Roll technology, a carbon fiber plate, and a PWRRUN PB cushioning making it lightweight and very bouncy.
This is a lightweight racing shoe and it doesn’t have that plush tongue, but the fit is really snug in a good way. It feels really responsive on the run and super-duper light.
All in all, this is a really well constructed, speedy shoe which is perfect if you want to get a little bit of extra speed going, especially on those tempo runs.
Hoka Carbon X 2
Hoka’s racer is the Rocket X, but we’ve actually gone for the Carbon X 2. The Carbon X has a rubberized EVA outsole on it and because of this, we have seen some reports that it’s not quite as durable as some of the other speedy shoes on test.
I haven’t done enough miles in it to be able to tell you exactly how long these last for, but what I would say is that I didn’t have any problem with grip or traction because of the outsole.
It’s a carbon fiber plated shoe with a Meta-Rocker, which is pretty aggressive. Because of this, it really propels your foot forward. Even walking in these, you can feel that you just want to ‘go’.
Fit-wise, the Carbon X 2 is a really good fit. Again, the Carbon X 2 is a really good speedy shoe, just be aware of the outsole and some of the issues that people have had with durability.
Best Daily Road Running Shoes
I’m going to stick with Asics because my favorite road daily trainer is the Asics Novablast 2.
Asics Novablast 2
As one of the softest running shoes, the Novablast 1 was one of my favorite shoes of 2020 and in 2021. I do think that they’ve made a couple of changes.
One, they went from a 10-millimeter drop to an 8-millimeter drop, which gives us a little bit more stack height in the forefoot.
It feels like that foam has firmed up a little bit and I think a lot of that has to do with the way that they’ve shaped it so that way it’s not compressing quite as much as it did in the inaugural year of the Novablast.
Nevertheless, it’s still a very soft bouncy squishy shoe that still feels fast and controllable, which makes it very versatile.
Related: Asics Novablast vs Nike Invincible
You could take the Novablast on pretty much any kind of run that you might have coming up in your training plan whether it’s an easy run, a recovery run, or a faster workout. It’s just ready to pick up the pace as well.
If you’re looking for just one shoe to do it all, I think the Asics Novablast 2 is going to be one to take a look at.
Now, let’s talk about those days when you’re going to be really tired and feeling a little beat up. Or, maybe you’re looking to set a long-run PR and going for your longest run ever?
For something like that, you want a shoe with maximum cushion.
Related: Asics Novablast 1 vs 2
Best Max Cushion Road Running Shoes
For this category, I’m picking the New Balance Fresh Foam More v3.
New Balance Fresh Foam More v3
The Fresh Foam More v3 is a behemoth and one of the best max cushioned shoes. It looks big, it is big, and there’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of materials, layers, foams, and things that are in the upper.
But somehow, New Balance has made this all work.
The More v3 definitely provides a lot of comfort but it’s also comfort without clunkiness.
You can actually take the More for some of those longer runs and not feel like you’re dragging the shoe around with you.
For those days after hard workouts where I’m feeling particularly beat up and I need a shoe for some active recovery, the Fresh Foam More v3 is my favorite shoe to put my feet in.
The toe box in the upper is nice and roomy and so I never feel like my toes are getting scrunched. I really love the bounciness of the ride but also the shock absorption of that foam at the same time.
It manages to strike that balance perfectly well and that’s why the New Balance Fresh Foam More v3 is my favorite max cushion shoe of 2021.
Two other great max cushion shoes include the Hoka Bondi and the Brooks Triumph…
Hoka Bondi & Saucony Triumph
The Hoka Bondi is a classic and it’s got all the protection you really need, but you don’t always need the highest stack height and so the Saucony Triumph 19 or 18 is another fantastic option.
Related: Hoka Bondi vs Clifton
The Triumph has all the cushion you need for those long runs up to 20 miles. It has got that highly responsive PWRRUN Plus compound which just feels really nice. It has that pop and feels smooth.
Next, let’s pick up the pace just a little bit but not too much, let’s go to my favorite speed shoes for 2021.
Best Speed Road Running Shoes
We’re not talking tempo days where I might want a little bit more cushion or longer intervals but we’re talking short sharp work.
I want something light, something nimble, and something that’s going to get me from A to B and let me do a lot of the work.
For this, I’m going to go with the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2.
Saucony Endorphin Speed
The Endorphin went for a very subtle update. I was really glad when I found out that it still runs very similar to that original version because the Endorphin Speed was my last year’s favorite shoe of the year like most of the running community.
But what is it that I like so much about the Speed 2?
The Endorphin Speed 2 is an awesome shoe for those tempo, speed, and interval sessions. It also doubles up as a very comfortable speedy race-day shoe for your quick 5ks or when you’re pushing the pace a bit longer for a road marathon.
However, I do find it quite hard to run slower or do recovery runs in this shoe, but, again, the Endorphin is built for speed.
Midsole, Speed Roll, Nylon Plate
I’m a big fan of Saucony’s super foam called PWRRUN PB which is a great comfortable compound underfoot. PWRRUN PB is another foam that compresses quite a bit but also rebounds really quickly.
Not only that but the Endorphin Speed 2 also has this geometry up at the front that Saucony call their Speed Roll technology.
This rocker feature helps you get through that gait cycle really quickly and helps pick up that heel and get you into the next stride with lots of speed.
But the standout feature is the fact that the Endorphin uses a TPU plate in that midsole and not a carbon fiber plate.
That TPU plate makes the midsole a lot more flexible when you compare it to the carbon-plated Endorphin Pro. I think that makes the Endorphin Speed a lot more versatile and that can pretty much do it all.
The Endorphin Speed 2 has a very comfortable upper that fits very snugly without being too tight and there’s just not too much extra stuff to get in the way.
There’s a good level of support around that heel cup and nice levels of padding in that gusseted tongue in the upper.
So the Endorphin Speed is so not super stripped back like it is in some speedy shoes. It’s still nice and comfortable across the top of your foot.
Overall, the Endorphin Speed is a lightweight and really responsive racing shoe and it doesn’t have that plush tongue, but the fit is really snug in a good way.
The runner-up shoe of this category is the Puma Liberate Nitro. This is a shoe for that runner who doesn’t need any assistance from their shoes.
Puma Liberate Nitro
The Liberate Nitro does everything that every other shoe doesn’t do. There’s no bells and whistles, no revolutionary technology, no rocker, no air pods, or anything, it’s just a standard basic shoe where you do all of the work.
When you slip on that race-day shoe, everything feels so much easier. In terms of intervals, this is your shoe if you do sometimes prefer shoes that don’t give you anything and let you do all the work.
So, when technology is becoming everything, this has stripped it right back. It’s just refreshing in a day and age.
Best Easy Day Road Running Shoes
This is the category where we spend most of our time during our running week. These are the shoes that you can get up to some decent mileage because you’re able to put more miles in these things quicker.
I have two shoes for this category, the Hoka Mach 4 and the Asics Novablast 2.
Related: Best Running Shoes For Easy Days
Hoka Mach 4
The Mach has been great comfort in abundance and it just works so well with my footstrike. The upper is solid and it just lays on top of the foot comfortably and the lockdown is so amazing.
It’s not one that I can particularly pick up the pace in, but in terms of the easy day stuff, it’s a really comfy shoe.
Asics Novablast 2
The Novablast has more miles than the Mach 4 and is showing absolutely zero signs of wear and tear. I think that’s where the Hoka shoes just fall a little bit short as their durability isn’t quite there.
But for Asics, after maybe 340 miles, there’s just not a sign of wear and tear on it at all. This is definitely a 600+ mile shoe.
FlyteFoam Blast was great in the Novablast 1 and even better and more stable in version 2. The Novablast is a really comfortable shoe and it’s doing far better in terms of wear and tear than the Hoka Mach 4.
Apart from easy runs, I’ve done long runs, speed workouts, easy runs, and moderate runs, and there’s not anything that the Novablast can’t handle.
So, in terms of the winner between the Asics Novablast 2 and the Hoka Mach 4, I’m going to award it to the Novablast 2.
Best Versatile Road Running Shoes
These are the shoes that I want to be a little bit versatile and super comfortable, and just shoes that I gravitate towards for whatever situation I’m in whether it’s a race day, an easy day, or a speed day.
New Balance FuelCell Rebel v2
If I had to pick one running shoe to do all of my recovery runs, speed sessions, intervals, and race day, I think I’d be pretty happy in the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v2.
The weight of the shoe is crazy light for a daily trainer. The upper is one of the best fitting and most comfortable uppers I’ve ever put on my foot and it really does feel like I haven’t got a running shoe on.
There’s a really good hold around the midfoot even though that tongue isn’t gusseted in the upper. There’s a nice lockdown in the heel and it just feels so light and airy when I’m out there putting in the miles.
The FuelCell midsole compound is crazy light and it makes this running shoe feel super well-balanced but still very comfortable underfoot on those sort of longer weekly runs.
But then when you pick up the tempo on those quicker sessions, even though there’s no TPU or carbon plate in that midsole, the shoe really does spring to life and it reminded me and feels very similar of those more expensive super shoes.
The one thing I will mention is if you are quite dominant on a heel strike in your running gait or you tend to run in shoes that have quite a lot of midfoot substance and structure, then maybe the Rebel v2 isn’t the shoe for you.
You really do have to be quite neutral and I’d say run off a sort of midfoot/forefoot strike because if you don’t, it really can run unstable because it’s very flexible, there’s not a lot of structure, and this FuelCell compound is super soft.
Again, I found the Rebel v2 to be the crème de la crème. It’s very comfortable on those longer slower efforts and then really responsive and very quick on those speedier sessions, which makes it such a great value versatile daily trainer for that price point.
Next up, we’re going to be taking a look at the best support shoes on the market right now.
Related: What are Neutral Running Shoes?
Best Stability Road Running Shoes
If we’re talking about stability running shoes, we’re referring to those that help with overpronation. Now, if you don’t know whether you overpronate, the best idea is to head to a specialist running store who should be able to help you.
But ultimately, we’re talking about shoes that try to minimize the rolling-in movement at the ankle – or potentially the knee – that happens depending on the way your foot makes contact with the ground as you roll through.
There are four shoes that really stand out…
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 & 22
When it comes to top-end stability shoes, I have the go-to shoe Brooks Adrenaline.
Both the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 and the Adrenaline GTS 22 are two of my favorite support shoes because they feel like they’re supportive by stealth, which is quite a pleasant surprise compared to a lot of stability shoes.
This seamless support system is provided by the company’s Guide Rail system which feels particularly unobtrusive from a support perspective.
Essentially, it’s two pieces of firmer or higher density foam on both sides of the heel to provide a more guided transition through foot contact.
This shoe has a hefty 12-millimeter drop, which is worth bearing in mind because that is right at the top end of the drop that you might expect from any running shoe out there at the moment.
So, if you’re looking for a low-drop shoe, this definitely isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a support shoe that actually feels really responsive and lightweight and could be a good all-around option, then this is definitely worth considering.
Again, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 is a shoe with no nonsense, it fits good, and gets the job done. Of course, it has the amazing Guide Rail stability system to keep you right in line all the time.
Related: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 vs 20
Other great stability running shoes include…
Asics Kayano Lite 2
Asics really brought the game of stability to the next level because they don’t use a bulky medial post anymore. The Kayano Lite feels smooth and it doesn’t necessarily even feel like a stability shoe.
The Kayano Lite provides the support and stability needed all the way up to severe overpronators in a light package. So, you don’t get all that extra bulk that you’d normally associate with a Kayano.
Mizuno Wave Inspire 17
There are a lot of diehard Mizuno fans who swear by these as their go-to support shoes and the 17 would indicate that these have been around for a while.
Mizuno started to introduce their brand-new Enerzy foam and it’s made a game-changing difference for them as a brand where potentially they might have been getting a little bit left behind.
Wave & Enerzy Combo
Mizuno’s classic Wave and that brand-new foam give a really nice combination of cushioning and support.
So, while the Inspire is not the most flashy shoe out there, it’s a really pleasant, nice, consistent, solid shoe for overpronators and something that you should consider if that’s the sort of thing that you’re looking for.
The Wave Inspire fits true to size and it feels secure with no heel slippage or anything to worry about.
Ultimately, the combination of weight, support, cushioning does a really solid job for people looking for some overpronation control. And if you’re familiar with Mizuno already, then I think these will be a welcome upgrade.
Swiss brand ON are known for building pretty comfortable shoes with their strapline, ‘Running On Clouds’. The Cloudtech within the sole certainly feels like you are running on clouds with the Cloudflyer.
This super-supportive shoe has Helion foam built-in as well as the Cloudtech technology to give extra support.
This particular model includes some of the largest Cloud technology and also has a much more plush tongue and collar around the heel to really lock in your ankle and feel like you’ve got a supportive shoe on.
This shoe is pretty lightweight considering that it’s built to be a support shoe, so it doesn’t feel particularly heavy when you are running in these ones.
At 9.8 oz for men’s size 9grams, that’s actually not bad for a support shoe. All in all, the Cloudflyer is a great shoe if you are new to the ON brand and want to have a cushioned and supportive yet still pretty lightweight shoe to run in.
Now, let’s move on to the shoes that we think have stood the test of time…
Road Shoes That Stood The Test of Time
These are shoes that we have run in and loved and run in some more. When you wear your pairs of shoes out, you often want to look for something totally new to give it a go. But these are the road running shoes that you’ll want to be buying time and time again.
Nike Pegasus 37
Nike’s Pegasus range has been around for a long time.
The Pegasus is bouncy straight out of the box. It uses Nike’s iconic React and a forefoot Air Zoom unit, which means you do get an immediately responsive, springy, bouncy ride straight out of the box on your runs.
There’s really good coverage on the outsole, and actually, the outsole has good depth and grip to it in all conditions.
That, in combination with the asymmetric tongue, the lacing system, and the upper gives a really snug fit that keeps you nice and secure.
The Pegasus is very versatile. It is great for longer, slow runs where you feel like it’s nice and forgiving and cushioned, as well as fast runs where you want the shoe to be responsive.
Related: Nike Pegasus vs Brooks Ghost
Brooks Ghost 13
Like its predecessors, the Ghost uses a midsole foam called DNA Loft. Brooks say that this is the shoe with its softest cushioning in its range, and I’d have to agree.
It’s really comfortable straight out the box. It feels soft and it feels like it’ll absorb anything that you throw at it.
One of the best things about the Ghost 13 is that Brooks haven’t messed with it too much over the years. And in fact, if you take a look at the laces and the tongue, that combination actually feels like it belongs to a much older shoe.
The upper itself has been updated and it feels really nice and breathable. And in combination with the lacing and tongue does give a really nice fit.
So, if you want a shoe that you feel like you can head out for long runs, and they’re going to soak up the punishment of hitting the roads, then the Brooks Ghost 13 is a really good option.
Brooks Levitate 4
A lot of shoe companies focus on weight reduction as the progression for their shoes and Brooks are no different with the Levitate 4. They say that with the new evolution of their DNA AMP midsole, they’ve made this 20% lighter.
There’s been an update to the outsole as well, which I really like. It’s got what I consider more or less full coverage, so no messing about there.
Brooks say that’s to speed up transitions, but ultimately on a run, I just found it gave a really nice smooth footstrike and ride in general.
In addition to that, with that level of full coverage, it did feel like a really sticky outsole, so I had no issues with grip and I was really confident even on wet days on pretty smooth tarmac.
The upper has been updated too, and it’ll be no surprise to a lot of people that, like many manufacturers, Brooks are using essentially a knitted material.
They say it’s improved breathability and I’d have to agree. There’s a nice degree of flexibility without it feeling too stretchy, like your foot sliding around.
In hand, the Levitate feels quite heavy, but as soon as you put it on, that’s not how it feels at all. And, in this update, I felt that it was really springy, it was really comfortable, and it gave a really nice energy return on my run.
I like the understated styling and the simplicity of every element of the Levitate 4.
So if you’re looking for something that’s comfortable, bouncy, something that gives you a nice level of energy return for an everyday trainer that can handle your mileage up to your longest runs, then the Brook’s Levitate 4 is definitely worth a look.
So, there you go. These are our top picks for the best road running shoes out there.
What do you think? Do any of the shoes that we’ve mentioned take your fancy and you want to check them out?
If you’ve been lucky enough to collect some running shoes in 2021 or if you have one standout shoe that’s really worked for you, let everyone know down there.
I’ll see you in the next one 🙂