Best In Gear Awards 2021: The Best Road Running Shoes
It doesn’t feel real, but another year is drawing to a close. On the bright side, it means we get to rattle off our favorite road running shoes of 2021. After all, this year saw the world take a step back towards normal after a difficult 2020. We got to race against other runners in real life, attend some pretty sweet events, and even host our headquarters launch party with all of you!
That’s probably enough about us, though, now it’s time to talk shoes. We saw some pretty incredible things this year — from an explosion of updated super shoes to some daily-training sequels that knocked our socks off. New Balance hit us right away with the FuelCell Rebel V2, which we loved almost universally. The folks up in Boston kept the goodness coming with hits on recovery shoes and racers, too. ASICS had a pretty impressive year in its own right, and our awards reflect that.
If you’re wondering how we put this list of the best road running shoes together, it was a fight to the death. Well, it wasn’t really, but we all took some time to reread the reviews from this year and pick our personal favorites. Then, we sat down to hash out our differences. Not all of our picks made the grade (Meaghan’s love for the HOKA Bondi X and the hundreds of miles she put in that shoe was relegated to an honorable mention), but we kept ourselves to just one tie.
And though there are some shoes from 2020 that remain our overall favorite (Nike Alphafly NEXT%), we kept this solely dedicated to shoes released into the wild sometime over the last 12 months.
Without further ado, let’s get into the shoes. Enjoy our picks, and here’s to some great new reviews in 2022.
ASICS has found its “Kingslayer” | FLYTEFOAM BLAST TURBO midsole | Worth every penny
If you’ve read many of our supershoe reviews, you know just how much this crew loves the Nike Vaporfly and Alphafly. That makes it all the more impressive to see ASICS claim the throne with its Metaspeed Sky. Of course, it’s not a shoe without some star power — Sara Hall rocked a pair for the London Marathon and the Marathon Project, after all.
No matter the reviewer, we pretty much all heaped on the praise for the FLYTEFOAM BLAST TURBO midsole. If you ask Robbe, the toe-off has a pop that would make Orville Redenbacher jealous. Even the ASICSGRIP outsole had our trio buzzing, as it feels ready for any road condition, wet or dry.
While a $250 racing shoe can never be considered cheap, the ASICS Metaspeed Sky is worth every penny. It’s truly as close to the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% as you can get without rocking the swoosh. Heck, Thomas grabbed the Metaspeed Sky above the Alphafly for his May marathon. Not that we can ever guarantee a PR, but quite a few of ASICS’ top runners obliterated their best times in the early prototypes of this bad boy.
Be sure to size up a half size as it does tend to run short.
PRICE: $250Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Saucony Endorphin Pro+
We’re pretty big fans of Saucony’s Endorphin lineup — just look at our shoe of the year from last year. Now, the company has made its premium racing shoe even better by putting it on a diet. The Endorphin Pro+ is 0.6 oz. lighter than the Endorphin Pro 2, and the all-white upper just feels fast. The shoe was a limited edition model, so you may have to do a little treasure hunting to find this gem.
Ready for fast days and everything else | Revamped FuelCell midsole | Just 7.3 oz. for a US M9
Whoever said to save the best for last clearly forgot to give New Balance the message. We reviewed The FuelCell Rebel V2 way back in February, and it stayed among our favorites all year long. New Balance really locked down its FuelCell formula, with an extra 2 mm of stack height and a familiar 6 mm drop.
If you follow our resident runfluencer, Ben Johnson, you know just how many miles he put on his first pair of Rebel V2 (over 400 miles). He was into the hundreds by the time the review went live and never slowed down. He also heaped praise on the revamped upper, which ditched the knit bootie in favor of an engineered mesh. We can’t always base our praise on the launch colorways, but New Balance killed it with the FuelCell Rebel V2. The Habanero seen above is drop-dead gorgeous.
Our team of reviewers — all five of them — had almost no complaints when it comes to the Rebel V2. After all, how often can we say that a road running shoe-of-the-year contender comes in at just $130? We don’t know how New Balance can improve for the Rebel V3, but we sure are excited to find out.
PRICE: $130Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Saucony Endorphin Speed 2
Saucony didn’t have the chance to sneak up on us with the Endorphin Speed 2, but only because the first version was our 2020 shoe of the year. Luckily for all of us, Saucony made the right changes — almost none — to keep its place among the best tempo shoes you can buy. The changes to the upper didn’t change the price tag, and they certainly didn’t bump the Endorphin Speed 2 from its place in our hearts.
Smoother, more stable than the original | FLYTEFOAM BLAST midsole with more cushion | Bangin’ colorways
ASICS had one hell of a 2021 as far as the best road running shoes are concerned. We loved its racing options, and it found a way to improve on the Novablast, too. The FLYTEFOAM BLAST TURBO midsole is back in action, this time with a much more stable ride. ASICS trimmed the drop from 10 mm to 8 mm and split the BLAST into a dual-layer rather than one big slab, creating a more stable feel in the process. The heel isn’t the only change ASICS made, as the forefoot now packs a little more stack, which gives the toe-off a nice kick.
As for the upper, ASICS adopted two-layer jacquard, and the shiny round laces are no more. The flat, soft laces feel more secure, which gave us all the more reason to keep the Novablast 2 laced up for daily training. Thomas took his pair on runs ranging from 6 to 17 miles, with no complaints at any distance. Meaghan put hundreds of miles on her pair, and whenever we have a down period of reviews, this is what we consistently reached for. Just make sure to order your pair a half-size down — both Thomas and Robbe had minor sizing issues.
Overall, the Novablast 2 shows just how good a shoe can be when a company listens to feedback year after year. It’s not easy to claim the daily trainer crown when there are like a hundred options out there, but ASICS has found its winning formula.
PRICE: $130Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Nike Pegasus 38
The workhorse with wings nearly nabbed our top spot, even on its 38th version. Nike didn’t change too much from last year, but it did fix a few of our issues with the upper, which is all it took for us to fall in love once again. Like the Novablast, we found ourselves reaching for this quite often for daily runs, walks, and everything in between. The Pegasus 38 has also received an absolute mountain of awesome colorways, I guess you could call it a horse of a different color…
The best HOKA-like experience around | THICC Fresh Foam X midsole | Lightly improved upper
Sorry, HOKA, but there’s a new sheriff in town. It took New Balance three tries, but it just may have cracked the Clifton code, and the answer is Fresh Foam X, lots and lots of Fresh Foam X. So much foam, in fact, that the More V3 actually gained an ounce of weight over last year’s model. Don’t worry, the sweet rocker design more than makes up for it. New Balance kept the upper simple with a basic mesh, but it fits like a dream — even on Thomas’s low-volume feet.
Meaghan called the More V3 the “Lovesac of running shoes,” and we can’t argue with her. While it’s not great to run on an actual sectional, New Balance has us willing to try. Our team suggested that New Balance could send the More V3 on a slight diet for V4, but they wouldn’t trade any single feature to make the weight.
A word of warning, though — the New Balance Fresh Foam More V3 sold like absolute hotcakes at launch. As such, you might have a tough time tracking a pair down. If you have any running shoe favors to call in, it might be time to do so. If New Balance makes another leap for V4, there might be a reason to call that other brand WHO?-KA.
PRICE: $165Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: HOKA Bondi X
Here it is, Meaghan’s Bondi X. It’s large, it’s in charge, and it’s not exactly the cheapest shoe out there ($200). You’ll have to plop down $200 for HOKA’s most cushioned shoe, but boy, do the looks deliver. The midsole is THICCCC with as many C’s as you want to add, yet it’s the fastest Bondi we’ve ever experienced.
We pride ourselves on our decision-making abilities here at Believe in the Run, but sometimes you just can’t make a choice. That’s what happened here with our favorite stability road running shoes of 2021. We gave Aldren and Mercer, our young stability kings, control of the pick, and they just couldn’t find enough daylight to separate these two shoes.
Both the Nike React Infinity Flyknit 2 and the ASICS Gel-Kayano Lite 2 are sequels to much-loved shoes from 2020. Nike decided to keep the React midsole perfectly intact, but it completely reworked the upper. The result is a more secure stability shoe that comes much closer to the original Epic React than ever before. Just how important is the fixed upper? Thomas compared the original React Infinity to a glass of Hawaiian Punch with filet mignon, and the sequel pairs more like a velvety cabernet — just right.
Over at ASICS, the team decided not to change too much from a shoe we quite liked in 2020. The Lite series showed a willingness from ASICS to try something new, much like the Novablast. It’s a little more refined in the design department, yet ASICS managed to pack around 50% recycled material into its shoe. It doesn’t offer the softest blend of FLYTEFOAM LITE, but the ride is smooth like a baby’s bottom.
PRICE: Nike – $160, ASICS – $160Read the ASICS Review Shop The Nike Shoe – Men Shop The Nike Shoe – Women Shop The ASICS Shoe – Men Shop The ASICS Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Puma Eternity Nitro
Guess who’s back, back again? That’s right, it’s Puma with another sweet Nitro model. The Eternity Nitro doesn’t have quite as loud of an upper as some of Puma’s other offerings, but it’s a comfortable shoe in disguise. We loved the dual-layered midsole, and the RUNGUIDE layer is crucial for stability.
I mean, it’s pretty damn good | Thank you New Balance for your continued support of the #widefootfam
It’s pretty much all been covered in the ‘Best Tempo Shoe’ category, but it all carries over to the best overall shoe award for the Wide Foot Fam, and all the siblings in our close-knit cult appreciate it. Despite running in a lot of shoes as the sole male wide foot reviewer on the team, Jarrett logged close to 100 miles in the shoe and found it as enjoyable as the first day his feet slipped in. As far as we know, this may be the first sub-8-ounce shoe ever to hit the market. And– gasp– it actually comes in colors other than gray and black. Our monochrome vision can barely handle it.
PRICE: $130Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo v5 (and RC Elite 2)
This shoe kind of flew under the radar, but it’s by far the best version of the Vongo yet. And while, yes, it’s a stability shoe, it can be used for any kind of runner, any time. A generous stack of Fresh Foam gives this a nice ride and keeps the legs feeling fresh for miles. Honestly, it almost took best stability shoe of the year, and maybe would have if it had gotten a little more face time. We’ll throw in one more honorable mention here, and that’s a race day pick – the New Balance RC Elite 2. Hard to get a great race shoe for the wide foot boys and girls but it’s a magical shoe that works for us anatomically challenged folks.
Fun as anything to run in | High-stack and nitrogen midsole | You wanna turn heads? This is how you turn heads
Whatever the Brooks Blue Line Lab is using as inspiration for its shoes, we want some. Please, we need more of this off-the-wall magic in our lives. At $200, the Aurora-BL may not be the cheapest shoe on the market, so you can almost guarantee that you’ll be the only one of your friends rocking a pair. Not only that, but you’ll be breaking necks as you pound your miles around town because just look at this beauty. It doesn’t look like a fast day shoe, yet the DNA Loft V3 midsole shines at tempo paces.
Brooks opted for a sleeve-like upper that wraps the foot and fits true to size. Even better, you can see your toes through the upper, so it’s a great reason to bust out your best socks. All three of our reviewers were ready to pick this funky chicken apart, but the Aurora-BL made them eat their words. Did we mention that the midsole is actually two separate pieces with a decoupled heel? How cool is that?
If you can track down a pair in your size (it isn’t easy), you might want to consider going a half size down. Both Robbe and Meaghan felt that the shoe fit a little long, but it’s not bad when that’s the only complaint. If the Brooks UFO comes back with another Aurora next year, we’ll be the first to hop on that tractor beam.
PRICE: $200Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
Yes, the entire lineup | It’s all about the NITRO | Puma is no longer an endangered species
It took us quite a while to settle on the most surprising shoe of the year. Not because we weren’t often surprised in 2021, but because the best road running shoes of the year surprised us from January to November. Ultimately, our pick became obvious once we looked back at our reviews — it’s none other than Puma. Not just one model, but everything Puma launched this year demanded our undivided attention.
While it wasn’t always the individual models topping our charts, we had all but written off Puma from the running scene over the last few years. Then, it dropped an entire lineup based around a brand-new NITRO foam and we were hooked. Oh, and signing a little-known runner named Molly Seidel who just happens to win Olympic medals didn’t hurt, either. Puma’s Eternity NITRO, Deviate Elite NITRO, Liberate NITRO, and Magnify NITRO each secured their own lanes, with a few shared traits that are tough to top.
Look no further than PUMAGRIP to see what we mean — it might be the best grip on any road shoe, much like a Puma’s claws. Sure, there are some hiccups along the way (like the seemingly impossible task of buying the Deviate Elite), but Puma’s lineup kicks off for as little as $109, so why not give at least one model a try?
PRICE: $109-159Read the Reviews Shop Puma
HONORABLE MENTION: APL Streamline
Maybe we’re just ready for season two of The Witcher to hit Netflix, but the Streamline has us thinking about the law of surprise. It’s also kinda like a Turducken, in that the surprise hits on multiple levels. For one, we were surprised by the eye-watering $300 price tag. But we were also surprised that the Streamline is a damn good shoe. To be honest, this almost made the top two in our daily trainer award, which is absolutely wild. We don’t often get to say that about a running shoe from a lifestyle brand, but APL made us eat our words.
Robbe’s sleeper favorite | Nitrogen-infused Hyper Burst midsole | Carbon-infused forefoot H plate
Is the best plated daily trainer too specific of a category for 2021 road running shoes? We don’t think so! Robbe and Ryan loved their time in the Skechers Maxroad 5, and it all starts with the midsole. Skechers packed 38 mm of stack into the shoe, yet it kept the weight to just 8.3 oz. for a US M9. Even better, the supercritical foam is tough as all get out — the Maxroad 5 feels like it could last forever. Even the carbon-infused H-plate– which gives this shoe a great pop off the toe– makes the Maxroad 5 a viable option to pick up the pace.
The outsole grip is unchanged from the Maxroad 4 — it’s still a set of grippy Continental pads on each midsole pod. While Skechers could have put a little more rubber on there, the Maxroad 5 always feels secure underfoot. You may also want to dig out some thicker socks to pair with this shoe, as the upper falls on the roomy side.
If you’ve read Robbe’s review, you know just how much he loves this shoe. After all, he only mentioned it about a dozen times. It’s a sleeper pick, but it hasn’t let us down yet. At just $135, how much more can you ask for?
PRICE: $135Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Women
Soft sheepskin upper | From the minds behind HOKA, Ugg, and Teva | Super limited pairs
It’s tough to pick a favorite recovery shoe, but you know it’s gonna come from the Deckers X Lab family. Right now, we’re rocking the SPSK, which feels a bit more like a boot that’s loaded with soft wool. When the weather is warmer, we tend to reach for something a little more open, like the KO-Z slide, which is just the softest flip flop you’ve ever worn.
There’s not too much fancy tech going on in the Deckers X Lab, at least not as far as super foams to make you go fast are concerned. However, these folks are the kings (and queens) of comfort, with carefully designed sheepskin and layer upon layer of memory foam to embrace your foot like none other. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the drop heights, the KO-Z packs 8 mm, and the SPSK is slightly shallower at 6 mm.
PRICE: $200 (SPSK), $100-$180 (other models)Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
Trimmed half an ounce from the V2 |Sweet FuelCell midsole | Seriously, only $99?
We’ve chosen plenty of pricy road running shoes among our favorites of the year, but they don’t all have to be that way. Case in point, the New Balance FuelCell Propel V3. It costs just $99, yet it provides a grand tour of some of our favorite New Balance technologies. It’s lighter than last year’s Propel V2, and it’s as easy on the eyes as you can ask for. The outsole is tough as nails, and Jeremy saw absolutely no signs of wear through his testing.
If there was one drawback, the outsole didn’t seem to agree with wet pavement, but there are plenty of dry days ahead. Jeremy favored his Propel V3 far ahead of other budget-friendly shoes like the Saucony Axon and Brooks Launch, thanks to the softer FuelCell ride. Can you tell we’re big fans of the New Balance foam?
PRICE: $99Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Brooks Revel 5
Robbe may not always get excited about a new Brooks shoe, but the Revel always brings a smile to his face. It hasn’t changed too much year over year, but it hasn’t had to. The Revel 5 upper is soft and hugs your foot in all the right places, and the shoe feels excellent for runs up to about 10 miles. Once again, $100 feels like a damn good bargain.
How much lighter than 4.4 oz. can you get? | Carbon-plated FuelCell midsole | A mid-distance dream
Here it is, the final category in our favorite road running shoes of 2021. We’ll admit, this isn’t even a road running shoe, but it fits better here than with the trail options. Hopefully, you’re not sick of hearing about New Balance’s FuelCell yet, ’cause it kicks ass on the track, too. The MD-X is optimized for everything from the 800m to the 500m with a carbon plate to keep you popping. Both Jordynn and Mercer agreed that it was their pick of the year by far.
They praised the control that the MD-X provides, as well as the overall bounce the midsole provides. It’s not as soft as Nike’s top spikes, but the upper is just structured enough to feel great around turns. Jordynn even blasted out her season-best mile time by five seconds in this spike.
PRICE: $180Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Unisex
HONORABLE MENTION: Nike Air Zoom Victory and Nike ZoomX Dragonfly
Even though Jordynn and Mercer agreed on a top pick, they couldn’t settle on just one runner-up. So here you go — two Nike spikes worth considering. You’ve no doubt seen the Air Zoom Victory by now, with its forefoot Air unit and ZoomX foam. It’s basically the Alphafly of the track, with a steep price to accompany it. It offers great energy return, and it’s ready for anything from 800m to 3200m. Nike’s ZoomX Dragonfly may not be as eye-catching, but the ZoomX foam is a delight. It might be the comfiest spike around, and Mercer absolutely loved his time in it. The Dragonfly has even been blasting records from the mile up to the 10K.
Questions? Thoughts? A favorite shoe that we didn’t pick? Let us know about it in the comments, and here’s to another great year of running in 2022.
Want to learn more about how our review process works? Check out this guide.
Have something to say? Leave a Comment
Come on, guys…Your review of the Vaporfly Next%2 clearly indicated the closest competitor was the Metaspeed Sky. Your write-up here again indicated the Metaspeed Sky was the closest competitor. Yet the top racing shoe award goes to the Metaspeed Sky. Maybe I’m overlooking some subtly of the written word, but this just doesn’t make any sense. To call it a “kingslayer” only further muddies the waters.
Haha, it’s true that our team LOVED the Vaporfly. It’s an awesome shoe. However, we felt that ASICS surprised us more overall while we already expected the Vaporfly to be elite going into it. It’s tough to settle on just one race day shoe to honor when there are so many good ones.
How can the Nimbus lite 2 not make it? In the review you guys said it was the best ASICS shoe in years as well. Surprised the Hoka Mach 4 wasn’t in as the shoe of the year this year.
Marketing 102: “This is their best shoe in years. I know we said that about the 4 other models from them we tested this year…and we’ll say it again in our next review of another of their models, but trust us, this is their best shoe in years!!!
Nimbus Lite 2 came out in 2020. Hoka Mach 4 probably would’ve been 3rd place on a couple lists.
Should have included Topo Athletic Phantom 2 for the wide foot shoe.
That’s a battle you’d have to wage with Jarrett… his feet are wider than the rest of ours, so we deferred to his picks.
I’ve had issues with topo shoes. Their toe box is wide but the midfoot isn’t in the models I’ve tried. Also, at 10.3oz for the phantom vs 7.8oz for the wide rebel2, the rebel2 being a stunner, and the rebel2, being fast and fun to run in, it doesn’t compare.
But let’s be real, a lot of this is preference. So if I said topo phantom 2 I’d have people smacking me asking how that and not another shoe.
I don’t want nor mean to be offensive. Just a thought, constructive criticism of sorts, regarding the presentation here. It occurs elsewhere also, not only here but very frustrating.
When any site talks about, even sells, shoes (especially running shoes) and doesn’t include the basics — I discount what’s said and go elsewhere. Specifically, shoe weight n heel-toe drop. Key metrics yet not mentioned. So I’d have to perform another step to get that data before moving forward.
That’s kinda unforgivable for a run shoe site. Maybe I go press ‘read review’ and info is there but why isn’t it right here , in one place.
Sorry to inconvenience you with an extra click to the full review that delivers every spec you ask for. You’re right, it’s totally unforgivable, up there with the cruciatus curse.
Where’s the 1080v11 at on the list?
Thanks for sharing this amazing article, it is a very informative post good work keep it up
Racing shoe can never be considered cheap, the ASICS Metaspeed Sky is worth every penny. It’s truly as close to the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% as you can get without rocking the swoosh.
ASICS Novablast 2 has been a real deal for me chad. Nice Selection Overall. Dont you think Athletic Phantom 2 is great fit for wide feet?
Just wait… the Novablast 3 is primed for another Best in Gear slot. And yeah, we recommend Topo’s shoes for plenty of wide-foot runners. Good if you want a low drop, too.