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The annual PFT can be a source of major anxiety or a check to cash, and having the right running shoes plays a significant role in determining which of those applies to you. Let’s work backward to get you ready to ace that fitness test.
You’re lined up and ready to run. Whether you’re running three miles for the Marine Corps or 1.5 miles for one of the cardio-averse branches, you’ve trained for it and can maintain the pace you need to max out your score. The people around you might be dreading the next several minutes, but you’re comfortable with what’s about to happen.
Why are you so confident? Because you spent months training for it. Instead of kicking back and pretending the day would never come, you built a plan and stuck to it. How could you maintain such a regimen? Some of the credit goes to having the right running shoes. When your feet don’t hurt, you can run faster, cover more ground, and spend less time recovering. It’s a cycle of success that leads to increasingly high-quality training and lower run times.
No pair of shoes will turn you into a track star by itself. Having some of the best men’s running shoes will make training and executing your plan a hell of a lot easier, though.
- Best Overall: Asics Metaspeed Sky
- Brooks Trace: Brooks Trace
- Honorable Mention: Hoka Rincon 3
- Best for Long Runs and Marathons: Saucony Endorphin Speed 2
- Best Cushioned: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 V11
- Best Men’s Trail Running Shoes: Inov-8 Terraultra G 270
One thing we can all have in common with collegiate track stars and trail-running ultra-marathon maniacs is an appreciation for the investment we make in quality footwear. In addition to my experience running everything from the CFT to half marathons and long trail runs, I aggregated expertise from leading sources like Runner’s World, Running Shoes Guru, and The Ginger Runner. I sought out the latest iterations of some perennial favorites, as well as a few newcomers to mainstream running. That long list got narrowed down to the most compelling running shoes in terms of features and value. This list is full of innovative designs, cutting-edge materials, and industry know-how.
The longest distance U.S. service members are required to run for an annual fitness test is three miles, so why is there a long-distance race shoe at the top of our list? Like it or not, you have to regularly train at distances longer than 1.5 or three miles to be fast at those distances. Endurance is just as important as speed work, and the Asics Metaspeed Sky is the perfect tool for dominating distance.rnrnAsics pumped this shoe full of tech and quality materials to make it the long-distance alternative to the blazing-fast Metaspeed Edge. The thick, foam midsole is deceptively light. In fact, this is the lightest shoe on our list and that translates directly to energy conservation and better run times. Its shape and composition facilitate a soft landing, smooth transition, and powerful push-off. Inside the foam is a carbon plate that runs end-to-end and provides crisp forward propulsion. This shoe’s upper is everything I want it to be: light, breathable, comfortable, and secure.rnrnThe Metaspeed Sky does its best work at distances from five kilometers to a marathon. It’s very expensive at right around $250, but being the fastest runner in your unit comes at a price. This is the shoe for people who are committed to shedding seconds and willing to log long training runs every week to build stamina and become a more well-rounded runner. If you want to rock a marathon every now and then, you’ll be prepared for that, too.rn
- Category: Road racing
- Drop: Five millimeters
- Claimed weight (one shoe): 7 ounces
Generates speed with a carbon plate and high-tech midsole
Built to crush long-distance road races
Rubber outsole is grippy, wet or dry
Very, very expensive
Prioritize distance running over PFT distances
One of the things I love about running is its low cost of entry. Buying a pair of shoes every 500 miles is a lot cheaper than a monthly gym membership or a swanky spin bike subscription. I’m happy to see the Brooks Trace make a quality running shoe available to people who don’t want to spend $150 or more.rnrnOne way to save money is by buying an affordable shoe. If that shoe can do every kind of running on your training schedule, that’s even better. The Brooks Trace is designed from the drawing board to be a versatile trainer that can handle everything from speed work to endurance runs. Brooks’ BioMoGo foam midsole offers plush cushioning. The upper is simple and conventional, but breathes well and does what you need it to do.rnrnAnyone can appreciate a good deal, but I’ll venture to guess that a majority of budget-minded runners are relatively new to the game and don’t want to spend a lot on something they may not enjoy. The Trace is an excellent beginner shoe because of its price and its soft, agreeable nature. Anyone can lace up this shoe and feel comfortable in a few strides. It isn’t the hottest performer in the group, but it might make you fall in love with running, and that’s the first step.rn
- Category: Road running
- Drop: 12 millimeters
- Claimed weight (one shoe): 8.9 ounces
Smooth ride courtesy of the BioMoGo DNA midsole
A comfortable, capable entry-level running shoe
Readily available for less than $100
Prioritizes comfort over stability and road feel
Relatively heavy for a modern running shoe
The Hoka Rincon 3 doesn’t dominate any one category on this list, but it’s such a strong performer in all of them that I had to include it here as an honorable mention. Don’t mistake that for false praise, because this is a rockstar in its own right.rnrnThe Rincon 3 is a versatile on-road training shoe that makes a name for itself with excellent cushioning from the beefy foam midsole. It’s also one of the lightest shoes here, second only to the Asics Metaspeed Sky, which costs twice as much and weighs 0.7 ounces less. Part of that weight savings comes from a minimalist outsole, although the Rincon 3 does have more rubber tread than its predecessor. Another place Hoka cut weight is the tongue. One common complaint is that the tongue can be a nuisance for runners who prefer thin socks.rnrnThe Rincon 3 isn’t a snappy, plated race shoe or a rugged trail shoe. It’s a comfortable ride that keeps weight low enough to pick up the pace whenever you want. It can knock out sprints or hill repeats, then take you for an endurance run. If you want a quality shoe that strikes a high-performance (read: fast) balance between the weight and cushioning, Hoka has a great shoe for you. rn
- Category: Road running
- Drop: Five millimeters
- Claimed weight (one shoe): 7.7 ounces
Even lighter than the last Rincon
Well-cushioned without sacrificing stability
Capable of handling short and long distances
Not our first choice for dedicated distance training
Thick midsole is an acquired taste
Upper prioritizes weight over comfort
Long-distance runs have a way of wearing you down. A shoe’s minor imperfections can become deal-breakers after enough time, so anything you plan on wearing for endurance training needs to be a well-executed, solid design. That’s where the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 shines.rnrnFor many runners, comfort starts with the midsole. Saucony gave the Endorphin Speed 2 a smooth, supple ride with its proprietary PWRRUN PB foam. The downside of cushioning is diminished stability. This shoe isn’t going to win any stability contests, but the foam does provide more rebound than most, and it benefits from a nylon plate that adds some snap when you pick up the pace. The upper receives high marks in several reviews for staying cool and dry without any pressure points.rnrnAfter several miles, this shoe will keep you focused on your endurance and pace instead of sore feet. It’s a solid companion for endurance runs in preparation for your annual fitness test, but can also take care of you during races, timed events, and unit PT that exceeds the five-mile mark. Even if you aren’t an endurance runner now, the easy stride of the Endorphin Speed 2 might make one out of you yet.rn
- Category: Road running
- Drop: eight millimeters
- Claimed weight (one shoe): 7.4 ounces
Efficient, predictable cushioning that preserves feel
Midsole compound holds up well over long distances
Versatile, do-it-all running shoe for training
Upper isn’t as advanced as the midsole
Lateral support is just average
Running shoes that target the cushioned segment of the market deserve careful consideration because it’s easy to go overboard. More is not always better, and many cushioned running shoes add so much padding in the name of comfort that they leave your feet unstable and incapable of getting any road feel. The eleventh iteration of New Balance’s Fresh Foam 1080 doesn’t have that problem.rnrnThe people at New Balance apparently understand that there is too much of a good thing because the Fresh Foam 1080 delivers a plush ride without feeling like you’re running on beach sand. The upper manages to be supportive without being restrictive and maintains breathability. It’s just stretchy enough to accommodate different foot shapes. The midsole and outsole are unchanged from the Fresh Foam 1080 V10; meaning they’re damn good.rnrnThe Fresh Foam 1080 V11 packs enough energy to handle short, fast runs. It’s easy on the joints so you can extend your range without mid-run ibuprofen stops. Military life has a way of beating down our bodies, and a lot of you are probably looking for a running shoe that can compensate for all that damaged tissue in your knees. If you find yourself limited by joint pain rather than cardiovascular fitness, these might be the best running shoes for you.rn
- Category: road running
- Drop: Eight millimeters
- Claimed weight (one shoe): 9.3 ounces
Soft, responsive upper keeps joints fresh
Upper is supportive and breathable
Good grip in all kinds of weather and temperatures
One of the more expensive cushioned running shoes for men
Some runners complain about noise
Trail running has never been as popular as running on the road, and that’s a shame — especially when there are shoes as good as the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 available. This trail running shoe is a fast mover that glides across uneven terrain and isn’t too bulky for the gravel or packed dirt you’ll find on more established trails.rnrnCompared to the other shoes on this list, the Terraultra provides a stiff platform that makes up for the instability and jagged surfaces of unpaved trails. Its chunky tread pattern bites into mud and dirt like a mud tire, and graphene in Inov-8’s G-grip rubber compound improves longevity. The midsole is flat, meaning the heel and toe are the same height off the ground, but extra material adds cushioning to make trail running a little more comfortable. The upper is light and airy, although the tongue has critics who report rubbing as a result of insufficient padding.rnrnTrail running shoes fill the spectrum between road running shoes and hiking shoes. Some of our favorites, like the Salomon Speedcross, boast every bell and whistle you could want. The Terraultra opts out of things like impact protection and a waterproof upper in the name of lightness. Most of the time, this shoe runs like a road shoe. If you’re more interested in moving fast than going head-to-head with gnarly obstacles, it’s the best trail running shoe for you. rn
- Category: Trail running
- Drop: Flat
- Claimed weight (one shoe): 9.5 ounces
Excellent traction and stability on rough terrain
Superior cushioning compared to other zero-drop running shoes
Lighter and more breathable than more hardcore trail running shoes
Not the most rugged trail running shoe
Flat tongue can be a little uncomfortable
Our verdict on men’s running shoes
The Asics Metaspeed Sky dazzled us with high-tech components that justify the sky-high asking price. This shoe makes it easier to rack up the miles in preparation for any distance. If you’re looking to spend less, the Brooks Trace is an easy entry into the world of quality running shoes. Did our list of top running shoes for men miss your favorite? Leave a comment and share the knowledge.
What to consider when buying men’s running shoes
There is no perfect running shoe for everyone. Not only are there anatomical differences in the size, shape, and movement of our feet, the type of running you do will dictate which shoes you should consider. You should understand the differences between trainers, road running shoes, and trail running shoes before you shell out any money. You should also be familiar with the way your body moves and be able to explain things like pronation, supination, and drop.
Types of running shoes for men
The least expensive running shoes for men are casual trainers. You might also see these shoes sold as jogging shoes or athletic shoes. Something like the Under Armour Charged Pursuit 2 is a good option for gym workouts, although we recommend dedicated weightlifting shoes for the squat, deadlift, and Olympic lifts. Casual trainers are also good for walks and everyday wear.
With versatility comes sacrifice. Cross-trainers aren’t cut out to be running shoes; they’re too soft, don’t provide adequate support, and wear out prematurely. There’s nothing wrong with owning a pair of trainers as long as you don’t expect them to be your go-to running shoe.
Road running shoes
Road running shoes are designed to log lots of miles on hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt. This is where most runners spend their time, so road running shoes make up the bulk of the running shoe market.
Pavement provides all the stability you could ever want, but it’s extremely hard and unforgiving. Good road running shoes provide cushioning to protect your joints –– knees, in particular –– from the abuse of impacting a hard surface over and over. They tend to be very light and use flat, smooth outsoles that maximize surface area for grip on the road. Because pavement provides such a sturdy platform, road running shoes can afford to be flexible.
Trail running shoes
Trail running shoes occupy the middle ground between road running shoes and hiking shoes. In addition to keeping your feet stable, they need to create traction on loose surfaces and protect your ankles against obstacles and uneven ground. Fewer people train on trails, so the selection isn’t as extensive as it is for road running shoes.
Because trail surfaces are soft and inconsistent, trail running shoes are stiffer than road running shoes. This extra structure creates a solid foundation for your foot, even if the ground underneath is less than ideal. Outsoles use aggressive tread patterns to bite into dirt and mud while dispersing water away from your foot. Trail running shoe uppers are heavier and more substantial than their road-going counterparts, and waterproof materials like Gore-Tex are common.
Key features for men’s running shoes
Every component of good running shoes for men is important, but the most important part is sandwiched between your foot and the rubber outsole. The midsole acts as a foundation and gives a running shoe its structure.
Neutral running shoes are best for people whose ankles remain aligned with their heels and knees under load and can be a good choice for those who experience excessive supination (ankles rolling outboard). In the past, corrective shoes used additional support to correct pronation (ankles rolling inboard) or severe supination, but midsole technology has gotten good enough that most runners get everything they need from a neutral shoe.
One way to know what your ankles are doing is to check your current insoles. Wear that’s centered under the ball of your foot indicates a normal amount of pronation. Wear on the inside indicates overpronation, and wear on the outside suggests supination.
Support can also come in the form of cushioning. A plush midsole provides impact absorption that protects your joints, but it can also reduce stability. The amount of cushioning you choose is a matter of personal preference. Generally speaking, runners prioritize efficient power transfer for short distances, and comfort for longer distances. Beginner runners are often less tolerant of aches and pains, so entry-level shoes tend to be fairly well-cushioned.
The amount of cushioning is not always consistent across the length of a running shoe. One measurement you might see in a shoe’s description is the amount of drop. Drop is the height difference between the heel and toe. Some runners prefer a flat shoe, but most running shoes put your heel somewhere around 10 millimeters higher than the ball of your foot.
Breathable, supportive upper materials
The upper portion of running shoes gets a lot of attention, but there’s more going on than flashy colors. The best running shoes for men allow ample airflow to keep your feet cool and well-ventilated. This isn’t just a matter of comfort; it’s about preventing hot spots that turn into blisters, slow you down, and drag out recovery times.
The material that wraps your foot should be supportive, but forgiving. Casual athletic shoes and jogging shoes might feel like slippers when you first put them on, but they’ll let your feet flop all over the place as you run and you’ll quickly get sore from trying to compensate with the tiny muscles inside your feet.
A running shoe’s outsole is the interface between you and the road. If you can’t get traction, you can’t generate force. Think of a shoe’s outsole like the tires on your car. If you spend most of your time on the road or sidewalk, your running shoes need to maximize the contact patch to grip the pavement and absorb impact.
If you do a lot of trail running, the bottom of your shoe should look like a mud tire. Trail running shoes have chunky tread blocks that bite into loose surfaces to give you the traction you need to keep your footing and push forward.
Men’s running shoe pricing
Plan on spending $100 to $150 on a pair of good running shoes for men. That’s the sweet spot for shoes that offer legitimate performance without going overboard. Occasionally you’ll get lucky and find one on sale –– the Brooks Launch GTS 8 (our pick for best stability shoe) is available for as low as $75 at the time of writing. Be wary of running shoes with an MSRP much below $100, because they’re likely better suited to casual jogs than training for a timed run.
Beyond $150, you’ll find premium running shoes with cutting-edge technology. The Asics Metaspeed Sky is the outright best show on this list thanks to features like a carbon plate and advanced midsole construction. Is this level of performance necessary? No, but high-level runners will appreciate every second they can shed to set a new personal best time.
FAQs about men’s running shoes
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q: Should men’s running shoes be a size bigger?
A: The size of a running shoe varies depending on the brand. Some brands fit bigger than others while some fit true-to-size. If a shoe is too small, your feet will press against the shoe and you could lose a toenail. If a shoe is too big, your feet will slide and could blister. Therefore, before you buy, it’s important to measure your feet and understand the fit of the shoe.
Q: What shoes do marathon runners wear?
A: At the highest level, marathon runners wear whatever the best shoes their sponsors are able to provide. Everyone else has to balance performance with cost to find what works for them. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Q: How do you tell if a shoe is for running?
A: Pay attention to the language manufacturers use. Stay away from athletic shoes, jogging shoes, and cross-trainers. Stick to dedicated running shoes.
Q: How long should a pair of running shoes for men last?
A: There are too many variables to give a one-size-fits-all answer, but 500 miles is a safe estimate. Pay attention to the midsole. When you see it starting to pack down, you’ll know it can’t provide as much cushioning as it used to and that it’s time to move on.