Runblogger’s Top Running Shoes of 2011: Lightweight & Minimalist Trainers, Trail Shoes, Racing Flats, and Barefoot-Style Shoes

New Balance Minimus Trail-MT10This has been a bit of an off year for my running. As work and writing commitments expanded, my running mileage correspondingly decreased, and thus the number of miles I have put on any given pair of shoes is below what I typically shoot for. Things are slowly improving, but my running shortage has made it difficult for me to come up with a definitive top shoe list for 2011. Also complicating factors is the fact that many of my current favorite shoes either just came out, or will not be released officially until 2012. As such, rather than a top 3 for the year list like the one I produced last year, I’m going to provide a list of favorite shoes in various categories that I have worn in 2011, rather than focusing just on shoes that were released in 2011.

Here goes…


Lightweight Road Shoes – 8mm Drop or Higher

Saucony Guide 5

1. Saucony Guide 5

The Saucony Guide 5 is one of the only shoes that I ran in this year that has a heel-forefoot drop of 8 mm or more (8mm exactly for this shoe). While this shoe has more heel lift than I typically like, I’ve actually found it to be a surprisingly nice shoe to run in. It’s also a groundbreaking shoe for Saucony in that it is among the first of their flagship shoes that they have moved from 12mm drop down to 8mm. A full review will come soon.


Lightweight Trail Shoes – 8mm Drop or Higher

New Balance MT101

1. New Balance MT101

Like the Saucony Guide 5, the New Balance MT101 is one of the only shoes with an 8mm heel-forefoot drop that I ran significant miles in this year. Lightweight and flexible, plus a reasonably wide forefoot make the MT101 one of the best fitting shoes that I own. A rock plate plus decent traction make this a suitable shoe for a variety of off-road conditions. Read my full review of the New Balance MT101 here.


Lightweight Road Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop – Long Distance

Saucony Kinvara 2

1. Saucony Kinvara 2

The Saucony Kinvara, which was my top shoe of 2010, remains one of my favorite shoes for long runs on roads. Well cushioned and lightweight, the Kinvara 2 retains the best of the original Kinvara and adds a more durable upper. Probably the shoe I would choose if I had to run a marathon tomorrow. Read my comparison between the Kinvara 2 and the original Kinvara here.

Brooks Pure Flow

2. Brooks Pure Flow

The Brooks Pure Flow is a serviceable alternative to the Saucony Kinvara for long runs on roads. A bit springier, but also a bit more shoe than the Kinvara, the Flow has performed well on several 10+ mile runs in the past few months. Read my full review of the Brooks Pure Flow here.


Lightweight Road Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop – Short Distance and Speed

Adidas Hagio

1. Adidas Hagio

Light, bright, and fast underfoot, the Hagio will be a great addition to the suite of road racing flat options (should be released any day now). Of particular note is the roomy forefoot, which is a bit unusual for shoes in this category. Read my full review of the Adidas Hagio here.

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 

2. Mizuno Wave Universe 4

The Mizuno Universe 4 retains all of the best features of the Universe 3 – it’s feather-light (sub-4oz), flexible, and surprisingly roomy. It improves on its predecessor with flashier aesthetics and improved interior comfort for sockless running (though the heel tab is still a problem when sockless for me). A full review of the Universe 4 should be coming soon, but in the meantime you can read my full review of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 here.


Lightweight Trail Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop

New Balance Minimus Trail MT10

1. New Balance Minimus Trail MT10

Lightweight trail is a tough category as there are some great options out there (e.g., Saucony Peregrine), with others either just released (e.g., Merrell Mix Master) or about to be released (New Balance MT110). But, I’m going to restrict myself to one selection as it’s a shoe that I simply love even given its faults. Although I had to modify my pair to fix a tight forefoot, this is in most other respects a near perfect multipurpose shoe. It works great on trails provided they are not too rocky (it has no rock-plate), and is an equally strong performer on roads. It carried me through a 50K in Maryland, and through a 20 mile training run on roads prior to Boston. I’m now really enjoying it’s all-weather sibling (the Minimus MO10). Great shoe all around! You can read my original review of the New Balance Minimus MT10 here.


Zero Drop Road Shoes

New Balance Minimus Road MR00

Merrell Bare Access

Tie. New Balance Minimus Road MR00 and Merrell Bare Access

Can’t resist including a few shoes that won’t be released until next year. Both the New Balance Minimus MR00 and Merrell Bare Access are mildly cushioned, lightweight, zero drop road shoes. Both are awesome. I’ve provided a few details on the MR00 and Bare Access in another post, but I’ll leave it at that for now :)

Vibram Komodosport LS

3. Vibram Fivefingers Komodo Sport LS

I still have a soft spot for the Fivefingers, and the Komodosport LS is my current favorite among my collection of VFFs. Why? Two reasons – the lacing system allows for a more comfortable fit on my feet, and the insole provides just enough cushion to keep me happy out on the road on longer distance runs. I’m still due to write a full review of this shoe.


Zero Drop Trail Shoes

Merrell Trail Glove

1. Merrell Trail Glove

The Merrell Trail Glove, along with the original New Balance Minimus Trail, has probably spent the most time on my feet this year. Lightweight, minimally cushioned, and super flexible, the Trail Glove is one of my personal favorites among barefoot-style shoes. You can read my full review of the Merrell Trail Glove here.

New Balance Minimus Trail MT00

2. New Balance Minimus Trail MT00

Another shoe that will not be released until next year, the Minimus Trail Zero is amazingly light and incredibly flexible. Like the MT10, it also excels as a multiuse/hybrid shoe as it works well on both roads and non-technical trails. The lack of a rock plate is a concern on tougher terrain, but I foresee this shoe getting a lot of use in the coming year.


Casual-Work Shoes

Vivobarefoot Aqua

1. Vivobarefoot Aqua

I’ve come to believe that what you wear on your feet for the majority of the day is probably more important than what you wear on a half-hour run. Given this, wearing a zero-drop, roomy shoe to work has become a priority for me, and the Vivobarefoot Aqua runs away with the award for “most comfortable shoe” in my collection. In fact, it is quite possibly my single favorite shoe of any type as evidenced by the fact that it has spent more time on my feet this year than any other by wide margin. It may not be the most attractive shoe that I own, but it’s supremely durable and it keeps my feet happy over the course of an 8-9 hour workday (and on some occasions considerably longer than that…). If you’re looking for a zero drop casual shoe, I can’t recommend Vivobarefoot enough. You can read my full review of the Vivobarefoot Aqua here, and it can be purchased with Free Shipping at Revolution Natural Running (cheaper than buying direct from Vivobarefoot, where shipping costs are high).


Warm Weather Shoes

Vivobarefoot Ultra

1. Vivobarefoot Ultra

The Vivobarefoot Ultra is feather-light, incredibly comfortable, and quite versatile. It finds it’s way onto my feet quite often in the summer, and can be used as a water shoe, for running, and as a no-frills kick-around shoe. Sizing is tricky as the liner and external shoe cannot be fitted well to the same sized foot (I don’t use my liner as it is too small and constricting), but the Ultra is a pretty solid little shoe. Like the Vivobarefoot Aqua, the Ultra can be purchased with Free Shipping at Revolution Natural Running.


Honorable Mentions

I’ll finish by including two shoes that are innovative, and with a few tweaks could vault themselves to the top in 2012.

Altra Instinct

1. Altra Instinct

Altra is a small company that hit the market with its first shoes in 2011. The Altra Instinct was their first offering, and it’s a pretty solid shoe. Zero drop and with the widest toebox of any running shoe in my collection, it definitely occupies a unique niche. With improved flexibility, a more minimal upper, and a bit more attention to aesthetic design, the Instinct could join the New Balance Minimus and Merrell Bare Access as favorite zero drop road shoes. Check out my full review of the Altra Instinct here.

SKECHERS GO Run

2. Skechers GORun

The Skechers Go Run was the surprise of the year for me. I expected to not like the shoe, and until I was actually about a half mile into my first run in them my opinion wasn’t very positive. But, once I was into the flow of the run, the shoes started to feel good, and continued to get better. The Go Run has one of the nicest uppers of any shoe I have worn, and with a few small tweaks to the sole (to reduce/eliminate the rockered geometry) this could become one of the top shoes in my collection. You can read my full review of the Skechers GORun here.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Javier Bitar says:

    Hi Peter, regarding the Guide 5, are you not worried that it being labeled a “stability” shoe for overpronators, it will change your foot dynamics as you run and leave you more prone to injuries? I developed pretty severe shin splints in overpronator shoes (recommended at a running store after analyzing my stride) and since I changed to neutral shoes they disappeared. What do you think?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Depends on the person. Sometimes a neutral shoe can encourage too much movement. Best bet is to just experiment and find what works – glad to hear you have succeeded in finding a shoe to solve your shin splints!

  2. Surprised I don’t see the Saucony Peregrines on the list!?

  3. Juan Carlos Rivera says:

    I just hit 100 miles on my GoRuns. Love em! But I wonder if I can get more comfort w/o sacrificing weight with other shoes.

  4. Thanks for the list of your favorite shoes of the past year.  If I recall correctly, you were doing some barefoot running last fall.  Any plans for more of that in the coming year?  

    I have no idea how you find enough time to test all these shoes, but I’m glad you do.  I am looking forward to the Minimus Road MR00 and the Road Glove, but only if it fits better than the Trail Glove.  

    My “shoe” goal for the coming year is to find or build the perfect running huarache for myself.

    Keep up the great work, Pete!

    Happy New Year

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes, I’ll probably do a bit more bare footing, but will have to wait until May or so before it’s warm enough.

  5. Pam Kavanagh says:

    my favourite shoes to run in are Saucony fastwitch and the kinvara really lovely and definitely work shoes are a must i spend all shift on my feet so i wear f-lites very comfy

  6. Fernando Saro says:

    Hi Peter. As much as you, I have a major shoe problem, I´m afraid. I thought I had completed my shoe collection when I started minimalist running (during the past 2 months with the Inov-8 f-lite 195). Although I am a mid foot striker, the change has been to hard on my calves and even my feet. I thing it maybe caused by a very radical change from standard shoes to the Inov-8. I am now looking for something less radical: small drop but some kind of protection between muy feet and the ground. I need a piece of advice here. I thought of Altra (not easy to get them in Spain), Newton, Saucony (Kinvara, Mirage…) or even Newton. I would thAnk some cusioning, but not too much. Any idea??? Thamks in advance.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Based on my experience, I typically suggest the Saucony Kinvara or Brooks Flow as a transitional style shoe. Individual results will differ though.

      • Fernando Saro says:

        Thanks again, Peter. I thought of Kinvara too, but I´m a bit scared their cushion is too soft for me (I prefer hard cushion shoes, generally). Maybe brooks are a little harder. I will find out.

  7. Cwiginton says:

    Good summary, Pete.  Your two shoes in the Lightweight Road Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop - Long Distance category are my two daily shoes.  I only recently picked up the Brooks Pure Flow and have only run about 60 miles in them, but I am close to putting them ahead of the Kinvara due to the roominess in the forefoot.  On the Lightweight Trail Shoes – 1mm to 8mm drop category, the Minimus Trail are the shoes that I choose on less technical trails and when I am running a combination of roads and trails on the same run.  When I am running on technical trails or things are a bit muddy, I will run in the Inov-8 X-Talon 212.  Those shoes are fantastic shoes and if you haven’t, you should give them a try.

  8. Arve Bersvendsen says:

    I urge you to try more minimal offerings from Inov-8 than the Road-X 233 for this year.  I tried on my original Kinvaras after having run about 100 miles in my f-lite 195′s (I use them as a road shoe, fwiw), after which the Kinvara felt all wrong. 3 mm heel/toe differential, and much lower to the ground  

    • Pete Larson says:

      I hope to try some of their zero drop models – too many shoes out there right now!
      Sent from my iPad

  9. Tim Murphine says:

    I wanted to love the Instincts, I really did. Two pairs, though had the same problem with fit for me and made them unwearable. it was as if the right shoe was off-center by nearly a centimeter, leaving my foot hanging over the midsole from the arch back to my heel. Ah well. The MR00 looks promising at least…

  10. Scott Vanwinkle says:

    Hi Pete,

    Thanks for the top running shoes of 2011 review.
    I just ordered a pair of the  Guide 5. Even found them in a 2EE.
    I have run in the Pure Flow with good luck thus far.

    Keep up the good work. Thanks for keeping us informed and up to date.  

  11. David Landers says:

    ff

  12. I don’t know if they are discontinued, but I love my Merrel Tough Glove as a casual shoe. Zero drop, very flexible, lightweight, and looking better than the Vivobarefoot in my opinion. Did you check them out ? 

  13. Funny how my current rotation consists mostly of the last two shoes you mention… I do look forward to the Merrell Bare Access, but if it’s on the same last as the Trail Glove, I’ll pass on it — the Altra Instinct is just that much better. And with the “more minimal” versions of both the Instinct and Lone Peak planned for next year, Altra may well become my entire rotation.

  14. pearls13 says:

    i have been running about 4 miles on the road in my my nike free run 3 and they kill my feet in suggestions for a better shoe for that type of running

  15. Christopher says:

    I’ve been running fine with the bare access for about two months my longest run was 13 miles in them…any shoes you reccomend that offer a lit bit more cushioning with a close to ground feel?

  16. NMReactionary says:

    the merrell road glove didn’t make it into the zero drop road shoe category?

  17. Great list! Really been looking forward to this list. Always a plesure to read your blog.
    If i sould pick one shoe on the list as my best shoe of 2011, i would go with the MT10. What a great shoe. Agree on that its kinda tight around the robber band on the forfoot, but its not to much if you ask me. Brooks PureFlow is also a great shoe agree on that aswell, kinda funny how “soft” and bouncy it feels. Mizuno Wave Ronin 3 is also a really great shoe this year for me, really love the firm sole and light feel in it, you can really feel that this shoe is build for speed. A bit higher on the drop list i love the Salomon Speedcross the first few runs where a nightmare but after a few more miles i really did fall in love with them, and work great on both the road but really shine offroad.

  18. Tammy Lenski says:

    Just bought a pair of the NB Minimus MO10 three days ago and have only been walking around in them so far, as I’m still coming back from injury. I’ve been telling my husband for three days that these are the best-feeling running shoes I’ve ever had on my feet and I’m looking forward to slooowwwwlllly starting to run in them. Glad to see them on your list.

  19. Whotrustedus says:

    I’m still impressed that we are at a place where categorizing shoes by their heel drop is not considered goofy!  

  20. Ghgreyhound10 says:

    Pete,
    Thanks for a great list.  I have a few of the shoes on your list the Pure Flow, MT 101, and the Go Run.  I have really begun to like the Go Run alot.  Only shoe in my current rotation that I can wear without socks.  I understand not listing the Pure Connect.  Others have had issues with the narrow fit of this shoe.  There are some neat shoes coming out in 2012 and I already hear a few calling my name.  Look forward to more reviews of these new shoes.

  21. i completely agree that wearing a minimalist shoe casually could be even more important than running in one.  

    also agree that the vivobarefoot shoes are amazing.  love mine!

  22. David Landers says:

    Sorry for the typo below!

    Glad to hear you’re a fan of MO10. It’s become my everyday wear shoe (work casual :) ). 

  23. Hey Pete! New to minimal and just about to purchase kinvara. I`ve tried the Kinvara2 at a store and was blowned away by comfort and it`s light weight…! Great details a real help! Do you think it`s worth going for the new Kinvara (3)…? I`ve seen Kinvara2 beeing priced about $50 less at this point on line because the new model just stepped out… Let us know your point on that please…!

  24. Hi, I am pretty new to trail running and know nothing about shoes. I have been running in my Keen hiking boots, because I run up and down very rocky (small) mountains. They feel great on my feet, but are starting to wear out. On any sunny day, I run between 3.5-12 miles with about 1500-3000 feet of elevation gain on very rocky trails. I’m looking for 1) potentially non-hiking shoes that can handle this kind of running and 2) very lightweight road shoes I can road run in to and from my house to the ridge near me and then carry w/ me on the trails.

    Do you have any general recommendations for a complete shoe newbie? I know I tend to supinate, if that matters.

  25. Pete, thanks for putting the list together. I have worn a few of the shoes on your list and my favourite road shoe of 2011 was the Altra Instinct and favourite trail shoe was the NB MT10. I have been running in the NB Minimus Road Zero over the past week and its a great shoe. While it’s too early to call, with a bit more time, I think they would have replaced the Instincts as my top road shoe. Looking forward to your blog in 2012. All the best, paul

  26. Alex Beecher says:

    It’s always interesting to see the range of opinions, even within the same “minimal” niche. I find the Instinct an unrunable brick, and the Kinvara a sloppy marshmallow, for instance. But there are those who (justifiably) love them. I’m also beginning to think I’m the Hattori’s only fan.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I love the Hattori sole, upper needs work. Looking forward to the lace up version.

      • Alex Beecher says:

        Didn’t know there was such a thing. Now, if they’d get rid of the clunky heel pod, and the wedge of foam in the arch, we’d have a winner. Of course, at that point, the Road Glove and MR00 will be out, and I may have better options.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Lace-up Hattori: link to facebook.com….
          The MR00 has a firmer sole, so it is a different feel than the Hattori, which to me feels like a thinner soled Kinvara.

          • Alex Beecher says:

            Thanks for the heads up. Firmer sounds better to me, in that, although I put down some pretty respectable race times in the Hattori (18:XX 5ks, 1:30:XX Halfs), it lacked a little pop on roads. Where it shined for me was as a gym shoe, and oddly, as a technical trail shoe. It was thick enough to neutralize all the rocks, and allow for rapid descents, while still flexing all over. 

  27. Technical trail section would have my pick as the La Sportiva X-Country.  Gnarly treads and the scree guard make it my go to shoe for loose dirt and sand.  Road wise I’ve been in the Road-X 233 since July and couldn’t be happier.  Might check out the Brook’s Flow next time I get a chance though.

  28. Hi again Pete. Update… Price difference between the Kinvara3 and Kinvara2 is rather $37.37… on Ebay…

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