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Recommended Zero Drop, Barefoot-Style, and Transitional Road and Trail Running Shoes: Runblogger’s Virtual Shoe Wall

Adidas GazelleI’ve often thought to myself “if I opened a shoe store, which shoes would I definitely want on my wall?” It’s an interesting question to think about for a shoe geek like me! My personal approach would be to provide a spectrum of shoe options, and yes, possibly even a few traditional models (even though I don’t generally ever run in them myself, plenty of people do without issue and probably have little reason to change).

A few years back I put together a guide to minimalist running shoes in which I offered my top picks in a number of categories. Given the length of that post, and since I’m often asked which shoes I recommend, I thought it might be helpful to provide a more streamlined set of shoe recommendations, which is what you will find here.

In my hypothetical shoe store, the shoes below would be the ones that I’d most like to see on the wall. They are all shoes that I have run in, so I have personal experience with each and every one of them – as such, this collection represents my take on the best shoes available right now.

I have provided links to my reviews of each shoe (if completed), as well as links to purchase the shoes at selected advertising partners (patronizing these sites via these links helps to support Runblogger and keeps the reviews coming – I buy about half of my review shoes myself these days, so your support is much appreciated!). All of my stack height data come from Running Warehouse, and clicking on the shoe image will take you to the info page for that shoe at the Running Warehouse website.

Shoes are grouped by broad categories spanning the minimalist to more traditional running shoe spectrum – they include barefoot-style shoes, zero drop cushioned shoes, and moderate to mild transitional shoes (both road and trail shoes where applicable). If I had to cull my collection, I’d probably retain at least one from each grouping – I’m a fan of a shoe rotation.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments, or visit the Runblogger Forum.


Zero Drop, Barefoot-Style Shoes


Road Shoes

Trail Shoes

Merrell Flux Glove

Merrell Flux Glove

Stack Height: 11mm, 11mm
Weight: 6.8oz
My Review (in progress)
Buy at Amazon.com

Inov-8 Bare-X 180

Inov-8 Bare-X 180

Stack Height: 6mm, 6mm
Weight: 6.4oz
My Review (in progress)
On Clearance at 6pm.com

Merrell Trail Glove

Merrell Trail Glove

Stack Height: 10mm, 10mm
Weight: 7.0oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

 photo MerrellVaporGlove_zps0278f3f7.jpg

Merrell Vapor Glove

Stack Height: 6mm, 6mm
Weight: 5.3oz 
Review in Progress 
Buy at Running Warehouse




Zero Drop, Cushioned Road Shoes




Saucony Virrata

Stack Height: 17mm, 17mm
Weight: 6.7oz

Quick Take: great forefoot cushion, narrower fit, my marathon shoe
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)



Mizuno Wave EVO Cursoris

Stack Height: 18mm, 18mm
Weight: 6.8oz

Quick Take: wide forefoot, great breathability, soft feel underfoot
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)



Merrell Bare Access 2 

Stack Height: 14mm, 14mm
Weight: 6.2oz

Quick Take: wide forefoot, firm ride, reasonably priced
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)


Altra Instinct 1.5

Stack Height: 16mm, 16mm
Weight: 9.7oz

Quick Take: super wide forefoot, firm ride 
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)


 Skechers GoBionic

Stack Height: 11.5mm, 11.5mm 
Weight: 6.0oz

Quick Take: super flexible, sockless upper, roomy forefoot, low price
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Zappos
Buy at 6pm.com (as low as $45)
Buy at Skechers.com (use code AAA20 for 20% off)
Buy from Skechers UK


Altra Torin

Stack Height: 28mm, 28mm
Weight: 9.0oz

Quick Take: super wide forefoot, max cushioning in a zero drop shoe
Nate’s Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)



New Balance MR00

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm
Weight: 6.1oz

Quick Take: firm ride, good ground feel, but narrow through the midfoot
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)


Brooks PureDrift

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm
Weight: 6.1oz

Quick Take: wide forefoot, firm ride, very flexible
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)



Altra Torin

Stack Height: 20mm, 20mm
Weight: 9.0oz

Quick Take: for road ultras – perfect balance of cushioning without being squishy like a Hoka. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s full Altra Torin review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)

 




Zero Drop, Cushioned Trail Shoes



Merrell Ascend Glove

Stack Height: 10.5mm, 10.5mm
Weight: 8.5oz (size 10)

Quick Take: firm cushion, forefoot and heel rock plate, wide forefoot, drains well, decent traction
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)


 Altra Superior

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm
Weight: 10.3oz

Quick Take: removable rock plate, very flexible, super-wide toebox, runs 1/2 size small, very versatile shoe 
My Brief Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)


Inov-8 Trailroc 235

Stack Height: 13mm, 13mm
Weight: 8.3oz


Quick Take: roomy fit, no rock plate but protective outsole, firm ride, decent traction, some have had upper durability issues
My Full Review (click to read)

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)
Buy at Wiggle (outside US)

Skechers GoBionic Orange 

Skechers GoBionic Trail

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm without insole, 18mm 14mm with insole
Weight: 8.8oz

Quick Take: soft cushioning, rock plate, good traction, removable footbed allows switching between 0mm and 4mm drop
Read a Full Review by Caleb Masland (my coach; my review soon)

Buy at Zappos
Buy at Skechers.com (use code AAA20 for 20% off)



Altra Lone Peak 1.5 

Stack Height: 17mm, 17mm
Weight: 10.2oz

Quick Take: for burly trails – super comfy with a great, wide toe box, good traction. If drainage was better this shoe would be just about perfect. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s full Altra Lone Peak 1.5 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)

 

1-6mm Drop Transitional Road Shoes


Saucony Kinvara 4

Saucony Kinvara

Stack Height: 22mm, 18mm
Weight: 7.9oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

Brooks PureFlow 2

Brooks Pure Flow 2

Stack Height: 22mm, 18mm
Weight: 9.0oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

Adidas Gazelle

adidas adipure Gazelle

Stack Height: 17mm, 11mm
Weight: 6.0oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

Newton Distance Racer

Newton Distance Racer

Stack Height: 24mm, 21mm
Weight: 7.9oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

 


1-6mm Drop Transitional Trail Shoes




La Sportiva Helios 

Stack Height: 20mm, 15mm
Weight: 8.5oz

Quick Take: Burly trail shoe, incredible traction, good drainage. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s Full La Sportiva Helios Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos


Montrail Fluidflex

Stack Height: 21mm, 16mm
Weight: 7.4oz

Quick Take: Super light feel with nice cushioning. Good for distances up to 50 miles.

Read Nate’s Full Montrail Fluidflex Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos


 Hoka Bondi B Speed 

Stack Height: 35mm, 30mm 
Weight: 9.5oz

Quick Take: Road shoe with super soft feel and incredible cushioning. Works better off road than you would expect. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s Brief Hoka Bondi B Speed Review

Buy at Zappos
Buy at Hoka Europe


Hoka Bondi B 2

Stack Height: 35mm, 30mm
Weight: 11oz

Quick Take: Same as Bondi B Speed, with more breathable upper. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.


Read about Pete’s wife’s experience with the Bondi 2

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Hoka Europe


 Hoka Stinson Evo 

Stack Height: 38mm, 32mm
Weight: 11.8oz

Quick Take: Hoka cushioning with the best traction of any of their shoes. Narrow-ish toe box. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.


Read Nate’s Hoka Stinson Evo Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Hoka Europe

Brooks-PureGrit-2 

Brooks PureGrit 2

Stack Height: 21mm, 16mm
Weight: 9.7oz

Quick Take: Good do-everything shoe with a nice ride. Traction better than the PureGrit 1, but still could use improvement. Good for distances up to 100+ miles.

Read Nate’s Full Brooks PureGrit 2 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)



Merrell Mix Master II

Stack Height: 18mm, 13mm
Weight: 9.0oz

Quick Take: comfy shoe that is right in the middle of minimal to traditional spectrum. Good for distances up to 50k.


Read Pete’s Full Merrell Mix Master 2 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos


New Balance MT110 

Stack Height: 18mm, 14mm
Weight: 7.7oz

Quick Take: The best fitting shoe I’ve ever used. Firm ground feel, decent traction. Uppers prone to ripping. Low price. Good for distances up to 50k.

Read Nate’s Full New Balance MT110 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)


New Balance MT1010

Stack Height: 23mm, 19mm
Weight: 7.7oz

Quick Take: Similar fit to the MT110, but a little bit sloppier. Better cushioning, excellent traction. Good for distances up to 50 miles.

Read Nate’s Full New Balance MT1010 Review

Buy at Running Warehouse (on clearance)
Buy at 6pm.com (clearance)
Buy at Sportsshoes.com (outside US)

Skechers GoBionic Orange 

Skechers GoBionic Trail

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm without insole, 18mm 14mm with insole
Weight: 8.8oz

Quick Take: Excellent traction, light fast feel, soft cushioning. Good for distances up to 50k.

Read a Full Review by Caleb Masland

Buy at Zappos
Buy at Skechers.com (use code AAA20 for 20% off)


Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1

Stack Height: 23mm, 16mm
Weight: 9.8oz

Quick Take: light fast feel, smooth heel/midfoot to toe-off transition. Good for distances up to 50 miles. 

Read Nate’s Full EM N1 Trail Review 

Buy at Running Warehouse
Buy at Zappos

 




0-6mm Drop Racing Flats


Saucony Grid Type A5

Saucony Grid Type A5

Stack Height: 16mm, 12mm
Weight: 5.8oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

Adidas Hagio

Adidas Hagio

Stack Height: 17mm, 12mm
Weight: 6.1oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse

Mizuno Universe

Mizuno Universe

Stack Height: 18mm, 14mm
Weight: 3.9oz
Review in Progress
Buy at Running Warehouse

New Balance MRC5000

New Balance MRC5000

Stack Height: 16mm, 11mm
Weight: 3,1oz
My Review (click to read)
Buy at Running Warehouse


6-10mm Drop Mild Transitional Shoes


Saucony Guide 5

Saucony Guide 5

Stack Height: 28mm, 20mm
Weight: 9.8oz

Buy at Running Warehouse

Saucony Ride 5

Saucony Ride 5

Stack Height: 28mm, 20mm
Weight: 9.6oz

Buy at Running Warehouse

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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. A quick question that I’ve always wondered: What differentiates a racing flat from a road shoe? Is it cushion? Weight? I’ve always wondered….

    • Both typically. “flats” are generally firmer as well.

      • Pete Larson says:

        As Julian says, flats tend to be firmer and stiffer from front to back to give a little energy back when running fast. I generally like a flexible shoe, but in a 5k or for speedwork I opt for a racing flat.
        Sent from my iPad

  2. Love some advice please, of the shoes you have reviewed Any thoughts on which of the running shoes fit shorter/wide feet? I also have a high arch. thanks.

  3. i’ve had my eye on those inov-8′s for a while, but they inexplicably went up in price on rw. looking forward to the review!

  4. Robert Osfield says:

    I’m sure my pair of Vivobarefoot Neo Trails would qualify as a zero drop trail shoe.

    I also just purchased a pair of Trailroc 245′s and while not zero drop come in at 3mm with pretty modest cushioning. I posted my first thoughts up on my blog: http://trossachstrailrunner.bl

    And a follow up on a problem in the upper that caused a blister:
    http://trossachstrailrunner.bl

    I’ve done a little shoe surgery on the shoe since the above write ups and have logged a further 50 miles on the Trailroc, along with wearing socks haven’t had any more blister problems. Still waiting for my blister to heel before I venture out in them without socks.

  5. You could add category for barefoot-style shoes with ground feel.. Like vb ultra, vff sprint, altra adam (without insole)..

  6. Excellent blog post! I started my barefoot running in VFF Bakila but found it to be hard on my calves and achilles heels. Looking for a more cushioned shoe, I settled on Sauconi Hattori which had more cushioning while being zero-drop. Oh, the price was awesome too! But am now looking for an even more cushioned shoe with moderate to mild drop as a transitional shoe. I have noticed that heel striking works different parts of legs compared to mid-foot/fore-foot strike. That’s one more reason why I am looking for transitional shoes. Will check out the ones that you have listed but I know that there are many more models from different companies now available in the market. Though its hard to find all of them in a single store (even the so called “running stores” which just plain sucks! And I am also surprised that companies don’t post “stack height” information in their products’ description. They only specify the heel-to-toe difference or drop. I wish it was easier to select the right shoes but there are hundreds of them with a variety of parameters that are either not reported or are different that those in manufacturers’ specifications.

    As somebody asked, a comprehensive excel file would be great to track the fit, feel, ride and specs of all the shoes that you have reviewed.

  7. Trigrandmatry says:

    I just bought a pair of Saucony Mirage to add to my Kinvaras. For longer runs I find my “older” bones need a bit more cushion, yet they are still a 4mm drop! I would add them to the wall, if it were my store!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Good catch, I should put those up.

    • I’m in the Kinvaras and really like them but I did my very first half marathon while wearing those this past week. Ran 1:49:20 but my knees and legs paid a heavy price that I never felt on my long training runs. Granted most of my longer runs are trails not pavement. Would you say the Mirage would be better for the pavement long runs? I don’t want to go back to a built up shoe I really like the low heal drop.

  8. The Mix Master 2 is a great shoe. I like the Kinvara 3 as well just wish it had a larger toe box.

  9. Excellent table and summary, Pete.

  10. Samuel Hartpence says:

    Surprised there are no Sketchers Go Runs. I haven’t tried them, but your review was quite favorable if I recall. Also, New Balance 870 v2, 890 v2, 1080 v2 and 1260 v2 are all now 8mm drop or lower. Perhaps that is just an industry trend, but these shoes have all had very favorable reviews from other sites and would fit well in that transitional category.

  11. I’d like to mention the New Balance 890. It’s an awesome (looking & feel) 8mm Transitional shoe. ( http://www.newbalancevancouver… )

  12. SleepySteve says:

    Hi, Pete. I am wondering if you or any readers have a suggestion for a 6-10mm drop “mild transitional” trail shoe? I have been running in NB 890 v2 on the roads for about a year now and love their balance of middle of the road (8mm) drop, light-ish weight, roomy toe box, etc. Any thoughts for similar products with some protection on groomed trails (nothing crazy luggy or overprotective) ?

    Great writing, great site btw.

    Thanks,
    SS

  13. boys shoes says:

    check the treds shoes

  14. The new Inov-8 Trailroc 245 is worth a try if you get a chance. It’s what the MT110 should have been, in my estimation.

    • Pete Larson says:

      That and the NB 1010 are on my short list for next shoe purchases.

      • Ashwyn Gray says:

        You’ll be doing yourself a diservice if you don’t compare it to the Trailroc 235 at the same time. ;-)

        • I would like to see a review of the 235 (0 drop) much more than a review of the 245. I tried on the latter and (a) it was too snug for my wide feet, and (b) the heel drop was more noticeable than I was expecting. Returned.
          The NB 1010 gave me medial knee pain – not sure if it was the 4mm drop, or the mismatch between its shape (triangular forefoot) and my foot shape.

          • Ashwyn Gray says:

            If the 245 was too narrow for your foot, dogrunner, then, I’m sorry to say, that the 235 will feel narrow, too. They fit exactly the same.

          • Right, both anatomic last. My continued interest is more about the upper. Is that the same too? I find a soft stretchy upper (MWU4 is a good example) works for me as long as the sole is wide enough while standing on it. My feet fit in the Inov8 245 after I took out the insole, but my toes were pressing on the inside of the upper even while sitting/standing, so there was no room for toe splay on footstrike. The MWU4 upper is soft and stretchy so that does not bother me in those, but I am a longtime Inov8 wearer (many models), always sizing up for a little more width, always having my toes squeezed and ending up with sore feet and weird calluses. The anatomic last is a step in the right direction, but if the upper is stiff, ungiving material, they are still not quite wide enough for me.

          • Ashwyn Gray says:

            Yes, the 235 and 245 definitely fit the same as far as the upper is concerned.

  15. Christopher Babb says:

    No MT10?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Forefoot band is too problematic, v2 comes out soon though and they supposedly addressed this issue.
      Sent from my iPad

  16. Looks like you have quite a bit of work ahead of you. Tons of shoes for future reviews. Quick question – how’s the toe box on the Saucony Grid Type A5? From your reviews, I always assume you like a wide, roomy toebox. But racing flats don’t usually provide that.

  17. Chris Szumigala says:

    You wouldn’t happen to have an Excel spreadsheet version of this would you?

  18. Kyle Roberts says:

    Inov-8 F-Lite 195s definitely belong on this list of best minimal shoes. The upcoming Altra Superior should be a great zero drop trail shoe (due out in 2-3 weeks).
    Kyle Roberts
    RevolutionNaturalRunning.com

  19. Steve Kooyman says:

    Many thanks for your research and blogging. I have 3 of the shoes (Trail Glove, Mix Master and Kinvara), and two were directly based on your input. Testing the MixMasters on a Trail 15k in October — can’t wait!

  20. Adolfo Neto (UTFPR) says:

    Sorry, but I wouldn’t wear any of those. There is nothing better than barefoot. When barefoot is not possible (and this happens most of the time for me) I go with my huaraches (from Invisible Shoes) or with Vibram FiveFingers.

    • The Inov-8 180 and Altra Adam are much better in my opinion than any FiveFingers I have run in. I find my Bikila’s much more restrictive and have less ground feel than either of those shoes.
      I run barefoot when I can, but there is a place for these types of shoes. If you disagree, maybe this is the wrong blog post for you…?

  21. Hi Pete, really good shoes recomendations, but for people living in cities that love trail running there could be a missing option: al mix terrain running shoes that can perform well in road and dirt (including steepy trails); in your opinion -which I consider most valuable- which shoe could handle both roads and trails? I’m in the moderate transitional shoe up to 6mm drop.
    I live in Lima, Peru, and I’ve been following your blog for the last 2 years and I’ve transitioned from Brook´s Adrenaline GTS to Kinvaras (road) and Trailrocs 295 (I ordered de 285 with 6mm drop but got the big broder with 9mm).
    Thanks!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Both the Brooks Grit and the Merrell Mix Master handle multiple surfaces well – I’ve run on roads in both with little trouble. The Inov-8 Flite 195 is another decent hybrid option.

  22. What, no zero-drop cushioned trail shoes? That are still light and flexible and not too mushy :) Am I asking for too much?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yeah, I need to work on filling out that column, but current options are limited :) are there others out now besides the Altra Lone Peak and inov8 Trailroc 235 that fit this category?
      Sent from my iPad

      • Actually, I don’t know of any, which is why I am anxious to see what I have missed or might be coming out soon. I know that Altra has their reduced version of the LP coming – the Superior. Remains to be seen how light and flexible that is, because the LP is neither. At least Altra tends to be wide enough.

  23. Thanks for the list. My current favorite is the Altra Samson for its exceptionally roomy toe box and superior durability. After 3 months and 200 plus miles, the shoe has very few signs of wear. Also just a great all-around minimalist shoe. Curious to see your review in the future.

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