The 100 Best Running Shoes of All Time, and My Personal Top Three

My buddy Thomas at Believe in the Run posted a Tweet yesterday that linked to a post on Sneakerreport.com. The article provides their list of the 100 Best Running Sneakers of all time, and it’s one of those lists that is sure to stir up some strong feelings and fond memories. Though I can’t say I agree with the number of current year models included in the top ten, and I might debate their choice at position #1 (has to be an Onitsuka or early 1970’s NIke!), it was fun to scan through the images of shoes from the past 40-50 years. I give them credit for finding all of the photos that they included!

Pete CortezThis list go me to thinking about my own running shoe history. Other than my bright orange Andre Agassi tennis shoes from high school (awesomeness!), I can’t honestly say that I remember any particular shoe prior to when I started running seriously in 2007. My brother sent me a picture of myself from 1980-81 (see left) wearing what looks like a Nike Cortez (and some sweet tube socks!), but my memorable shoes are all very recent.

In the spirit of the list, I thought I’d provide my personal top three shoes among those that I have worn over the past 5+ years. This isn’t so much a “best” shoe list as it is a list of those shoes that have been most meaningful to my development as a runner. They either set me off on a new path in my running, or carried me along as I accomplished some running goal. They all have their flaws with respect to my current preferences (the Saucony A5 is as near perfection as any to me now), but at the time that I wore them, they were perfection.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. Nike Free 3.0 v1

Nike Fee 3.0

The original incarnation of the Nike Free 3.0 was a masterpiece. It was the shoe that led me away from heavy stability trainers and into the world of lightweight flexibility (you can read my dusty old review from May 2009 here). It wasn’t wide by any means, but to this day I’d say it has one of the best uppers I’ve ever worn, and the silence of the sole against the ground was magnificent. Unfortunately, the Free line is trending more and more towards fashion over function these days, and I put the 4th incarnation of the Free 3.0 up on Ebay after only one run. This is one shoe that will remain in my closet forever.

2. Brooks Launch

Brooks Launch

Ahh, the Launch. This was easily the best of the more traditionally styled shoes that I’ve owned (my review from November 2009 here). The Launch was a no frills shoe built for hard training that could step in for speedwork as well. The sole was on the soft side, and the heel-toe transition was fantastic (yes, I wore this long before I’d ever thought too much about my own running form). Given the higher offset, my days in the Launch have passed, but for a period it was the best shoe in my stable, and carried me to an unexpected PR at the Disney (Ice) Marathon. I was sad to hear not to long ago that the Launch was to be discontinued (and the fact that there never was a Launch 2 supports this), but there have been recent rumblings that it may have been spared – I hope so, as it’s a great shoe for its niche.

3. Saucony Kinvara

Kinvara Lateral

Anyone who has read Runblogger for any length of time knew that the Kinvara would be on my list (my Kinvara review here, which may be the longest review I have ever written). Though some might quibble that the Kinvara 3 was placed at #2 on Sneakerreport’s all-time list, when the dust has settled a few decades from now I’d say that there’s a fair chance that the Kinvara is among the top ten most memorable shoes. Saucony took a risk with the Kinvara by putting a lower offset shoe out there before most of the other big shoe companies, and it paid off big for them. The Kinvara is now in its third iteration and is among their best-selling shoes, and it has helped to push the lightweight trend that is now permeating the running shoe market. Personally, the original Kinvara is a shoe that disappears on my feet. Lightweight and low offset, it gives me almost everything that I need in a running shoe. What’s more, it carried me through my Boston-qualifying marathon, as well as through the Boston Marathon itself. You never forget a shoe that allows you those experiences, and the Kinvaras have earned their place in my running shoe Hall-of-Fame!

How about you, what are your personal top three shoes of all time?

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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. Vincent Cheung says:

    My personal top three:
    1. New Balance Minimus Road 10
    2. New Balance Minimus Road Zero
    3. Mizuno Wave Universe

    The original New Balance Minimus deserves some love as a misunderstood classic that could have been marketed better, It seemed to be perceived as being either too minimal by some and not minimal enough by others instead of being appreciated as the wonderful transitional shoe it was.

  2. Newbalance is definitely a favorite of mine. I run quite often, I generally run in the city on wetter days and try to hit the trails on dryer days.

    My Favorite for the city running is a cross between the New Balance 1080 and the New Balance 890. The 890v3 looks amazing ( http://www.newbalancevancouver… ), while the 1080 is a great rounded running shoe ( http://www.newbalancevancouver… )

    For the trail running my favorite hands down is the Minimus trail running shoe ( http://www.newbalancevancouver… ). The v2 is a major step up in quality and feel in comparison from the v1. The v2 they also go rid of that strange curve on the front… finally!

  3. David Tollefson says:

    Man, going through that list of 100 was like a stroll down memory lane for me! Some of my all-time favorites on that list: Nike Terra TC, Eagle, LDV. Some others that I thought should’ve made the list: Nike American Eagle (an updated and more robust version of the Air Mariah), Nike Columbia, and Nike Waffle Racer (2nd generation). Not that I could wear any of those shoes now…

  4. 1. Inov8 Trailroc 245
    2. New Balance Minimus Trail MT10
    3. Inov8 XTalon 190

    Haven’t found a road shoe I like yet. Kinvaras have too much arch support for me, but I give Saucony credit for taking a risk and embracing the idea of minimalist shoes.

  5. Kinvara’s are an obvious choice probably number 1.

    Second would be Nike Zoom Elite, I was forced to wear Nike for a long time, and they were the best option for a long time. The

    Nike Frees are unfortunately up there as well, because without Nike barely dipping their toe in the minimalist water, I don’t know if the Kinvara and all the other great shoes available now would be here.

  6. Jim Hansen says:

    I had to think about this for a few days, but after almost 40 years of running, I narrowed my list down to a top 5: http://recoveryourstride.blogs

  7. Todd Fujimoto says:

    My top three are:

    Saucony Kinvara
    Newton Distance
    Vivobarefoot Evo II

  8. After finally getting out of big bulky shoes. My top 3 are:

    1. Kinvara 3

    2. New Balance 730 (very under-rated shoe)

    3. Nike Free 3.0 V4.

  9. Robert Osfield says:

    1. Inov-8 Trailroc 245
    2. Vivobarefoot Neo Trail
    3. Inov-8 Roclite 295

    I never did get on with the Kinvara that I bought, way too narrow and way too high an arch to ever be comfortable. I have a pair of Inov-8 Bare-X 180 ordered this week, if my own experience goes with the reviews I’ve seen there is good chance my top three would shuffle.

    Truth be told I adore both the Trailroc and the Neo Trail, neither are perfect shoes but each time I lace them up I know I’m enjoy running in them.

    The Roclite is great durable trail shoe that has taken me over more miles and more rugged terrain than any other shoe I own, but it always just a bit too heavy and too much heel drop (9mm) for me to feel totally in tune running in them. Since getting the Trailroc I haven’t worn my Roclite for running at all, they really don’t deserve this level of neglect as they are still a great shoe, but my feet just love my top 2 too much to ignore them.

  10. William Lee says:

    I LOVE the nike free 3.0 v1′s. They screwed with perfection with the later incarnations. I was scrounging through eBay for the v1′s after they discontinued them. Just ran the Philly in them this year

  11. bdizzlefizzle says:

    I only need one…Adidas adipure Gazelle.

  12. Stephen Boulet says:

    For me to date:

    Sketchers Go Run Rides
    Saucony Kinvara
    Hoka Bondi B

    I require a shoe that lets me to run a marathon comfortably. If the Sketchers Go Bionics had a little thicker last, they could easily be my #1. I’ve done a 76 mile week and a 50k trail ultra in the Hokas, and the legs felt great. How about a zero drop shoe close to the kinvara in weight Hoka?

  13. Haha, their number one is the Nike air max 95. That thing looks horrible! Wow.

  14. Kinvara 3, Kinvara 2, Brooks Pureflow

  15. I’m with you on the Kinvara, that shoe is amazing. It felt light, responsive, and perfect to run on. Almost like I didn’t notice it was there. I tried the shoe a month ago, but on runs I developed a blister on my right pinky toe every run – and the fabric of the shoe isn’t soft enough to allow my pinky toe to push through it like it does on a lot of other running shoes that I wear. I had to return it since I couldn’t have a blister form every run like that. I now run in Newton Distance, and am gradually getting used to wearing them on runs. I’d say I like Newton Distance a little less than Kinvara, but not by much.
    So I don’t have any others for your list besides Kinvara.

  16. Nick Fusco says:

    Funny thing is that I’ve owned all three of your favorite shoes! My top 3 below:

    1. Saucony Kinvara 2 (best all-around shoe I’ve ever owned)
    2. Saucony A4 (love the way the feel when I slide them on)
    3. Asics Nimbus 11 (first serious running shoe)

  17. Chad Wilkerson says:

    Great stuff, Pete. My list would go like this:
    1. New Balance MT10
    2. Mizuno Wave Musha 2
    3. Vibram Fivefingers Sprints

  18. wanderlust262 says:

    Mine are:

    1. Saucony Kinvara (The one that started my transition to being aware of my running form and function, and are now my standard. I’ve gotten two friends into running and swearing by these right now)

    2. Vibram Fivefinger Bikila (As soon as I slipped my foot inside, it was like nothing I had ever worn before, and I loved it)

    3. New Balance MR730 (I don’t love these shoes, but they are currently third in rotation with the above and they are what allow me to go outside every morning and experience the road. I’m looking forward to trying out the new M20s)

  19. Thanks to your adept reviews, I’ve grown to love Saucony shoes (Kinvara and Hattori). I’ve been a Nike fan for a while (Free & Pegasus) before the Saucony love-affair. Still haven’t found that “third-wheel”; the jury’s still out on Skechers. :]

  20. Goes like this for me:

    1) Saucony Kinvara 1. This shoe was my first foray into so-called minimalism. I was blown away when I tried them, and ran numerous races with them. Unfortunately my toes don’t fit in the Kinvara’s pointy toe box anymore. Tried going a whole size up to no avail.

    2) Nike Free 3.0 v2. Ran in excess of 1,100 km with my first pair before the upper started to disengage from the sole. Currently using a second pair in my rotation, but I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with the 7-mm drop and the narrow toe box.

    3) New Balance MT10. Probably the most comfortable shoe I have tried yet. Currently on my second pair. It took my calves 4-5 months to get used to them though…

    I suspect that in a few months the Merrell Road Glove will be part of my all-time top 3. Ran close to 150 km with them so far and they’re growing on me…

  21. All of my shoes worn during my high school days were stability trainers, but here we go anyway…

    Asics GT-2040
    Adidas Cairo
    Nike Zoom Ultra

    I have good and bad memories of the Nike Air Structure Triax. Some generations were my favorites of all time, some were the worst shoes I ever wore. That’s what keeps it off this list.

    We’ll see, but I think the Saucony Mirage and Bare Access 2 might one day be on my list.

  22. John Shepard says:

    Great Post Pete:
    New Balance MT101
    Altra Instinct (original)
    Brooks Adrenaline

  23. gotta go with:

    1. Inov8 BareX 180
    2. Inov8 RoadX 155
    3. Mizuno Wave Musha 3 (the shoe that started it all for me)

  24. 1. Nike Bowerman Skylon
    2. Asics DS Racer
    3. Saucony Ride (some early version -mayber not even ride but Trigon – now using Ride 5)

  25. ShoesFreak says:

    Mine are:
    1. Saucony Grid Type A5
    2. A tie between Brooks Green Silence and Saucony Kinvara 3

  26. Sam Winebaum says:

    Been running 40 years so this is tough. I have to break it down into decades. Basically the last 7-8 years or so and the 1970′s. Quite frankly between those 2 periods I ran less and shoes got way overbuilt and gimmicky except for racing flats. I wrote about my 70′s picks over on my blog just now. http://samwinebaum.blogspot.co

    I am going to ponder the recent past, in my view another golden age of running boom as well running shoe and running philosophy change and innovation.

    I determined that from the 70′s for sure the Nike Boston would be one of my top 3 personal all time shoes. Mine were specially waffled by Nike and were the most versatile racing shoe I have ever run in. I also picked 2 Brutting Lydiard shoes from that period (not on Sneaker Report) as the most timeless. These light, great running, super stylish (now and then) handmade leather shoes with a crescent shaped last are still available now, completely unchanged. Most innovative and influential, to this day the Nike and Tiger Marathon nylon super minimal flats, the Nike Tailwind the first Air trainer, and the Terra T/C the first lightweight racer trainer with long lasting Phylon midsole. The Terra T/C as I recall it is not much different than today’s hot Kinvara, Pure Project, etc.. and this from 30 years ago. Of course upper materials are better and the heels have dropped.

  27. Brooks Launch

    Saucony KInvara

    Altra Instinct

  28. Kinvara is without equal. I was lucky enough to be given a pair when they first came out but discounted using them on the basis of being a Brooks Adrenaline loyalist. After a year or so of sitting in their box gathering dust, curiosity got the better of me. I tried them on an intervals session and was blown away. But still I mostly stayed loyal to the Adrenaline considering the Kinvara not a proper shoe, something for occasional fast runs. I then read your blog post about running a successful marathon in them and made the switch fulltime. Completely love them. Marathon PB in October this year.

    I’d also give a hat tip to the x-talons. Very recently acquired and am mightily impressed even if they did leave my ankles bleeding after the first run out. New shoes, no socks and mud up to your ankles equals loss of skin.

  29. Hum, just for curiosity, check out this running shoes poll -> link to playmantis.com

    Happy Christmas

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