1. Inov-8 Roclite 295 // $80 // 10.4 oz // inov-8.com
It’s no surprise that the country’s top trail runners are breaking their contracts with big-name shoe companies to wear Inov-8s. Whether you seek the top of the podium, the top of the mountain, or simply a peak performance, the Inov-8 Roclite 295s are the fastest way to get there. They strike the perfect balance between lightweight performance and rugged durability. From 5Ks to 50-milers, the Roclite 295s have won national championships. But it’s not just elite athletes who love this shoe: they’re perfect for high-school cross-country or recreational jogging on gravel roads. Thanks to the knobby rubber cleats, the 295 grips the trail better than any other shoe on the market, performing especially well on the Southeast’s rocky, rooty, and muddy trails. Nimble stream crossings are a breeze with the sticky sole and mesh upper, which sheds water quickly. Tired of bloody, blistered toes? The roomy toebox makes trail running comfortable without sacrificing speed or agility. The 295s are exceptionally versatile, durable, and flat-out fast.
2. END Stumptown // $80 // 12oz // endfootwear.com
Finally, a running shoe company has produced a sweatshop-free shoe that feels as good for your feet as it does for your conscience. END Footwear has quickly emerged as the green leader of the running shoe industry. Its motto, “Do more with less,” is evident in the Stumptown, a sleek, streamlined shoe built for speed on both roads and trails. END questions the usefulness of every stitch of material in the Stumptown: they’ve chopped the typically bulky heel, used a thin breathable fabric for the upper, and removed the foam beneath the liner, enabling the shoe to dry faster. Its minimalist design doesn’t compromise aesthetics or performance. The Stumptown is wicked fast and super-grippy on the trail. They’re certain to shave a few seconds off your 5K personal best, but they also perform well on long training runs.
3. Brooks T6 Racer // $85 // 6.1 oz // Brooksrunning.com
The T6 isn’t the lightest shoe on the market, but it’s close, and it’s certainly light enough to get the job done. At only 6.1 ounces, the paper stuffed inside the shoe when you pull it out of the box weighs almost as much as the shoe itself. As the weight suggests, this isn’t a shoe designed for everyday jogs. This is a racer, meant for setting land speed records. The cushioning and support is minimal (the shoe practically folds in your hand) and even with Brooks’ patented shock absorbers in the heel, you will feel impact.
As with most racers, the lack of cushion and motion control means you’ll notice any imperfections in your running gait. But you’re not looking for a shoe that holds your hand through a training run. You’re looking to PR your next 5K. And the T6 is your tool.
Olympic marathoner Brian Sells wore the shoe to run in Beijing, but we wouldn’t recommend it for any distance longer than the half. Honestly, we found it to be the perfect 5K to 10K speedster.
4. New Balance 1063 // $125 // 12.2 OZ // newbalance.com
There are two things you want in a trainer: comfort and longevity. The 1063 has both. Abzorb foam is used to provide killer shock absorption and an overall cushioned ride. The 1063 features New Balance’s patented heel crashpad for extra longevity in an area that traditionally wears out early. And its midsole foam is known for staving off compression for months after you take your first jog. As a bonus, New Balance built the 1063 to be slimmer and less boxy than its predecessors, making this shoe a more svelte workhorse. At 12.2 ounces, the 1063 is hardly anorexic, but the slimmer profile and airy mesh upper enable this shoe to feel light and fast while still durable enough to handle big mileage. Much of this nimble performance can be attributed to the 1063’s new outsole, which increases its flexibility while offering a smooth transition from heel to toe.