top of page

2023 Running Shoes of the Year

By Brian Metzler

Before 2024 (and an amazing new crop of running shoes) arrives, it’s time to honor the best running shoes of 2023. We’re in a golden age of running shoes and this year was without a doubt the best year ever for running shoes, so really there are no losers in any of the award categories listed below. Should you rush out and buy a pair of any of these shoes? Well, maybe, but the key, of course, is finding shoes that fit your feet and match your gait – and potentially your budget, too! 

Without further delay, here are the top shoes of 2023:

Road Racing Shoes: Nike Alphafly 3

It’s hard to argue with a shoe that produced the fastest marathon in history. Although it doesn’t officially become available for purchase until January 4, the Nike Alphafly 3 ($285) proved its world-beating worth when Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum wore a pair to set a new marathon world record of 2:00:35 in Chicago in October. (Eliud Kipchoge also won the Berlin Marathon in 2:02:42 wearing a pair, and Sifan Hassan was the women’s champion in Chicago in 2:13:44 wearing these kicks.) Nike made smart tweaks to the previous version of the Alphafly to make it lighter, more responsive and, of course, faster. The Alphafly 3 is built on Nike’s hyper-energetic Zoom X foam with a curved carbon fiber plate embedded in the middle. Two Air Zoom airbag cushions under the ball of foot provide extra comfort and lively pop while a hollowed-out section of the midsole removes unnecessary material and helps make the shoe 15% lighter than the previous edition. Nike has always been one of the truly innovative brands in the running shoe industry and the Alphafly 3 is a testament to that legacy and to Nike’s interest in pushing the envelope of high-performance running.

Runner-Up Models:  The Adidas Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 (which Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa wore to set a new women’s world record of 2:11:53 at the Berlin Marathon in September) gets strong runner-up vibes in this category thanks to its featherweight and exceptionally responsive characteristics, but with the caveat that it will only be produced in very small quantities. So even if you were willing to spend $500 to get a pair, you’ll have a hard time finding them in stock. Other runner-up contenders in the carbon-plated category include the Atreyu Race Model ($120), Saucony Endorphin Elite ($275), Hoka Rocket X 2 ($250), ASICS Metaspeed Sky+  ($250) and Under Armour Flow Velociti Elite 3 ($250)

Road Running Shoes (Training): Hoka Mach X

The biggest trends in road running shoes built for training this year were: (1) increased stack heights of lighter and more responsive midsole foams and (2) the addition of semi-rigid propulsion plates to offer responsive energy return and plenty of stable cushioning without a sharp (and unforgiving) race-day vibe. The Mach X ($180) is a neutral-oriented maximally-cushioned training shoe with a Pebax plate that’s not as harshly rigid as the carbon-fiber plates of marathon racing shoes. The cushy and energetic Mach X provides enough responsive pop to put a spring in your step without running your feet and lower legs ragged. The bottom line is that it gives you a little bit of extra oomph on long runs and recovery runs while also serving up a lightweight, soft, stable and smooth ride. It’s one of the best of the year because it provides a noticeable amount of liveliness that most high-off-the-ground, max-cushioned training shoes have lacked. 

Runner-Up Models: Tracksmith Eliot Runner ($198), Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 2 ($200), Asics Magic Speed 3 ($160), Nike InfinityRN 4 ($160), Adidas Adizero Boston 12 ($160), Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 ($170), Asics Gel-Nimbus 25, Saucony Kinvara Pro ($180)

Trail Running Shoe (Ultrarunning): Nike Ultrafly

The Nike Ultrafly ($260) is lightweight, stable, agile, energetic, grippy and reliable for running fast and long on a wide variety of terrain surfaces. By far the best trail running shoe Nike has ever produced, it has the same full Zoom X midsole as its Vaporfly and Alphafly road racing models and a similar curvy carbon-fiber propulsion plate embedded in the middle. Although the foam is soft and responsive, it’s not marshmallowy mushy because it’s been tightly wrapped by a thin, durable fabric material that protects and stabilizes the foam upon impact with the ground. The other key element of the Ultrafly is the Vibram MegaGrip Lite Base outsole for lightweight traction. It’s the first time Nike has ever partnered with Vibram, which is a sign that Nike really wants to be an innovative leader in the trail running category.

Runner-Up Models: Hoka Speedgoat 5 ($155), NNormal Kjerag ($195), Salomon S/Lab Genesis ($200), Hoka Tecton X 2 ($225), The North Face Vectiv Pro ($250), Brooks Caldera 6 ($150), Mammut Aenergy TR BOA Mid ($215)

Trail Running Shoe (Mountain Running): Merrell MTL Skyfire 2

Merrell built the MTL Skyfire 2 ($200) from the ground up based on considerable input from its elite trail racing team, and the result is a lightweight shoe that’s well-engineered for running fast over smooth, soft, and moderately technical terrain. Its best-in-class componentry includes a two-part, dual-density FloatPro Foam midsole sandwiched around a flexible plastic protection and stability plate, a thin web-like Vibram MegaGrip rubber outsole, and a high-tensile engineered mesh and TPU upper. The midsole provides sufficient cushioning for runners who are light on their feet and, thanks to the ​​full-length flex plate, also gives a bit of energetic pop. It’s not a stiff carbon-fiber propulsion plate found in marathon racing shoes and some trail running shoes. Instead, it’s a plastic-composite plate that provides stability, consistency, protection, and some degree of responsive snappiness to every stride.

Runner-Up Models: Craft Pure Trail ($170), New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail ($200), Altra Lone Peak 7 ($150), Salomon Thundercross ($140), Inov-8 Trailfly G270 V2 ($170), Atreyu Base Trail ($115), Hoka Zinal 2 ($160), LaSportiva Jackal II BOA ($180)

Road-Trail Crossover Shoe: Craft Endurance Trail

If you’re looking for a versatile shoe that can easily cross over from paved roads and concrete bike paths to dirt trails, the Craft Endurance Trail ($160) is one of the best. It doesn’t have a carbon-fiber propulsion plate like several of Craft’s original trail shoes – and that’s good because a plate can be too much on trails sometimes. However, it still offers plenty of cushioning, a bit of zesty pop in every stride and very reliable stability. The key element of this shoe is the cushy, low-density Px Foam midsole, which provides both shock-absorbing protection and a boost of liveliness. The Endurance Trail is stable, durable and reliable for smooth trails, loose gravel and paved surfaces. The wide shape of the outsole/midsole chassis helps create a feeling of inherent stability while still offering the soft, easy-flexing flow of the neutral. 

Runner-Up Models: Atreyu Daily Trainer ($110), Brooks Catamount 2 ($170), New Balance FreshFoam X More Trail 3 ($160), Hoka Stinson 7 ($170), Adidas Terrex Soulstride Flow ($130)

bottom of page