By Brian Metzler
Every year in the week after Thanksgiving, running gear brands gather at The Running Event trade show in Austin, Texas, to show off new shoes, apparel and gear to retailers and media. I spent three days visiting each brand’s trade show booth, running in new shoes and connecting with brand representatives and footwear experts while sniffing around for trends and hot stories. For shoe dogs like me, it definitely carries the excitement of a kid being a kid in a candy store. In fact, it can be almost dizzying. Based on my unscientific research, here are a few of the biggest things you can expect in the running world in 2023.
1) Trail Running is Blowing Up
Running participation in general seems to be booming since the Covid pandemic shut down the world two and a half years ago, but the trail running sector of the industry appears to be among the hottest categories. Most brands are more committed to off-road running than ever before and – at least for 2023 – many of the cooler and more interesting shoes can be found in the trail running category. That includes traditional climbing/hiking brands like Scarpa, The North Face and La Sportiva, but it also includes traditional running brands like Saucony, Brooks, Nike, New Balance and Hoka. One of the best-looking trail runners I spied was the 9-ounce Saucony Endorphin Rift ($170), a light and agile shoe that features the hyper-responsive PWRRUN PB midsole foam and the brand’s propulsive SpeedRoll technology. It has a 6mm heel-toe offset (33mm in the heel, 27mm in the forefoot), 4.5mm lugs, a lightweight/breathable upper and a lightweight rock plate for protection. Another great one is The North Face Summit VECTIV Pro ($250), which has a newer variation of a supercritical foam midsole.
2) Thicker Foam Midsoles
It’s hard to believe there was ever a minimalist shoe revolution a decade ago because it’s pretty clear that runners really love thick foam midsoles. Especially when those midsoles are amazingly light and do such a great job at absorbing shock and returning energy. Almost every brand showed off models that will have slightly thicker midsoles in 2023. For example, Altra will be adding 2mm of stack height to shoes like the Rivera 3 and Torin 7 shoes, a trend that will also be seen in some ASICS, Hoka, Puma, Craft and Saucony shoes. Secondly, there are more training shoes debuting in 2023 that will have higher stack heights than the previously accepted norm of 40mm in the heel. That figure is the height restriction World Athletics mandates for marathon racing shoes, but that only applies to elite athletes running in competitive races. Because the new foam formulations are lighter than ever before, brands have found out they can create higher midsoles and get improved cushioning performance without adding weight to the shoes. Take for example Saucony’s new Kinvara Pro ($180), which is an eye-popping training shoe with a dual-density midsole (PWRRUN foam and PWRRUN PB, as well as a PWRRUN+ foodbed) sandwiched around a curvy tear-drop carbon-fiber plate. It has an 8mm heel-toe offset with a massive stack height (42mm in the heel, 34 mm in the forefoot) but it weighs only 9 oz. (for a men’s size 9.)
3) More Super Shoes on the Way
Super shoes for long-distance road running are still very much a hot category. For starters, Hoka is finally ready to unveil its much-anticipated Rocket X 2 long-distance racing shoe. After being on the feet of its pro athletes since last April, it will finally become available to consumers on March 1 at Hoka.com and at select running retail stores. The Rocket X 2 ($250) has a new formulation of Hoka’s super-critical midsole foam and a 5mm heel-toe offset (40mm in the heel, 35mm in the forefoot) with a spec weight of 7.9 oz. for a men’s size 9. Other key super shoes that look enticing include Mizuno’s Wave Rebellion Pro ($250), which has a beveled heel design and sculpted-out midsole that encourages (or demands) a midfoot/forefoot gait, the brand new Skechers Speed Beast ($225), Nike’s VaporFly Next% 4 ($275), and a yet-unnamed Salomon marathon super shoe.
4) Small Brands are Cool
Three shoe brands creating a buzz are also three of the smallest. Speedland, Norda and Atreyu are three distinctive brands that have created some excitement around their unique stories. Speedland creates one-off shoe models in small-batch production using the best materials and fabrication techniques. Its GS:TAM will be its third trail running shoe since its inception in 2021, following its SL:PDX and SL: HSV shoes last year. The GS:TAM ($275, runspeedland.com) is a maximally cushioned model with a unique dual-density midsole that has a carbon-fiber plate embedded between a layer of super-critical Pebax blended foam underneath the foot and a layer of beaded Pebax foam close to ground between the plate and a Michelin rubber outsole. It also has a 7mm heel-toe offset (37mm in the heel/30mm in the forefoot) and a dual BOA Li2 fit system that secures the breathable knit bootie upper by wrapping three thin suede wings of fabric over a runner’s foot with bidirectional adjustability.
Meanwhile, Atreyu is launching a new shoe in March called the Daily Trainer ($115) that will be available at atreyurunning.com and at select REI stories by mid-March. It has the same lively super-critical midsole as its Base Trail road-to-trail shoe and a 6mm heel-toe offset (30mm in the heel/24mm in the forefoot). With a full-length rubber outsole and an array of low-profile lugs for traction and durability, it is designed for running on roads and mild trails as well as being capable of handling gym workouts. Lastly, Norda, which has established itself as a brand that’s doing things differently on the trails, has already sold out of its Norda 001 G+ Spike, a maximally cushioned winter running shoe with 10 carbide spikes.
5) A Whole New Way of Thinking
A new brand called Vimazi has taken a revolutionary approach by making pace-tuned shoes. Each model is engineered to perform best within a certain pace zone. With involvement from lifelong runners, shoe industry veterans and science-oriented biomechanists, Vimazi is built on the idea that shoes developed for running at different paces will be more efficie
nt for every level of runner. Why? Because different forces are applied to shoes at different paces and traditional midsoles aren’t capable of responding optimally to that range of forces. So far, it has launched six initial road running shoes, ranging from the Z20, designed and tuned for the fastest elite marathoners (4:30-5:30 mile pace), to the Z70, which are tuned for more casual runners (10:00-12:30 mile pace). But it also has a walking shoe and two trail running shoes in the works. To be sure, it’s an interesting concept, but also one that’s a bit complicated. For now, check out the Vimazi website to learn more.