2014 is the year of the runner. With hundreds of new running products released in December at The Running Event—an annual winter meeting where the industry shows off its upcoming gear—runners have much to choose from. In addition to traditional running shoes, more styles are available for diehard runners willing to take trail running into the mountains. And although interest in barefoot running has leveled off, lightweight shoes have captured some of their minimalist flavor.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 ($110)
Lightweight, yet plush, the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 trainer brings with it varying levels of flexibility and support depending on your foot strike patterns. This adaptability comes from the convex and concave hexagons in the sidewall of the foam midsole (known as “Fresh Foam”). The end result is increased support beneath the arch, while the foam compresses next to the big toe and on the outer edge of the heel.
Salomon X-Scream ($110)
The Salomon X-Scream is for where the trail meets the city. Inspired by trail shoes, the X-Scream can handle any surface that the urban environment throws at you—sidewalks, cobblestones, dirt paths. This shoe is lightweight (8.8 ounces), but comes with “stable footing,” a small wedge on the medial side of the sole.
Hoka One One Conquest ($170)
The Hoka One One Conquest is the company’s newest oversized cushioning shoe. With a unique foam midsole-outsole configuration that supports a more standard foam midsole, this new Conquest provides a low-impact floating sensation. Although durable, Conquest weighs less than 10 ounces—extremely light for a shoe with this much support.
Vasque Shape Shifter Ultra ($170)
One of this year’s new trail runners, the Vasque Shape Shifter Ultra, is also an oversized model. The molded midsole is big and soft, but because it’s attached directly to the upper, it provides a tight but comfortable fit. The soft foam sole is designed to keep your foot safe by adapting to debris as you climb each new mountain trail. The shoe also comes with a one-pull lacing system from Boa with a single cable instead of a loop—this eliminates the friction caused by the crossing of cables.
Brooks Transcend ($160)
Providing stability when you need it, Brooks Transcend is supposedly the plushest ride in the company’s lineup. The technology behind the shoe’s comfort is the adaptable foam that brings maximum cushioning to your run. Along with that comes gentle support from the undercarriage’s unique guide rail system.
The North Face Ultra Trail ($110)
Another trail runner, the North Face Ultra Trail is super lightweight and flexible. The thin material of the upper is designed to adjust to the shape of your foot as it shrinks and swells during a race. The Vibram outsole comes with coffin-shaped lugs that will keep you from slipping on most surfaces that you find yourself crossing.
Vibram Bikila EVO ($120)
Vibram, king of the minimalist running shoes, has embraced the demand for more cushioning with its Bikila EVO. A reboot of the 2010 Bikila, the EVO has a comparatively “plush” foam midsole (maximum thickness of 8.5 mm) running the length of the shoe. Your bare feet will thank you.