Over the last 12 months, we’ve looked at a wide variety of shoes in various categories.
From road to trails, cushioning to control and shoes for injuries and competition.
Here I take a look at the best of the best. My selection of shoes that represent the best on offer in the various categories.
As well as being some of my favourite shoes, these are also some of the shoes that I recommend daily to both customers in my store and runners that I advise.
2023 has been an amazing year for running footwear, with the quality and quantity of great shoes on the market having grown with improved with leaps and bounds.
So, let’s go. Here is my selection of the best running shoes of 2023.
The Best Running Shoes of 2023
1. Best Cushioned Shoe: Saucony Triumph 21
2. Best Women’s All-Around Shoe: Brooks Ghost 15
3. Best Support Shoe: Saucony Tempus
4. Best Barefoot / Minimalist shoe: Xero Mesa Trail
5. Best Shoe for Plantar Fasciitis: Mizuno Wave Inspire 19
6. Best Trail Shoe: New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail
7. Best Value Shoe: Puma Velocity Nitro 2
8. Best Racing Shoe: Nike Vaporfly 3
9. Paul’s Pick of 2023: Saucony Kinvara Pro
The Best Running Shoes of 2023
#1. Best Cushioned Shoe:
Saucony Triumph 21
Weight – 279g / 9.8oz; Heel stack – 37mm; Toe stack – 27mm (10mm drop)
For those days when I simply want a shoe for a relaxed run, it’s been the Saucony Triumph 21 that I have reached for.
It has a deep stack of the brand’s PWRRUN+ foam and provides a ride that is soft and welcoming from the very first step inside. Once on the move, it provides an accomplished ride experience that’s stable yet energising, meaning I can simply run.
It’s a shoe that I don’t have to think about, I know how it’s going to perform from the first mile to the last, be that an easy 5k or a long, Sunday 20-mile effort.
The Triumph 21 is happy at and speed too. It’s a long-distance cruiser of a shoe, a Mercedes of the shoe world, comfortable and composed, yet capable of operating at quicker speeds.
Sure, like the Mercedes, you wouldn’t choose it for out-and-out speed, but for relaxed comfort, it’s a go-to.
For fans of the Triumph, the 21st version wasn’t too much of a departure from the previous version, meaning a straight upgrade was a simple choice.
I do find the upper on the newer model to be much improved and it’s that which I feel really lifts the model in terms of overall fit.
The Triumph 21 is priced more as a ‘premium’ neutral cushioned model, but given its performance and durability, I’d say the running experience justifies the cost over its closest competitors.
Speaking of competitors, this category, like all those featured here is very competitive so I will mention a couple of close contends.
The New Balance 1080v12 is similarly priced, with a soft, smooth-riding feel, yet I felt the Saucony is a little more versatile and better able to vary the pace in.
#2. Best Women’s All-Around Shoe:
Brooks Ghost 15
Weight 258g / 9.1 oz Stack– 35mm heel / 23 mm forefoot = 12mm drop
Regardless of the category we are discussing, the Brooks Ghost 15 always tends to get a mention. This is a testament to how good of a shoe it is.
It’s this versatility that makes it the best option for women’s running shoes.
To start, the Ghost 15 is available in a wide range of sizes, not just length sizes but widths too, from narrow to wide. Then there’s the Gore-Tex option should you want a waterproof version. Then we have a wide variety of colours, including a plain black option.
There really is something for everybody with the Ghost 15.
Aside from this, the shoe offers great cushioning in a neutral shoe that sits perfectly balanced on the foot. The cushioning is neither too soft nor too firm, meaning it gives the most honest neutral ride you’ll find in a shoe.
The engineered mesh upper offers an almost stretch-like fit around the foot and provides a gently padded experience around the ankle collar and heel.
This seamless design means zero irritation and a shoe that you can put on and go. There are no distractions and nothing to worry about.
For a fuss-free do-it-all shoe, the Brooks Ghost 15 delivers perfectly.
#3. Best Support Shoe:
WEIGHT: Men’s 252g / 8.9oz Women’s 224g/7.9oz HEEL STACK: 36.5mm TOE STACK: 28.5mm DROP: 8mm
Most of my daily training shoes fall into the support category.
Yes, being fortunate enough to be able to try lots of shoes, in recent years I have brought more neutral models into my general rotation of shoes, but the bulk of my miles are in support-type shoes.
Given the increase in first, super shoes in the racing category, and then, the influx of ‘super-trainers’, the Tempus tends to fall into the latter group.
It’s a shoe that offers the energised running sensation of a racing shoe but with the more cushioned and durable features of a training shoe.
Made up of a PWRRUN, supportive framework with an inner core of PWRRUN PB, the shoe manages to keep the foot stable yet offers a good feeling of energy return on toe-off.
In terms of pace, the Tempus is rather versatile too, although I reach for it when wanting to run at a little more up-tempo pace it is perfectly comfortable on my easier runs.
The fit is a little different from the Triumph (above) in that this model fits more snuggly around the midfoot with a broader toe-box area. This allows the foot to splay naturally and in turn, contributes to the general stability of the ride.
As I mentioned I wear lots of models of the stability type and it’s a very popular category of shoe in terms of sales.
Close competitors are perhaps the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 22 and the ASICS Kayano 30. In my opinion, the Brooks would be a very close call here as it’s a more competitively priced model and a very capable shoe.
The Tempus perhaps just has the edge when wanting to pick the pace up a little.
It’s a similar story with the ASICS Kayano. It’s a hugely popular shoe but now feels limited to easy day running as it lacks the energised feel of other brands. It’s also become perhaps the most expensive shoe of its type without now offering more for the money.
#4. Best Barefoot / Minimalist shoe:
Xero Mesa Trail
Weight: 215g / 7.5oz Drop: Zero. Stack: 9mm (5.5mm sole / 3.5mm insole)
Whilst the ‘barefoot’ category is a little small nowadays when compared to the height of its popularity, it’s a shoe that was inspired by the book of its namesake, ‘Born to Run’ that we see here.
The Mesa Trail, Born To Run edition by Xero is a shoe that takes inspiration from the runners featured in the book.
Its rubber sole merely provides protection from the ground, while a removable inner-sole adds a little cushioning, it doesn’t detract from the overall fit and running experience.
I must admit I’ve always only toyed with the idea of barefoot running in the past and that said, my experience in these shoes could be described as that again in recent months.
Yet, what I have found is that even with limited use, the Xero Mesa Trail does give your feet and legs a new running experience.
The zero drop and almost zero cushioning instantly means you have to concentrate on your foot strike and how it interacts with the ground.
Using the shoes for strides and drills on my local cricket pitch, the smooth, soft grass makes for an ideal surface on which to focus my attention on my running gait. (Don’t tell the groundsman!)
The small, studded rubber sole is great on the grass and the shoe provokes a naturally mid-to-forefoot gait that’s perfect for running drills and sprints.
The shoes are well made and very durable, with a 5000-mile sole warranty, that should see mine last many years.
For those wanting to perhaps transition to zero, minimalist or barefoot shoes, the Xero is a great place to start.
#5. Best Shoe for Plantar Fasciitis:
Mizuno Wave Inspire 19
WEIGHT: 303gm / 10.7oz HEEL STACK: 37mm TOE STACK: 25mm DROP: 12mm
Plantar Fasciitis is one of a runner’s worst nightmares. It’s a dreaded injury that can cause great pain and keep you out of action from weeks to months.
Research on the subject is rather limited too and much of the advice found online isn’t backed by research and can, at best be confusing.
Some things we do know are that the Plantar Fascia tendon has become ‘over-stretched’ and this contributes to the pain.
We also know that by raising the heel a little we can reduce the strain on the tendon, which, along with some support through the arch of the foot can reduce the overall strain.
With this in mind, we would naturally choose a support-type shoe in order to provide some structure to the arch of the foot and reduce the overall strain on the tendon. A shoe with a higher (10 to 12mm drop) would also be beneficial.
Whilst several contenders suit this description, it’s my experience that people suffering from the condition chose the Mizuno Wave Inspire 19.
It’s not just the latest version of this model either. In recent years, it’s been my experience that over and over again, customers (runners and non-runners suffering from Plantar Fasciitis) select the Mizuno Inspire.
Repeatedly, customers tell me the Mizuno offers them a structured fit and feel beneath the arch that simply feels better on the foot.
They describe the shoes as ‘fitting better under the arch’ with comments such as, ‘This shoe seems to offer the best support in the arch and fits well exactly where I want it to.’
While these comments are purely anecdotal, the Mizuno suits the criteria of support and heel drop as well as being the shoe of choice.
#6. Best Trail Shoe:
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail
Weight: 272g / 9.6oz Heel Stack: 36mm Toe Stack: 26mm Drop: 10mm
Selecting the best trail shoe of the year was perhaps the most difficult choice I have had. It’s also a very personal choice and perhaps very difficult for lots of people. You see, trail shoes can vary so much depending on where you live and where you run.
Changeable weather also plays a big part in selecting the best trail shoe.
Dry conditions can make one shoe better than another, but on the same route in the rain may prove to be unsuitable.
For me, my choice of trail shoes changed a couple of times during the year. I like the VJ Sport Ultra 2 on wet rocky adventures thanks to its grip, which really is ‘the best on the planet’.
I also enjoyed running in the HOKA Stinson, with its deep cushioning and plush fit and feel.
But ultimately it is a trail shoe that I’ve started to use only in the last few weeks that I’ve selected here.
The New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail has proved to me to be a great combination of traction and fast-feeling ride that I enjoy so much in road shoes, now available on a trail model.
It is essentially a SuperComp Trainer with a Vibram sole. It uses the highly responsive FuelCell cushioning with the brand’s carbon Energy Arc.
Finished off with a Vibram outsole to provide teeth-like studs that seem to bite into the trails, it’s a fast-feeling shoe that encourages me to pick up the pace when off-road.
The upper features the usual off-road overlays in key areas to add protection and durability, but otherwise, it’s a typical New Balance performance shoe with the fit you’d expect.
Yes, the SuperComp does feel a little more of a trail ‘racer’ or more specialist off-road model and it is approaching super-shoe prices, but it is well made and appears to be pretty durable so far.
Again it will come down to the terrain where you run, but for me on what are primarily gravel forest paths and ‘light trails’ the shoe suits my needs and speeds perfectly.
#7. Best Value Shoe:
Puma Velocity Nitro 2
Weight:257g/9oz: Heel Stack: 33mm: Toe stack: 25mm (drop 8mm)
With the price of some shoes now over £200/$200 and some even double that, a great value shoe at under £100/$100 is becoming a little more difficult to find.
Fortunately, during 2023 we found a couple of great shoes at that price and can often be found on sale at an even lower price.
First up was the Reebok Floatride Energy 5. This is a great shoe and features a TPU-based midsole that offers a smooth and responsive ride.
My shoe of choice in this category though, is the Puma Velocity Nitro 2. The Puma also uses a modern, Nitrogen-infused midsole, there’s just a little more of it.
The slightly higher stack of the Puma gives it a sturdier feel for everyday training and it proves durable after many miles.
The Velocity is a pretty simple design, yet with the Nitro foam midsole and Puma Grip outsole, the important features are ticked off and the shoe offers great value for money.
#8. Best Racing Shoe:
Nike Vaporfly 3
Weight: 210g / 7.4oz Heel: 40mm Toe: 32mm Drop: 8mm
With World Records falling like a house of cards during 2023, the rivalry for the best racing shoe was just as competitive.
In September, adidas launched the EVO 1, a $500 shoe that you had to win a raffle to purchase. It took the women’s marathon world record in Berlin.
In Chicago, the yet unreleased version of the Nike Alphafly 3 took the victory with a men’s world record.
I ran several events in the Saucony Endorphin Elite and personally, right now, I think it’s the closest competitor to my first choice.
I also found myself reaching for the adidas adizero pro 3 on several occasions, opting for the traction provided by its Continental Rubber outsole on wet days.
Ultimately it was the Nike Vaporfly 3 that I chose in this category as my favourite racing shoe of 2023.
The Vaporfly still appears to be the most popular Nike marathon racer (along with version 2). The Alphafly is a close second in terms of sales, but at the front end of most marathons, the Vaprofly has the edge.
The ZoomX foam and carbon plate work perfectly together and perhaps because Nike were the first to market, they just seem to be the most popular option for marathon runners.
For me, the soft energised feel of the ZoomX seems to put a smile on my face every time I pull the shoes on.
They instantly feel like something special is about to take place and because of that feeling, I do reserve the Vaporfly for race days only. I don’t train in them; I want that edge when the gun goes.
The carbon plate provides a nice, smooth, yet aggressive toe-off and I simply just feel that the shoe suits my stride, or my stride on a good day when I’m running well.
For me, the Vaporfly 3 (and indeed the Vaporfly 2, of which, I still have a couple of pairs ‘in reserve’) is the best road racing shoe of 2023.
#9. Paul’s Pick of 2023:
Saucony Kinvara Pro
Weight: Men’s 269g / 9.5oz Heel stack: 42mm Toe Stack: 34mm Drop: 8mm
My final selection is my favourite shoe of the year. It’s a year that has seen me predominantly train for and compete at the marathon distance. I aimed to run a marathon in the Spring, at Manchester here in the UK and then in the autumn, in Berlin.
While my spring marathon didn’t happen due to missing a big chunk of training early in the year, I did manage to run Berlin. This meant a big block of marathon training throughout the summer.
For most of this training, I wore this shoe, mainly due to its overall feel at pretty much any pace.
The Saucony Kinvara Pro features a deep, 42mm thick stack of cushioning made up of Saucony’s PWRRUN PB foam to add an energised feel, along with a base of PWRRUN foam for durability and a stable platform.
These two foam cushioning layers sandwich a carbon plate that gives the shoe the feel of a high-performance racing model.
Given its stack height, the Kinvara Pro is surprisingly stable. This isn’t usually the case with ‘illegal’ height shoes.
The Kinvara Pro is also a shoe that I’ve found able to cope with both steady-paced runs as well as interval and tempo efforts.
My long marathon-training runs are typically between 15 and 21 miles, alternating each weekend at a ‘race pace’ of around 6-minute miles and a ‘steady’ pace of 7-minute miles. I find the shoe able to handle either pace with ease.
It has a soft feel on initial impact that quickly stabilises and then provides a great, responsive toe-off.
While the carbon plate is buried within that thick stack of cushioning, its presence and function are clear and they add significantly to the feel of the shoe.
It’s the super-trainer category that has grown quickly during 2023 and it’s a highly competitive sector with brands seeking to add models to their line-ups to sit beside their competition models.
The shoes generally have a lighter weight and more racer-like feel but with added durability for more regular use. Similar models proving popular during the year have been the Superblast from ASICS and SC Trainer from New Balance.
Personally, I felt the ASICS, while lightweight, lacked a little of the energy return offered by a carbon plate and given its price, probably should have had one to be competitive.
The New Balance SC Trainer is another great shoe and my second choice behind the Kinvara Pro. Essentially it feels simply like a more durable version of its racing relation, so not a winner in my final selection purely because it’s so closely matched to the SC Elite.
In conclusion, 2023 has been a great year for shoes, with the widest range of choice ever available and the features of models now becoming more and more advanced with every new release. Let’s look forward to 2024!