Best lightweight running shoes review 2015
When it comes to gear weight savings, nearly all the focus is on the bike. Granted, replacing your old Reynolds 531 steel tubing with a bike moulded from carbon might save you more time than a stripped-down shoe, but lightweight shoes can make a difference.
According to a study by former Nike coach Jack Daniels, adding 100g to a shoe increases the aerobic demand of running by 1%. This, he calculated, equated to around a minute over a marathon.
The reason for this extra energy expenditure has parallels with why the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya has produced runners of the calibre of Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto. The tribe has particularly thin ankles and calves – important when it comes to running because your legs act like a pendulum. The greater weight you have farther away from your centre of gravity, the more effort’s required to get it swinging.
It’s the same with lightweight shoes. Much like the Tories and Labour, though, the distinction between racers and training shoes is less distinct than in the past. Racers used to be stripped down to the bare essentials; training shoes were loaded with cushioning and stability features. Now, many racers have more cushioning – so much so that they can be used for training (see our 2015 buyer’s guide for more info).
This test features many shoes that are designed for speed but would be deemed heavyweights in the racing past. Does that make a difference to how fast you run the final leg? It’s time to find out…
Quick jargon buster
How you run. Usually broken down into how you land: forefoot – ball of foot lands first; midfoot – ball and heel land together; heel strike – heel lands first then flexes to toe off.
Final part of foot contact before propelling forward.
When your foot moves inwards slightly between landing and toe-off. Overpronation is when this is to a significant degree. Underpronation (supination) is when there’s no inward roll.
Type of run shoe primarily designed for pronators. Provides adequate levels of support and cushioning.
Right then, on with the reviews…
New Balance 1500v1
Price: £80 from www.newbalance.co.uk
A lightweight racer (245g) with a medial post in its midsole is unusual – it’s more common in heavier training shoes – but it certainly adds to the stability of what’s a pretty impressive shoe.
NB’s trademark Revlite EVA performs cushioning duties with style, the 6mm drop just right for a smooth transition from landing to toe-off.
As for the upper, the mesh base is overlayed with synthetic strips around the toe bumper for added strength and durability, and is fused rather than stitched, saving weight and adding to the flowing aesthetics.
Comfort’s good with or without socks; the micro-lugs on the outsole ensure impressive grip; and a heel loop lends a nod to T2. The price is also good for a lightweight racer and, like many shoes in the NB range, there’s a choice of width fittings.
Verdict: Surprisingly comfortable shoe but not to the detriment of speed, 88%
Price: £115 from www.on-running.com
Hoorah – a shoe that revives memories of old (aka a traditional lightweight racer), coming in at 240g. Much of that weight saving stems from the trademark ‘Clouds’ on the outsole. There are 18 of them and they’re a lower profile than usual.
Whether that shrinkage reduces the amount of energy returned from the Clouds on each stride compared to their weightier brethren is hard to quantify. What’s clear is that further weight’s been saved in the upper, which is possibly the thinnest we’ve ever encountered.
Your toes are visible and it does raise questions over durability. In use, they’re not quite as comfy as some here, especially the Ultra Boost. But sacrificing comfort for speed is a common payback with shoes under the 250g mark.
Verdict: Fast shoe, though there are some question marks over durability, 81%
Brooks Pure Connect 4
Price: £89 from www.brooksrunning.co.uk
Despite the ‘natural running’ movement slowing down, Brooks’s Pure range remains – but the jury’s out on whether this is a good thing with the Connect 4. This has a more rounded heel than previous incarnations, designed to ‘align force through the ankle joint’ on landing.
That realignment isn’t particularly noticeable, but this focus on the heel surely conflicts with the minimalist aim of mid- to forefoot landing?
It certainly doesn’t add to the flow of the shoe, the heavier rear leading to a slightly staggered transition from landing to toe-off.
Mind you, the upper’s mightily comfortable and no-sew overlays keep the weight down to 270g. Your foot’s also kept nicely in check thanks to the nav-band. So plenty of positives, but where’s the Pure range heading?
Verdict: A solid shoe but one possibly undergoing an identity crisis? 80%
We continue our guide to the best lightweight running shoes of 2015…
Asics Gel DS Trainer 20
Price: £107 from www.asics.co.uk
Any shoe that reaches its 20th incarnation must be doing something right. Longevity certainly breeds confidence, reflected in the lively orange trim and luminescent yellow laces.
Yes, this is a shoe that looks fast. Like the New Balance, it features a midsole post (Propulsion Trussic, in Asics talk), that adds stability, while gel cushioning in the front and rear increases comfort.
A heel counter on the outside of the shoe adds to the stable feel. All in all, it’s a shoe packed with well-thought-out features that elicits a good ride.
The only issue is the impressive and deep feature line-up, coupled with its 297g weight, makes it feel more of a training shoe than an out-and-out racer. To be fair to Asics, though, that’s a comment that could be directed at many of the shoes here.
Verdict: Fine shoe and provides a good ride, though more of a trainer than a racer, 83%
Adidas Ultra Boost
Price: £130 from www.adidas.co.uk
Adidas’s Boost technology is one of the finest run shoe innovations of recent years, those thousands of ‘visible foam energy capsules’ consistently providing one of the comfiest strides around. The depth, though, elevates the Ultra’s weight to 326g, which is reasonably hefty for racers.
It could easily double as a training shoe, although not in the winter; the PrimeKnit weave upper’s as cosy as a Merino sock and it’s great to see an alternative to the usual mesh affair, but its waterproofing is near zero.
A plastic cradle around the upper and flowing to the heel offers stability, ensuring a swift and enjoyable ride. A slightly apologetic floppy heel is a little incongruous, especially on one of the priciest shoes here, but that doesn’t detract from its many qualities.
Verdict: An extremely comfortable shoe thanks to those ‘capsules’, albeit at a hefty price, 86%
Scott T2 Palani 2.0
Price: £105 from www.scott-sports.com
Scott’s better known for its cutting-edge bikes (thanks to aero guru Simon Smart) than its shoes and, sadly, that innovative feel is lacking in the Palanis.
Visually, they’re a touch orthopaedic, with a gargantuan outsole, though the ‘aero foam’ composition means it’s 311g – not great for a racer, but lighter than it looks.
Scott’s eRide tech in the sole has a gentle rocking shape that purports to promote a faster, more efficient run style. The ride’s okay, but not the exhilarating speed you’re after in the racing amphitheatre.
Its Hawaii-inspired name, heel loop and drainage hole in the outsole highlight its multisport intentions, so it’s disappointing that it doesn’t come with tri laces. It also features a bulky loop on the tongue that, to us, is meaningless.
Verdict: Okay for training and some good tri features, but doesn’t inspire race speed, 74%
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 9
Price: £120 from www.mizuno.eu
A wave of Mizuno love crashed over us with last year’s excellent Hitogamis. Fast-forward to 2015 and the affair continues with the Ekidens. Firstly, this is the truest lightweight racer on test. Our size UK10.5 weighed 162g – exactly half the weight of the Adidas.
That paucity derives from minimalist construction – Mizuno’s Wave technology’s on cushioning duties – which leads to one of the firmer rides, though comfier than you’d imagine for such a featherweight. What it means is that this is one fast shoe.
Over our test loop, the Ekidens consistently recorded some of the fastest times. Adorned with our Garmin, this was reflected in the swiftest cadence. An empty space in the heel of the outsole has the potential to lodge stones, but that’s a minor quibble in a terrific shoe.
Verdict: Our Mizuno crush continues with these fast and featherweight offerings, 85%
We wrap up our guide to 2015’s best lightweight running shoes, and pick a winner…
Pearl Izumi EM Tri N 2
Price: £94 from www.madison.co.uk
Pearl Izumi wins the award for heaviest shoe on test, hitting the scales at 328g, which is 45g heavier than the Tri N 1. That’s pretty hefty and would make Trading Standards whimper if it were marketed as a racing flat.
That extra weight comes from ‘enhanced heel cushioning’ over the Tri N 1, which isn’t necessary in our opinion. Like the Brooks, this rear-loading of comfort doesn’t let the shoe flow as seamlessly as the Tri N 1, eliciting a subtle feeling that you’re not quite up to race speed.
On the positive, they’re very comfortable, the seamless upper appreciated by those who go sans socks. The lacing system works well, swift in transition but stable, and you also receive the obligatory tri-specific heel loop. Overall, not bad but not as impressive as its predecessor.
Verdict: Not a bad shoe, but its hefty weight means it lacks the flair of its predecessor, 77%
Zoot Ultra TT 7.0
Price: £110 from www.zootsports.com
First up, congratulations to Zoot for delivering the most multisport-specific shoe on test, beginning with their patented Quick-Lace system, which works better than anticipated. A simple yank of the toggle tightens the elastic lace, keeping your foot nicely in place.
It does leave a flapping loop, but you soon acclimatise to that. Tiny holes in the outsole offer a modicum of drainage and breathability, and a confident heel loop ensures a swift T2. Fit is a little snug around the toes, so those who prefer to run with socks should potentially go half a size larger than normal.
We were concerned the Ultra’s sock-like feel and lack of cradle would affect stability, but those reservations proved unfounded. Overall, a pretty impressive shoe that just ducks under 300g (294g).
Verdict: Easily the best tri-specific shoe on test, with some useful features, 84%
Inov-8 F-LITE 240
Price: £100 from www.inov-8.com
Inov-8’s off-road range is one of the most lauded around, and we can’t speak highly enough of the X-Talon 212s. Sadly, that loving feeling doesn’t stretch to the F-Lite 240s (240g), which could be down to them sitting in Inov-8’s ‘fitness’ category.
They’re built for both running and the cross-fit crowd, with features like the Rope-Tex reinforcement, an extra wedge of plastic in the midsole designed for durability when rope climbing. Now, we’ve seen myriad distances and gear in triathlon, but have yet to come across a rope.
So not ideal for the road-running triathlete. That said, the upper is comfortable, though does tend to crease up near the toe box. But they just don’t inspire speed and feel strangely flat. Inov-8 has an impressive range of run shoes – sadly this isn’t one of them.
Verdict: Fine for rope-climbing cross-fit aficionados – not for triathletes, 69%
The distinction between training shoes and racers becomes ever finer, seen clearly in the 10 on test. Only the Mizuno Ekiden can be deemed a true unadulterated racer, registering just 162g on our scales. The Inov-8s are the next lightest – 77g more at 239g – but they’re clearly more use to the cross-training market than triathletes.
Of course, it’s not all about weight. Adidas’s Ultra Boost tips over 300g, which is predominantly down to the foot cradle and their Boost foam technology. The latter’s been a gamechanger for their run shoe range, and has certainly gained broad appeal, in part due to their heavy marketing of the London Marathon, but also because it actually provides a comfortable and swift run.
If there was an award for triathlon shoe of the test, the clear winner would be the Zoot Ultra TT 7.0. The Quick-Lace system surprised us, eliciting a far more secure feel than we’d anticipated. It’s also far lighter than the Boa mechanism seen on many Zoot models.
The Mizuno Ekiden must also receive a special mention. Not only is it fast, it’s more comfortable than a lightweight has a right to be. It’s not quite as impressive as the Hitogamis that we tested last year, but it’s certainly worth a punt.
But the overall winner is the New Balance 1500v1. At 245g it’s one of the lightest here. It’s also one of the comfiest. That’s a very impressive balancing act, but one that the 1500v1 pulls off with a flash of style. As an added bonus, it’s also the lowest-priced shoe here.
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