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Runblogger’s Top Running Shoes of 2011: Lightweight & Minimalist Trainers, Trail Shoes, Racing Flats, and Barefoot-Style Shoes

Posted on December 31 2011

New Balance Minimus Trail-MT10This has been a bit of an off year for my running. As work and writing commitments expanded, my running mileage correspondingly decreased, and thus the number of miles I have put on any given pair of shoes is below what I typically shoot for. Things are slowly improving, but my running shortage has made it difficult for me to come up with a definitive top shoe list for 2011. Also complicating factors is the fact that many of my current favorite shoes either just came out, or will not be released officially until 2012. As such, rather than a top 3 for the year list like the one I produced last year, I’m going to provide a list of favorite shoes in various categories that I have worn in 2011, rather than focusing just on shoes that were released in 2011.

Here goes…

Lightweight Road Shoes – 8mm Drop or Higher

Saucony Guide 5

1. Saucony Guide 5

The Saucony Guide 5 is one of the only shoes that I ran in this year that has a heel-forefoot drop of 8 mm or more (8mm exactly for this shoe). While this shoe has more heel lift than I typically like, I’ve actually found it to be a surprisingly nice shoe to run in. It’s also a groundbreaking shoe for Saucony in that it is among the first of their flagship shoes that they have moved from 12mm drop down to 8mm. A full review will come soon.

Lightweight Trail Shoes – 8mm Drop or Higher

New Balance MT101

1. New Balance MT101

Like the Saucony Guide 5, the New Balance MT101 is one of the only shoes with an 8mm heel-forefoot drop that I ran significant miles in this year. Lightweight and flexible, plus a reasonably wide forefoot make the MT101 one of the best fitting shoes that I own. A rock plate plus decent traction make this a suitable shoe for a variety of off-road conditions. Read my full review of the New Balance MT101 here.

Lightweight Road Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop – Long Distance

Saucony Kinvara 2

1. Saucony Kinvara 2

The Saucony Kinvara, which was my top shoe of 2010, remains one of my favorite shoes for long runs on roads. Well cushioned and lightweight, the Kinvara 2 retains the best of the original Kinvara and adds a more durable upper. Probably the shoe I would choose if I had to run a marathon tomorrow. Read my comparison between the Kinvara 2 and the original Kinvara here.

Brooks Pure Flow

2. Brooks Pure Flow

The Brooks Pure Flow is a serviceable alternative to the Saucony Kinvara for long runs on roads. A bit springier, but also a bit more shoe than the Kinvara, the Flow has performed well on several 10+ mile runs in the past few months. Read my full review of the Brooks Pure Flow here.

Lightweight Road Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop – Short Distance and Speed

Adidas Hagio

1. Adidas Hagio

Light, bright, and fast underfoot, the Hagio will be a great addition to the suite of road racing flat options (should be released any day now). Of particular note is the roomy forefoot, which is a bit unusual for shoes in this category. Read my full review of the Adidas Hagio here.

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 

2. Mizuno Wave Universe 4

The Mizuno Universe 4 retains all of the best features of the Universe 3 – it’s feather-light (sub-4oz), flexible, and surprisingly roomy. It improves on its predecessor with flashier aesthetics and improved interior comfort for sockless running (though the heel tab is still a problem when sockless for me). A full review of the Universe 4 should be coming soon, but in the meantime you can read my full review of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 here.

Lightweight Trail Shoes – 1mm to 8mm Drop

New Balance Minimus Trail MT10

1. New Balance Minimus Trail MT10

Lightweight trail is a tough category as there are some great options out there (e.g., Saucony Peregrine), with others either just released (e.g., Merrell Mix Master) or about to be released (New Balance MT110). But, I’m going to restrict myself to one selection as it’s a shoe that I simply love even given its faults. Although I had to modify my pair to fix a tight forefoot, this is in most other respects a near perfect multipurpose shoe. It works great on trails provided they are not too rocky (it has no rock-plate), and is an equally strong performer on roads. It carried me through a 50K in Maryland, and through a 20 mile training run on roads prior to Boston. I’m now really enjoying it’s all-weather sibling (the Minimus MO10). Great shoe all around! You can read my original review of the New Balance Minimus MT10 here.

Zero Drop Road Shoes

New Balance Minimus Road MR00

Merrell Bare Access

Tie. New Balance Minimus Road MR00 and Merrell Bare Access

Can’t resist including a few shoes that won’t be released until next year. Both the New Balance Minimus MR00 and Merrell Bare Access are mildly cushioned, lightweight, zero drop road shoes. Both are awesome. I’ve provided a few details on the MR00 and Bare Access in another post, but I’ll leave it at that for now

Vibram Komodosport LS

3. Vibram Fivefingers Komodo Sport LS

I still have a soft spot for the Fivefingers, and the Komodosport LS is my current favorite among my collection of VFFs. Why? Two reasons – the lacing system allows for a more comfortable fit on my feet, and the insole provides just enough cushion to keep me happy out on the road on longer distance runs. I’m still due to write a full review of this shoe.

Zero Drop Trail Shoes

Merrell Trail Glove

1. Merrell Trail Glove

The Merrell Trail Glove, along with the original New Balance Minimus Trail, has probably spent the most time on my feet this year. Lightweight, minimally cushioned, and super flexible, the Trail Glove is one of my personal favorites among barefoot-style shoes. You can read my full review of the Merrell Trail Glove here.

New Balance Minimus Trail MT00

2. New Balance Minimus Trail MT00

Another shoe that will not be released until next year, the Minimus Trail Zero is amazingly light and incredibly flexible. Like the MT10, it also excels as a multiuse/hybrid shoe as it works well on both roads and non-technical trails. The lack of a rock plate is a concern on tougher terrain, but I foresee this shoe getting a lot of use in the coming year.

Casual-Work Shoes

Vivobarefoot Aqua

1. Vivobarefoot Aqua

I’ve come to believe that what you wear on your feet for the majority of the day is probably more important than what you wear on a half-hour run. Given this, wearing a zero-drop, roomy shoe to work has become a priority for me, and the Vivobarefoot Aqua runs away with the award for “most comfortable shoe” in my collection. In fact, it is quite possibly my single favorite shoe of any type as evidenced by the fact that it has spent more time on my feet this year than any other by wide margin. It may not be the most attractive shoe that I own, but it’s supremely durable and it keeps my feet happy over the course of an 8-9 hour workday (and on some occasions considerably longer than that…). If you’re looking for a zero drop casual shoe, I can’t recommend Vivobarefoot enough. You can read my full review of the Vivobarefoot Aqua here, and it can be purchased with Free Shipping at Revolution Natural Running (cheaper than buying direct from Vivobarefoot, where shipping costs are high).

Warm Weather Shoes

Vivobarefoot Ultra

1. Vivobarefoot Ultra

The Vivobarefoot Ultra is feather-light, incredibly comfortable, and quite versatile. It finds it’s way onto my feet quite often in the summer, and can be used as a water shoe, for running, and as a no-frills kick-around shoe. Sizing is tricky as the liner and external shoe cannot be fitted well to the same sized foot (I don’t use my liner as it is too small and constricting), but the Ultra is a pretty solid little shoe. Like the Vivobarefoot Aqua, the Ultra can be purchased with Free Shipping at Revolution Natural Running.

Honorable Mentions

I’ll finish by including two shoes that are innovative, and with a few tweaks could vault themselves to the top in 2012.

Altra Instinct

1. Altra Instinct

Altra is a small company that hit the market with its first shoes in 2011. The Altra Instinct was their first offering, and it’s a pretty solid shoe. Zero drop and with the widest toebox of any running shoe in my collection, it definitely occupies a unique niche. With improved flexibility, a more minimal upper, and a bit more attention to aesthetic design, the Instinct could join the New Balance Minimus and Merrell Bare Access as favorite zero drop road shoes. Check out my full review of the Altra Instinct here.


2. Skechers GORun

The Skechers Go Run was the surprise of the year for me. I expected to not like the shoe, and until I was actually about a half mile into my first run in them my opinion wasn’t very positive. But, once I was into the flow of the run, the shoes started to feel good, and continued to get better. The Go Run has one of the nicest uppers of any shoe I have worn, and with a few small tweaks to the sole (to reduce/eliminate the rockered geometry) this could become one of the top shoes in my collection. You can read my full review of the Skechers GORun here.

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