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Best Lightweight Running Shoes

By: Lisa Maloney on August 17, 2016

Lightweight and minimalist running shoes get out of your way

Running shoes get lighter each year as manufacturers cut sole grooves, eliminate stitching and update materials to shave fractions of ounces off their most popular builds. However, don't get too caught up in looking at shoe weights only. At this point in the game, even "heavy" high-end running shoes usually weigh only a couple of ounces more than the lightweights, and a well-fitted, responsive but "heavy" shoe will still feel lighter underfoot than a sloppy shoe that weighs in as lighter on the scale.

With that in mind, we selected the best lightweight running shoes not only for their weight, but also for their fit, road feel and performance. The New Balance Vazee Pace v2 (Est. $70 and up) exemplifies what we're looking for. The original drew a slew of accolades, including a "Best Debut" nod from Runner's World, and the sequel has already started earning a second round of accolades with an "Editor's Choice" award in Competitor magazine's August 2016 issue.

Jeff Dengate of Runner's World and editors of the Running Warehouse blog conduct early "preview" reviews of the Vazee Pace v2, comparing them to the previous model. They say the forefoot feels a little softer and more compliant the original, but the shoe still feels firm and responsive overall. Dengate also notes that the Pace v2's engineered mesh does a great job of combining airy mesh in the forefoot (for good breathability) and a snug lock-down that keeps your foot connected to the sole but still lets it "do the work when you're moving quick."

Overall, both user and expert reviews indicate that the Vazee Pace v2 preserves the excellent road feel and responsiveness that everybody loved about the original, with just enough cushioning for running long distances. However, users do point out that if you are at all prone to supinating (running on the outside edge of your foot), the "arch bump" that some people love -- because it gives a feel of light support to this shoe -- might actually push you out of a neutral stride and into supination, and testers with Competitor.com say the new version might be a little too snug for truly high-volume feet.

At 9.6 ounces for a typical men's pair and with just a 6mm drop from heel to toe to encourage a midfoot strike, this is a good shoe for people who are thinking of transitioning toward the minimalist end of the shoe spectrum or simply want a light, energetic-feeling shoe that's equally at home on long runs or fast speedwork.

For a lightweight shoe that takes things another notch toward the minimalist end of the spectrum, we like the Skechers GOrun 4 (Est. $100). Experts and users alike rave about how light and comfortable these shoes are; a men's pair of size 9 shoes weighs 7.8 ounces, or just a little more than a deck of cards for each shoe. Users say these shoes are ridiculously comfortable, offering decent arch support without losing that minimalist feel, and they're a favorite of runners with bunions and other painful foot problems.

Runner's World gives the GOrun 4 high scores for both heel and forefoot cushioning, although its low, 4mm drop from heel to toe helps encourage a midfoot strike. Runner's World also likes the Skechers GOrun 4's stability features (molded pillars and rubber pads in the midfoot that form a bridge from heel to toe), although it's still considered a neutral shoe. At Competitor.com, they write that this model preserves the "snug fit, supreme flexibility and soft, natural-feeling ride" of its predecessors, although if you love the GOrun 3 you should be aware that the new model has a less-rockered sole and a slightly more supportive midsole.

With all that said, this shoe has a few quirks you should be aware of. Users loved the GOrun 3 for its spacious toebox, but the GOrun 4 draws mixed reviews in that department. Editors with GearPatrol.com and a number of users -- especially women -- write that there's plenty of room in the toebox for wide feet, but many user reviewers -- especially men -- complain that this updated version tapers too much in the toe. Opinions are also mixed about a cutout in the upper part of the heel that's meant to let you slip the shoes on easily; some users say the stitching on that cutout irritates the backs of their heels.

Overall, users say that if this is the shoe for your feet, just putting them on can make you noticeably faster. You can expect 300 to 350 miles per pair if you're out running on the road, but if you take these shoes on a treadmill they'll get shredded very quickly.

Heavily cushioned running shoes have a reputation for being, well, heavy. But the "maximalist" Hoka One One Clifton 3 (Est. $110 and up) challenges that idea. It has so much cushy padding that it sits more than an inch above the ground, but still weighs just 8.6 ounces for a pair of men's size 9s, has just a 5mm offset from heel to toe, and easily accommodates a neutral stride.

With this update, the manufacturer did a great job of preserving everything users loved the most about the Clifton 2: the great cushion-to-weight ratio; the fast, stable feel underfoot; the soft tongue; and the snug, supportive upper that keeps your feet feeling connected to that gargantuan outsole and helps with quick heel-toe transitions. "So much soft, bouncy cushioning underfoot from landing to toe-off. And on top of it all? They're fast," writes a BelieveintheRun.com reviewer of an earlier Clifton model.

Second, the manufacturer also listened to feedback from their customers and remedied the few things they didn't like. Now the sole is a little wider in the forefoot and the upper is softer and more comfortable, although it seems to have gotten a little smaller and lost a bit of its breathability in the process; some, but not all, runners will have to go up a half-size.

The end result is a massively cushioned shoe that might look a little odd but feels light, stable and fast underfoot. The Hoka One One Clifton 3 is a particular favorite with heavier runners, those with plantar fasciitis, and those with knee and ankle problems that really benefit from the thick cushioning and support. There's also an awful lot of good will from consumers who are thrilled to see a company that is really listening to them.

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