The Best Carbon Plate Running Shoes Of 2020
Just a few years ago, keen runners would line up at the start of races wearing stripped-back shoes that prioritised being lightweight above all else. You got just enough cushioning to make sure your legs didn’t fall off, but everything else was sacrificed.
These days, however, the preferred racing option for many is a shoe with an almost comically high stack of foam and a carbon plate in the midsole. New proprietary foams that are soft and springy but very light allow brands to cram a huge amount of them into a shoe without making it too heavy to race in, providing more comfort so your legs are fresher in the closing stages of a race, which makes more of a difference the longer the event is. At the elite level these shoes have led to records tumbling, and the same is true of PBs at amateur level.
After a couple of years in which Nike was the only show in town, in the form of first the Vaporfly 4% and then the NEXT%, most major brands have released a carbon plate running shoe in 2020.
We’ve tested almost all the carbon plate shoes available, so we’ve gathered our impressions here, and linked to our longer reviews for each, to help you pick the right one for you. We’ve ordered the list alphabetically.
It’s worth noting that these shoes are rarely in stock for very long, so shopping for them can be a bit frustrating at times. It’s best to sign up for alerts on availability, check major online retailers like Runners Need and Sports Shoes regularly, and move fast when you do see the one you want in stock.
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro
Adidas released the Adizero Pro, a relatively low-stack carbon plate shoe, early in 2020, but it’s the similarly named Adizero Adios Pro that is the brand’s real first attempt to rival Nike’s Vaporfly. Within the high stack of Lightstrike Pro cushioning are five carbon EnergyRods that line up with the metatarsal bones, along with a small carbon plate under the heel. We found this design results in a more stable ride than a single plate, while still being very fast even over short distances. It’s longer races where the shoe excels, though, and it’s a contender for the crown of best marathon shoe.
The Metaracer has one unique selling point: it’s the only one with a stack low enough to allow it to be used in track races over 800m. The sleek design is certainly more like a traditional racer, and the shoe’s carbon plate is placed under (rather than within) the midsole foam, and only at the forefoot – it’s not a full-length plate. The Metaracer is a cracking option for speed sessions, and although it lacks the cushioning we’d like for longer races, it’s a top choice for 5Ks.
Brooks Hyperion Elite 2
The first Hyperion Elite was not a great shoe, being much firmer than most carbon shoes and only performing at its best for 80-160km according to Brooks. However, the Hyperion Elite 2 is a great shoe. The key change is the midsole foam used: the nitrogen-infused DNA Flash foam is responsive, quick and comfortable, and pairing it with a carbon plate produces a fast ride alongside the support you need to finish races strong. The Elite 2 also feels more like a traditional racing shoe than the other high-stack options.
Hoka One One Carbon X
The Carbon X is one of the most stable and durable carbon plate running shoes and makes for a great training shoe, especially if you’re regularly doing long runs at pace. It’s not as all-out quick as other high-stack shoes, but the stable ride will make it a better pick for runners who pronate – it’s likely they’ll struggle with softer options like the Alphafly. The Carbon X is also an option for ultramarathons on the road, if that’s your bag. There’s also the new Carbon X-SPE, which has the same stuff underfoot as the Carbon X, but an updated upper.
New Balance FuelCell TC
Although it’s billed as the training partner to the forthcoming New Balance FuelCell RC Elite racing shoe, the TC is a speedy shoe in its own right. New Balance’s FuelCell foam is one of the best around and the TC, which is designed as a training shoe, is built to last a lot of miles. We found it was fast enough for speed sessions while still being comfortable on easy and long runs, but the high, soft stack means it’s probably not wise to use it for all your training, just because it’s not the most stable.
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%
The new top dog from Nike has a lower drop (difference in height between heel and toe) than the Vaporfly at 4mm compared with 8mm, and its stack of ZoomX cushioning is even more exaggerated. But the most marked difference in the shoes is the Air Zoom pods under the forefoot of the Alphafly, which provide more punch to your toe-off than ZoomX foam alone. The extra weight, size and cost of the Alphafly may mean that many runners still prefer the Vaporfly, but for our money the Alphafly is the best marathon shoe available right now, and lightning-fast over shorter races too.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%
The latest version of the shoe which started it all. Nike’s Vaporfly NEXT% still holds its own against the new options on the market by being the lightest high-stack carbon shoe available – and by being incredibly quick, of course. Nike’s ZoomX foam is light and outrageously bouncy, and the Vaporfly benefits from being a little more stable than the newer Alphafly. If you own the Vaporfly already there’s no real need to upgrade, especially if you mainly race 5K to half marathon distance.
Another relatively low-stack carbon shoe, the Cloudboom has a plate stuck between two layers of On’s distinctive pod cushioning. The Cloudboom provides a firm ride that performs well in speed sessions and short races, but in our eyes it isn’t ideal for races over 10K in length and it doesn’t quite have the pace of the Metaracer over short distances.
Saucony Endorphin Pro
Like the Nike shoes, the Endorphin Pro uses a foam made out of the material PEBA in the midsole and pairs it with a carbon plate, but beyond those similarities it’s a very different shoe to the Vaporfly and Alphafly. The Speedroll design makes a huge difference, helping your foot roll from heel to toe incredibly smoothly, and while the Endorphin Pro isn’t as soft and bouncy like other high-stack shoes, it certainly helps you to maintain a fast pace over long distances. It also feels more natural than the Nike shoes and is more stable on sharp turns.