RoadShoe ReviewsSite Feature

10 Best Carbon-Plated Running Shoes for 2021

We review a lot of shoes here at Believe in the Run. Not to play favorites, but we’d be lying if we said that taking carbon-plated racers out at fast paces isn’t one of the most fun things on our “to do” list. Since the boom of carbon use began, the running world has seen some impressive innovations in what a shoe can do and, more importantly, what a shoe can do for you. On the flip side, this is the most expensive tier of running shoe on the market.

It’s commonplace for carbon-plated racers to retail for over $200, and the best of the best are approaching the $300 mark. Racing shoes are an investment in results, so it’s important to be confident not only in your purchase but also at the starting line. Here are our 10 favorite carbon-plated racing shoes with some quick thoughts from our team.


The 10 Best Carbon Plated Running Shoes

• Nike Zoom Alphafly Next%

THOMAS: The Alphafly bounds you forward with the Air units and plate sandwiched in the ZoomX foam. No other shoe out there feels like this.

MEAGHAN: The Alphafly has got to be my number one pick. It not only holds my marathon PR, but the bounce and energy return you get from the airpods, carbon fiber plate, and ZoomX foam is unlike any other running shoe.

BEN: The best marathon shoe I’ve used. A little more weight than the Vaporfly Next% but noticeably more cushioned and still goes faster than anything else out there. I ran four sub-3 marathons in the Alphafly, and I’d pick it for my next one too.

Shop Alphafly – Men Shop Alphafly – Women

• ASICS METASPEED Sky

THOMAS: While other running brands are on their second or third version of their Nike chasing super shoe, ASICS seemed to be falling behind. Their last racer was the bantamweight ASICS Metaracer, which was a fine shoe, but closer to a traditional racing flat then the magic bouncy feeling of racers nowadays. But like Mike Tyson, ASICS apparently wasn’t interested in taking jabs at the competition. Nah, they want to be like Mike and knock you the fuck out with one shot. The METASPEED Sky is ASICS’ leaping left hook at, well … you know who.

MEAGHAN: No recency bias: the ASICS METASPEED Sky is the closest thing to the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% that I’ve ever experienced. The light-bouncy-push-you-forward feeling that you want on race day is there. It’s comfortable. It’s fun. And it explains why Sara Hall is flying these days. If you want the Nike Vaporfly experience (with a better fitting upper) without buying a Nike shoe – the ASICS METASPEED Sky is your answer. 

ROBBE: Simply put, this shoe is worthy of its $250 price tag. And clearly it’s not just us, as three of ASICS’ top athletes have achieved significant PR’s in prototypes of the shoe. 

This shoe is a dream to me, and I can’t wait to destroy it the same way I’ve destroyed every other dream in my life. *sobs uncontrollably GIF*

Shop ASICS – Men Shop ASICS – Women

• New Balance FuelCell RC Elite 2

new balance rc elite 2 - upper

THOMAS: The RC Elite 2 is a fun fast plated racer that feels good at easy paces and comes alive when you drop the hammer. The FuelCell cushioning is plush and the exaggerated plate helps the shoe propel you more aggressively than the original. The carbon plate is more offset because of the extra stack of FuelCell.

MEAGHAN: I’m going to come out and say it: this is a competitor to the Nike Vaporfly NEXT%. It’s got the bounce and responsiveness of the Vaporly but comes with a better fitting upper. For those of you who fall into the wider foot category, you’re going to want to check this one out. Also, if you’ve been on the fence about plated shoes – here is your entry drug.

BEN: New Balance has a real winner here. In fact, this is my favorite racer right now, and lord knows I love some Nike. I wore this shoe en route to a 2:38 personal best marathon in May, knocking almost four minutes off my PR from last year in the Alphafly. It’s a huge update from version 1 and it really hits the mark this time. More cushion, dialed in plate/rocker, and an excellent upper. This is a true high-end marathon option and definitely worth checking out.

Shop New Balance – Men

Shop New Balance – Women

• Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%

nike zoomx vaporfly next%

THOMAS: The shoe that started the craze is still at the top for me. Lightweight with a snappy ride, the Vaporfly gets you to the finish with legs that don’t feel beat up. The last marathon (pre-COVID) I ran in I chose the Vaporfly, and was rewarded with a solid time. Go with this or the NEXT% 2, either way you’ll be running while dreaming.

MEAGHAN: The OG. I have a few pairs of the NEXT% and I still hold them sacred for race days or really big workouts. The lightweight, bouncy ride will forever be one of my favorites.

BEN: The best road race shoe and I’d pick it for anything less than the marathon. Even with the Alphafly’s existence, it’s still the top marathon pick for many runners. Extremely lightweight and has the bounce and cushion that other brands have struggled to replicate.

Shop  Vaporfly

• Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

brooks hyperion elite 2 - front side

THOMAS: Here’s where it gets difficult, the next few shoes end up in a virtual tie. The Hyperion Elite 2 is one of the more stable racers with a wide platform. The aggressive fulcrum behind the toes makes this shoe flow through your stride.

MEAGHAN: This shoe won me over with its wide build and stable ride. Unlike most of these carbon-plated shoes, the Hyperion Elite 2 fits comfortably like a daily trainer but still gives you that race day feel underfoot.

BEN: The option if you want cushion but don’t want to feel like you’re going to tip over when you corner. The updated foam soaks up the miles and the geometry is wide and stable. An aggressive toe rocker helps create quicker turnover.

Shop Hyperion Elite 2

• Saucony Endorphin Pro

Saucony Endorphin Pro feature

THOMAS: Out of the box, the Endorphin Pro was the closest thing to a Vaporfly. The Speedroll rockered midsole is where the magic happens, and paired with the PWRRUN PB, this shoe keep paces hot and landings cushioned. Pick up either the first or second version, they’re essentially the exact same shoe.

MEAGHAN: This is one beautiful, form-fitting, lightweight, carbon-plated gem of a racing shoe. While it doesn’t knock Nike off the podium for me, I absolutely love going fast in this shoe.

BEN: Great fit and the Pebax foam gives the bounce you’d expect. It’s a bit firmer than a Vaporfly and the plate/rocker combo give a really aggressive toe-off. For me, the Endorphin Pro feels best at half marathon pace or faster.

Shop Endorphin Pro – Men Shop Endorphin Pro – Women

• adidas adizero Adios Pro

BEN: The newest challenger out there, the Adios Pro is a solid carbon offering. I see it becoming a top option for marathons and half marathons. Heavier than the Vaporfly and similar in weight to the Alphafly, it’s a much more accommodating fit than either of the Nike options.

Shop Adios Pro

• HOKA ONE ONE Rocket X

hokaoneone-rocketx

THOMAS: The Rocket X felt similar to the RC Elite to me. Both shoes feature a lower stance and have a similar cushioning feel. The rockered midsole is the most notable feature in this shoe, even the plate feels bowed. If you like the HOKA feel, the Rocket X won’t let you down.

Shop Rocket X

• On Cloudboom

On Cloudboom Heel

THOMAS: I like the Cloudboom, but not for a marathon. It might have been my low expectations for the shoe that had me surprised. It’s a fun shoe to go fast in, but a lack of cushion keeps it out of the long-distance group for me.

Shop Cloudboom – Men Shop Cloudboom – Women

9 Comments

  1. The Alphafly should come with a disclaimer. If you are not a forefoot or mid forefoot striker, you’re going to have a bad time in these shoes. The density difference between the forefoot and the heel is an issue that no one is talking about. If you heel strike, which is perfectly fine, this will feel like a negative drop shoe and cause calf and hamstring issues. For a lot of folks, they may never put enough miles in em at one time to notice, but these bad boys pulled me out of a marathon at the halfway mark. Revolutionary shoe; not for everyone.

  2. Out of the top ones, how do they compare on stability? Im looking for a plated shoe for a 30km race on packed gravel/ dirt and need something that helps me when my form breaks down.

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