Let’s look on the bright side: There have been enough good things in 2020 to compile another annual B.I.G. Awards. As a reaction to coronavirus lockdowns, running saw an explosion in the spring that will hopefully translate into lifetime lovers of the endurance arts (as Atreyu Running likes to say). Speaking of Atreyu, we’ve seen some cool new brands emerge onto the running scene, while mainstays who had grown stale have made a resurgence (e.g. ASICS). And while Nike certainly still sits on the throne of racing, as a whole, Saucony has had the best year of any brand, with consistently solid offerings across the board.
Of course, this year was the year of the carbon plate. It seems like a lifetime ago that the IAAF handed down its Olympic shoe restrictions that coincidentally matched the Alphafly specs two days before it made its debut at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. Since then, pretty much every company has their hands/feet in the carbon plate game. In 2021, you can expect even more, as the racing gets real in the trail scene. Nike has already teased some carbon plate technology in its ACG line, and we’ve seen leaked images of a Saucony Endorphin Trail line. All that to say, we’re living in a golden era of shoe technology, so hold on and enjoy the ride.
So how did we compile our Best In Gear (B.I.G.) list? Basically, we sat down, took a consensus, looked over the year’s reviews, debated a bit, then put it together. Individually, some of our favorite shoes and gear didn’t make the list (Robbe loved the Altra Torin 4.5 Plush, for example), but as a team, these are the shoes (and gear) that we loved the most.
Anyway, thanks for being Believers and sticking with us another year. Enjoy the list, and let’s get some good miles in 2021!
BEST OVERALL SHOE
» Saucony Endorphin Speed
Can literally be used for anything | PWRRUN PB midsole | Nylon plate
For many of you Believers, this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Robbe references the shoe in 90% of his reviews, Thomas and Meg both loved it, and the shoe has been a smash hit for Saucony. Like a true middle child, the Endorphin Speed came from out of the shadow-hype of its siblings (the Endorphin Pro and Shift) to take the throne as the best Saucony shoe and the most versatile shoe in running.
From the responsive-yet-cushioned midsole to the snappy-yet-flexible plate, everything about this shoe comes together in a package that just rolls. Literally. The Speedroll technology gets you moving, offering a quick turnover for mile after mile. Its light weight (7.8 ounces for a US M9.0) allows it to work as both a race and tempo shoe, while the cushion works and overall fit allows it to transition as a daily trainer if needed. Oh and did we mention it just looks damn good?? There’s a lot of things that went wrong in 2020: This isn’t one of them.
While a new version isn’t on the table for 2021 (at least for the first half of the year), we don’t care – we could ride this train for years. (But let it be known that we’re fully stoked for the Endorphin Trail series in 2021.)
PRICE: $160Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 7
BEST RACING SHOE
» Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%
Carbon-plated ZoomX midsole | Atomknit Upper | 8 oz. for a US M9.5
Remember those days in February before COVID when our biggest concern was whether or not the Alphafly would make it to the Tokyo Games? When out of nowhere, Nike gave a big middle finger to every other racing shoe by filling up an entire ballroom in Atlanta with Alphaflys, free for the taking to every Olympic Marathon Trials runner? Because let’s be honest, that was pretty badass, just like the shoe itself.
While we’ve always loved the Vaporfly NEXT%, the Alphafly is everything that is, but on steroids. Big cushion for big miles, with a carbon plate that offers both propulsion (aided by the Zoom Air pods beneath) and stability within its 40 mm stack height. While it’s not the lightest racing shoe out there, all of its components combined make this a shoe that will keep the legs fresh and fast in the later miles of a long race.
Both Meaghan and Ben ran marathon PRs in the shoe this year – that alone is enough to bump this one to the top. The only downside? That elite-level price tag.
PRICE: $275Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Brooks Hyperion Elite 2
BEST TEMPO SHOE
» Brooks Hyperion Tempo
DNA FLASH provides good pop | Sleek and streamlined upper | Surprisingly good traction
Back in February, we got two Brooks shoes at the same time. This one, and its racing companion, the Hyperion Elite 1. One of them we absolutely skewered for being a terrible shoe – the HE1 was scrapped by Brooks within a few weeks after its release.
The other shoe, however, is one of our favorite shoes of 2020, and a great tempo shoe. The Hyperion Tempo lives up to its name, with a nitrogen-infused DNA FLASH midsole (quite similar to Skechers Hyper Burst) that provides a great responsiveness and pop while still riding that razor’s edge of firmness vs. cushion. Like our shoe of the year, this can even work as a daily trainer for some runners. All in a very lightweight package.
The upper is breathable and sleek, and the shoe just looks fast. In short, this shoe is a lot of things we wish Brooks was throughout their entire line. FWIW, kudos to Brooks for giving the Hyperion Elite 2 the midsole it deserved – the same DNA FLASH used in the Tempo.
PRICE: $150Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT%
BEST DAILY TRAINER
» New Balance Beacon 3
Fresh Foam X midsole | Incredibly lightweight yet cushioned | Excellent roll through the stride
On the surface, this shoe doesn’t look like it’s going to blow your mind. But as a daily trainer, it’s everything you want. More than enough Fresh Foam X to last for miles on end, and with an incredibly flexible heel-to-toe design the ride is just S-M-O-O-T-H. The upper probably isn’t our favorite, but it locks down good enough (though it seems to run a little bit long).
Here’s the thing: This shoe comes in at 7.8 ounces for a US M9.0, which is ridiculous for how good this shoe feels underneath. And at $120, it’s on the lower end of dependable running shoes these days (can’t believe we’re saying that).
PRICE: $120Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: ASICS GEL-Nimbus Lite 2
BEST EASY DAY SHOE
» Saucony Endorphin Shift
PWRRUN midsole | Rocker geometry | Made for long-haulin’
You didn’t think we’d put only one Endorphin shoe in here, did you? While the Speed is the best overall shoe, its large-and-in-charge brother is ready to take you on a cross country road trip chock-full of certified easy miles.
The FORMFIT upper molds to the foot while the TPU heel counter locks everything in place. The Speedroll geometry allows the thing to keep moving once it gets going, and the PWRRUN cushioning with PWRRUN+ topsole provides all the comfort you need. It’s basically the Cadillac of running. And at only a 4 mm drop, it really is a low rider. Sit back and set this shoe to cruise control – it’s the only shift you need.
PRICE: $140Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 7
BEST STABILITY SHOE
» Nike React Infinity
Full React midsole | Flyknit Loft upper | Rocker geometry
Some may refuse to call this a true stability shoe, and fair point – it’s not. (For a more traditional-yet-excellent stability shoe, check out our honorable mention below.) The simple stability comes from a TPU heel clip, wide foot base, and a medial piece in the arch of the foot that takes some getting used to.
All of these things came together in a Nike promise of a shoe that would prevent injury, which really just seemed like pretty slick marketing on the surface. We can’t really confirm the claims either way. In any case, its status as an untraditional stability shoe made some waves upon its release. It wasn’t without controversy, as it seemed that this shoe took the place of the much-loved Epic React line, scrapped after only two versions (which we’re still bitter about).
So while this is a divisive shoe, for those whom it works for, it really works. Some of us here at BITR have absolutely demolished this shoe, throwing hundreds of miles in it. And oh yeah – it looks great.
PRICE: $160 (on clearance for $120)Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: ASICS GEL-Kayano Lite
» Diadora Mythos Volo
Italian design | Blushield EVA midsole | 10 ounces for a M10.0
Also called the “best crossover” shoe, the Mythos Volo gave us all kinds of butterflies in our stomach when we first saw it. The design elements hearken back to the 90s classics of Diadora – clean lines, diamond-patterned mesh upper, and bold striping. It’s a super comfortable shoe and one that we’ve found ourselves wearing pretty often the last few months. It’s a solid daily trainer, but it works just as well as an eye-turning casual shoe, something that’s hard to find in running.
PRICE: $135Read the Review Shop The Shoe
BEST WIDE FOOT RUNNING SHOE
» New Balance 880v10
Fresh Foam X midsole | Super smooth ride | Great durability
Our Yeti-in-residence Wide Foot Jarrett had a lot of ultra grey colorways to try out this year. He now only dreams in static television palettes. No matter, because one of those grey boys came in the form of the 880v10. Is it the snazziest shoe? No. Is it a hype beast? For sure not. Does it have a carbon plate and weigh less than an astronaut’s fart?! NO. But it is an absolute workhorse of a shoe. I’ve put more miles in the 880v10 than I have any other shoe this year. Almost 300! It’s comfortable. Cushioned. Fits great. And just gobbles up miles like no other. I truly hope the v11 can somehow improve an already phenomenal shoe.
PRICE: $130Read the Review Shop The Shoe – Men Shop The Shoe – Women
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Saucony Endorphin Speed (works surprisingly fine for a wide foot runner)
» Atreyu Base Model
When we met Michael Krajicek (founder of Atreyu Running) at The Running Event last year, he was just a hyped kid showing off a prototype in his backpack to anyone who would listen. We listened. Then we posted a photo of his shoe to Instagram and things kinda blew up. Going into 2021, Atreyu has made its mark as the subscription company that’s making light-AF shoes with no BS – simple, stripped-down designs that allow runners to know what it feels like to be one with the road. Big things are planned for 2021 and we’re excited to see how their underdog status fares as they start punching above their weight class.
PRICE: $55 (subscription), $95 (single purchase)Read the Review Shop The Shoe
HONORABLE MENTION: HOKA ONE ONE Clifton Edge (but really the HOKA ONE ONE TenNine), for its extended heel tech that we’ll be seeing a lot of in the next couple years
BEST RECOVERY SHOE
» Deckers Lab KO-Z SNPR MID
If you don’t know, now you know. Despite the fact that Deckers is the parent company of UGG (and HOKA, and Teva), you can forget your Tom Brady slipper boots, or whatever kind of inferior recovery footwear you’re wearing. The KO-Z (get it, cozy?) is literally the most comfortable footwear we’ve ever worn.
Is it a running shoe? Hell no. But we’re runners, and we love it, so it made our Best In Gear awards, because it really is the best. There is nothing else we want on our feet after a long run than the KO-Z. Plus, it has a rocker geometry (like HOKA) and a fantastic rubber outsole so these foot snuggies aren’t just confined to the house. You may think they look ridiculous, like something Andre 3000 would wear circa 2001. They do look ridiculous. But also … they don’t. We get compliments all the time. Once you get your feet inside this looped wool interior with sheepskin exterior, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.
PRICE: $150Shop The Slipper – Men Shop The Slipper – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Deckers Lab NBK LOW
» Tracksmith Van Cortlandt
So, this hasn’t changed in the last few years, and we don’t see it changing anytime soon. We try a ton of shorts. And still – nothing touches the Van Cortlandt. The polyester/spandex combo provides a soft, light, and airy feeling that nobody has replicated yet. Tracksmith says the 2:09 Mesh used in these shorts is “luxurious.” It’s not hyperbole. These feel like you don’t deserve to be wearing them on your best days, so you can count on them to save you on your worst days.
PRICE: $60Read the Review Shop Tracksmith – Men Shop Tracksmith – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Iffley Road Pembroke 5″
BEST SINGLET/TEE (MEN’S)
» Tracksmith Van Cortlandt
Well, you had to expect this might be coming. In the same way as the Van Cortlandt shorts, the singlet pairs perfectly in every way. The cut, the fit, the look – it all just works. Truth be told, some of us on the team wear this way too many times in a row during the summer months. Plus, the simple and iconic throwback design just works for anyone. We also like that they attach four gold safety pins to the tag for whenever you’re ready to pin your next race bib and run like royalty.
PRICE: $65Shop The Singlet – Men Shop The Singlet – Women
BEST TANK (WOMEN’S)
» ASICS Tokyo Tank
Proof that the best gear isn’t always the most expensive, Meaghan found herself running in the ASICS Tokyo Tank early (in the morning) and often. Made from lightweight pique polyester knit and featuring reflective elements, this tank works whenever you need it to.
PRICE: $35Shop The Tank
BEST RUNNING SHELL
» Brooks Run Visible Carbonite
Brooks gave a ton of attention to detail with this jacket, especially with its innovative reflectivity. Instead of traditional reflective patches, Brooks used 3M Scotchlite Carbon Black tape – it looks black in normal light, but under headlights, it pops off brighter than Rudolph’s nose. The jacket also offers shelter from light rain, while providing stretch and flexibility as well as a ton of breathability. The hems and cuffs are also high-quality and reflective, while two zippered hand pockets seal the deal.
PRICE: $180Read the Review Shop The Shell – Men Shop The Shell – Women
BEST OVERALL JACKET
» Cotopaxi Monte Hybrid
To be honest, this is our actual favorite jacket, except you probably won’t wear it on the run as much as you will off the run. Robbe has worn this jacket almost every day for the last two months, and Meaghan loves the women’s version as well. The construction, the fit, the materials – everything is top-notch. The sleeves are stretchy and have thumbholes, and the chest is insulated, so it could indeed be used for running in colder circumstances. Wherever you wear this, just know you’ll get a ton of compliments.
PRICE: $180Read the Review Shop The Jacket – Men Shop The Jacket – Women
BEST LONG SLEEVE
» Tracksmith Off Roads LS
Look, we know Tracksmith is on here a lot, but there’s no denying it – some of their apparel is just our favorite stuff out there (and it should be at this price). Technically, this should fall under the trail BIG Awards since it’s part of Tracksmith’s Off Roads collection. But there is nothing keeping this from going on the roads. As we noted in our review last month, this shirt is supremely comfortable. Made of Merino wool and Tencel blend, it regulates body temperature while also providing flexibility. The thumb holes are great, as is the extended back hem. An all-around excellent piece of apparel.
PRICE: $98Read the Review Shop Tracksmith Off Roads
HONORABLE MENTION: Rabbit Re-Run Wool 2.0
BEST RUNNING PANTS/TIGHTS
» Janji Transit Tech/Mercury Knit
While our one true love is always the Tracksmith Turnover Tight, we get that not everyone is down with the Robin Hood look. For those who still want a running pant that looks good, has great functionality, and won’t give away your goods to the world, the Janji Transit Tech works quite well. The pant is stretchy, wind-resistant, and offers a DWR water-repellent finish to keep out light showers. Two zippered hand pockets and a small stash pocket allow for storage space on and off the run.
While the Transit Tech isn’t available in women’s, the Mercury Knit is just as good (or even better). Super soft, and honestly would’ve been our top pick for men as well, but the men’s version runs too short for our liking.
PRICE: $88Shop Transit Tech – Men Shop Mercury Knit – Women
BEST RUNNING HAT
» Path Projects Badlands Cap
The open-air mesh combined with a microperforated front panel makes this a perfect warm weather (or any weather) running cap. It fits perfectly, looks great (like a Patagonia Duckbill but not as pretentious), and packs down to nothing. We wore this pretty much every day this summer and fall … and probably winter.
PRICE: $25Shop The Cap
HONORABLE MENTION: Ciele GOcap
» Goodr Circle G
If you’re talking about bang for your buck, we’re going to recommend the Goodr Circle G every time. The styling is unique and rarely seen in running sunglasses. It works on the run, at the beach, at a party (whatever those are) – really anywhere you want. Lightweight, affordable, and they really do stay perfectly on your face while running. Also, if you lose them or destroy them, you won’t be heartbroken at their price point (we lost at least one pair this past summer).
PRICE: $25Read the Review Shop The Sunnies
HONORABLE MENTION: Article One X Ciele GTGlass
BEST GPS WATCH
» COROS Pace 2
As far as GPS watches go, the COROS Pace 2 packs a powerful punch inside a small – and relatively inexpensive – package. The now-official watch of Eliud Kipchoge and his training squad, the Pace 2 has pretty much everything you need, from customized workouts to track mode (a perfect oval) to surprisingly good optical heart rate reading. For its light weight, it also has incredible battery life. While it doesn’t have all the wild bells and whistles of higher-priced models (i.e. route guidance, sport modes for everything), this will work great for 90% of runners out there.
PRICE: $200Read the Review Shop The Watch
HONORABLE MENTION: Polar Grit X (for a more rugged look with a ton of training metrics)
» Swiftwick Maxus Zero (Warm Weather)
From their low-cut to crew, Swiftwick has kept our feet feeling great and blister-free over a lot of our runs this year. The terry loop footbed and Olefin fibers provide excellent comfort while the relaxed compression helps with circulation. Side note: We especially loved the National Parks pack that released this year, featuring places that we’ll probably never see but that you’ll be able to if you’re running behind us. Oh, and they’re also made in the USA.
PRICE: $15Shop The Sock
» Feetures Merino 10 Cushion No Show Tab (Cold Weather)
Longest sock name ever, but whatever. We just started wearing these within the last month, and they are a go-to during the colder weather. Made of Merino wool and Tencel (like the Tracksmith long sleeve above), the socks are crazy comfortable and keep our feet warm from start to finish. Anatomical design and high-quality knit make these socks everything we want in the winter months.
PRICE: $18Shop The Sock
» Lock Laces
Not to sound like a pre-schooler or your grandpa with the bad back, but tying your shoes sucks. Especially in the winter. Especially mid-race. Or literally anytime. Enter Lock Laces. We love the elastic stretch and simple cinch toggle that makes getting your shoes on and off as simple as it could possibly be. And you can tighten it to exactly how you’d like. Plus you can customize your shoes because they have pretty much any color imaginable. We’ll definitely be rocking these for every race in 2021.
PRICE: $7.99 each (or pick 5 for $25 w/ free shipping)Shop Lock Laces
HONORABLE MENTION: Nite Ize Taglit (For quick and easy visibility)
BEST POST-RUN MEAL
» Meaghan’s Bagels
The secret isn’t Brooklyn water, it’s Baltimore water. But really, it’s Meaghan, because she’s the hand that kneads the dough behind our favorite post-run meal. When those Everything bagels come out of the oven, we know it’s going to be a good recovery. Throw on a fried egg and some bacon, and we’re out for the count.
PRICE: FREE (if you live with her and/or beg)
Questions? Comments? Any other recommendations? Please leave a comment below. Here’s to a better year in 2021!