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 the Nike Vaporfly line was the only show in town, in the form of first the Vaporfly 4% and then the NEXT%, most major brands released a carbon plate running shoe in 2020. Now in 2022 we’re seeing second and third generation models – some refine success stories, while others hit after an initial miss.
We’ve tested almost all the carbon plate shoes available and ranked them here. We’ve also linked to our longer reviews for each so you can dig deeper.
It’s worth noting that the latest 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 regularly, and move fast when you do see the one you want in stock.
The Best Carbon Plate Running Shoes
Despite all the new kids on the carbon plate block, there’s a good case for sticking with the original kingpin, especially since Nike has dropped the price of the Vaporfly when releasing the latest version.
The Vaporfly NEXT% 2 has the same engine as the original NEXT%, with identical midsoles and outsoles. The big stack of ZoomX cushioning paired with a carbon plate provides a lightning-fast ride that’s also slightly more stable than that of Nike’s Alphafly.
What’s been tinkered with on the NEXT% 2 is the upper, where a breathable knit replaces the original’s VaporWeave material. This change brings more room and comfort to the toe box, but we did find that this new design rubbed at the heel. Nothing major, but worth thinking about if you’re planning to use it to run marathons.
Read more in our Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 review
The most expensive carbon plate running shoe lives up to its hefty price tag by offering a spectacularly bouncy ride, with the combination of Nike’s ZoomX foam, a carbon plate and the Air Zoom pods under the forefoot coming together to provide maximum energy return. At its best – when on straight roads with good surfaces – the Alphafly is unbeatable, although on twisty courses it can feel cumbersome, since it’s larger and heavier than many carbon shoes. But it’s a particularly good pick for marathons, where the cushioning and efficiency gains from the plate provide the most benefit in protecting your legs deep into the event.
Read more in our Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 review
Asics has come the closest to toppling Nike from its perch at the top of the carbon leaderboard with the Metaspeed Sky+, which ticks a lot of boxes for those chasing PBs. It’s light, it has a nylon-based midsole foam, plus it has that carbon plate. We did indeed set a PB in it in our first proper run in the shoe.
The Sky+ is one of two Asics super-shoes, along with the Edge+ (review to come soon). The Sky+ is aimed at bounding runners who increase their stride length when running fast, and the Edge+ for runners who have a more shuffling style and increase their cadence in races. Both are great options for those seeking a super-shoe without a swoosh.
Read more in our Asics Metaspeed Sky+ review
It may no longer be Nike’s top dog, but it still stacks up well and will probably be included in sales now the second generation has been released. It 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 if you’re on a a budget, and lightning-fast over shorter races too.
Read more in our Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% review
(opens in new tab)
We’re not entirely sure that the EnergyRods in the midsole of the Takumi Sen 8 are actually made of carbon, because they are thinner and more flexible than the rods on the Adios Pro 2 and could be glass fibre. However, the end result is a similarly propulsive ride and the Takumi Sen 8 is certainly worth considering if you’re looking for a racing shoe packed with modern tech.
It is a little different to most super-shoes though: the stack is lower than the Adios Pro 2’s at 33mm compared with 39.5mm, and it’s also far lighter at 194g vs 231g. This makes the Takumi Sen 8 well suited to shorter events like 5K or 10K races, while the Adios Pro 2 offers more comfort and protection for half marathons and marathons.
That said, the Pro 2 is still a great short-distance racer and if you already have a carbon shoe it’s not really worth picking up the Takumi Sen 8 just for shorter races. If you haven’t pulled the trigger on a high stack super-shoe and favour short events, however, it’s a fantastic new option to consider.
Read more in our Adidas Takumi Sen 8 review
The most comfortable carbon plate racing shoe we’ve tried, the RC Elite 2 has a huge stack of soft FuelCell foam that actually makes it enjoyable to use for easy training runs as well, though we wouldn’t recommend wearing the soles down on junk miles given that it costs £210. The shoe really comes to life when running at pace though, when the springy foam combines with the carbon plate to make it feel easier to hold efforts for longer. The RC Elite 2 is especially good for longer events like half marathons and marathons, whereas its larger size make it less suited to 5Ks and 10Ks when nimbler, lighter options like the Vaporfly NEXT% 2 or Metaspeed Sky work better. However, the RC Elite 2 is certainly one of the very best marathon options for runners seeking a blend of comfort and speed.
Read more in our New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2 review
(opens in new tab)
The midsole of the Adios Pro 2 is full of innovative tech designed to help you run more efficiently. That includes two layers of Adidas’s bouncy Lightstrike Pro foam, a small carbon plate under the heel and five carbon-infused EnergyRods running under the forefoot to provide the propulsive feel that other brands produce with a full plate. It also features a midsole cut-out, which reduces weight, and an extremely slim layer of rubber on the outsole, which provides surprisingly good grip on the road.
The performance of the Pro 2 is impressively fast and comfortable, especially for longer events such as marathons, though it still falls short of the standards set by the Nike Vaporfly and Alphafly for our money. It is, however, significantly cheaper than those options – and many super-shoes in general – which, given that the level of performance is pretty close, makes the Adios Pro 2 great value for a carbon shoe.
Read more in our Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 2 review
(opens in new tab)
While the Deviate Nitro is built to handle training as well as racing, there is no such split purpose with the Elite, which is a thoroughbred designed for speed and speed alone. The shoe has a nitrogen-infused PEBA midsole, as opposed to the nitrogen-infused EVA Puma uses across the rest of the Nitro range, and this makes the Elite lighter (a mere 201g in UK 9) and provides more pop underfoot.
The shoe feels a little firmer than higher-stack carbon shoes – the Elite is listed at 36mm, but seems more stable and closer to the ground than that – but you do still get the leg-protecting properties of the cushioning, combined with the propulsion of the plate. It’s a fast and enjoyable ride, and in our tests we found the Elite didn’t rub the achilles in the same way the Deviate Nitro did.
At the moment the Elite is hard to find in the UK, with only a smattering of sizes available if you shop around. When in stock, though, it’s an appealing option for those who want a cushioned carbon shoe but have found the likes of the Vaporfly too soft and high-stacked.
Read more in our Puma Deviate Nitro Elite review
The changes made on the Endorphin Pro 2 compared with the original shoe are minimal, which is fine by us given that the Pro was one of our favourite new carbon racers of 2020. The Endorphin has a firmer, smoother ride that’s less bouncy than most super-shoes, but it’s still lightning fast and feels more natural and stable.
The midsole contains Saucony’s PEBA-based PWRRUN PB foam combined with a carbon plate, and Saucony’s Speedroll rocker, which promotes better efficiency as you roll through your footstrike. If you can find a reduction on the first Pro, then we say go for that, since the changes to the second version are restricted to tweaks – the fit around the heel is slightly more secure, and there’s a new loop next to the laces to help you lock down the midfoot.
Read more in our Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 review
One of the best budget carbon shoes, the 361° Flame is modelled on the Nike Vaporfly’s design. It can’t match the performance of Nike’s super-shoe, but the Flame holds its own against other shoes around its price.
The midsole is made of a polyurethane foam called QU!KFLAME, which is firmer than many rival foams in carbon shoes though still comfortable and responsive, if not as springy as materials like ZoomX of Asics’s FF Turbo. The Flame also grips well in the wet and, given the lower price, works well either as your racing shoe or as a fast training shoe to pair with something like the Vaporfly.
Read more in our 361° Flame review
(opens in new tab)
This is a carbon shoe that bucks the trend in two very welcome ways. First, it costs substantially less than most top-flight options. Second, it’s always in stock! The even better news is that the Rocket X is a very impressive performer as well, with a lightweight design and a rocker in the midsole that help you to hold your pace in speedy training sessions and races.
The ride is firmer than you’ll find on soft, higher-stack shoes like the Vaporfly, but it is more cushioned than Hoka’s Carbon X. The Rocket X is also comfortable enough to use for long training runs and races all the way up to the marathon.
Because of the Rocket X’s price and availability, many runners will feel more comfortable using it for a lot of training, rather than just saving it for race day as you might with a more expensive shoe that’s almost never in stock. So while some of the other super-shoes might have it beaten on all-out speed, the Rocket X has far broader appeal.
Read more in our Hoka One One Rocket X review
The Pacer is the first shoe from New Balance’s new SuperComp line, which will include a carbon plate training shoe and a marathon racer. The Pacer is designed for racing 5K to half-marathon distances, and has a lower stack height in order to be more nimble and lightweight for those shorter events.
It has a full carbon plate in the midsole and New Balance’s springy FuelCell foam, but it doesn’t feel as soft as the more cushioned RC Elite 2. The Pacer is a great shoe and built to compete with the likes of the Takumi Sen 8 and Nike Streakfly in the short distance racer category; however, we’d still generally prefer to pull on a high stack super-shoe, even for 5Ks.
Read more in our New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Pacer review
(opens in new tab)
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.
Read more in our Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 review
The Echo is On’s third attempt at a carbon shoe and it’s easily the best. It’s more comfortable than the original Cloudboom and Cloudflash, with a higher stack of cushioning, and thanks to the enhanced rocker and extra curve on the plate in the midsole it also provides a smoother, more efficient ride. It’s still firmer than most carbon shoes, but avoids being too harsh and runners who don’t like the squishy, unstable feel of shoes like the Vaporfly might well enjoy the Echo more. However, the Echo’s price makes it hard to recommend when the more impressive Vaporfly 2 and New Balance RC Elite 2 cost the same, and the Endorphin Pro 2 is a touch cheaper while offering a similar ride.
Read more in our On Cloudboom Echo review
The Tecton X is Hoka’s first carbon plate trail-running shoe. We rate it as the best carbon trail racer we’ve tested, since it is more nimble and adept on technical terrain than the North Face Flight Vectiv.
In the midsole are two carbon plates that run in parallel down the sides, which make the Tecton X less stiff and clumsy on uneven ground than a shoe with a full plate. The ProFly+ midsole delivers an energetic ride, though it isn’t soft and springy like a road shoe – this would be unstable on the trails.
The Tecton X doesn’t feel as propulsive as a carbon road shoe, and the benefits of its plates only come into play on harder, smoother trails, but it’s an appealing new option for off-road runners keen to see what the fuss around carbon shoes is all about.
Read more in our Hoka Tecton X review
(opens in new tab)
The Speed Elite Hyper sits between old-school racing flats and today’s high-stack super shoes, but feels more like the former underfoot. The stack height is 23mm, which is low enough to use for track races over 800m and a far cry from the 40mm limit many carbon shoes bump up against.
There is a carbon plate but only under the forefoot, which stops the ride being too harsh despite the relative lack of foam. That foam is Skechers’ Hyperburst material, which is a nitrogen and carbon dioxide-infused EVA. It’s very light – the Speed Elite weighs just 180g in a UK 9 – and has plenty of pop, but feels firmer than the soft foams you’ll find in shoes like the Nike Vaporfly and New Balance RC Elite v2.
While it will be too firm and minimal for most to use for a half marathon or marathon, the Speed Elite Hyper is a lightweight option for short races and speed sessions.
Read more in our Skechers GoRun Speed Elite Hyper review
(opens in new tab)
Given the success of high-performance road shoes with carbon plates, it was only a matter of time before the technology hit the trails as well. It’s perhaps unexpected to see The North Face leading the charge, though, since it’s not a brand primarily associated with running shoes.
The Vectiv’s plate works with a rocker design and a generous stack of bouncy foam in the midsole to help protect your legs and propel you forwards during off-road runs. That’s similar to the tech in most carbon road shoes, but there are tweaks to make it better for the trails. The foam is not very squishy for one, because you need more stability on uneven ground, and there’s a panel in the midfoot to further increase stability. There are also other standard trail shoe features like a toe cap and an outsole with 3.5mm lugs for extra grip, though it’s worth nothing the Flight Vectiv is really built for harder trails – we found it soon came unstuck in the mud.
We’re not convinced the performance benefits of a carbon trail shoe will match those you get on the road, where your stride is more consistent and the efficiency gains from a plate are clear. We also experienced some foot pain when using the shoe, to the point where we had to halt one run to change shoes. However, assuming you don’t experience that problem, the Flight Vectiv is an enjoyable and fast shoe for long trail runs in particular, and sets the standard for the many carbon off-road shoes we expect to follow in its wake.
Read more in our The North Face Flight Vectiv review
The Deviate Nitro is billed more as a training shoe than a pure racer – Puma also has the much lighter Deviate Elite carbon shoe in its ranks – but is certainly quick enough to race in. It’s also more versatile than most carbon shoes, with the nitrogen-infused midsole foam offering a comfortable ride for regular training as well.
We would recommend it highly, in fact, if not for the flawed heel design that we and many other runners have found can result in unpleasant rubbing on the achilles. If the shoe does this to you, it clearly becomes a far less enticing prospect to wear regularly or in long races.
The third version of Hoka’s long-distance carbon racing shoe uses a slightly softer and bouncier midsole foam, improving the ride. It’s also more stable and comfortable to use for regular training than many carbon super-shoes. However, it lacks the top-end speed of the best carbon racing shoes, and wouldn’t be our pick for races up to marathon distance, though it might be better suited to running road ultramarathons thanks to its more stable design. One criticism we do have of the latest version of the shoe is that the fit of the new knit upper can be a little sloppy when running fast, but overall the X3 is an upgrade on the X2.
Read more in our Hoka Carbon X3 review
Reebok makes one of the best value running shoes available: the Floatride Energy 4, which is a superb daily trainer that costs $110/£75. We were hoping the Floatride Energy X would be similarly impressive in offering great value as a carbon plate shoe, but unfortunately it fell short of our expectations.
While the Energy X is comfortable and has a smooth ride with a little extra pop coming from the plate under the forefoot, it’s a bit heavy and the Floatride midsole foam lacks the bounce to make up for that weight.
Read more in our Reebok Floatride Energy X review
The sleek design of the Metaracer is 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.
Read more in our Asics Metaracer review
The Bondi X offers a different experience from most carbon plate shoes by taking its cues from the classic Hoka Bondi, a maximally cushioned shoe built primarily for comfort rather than speed. It’s a more stable carbon plate option that works best for everyday training and we found it performed at its best for easy to steady running, rather than anything particularly quick thanks partly to the bulky design. Whether you actually need a carbon plate shoe for that kind of running is unclear, but if you’re keen on the idea of investing in a carbon shoe but want something a little less aggressive than the carbon racers most brands make, then the Bondi X is an interesting option.
Read more in our Hoka One One Bondi X review
I’m a good and health author and blogger with an interest in food, heartiness, and making every alternate count.
Life is an excursion. Constantly is another implicit chance to observe your equilibrium and deal with yourself. I ’m a thoughtful, diet-conscious lady who’s energetic with respects to participating good and health tips to help other people.