The Best Carbon Plate Running Shoes of 2020
Discover our guide to choose the best carbon plate running shoes for you.
Last update: September 2020
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- Soft comfortable cushioning
- Discreet carbon plate that provides a good bounce
- Roomy and flexible upper
- Good versatility that makes it accessible and suitable for both racing and training
- The upper could be a little more secure around the midfoot
- Perhaps not as "explosive" as its direct competitors in terms of ride
- Great overall comfort
- Impressive cushioning that combines energy return and softness
- The well-ventilated mesh offers precise lockdown while being roomy for the toes
- EnergyRods (TPU/carbon rods) provide excellent results at toe-off
- Stunning design
- The narrow platform under the heel is surprising at first even if the stability is adequate overall
- Lightweight shoe but heavier than some of its direct competitors
- Great comfort
- Very responsive cushioning
- Sturdy shoe (for a competition model with carbon plate)
- Great design
- Effective grip
- Expensive shoe
- Lack of versatility (not very inspiring at slow paces)
- The toe box may be a bit roomy if you have narrow feet
- Great overall comfort
- Responsive cushioning
- Carbon plate that works well while encouraging natural movement
- The soft and well-ventilated upper that keeps the foot secure in the shoe—ideal for racing
- Lightweight model
- An overall rigid platform which may not be suitable for all runners
- The slightly narrow profile of the shoe may not please athletes with wider feet
- Great comfort
- The firm, springy and stable cushioning
- Efficient Carbitex carbon plate to facilitate better propulsion at faster paces
- A robust shoe for this type of shoe (racing with carbon plate)
- Great upper that offers a discreet and effective foot lockdown
- A shoe designed primarily for speed and therefore not very suitable for slow runs (e.g. easy training, recovery sessions)
- Slightly high weight for a shoe of this type (the Nike Vaporfly Next% is less than 200 g / 7 oz in comparison)
- Comfortable and responsive cushioning
- Sturdy yet lightweight upper that offers impeccable lockdown, especially with its new flared heel design
- Lightweight shoe
- Versatile to go fast and far
- The durability of the outsole is concerning
- Narrower design than before, which may not be suitable for some runners
- Soft and responsive cushioning
- Carbon plate model with a traditional ride
- A versatile model that's suitable for daily runs
- Good grip of the outsole
- Affordable shoe
- A bit heavy for a carbon plate shoe
- Some testers note some heel slippage and a lack of stability
- Stable and responsive cushioning
- Upper is well ventilated and provides good lockdown
- Versatile shoe
- Lightweight model
- The tongue and the padding layer at the back of the heel are not comfortable according to some people
- Improved but still insufficient durability
- Not as impressive as its price tag might suggest
- Firm and effective cushioning despite the lack of "trampoline" effect
- Well-crafted upper that offers impeccable lockdown
- Discreet carbon plate under the foot
- Good stability for a carbon plate racing shoe
- Good overall durability
- Firm cushioning that lacks responsiveness and fluidity for a carbon plate shoe
- The Meta-Rocker is not very effective on this model
- Lack of versatility (shoe mainly recommended for forefoot strikers)
- Great use of a carbon-fiber plate for a trail running shoe
- Very responsive cushioning for fast and furious runs
- Effective grip
- Relatively lightweight
- Versatile—road-to-trail model
- Not so protective due to its competition build
- Durability issues with the upper
- Not suitable for wide feet
What are carbon plate running shoes?
The carbon plate is a relatively new technology invented by Nike for its Breaking2 project. The goal of this project was to run a marathon in less than two hours. To do this, the American brand brought together stars of the discipline like Eliud Kipchoge and designed a new shoe: the Vaporfly. The first shoe with a carbon plate was born.
As its name suggests, the carbon plate is a unit made of carbon fiber. This material is famous for its durability and lightness. Thus, most carbon plate shoes are very light (usually less than 220 grams/7.8 oz).
The carbon plate often comes with a high stack cushioning but not always. It’s specially designed to provide a smooth and more efficient ride by maximizing the energy return. To do this, it favors a bouncing and rocking motion while running.
A phenomenal success
If this type of shoe was an immediate worldwide success, it’s because, for once, it’s more than just a marketing gimmick: carbon plate shoes are unbeatable in races! Eliud Kipchoge broke the official world record for the marathon in Berlin in 2018 with a time of 2:01:39. He even came close to breaking the 2-hour magic mark in a Breaking2 trial at 2:00:25 (although World Athletic didn’t officially sanction this record). The same thing with women athletes: Brigid Kosgei shattered the world record in 2:14:04 in 2019 at the Chicago Marathon.
Nike’s carbon shoes are so effective that some athletes sponsored by competing brands wear them while hiding the logo. Many articles have questioned whether these shoes could represent an unfair advantage in the official races. For example, the New York Times conducted a study that found that runners wearing the Next% were 4% to 5% faster than the next-best alternative.
Faced with these concerns, World Athletics (formerly IAAF) has put in place the following rules to regulate the use of these shoes:
- The sole must not be thicker than 40 mm.
- The sole must not contain more than one rigid plate (made of carbon plate or other material) covering either the entire length of the shoe or part of the shoe. The plate can be in more than one part, but they must not overlap.
- The shoe must not be a prototype: it must have been on the market for at least four months.
Nike’s competitors are counter-attacking
Faced with the smashing and undisputed success of Nike, competing brands have begun to develop their first carbon plate models to retain athletes and customers.
Some major brands such as Asics, Saucony, and Adidas took a bit of time to unveil their first model (most likely to make sure they could offer a viable alternative to the Nike Next% collection), but the wait was worth it!
At the moment, here are the best carbon plate shoes available:
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro
Saucony Endorphin Pro
Brooks Hyperion Elite 2
New Balance FuelCell RC Elite
Hoka Carbon X
On Running Cloudboom
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why are carbon plate shoes so expensive?
These shoes require a lot of investment in research and development to stand out from the competition and excel in official competition. There, brands set a high price tag to recover their initial investment. Carbon fiber is also an expensive material. Another explanation is that the production of these shoes is often limited, and runners can’t get enough of them, even at $200+! For example, the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro sold out in just a few hours after its launch.
Is it possible to train daily with this type of shoe?
It depends primarily on the model. Overall, their ultra-light build makes them more vulnerable than traditional running shoes. However, some models are quite durable, such as the Saucony Endorphin Pro. However, others will not last longer than 200 km (like the Brooks Hyperion Elite).
Therefore, we recommend that you alternate and do not train exclusively with this type of shoe. It will allow you to better train your muscles while keeping your shoes in good shape for the race day.
Which Nike models feature a carbon plate?
The AlphaFly and the Vaporfly feature one.
Are carbon shoes better than regular running shoes?
It all depends on your goal. If you want to set a new personal best in competition, then yes, there’s evidence that shows that these shoes are faster than usual running shoes.
If you want to run easy with the primary goal of not hurting yourself, then the answer is more complicated. In this case, we recommend to try these shoes on while alternating with other running shoes. You will then be able to decide according to your personal experience what’s best for you.