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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New Balance FuelCell RC Elite review carbon plate running shoes
The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite is an excellent carbon plate running shoe that provides comfort and versatility.
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After the FuelCell TC— New Balance's first shoe to show off a carbon plate—here's the FuelCell RC Elite, a shoe whose keywords are comfort and versatility.

It comes with a high-stack cushioning with a height of 35 mm under the heel and 25 mm under the forefoot. The FuelCell foam gives a soft and plush cushioning with a firm touch under the heel. The soft feel of the sole is very similar to that of the Adidas Adios Pro. The result is a very comfortable ride, but the testers judged the bounce to be moderate. The carbon plate—discreet under the foot—does its job and provides a responsive ride with fast transitions but maybe not as impressive as on other similar models (like the Nike AlphaFly, to name only one). Therefore, the ride is actually close to what you get from a traditional running shoe, making it an exciting option for runners looking for a more accessible, more comfortable carbon plated shoe.

Next, the mesh of the upper is soft and relatively thick for a racing shoe, which reinforces the overall feeling of comfort. The shoe fits true to size, but the lockdown is a little loose in the middle of the foot, according to several runners. It's one of the main issues of this model: runners are concerned that it may not be secure enough for racing. The toe box offers enough room, and the heel counter perfectly locks-in the foot. The design is very nice with a sleek build and bright neon colors, although, of course, it's a matter of preference.

Finally, the Dynaride outsole and its small triangular rubber lugs give good traction and seem durable: testers didn't notice any signs of wear after several runs. Besides, the lugs also equip the tip of the shoe to act as a toe bumper that protects the toes and makes the shoe more sturdy.

To summarize, the FuelCell TC is a great carbon plate running shoe with a soft and flexible platform that received high praise from many seasoned runners. Its combination of performance and comfort make it a very versatile shoe. Make no mistake though: it's a shoe built for marathon racing, but it's also suitable for daily training.
Comfort
10
Durability
9.5
Value for money
9.5
Design
9.5
PROS:
  • 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
CONS:
  • The upper could be a little more secure around the midfoot
  • Perhaps not as "explosive" as its direct competitors in terms of ride
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Adidas Adizero Pro Adios review carbon plate running shoes
The Adidas Adizero Adios Pro is a great carbon plate running shoe with a high-stack cushioning to run long and fast comfortably.
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Adidas is making a big splash for the start of the Autumn season with the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro, its second shoe to use a carbon plate. Like its direct competitors (such as the Nike Alphafly or the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2), the Adios Pro features a very high-stack cushioning to run comfortably long and fast.

When we mentioned that the Adios Pro featured a carbon plate, we only told half of the story (or even less). Indeed, the shoe has not one but six plates! First, there's a carbon-infused nylon plate under the heel to improve stability and compensate for the narrow profile of the rearfoot. Second, there are five "EnergyRods" made of carbon-infused TPU that support the toes to promote smooth transitions and a springy ride. These propulsion plates are surrounded by the new Lightstrike Pro foam, which is very flexible. The result is a high stack sole with 39 mm of height under the heel and 31 mm under the forefoot. The testers found the outcome breathtaking in terms of performance and running sensations. Indeed, they noted "fast transitions" from heel to toe and a perfect balance between softness and bounce. In other words, the feel is soft and plush with the Lightstrike Pro foam, but the carbon plates give good structure and a natural impulse while running. The only downside is the weight of the foam, which is heavier than that of its competitors (such as Nike's ZoomX). The shoe is far from being heavy, but it is not as light as one would expect from this high-tech racing shoe.

The Adidas Adizero Adios Pro also shines thanks to its Celermesh upper that offers amazing foot lockdown with its unique design. Also, it provides excellent airflow throughout the run and features a roomy toe-box without reducing lockdown. The only criticism we've seen is that the collar could irritate the Achilles tendon, but this may be an isolated incident.

Finally, the outsole is rugged rubber but with a surprisingly flat sandpaper-like surface. Rest assured, however, the testers didn't find that this configuration diminished durability or grip—quite the contrary!

In summary, the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro is an excellent running shoe to go fast comfortably that offers a unique and impressive configuration, especially with the EnergyRods carbon plates under the toes. The comfort is there, and the cushioning is spectacular, according to the runners who have tested the shoe.
Comfort
10
Durability
9
Value for money
9.5
Design
9.5
PROS:
  • 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
CONS:
  • 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
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Saucony Endorphin Pro review carbon plate running shoes
The Saucony Endorphin Pro is a very good lightweight carbon-fiber plate shoe that offers a comfortable and responsive cushioning.
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$199.95
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Best deal at: jackrabbit.com
With the Endorphin Pro, Saucony enters the highly-competitive carbon plate running shoe category that has been dominated head and shoulders by Nike so far.

It's a lightweight shoe (221 grams for men, 190 grams for women) with a thick sole (35 mm under the heel) that features a brand new cushioning technology: PWRRUN PB. It translates into Pebax fused granules with a texture reminiscent of Adidas Boost. Inside, the carbon plate is there to make the ride more responsive by facilitating a snappy rebound. So what's the verdict?

First of all, what surprised testers the most was the firmness of the cushioning despite the high stack height. They note that the cushioning is very bouncy but without offering the "trampoline" effect of the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. This configuration has the advantage of giving a more stable and natural ride with a good ground feeling. It may not perform as well as the Nike Vaporfly—only time will tell—but overall, Saucony's approach is convincing and original.

Regarding the upper, the FORMFIT mesh gives a strict foot lockdown for more safety when you go fast. The runners were impressed by the excellent ventilation of the foot during the effort. However, the shoe has a tapered profile, so it can be too narrow if you have wider feet.

Finally, the carbon rubber of the outsole ensures good durability and excellent traction on urban surfaces.

All in all, the Saucony Endorphin Pro is a very good carbon-plate running shoe that's already a solid contender to Nike's NEXT% collection.
Comfort
9.5
Durability
9.5
Value for money
9.5
Design
9.5
PROS:
  • 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
CONS:
  • 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
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Adidas Adizero Pro review road running shoe with carbon plate
The first shoe of the brand to feature a carbon plate, the Adidas Adizero Pro is a very good, comfortable, and solid model to run fast.
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$214.33
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Best deal at: Amazon.com
Last price update was: October 31, 2020 10:17 am
It took a bit of time for Adidas (and other brands, by the way) to respond to Nike and its carbon propulsion plate shoes which really turned the world of running upside down by introducing an incredible joker. A technology that has proven to be able to significantly improve athlete performance by promoting better propulsion. Adidas' answer is called the Adizero Pro and the wait was worthwhile. It's lightweight and at the same time a little heavier than its direct competitors with 235 g (8.3 oz) for men and 218 g (7.7 oz) for women. At first glance, the shoe looks a lot like the Adizero Adios 5 but much more streamlined. The cushioning configuration is very similar as it uses the Boost and Lightstrike foams. What differentiates it is its secret weapon: Carbitex, a carbon propulsion plate. This one is spoon-shaped and relatively soft compared to those of its competitors (like the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% or the Saucony Endorphin Pro). This allows a greater range of motion, especially in the forefoot area, for a more springy ride during toe-off. Testers were impressed with the effectiveness of this configuration. According to them, the shoe is great for any distance by allowing for a more fluid ride, as long as you pick up the pace. Furthermore, the sole has a generous stack height while being fairly firm, which gives better stability. Next, the one-piece Celermesh upper is elegant and very comfortable. It's very similar to the Adizero Adios' upper but thinner. The lockdown is well adjusted while providing enough room for the toes. Finally, let's take a moment to appreciate the effectiveness of the outsole. It is an element that goes a little unnoticed on road shoes (unlike trail shoes) but here the Continental and Adiwear rubbers provide both great grip and durability. Also, the Quickstrike DSP nods provide better traction on slippery surfaces such as athletic tracks. The result is impressive and should allow you to keep the Adizero Pro longer than a traditional carbon plate competition shoe. In summary, the Adidas Adizero Pro is a very good running shoe with a carbon plate for speed. Its cushioning and sturdy construction makes it suitable for all types of training – as long as you go fast!
Comfort
9.5
Durability
9.5
Value for money
9.5
Design
9
PROS:
  • 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
CONS:
  • 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)
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On Cloudboom review carbon plate running shoe
The On Cloudboom is the first shoe of the Swiss brand to feature a carbon plate. Analysis of reviews coming soon!
$199.99
Buy now
Best deal at: jackrabbit.com
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Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 review carbon plate running shoes
The Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 is a very good carbon-fiber plate running shoe for competition that offers a comfortable and responsive cushioning.
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We have just unpacked the first model, and Brooks is already back with a second version! The Hyperion Elite had received mixed reviews, with many criticizing its firm and dull cushioning. Also, durability wasn't there—the brand itself admitted that the shoe had a lifespan of 150 km (!). Brooks seems to have corrected this by reinforcing the sole with more rubber. Without being sturdy, the testers note that this new model should withstand more kilometers than the first one.

The Cushioning has softened and offers greater bounce. The sole is 37 mm thick under the heel with an offset of 8 mm. Brooks has replaced the short-lived DNA Zero foam with DNA Flash, which translates into an even more densely compressed texture to promote a more explosive energy return while running. And, of course, there's the carbon plate to guide runners to a smoother, faster run that requires less effort. Reviewers found the result convincing. They especially appreciated the stable and wide configuration of the platform. Without providing the same level of bounce as some of its competitors like the Nike Alphafly or the Saucony Endorphin Pro, the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 puts on a good show. The ride is something very personal, so it's a shoe that could appeal to athletes who didn't like these other models.

Moving on to the upper, the stretch woven mesh is comfortable and well ventilated while providing precise foot lockdown. Moreover, it is remarkably roomy to please runners with wider feet. However, despite these pros, some testers did not like certain details. For example, the heel now features a moderately thick layer that some runners found irritating to the tendon. Similarly, the thin tongue tends to move while running, which is not convenient.

Overall, the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 is a clear step up over the first model. Its comfort and springy cushioning make it a great running shoe for competition despite some flaws.
Comfort
9.5
Durability
8.5
Value for money
8.5
Design
9.5
PROS:
  • Stable and responsive cushioning
  • Upper is well ventilated and provides good lockdown
  • Versatile shoe
  • Lightweight model
CONS:
  • 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

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
      Asics MetaRacer
      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.

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