What are carbon-plated running shoes?
Carbon-plated running shoes are the latest development in shoe technology.
As the name suggests, carbon-plated running shoes are built with a carbon fiber plate embedded in the midsole – the part between your foot and the rubber outsole on the bottom. The carbon plate reduces fatigue and increases the energy return on each stride, which helps you run faster for longer.
Do they work?
Studies have shown that carbon-plated running shoes can help you run up to 5% faster, which translates to over 10 minutes off a four-hour marathon. All of the pros are wearing them for races.
When they were first introduced, every carbon-plated shoe was designed specifically for race days. As time has gone on, however, brands have started to incorporate carbon plates into everyday trainers.
Are they worth the price?
Carbon-plated running shoes aren't cheap.
Any carbon-plated running shoe is going to cost at least $180, with the most expensive shoes pushing $300. Compared to a typical running shoe that costs anywhere from $130 to $170 or so, the difference in price is real.
If you’re interested in buying the ‘supercar’ of running shoes for an upcoming race, the first question you should ask yourself is whether or not you need racing shoes.
That said, people are smashing records left and right thanks to carbon-plated running shoes. Not only do they help you run faster on race day, but they also allow you to work out harder and more frequently because they reduce fatigue and recovery times.
I’ll admit that I didn’t make the decision to buy my first pair of carbon-plated shoes easily. I’m not going to win any races or make the Olympic team by buying the best running shoes.
When I race, I’m competing against myself and my previous bests. I worried I would feel that I somehow cheated myself and wouldn’t feel the same sense of accomplishment that comes with a new personal best.
But, at the end of the day, I felt better wearing them and, after getting that first PR out of the way, I’m still competing against myself, just from a new baseline. Whether or not you want the extra speed is a question that you have to ask yourself.
Only you can decide if the extra speed is worth the extra money.
The best carbon-plated running shoes (as of 2023)
If you're ready to spend the money, here are some of the best carbon-plated racing shoes for 5k races, 10k races, marathons, and longer training runs and races.
...For marathons and races over 10 miles
Saucony Endorphin Elite
Saucony already had a pretty good marathon racing shoe in the Endorphin Pro, but this spring they’ve added the Endorphin Elite to their lineup with a brand new superfoam – PWRRUN HG – that feels firmer and more stable than the Endorphin Pro 3.
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3
The Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3 offers a great balance of comfort and speed that works well for slow and fast paces alike. They’ve added cushioning to the midfoot for runners at slower paces who will spend more time on their feet. Its aggressive rocker at toe-off and energy rods give it enough spring for the fastest paces as well.
Asics Metaspeed Sky+
With the Metaspeed Sky+, Asics has designed a racing shoe for runners who take longer strides with more of a heel strike. It has a tremendous amount of cushioning in the midfoot, which makes the Metaspeed Sky+ a great option for slower paces.
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite
New Balance’s FuelCell foam feels softer than most other superfoams on the market, making this one of the most comfortable shoes out there. You sacrifice a bit of the bounce you’ll find elsewhere, but if you value comfort over the course of a longer race, the FuelCell SuperComp Elite can’t be beat.
Altra Vanish Carbon
Take everything you love about Altra – wider fit, balanced cushioning – and add a carbon plate to it and you get the Vanish Carbon. Because of this, it is a great option for anyone looking for a zero-drop carbon-plated shoe or for anyone with a wider foot.
Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 3
Nike was the first to bring carbon plates to racing shoes and the Vaporfly Next% line remains the white whale every other brand is chasing. The newest version, the 3, is lighter than previous iterations and has a slightly wider base for increased stability. The Vaporfly Next% 3 works well for anything from a 5k to a marathon, though it’s more suited to longer distances.
...For longer training runs:
HOKA Carbon X3
The HOKA Carbon X3 comes in a bit heavier than most other road racing shoes, but if you’re looking for something firmer than many of the other carbon-plated shoes on the market, it’s a good pick. It works great as a more durable option that can be used in training, especially on longer runs.
...For shorter races (5k and 10k):
Adidas Takumi Sen 9
The Takumi Sen 9 takes the Lightstrike Pro foam found in the Boston and Adios and adds carbon energy rods to make it snappier for racing. If you’re looking for all the accouterments of a modern super shoe with less bulk and stiffness, this is the shoe you’ve been looking for.
...For the trail:
Saucony Endorphin Edge
The Saucony Endorphin Edge brings Saucony’s supershoe technology to the trail with a durable outsole and 4mm lugs for added traction. This shoe is great for any trail race distance up to ultramarathons.
Alternatives to carbon-plated shoes
Let’s face it, a carbon-plated shoe isn’t the right choice for everyone. As discussed earlier, the price point is certainly a barrier, and beyond that, they feel so much different than other shoes that you just might not feel comfortable making such a drastic change.
Luckily, there are plenty of shoes that will help you to a personal best without a carbon plate.
...For marathons and races over 10 miles
Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
Unlike the Endorphin Pro and Endorphin Elite, the Endorphin Speed does not have a carbon plate. In the Endorphin Speed 3, you’ll find a nylon plate that offers some of the spring of carbon fiber with a bit more flexibility.
Brooks Hyperion Max
The Hyperion Max features Brooks’ Lightweight DNA FLASH cushioning and an aggressive Rapid Roll rocker make for a fast feel without a carbon plate.
Hoka Mach 5
The HOKA Mach 5 adds a layer of ProFly+ foam to the midsole to provide the bounciness of a racing shoe in a lower-stack and more flexible package.
...For shorter races:
Nike ZoomX Streakfly
While it doesn’t contain a carbon-fiber plate, the ZoomX Streakfly does bring Nike’s ZoomX foam – the same material they use in the Vaporfly and Alphafly – to a lighter weight and lower-to-the-ground package. Because it doesn’t have a carbon plate, it’s going to be more flexible than any of the other shoes on this list.
...For the trail:
Craft Nordic Speed 2
A lightweight, responsive trail shoe with enough protection for the trail, the Nordic Speed 2 feels fast even without a carbon plate.