So you’re looking for a pair of carbon fiber running shoes that’ll help you PR your next marathon? While no shoe will replace hard training and good nutrition, in recent years, shoe brands have added carbon fiber plates to their race day running shoes, designed to improve energy return on the run. The carbon fiber plate is combined with soft, responsive foam, and shaped with a curve at the arch of the foot, which bends downwards under the ball of the foot. This is said to help give runners a boost as they toe-off, effectively making them run faster.
Nike was one of the first brands on the market to add carbon fiber plates to its running shoes, but these days, nearly all of the top running brands on the market have experimented with carbon. However, carbon shoes have a shorter life, and if you don’t plan on racing, take a look at the best running shoes for everyday miles.
But which are the best carbon fiber running shoes for you? We’ve been running (and racing) in some of the best carbon fiber shoes on the market to help you work out which pair to buy in 2023.
The best carbon fiber running shoes you can buy
There’s a reason why you’ll see this shoe a LOT at every major road marathon — they are one of the most popular racing shoes around, and it’s easy to see why. The Vaporfly Next% 2 use ZoomX foam — the lightest and most responsive midsole Nike makes, plus there’s a full-length carbon fiber plate which helps for a faster toe-off. The shoe feels fast, it’s incredibly lightweight and fits true to size.
The drawback here, of course, is the price — these shoes are definitely an investment and are one of the most expensive pairs on this list. They also might not actually last you for too many miles. While Nike doesn’t give an exact figure, as a race day shoe, it’s often thought that you won’t get all that many miles out of these, so we wouldn’t recommend them for your training miles. That said, if you can afford them and you’re looking for a PR, you won’t be disappointed.
Can’t decide between these and the Alphafly Next% 2? Take a look at our Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 vs Alphafly Next 2 face-off here. Nike has recently announced the launch of the Vaporfly Next% 3, which is said to be dropping in March 2023. This means it’s likely the Vaprofly Next% 2 will be on sale soon.
Read our full Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 review.
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 is a huge improvement on the Endorphin Pro 2, and is, in our opinion, the best Endorphin Pro yet. The Endorphin Pro 3 sees Saucony completely overhaul its most popular carbon fiber road racing shoe. The brand has changed the upper, and added more PWRRUN PB foam underfoot to completely change the ride of the shoe — it’s extremely fast, yet comfortable on the run.
The stack height has increased to 39.9mm, making it just legal in the World Athletics guidelines, and similar to the stack of the Nike ZoomX Alphafly Next% 2. Saucony’s added more PWRRUN PB foam to make the midsole feel much softer than previous versions of the shoe. That said, it’s not overly plush, but it’s comfortable and efficient, and it’s easy to pick up the pace when you need to in this shoe. The upper has also been overhauled to more of a mesh — it’s pretty much see-through and during testing I found it to be one of the most breathable uppers on the market.
If you’re looking to save money, now is probably a good time to shop the Endorphin Pro 2, which is likely to be on sale, but if you can afford it, this is a much better shoe to have on your foot on race day. It’s more responsive, more stable, and a much more enjoyable shoe to run in. Plus, it might just get you that PR.
Read our full Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 review.
The New Balance SuperComp Trainer is a big, bouncy, exciting shoe to have on your feet on race day. New Balance says it’s a high mileage training shoe that could be worn on race day, but only if you’re not planning on winning, as the 47mm midsole height isn’t technically legal (anything over 40mm is banned at road races).
That said, as a training shoe, this shoe comes into it’s own when you’re running on tired legs. It’s super comfortable, with a thick wedge of New Balance’s FuelCell foam, which is soft and bouncy to run on. There is a full-length carbon plate running through the midsole to help you get a faster toe-off on race day, and you really do feel this rocker geometry as you move.
The downside is the same as that we experience when running on any shoe with a high stack height — the shoes can feel a little unstable on uneven ground, or when running fast around corners. In other words, don’t wear these on the track, save them for long, flat, runs on the sidewalk. The shoe is widely available in the UK and US, and are currently on discount at Sportsshoes.com (opens in new tab).
Read our New Balance SuperComp Trainer review here
When Des Liden won the Boston Marathon in 2018, she was running in a blacked-out prototype of the Hyperion Elite running shoes. With the second version, Brooks made a few tweaks to its super shoe, making the midsole softer and the stack height higher for a faster ride and more cushioned feel underfoot. It’s an excellent racing day shoe, which feels stable and fits well.
Designed for road running, this shoe has soft, light, cushioning, in the form of Brooks’ DNA Flash midsole, which is built to last between 200-400 miles. They are one of the most stable super shoes we’ve tried, with the broad misole and wide toebox keeping the foot over the plate as you move. Brooks has also added what it calls ‘Rapid Roll technology’, by creating a curved shape of the heel. This is designed to rock the foot forward and keep you on the balls of your feet as you move, so might be an issue for heel strikers.
The unisex sizing can be a bit of a struggle to convert with the Hyperion Elite 2. As always, it’s recommended that you run in at least a half size bigger than your regular, everyday shoe, but female runners will also need to subtract 1.5 from their running shoe size to find out their men’s size (unisex shoes usually run off men’s sizing, as they do here). For example, a women’s size 8.5 would be a men’s size 7.
For a good few years now, the Vaporfly Next% has been the king of the racing shoes, but recently, the Adios Pro 2 seems to be stealing its crown. Peres Jepchirchir won a gold medal in the Olympic marathon and the New York City Marathon wearing these carbon fiber running shoes. The shoe was also on the feet of the men’s NY marathon winner, Albert Korir, and Benson Kipruto and Diana Chemtai Kipyoge when they won the men’s and women’s Boston Marathon respectively.
The Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 2 was launched in June 2021 and saw some tweaks from the previous version. The upper is made from Adidas’ CELERMESH 2.0 and the midsole has also changed, with a new design that’s created to reduce energy loss in the shoe.
Unlike other super shoes on this list, the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 2 is slightly different, as Adidas use carbon rods in the midsole instead of a rigid carbon plate. This leads to a more natural ride, but doesn’t have the same rocker geometry as other super shoes. While it doesn’t have the same propulsion, don’t let that put you off, as this energy-saving shoe can still take seconds off your PR.
Nike’s Alphafly is so ground-breaking, it forced World Athletics to put new rules into place regarding the regulation of running shoes. The second version of the Alphafly sees Nike attempting to make it more stable underfoot for the everyday runner, not just the elite. But how does it stack up?
In a word, it’s fantastic. The shoe still has all the magic of the first Alphafly — you still feel like you’re flying, it’s super responsive, and it does propel you forward, but it’s definitely more stable, thanks to the slightly wider heel.
Like its predecessor, the Alphafly Next% 2 isn’t designed for easy, or slower running. It’s almost clunky at a slower speed, as the carbon fiber plate naturally rocks you forward as you run, making it a challenge to run slow. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — you don’t buy this shoe for jogging around the park.
The downsides here are that the Alphafly is extremely expensive, and undoubtedly one of the priciest shoes on this list. It’s also likely that they will be hard to get hold of for a while, as Nike is only doing limited drops of the shoe. That said, it’s a joy to run in, and if you could bottle and sell the feeling of flying along in perfect conditions in this shoe, everyone would want to run a marathon in it.
Read our full Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2 review.
Now might be a good time to shop the Alphafly Next%, as they are likely to be on sale following the launch of the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2. Read our full Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% review here.
Designed as New Balance’s racing shoe, the Fuelcell SC Elite V3 is a fast, bouncy, carbon fiber running shoe, best suited for the half marathon or marathon distance. During testing, we enjoyed running in the SC Elite V3, and would go as far as to say this is New Balance’s best carbon fiber running shoe to date. It’s definitely got more pop than the RC Elite and feels much more stable around corners. It’s also similar in feel to the Supercomp Trainer, without the massive (illegal) stack height.
The midsole of this shoe is where the magic happens. The carbon fiber plate sits between two layers of foam, designed to feel soft and springy underfoot. The shoe definitely feels firmer than the Fuelcell RC running shoe, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — the Fuelcell RC always felt a little spongey on the run and a little unstable around the corners.
That said, the Fuelcell SC Elite V3 doesn’t have the same dramatic rocker as the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 and the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3, meaning it doesn’t feel quite as propulsive underfoot. There’s not much in it, however, and this is still an excellent running shoe to have on your feet on race day.
Read our full New Balance Fuelcell SC Elite V3 review.
Hoka’s newest carbon fiber running shoe, the Rocket X2, has a new upper and a brand new midsole foam. This isn’t an update, this is a completely different running shoe to the Rocket. The shoe has a scooped carbon fiber plate for a fast toe-off, and Hoka’s full Peba midsole foam. On the run, the shoe feels lighter than it is, and we’d go as far as to say this is the brand’s best carbon fiber running shoe to date.
The first thing you’ll notice about this shoe is the upper — Hoka has opted for the kind of mesh upper we saw in the original Vaporfly Next% a few years ago. It’s extremely lightweight, and the internal cage hugs the foot tight in the shoe. One thing to note is the shoe has unisex sizing, and fits pretty snug — you don’t want an awful lot of room in your racing shoes, but if you’re between sizes, you might want to size up.
Underfoot, the Rocket X2 feels stable and responsive. It’s got a nice snap to it, and a decent amount of cushion. The Peba midsole foam surrounds the carbon fiber plate — it’s softer above the plate, for that sink-in comfort as you pick up the pace, and firmer below the plate, to help your foot propel forward.
This is the first time we’ve seen a carbon shoe from Hoka that is up there with the likes of Nike and Saucony. The rocker is aggressive on this shoe (Hoka calls it Profly-X construction), and it feels snappy and fast underfoot. At last, Hoka has entered the supershoe chat.
The Asics Metaspeed Sky+ is an update on the original Asics Metaspeed Sky, which was one of the best carbon fiber running shoes from the brand. The second iteration of the shoe has more midsole foam, and a slightly tweaked upper, designed to make the shoe lighter and faster.
Asics have two carbon fiber running shoes — the Metaspeed Edge+ and the Metaspeed Sky+. The Sky+ is aimed at what Asics refers to as ‘stride’ runners — runners that extend their stride length when they increase their speed but don’t increase, or only slightly increase, the number of steps they take per minute.
The Edge+ is designed for ‘cadence’ runners who also increase their speed by extending stride length but additionally increase the number of steps they take per minute.
On the run, the Sky+ feels fast underfoot and has a good amount of bounce from the FF Blast Turbo midsole foam. It’s grippier than some of the other carbon fiber running shoes on this list, making it a good choice for a rainy road marathon.
During testing, we found this shoe really comes into its own over longer distances, and if you’re the kind of runner that suits the shoe’s stride, it would be a great choice for a fast half marathon or marathon.
How to look after your carbon fiber running shoe
Unlike your day-to-day running shoes, carbon fiber running shoes have a much shorter shelf life. Most shoe retailers say they’ll last a few hundred miles, but the softer, bouncier foams, and the carbon plates mean you’ll probably only get a couple of races out of your carbon fiber shoes.
It’s important to note that these shoes aren’t for a gentle jog in the park, they are for road racing and striving for a PR. You’ll probably want to do a couple of speed sessions and perhaps a long run or two in your carbon fiber running shoes before the race, but that’s about it.
Of course, this does make things a little more expensive, but you’re better to train in one of our best running shoes, and save these for the big day to extend the life of your carbon fiber shoes.
How we test the best carbon-fiber running shoes
It’s quite simple really, we run in them! All of the shoes above have been put through their paces on a number of different sessions — from speedier runs around the track, to longer, slower, tempo sessions on the sidewalk. We’ve also worn most of them for races of different lengths — including faster 5K’s and longer half-marathons to test how they make us run and feel on race day.
When testing running shoes, we look at the fit and feel of the shoe, as well as stand-out features, like laces that are designed to stay tight as you move (because who wants to stop and re-tie their shoe mid-race?) and cushioning around the Achilles.
What to look for in a pair of carbon fiber running shoes
When it comes to choosing the best carbon fiber running shoes for you, there are a few things to consider. First, the fit. Like the best sports bras or best running leggings, the best running shoe for you will fit your foot comfortably and not rub, pinch, or slip as you run. Some brands are likely to fit your foot better than others, so it’s good to try them before investing.
Next up, you’ll want to think about the weight of the shoe, especially if you are trying to reach the podium yourself. Most of the shoes on this list are designed to help you run fast, but if you are a particularly speedy runner, you might find the New Balance FuelCell Elite v2 that little bit too heavy on the run.
Finally, the price of the shoes. There’s no question that carbon fiber comes at a price. If you’re not able to spend upwards of $200 on a pair of running shoes that you can’t do the majority of your training in, it might be worth looking for last-season models, such as the Nike Vaporfly Next%, or the Brooks Hyperion Elite.
Are carbon fiber running shoes worth it?
How much of a difference can a pair of running shoes really make, we hear you ask. According to one independent study (opens in new tab), carbon fiber running shoes were found to improve running economy by 3-4.2%. While this might not sound like a lot, this is linked to a 2% improvement in finish time, which is nearly 5 minutes off a 4-hour marathon.