Carbon plated shoes have become the norm for runners focused on bagging PBs when it comes to race day, with brands waging a constant battle to develop the fastest, most efficient options for everyone from parkrunners to elite marathon runners.
But with so many new super shoes being released throughout the year, picking the right pair for your races can be a difficult task – especially considering the latest releases are likely to cost you upwards of 200 big ones. Get some that don't work for you and you're looking at a very expensive pair of sneakers for the weekly shop.
The benefits of carbon plated shoes have become more varied as companies design them for different purposes. Instead of just being a fast trainer for all your races there are now options for all distances, fast training sessions and even shoes developed for different types of cadence.
We've tested dozens of the latest super shoes available today in order to make your life easier when picking up a new pair. In this guide, we cover the big hitters, from marathon favourites to short-distance shoes built for breaking 5k records.
Most versatile carbon plate shoes
Nike Zoom Vaporfly Next% 2
If ever there was a shoe made that has stood the test of time, it's the Nike Vaporfly and Vaporfly 2. Despite dozens of competitors being released every year, the Vaporfly is by far one of the most popular options on the market and still dominates the start lines of races around the world.
A progression of the Vaporfly 4%, the Vaporfly NEXT% was launched in 2019, with its successor the NEXT% 2 seeing only minor tweaks to the design. The reason that Nike decided to leave the shoe largely alone was simple; it was a largely flawless shoe for race day.
The carbon plate is still one of the best options out there today, offering a high level of responsiveness that delivers an impressive level of efficiency when tackling any distance. Ask a runner about their first run in the shoe and they're likely to remember it,
As well as a high level of outsole grip – meaning you can tackle corners comfortably – the shoe also has a lightweight engineered mesh upper that keeps the feet cool when you're going all out.
Saucony Endorphin Pro 3
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 was a shoe that had limited appeal for runners looking for a carbon plate experience. That was largely due to a noticeably firm midsole foam which, although responsive, lacked the energy and bounce people had come to want from a super shoe.
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 is not so much an update to the Pro 2, but a completely new shoe altogether. The main reason is the thick stack of PWRRUN PB foam that delivers a bouncy, energetic experience similar to the Vaporfly and Alphafly.
That midsole foam, in combination with the full-length carbon plate, creates an enjoyable, efficient experience that works just as well for marathons as it does for 5k races. Unlike some carbon plate shoes, which can feel aggressive in how they propel runners forward, the Pro 3 has a more natural movement that makes it accessible to a much wider base of athletes.
The shoe also sees updates to the upper mesh, which now feels more comfortable, and a good level of outsole rubber for grip and midsole protection.
Asics Metaspeed Sky+
The Metaspeed Sky was one of the standout carbon racers when it appeared and very quickly became one of our top-tier choices for race day. The Metaspeed Sky+ receives some tweaks to improve the energy return of the shoe and overall comfort, as well as an updated carbon plate design.
It's a shoe that offers widespread appeal, providing a more natural feel than some more aggressive options out there, however, when compared to options like the Nike Vaporfly 2 and Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 it lacks the same level of bounce – but isn't far off.
Prospective customers have been confused by the release of both the Metaspeed Sky+ and the Metaspeed Edge+; the former being a shoe made for stride-style runners and the latter focused on cadence runners. In testing, we've found little difference but the Sky+ always comes out as the best option for everyone.
If you can still find the original Metaspeed Sky in a cheap deal we'd suggest going for that as the new updates are negligible.
Best carbon plate shoes for marathons
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%
Nike dominated the carbon race game for quite some time while thanks to the popularity of the Vaporfly. The brand followed that success with the Nike Alphafly Next%, thanks in part to a number of high-profile races from Kipchoge.
Like the Vaporfly 2, the Alphafly NEXT% is a shoe that excels when it comes to hitting PBs - but the overall experience of the shoe is very different. For starters, it's noticeably bigger, partly due to the addition of two AirZoom pods at the front. For that reason, it can feel a bit bulkier than the Vaporfly and often isn't a top choice for shorter distances.
The real focal point for the shoe is long-distance races, with the impressive level of bounce and energy return offering an almost unparalleled level of performance for marathons. For those events, where you're not running flat out, the extra midsole foam is a joy, protecting the legs and offering much-needed assistance in the latter miles.
New Balance Fuel Cell SC Elite V3
The SC Elite V3 is by far the best carbon plate shoe we've tested from New Balance, overshadowing its predecessor the RC Elite V2. It combines a full-length carbon plate with a two-layer Fuelcell midsole foam to deliver a high level of performance for any distance – although we prefer it for half marathons and above.
Unlike the RC Elite V2, which was best known for its incredibly soft midsole, the SC Elite V3 has a firmer ride, which makes it a good option for any runner that doesn't get on with the soft ZoomX foam in Nike's super shoes.
The lack of bounce doesn't make it any less of a race shoe, and many runners will find the combination of Energy Arc technology and the rocker-style design a great choice for race day. The fluid heel-to-toe transition not only propels you forward but also helps to maintain a consistent pace mile after mile.
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3
The Adizero Adios Pro 3 lacks the versatility of some of its competitors but works a treat for marathons. The reason for that is a subtler level of energy return that only really comes into play when maintaining a consistent pace over long-distance events.
When compared to its predecessors, the shoe has seen a few modifications to the overall design to improve stability and provide better support from the upper. The biggest of those changes is the updated Energyrods 2.0 technology that offers a more balanced experience – albeit one that lessens the level of bounce seen in the Adios Pro 2.
The result is a solid long-distance racer that feels noticeably supportive and efficient at marathon pace. The only downside we've noticed – apart from the lack of versatility – is that the upper can be quite restrictive around the toebox.
Hoka Bondi X
The Bondi X is a very difficult shoe to pin down. The addition of a carbon plate to Hoka's maximally cushioned Bondi inevitably draws comparisons with the growing pile of carbon plate race options available at the top of this list. For us, any similarities with shoes like the Nike Vaporfly or Asics Metaspeed Sky are, however, limited.
Despite the addition of a carbon plate, the Bondi still runs like a more conventional cushioned shoe, lacking to propulsive feel that many super shoes deliver. That is by no means a bad thing, and for fans of the original Bondi, the upgrade may well be a welcome addition that takes the shoe from being an enjoyable daily option to one that can be used on race day.
If you were looking for a shoe to replace the Nike Vaporfly 2 or Metaspeed Sky+, the Bondi X is unlikely to make the cut. As well as being noticeably heavier, the foam lacks the energy return you'll find in those two shoes. For cushioned training, it could be a good choice, especially if you want something that can tackle faster sessions.
Best short distance carbon plate shoes
Saucony Endorphin Elite
Saucony hit the world of super shoes with a bang when it released the Endorphin Pro 3 in 2022. So it's no surprise that the follow-up racer, the Endorphin Elite, was met with a lot of excitement when it launched.
Although many were expecting it to be a progression of the Pro 3, the Elite is in fact a different type of shoe altogether, focusing more on all-out speed and propulsion than widespread appeal as a versatile race shoe.
As well as a slightly firmer ride due to the PWRRUN HG midsole, the Elite features a more aggressive toe-off that works alongside Saucony's Speedroll design to push you forward onto the forefoot. It's an experience that faster runners may welcome, but one that does limit the appeal for more general runners that want a natural feel.
For us, the sticking point when looking at the Endorphin Elite is the price, which puts it up there with the Alphafly and Alphafly 2 – both shoes that have a wider appeal and tried and tested success. Hopefully, we'll see the Elite come down in price over the coming months like the Pro 3 before it.
Puma Fast-R NITRO Elite
The Fast-R NITRO Elite is a tricky shoe to compare with other carbon plate super shoes. In the Puma range, it's designed to be the most versatile option that runners can use across a range of distances. For some runners, that may be the case, but the innovative design and somewhat experimental combination of features mean that it may not work for many.
The most important feature to mention about the shoe is the use of two different foams in the forefoot and rear section. The latter is made from a firmer material that's designed to push you onto the softer, bouncier foam at the front for a quick transition and bouncier toe-off.
It's a concept that works well for heel strikers but has limited appeal for runners that land on the midfoot and forefoot. It's not a big issue if the feature doesn't affect you, but can feel awkward if you occasionally land on the rear midsole foam.
The Fast-R NITRO Elite also features the brand's excellent Pumagrip outsole rubber – by far one of the best on any shoes we've tested, as well as a number of elements designed to strip the weight of the shoe down. The result is a light-feeling shoe that performs best over 10k to half marathon distances.
Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 2
The Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 2 offers a different experience than most carbon plate super shoes. Instead of bounce and energy return it's a running shoe that's focused more on subtle benefits that help to make it a lightweight and versatile option, with a leaner feel than most competitors.
The second version of the shoe sees a slightly firmer ride, which, for most runners, lends itself well to shorter distance races up to 10km. There's also a redesigned carbon plate which helps produce a more propulsive toe when picking up the pace.
As is the case with most of Puma's shoes, a standout feature is the impressive level of grip capable of tackling tight turns and less-than-pefect road conditions. The outsole rubber has been updated to use Pumagrip LT, a slightly thicker outsole than that found in the original Deviate Nitro Elite which does make the shoe very slightly heavier.
On Cloudboom Echo
On's range of shoes tends to be associated with firmer midsoles, which can mean that runners looking for a softer ride often look elsewhere. The Cloudboom Echo is no exception, providing a firmer super shoe experience than most other options out there.
That's by no means a bad thing if you prefer a firmer ride and the combination of a full-length plate with the Helion midsole foam is undeniably propulsive when you're going all out. For us, the firmness is a bit too much for anything over half marathon and can feel like your legs have taken the brunt when recovering, but for shorter races, there's a high level of propulsion and a slightly aggressive heel-to-toe transition.