The best carbon plate running shoes 2024

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Investing in a set of the best carbon plate running shoes can help boost your speed, especially on race day. These shoes are designed to return more energy during your run, making them ideal for training runs and races. 

However, this also makes them more expensive than many of the best running shoes, so they're less suited to every day use and are a better option for when you're looking to be at top speed or you're aiming for a new personal best. 

But it's hard to know how they fare until you actually have them on, so we've put the best carbon plate running shoes to the test, looking at how they perform during casual runs, races, and training runs to help you find the shoes for your goals. 

Our top pick are the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3, which were so versatile, comfortable, and fast, that we think they're the best carbon plate running shoes for most people. But they're not your only option, as we've also rounded up our favorites across a range of brands and styles.

The quick list

The best carbon plate running shoes you can buy right now

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Best carbon fiber running shoes overall

Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 side-on in front of flowers

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)
The best carbon plate running shoe overall

Specifications

Weight: 6.5 oz (M), 5.3 oz (W)
Drop: 8mm
Available colorways : 3

Reasons to buy

+
More ZoomX foam
+
Slightly lighter than Next% 2
+
Improved stability

Reasons to avoid

-
Outsole is thinner than previous edition

There's a reason why you'll see this shoe a lot at every major road marathon — they are one of the most popular carbon plate racing shoes around, and from our testing, it's easy to see why.

The Vaporfly Next% 3 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 cheaper Vaporfly Next% 2, which are likely to be on sale now the newer shoe has been released? Check out our Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 3 face-off here. 

Best Saucony carbon fiber running shoes

Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 in someone's hand

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)
The best Saucony carbon plate running shoe

Specifications

Weight: 7.2oz (M), 6.2 oz (W)
Drop: 8mm
Available colorways : 1

Reasons to buy

+
Lighter than Endorphin Pro 2
+
Responsive
+
Breathable upper

Reasons to avoid

-
Comes up a little short in the foot
-
More expensive than previous version

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 plate 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.

Best New Balance carbon fiber running shoes

New Balance Fuelcell Supercomp Elite V3 on a running track

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)
The best New Balance carbon plate running shoes

Specifications

Weight: 8.1 oz (M), 6.3 oz (W)
Drop: 4mm
Colorways: 1

Reasons to buy

+
Fast underfoot
+
Stable ride
+
Improvement on RC Elite V2

Reasons to avoid

-
Upper isn’t for everyone
-
Not as propulsive as other shoes on the market

Designed as New Balance's racing shoe, the Fuelcell SC Elite V3 is a fast, bouncy, carbon plate 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 plate 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. However, 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.

Best Adidas carbon fiber running shoes

Man running in a pair of the Adidas adizero Adios Pro 3

(Image credit: Adidas)

4. Adidas adizero Adios Pro 3

The best Adidas carbon plate running shoes

Specifications

Weight: 8.4 oz (M)
Drop: 10mm
Colorways: 4

Reasons to buy

+
Been on the podium for a lot of races
+
Breathable upper
+
Lightweight 

Reasons to avoid

-
Only come in one width

For a good few years now, the Vaporfly Next% has been the king of the racing shoes, but recently, the Adios Pro 3 seems to be stealing its crown. Peres Jepchirchir won a gold medal in the Olympic marathon and the New York City Marathon wearing the last version of these carbon plate running shoes. 

The Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3 was launched in June 2022 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. The Pro 3 isn't any lighter, but it feels softer and more cushioned than the previous version.

Unlike other super shoes on this list, the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3 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. 

Best Hoka carbon fiber running shoes

Hoka Rocket X 2 on a running track

(Image credit: Future)

5. Hoka Rocket X2

The best Hoka carbon plate running shoes

Specifications

Weight: 8.3 oz
Drop: 5mm
Available colorways : 1

Reasons to buy

+
More responsive than Carbon X3
+
Lightweight design
+
New midsole foam

Reasons to avoid

-
Unisex fit

Hoka's second-generation Rocket shoe 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 plate 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. 

Best value carbon fiber running shoes

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)
Best value carbon plate running shoes

Specifications

Weight: 8.8 oz
Drop: 8mm
Colorways: 1

Reasons to buy

+
Wide heel makes the shoe more stable
+
Super responsive
+
Supportive padding under the laces

Reasons to avoid

-
Unisex sizing

The first Nike Alphafly wasso 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 Alphafly range can get quite expensive, so they're definitely investment shoes. However, with newer editions now available, you can often find the Nike Alphafly Next% 2 at discount, so it's a good time to pick up these premium carbon fiber running shoes without the premium price tag. 

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. 

How to choose the best carbon fiber running shoes for you

When it comes to choosing the best carbon plate 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.  

Carbon fiber running shoes: FAQs

How to look after your carbon plate running shoe

Unlike your day-to-day running shoes, carbon plate 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 an everyday pair of running shoes, and save these for the big day to extend the life of your carbon plate shoes. 

Are carbon plate running shoes worth it?

How much of a difference can a pair of running shoes really make, we hear you ask. According to a study published in the journal Sports Medicine, carbon plate running shoes may 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. 

How long do carbon plate running shoes last?

One of the biggest drawbacks when it comes to carbon plate running shoes is that they won't last as long as your everyday running shoes, purely because the carbon plate wears out faster than the midsole foam. Most carbon plate running shoes will last around 150-180 miles, and some of the best carbon plate shoes on the market aren't allowed at certain races, after World Athletics made the rules about wearing carbon shoes stricter. 

Are carbon plate running shoes legal?

Yes, at the moment, the World Athletics rules state that running shoes with a carbon fiber plate are still legal. That said, there are rules about the stack heights of some carbon-plated shoes - any shoe worn at a race has to have a stack height of less than 40mm, which rules shoes like the New Balance SuperComp Trainer out. That said, unless you're planning on making the podium, it doesn't matter all that much. 

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.