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The best carbon fiber running shoes to wear for your next race

A runner holding a pair of the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

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. But which are the best carbon fiber running shoes for you? We’ve been running in some of the best carbon fiber shoes to help you work out which pair to buy.

What are the best Black Friday running shoe deals? 

If you're keeping your eye out for a pair of new running shoes in the Black Friday deals, we've got good news! This year, brands have started to announce their Black Friday sales early, and we've seen some killer savings on Adidas, Brooks, and Saucony running shoes. We've hand-picked our top choices on the best Black Friday running shoes deals page, so that's a good one to bookmark if you are in the market for a new pair of shoes. 

What are the best carbon fiber running shoes?  

The best carbon fiber running shoes to buy are the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2, which are one of Nike’s most popular race day speed shoes. We chose these over the slightly more expensive Nike Alphafly Next% running shoes, as we found them more stable underfoot on the run. Can’t pick between the two? Read our Nike Alphafly Next% vs Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 face-off here. 

If you prefer an Adidas running shoe, the Adidas Adios Adizero Pro 2 was the shoe worn on the feet of both of the Boston Marathon winners, as well as the male and female runner who crossed the finish line first at the New York City Marathon 2021. It’s a brilliantly fast, lightweight race shoe, that’s making its name as a podium winner this year, making it one of the best carbon fiber running shoes out there. 

Finally, at $200 the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 is the cheapest carbon fiber shoe on this list, so if you’re hoping not to spend upwards of $200 on a pair of running shoes to wear on race day, these are probably your best bet. Underfoot, they are a brilliant shoe, with soft, responsive PWRRUN PB foam and what Saucony calls ‘Speedroll technology. 

Not sure which to buy? We’ve hand-picked some of the best carbon fiber running shoes here.  

The best carbon fiber running shoes you can buy today

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Future)

1. Nike Vaporfly Next% 2

The best carbon fiber running shoe overall

Specifications
Weight: 195g
Drop: 8mm
Reasons to buy
+Extremely responsive +Carbon-fiber plate leads to snappy toe-off +Breathable upper +Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most durable  

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. 

Read our full Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 review

A photo of the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide )

2. Saucony Endorphin Pro 2

The most affordable carbon fiber running shoe

Specifications
Weight: 213g
Drop: 8mm
Reasons to buy
+More affordable than other super shoes +Attractive design
Reasons to avoid
-Feel a little unstable 

The Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 are a great race day shoe that’s more affordable than a lot of the other carbon shoes on this list. Fans of the first Endorphin Pro will be pleased to hear not must has changed between the two shoes, with Saucony making some slight tweaks to the upper, heel, and lacing. This shoe isn’t as bouncy and soft as say, the Nike Vaporly Next% 2, so if you prefer a harder racing flat, you’re bound to love the Pro 2. 

That said, don’t let the firmer, snappier midsole of the Endorphin Pro 2 put you off — this shoe still flies at faster paces. Saucony has used its PWRRUN PB foam in the midsole, an S-shaped carbon fiber plate, and what it calls the ‘Speedroll’ geometry of the outsole, which helps you propel through each stride quickly. The snug heel fit and the anti-slip races are designed to fix some of the most common problems with the original Endorphin, where runners found their foot slipped towards the sides of the mesh upper. The feeling is much more secure, but as someone who overpronates slightly, I didn’t find them as secure as other shoes on the list.

The outsole handled wet, leafy, sidewalks amazingly and it goes without saying, the shoe looks fantastic. This is a great racer for runners who don’t love the feel of overly bouncy foam — and who want to save a few bucks.

A runner wearing the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

3. New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2

The best New Balance carbon fibre running shoe

Specifications
Weight: 268g
Drop: 8mm
Reasons to buy
+More stable than the previous version  +Soft and plush underfoot  
Reasons to avoid
-Heaviest shoe on this list 

The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2 is one of the best-looking carbon fiber running shoes, as well as one of the plushest. With the second version, New Balance has attempted to tweak a few of the issues it had with its Elite racing shoe, which was super soft, but a little unstable around corners. It’s extremely comfortable, and it feels fast underfoot. 

On our first few runs, the Elite felt bouncy and exciting. The FuelCell foam is extremely soft, and there’s a lot of it, giving this shoe the feeling of gliding along the pavement as you pick up the pace. Unlike other best carbon fiber shoes on this list, the FuelCell RC Elite v2 also coped well with slower paces — we didn’t feel unstable during the warm-up and cool-down sections of the run, where the pace was less snappy. 

While it’s not really a downside, you definitely can’t feel the carbon fiber plate as much in this shoe as much as you can in, say, the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2. The shoe also doesn’t have that aggressive rocker geometry we’re seeing in more and more racing shoes, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. All in all, this is a fantastic shoe that would easily cope well and keep you comfortably running your fastest over a half marathon or marathon distance. 

a photo of a runner holding the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

4. Brooks Hyperion Elite 2

The best carbon fiber Brooks race day shoe

Specifications
Weight: 215g
Drop: 8mm
Reasons to buy
+Roomy toe box +Fast, yet stable underfoot 
Reasons to avoid
-Unisex sizing 

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. 

A photo of a runner wearing the Adidas Adizero Pro 2

(Image credit: Adidas)

5. Adidas adizero Adios Pro 2

The best Adidas race day shoe

Specifications
Weight: 212g
Drop: 10mm
Reasons to buy
+Been on the podium for a lot of races recently  +Breathable upper+Lightweight 
Reasons to avoid
-Similar to the first version 

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. 

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.  

Jane McGuire

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 four 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.