Today’s track spikes push the limits on materials and technology, utilizing everything from carbon-fiber plates to Boa lacing systems. They’re also more specialized than ever, with different shoes catered to sprinters (up to 400 meters), middle-distance runners (generally 400-5,000 meters), and distance runners (1 mile or 5,000 to 10,000 meters).
Sprinters’ spikes run extremely rigid and lack any cushioning but maximize grip so you can go as fast as possible without any slippage. Distance spikes, on the other hand, have a slight bit of cush under the heel. Middle-distance spikes fall somewhere in between.
Although our 2020 racing season was canceled because of COVID-19, we’re looking ahead to returning to the oval this year. To evaluate this crop of spikes while we still work from home, our test team hit our local tracks once the winter’s snow finally melted for speed sessions ranging from 200-meter repeats up to mile-long intervals. Plus, we tested each pair while wearing socks as well as with bare feet to help you determine the right pair for your next race.
Nike Air Zoom Victory
The most futuristic track spike on the market today is the all-new Victory. It uses a combination of a two-piece Air unit and springy ZoomX foam, plus a stiffening carbon-fiber plate to help you rocket around the track. The shoe is entirely weird the moment you step into it—its tippy, and you feel two distinct bulges under your foot. As you run, it comes alive. The sensation isn’t springy, like you might expect from ZoomX, a Pebax-based foam (the same used in the Vaporfly) that’s extremely lightweight, well-cushioned, and has boatloads of energy return. Instead, you feel tension build and the shoe load up as you press your weight down into it, then launch forward with toe-off. The sole isn’t soft in the general sense, but it’s less punishing than a conventional track spike without being slowed by cushioning. The fit is also different than typical, as it’s not long and skinny like spikes of old. Instead, there’s a little bit of a flare in the forefoot, squaring it up a bit and accommodating wider feet.
The MetaSprint is wildly different from your usual track spike. The entire outsole is made of a carbon-fiber plate, but the forefoot doesn’t include any metal pins. Instead, there’s a honeycomb pattern of jagged edges that bite into the track. Beyond the traction component, the shape of the sole is novel, too, in that the plate is curved and forces your foot to roll inward on toe-off so that you’re pushing off directly over your big toe for maximum propulsion. It’s a noticeable effect that feels off initially but smooths when you turn on the speed.
Footwear tech has been under scrutiny in recent years, and the MetaSprint calls to mind Puma’s “brush spikes” from the late ’60s. Those had dozens of tiny needles on the bottom for grip, helped runners set world records, and were banned. Current World Athletics regulations stipulate a maximum of 11 pins on the sole of a track spike. It’s unclear how they count a shoe like the MetaSprint, which has eight clusters of raised hexagonal shapes, but it’s been approved for competition by World Athletics.
Nike ZoomX Dragonfly
Another crazy new shoe from Nike, the Dragonfly looks more like a conventional spike, albeit one with an exceptionally thick sole. That’s made possible only by the use of ZoomX. The result is a shoe that takes out the sting of running hard but doesn’t slow you down. Most of that foam, however, is centered right behind the ball of your foot—you feel a noticeable bulge there, and you can feel your heel drop off. So, it’s not for easy-paced runs. Our testers all raved about the accommodating yet locked-down fit. The shoe has a square toebox, almost like a normal shoe, which makes it comfortable for long distances. Tip: Go sock-less. The mesh is smooth against your bare foot, and the hole in the back of the shoe helps keep you securely locked to the sole.
Nike Zoom Superfly Elite 2
To rip a straightaway or lap as fast as humanly possible, you’re going to need to be locked to the track. The Superfly Elite 2 does that, thanks to eight metal pins under each forefoot—four are positioned in a line directly under the ball of your foot. One tester described the shoe’s grip as “trust”—trust that they’ll deliver no-slip speed. The shoe also eliminates any extra foot movement, due to the unbelievably tight-fitting upper. We all had trouble even getting them on and off—one tester ripped the tongue loop getting into the shoe; I nearly dislocated my shoulder taking them off. But, once on, the AtomKnit fabric is breezy yet secure.
Brooks Elmn8 v5
Thanks to a carbon-fiber plate and a snappy outsole plate, this spike has a springy feeling at quicker paces. The forefoot is stiff and ready to rip. Carbon fiber’s strength-to-weight ratio and ability to bend and rebound is noticeable in this shoe. Brooks updated the plate to cover the entire forefoot, with extra ridges and cutouts to save weight. Compared to the previous version, the upper is where this shoe shines. Brooks also upgraded the v5 to the exceptionally fine woven fabric it’s used in shoes like the Hyperion with great success. It allows the upper to be extremely thin but provide outstanding strength and locked-in support without requiring additional reinforcements—it’s the kind of shoe we would have worn without socks back in high school and college. We noticed the shoe runs a little long and narrow, but none of our testers reported any pinching or discomfort.
Hoka One One Rocket MD
What sets Hoka’s spikes apart from the competition? It designs the spike configuration to optimize grip on the track’s curves. The brand started that concept with the flashy Speed Evo R spike worn by Leo Manzano and carried it into this budget-priced spike that delivers for events from 400 meters to the mile. Underfoot you’ll see that the pins closest to the outer edge of the track are placed farther forward on the shoe. The asymmetrical design doesn’t impede you when you’re running the straights, however, and it went completely unnoticed by one of our testers. However, we did feel the lack of any heel cushioning. Younger legs might not be bothered, but we were hoping for just a little more padding there when hitting heel-first. Fortunately, the spike plate is built in a way to create a pivot under the ball of your foot, so it’s most comfortable if you stay up on your toes.
Adidas Adizero Avanti
Boost might not seem like the best choice for a racing shoe, because the midsole material is far heavier than more traditional EVA foams and plastic plates. But the thin layer in the Avanti delivers better comfort along the length of the shoe without seeming to slow it down. When you’re running fast, it doesn’t feel exceptionally soft, like you’d find in road trainers, but there’s enough protection for those longer races. The most polarizing feature was the shoe’s fit. It runs a bit long and skinny, and the forefoot feels more narrow—especially across the pinky toe—than other spikes. And testers didn’t like how the tight bootie made it difficult to even get the shoe on. But the woven upper feels secure and comfortable if you have fairly narrow feet. The shoe has only four pins, with none placed under areas of greatest pressure on toe-off, but there’s plenty of traction from those spikes and the toothy plastic plate that holds them.
Brooks Wire v6
Going longer? This Brooks has the same kind of woven upper that we love on the Elmn8, but everything underfoot delivers just a bit more comfort for track races up to 10,000 meters. The midsole doesn’t have a rigid carbon-fiber plate, and the spike plate is designed with just four pins—plenty for grip at long-distance speeds. The surrounding plastic has a lot of flexibility built in and, combined with the thin layer of foam, it feels smooth and relatively soft when you hit on your midfoot or heel. “The forefoot was surprisingly flexible and grippy,” one tester said. “I like the teeth around the outside edge; with only four pins, you feel really secure, even on turns.”
Asics Hyper MD 7
Let’s start with a style note: Go for the black or orange versions of the MD 7. Our white test samples looked like bowling shoes, complete with the little heel lift. But it’s an entry-level track spike that delivers a snappy response on toe-off, combined with good grip to help you rip around the track once or twice. We found the heel foam is really hard and does little more than level the surface should the back half of your foot ever meet the track—which, at quarter-mile speed, it’s unlikely to do so. We all liked the upper, which has a traditional mesh and a lot of taped-on overlays to give you support through the turns. The five pins are positioned around the perimeter and protrude far, so you feel the hard sole underfoot more than some other spikes. But those, combined with plastic teeth around the edge of the plate, give plenty of traction at high speeds.
Under Armour Speedform Sprint 2
This unisex shoe feels as unique as it looks, its super-stiff, forward-leaning platform reflecting iridescent rainbow colors from its outsole as you charge down the track. “This is a shoe you want to wait to put on until right before you get in the blocks,” said a tester. But once you’re off and sprinting full bore, that same stiff platform made us feel like we were flying. Credit the full-length Pebax plate that has a convex shape under the midfoot to launch you into a forward motion. The raised part of the plate is cored out for weight savings. The breathable upper molds to your foot, and the interior is even comfortable if you race sock-less—the threadborne material is reinforced with a TPU film for security.
New Balance Vazee Sigma Harmony
Lightweight and super-strong Kevlar laces cinch down uniformly via an easy-to-use dial, wrapping the Vazee Sigma Harmony’s upper around the foot more snugly and securely than any other spike in this roundup. Combined with a notably stiff, full-length nylon polyamide plate, the dial makes this spike feels like a cycling shoe upon step-in. But with its eight spikes in an asymmetrical configuration and snappy feel, it’s ready to sprint out of the blocks. (The downside is that Boa lacing system is a little heavier than traditional laces.) New Balance updated this model to include a sleek, premium knit collar and a more aggressive plate, which New Balance athletes contributed data to help build and design.
New Balance MD 800v6
A new upper on this spike proved a big hit among testers. The higher-than-normal cut bootie is stretchy but securely held our feet in place. The upper, combined with a full-length plate, makes these spikes feel great for their intended use: race distances between 800 and 3K. “The midfoot and forefoot mesh seems to breathe great, while the back is noticeably less breathable,” noted a tester. Still, we dig the upper, which also has flat interior seams so you can wear the shoe without socks. We didn’t experience any internal rubbing or hot spots.
Saucony Endorphin 3
The Endorphin spike has gained half an ounce in the last year, but at just 3.9 ounces for the men’s shoe—3.2 ounces for women’s—the 3 still wins on the scale. Within those slight ounces, Saucony packed its SSL (Saucony Super Lite) EVA, a cushioning blend meant to maximize rebound and durability. Cushioning, though, is almost non-existent. The Endorphin’s a little more comfortable than a sprint spike, but you’ll still be looking for better protection at longer distances. The woven upper is breathable and soft, with overlays melted onto the woven material to provide a bit of structure without adding weight. The upper fit seemed high volume compared to others. The sole has just four metal pins to help save weight, but combined with the plastic frame, it bites the track adequately.