Top 5 Carbon Plated Running Shoes Of 2021

by Sportitude
20 Dec 2021

Josh reviews his top 5 carbon plated running shoes of 2021, the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2, Saucony Endorphin Pro family, Asics MetaSpeed Sky, Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%, Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 and a bonus Hoka One One super cushioned shoe that he'll reveal at the end.

Carbon plated running shoes are designed for the runner that wants to move fast and are typically reserved for race day or training sessions leading up to your next big event like 10K races, half marathon, marathon or triathlon.

Most carbon plated racing shoes are engineered to be featherlight in weight to prioritise speed and responsiveness, encouraging you to propel explosively and efficiently into your next stride. They have varying levels of support, with top running brands catering to everyone from new racers to elite athletes within this category as it grows in popularity.

Josh demystifies what's what when it comes to carbon plated running shoes and provides insight on his top 5 to discover which model is the best for you to partner up with on your racing journey and to potentially enjoy the view from the winner's podium.

Check out the review with full transcript below.

Hey guys, Josh here from Sportitude Running and it's shoe review time. We're going to be talking all things top 5 carbon plate running shoes for 2021.

I did an in-depth carbon plated review earlier this year around six months ago where we looked at the holistic approach to carbon plate shoes, why they even exist and a little bit more detail about those super foams. We'll drop the link to that video down below.

We're now almost at the end of 2021 and I think it's a great time to look at the year that been and to grab our top 5 and bring it to you the running community all around Australia and the world.

Obviously to fall into this category the shoes need to have a carbon plate, simple as that. The other thing that we've accumulated over this time frame is some feedback from our customers, be it road runners from 10K, half marathon or marathon distance runners. We’ve also taken some data from the triathlon community out there, anything from Olympic distance triathlon right up to the Ironman distance.

We've accumulated all that feedback, feedback from our staff members downstairs and we also took into consideration our RunDNA technology which is using RunScribe pods to analyse how someone moves within a race shoe.

With all that data we came to this position right now where I have 5 shoes in front of me which we're going jump into with today's review. Stick around because at the end I do have one extra shoe I'd like to talk about which technically does fall into this category but it's a little bit different. Without further ado let's get stuck in.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2

The first shoe we're going to talk about is the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2. This shoe had quite the update from its first version. They increased the stack height, so it's just under that World Athletics approval of 40mm. It has 39mm in the heel and a 31mm in the forefoot for that variance of 8mm.

The FuelCell technology underneath the foot is really soft. It's incredibly squishy, you get a lot of compression which then engages that carbon plate and creates a very snappy, propulsive feel through the forefoot. By increasing the stack height from its first iteration, New Balance were able to get a little bit more aggressive with regards to the dip of that carbon plate.

It has a full-length carbon plate running from heel-to-toe. That dip gets down nice and low through to the forefoot which creates that snappy, propulsive feel.

The one thing we found with this shoe specifically is it's a little bit more dialled in up top. We found it to be a very popular shoe for the triathlete market. The main reason being is it's an easy shoe to get on your foot in transition in T2 with regards to this Achilles flare at the back.

You can obviously put in your elastic shoe laces if need be and the eyelets and everything around this construction of the upper is a little bit more supportive than some of the other models out there.

The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2 is a great racing shoe and a great update. It's been very well received out there and that is why it makes our top 5.

Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 & Saucony Endorphin Pro+

The next shoe we're going to talk about is a model that hasn't had much change for its first version and they threw in an iteration of the shoe itself.

In my hand I hold the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2, Saucony’s premium race day shoe. It's a slightly lower stack, we're talking 35.5mm heel and a 27.5mm forefoot so you're a little bit closer to the ground.

Saucony use their PWRRUN PB which is their super foam. It's not quite as soft as your ZoomX from Nike and also your FuelCell from New Balance but that's not a bad thing because it's catering to a slightly different runner. It’s a runner that wants a little bit more of a firmer feel but is really looking for that snappy, propulsive feel which is what you get from that carbon plate injected inside this midsole.

Just recently Saucony launched the Saucony Endorphin Pro+. I'm going to ask you consider these two as one shoe. The reason I say that is because they are so similar. The midsole, the outsole and the carbon plate engineering - everything is the same.

The only adjustment is that the upper in the Saucony Endorphin Pro+ is marginally lighter. For a men’s size 9 we drop down to around 195 grams in the Saucony Endorphin Pro+ and in a men's size 9 in the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 it’s around 208 grams in weight. That's using our scales so that the biggest change was the weight reduction in both shoes.

We've done heaps of testing downstairs and compared these two running shoes and the feedback was pretty similar. For some runners that need a little bit more of a lockdown especially over that arch area they would prefer the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2. However, for that runner who is maybe slightly more biomechanically efficient and is searching for that that really light fit with more of a spike feel on top of the foot, than the Saucony Endorphin Pro+ has been the shoe of choice.

Asics MetaSpeed Sky & Asics MetaSpeed Edge

The next shoe in our review is none other than the Asics MetaSpeed Sky and the Asics MetaSpeed Edge. Again, they look absolutely near on identical but there is a bit of a variance between the two of them so we are asking that we treat these two shoes as one in today's review.

The variances between both of them is more to do with the heel-to-toe offset and stack height. If we're talking about the Asics MetaSpeed Sky, there is a marginal variance between the men's and women's model. The men's stack height is 33mm in the heel and 28mm in the forefoot for variance of 5mm. The women’s model is 31mm in the heel and 26mm in the forefoot.

When we talk about the Asics MetaSpeed Edge, it's a slightly lower stack so there’s a little bit less shoe under your body. We have 29mm in the heel and 21mm in the forefoot for an 8mm drop in the men’s model and we have 28mm in the heel and 20mm in the forefoot in the women’s model. There is that 1mm variance between the men’s and women’s model in this shoe.

You may be asking at home, “Why have a shoe like this with a higher heel-to-toe drop and lower stack versus a lower heel-to-toe drop and higher stack?”. It's a bit confusing when I explain it like that but essentially Asics launched both of these shoes at the same time.

A runner that has a slightly higher cadence would be leaning towards the Asics MetaSpeed Edge versus someone who has a slightly lower cadence, that’s hitting the ground with more force under their body to get that compression through that softer foam to generate that propulsive feel through the forefoot.

The feedback we had downstairs is that the Asics MetaSpeed Edge is probably more dialled in for someone in that 5km to 10km road market or even up to a half marathon.

We found the Asics MetaSpeed Sky to be a really successful one for 10K, but more dialling into that half marathon to full marathon distance. We also have lot of success with this shoe in that triathlon community. The main reason being is the lacing system is nice and dialled in, keeping your foot on top of that platform.

However, the surface area has probably been the biggest advantage for a lot of triathletes. When we’re talking about triathlon the third discipline is the run leg and we're usually pretty fatigued from the swim and the bike, be it Olympic distance, half Ironman or a full Ironman distance where you're trying to complete the race with a marathon at the end.

Having more surface area offers really good coverage with regards to the outsole. It provides a pretty stable base underneath the foot for when the body is fatiguing a little bit and requiring that extra support if you can get it from a racing flat.

The other thing to note is the Asics MetaSpeed Sky and the Asics MetaSpeed Edge are stiff. The carbon plate is a little bit thicker and it's a little bit more rigid through the construction of the shoe in comparison to all the others we're going to go through in today's review.

That in itself actually put this as a shoe that has a marginal point of difference. For someone who can hit the ground a bit harder and provide a little bit more of an explosive feel through the foot, the Asics MetaSpeed Sky with that carbon plate technology has worked very well.

The Asics MetaSpeed Sky is an incredibly lightweight shoe coming in at 195 grams in a men's size 9 and 165 grams for a women’s size 7. In the Asics MetaSpeed Edge we have 190 grams in the men’s model and 160 grams in the women’s model. There is 5 gram variance in regards to the Asics MetaSpeed Sky and Asics MetaSpeed Edge

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%

The fourth shoe in our review today is the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%. This is not new, this shoe has been around now for about 18 months and it is a shoe that created a lot of hype, especially around the successful INEOS project when Eliud Kipchoge did break that two-hour barrier. Everyone wanted to get their hands on this shoe.

What Nike did regarding where it had come from with the NEXT% is they put a lot underneath the foot. We have two Zoom Air units, carbon plate and ZoomX foam. There is a fair bit of engineering going on underneath the foot.

It’s not the lightest out of the whole carbon plate shoes. We're talking around 210 grams for a men's size 9 and around 185 grams for a women’s size 7. It's still very light, however this shoe is really pitching towards that runner that wants a really soft but propulsive system underneath their foot and it's probably targeting more your forefoot runner.

If you happen to be a heel striker in this shoe we have seen it doesn't work quite as well as some of the others here today. That being said, obviously it says on the side it's verified by world-class runners in the Nike lab so therefore all the testing, verification and the validation on this shoe and what we see with the NEXT% is essentially the creme de la crème, the top of the top, your elite runners. They are very efficient mechanical movers so therefore everything about this shoe is dialled in for those top tier runners.

When we see runners coming through who are chasing PBs, recreational runners that are still very fast runners, sometimes we have to take the blinkers off and look in other lanes because this may not be the shoe that's going to dial in for you and it may not be the shoe that you're going to chase down your PBs with success.

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2

Last but not least, this would not be a top 5 carbon plate shoe review if I did not talk all things Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2. Purely based on participation or shoes on feet in the carbon plate category this is #1 globally and it's #1 by a country mile. This shoe had a big head start on the whole industry and it was off the back of the Nike Vaporfly 4% which we saw around 2017 with that first Breaking2 attempt from Eliud Kipchonge and the crew.

Ever since then we saw version one of the NEXT% come through and then we have the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2. The AtomKnit upper which is essentially off what they have in the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% as well is a very light and breathable upper.

This shoe is a very fast racing shoe, coming in at around 195 grams in a men's size 9 and we're talking around 165 grams in a women’s size 7. It has a pretty generous stack height with an 8mm heel-to-toe drop, with a 40mm heel and 32mm forefoot.

When we're talking NEXT%, we are having that conversation about those really dialled in, very biomechanically sound runners. The main reason we say that is because the shoe itself doesn't have a very wide platform. A lot of the landing area is relatively narrow, but the main reason Nike have done that is to reduce weight and get that carbon plate engaged and the runner really propelling through that forefoot.

As I said a minute ago, it's all about that really elite, efficient runner that's going to find success in this shoe.

It’s interesting to note that because the upper of this shoe is really minimalistic, it is a little bit fiddly to get it on the foot. You have to take your time, making sure your running socks are sitting right, taking note of the anatomical lacing system as it comes down to the lateral side on the left and on the right side, and that the heel counter is a little bit lighter.

You want to take your time getting it on the foot making sure that all the bumps and creases are in the right areas. With that being said, it's not the most popular shoe for triathlon. I still see a lot of these out on the triathlon circuit and the main reason is more to do with the performance underneath the foot.

However, T2 can be a little bit long if you're having a Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 in your rotation and getting your foot inside this shoe and making it comfortable before you get out onto your run leg can be a little bit time consuming.

During the discussions we've had with a lot of triathletes that come through, be it Olympic distance, your 70.3 athletes or your Ironman athletes we tend to ask “What's going to make you a better runner?”.

Is it going to be a New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2? We have found that running shoe incredibly popular for that triathlon community because it performs incredibly well. It has a more sound heel counter, it's a lot easier to get on with an elastic lace system to slip your foot in nice and comfortably inside that shoe.

There’s also the Asics MetaSpeed Sky which is again a very light shoe but we believe it’s a little bit more dialled in for that triathlon runner.

I’m not discrediting the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 running shoe because as I said in the intro, it is the most popular in terms of market share across the carbon plate industry around the world.

Obviously Nike have got it right and there's a lot of runners out there that are getting along with this shoe and that will be the case for the next iteration of the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% which we will see coming through in the next 12 months.

Hoka One One Bondi X

I know I've gone through the top 5 but as I said in the intro there is a special mention to a shoe that I am going to bring up. I'm holding the Hoka One One Bondi X. Yes, this shoe is heavy. Yes, this shoe is generous in every aspect being the stack height and the surface area underneath the foot.

It has a full-length carbon plate and the reason I wanted to just throw this into the conversation today is because it is a carbon plated shoe. It's 300 grams in a men's size 9 and it is a more cushioned stable carbon plate shoe regarding all the others we've gone through today.

Every single one that we have touched on the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2, Saucony Endorphin Pro+, New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2, Asics MetaSpeed Sky, Asics MetaSpeed Edge, the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% and Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 are so light.

They're very much dialled in and they will be used for potentially anywhere between 5% to 10% of your whole running rotation pre your race day.

The Hoka One Bondi X is incredibly versatile. You can use it for mileage running and you can obviously use it for race day.

It’s not going to be a shoe that you will see on the podium. Actually, I will sit here and put my hat on that, you will never see this on a podium in any elite event but it's going to be a shoe that's going to be extremely well received for a lot of runners that just haven't been able to get along with the lightweight, minimalistic carbon plate shoes that have been on the market now for 5 years.

For someone who wants a carbon plate fit and feel but needs more protection and more stability, the Hoka One One Bondi X is going to be shoe that I would certainly recommend, and I think this is going to be a shoe you will see out there on the Ironman circuit throughout 2022.

It’s crazy cushioned, really stable but you still get that little pop through the forefoot. It has an extended Crash Pad at the heel and the rocker sole. Everything about it is dialled in for protection but also a little bit of extra push too underneath the foot which is great.

The Wrap Up

There you have it, the top 5 plus 1 carbon plated shoes for 2021. This has been a fun conversation and we enjoy very much helping people downstairs at Sportitude Running chase those PBs and get themselves into a race day shoe.

The great thing about this is now there is I believe a carbon plate shoe for nearly every single runner out there which is great. Everyone from your person who's just getting out there rolling the legs over in the Hoka One One Bondi X, right up to your Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 and Nike Air Zoom Aphafly NEXT%, New Balance FuellCell RC Elite v2, Saucony Endorphin Pro family and obviously the Asics MetaSpeed Sky which landed mid part of 2021.

This category will continue to grow. Brands out there are going to keep pushing the boundaries and keep testing the engineering department, so watch this space.

By no means is it going to be a stagnant category, it's going to get better and better. There has to come a point in time when you can't make your shoes so light. You can't keep getting lighter and lighter every single year, so we believe there'll be a lot put into those midsoles and how they can better perform for the runners out there.

If you have any questions on the 5 carbon plated shoes plus 1 with the Hoka One One Bondi X please contact our Sportitude shoe experts and subscribe to the Sportitude YouTube channel for the latest and greatest in running shoe reviews.

If I have missed a carbon plate shoe that you think should make this review please let us know. I'd love to hear all things footwear and what you are using all around the world.

Until next time stay safe, be kind to one another, happy racing and we'll see you on the road. Take care.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2

Shop / Review

Saucony Endorphin Pro 2

Shop / Review

Saucony Endorphin Pro+

Shop / Review

Asics MetaSpeed Sky

Shop / Review

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%


Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2

Shop / Review

Hoka One One Bondi X

Shop / Review

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