Hot Stepping: Upcoming Running Shoe Brands Chasing Down the Competition


Looking for a fresh look and feel on your next run? Here are four brands pushing harder into the running market that you should know about.

Whether you credit the pandemic for sending more people outside to run (on the road or the trail), or consumers simply clamoring for a different approach to running footwear, we’ve seen a sizable shift in the way runners consume their footwear.

While the major footwear brands continue to pump out popular products (think Asics, Saucony, and New Balance), once-fringe brands like HOKA ONE ONE and On Running are now hot on the mainstream brands’ heels among both serious and casual runners.

But, as those brands have elevated into more popularity, they’ve left a void for more upstart companies to gain a foothold. We took a look at data provided by Matt Powell, senior industry advisor for The NPD Group, and spoke with Connor Johnson, owner of specialty running shop Fairhaven Runners in Bellingham, Wash., for a peek at hard-charging footwear brands that runners should know about.

Top Upcoming Running Shoe Brands

Puma

Puma
(Photo/Tim Newcomb)

Puma used to run with the runners, but the brand simply faded into the lifestyle backdrop. But take note: Puma is back in performance — first in basketball and golf and, most recently, in running.

In spring 2021, Puma released five new models — the Deviate, Deviate Elite, Velocity, Liberate, and Eternity — all focused on performance running.

Puma introduced a Nitro Foam cushioning technology that infuses nitrogen to create a lighter weight, responsive foam. It also innovated a new rubber technology for the outsole.

The Deviate Elite included a carbon fiber plate, and the Deviate has a carbon-composite plate. With five styles at introduction, Puma wanted to show off a style for every runner, including catering to women with women’s-specific designs born in the development stage. Puma says the Deviate and Velocity have proven the most popular in the first year.

This year, the brand isn’t slowing down. The Velocity Nitro 2 launched in February with an improved fit, according to the brand. And it marks the first of a new slate of 2022 products. A new Fast-R Nitro Elite will launch this spring — expect to see a women’s-exclusive Run XX Nitro later this spring.

(Fast-R Nitro Elite & Run XX Nitro are currently a European launch. We’ll update as soon as they’re available in the U.S.)

NOBULL

Nobull Runner +
NOBULL Runner +

This direct-to-consumer brand may not show up in your favorite specialty run shop, but that hasn’t stopped this gym native from aggressively entering running and expanding its functional fitness reach.

Launched in 2015, the simplistic NOBULL quickly took over CrossFit. Then in 2018, the brand added casual running. And starting in February of this year, NOBULL entered performance running with the Runner+.

The brand’s no-nonsense ethos means stripped-down construction. The Runner+ uses a Pebax midsole and tucks a nylon plate inside it. A no-seam engineered mesh matches the style.

NOBULL told us performance running marks a natural progression for a brand that already has over 300 NFL athletes training in its product — even though it only technically sponsors two of those athletes.

Its shoes are also seen on Olympians, hockey players, and tennis pros, along with its legion of CrossFit faithful. As NOBULL has shown incredible growth across functional fitness, a new lab in Vermont is in the works for the Boston-based brand. So, expect a focus on running that will lead to running-focused technology in the coming years.

Speedland

Speedland - SL HSV
Speedland – SL HSV

Legitimate trail runners have legitimate equipment for your feet with the launch of Speedland. Launched in summer 2021, Speedland brought high-end trail running footwear to the market (and by high end, we mean $375 for a pair).

The footwear veterans founding the brand wanted the best of premium materials at every point. That means a Michelin outsole, Pebax midsole, Dyneema upper, BOA Fit lacing, and Carbitex carbon plate.

The Portland-based brand focused on trail running and wants to use technology and the best materials available to create a dream build for footwear. The SL:PDX, available until it sells out, launched the brand. And the next model, the SL:HSV, a collaboration with Liz Canty that draws from her home Huntsville, Ala., runs, is the next version coming to market.

The SL:HSV refines the SL:PDX and includes a new BOA system, new Michelin outsole rubber compound designed for wet rocks, a more durable Carbitex carbon plate, and is gaiter-compatible.

Speedland may not be a high-volume producer, but the distinct “equipment” focus and dedication to the trail gives it a unique perspective in the running market. The new collaborations promised by the company, all in limited quantities, provide additional intrigue.

Athletic Propulsion Labs

Athletic Propulsion Labs - streamline
Athletic Propulsion Labs – streamline; (photo/Tim Newcomb)

Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) launched in 2010 with a high-tech basketball shoe. But it has since positioned itself as a luxury athletic brand focused on both style and tech.

APL moved beyond basketball into training shoes and entered running in 2014 with the TechLoom Pro. The 2021 release of the Streamline helped buoy APL into one of the top-growing running brands, according to Powell’s data.

The Streamline was designed with a new midsole and outsole built on FutureFoam, engineered for “exceptional compression, rebound and energy return,” while offering the step-in comfort of a recovery shoe with the energy generation of a distance runner.

The midsole surface features horizontal channels meant to help each stride smoothly flow through the air. The Streamline’s upper offers the new AeroLux woven textile. Every element in the shoe, from the sockliner to the two-piece rubber outsole was new for the brand.

As APL has expanded its running lines with a mix of proprietary technologies and styles, the $300 Streamline continues the “luxury” style with updated technologies. Expect a new performance running model from APL this spring as the brand remains focused on luxury performance.

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