It’s been a few years since I have been able to really self-identify as a runner. I still love running, but after two knee surgeries, my left knee is less enthused. I am always an optimist, though, and eagerly try every new running shoe we get offered, hoping to find one that works…and Brooks seems to have come through in a big way with the Levitate!
Brooks Levitate is a lightweight, cushion-y neutral road shoe. At first glance, they look almost simple — there’s a tread pattern, a sole, and a smooth upper. No fancy swirly holes, or gel-filled packs, or plates embedded in the middle. But when you put them on, you realize that these were shoes designed to disappear around your feet, and do an absolutely amazing job. I ran a few miles in these over the last week, and while that’s hardly a record-setting amount, I did those miles without knee pain, nor did my knee swell up after the runs. I give full credit to the cushion in the Levitates, as it is soft enough to mitigate the impact of hitting the ground without feeling overly bouncy.
Brooks specifically highlights the midsole cushion as a big part of what makes the Levitates special:
With the most energy return of leading performance running shoes, Levitate’s DNA AMP midsole technology gives energy nowhere to go but up, straight back to you.
That … seems like an oversimplification of the laws of physics, but the end result is a smooth, comfortable ride that eases some of the impact from running and still gives you a stable surface for each footstrike. There is an 8mm heel to toe drop, so that edges the Levitates out of the traditional “minimal” category, but it is still quite low. For reference, the Asics Gel Nimbus 19 [another neutral, cushioned running shoe] has a whopping 13mm heel to toe drop. Plainly, this means that it’s the difference between your heel being higher than your toes by about the depth of an average size pen (for the Levitates) or just shy of two pens stacked together (for the Nimbus). That’s a big difference for your stride, especially if you tend to strike forefoot or midfoot. The Levitates aren’t completely flat, but you should still be able to comfortably land on your midfoot or forefoot in them, while the deeper heel to toe drop can interfere with that stride. Trust me, as an amateur runner with knee issues, you do not want anything to alter your natural gait. Personally, I tend to be biased towards lower heel to toe drops, and I think the Levitate does a great job with theirs.
The other thing that really makes the Levitates stand out is the upper. Brooks calls it a “Fitknit” upper, and the biggest thing is that it is basically seamless. I wore the Levitates completely barefoot for an entire day and didn’t experience one hotspot or rough area. It’s a smooth, clean, comfortable design that ensures you don’t have any distractions or niggling issues bothering you on your run. I can’t say enough about how soft and comfortable the upper is, and I was equally pleased with how the midfoot lacing locked down nicely and did not show any signs of untying or coming loose. Since I can’t run more than a few miles at a time, instead I torture-tested the Levitates by wearing them for a day of yard work, and they did not come loose or need to be retied once. I also think they have an awesome futuristic style to them, with the smooth upper and the silvery soles.
Brooks Levitates are not cheap at $149, but in them, you get a shoe that should work for a recreational runner who wants a shoe that can easily go from training to racing. They’re comfortable, they look great, and the treads on the bottom seem fairly tough, so I don’t foresee any durability issues. Brooks isn’t necessarily a household name in running shoes, but the Levitates should be at the top of anyone’s list who needs a neutral running shoe. They have certainly worked for me, and in fact, I was so excited to have found shoes that were comfortable, I agreed to run a 5k in December … if I don’t completely embarrass myself, I’ll update this review with the results!
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Liked: Comfortable fit; sole is cushioned but still firm; upper is smooth enough that the shoes can be worn without socks; low heel to toe drop; tread is excellent for running shoes
What Needs Improvement: A bit pricey (though in line with most shoes in this category); tread grooves can sometimes collect small pebbles and dirt.