Annie: I have to confess, I wasn’t enamored of the looks of the Brooks Ghost Max when I first laid eyes on it. But seconds after putting it on and feeling its undeniable comfort and balanced cushion, it suddenly started lookin’ real good…
Drew: I never expect to be enamored with the look of a Brooks shoe and the Brooks Ghost Max looks decidedly Brooks-like even with the slight change up in midsole shape. That said, Brooks shoes tend to be reliable and the new models they release are rare but typically fill a niche. So let’s see what the Brooks Ghost Max has in store for us.
Brooks Ghost Max
Release Date: October 1, 2023
Weight: Men’s 10.0 oz., Women’s 9.0 oz.
Sizing: True to size
- Rundown: The Brooks Ghost Max has soft, fluffy cushion, a smooth feel, good stability, and a super comfortable upper. Even with lower than average durability it packs a lot of value.
Annie: At the very beginning of my initial run, I experienced some minor, temporary pressure on the medial side of my ankle where a plastic/silicone piece reinforces the top three lace eyelets. I re-tied the laces a tad more loosely for that first run and was perfectly fine. The piece must have then quickly molded to the curve of my ankle because I was able to lace up normally from then on and never had another problem.
Speaking of laces, the ones on the Brooks Ghost Max are stretchy and long. Those who despise floppy bows may want to enlist a runner’s knot just to reduce some of the extra length. And if you always prefer a runner’s knot anyway, rejoice.
There is plenty of padding around the heel collar and tongue, but I never felt stifled by it. The plush upper material isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s effective and comfy. I felt some air pass through the forefoot on a breezy day and wasn’t begging for mercy (at least not due to the shoe…) on a relentlessly hot and humid mid-August run, so I’d call breathability respectable.
I occasionally had some mild tongue slippage (to the lateral side), but I never suffered ill effects on the run and only visually noticed it after the fact.
Drew, what were your upper findings?
Drew: Tongue slippage, my mortal enemy. I had it too and it was one of two flaws with the upper of the Brooks Ghost Max. The other? Heat, humidity, and sweat mixed together to make his one of the smellier uppers on the market. It collects the nastiness, takes a long time to dry, and the smell ramps up. Breathability wasn’t bad, but not good enough to mitigate the odor disaster.
Otherwise, the upper was great. Padded and comfortable all around similar to one of the most reliable shoes in my closet, the Brooks Glycerin 20.
Fit: Is the Brooks Ghost Max wide foot friendly?
Annie: The Brooks Ghost Max ran true to size for me. I had my usual thumb’s width of space at the end, and the toe box was nice and generous for my average-to-slightly-wide forefoot. I had to cinch the lacing a little more than usual, as the mid-foot felt especially accommodating. So, I think wide footers and those with higher volume feet would do well in the Ghost Max.
I didn’t have any issues with lockdown, but I suspect narrow footers may prefer to cinch the mid-foot even more. If so, you may particularly want to make use of a runner’s knot in order to use up some of that downright lavish lace length.
As a purely aesthetic note for those who positively demand a clean visual line: cinching the laces did cause a bubble where extra fabric gathered just below where the laces start on top of the forefoot. But again, it had no impact on comfort or performance.
Was your experience similar with the men’s fit, Drew?
Drew: I found the Brooks Ghost Max fit to be very typical of Brooks running shoes—generous forefoot, puffy, over-cushioned heel collar. My tall, high-volume foot enjoys the fit. And that beefy heel collar cushioning always does a good job keeping my foot down inside the shoe and preventing heel slip, even when I’ve tied them loose.
Curiously on my size 12, the laces were just right. While they’re long in some sizes, other sizes won’t have any issues.
It’s a ho-hum, another day at the office, comfortable accomodating fit for Brooks.
Annie: Drew, I’ll let you take us through the brass tacks on the setup—elements of which are a rather big departure for a typical Brooks shoe, right? Did you find that to be a good thing?
Drew: First, the Brooks Ghost Max features a 6mm drop! That’s rare for Brooks, a brand that rarely deviates from 8-12mm. The 39mm heel is also quite tall for a Brooks shoe, beating out even the Glycerin 20 which only packs 38mm in the heel.
The foam here is the same as what’s on the normal Brooks Ghost, DNA Loft v2. But the DNA Loft v2 feels softer than I’ve ever felt on a Brooks shoe (they use DNA Loft v2 a lot). The fluffiness of the foam feels more like the Hoka Clifton line than it does other Brooks’ shoes.
Which…is a good thing. It’s a different midsole feel than Brooks has ever delivered before and it’s a good experience on foot. Between the fluffier-than-normal DNA Loft v2 and the GlideRoll Rocker, the Brooks Ghost Max softly meets the ground and smoothly rolls into toe-off. Think of it as a poof ball meant to soften the blow for your feet over lots of miles on concrete or asphalt.
Annie: Truth be told, I was pretty confident I was going to like this shoe just a few meters into my first run. Sometimes you just know when a shoe’s setup agrees with you, and the Brooks Ghost Max felt smooth and ready to cruise right out of the box.
While I’ve never run in the standard Ghost line, I loved the plush Glycerin 19 as a recovery shoe. Though, I sometimes craved a more balanced cushioning experience between the heel and the forefoot. The Ghost Max—with its 6mm drop and gentle rocker—delivered that for me.
The DNA LOFT v2 felt amply forgiving without ever feeling like I was sinking into quicksand. The ride was comfortable, responsive, and very protective. And while the Ghost Max ran like the neutral shoe that it is, the platform never seemed unstable. The rocker was natural, and the whole ride hit a sweet spot for my personal gait.
The Long Run Test
Annie: I’m generally not one to risk a long run (in this case, the longest run in my half-marathon training block) with a shoe I just met, but I had a good feeling about this one. So, I brashly took the Brooks Ghost Max out for my 2-hour progression run after just one date. It turned out that my trust and confidence were not misplaced, as the shoe passed the long run test with flying colors contrary to its neutral palette…
The midsole never bottomed out in the forefoot (I mean, it is a thick stack, but still…), comfort remained truly excellent, and I felt light on my feet throughout. I never regretted my shoe choice for a second.
As a matter of fact, I was already about 20 miles into testing the Brooks Ghost Max before learning of its listed 9 oz. weight (for a women’s sample size, that is), and I can say I genuinely did a double take at that number. While it doesn’t necessarily feel light in hand, I would have never guessed its weight based on how it felt on the road.
Impressed by its long run prowess, I wondered what other trouble we could get into together. So, I impishly took it out for a Fartlek to test its dexterity with more demanding paces. The Ghost Max didn’t excel at shifting through the gears, but it did hold its own much better than I would have guessed when looking at the shoe on paper. It only started feeling cumbersome on the last few fast-paced efforts—and let’s be honest: by then, my fitness level could have been equally at fault…
There are, of course, many shoes out there that more intentionally (and successfully) aspire to be the Swiss Army Knife of running shoes. But the Brooks Ghost Max could competently serve as a daily trainer-type option for those who prefer max cushion—especially if they are unable or uninterested in having a larger rotation, and/or if their training is currently focused more on volume than on sharpening their fastest of paces.
Did you also experience a touch of unexpected versatility, Drew, or did you find the Ghost Max sat squarely in a single lane?
Drew: If you’re looking for one shoe to do all your running, you should add the Brooks Ghost Max to your list of candidates. The Ghost Max is light enough to feel up to any kind of run or workout your training plan has scheduled.
But if you’re someone who likes a (running) shoe for every occasion, the Brooks Ghost Max is best suited for easy run days. Your feet and legs get top-shelf shock protection with the plush midsole which allows you to run longer.
I loved the Brooks Ghost Max for my easy days on runs from 6-10 miles. It’s the perfect shoe for easy days as mileage creeps up during a training cycle.
Annie: I confidently took the Ghost Max on multiple paved surfaces, wooden bridges, and packed dirt paths (sometimes with a bit of fine sand dusted on top). I encountered some fallen leaves on the pavement and felt no need to tread too carefully. I didn’t experience any downpours during testing, but light rain and the subsequently dampened sidewalks and streets didn’t present any problems.
About halfway through testing, I did notice some minor fraying in the few places where the midsole foam is exposed, but it’s in line with what I’d expect and only visible in the highest wear area under the ball of my forefoot. There’s lots of rubber coverage otherwise, and I haven’t noticed any change in grip as a result. How about you, Drew?
Drew: My 6’6” frame is burning through the Brooks Ghost Max’s traction fairly fast. I’ve got significant wear where I land and push off. And this is my second pair of the Ghost Max during the testing period! (More on that later.) The outsole feels like blown rubber and has the durability to match.
That said, the outsole gripped well and I didn’t have issues with slippage in the Ghost Max. But as I mentioned, the durability needs work.
Annie: The aforementioned (minor) fraying on the exposed midsole material is the only real sign of use on my pair after about 40 miles on varied surfaces. To be fair, I’m not generally hard on my shoes so am not always the best indicator when it comes to durability… I am a towering 5’0’’ tall after all, and I’m not out here breaking any land speed records either.
But Drew, you are much speedier than I even on your slowest of days, and you’re so tall that if people saw us walking down the street side by side, they’d question whether we were the same species. Point being, how has the Brooks Ghost Max held up to your demands over the miles? I know you mentioned having a rather bizarre (hopefully fluky) issue with the first test pair Brooks sent you…
Drew: On my first pair, the heel of the outsole collapsed during my first run. Like there was a hidden cavity within the solid foam midsole. I told Brooks, they had me send it back to check it out, and they sent me a new pair. The new pair has not collapsed and is working as intended. It appears my first pair was a lemon because my cushioning experience since then has been normal.
As for durability, I think the Brooks Ghost Max is more of a 250-mile shoe. The blown rubber outsole and soft midsole foam mean its life will be on the short side of daily running shoes. It’ll feel great while it lasts, but end of life will come sooner for this shoe than many others.
Value: Is the Brooks Ghost Max worth $150?
Annie: I think the price point of $150 is reasonable and even consumer-friendly when lined up against comparable max cushion models, many of which frequently retail at $160 (or even higher, if we open it up to shoes that utilize racing foams, but I digress). The fact that the Brooks Ghost Max also felt lighter on foot than its listed weight gives it a slightly broader use case than I might personally get out of some of those other max cushion options.
I think one such natural comparison could be to the New Balance Fresh Foam X More v4, which also retails at $150. That max cushion cruiser was a huge favorite of many (including you, right Drew?). But, despite loving the midsole foam as much as the next person, I just didn’t get along with the More v4 quite as well overall. I happen to vibe more with the geometry of the Ghost Max, and I prefer its upper and fit, as well. There’s something for everyone, it seems.
But Drew, you have an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s out there. What’s your take on the Ghost Max and its place in an already highly stacked (pun intended) field?
Drew: Annie, you are 100% correct to invoke the revered and horrendously long name of the More v4 (shortened for everyone’s sanity). That shoe delivers great value and an even greater soft, fluffy cushion for $150. It’s also great at long, slow miles. It’s the perfect comp.
The More v4 looks very modern while the Ghost Max looks very traditional. I preferred the More v4 upper. It seemed to dry quicker and achieve comfort without as many layers. Both have a great rocker motion and save the legs from pounding on the pavement. Both lack the outsole durability of other shoes. Both are super pleasant to wear. Which you choose really comes down to personal preference. But at $150, whichever model you prefer is giving you plenty of value at that price.
Brooks Ghost Max Summary
Annie: All in all, the Brooks Ghost Max gave me consistently balanced, enjoyable miles, and I’m into it.
I know people love to give Brooks a hard time for what can seem like a slow response to changes in the industry, aesthetics, or risk-taking; and perhaps some of it is deserved. But I’m a little amused by the fact that Brooks kind of doesn’t care if we think they’re cool or not. They do care if their stuff works, and they take their time to make that happen. They also back that confidence up better than anyone with their industry-best trial period and return policy. I can’t help but respect their game, even if the excitement of models like the Aurora-BL or Hyperion Max sometimes feels few and far between.
We may now be able to add the Brooks Ghost Max to that list, even if it seems like Brooks is a little late in coming to the max cushion party. The shoe stays true to what has made the brand successful in the sense that it’s not overly flashy or convoluted. But it does refreshingly marry that workhorse identity with a renewed awareness of how many consumers’ preferences have evolved. And the shoe works.
And this concludes my unsolicited dissertation on Brooks.
But seriously, Drew, I’m curious as to your thoughts on how the Ghost Max fits into Brooks’ own lineup as well as its place in the greater market. In the WearTesters Discord, a few of us have pondered whether Brooks could be running the risk of cannibalizing their own product with shoes like the Hyperion Max and now the Ghost Max. I’m inclined to believe that thought hasn’t somehow escaped their consideration, and their actions are likely quite measured, but what about you?
Drew: While Brooks is cannibalizing some of their models with needless line extensions, the Brooks Ghost Max is a line extension that needs to stick around for a while.
Soft, fluffy cushion, smooth feel, good stability, super comfortable upper – the Brooks Ghost Max packs a lot of value. Could it use better durability? Yes, it could. But overall, the Brooks Ghost Max is a near-perfect shoe for a lot of runners. It’ll for sure go on our list of Best Running Shoes for Beginners along with several other best lists.
Do I maybe wish Brooks had chosen a better name than Ghost Max? Yes. But that’s because I think the Ghost Max should have a name of its own so it can stick around for a long time.