10 Best Cushioned Running Shoes in 2021

Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic on
10 Best Cushioned Running Shoes in 2021

Cushioning is what makes the shoes comfortable, soft, bouncy. Some cushioning units help you feel nice and pampered on those slow recovery days. Others encourage you to speed up, feeling like small trampolines under your feet.

With our independent shoe lab and wear tests, we have reviewed over 100 cushioned running shoes to pick out the cream of the crop.

You can find an all-around workhorse for daily runs, a springy race shoe, or a trail crusher, among others. See our top choices from five different categories below.

And if you’d like to learn more expert tips on finding the best cushioned running shoe for you, scroll down to the guide under the shoe descriptions.

How we choose the best cushioned running shoes

We know how to tell shoes with great cushioning apart from “normal” ones. Here is our approach:

  • A team of dedicated runners tests each pair for 30-50 miles on average to provide extensive feedback.
  • Our RunRepeat lab literally tears each shoe apart to measure over 30 different parameters. We even put shoes in the freezer to check how their cushioning changes in cold temperatures.
  • We purchase all running shoes with our own money to avoid brand loyalty and bias.
  • Our system collects reviews from experts and users all over the web to make our reviews more comprehensive.

The verdict on each shoe is presented in a CoreScore. It is a number from 0 to 100 that allows us to compare and rank 1600+ cushioned running shoes.

The best shoes get on this list.

Best overall

Reinventing the Hoka Signature, the Mach 4 lets go of that cottony-soft feel in favor of a more stable, lively ride. And we couldn’t agree more.

Over 1500+ shoes in our database, the Mach 4 comes on top after acing our tests. After 50 miles in, we can say it’s a standout in providing all-day support and comfort - even more so than its Clifton sibling.

For a shoe with all that foam, the Mach 4 is incredibly light! In our scales, it weighs in at 7.85 oz, while the average shoes sit at 9.4 oz (in our lab testing result). This also reflects on the run, we didn’t feel the shoe dragging the foot. It’s so light, we even forgot it’s there. 

What makes the Mach an even greater shoe is that it has a locked-in fit. It’s not too stretchy, creating that secure wrap around the contours of the foot.

It’s hard to decide where it sits in our rotation. But if there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that the Mach has the makings of a truly versatile shoe.

It’s comfortable enough for daily runs, responsive enough to push the pace, and supportive enough for some gym sessions.

See our full review and facts

If it’s a premium running shoe you’re after, you can’t get more premium than the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run!

The hype around the ZoomX foam was insane, and we just couldn't resist but test it out ourselves. And here we are, swooning over it too!

Oh so plush, and oh so peppy. Running in the Invincible felt like we were bouncing on some springs. Each step was effortless and smooth, our legs were free from fatigue.

If there’s one thing this shoe is oozing with, it’s comfort. Its padding kept our feet very cozy and protected, we’d choose this over any shoe for long, easy days on the road! 

And although it’s heavy on paper (9.8 oz vs 9.4 oz average, in our lab test), it feels like nothing on foot. It’s light and airy.

Nike shoes are generally on the narrower end, but that’s not the case with the ZoomX Invincible Run. It’s accommodating even for us wide-footed runners. 

If you don’t mind spending $180 on a dedicated slow, high-mileage shoe, take the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run. After hundreds of shoe tests, we haven’t been this confident in recommending a pair!

See our full review and facts

Best for race

We don’t normally gush over running shoes, but when we do, it’s without a doubt, a REALLY excellent shoe. And that’s what we consider the Asics MetaSpeed Sky to be. 

Smash PBs, win races - this shoe is everything fast! It’s a speed monster and it didn’t come here to play.

The midsole is where the magic happens. The carbon plate just gives you that rebounding ride, while the FlyteFoam Blast propels and pushes you forward. We kid you not, it sent us zooming through the blocks!

And essential for a race shoe, the MetaSpeed Sky generates a snug, wobble-free fit. The heel and midfoot are nice and secure, while there’s sufficient room in the forefoot to allow some wriggle room. Taking it up a notch, it’s got a comfortable fit - padded in all the right places.

Although loaded with superb features, the shoe does not load it up on our weighing scale. Via our lab test results, the average running shoe comes in at 9.4 oz. Guess what? The MetaSpeed Sky is significantly lighter at 6.7 oz. 

$250 is a HUGE price to pay for a pair of running shoes, more so for a race shoe (as they don’t normally last long). But with the Asics MetaSpeed Sky, we’d gladly make an exception.

See our full review and facts

The Endorphin Pro 2 from Saucony just loves to go head to head with Asics MetaSpeed Sky. But after having tested it a couple of times, we totally understand why it’s always the case - it’s a really good shoe that will send you flying!

If it weren’t for the Endorphin’s less stable ride than that of the MetaSpeed, we’re not even sure if we can pick one against the other. Their difference is so minuscule, it’s hard to choose. 

But here we are, 50 miles later, and we can honestly say the Endorphin Pro 2 is a killer in the speed arena. It perfects the blend between stiffness and bounce, creating a very swift and lively ride.

Want to beat the competition? Take this shoe anytime. It doesn’t disappoint.

Yes, it has lighter counterparts like the Vaporfly (6.9 oz) and MetaSpeed Sky (6.7). It doesn’t necessarily tip the scales at 7.6 oz (vs. 9.4 oz average, based on our lab test result), nor does it feel clunky.

In fact, the added weight is all in the name of more outsole rubber coverage to amp up the shoe’s durability. And we are not complaining.

See our full review and facts

Best for trail

Sleeky and sexy -  that’s not something you’d expect from a trail shoe.

The Pegasus line from Nike is nearing its 40th version, and runners just had to have it in a trail version. Three iterations later, the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 came into the running scene. And we love every bit of it!

It’s a max-cushioned trainer that can eat up miles on the gnarliest terrain. And if you want soft landings on the trail, this will give you just that.

The shoe’s React foam is what dreams are made of! It’s plush, and bouncy, and nothing like a trail shoe. Seriously, it felt like it was a road shoe.

All that softness doesn’t render the ride unstable either. In fact, wel felt confident on uneven surfaces, and when crushing downhills. 

It may be peppy, but it definitely has its limits in tempo paces. It’s just got a lot of weight -  even for a maximalist trail shoe. In our lab tests, we’ve gathered that max-cushioned shoes normally weigh in at 9.5 oz, whereas the Peg Trail 3 comes at a whopping 10.8 oz!

Nike, that’s just crazy. Maybe put this shoe on a diet, and then we’ll talk.

Thankfully, the outsole is here to make amends. Contrary to the average shoe (with outsole depth: 3.8mm; hardness: 79.2HC), the Nike Pegasus Trail 3 has an outsole thickness of 5.5mm and stiffness of 86HC.

In simpler terms, it’s a tank!

See our full review and facts

The Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 is a surefire winner if you want an ultra running trail shoe that’s built on stability, grip, and durability.

Before coming up with such a bold statement, we tested out the Speedgoat ourselves, and it delivered with flying colors!

Right off the bat, it’s not your typical cloud-like Hoka. Forgoing some of that cush means more support underfoot, making way for a more controlled, stable ride.

To crank it up even further, the shoe has a wide base to ensure the foot lands free of any wobbly sensation. And if there’s an element to recognize here, it’s the Vibram outsole. 

It stole the show for us, biting deep and hard on the ground, it’s almost as if smashing downhill segments were nothing.

Hands down Hoka, this is by far, among THE most durable trail shoes we’ve tested. After raking 50 miles in it, it still looks untouched!

There’s nothing to not like about this shoe, except that it’s ONE HEFT OF A SHOE. All the benefits we experienced come at a price of weight. At 11 oz, it’s just way up there, man!

See our full review and facts

Best for flat feet

Flat feet can be a painful foot condition if not paired with the right running shoes. And if you’re looking for one, buy the Adrenaline GTS 21!

After some runs in it, it’s one of the few stability shoes that packs so much comfort while keeping the feet so stable, they stay in place the whole time.

It’s not restricting either, which is a huge plus for such a shoe that supports the feet excellently.

What makes the Adrenaline GTS 21 our cream of the crop is that its supportive features are not obtrusive. In fact, they are only activated when the foot moves far off the sides.

This means neutral runners can also enjoy the shoe just as much as overpronators (feet roll inward excessively) and those with flat feet do.

The shoe is on the heavier end, weighing in at 10.2 oz (our lab tests tell us the average max-cushioned running shoe sits at 9.5 oz). But with its performance, we don’t mind one bit! It just ate up everything we threw at it. 

It’s built to last, and last it did. After putting it through some rough wear testing, this shoe showed little to no sign of damage. It’s a beast in this department! We expect it to last 400-500 miles.

See our full review and facts

Every runner knows the Kayano as it’s become a household name for the last two decades, and it’s not without reason.

Now on its 28th edition, the Kayano surely nailed it in the running scene for it to last this long. Miles in the Kayano, we are here to say, we couldn’t agree more!

Our feet just can’t get enough of the Kayano, it even made it to our list of best running shoes. It’s that good. Why, you ask?

Simply because it stands out in its ride. It’s stable alright, but it just has that blend of bounce and support that most stability shoes couldn’t get right. And here we have the Kayano, just doing it so effortlessly and it does it fantastically too.

It was a thrill to run in!

What makes it a star (and not just another celebrity) is that it does what previous Kayanos didn’t. It’s got more flex! This adds to the overall pop of the shoe, making it not only a stable ride but a fun one too. 

Now, that’s unusual for a stability shoe, but it’s all in a good way.

Although it’s still a heavy shoe (10.6 oz vs. the average 9.4 oz), we are patting Asics on the back. It’s WAY lighter than the past Kayanos, and we’re definitely seeing it going in the direction. 

If you want a shoe that can go the distance while keeping your feet well-cushioned and stable, we can’t recommend the Asics Gel Kayano 28 enough. Trust us, it’s worth every penny! 

See our full review and facts

Best budget shoe

$100 for a speedster? That’s the Saucony Axon!

Come on now, who doesn’t love a budget shoe that has what it takes to pace you through your training runs? Because we sure do, and we hit home with the Axon.

The shoe is built on the Endorphin platform (the brand’s top line of running shoes), and with that alone, we are amazed! It’s fast-transitioning like that of the Endorphin, so it will really roll you through your strides.

Speed-ready? Man, this shoe just kept us on our toes. There’s really no need to push it forward - IT will bolt you forward!

Just to make everything clear, this is anything but plush. But all that stiffness actually contributes to the shoe’s ability to go fast. It goes hand in hand with the rocker geometry and keeps transitions nice and easy.

It’s not everyday that you get a durable shoe for just 100 bucks. We are confident Saucony Axon can last 400-500 miles.

The carbon rubber outsole is stiffer (82.5HC) than the average (75.1HC). And the rigid midsole is not going to bottom out easily.

See our full review and facts

At $90, the Nike Air Zoom Winflo 8 just filled with so much comfort, it feels like a couch to our feet!

It’s simple but it gets a lot of work done (literally). If you want one shoe for everything - from daily runs, walks, and athleisure, this is a solid choice. 

It can even be your choice for 10Ks, thanks to its supportive yet comfortable ride. This is also the same reason we’d take it any day if we want a shoe that we can stand in all-day long!

For such a cheap price, the Winflo surprisingly outdid some of the higher-end shoes we’ve tested. It can even go head to head with more advanced models!

Staying true to its Nike roots, the Air Zoom Winflo 8 is a natural when it comes to style. It’s got that street-ready aesthetic that will surely catch some attention.

And if you want a featherweight, breathable shoe, buy this. It keeps the feet cool and dry (even under 80F)!

See our full review and facts

3 tips for buying cushioned shoes

If you’re new to running, make sure you go through our expert guide on buying running shoes so you cover all the important (first) steps in the decision-making process.

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1. Check cushioning placement

Depending on your footstrike, you should check whether your chosen model has more (or equal amounts of) cushioning in the forefoot or in the heel. You need that pillowy feature exactly where you land on the ground with your feet.

As 94% of runners are heel strikers, most running shoes have more cushioning in the heel.

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Example of a shoe with more cushioning in the heel (Nike ZoomX Invincible Run), best for heel strikers

2. Check shoe weight

Cushioned shoes come at a price: they tend to weigh more, simply because they have thicker midsoles. If you feel this extra weight during your runs, you can look for lightweight cushioned shoes.

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Saucony Kinvara 12 (7.6 oz / 216 g) vs. Adidas Ultraboost 21 (12.7 oz / 361 g)

 

3. Check cushioning level

If you’re planning longer runs and need more impact protection, you should look for more cushioning. For an occasional run on non-technical terrain you don’t need to go all maximalist.

Examples of max-cushioned running shoes

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daily trainer from Hoka (left), speed trainer from Saucony (center), elite race shoe from Asics (right)

If you’re used to running in low-profile shoes, you might need to go through a transition period to allow your feet to adapt to new cushioning levels. 

What to expect from cushioned running shoes

Comfort. And then some more comfort!

You might feel like foamy clouds are the best thing that happened to your feet. Those cushioning layers surely feel comfortable and soft and allow your feet to run without feeling every little terrain detail.

To up the ante, the newest technologies might even help you run faster (like this analysis showed) thanks to their spring-like effects and additions like carbon plates.  

However, scientific circles have examined other effects as well: 

Running speed 

  • Adding weight to your shoes will slow you down, as shown here

Impact forces 

Running economy 

Injury & body mass

  • The injury risk was higher in lighter participants running in the hard shoes compared with those using soft shoes. For details, read this study

Midsole technologies explained

Cushioning is defined by the midsole of the shoe: part of the shoe between the upper and the outsole. The most common midsoles in traditional shoes are made of two types of foam: EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) or PU (polyurethane).

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There are different types of midsoles and the biggest differences are seen in the padding positioning, softness/firmness, and energy return. For beginners, it’s recommended to find a shoe that’s comfortable, and leave other factors for more advanced runs, when the time comes. 

Brands tend to develop their own signature materials. That’s how new foams have entered the scene. The biggest step was made once the energy return was measured - Nike’s cushioning technology allows for up to 85% energy return. Most of these innovative midsoles not only cushion your feet but also offer a spring-like response.

Nike Zoom

Nike Zoom: more responsiveness, less pronation. Designed for speed and agility. This technology allows tightly stretched fibers to snap back for fast movement and reduced stress on muscles, joints, and tendons.

Zoom Air: Nike’s tightly stretched tensile fibers that are knit inside a pressurized Nike Air unit, all with the purpose of snappy responsiveness. Made for more responsive and energetic runs.

ZoomX: magically energetic and the lightest foam created by Nike. It uses cutting-edge engineering which allows for 85% energy return.

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% elite racer uses ZoomX foam combined with Zoom Air pods in the forefoot for maximized performance.

Saucony PWRRUN+

Saucony’s lightest cushioning technology that puts a spring in your step. Highly flexible so it offers powerful take-offs, fluid transitions and softer landings. Durable and made for long distances.

Saucony’s elite race shoe, the Endorphin Pro 2, employs PWRRUN+.

Asics Gel

Asics’s Gel rearfoot technology reduces impact during heel strike, forefoot Gel technology enhances shock reduction during forward movement. Together they allow for maximum comfort. This cushioning was created for longer distances, stability nad natural run style.

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Asics Gel on the Cumulus 23, a popular daily trainer

Asics FlyteFoam

Asics has several variations of FlyteFoams to offer:

  • Lyte, which is focused on the heel and retains shape after every run
  • Propel, with the purpose of greater spring and toe-off (high-energy return and less drag)
  • Blast, with even more springiness and softness

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FlyteFoam Blast on Asics Novablast 2

New Balance Fresh Foam X

New Balance’s signature foam: lightweight and soft.

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Fresh Foam 1080v11 is a max-cushioned daily trainer from New Balance.

Skechers HyperBurst

Skechers carbonated EVA foam that promises durability and responsiveness. Currently used in the brand’s advanced speed trainers and elite racers.

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One of the best-rated speed shoes from Skechers, Razor+ also employs HuperBurst.

Hoka ProFly

Hoka One One created this cushioning system that combines soft foam in the heel and firmer foam in the forefoot. Plush feel plus quick response.

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ProFly midsole on Hoka Mach 4

Cushioning vs. shoe weight 

If you decide to go for more cushioning, there’s a price to pay: it adds more weight. More weight means you’ll run slower and have to work harder to maintain your speed. 

For this analysis, we’ve pulled all cushioned running shoes from our database. Their cushioning level is rated 5-10, 10 being the plushiest. For each grade, we calculated average shoe weight.

To get the sense of what this means, the lightest running shoe in our database is a racing shoe that weighs 76g only (men, for women it’s 69g). The heaviest shoes go as far as 680g (with cushioning level of 7). 

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How long does cushioning in running shoes last?

The longevity of running shoes is determined by multiple factors: built-up mileage, shoe materials, your weight, running form, terrain. 

Cushioning doesn’t last forever and you should consider buying new shoes the moment you:

  1. Start feeling muscle fatigue or pain, especially in your knees, after your average run, or
  2. Feel there’s not enough impact-absorption (your feet hurt or start aching on impact).
  3. Your shoes still might look good on the outside, but on the inside, the cushioning layers might be deteriorating. That’s why it’s important not to focus on visual inspection only.
Author
Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic

Whether it's a vertical kilometre or an ultra, climbing in the Alps or exploring local mountains, Jovana uses every opportunity to trade walls and concrete for forests and trails. She logs at least 10h/week on trails, with no off-season, and 4x more on research on running and running shoes. With a background in physics and engineering management, she prefers her running spiced with data.