7 Best Cushioned Running Shoes in 2024

Jovana Subic
Jovana Subic on
7 Best Cushioned Running Shoes in 2024
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Cushioning is what makes the shoes comfortable, soft, and 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 a lot of 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. We got our top choices from different categories.

And if you’d like to learn more expert tips on finding the best cushioned running shoe for you, we have made a guide for you to check.

How we test running shoes

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

  • We, as a team of dedicated runners, test each pair for 30-50 miles on average to provide extensive feedback.
  • Inside our RunRepeat lab, we literally tear 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.

The best shoes get on this list.

Best cushioned running shoes overall

ASICS Novablast 4
91
Superb!

What makes it the best?

Fourth time’s a charm for Novablast as it’s a versatile trainer that helps us cruise comfortably at any pace. Backed up by lab results and actual runs, it balances stability and a good amount of energy with an insanely plush platform — claiming its rightful place as the best cushioned running shoe. 

Sinking into the generous cushioning is pure bliss. Its FF Blast+ ECO foam has a heavenly combination of height and softness. Our caliper shows an above-average 39.2/30.2 mm stack. No matter where we land, our foot is protected from ground impact. Our durometer shows it’s 28.7% plusher than average, making it bouncy and comfortable enough for long runs.

Despite its skyscraper build, our runs feel supported and balanced. Its landing platform is wider than average — significantly in the forefoot with an extra 9.6 mm to find our footing. We also gauged its torsional rigidity at 4/5, explaining why the shoe feels stable and propulsive.

Even after miles and miles of running, the shoe looks practically new. Novablast 4 exceeds the average in our Dremel tests and shows less wear in the upper, heel, and outsole. Its results promise longevity and protection from debris. 

Since the upper highlights durability, it sacrificed breathability. We recommend using this shoe during cooler seasons to avoid sweaty feet.

Pros

  • Enhanced outsole offering better grip and durability
  • Improved upper comfort with premium materials
  • Upgraded tongue padding
  • Exceptional value at just $140
  • More cushion than ever before
  • Accommodates a wide range of foot sizes
  • The most stable Novablast yet
  • Retains most of its fun and energetic ride

Cons

  • Not the best for hot summer runs
  • Outsole still lacks grip in wet conditions
  • Minor weight increase compared to v3
Full review of ASICS Novablast 4

Best cushioned daily training running shoes

Hoka Clifton 9
86
Great!

What makes it the best?

The Hoka Clifton 9 is a light yet cushioned shoe that’s perfect for soaking up mileage, making it our top daily trainer. Our lab confirms it’s comfortable for any pace and distance but shines the most on days we want to forget about speed.

The thick midsole feels plush and pleasantly energetic underfoot. Our caliper reveals the ProFly+ foam rises to 32.7/26.6 mm in the heel and forefoot, effectively dampening harsh landings. Our durometer reading confirms its soft sensation at 20.4 HA for maximum comfort. Its curved design paves the way for smooth heel-to-toe transitions.

Further enhancing the effortless feel is its bendable midsole, which emerged 8.2% more flexible than average per our bend test. It gives a sense of agility because of its light build. We were surprised to see its 8.9 oz (249g) is even lighter than the 9.4 oz (266g) average road-running shoe!

At the lab, we measured the outsole to be 5.4% softer than average, enhancing grip and making our landings feel gentler. During our actual runs, we enjoyed a grippy feel on both roads and light trails.

However, while the padded upper is comfy, it lacks ventilation for extra-warm weather. Those in humid and tropical areas should avoid this pair. 

Pros

  • Thicker and more energetic midsole cushioning
  • Lighter than the v8
  • Easy on the knees
  • Durable upper
  • Available in wide
  • Good traction on roads and mild trails
  • Mild, unobtrusive stability elements
  • Can handle faster paces better than previous editions
  • Best for easy days and long runs

Cons

  • Not for wide feet
  • Upper needs some time to break in
  • Average breathability
Full review of Hoka Clifton 9

Best cushioned running shoes for race

Nike Alphafly 3
88
Great!

What makes it the best?

Nike’s Alphafly 3 is all about speed and maintaining that forward momentum. It’s a stellar combination of comfort, massive energy return, and airiness that allows us to fly through the miles without counting. Backed up by exceptional ratings from our lab and actual runs, it’s our top racer among cushioned running shoes.

At its core is the innovative midsole design, featuring a rigid FlyPlate and Air Pods for maximum responsiveness. It ensures we stay energized even during grueling long-distance runs. It delivers unwavering support and resilience, as proven by our bend test when it emerged 145.2% stiffer than average. This translates to insanely propulsive strides.

We measured an impressive 38.1/29.6 mm stack, made of the superior ZoomX foam, that protects us from leg fatigue while launching us forward. It has a dual-density set-up—a soft 18.1 HA for comfort and a firm 29.3 HA top layer for stability. 

Despite its substantial height, it weighs a feathery 7.1 oz (201g), boosting our speed and agility. The well-ventilated Atomknit upper adds to its allure, providing exceptional breathability for better comfort. Our lab confirms this with a perfect rating for ventilation.

However, it's worth noting that this speedster comes with a hefty price tag of $285. Nonetheless, we believe it's worth the investment for runners aiming to achieve peak performance.

Pros

  • Remarkably lightweight despite its broad size
  • Best-in-class breathability
  • Excels in the marathon distance
  • Repositioned Air Pods offer a better ride than the v2
  • ZoomX foam delivers massive energy return
  • Aids in forward momentum, especially when legs begin to fatigue
  • Better than ever for 5K/10K racing
  • Finally smooth transitions!

Cons

  • Heel strikers might wear down the outsole quickly
  • The arch could still be a challenge for some
  • The sock-like tongue might not suit everyone
Full review of Nike Alphafly 3

Best stability cushioned running shoes

What makes it the best?

Upon wearing ASICS Gel Kayano 30, we were blown away by how it blends soft cushioning and surefootedness into one. Our lab reveals its luxurious comfort comes from the brand’s FF Blast+ foam, while the unwavering support comes from the 4D Guidance System and the vast platform. It definitely tops the charts as our best stability cushioned running shoe.

One way it ensures steady strides is by incorporating a wider-than-average midsole. True enough, the fit feels forgiving and each landing feels safe. Its 4D Guidance System uses a softer foam positioned under our arch so that it adjusts to the shape of our foot, providing custom stability.

The stable ride came as a surprise since the shoe felt very tall. And true enough, our cut-in-half shoe reveals a staggering 39.7/27.7 mm height, packed with ASICS’ plushest foam. This magical combination kept the ride smooth and muted out ground feel.

Unlike most stability and maximalist shoes, the midsole is surprisingly flexible. It enhances comfort since it doesn’t restrict the contortions of our feet. Our flex test confirms it takes 13.8% less force than average to bend this shoe to 90 degrees.

However, GK30 doesn’t break the norm with its heavy 10.7 oz (303g) build. Those who prefer lighter options should explore elsewhere.

Pros

  • Exceptionally cushioned
  • Impressively stable with 4D Guidance System
  • Lighter than it seems
  • Top-notch breathability
  • Effective maximalist design
  • Superior durability and comfort
  • Ideal for high-mileage runners
  • Ultra-plush FF Blast+ foam
  • Amazing build quality

Cons

  • Actual drop exceeds stated measurement
  • Midsole might require a break-in period
Full review of ASICS Gel Kayano 30

Cushioned running shoes with the best comfort

What makes it the best?

The comfort level we attained in the ASICS Gel Nimbus 26 delivers an unparalleled experience. Its supremely padded yet breathable upper harmonizes seamlessly with an exceptionally cushioned midsole that feels remarkably stable for its size. Our lab analysis further cements Nimbus 26's position as the most comfortable cushioned running shoe.

The stretchy knitted upper exudes a premium feel, embracing our feet with generous padding. Despite this plushness, hotspots and blisters are nonexistent, courtesy of the shoe's excellent ventilation. Our breathability assessments award it a 4/5 rating, ensuring comfort across all seasons. Indeed, double-digit miles feel almost therapeutic. 

With its monumental 40.4/32.0 mm stack height, exceeding the average by 6.9/7.3 mm, it radiates heavenly plushness regardless of footstrike. Heel strikers particularly enjoy the premium landings with the PureGEL technology in the rear area. Furthermore, our durometer confirms it's 21.6% softer than average, giving us zero ground feel throughout our runs.

The unexpected stability of the Nimbus 26 proves to be a delightful revelation. Its broad 118.4/101.7 mm base, coupled with a snug upper fit and a rigid midsole, instills confidence and security with each stride.

However, the additional comfort comes with extra weight. Tipping the scales to 10.7 oz (303g), it impedes tempo paces. We recommend reserving the Gel Nimbus 26 for easy-paced days to fully appreciate its luxurious comfort.

Pros

  • Premium all-around comfort
  • Enhanced toebox design
  • Exceptional durability
  • Best-in-series outsole
  • Ideal for long distances
  • Superb knit upper
  • Surprisingly stable
  • A dream for heel strikers

Cons

  • Increased weight
  • Limited energy return
  • Tongue lacks padding
Full review of ASICS Gel Nimbus 26

Best cushioned running shoes for trail

Hoka Speedgoat 5
88
Great!

What makes it the best?

We ran with confidence, regardless of terrain and distance, with the Speedgoat 5. It's extremely comfortable without compromising the support and grip needed to conquer the wilderness. After our lab tests and runs, we chose this shoe as the best for trail among cushioned running shoes.

We felt its 3.0 mm-deep lugs reliably stick to the ground, weathering muddy or icy terrains. The outsole was hard enough to protect our feet from rocks and roots. Our durometer confirmed this with an 84.5 HC measurement - close to the average of 85.2 HC. This means the rubber is strong enough to handle wear and tear.

In our lab, we found this shoe to be among the softest trail running shoes — sitting 60% above average! After placing it for 20 minutes in the freezer, it emerged 35% softer than average at room temperature! This means it’ll still be extremely comfortable during winter runs.

The soft cushion didn’t make our runs dull. Its rocker structure gave a springy toe-off, promoting an energetic pace. Its low drop of 3.8 mm gave us a natural running feel and its light weight of 9.8 oz made it easier on our legs. 

We don’t recommend this shoe to runners with wider feet since it houses a toebox 2.4 mm narrower than average.

Pros

  • Super grippy
  • Springy ride
  • Stable platform
  • Extra durable
  • High impact protection
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Secure fit
  • Excellent heel hold

Cons

  • Not for wide feet
  • Flared collar is not for everyone (style-wise)
Full review of Hoka Speedgoat 5

Best budget cushioned running shoes

Saucony Axon 3
86
Great!

What makes it the best?

At $100, the Axon 3 is surely a bang for the buck — keep in mind that the average price of a daily trainer is $130. It got impressive ratings in and out of our lab and proved itself a cushioned, versatile trainer that can perform on the same level as its more expensive counterparts. 

Not only is this daily workhorse light in the pocket but also on our feet too. While most cushioned and affordable trainers are heavy, Axon 3 weighs only 8.6 oz (244g). That’s 12.5% lighter than the average daily trainer!

Another reason why we got our money’s worth is its durability. Double-digit miles barely scratched the Carbon Rubber outsole, which is 21.9% thicker than average. We also confirmed it lasts long as it showed 22.2% less indentation than average in our brutal Dremel test.

The PWRRUN foam feels soft underfoot, perfect for beginners and even high-mileage runners. We pressed our durometer into the midsole, resulting in 18.3 HA — 22.5% softer than average. The shoe is impressively stacked for its weight — notably its 27.9 mm front, which our forefoot enjoys.

Given its low-drop geometry, we recommend extreme heel-strikers to look elsewhere for better comfort.

Pros

  • Incredible value at only $100
  • Significant weight reduction from version 2
  • Impressively cushioned with PWRRUN foam
  • Fantastic durability
  • Suitable for quicker paces
  • Excellent as a daily workhorse
  • Lovely upper
  • Works for short and long runs

Cons

  • Probably too stiff for very relaxed runs
  • Slightly narrower forefoot than before
Full review of Saucony Axon 3

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.

nike-zoomx-invincible-run-cut-in-half.jpg

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.

cushioned-shoe-weight.jpg

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

max-cushioned-shoes.jpg

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 

  • Super-cushioned, maximalist shoes actually caused a higher rate of peak loading and impact forces. This means joints and tissues end up doing the job. This might mean injuries on the horizon. 
  • Softer shoes increase vertical impact forces and cause more knee joint stiffness. This means that more cushioning might cause more stress. 
  • Highly-cushioned shoes change the spring-like mechanics of running and amplify rather than attenuate impact loading, as explained in this study

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).

cushioning-technologies.png

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.

Asics-Gel-Cumulus-23-Heel.jpg

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

asics-novablast-2-heel-outsole.jpg

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 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). 

cushioning-vs-weight.png

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.