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.
Overview of this guide
- 1. How we choose the best cushioned running shoes
- 2. Best overall
- 3. Best for race
- 4. Best for trail
- 5. Best for flat feet
- 6. Best budget shoe
- 7. 3 tips for buying cushioned shoes
- 8. What to expect from cushioned running shoes
- 9. Midsole technologies explained
- 10. Cushioning vs. shoe weight
- 11. How long does cushioning in running shoes last?
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 best shoes get on this list.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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)!