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Read any running shoe review, and odds are you’ll find it littered with the word “cushioned.” Cushioned is perhaps the most overused word when describing how a running shoe feels. I’ve been a running coach since 2012 and shoe reviewer since 2014, and I’m certainly guilty of using cushioned to describe shoes. But what does it mean to be a cushioned running shoe?
If you ask most people, I bet they would describe a cushioned running shoe as a soft, thick-soled shoe with a lots cushioning. While there is truth to that statement, it’s not the whole story. Cushioning is runner-dependent. What one runner finds cushioned, another may not. This is primarily due to a runner’s weight, as heavier runners will compress the foam more than their lighter counterparts do.
Two factors determine how cushioned a running shoe feels: the durometer, or firmness of the foam under your foot that can be measured with a tool, and the amount of foam found between your foot and the ground, which is measured in the stack height.
The benefits of cushioned running shoes
Cushioning in a running shoe provides a soft underfoot feeling that can lessen the impact of each ground strike, but even so, “it’s only one element in the underfoot formula that brings a running experience to life,” says Bekah Broe, director of product, performance footwear at Hoka. Things such as the firmness of the foam and the flexibility and geometry of the shoe all play a role in contributing to the benefits of a cushioned shoe.
Advantages of cushioned running shoes are also highly individualized, depending on your foot type. “While we all seek the immediate comfort a cushioned shoe can provide, the benefit of the shoe ultimately depends on your individual biomechanics and how they work with the material and geometries used,” Broe says.
What to look for in the best cushioned running shoes
Regardless of what type of shoe you’re buying, all the podiatrists, specialty running store owners and physical therapists I’ve spoken with agree that comfort is the number one driver when choosing a pair of running shoes. Factors like fit, use case (road versus trail running, racing versus training) and price should all be considered as well. “Ultimately, choosing the right cushioned running shoe for you comes down to preference and the intent behind your runs,” Broe says. “However, a more resilient and springy experience tends to make a runner feel energized and efficient, while a softer or compliant ride offers a more luxurious, cruise-like experience.”
How often should I buy new cushioned running shoes?
How long a cushioned running lasts depends on the runner, what type of running you do and the particular shoe. Typically, the softer the midsole (aka the foam under your foot) is, the easier it compresses. Since cushioned shoes tend to have the softest midsole, they need to be replaced more frequently than firmer shoes. As the foam compresses repeatedly with each footstrike, it starts to lose its rebounding properties and can have the potential to wear unevenly. A severely compressed or unevenly worn midsole can lead to an increased risk of injury.
Telltale signs of a compressed or unevenly worn midsole include visible creases or lines along the sidewalls. Other visual cues it’s time to replace your shoes are worn-out soles and holes in the upper. It’s better to replace your shoes prematurely than hold onto them too long. After 200 miles or six months of wear, I recommend that you start to think about getting new shoes.
Whether you’re shopping for your first pair or need to replace a favorite, discover the 12 best cushioned running shoes I’ve tested and approved, below.
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Top Cushioned Running Shoes
- Best Overall: Hoka Clifton 8 Running Shoes
- Best for Recovery Runs: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit Running Shoes
- Best for Ultra Marathons: Salomon Ultra Glide Running Shoes
- Best Cushioned Running Shoes for Long Runs: New Balance 1080 V12 Running Shoes
- Best Neutral Cushioned Running Shoes: Asics Novablast 2 Running Shoes
- Most Comfortable: Adidas UltraBoost 22 Running Shoes
- Best for Marathon Racing: Nike Alphafly NEXT% Running Shoes
- Best Cushioned Running Shoes for Heavy Runners: Hoka Bondi 7 Running Shoes
- Best for Runners With Wide Feet: On Cloudmonster Running Shoes
- Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes: Hoka Speedgoat 5 Running Shoes
- Best Lightweight Cushioned Running Shoes: Craft Pro Endurance Running Shoes
Hoka Clifton 8 Running Shoes
It’s impossible to talk about cushioned running shoes without mentioning Hoka. After all, Hoka is the brand that started the maximum cushioning shoe trend. One of Hoka’s best maximum cushioned everyday neutral trainers is the Clifton 8.
Everything about the model is the epitome of luxury, from the pillow-like cushioning under your feet to the heavily padded tongue and heel collar. The Clifton 8 is my go-to shoe for recovery runs or long distances when my legs just can’t handle the harsh impact of concrete. Sometimes, tall, softer midsoles can feel mushy and wobbly, but while this model is not classified as a stability running shoe, its wide base allows for a secure, stable ride. A new, lighter midsole compound also knocked nearly 15% off the weight of this model compared to previous iterations, giving the Clifton 8 a faster feeling.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more capable maximum cushioned running shoe. If comfort is what you’re after, the Hoka Clifton 8 is the shoe for you. As one reviewer noted, “These shoes are the most comfortable, supportive shoes I have ever worn.”
Weight 8.9oz (men); 7.2oz (women)
Stack Height: 37mm/ 32mm
Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit Running Shoes
Best for Recovery Runs
Nike’s ZoomX foam is distinguished. It’s extremely soft, highly responsive and allows for an oh-so smooth ride. So, it’s no surprise that when Nike first made a maximum cushioned everyday trainer with nothing but ZoomX, it would become an instant classic. Featuring a hefty dose of ZoomX under the heel (36 millimeters), the ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit is perfect for everything from uptempo long runs to recovery runs.
It has an exaggerated, wide forefoot that allows for a more stable ride and makes it one of the best cushioned running shoes with a wide toe box. You would think a shoe this wide and thick-soled would be a drag, but it’s not at all. Thanks to the bouncy foam and slight rockered forefoot, heel-to-toe transitions are made smooth and snappy. While all the softness underfoot lessens the impact, the Flyknit upper wraps your foot in complete comfort. As one reviewer notes, “the ZoomX foam is the star here. Very, very cushy and yet reasonably responsive for all the cushioning. This shoe is about as easy on my legs as any shoe I’ve ever worn.”
Weight 9.3oz (men); 8.1oz (women)
Stack Height: 39mm/ 30mm
Salomon Ultra Glide Running Shoes
Best for Ultra Marathons
Salomon has been known for making the best trail running shoes, but has never released a highly cushioned trail running shoe until now. Debuting last year, the Salomon Ultra Glide is a maximum cushioned trail running shoe ideal for ultra running or comfortable everyday trail runs. The best part of the Ultra Glide is its EnergySurge midsole, featuring a newer lightweight, responsive foam created by combining a traditional EVA with Olefin. The result is a soft, smooth ride.
If you’re used to Salomon running shoes, you’ll find the Ultra Glide to have a more relaxed fit through the mid and forefoot. This wider design gives your feet more room, accommodating foot swell during extra-long or hot days on the trails. Like most maximum cushioned shoes, it doesn’t perform the best through tacky technical terrain. But when it comes to smooth single track, fire roads or even concrete roads, it offers smooth sailing. As one California-based reviewer notes, “The cushion is amazing. It feels like I can run all day. Overall a great shoe, perfect for buffed-out trails/fire roads here on the Central Coast of California.”
Weight 9.2oz (men); 7.8oz (women)
Stack Height: 38mm/ 32mm
New Balance 1080 V12 Running Shoes
Best Cushioned Running Shoes for Long Runs
New Balance just nailed the 1080 v12. It’s hands down the best-cushioned trainer in the New Balance suite of running shoes, and by far my favorite. The full-length Fresh Foam X midsole feels soft without being too mushy, hitting a happy medium of responsive cushioning. While I wouldn’t call the 1080v12 a lightweight shoe, it feels fairly nimble for being so thick-soled. It’s not a racing shoe, but it has the ability to respond if your competitive side takes over. The engineered knit upper is one the best I’ve tested. It reminds me somewhat of Nike’s Flyknit or adidas’ Primeknit upper. It’s soft, stretchy and super comfortable and accommodating to a wide array of foot shapes.
This would be a great option for runners who struggle to find wide enough shoes due to the stretchy nature of the upper. One thing to point out is I found the 1080v12 to run on the larger side, which is odd because typically I find New Balance shoes to run small. Was it so drastically large I needed a smaller size? No. But if you’re in between sizes, I suggest opting for the smaller size.
Weight 10.3oz (men); 8.3oz (women)
Stack Height: 36mm/ 28mm
Asics Novablast 2 Running Shoes
Best Neutral Cushioned Running Shoes
I very clearly remember when I first saw the Asics Novablast 2 at a running conference in Austin, Texas. My eyes were immediately drawn to its eye-catching midsole with sharp geometric lines. Upon putting the shoes on, I found the step-in to be amazing yet very uncharacteristic of Asics, as the brand’s styles always offered a firmer underfoot feeling. Everything from this shoe’s plush midsole to its nicely padded upper screams comfort. And while running in these, the experience was no different. The Flytefoam Blast midsole offers up a soft, smooth ride perfect for everyday runs, with one reviewer mentioning the style is ideal for athletes who “prefer a bouncy, cushioned feel but also like to pick up the pace a little.” With an over-exaggerated midsole under the heel and eight millimeter drop, the Novablast 2 is a great choice for rearfoot strikers. If you haven’t worn an Asics running shoe in a while, this is the one I suggest you try.
Weight 9.7oz (men); 8.3oz (women)
Stack Height: 42mm/ 34mm
Adidas UltraBoost 22 Running Shoes
If comfortable luxury is what you’re after, look no further than Adidas’ Ultraboost 22, one of the best adidas running shoes to buy now. Featuring adidas’ plush yet high energy-return Boost midsole and a sock-like knit upper, the Adidas Ultraboost 22 had the best step-in comfort of all the shoes we tested. With stack heights of 33 millimeters in the heel and 23 millimeters in the forefoot, the style makes it feel as if you’re running on a bed of pillows.
All that comfort and cushioning does come at the expense of weight, though. Clocking in at nearly 12 ounces for men and 10 ounces for women, the Ultraboost 22 is the heaviest cushioned shoe we tested, so it’s best to skip up-tempo work when wearing these. Still, for recovery runs, when your legs are dead-flat, there’s nothing better than a thick slab of Boost cushioning underfoot to soften the impact.
Performance details aside, sneakerheads also love the Ultraboost for its clean, classic aesthetic.
Weight 11.9oz (men); 10oz (women)
Stack Height: 37mm/ 32mm
Nike Alphafly NEXT% Running Shoes
Best for Marathon Racing
If ever there was a GOAT marathon racing shoe, a shoe that has perhaps set more marathon records and personal bests than any other shoe in history, the Nike Alphafly NEXT% is it. Speed and cushioning are typically two opposing forces, and highly cushioned shoes tend to weigh more and feel too bulky, making them better meant for easy running. The Alphafly NEXT% mystically breaks that mold. What’s the secret sauce to one of Nike’s best running shoes? The combination of Nike’s highest rebounding foam, ZoomX, a rigid full-length carbon fiber plate and two Air Zoom Units in the forefoot. Despite its odd and clunky appearance, it’s a remarkably smooth shoe for efficient runners. It’s certainly more geared toward the competitive runner versus the recreational one due to its tall 40 millimeter/36 millimeter stack height (registering just below the World Athletics limit) that feels somewhat unstable at slower paces. I’ve been a running coach since the shoe’s inception in 2018, and I recommend it to all my clients looking to set a personal best that clocks in around or is better than their Boston Marathon qualifying time.
Weight 7.4oz (men); 6.5oz (women)
Stack Height: 40mm/ 36mm
Hoka Bondi 7 Running Shoes
Best Cushioned Running Shoes for Heavy Runners
If you’re the type of runner who agrees there’s no such thing as too much cushioning, the Bondi 7 is for you. As one of the most cushioned running shoes you can buy across all brands, Hoka’s flagship maximum cushioned trainer boasts a whopping stack height of 40 millimeters in the heel and 36 millimeters in the forefoot (to put that into perspective, that’s over 1.5 inches of plush cushioning damping each footstrike). Underfoot, you’ll find that soft, full-length compression-molded EVA midsole with the classic Hoka rocker geometry pushes your foot forward during toe-offs.
Fans of the Bondi 6 will be happy to hear not much has changed in terms of ride. Improvements to the upper, such as enhanced padded at the heel collar and redesigned TPU overlays, give the Bondi 7 a more comfortable fit and secure midfoot wrap. Despite being classified as a neutral running shoe, the Bondi 7 is inherently stable, making it an alternative option for runners who pronate and may not like the stiff nature of stability running shoes. If you enjoy a thick-soled and ultra-soft running shoe, the Hoka Bondi 7 is your kind of running shoe.
Weight 11.1oz (men); 10oz (women)
Stack Height: 40mm/ 36mm
On Cloudmonster Running Shoes
Best for Runners With Wide Feet
On has absolutely exploded onto the running scene. Its unique-looking running shoes feature holes in the sole, (or as On calls them, “clouds”) that create a one-of-a-kind feeling. I’ve found most On running shoes have a firmer underfoot ride, but the Cloudmonster is an exception. Just as its name suggests, this shoe is packed with plush cushioning. These are by far my favorite On running shoes. They offer a fun, bouncy feel with every stride, and considering how lightweight they are, they make a great long-run, uptempo or even race day shoe when comfort is a top priority. As one reviewer notes, “I just ran my first half marathon with these monsters! They felt amazing and my time was much better than expected. I love all the cushy room in the toe box. Well done, On!”
Weight 9.7oz (men); 8.1oz (women)
Stack Height: 33mm/ 27mm
Hoka Speedgoat 5 Running Shoes
Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
There’s a reason the Speedgoat is Hoka’s number one selling trail shoe; it’s just so comfortable. If I were stuck on an island filled with the world’s best running trails, the Speedgoat would most certainly be the one shoe I would bring. Not only is it a great trail shoe, but it doubles as a super cushioned road shoe as well — making it one of the best hybrid shoe around. Not much has changed from previous iterations that affects how this shoe runs, so if you’re a fan of the Speedgoat 4, expect a slightly lighter but similar underfoot feel. Small details were added to the outsole lugs to create more surface area to grip dirt and rock better. Further upgrades include a flexible elastic strategically placed at the start of the laces above the widest part of your foot to allow the upper to expand — a welcoming addition for those ultra-long runs when your feet start to swell.
Weight 9.8oz (men); 8.5oz (women)
Stack Height: 38mm/ 34mm
Craft Pro Endurance Running Shoes
Best Lightweight Cushioned Running Shoes
This Swedish-born sports endurance brand is taking the U.S. running market by storm. Almost all boutique brand running shoes I’ve tested have fallen short of those from big labels, but I’ve been increasingly impressed by the quality of Craft’s running shoes — and the Pro Endurance is its best model yet, in my opinion. The shoe is highly cushioned, creating an outstanding ride quality that’s equal parts smooth and and bouncy as hell. The lively feeling is thanks to a premium midsole foam called Pebax, which is more commonly found in today’s carbon fiber super shoes. With 36 millimeters of Pebax under the heel, Craft doesn’t skimp on the soft stuff. And although you might think all that cushioning adds weight, the Pro Endurance comes in at just over eight ounces for men and six ounces for women — making it one of the lightest max cushioned shoes you can buy.
The only downside to Pebax technology is the price. You’ll pay a premium for these shoes, but you’re getting one heck of a premium product.
Weight 8.2oz (men); 6.3oz (women)
Stack Height: 36mm/ 27mm
Meet the author/expert
Cory Smith has been a runner and running coach for over 25 years. He is the founder of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business that has helped hundreds of runners tracking distances from 800 meters to 100 miles hit personal records. Smith holds a USA Track & Field Level 1 and 2 Endurance Certification, three Maryland State records and is a two-Time NCAA Division National championships qualifier — plus holds a personal best of a 4:03 mile and 8:05 3k. Additionally, Smith is a running and fitness journalist whose work has also appeared in publications including Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Outside and Trail Runner.