Best Cushioned Running Shoes of 2024

We tested some of the best cushioned road running shoes on the market to find ones that could suit any running style.

By and on March 5, 2024 | Comments
Best Cushioned Running Shoes - training in the Nike Pegasus 40

iRunFar testing crew taking the best cushioned shoes for a run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

There are plenty of good reasons to look for the best cushioned running shoes when you’re running on pavement or dirt roads. Whether it’s your day-in, day-out running shoe of choice or something that you rotate in for long tempo runs, post-workout recovery miles, or those ever-so-important easy runs, a good cushioned road running shoe can help keep your feet, muscles, and joints happy when you’re pounding miles of pavement. Cushioned road running shoes can look many different ways to meet any number of runners’ needs. There’s your lightweight, firm, bouncy cushion that feels springy underfoot, helping propel you forward through a tough marathon training run. Or there’s the uber-plush cushion that might be a little heavier or less responsive but gives you the feeling of running on soft, puffy clouds.

To help you find shoes that meet your needs, we’ve researched dozens of cushioned running shoes and tested thirteen different models over hundreds of miles before narrowing our list down to the best options available today.

Below, you’ll find our top picks for the best cushioned running shoes for the road, buying advice, our testing methodology, and frequently asked questions. We’ve also included a glossary of common running shoe lingo.

You can learn more at our best cushioned trail shoes guide if you want trail options. You can also learn more about our favorite stability running shoes in our best stability running shoes guide.

Best Cushioned Running Shoes

Best Cushioned Running Shoes-Running-in-the-New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12

Alli Hartz of iRunFar tests the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12 on gravel roads in Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Best Overall Cushioned Running Shoe: Hoka Clifton 9 ($145)

Overall Rating: 9 | Upper Comfort: 8.5 | Underfoot Feel: 8 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 7 | Cushion: 8.5

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - Hoka Clifton 9 - Product Photo


  • The cushion is plush without feeling mushy
  • ‘Goldilocks’ in stack height, drop, and fit


  • The arch cuts in on some foot shapes and feels too intense
  • The toebox isn’t wide enough for some

Scoring highest among the best cushioned road running shoes we tested, the Hoka Clifton 9 offers a plush ride that works well for every day running on pavement, gravel, or any hard-packed surface. This shoe has had longstanding popularity in the road running category for good reason, and the trend has continued with the newest version released in early 2023. This shoe balances a soft, comfortable cushion underfoot while still being firm enough to feel responsive when you pick up the pace for a round of intervals, a tempo workout, or even a marathon race. This fit will feel familiar for trail runners who like the Hoka Speedgoat 5.

This shoe checks all of our boxes for fit and durability while hitting the sweet spot with cushion and performance. While it’s not the lightest, it is on the lightweight end for road running shoes, especially considering the amount of cushion underfoot. Testers found that the 32 millimeters of stack height under their heels was enough to keep their feet happy for a multi-hour long run without feeling too clunky. Additionally, the shoe’s 5-millimeter heel-to-toe drop is fairly moderate and can work well for a broad range of runners. Our testers loved the updated upper on this shoe and found it to breathe well. It locks down the heel and midfoot while providing sufficient wiggle room in the toebox. Overall, this shoe will work well for many runners, for any distance, and at just about any pace but mach.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.9 ounces (253 grams) | Stack Height: 32/27 millimeters heel/toe (men’s), 29/24 millimeters heel/toe (women’s) | Drop: 5 millimeters

Shop the Women's Hoka Clifton 9Shop the Men's Hoka Clifton 9

Best Overall Cushioned Running Shoe – Runner-Up: Craft CTM Ultra 3 ($165)

Overall Rating: 8 | Upper Comfort: 7 | Underfoot Feel: 9 | Responsiveness: 8 | Stability: 6 | Cushion: 8

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - Craft CTM Ultra 3 - Product Photo


  • Plush yet responsive cushion
  • Breathable upper


  • Expensive
  • Thin mesh upper lacks structure

Another road running shoe that scored well across the board and provides the right balance of cushion and responsiveness is the Craft CTM Ultra 3. Testers found this shoe’s plushy bounce was not too unstable and had the right amount of pop when they picked up the pace. The geometry and profile provide a smooth transition from the strike through the toe-off, and testers found that it was easy to get into the groove on a tempo run. The outsole grips best on pavement, though it can hold its own on the occasional foray onto gravel or packed dirt, and the toebox feels nice and roomy for those who prefer a wider fit up front.

The shoe’s upper is quite minimalist, and though our testers were initially skeptical, they were pleasantly surprised by the support and secure fit the thin mesh upper provided. The upside of this design is that the upper breathes exceptionally well, and it is very comfortable, especially on hotter days. The 40 millimeters of stack height under the heel (in the men’s shoe) is on the high end of the cushioned shoes we tested — yet the shoe weighs 9.6 ounces. Also, its 10-millimeter offset might work better for runners accustomed to a more traditional heel-to-toe drop versus a lower one.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.6 ounces (272 grams) | Stack Height: 40/30 millimeters heel/toe (men’s), 38/28 millimeters heel/toe (women’s) | Drop: 10 millimeters

Shop the Women's Craft CTM Ultra 3Shop the Men's Craft CTM Ultra 3

Best Overall Cushioned Running Shoe – Runner-Up: On Cloudmonster ($170)

Overall Rating: 8 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 8 | Responsiveness: 9 | Stability: 6 | Cushion: 7

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - On Cloudmonster - Product Photo


  • Roomy
  • Lightweight and breathable


  • Possibly too unstable for some
  • Expensive

The On Cloudmonster is arguably the brand’s best shoe. It compares well to the Hoka Clifton 9, reviewed above, in both stack height and heel-to-toe drop, and it could be a good alternative for those who find the Clifton’s fit too narrow in the arch or toebox. Testers noted that this shoe looks bigger than it feels when on your feet. While running, it feels lightweight and delivers a smooth ride that is firm and bouncy with just a hint of squish. Perfect for a good tempo run, it’s also an excellent choice for short-interval hill repeats when you want a quick turnover on the up and a soft landing on the way back down.

While this shoe is expensive, it’s well-built. After putting a couple hundred miles on this shoe, it still feels the same as it did out of the box. Another tester got about 350 miles out of the shoe before replacing it with a fresh pair. Though it fits a little wider in the midfoot and toebox than a shoe like the Clifton 9, its smooth and breathable upper still locks the foot down securely. Its rocker profile enhances the foot’s forward propulsion, and the shoe’s multi-directional CloudTec design, responsible for those funny-looking pods along the base, handles tight corners at speed. It will feel familiar and likely appeal to runners coming from Hoka or similarly rockered shoes. However, if you’re accustomed to a more traditional design, such as Brooks or Nike, or a shoe that feels more planted, like an Altra or Topo Athletic, this one could feel a bit unstable.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): Not listed | Stack Height: 30/24 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 6 millimeters

Shop the Women's On CloudmonsterShop the Men's On Cloudmonster

Best Soft Cushioned Running Shoe: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 ($165)

Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 7 | Responsiveness: 4 | Stability: 6 | Cushion: 8

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - New Balance Foam X 1080v13 - Product Photo


  • Comfortable and secure upper
  • Smooth heel-to-toe transition
  • Soft cushion


  • More plush than responsive
  • The toebox feels a bit too restrictive for higher-volume feet

The New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 (“1080”) is the latest version of a longstanding favorite cushioned running shoe, and this newest update gives the shoe a nice facelift. Among the changes is a new upper made of engineered mesh that replaces the old stretchy mesh knit. Our testers have put a couple of hundred miles on the V13 and agree that this new upper locks down the foot better than the knit upper and gives the shoe a more secure fit. Additionally, New Balance slightly adjusted the shoe’s stack height, adding two millimeters in the back and four in the front, resulting in a 6-millimeter drop rather than the previous 8 millimeters. This slight tweak gives the shoe a smoother heel-to-toe transition, with plenty of that plush Fresh Foam cushioning under the entire length of the foot. The cushion is the same Fresh Foam that many runners know and love.

Like its predecessor, testers noted that this latest version was also super comfortable out of the box, with minimal break-in required. Compared to other top picks in this guide, the 1080 trends toward softer, plusher cushioning, so it may feel a little flat for runners who like a bouncy, responsive ride. Additionally, some testers thought this newest 1080 has less room in the toebox than the previous version, perhaps due to the change from a stretchy knit to engineered mesh upper material. Nonetheless, it’s a versatile option that’s great for easy- to moderate-paced runs of any distance.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.3 ounces (292 grams) | Stack Height: 36/30 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 6 millimeters

Shop the Women's New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13Shop the Men's New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13

Best Soft Cushioned Running Shoe – Runner-Up: Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 ($160)

Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 7 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 8.5 | Cushion: 8

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 - Product Photo


  • Improvements from previous models, including more cushion and less aggressive drop
  • Lightweight and breathable upper


  • Not the most responsive shoe

Like the New Balance 1080 above, the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 represents a significant overhaul of the Nimbus line and looks very little like its predecessor, the Gel-Nimbus 24. If you haven’t paid attention to previous versions of this shoe, now is the time to take a look. And if you’re already familiar with the Nimbus family, the first thing you’ll likely notice about the latest update is that Asics ramped up the cushion, putting 40 millimeters of stack height under the heel! Asics also leveled out the cushion under the foot with an 8-millimeter heel-to-toe drop, a significant change compared to the previous version’s 13-millimeter drop, which was about as high of an offset as it gets in running shoes. This more moderate drop makes the shoe’s heel-to-toe transition feel smoother and makes the Nimbus more approachable to a wider variety of runners.

In addition to the cushion, Asics changed the shoe’s upper to a lightweight, stretchy knit that hugs the foot while breathing well. Finally, padding around the heel further enhances that hug-like fit, resulting in a shoe that lives up to its name and really does feel like a cloud. Our testers observed that the mesh upper feels more structured and supportive than other mesh uppers and still feels comfortable and durable. The overall effect is a snug and stable fit.

Testers reported that even with all that cushioning, they could still feel the ground just fine — though they stopped short of describing the shoe as responsive. Overall, this shoe scored slightly lower than some of the other cushioned shoes in this guide, though we struggled to pinpoint why. It’s a solid, everyday cushioned road running shoe for easy paces and medium distances, such as daily shakeouts or recovery runs.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): Not listed | Stack Height: 41.5/33.5 millimeters heel/toe (men’s) and 40.5/32.5 millimeters heel/toe (women’s) | Drop: 8 millimeters

Shop the Women's Asics Gel-Nimbus 25Shop the Men's Asics Gel-Nimbus 25

Best Lightweight Cushioned Running Shoe: New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 ($140)

Overall Rating: 8.5 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 8.5 | Responsiveness: 8.5 | Stability: 8 | Cushion: 7.5

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 - Product Photo


  • Incredibly lightweight and fast
  • A ton of fun


  • None yet

We’ve started calling the New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 the do-everything shoe. Going for a long run? The Rebel v4 works well. Speed workout? Also an excellent option. Normal everyday run? Absolutely. The main reason is in the name. New Balance’s FuelCell midsole features a new PEBA/EVA foam that is lightweight and very propulsive. The foam is taller and wider, making this version of the shoe its highest-ever stack height and officially entering it into the maximum cushioned category of running shoes.

The Rebel v4 also has one of the most comfortable uppers among shoes in this guide, thanks to New Balance’s FantomFit tech with a breathable mesh upper. All of this, and the men’s version only weighs 7.5 ounces. There are some shoes that are just a ton of fun to run in. The FuelCell Rebel v4 shoes bouncy, responsive, and are just that.

Claimed Weight (men’s): 7.5 ounces | Stack Height: 30/24 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 6 millimeters

Shop the Women's New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4Shop the Men's New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4

Best Lightweight Cushioned Running Shoe, Runner-Up: Topo Athletic Specter ($160)

Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 8.5 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 7.5 | Cushion: 7.5

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - Topo Athletic Spector - Product Photo


  • Lightweight, bouncy, responsive
  • Performs well at any speed and distance


  • The wide, rounded toebox is too big for some
  • Slippery on wet pavement

The Topo Athletic Specter is a bouncy, lightweight road running shoe with a wide, rounded toebox for which the brand is known. This wide toebox lets toes stretch and splay out, accommodating feet that run wider toward the front. They work especially well for those with a wide ball of the foot and medium or narrow heel. This is the brand’s first cushioned shoe designed for high performance, and according to our testers, they pretty much nailed it. Oh, and when we say cushioned, we mean it — with 35 millimeters of stack height at the heel and only a 5-millimeter drop, this shoe has some serious foam underfoot. Yet, its rocker profile design enhances its responsiveness and forward propulsion.

The result? Our testers found that the shoe performed well on easy days and during speed workouts. The shoe feels like it wants to pick up the pace. It had plenty of energy return for short interval pick-ups, longer tempo efforts, and would be a top choice on race day. Some runners who tested the shoe noted a brief break-in period of about 30 miles. Others could start running in them out of the box and never look back. Everyone agreed the shoe has a smooth, comfortable upper that locks in the heel nicely. It’s worth noting that these shoes will slip on wet pavement, so if they’re in your rotation for race day, be sure to check the weather.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.2 ounces (232 grams) | Stack Height: 35/30 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 5 millimeters

Shop the Women's Topo Athletic SpecterShop the Men's Topo Athletic Specter

Best Stable Cushioned Running Shoe: Nike Invincible 3 ($180)

Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 6.5 | Underfoot Feel: 7.5 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 8 | Cushion: 8

Best Cushioned Running Shoes - Nike Invincible 3 - Product Photo


  • ZoomX midsole foam is plush and bouncy and feels like it will last forever
  • Wide toebox accommodates most feet


  • Expensive
  • Slips on wet pavement

Among the shoes with the most cushion in this guide is the Nike Invincible 3, which has 40 millimeters of stack height under the heel and a 9-millimeter heel-to-toe drop. Nike’s ZoomX foam in the midsole feels bouncy and plush, making this a great shoe for everyday miles for just about any distance. iRunFar’s testers definitely honed in on the shoe’s midsole foam, noting that it felt like it would last forever. Additionally, we loved the spacious toebox that accommodates a wider foot. At the same time, this shoe offered adequate responsiveness and stability for everyday road running. Notably, at 10.2 ounces, the Invincible is one of the heaviest shoes on this list. However, our testers loved this shoe for long runs and easy days.

One tester experienced discomfort during a road ultra, noting that the laces and thin tongue resulted in pressure on the top of their foot, and the rigid material around the heel caused some irritation. However, they addressed the issue by stopping to adjust the laces, and they continued reaching for these shoes for medium-distance easy runs of up to 10 miles. Other testers did not experience fit issues, though they used the heel lock eyelets to secure the fit. Finally, our testers noted that the shoe performs well on gravel and dirt roads but feels less stable on trails, and the outsole gets slippery in the rain, even on pavement.

Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.2 ounces (289 grams) | Stack Height: 40/31 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 9 millimeters

Shop the Women's Nike Invincible 3Shop the Men's Nike Invincible 3

Comparing the Best Cushioned Running Shoes

Hoka Clifton 9 $145 8.9 ounces 5 millimeters Maximum
Craft CTM Ultra 3 $175 9.6 ounces 10 millimeters Maximum
On Cloudmonster $170 Not listed 6 millimeters Maximum
New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 $165 10.3 ounces 6 millimeters Maximum
Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 $160 Not listed 8 millimeters Maximum
Topo Athletic Specter $160 8.2 ounces 5 millimeters Maximum
Nike Invincible 3 $180 10.2 ounces 9 millimeters Maximum
New Balance FuelCell Rebel v4 $140 7.5 ounces 6 millimeters Maximum


  • Stack Height – The amount of cushion between the foot and the ground, measured in millimeters.
  • Heel-to-Toe Drop – Also called “offset” or “drop,” it is the height difference, measured in millimeters, between a shoe’s heel and forefoot.
  • Outsole – The exposed material on the bottom of a shoe that makes contact with the ground.
  • Upper – The top of the shoe, including the entirety of the shoe above the sole.
  • Midsole – A layer of foam that connects a shoe’s upper to the shoe’s outsole.
  • Toebox – The front of the shoe surrounding the ball of the foot and toes.
  • Heel Collar – The shoe’s opening, which wraps around the heel to help hold it in place.

How to Choose

Why Cushioned Road Running Shoes?

Many runners prefer cushioned road running shoes for pure comfort, especially those who supinate or absorb impact on the outsides of their feet while running. Other runners claim a perception of reduced fatigue or faster recovery when running in cushioned shoes. However, it’s worth noting that studies are mixed on whether running in cushioned shoes actually reduces the risk of running-related injuries. There are benefits and drawbacks, and they vary depending on the type of runner. If you currently run traditional shoes and want to ramp up your underfoot cushion, we recommend doing so gradually and stopping immediately if you experience any negative effects. Better yet, talk to your physical therapist or podiatrist before making a drastic change. Choosing a cushioned running shoe with a fairly average heel-to-toe drop, such as the Hoka Clifton 9 or New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13, can help ease the transition between more traditional running shoes and cushioned ones.

Best Cushioned Running Shoes-Hoka Clifton 9

Hoka Clifton 9 and the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 are great cushioned road running shoes options. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Amounts of Cushion

The right amount of cushion is the amount that feels the best to you. So many options are available because there are so many variations in runner body shapes and sizes, running gaits, and runner preferences. Goals matter, too. A runner training for a five-hour marathon will likely prefer a different type of cushion and shoe feel than a runner training for an 18-minute 5k or a runner who wears their shoes for daily runs, dog walks, and errands. Since there’s no right or wrong way to run, there’s no “right” amount of cushion.

That said, lots of cushion will feel more soft and comfortable, but it will come at the cost of reducing your ability to feel minor variations in the ground underneath your feet. Meanwhile, minimalist shoes with very little cushion will let you feel every pebble underfoot, but — ouch! The shoes in this guide fall within a range of about 32 to 42 millimeters of stack height underfoot — more than a traditional running shoe but well within a range many runners prefer. Of the shoes we included in this guide, the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 has the highest stack height at 41.5 millimeters.

Types of Cushion

In addition to stack height, different cushion types will significantly affect how a shoe feels. A plush cushion will deliver a softer experience, which can feel incredibly comfortable but also mushy, flat, or cumbersome if it’s too soft. A responsive cushion will provide better energy return with each step, creating an experience that’s bouncy, springy, and light; however, it could also feel too firm or unstable for some.

We’ve included a mix of cushioned shoes in this guide that can be described as plush and soft, bouncy and responsive, or somewhere in between to help you find the best cushioned running shoes for your specific running style. We describe each of them based on the feedback from our testing team, which included a variety of runners with different body types, running paces, and goals. That said, with many cushioned road running shoes, as with any running shoes, a runner’s experience may vary according to their unique physical build and how they run. Our testers found the Hoka Clifton 9 to have an outstanding balance between plush and bouncy.

Running Volume and/or Injuries

If you’re a relatively high-volume runner getting out more days a week than not, cushioned road running shoes could be a good option in your rotation. Perhaps you select a soft pair, like the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25, for long, easy runs and recovery days and a shoe with firmer cushion, like the On Cloudmonster, for long tempos or marathon training runs. You might rotate your cushioned shoes with other styles of shoes that you use for shorter interval workouts or race days. Or maybe you just like to mix things up, and having the best cushioned running shoes in your closet can keep your feet comfortable.

A cushioned shoe could still be a good option for runners who maintain a lower running volume, don’t do regular running workouts, or are looking for one pair of shoes to do it all. And for those who are dealing with aches and pains or coming back from an injury, a cushioned shoe could help keep your miles more comfortable as you regain strength and fitness. Note, however, that cushioned running shoes do not necessarily reduce your risk of injury, and we recommend seeking advice from your doctor or physical therapist.

Stability Versus Neutral Running Shoes

Stability running shoes are designed for runners with low and/or very flexible arches that collapse inward as they absorb the impact of running. While some degree of collapse, or pronation, is normal, too much can lead to pain or injury. Stability shoes address overpronation with firm midsole foam on the inside of the shoe that helps guide the foot toward a neutral position without altering a runner’s natural gait. Neutral shoes lack this firmer midsole foam and tend to feel more flexible. However, even within the neutral shoe category, some can feel more stable than others.

There are stability and neutral options available in the cushioned shoe category, and many running brands offer similar shoes in both, such as the Hoka Clifton 9, which has similar cushion, but the Arahi 6 is stiffer and has added stability support. To learn more about stability road running shoes, check out our best stability running shoe guide.

Best Cushioned Running Shoes -wearing the Hoka Arahi 6 shoes

Many cushioned shoes in this guide are great for running on pavement and hard-packed dirt roads. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Toebox Shape

As with cushioning, choosing a toebox shape comes down to your preference, and the best cushioned running shoes for you might not work for someone else. Some runners prefer a more trim fit in the front of the shoe, while others want their toes to relax and splay out. Runners with high arches might prefer a roomier toebox to accommodate their higher volume foot. The key is to ensure that whatever shoe style you choose, you have enough room in the front for your toes to wiggle and fully lengthen.

Most of the shoes in this guide have a reasonably roomy toebox, though the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 and Nike Invincible 3 have a more traditional shape, while the Topo Athletic Specter stands out for its rounded and especially spacious toebox.

Why You Should Trust Us

This best cushioned road running shoes guide has been compiled with the expertise and testing experience of the iRunFar team, supplemented by extensive research by author Alli Hartz and input from seasoned running shoe experts.

We began by compiling and considering a list of nearly four dozen cushioned road running shoes on the market. We whittled down this list and sent our top picks to our team of eight testers, who extensively test dozens of running shoes yearly, including every shoe mentioned above. Our testers ran in the shoes for several weeks, collectively putting hundreds of miles on each style and providing feedback on fit, feel, stability, cushion, performance, durability, and other factors. With this information, we further narrowed our list of the best to the shoes in this guide.

Best Cushioned Running Shoes-Road running in the Hoka Clifton 9

The soles of the Hoka Clifton 9 (right) are great for both paved and gravel roads. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cushioned shoes better for road running?

Cushioned road running shoes can provide benefits, but there are also trade-offs, so it comes down to your personal preferences and running goals. More cushioning underfoot can help protect your muscles and joints from the impacts of running, especially on pavement. Shoes like the Hoka Clifton 9 or Craft CTM Ultra 3 can make running feel more comfortable, help you run longer before fatigue sets in, or help your legs bounce back more quickly after a long training run.

The flip side is that you lose ground feel and some degree of responsiveness with a lot of cushion. As a result, highly cushioned shoes might feel cumbersome if you’re doing a track workout or racing a short distance. Some cushioned shoes, like the On Cloudmonster and Topo Athletic Specter, are lightweight and springy and will perform well on workouts like a tempo run or hill repeats.

What kind of cushion is best for road running?

The best cushioned running shoes will feel soft but not mushy and springy but not too firm or unstable. Soft cushion will feel plush and comfortable underfoot, but it might feel mushy, flat, or unresponsive if it’s too soft. It may feel like it’s absorbing all the energy you’re putting into it without sending any back. Meanwhile, a springy cushion will feel like it’s sending energy back into your legs and propelling you forward — but if it’s too firm, it might not feel that smooth underfoot.

The best cushioned running shoes will be whatever combination of soft and springy feels right to you. The tricky part is that this balance will feel different for people, depending on their size, weight, running gait, foot shape, and personal preferences. The running shoes featured in this guide all offer some sort of middle ground between soft and springy and are a good starting point in figuring out what you like best. We selected the Hoka Clifton 9 as the best overall cushioned running shoe because its cushion, fit, and performance will work well for many runners for everyday training.

Best Cushioned Running-Shoes-Training in the Hoka Clifton 9

The Hoka Clifton 9 shoes impressed all of the iRunFar testers. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Will cushioned shoes help with knee or foot pain?

Cushioned road running shoes may help with knee and foot pain if the shoes fit properly and if the pain stems from the impacts of running on hard surfaces. All sorts of things can lead to knee and foot pain, including issues with a running gait, training volume, strength imbalances, and genetics. If you’re experiencing knee and foot pain associated with running or walking, we recommend consulting a physical therapist or podiatrist before choosing your next pair of running shoes. While wearing a pair of highly cushioned shoes, like the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25, is not guaranteed to help with injuries, they can make running more comfortable as you get back into running shape if you have to take some time off.

Will cushioned shoes cause me to roll my ankles?

More stack height underfoot can feel less stable for some runners, which raises concerns about rolling an ankle. Additionally, more cushion underfoot decreases your foot’s ability to sense minor variations in the ground, reducing the sense of stability for some runners.

On the other hand, some brands use cushioning to enhance a shoe’s stability by extending the cushioning out to either side of the platform that holds the foot. Called sole flare, this gives the shoe a wider base underneath the foot and can help guide a foot that overpronates or supinates into a more neutral position. The Asics Gel-Nimbus 25, Hoka Clifton 9, and Nike Invincible 3 shoes have a noticeable sole flare.

Does heel-to-toe drop matter in running shoes? Do I want running shoes with a low drop or high drop?

Heel-to-toe drop is a matter of personal preference, and choosing the right drop comes down to what feels best for your natural running gait and any history of injury. If you’re a heel striker, you may prefer a high-drop shoe with lots of heel cushion and a smooth transition to the forefoot, like the Craft CTM Ultra 3. A low- or zero-drop shoe might feel too abrupt through that transition.

Additionally, if you’ve ever experienced Achilles tendonitis or have very tight calves, a zero-drop or even low-drop shoe may not work. On the other hand, if you deal with tightness in your lower back, a zero-drop shoe could feel great since it can help to lengthen the muscles and tendons along the rear chain of your body. Finally, some people prefer low- or zero-drop shoes because they simply feel more natural. While we didn’t include zero-drop shoes in this guide, the Hoka Clifton 9 and Topo Athletic Specter each have a 5-millimeter offset, which is relatively low.

If you want to try a different drop than what you’re used to, it’s a good idea to ease into that change by rotating your new shoes in with your traditional running shoes. And if you’re not sure what drop to go with, we recommend choosing something in the middle of the range, such as a shoe with a 6- to 10-millimeter offset.

Do heavier runners need more cushion?

Not necessarily. Heavier runners or runners with a heavy natural gait might find more cushioned running shoes, like the Nike Invincible 3, to feel more comfortable. In addition, running shoes with at least moderate cushioning may last longer before the foam packs out. On the other hand, highly cushioned shoes may feel less stable for some runners. It depends on your preference and what feels best on your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back.

What is the difference between cushioned and stability running shoes?

Cushioned road running shoes are just that—they have more cushion and higher stack heights underfoot. Stability running shoes typically have a firm piece of midsole foam along the inside of the foot to help runners who overpronate and roll their ankles inward. Check out our guide to the best stability running shoes to learn more about this running shoe category. It is worth noting that some shoes, like the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25, have designs where the cushion is used to enhance the shoe’s stability by creating a wider platform underneath the foot. This is called sole flare and can be considered “light stability,” but it will not be as supportive as a true stability shoe built specifically for runners who overpronate.

Call for Comments

  • What style of cushion do you like, moderate or maximal? Soft or bouncy?
  • Do you have a favorite pair of cushioned road running shoes? Tell us about them in the comments below.
Back to Our Top Cushioned Road Running Shoes Picks
Alli Hartz

Alli Hartz is a member of the gear review team at iRunFar. She’s been writing about outdoor gear, outdoor adventure, and adventure travel for 10 years. Aside from iRunFar, Alli contributes gear reviews and adventure stories to Switchback Travel, Travel Oregon, and other outlets. She also works as a ski guide during the winter season and has dabbled in run-skiing on the Cascade volcanoes. Alli is based in Bend, Oregon, where she loves to run from her front door up into the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Alli Hartz

Eszter Horanyi identifies as a Runner Under Duress, in that she’ll run if it gets her deep into the mountains or canyons faster than walking would, but she’ll most likely complain about it. A retired long-distance bike racer, she gave ultra foot racing a go and finished the Ouray 100 in 2017, but ultimately decided that she prefers a slower pace of life of taking photos during long days in the mountains and smelling the flowers while being outside for as many hours of the day as possible. Eszter will take any opportunity to go adventuring in the mountains or desert by foot, bike, or boat, and has lived the digital nomad lifestyle throughout the west for the past seven years.