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 to propel you forward through a tough marathon training run. Or there’s the uber-plush underfoot 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 and tested the best options available today and narrowed down our top picks. 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’re looking for trail options. You can also learn more about our favorite stability running shoes and guide here.
Best Cushioned Road Running Shoes
Best Overall Cushioned Running Shoe: Hoka Clifton 9
Best Cushioned Running Shoe – Runner-Up: Craft CTM Ultra 3
Other Great Cushioned Running Shoes: On Cloudmonster, New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12, Topo Athletic Specter, Nike Invincible 3, Asics Gel Nimbus 25
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
- The cushion is plush without feeling mushy
- ‘Goldilocks’ in stack height, offset, and fit
- The arch cuts in on some foot shapes and feels too intense, and the toebox isn’t wide enough for some
Scoring highest among the 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. The newest version in this line was released earlier this year, and this shoe has had longstanding popularity in the road running category for good reason. 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 reasonable 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 a lot of 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
Best 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
- Plush yet responsive cushion; breathable upper
- The thin mesh upper lacks structure
Another road running shoe that provides the right balance of cushion and responsiveness is the Craft CTM Ultra 3. Testers found the 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 just 9.6 ounces. Also, its 10-millimeter offset might work better for runners accustomed to a more traditional heel-to-toe drop than shoes with 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
Other Great Cushioned Running Shoes: On Cloudmonster ($170)
- Plenty roomy, lightweight, breathable
- It feels too unstable for some
The On Cloundmonster is arguably the brand’s best shoe. This shoe compares to the Hoka Clifton 9 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. This shoe looks bigger than it feels when it’s on your feet. While running, it feels lightweight and delivers a smooth ride that feels 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 more than 130 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 retiring it. 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 appealing for 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
Other Great Cushioned Running Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12 ($160)
Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 9 | Underfoot Feel: 6 | Responsiveness: 5 | Stability: 6 | Cushion: 7
- Sock-like upper accommodates many foot shapes and sizes
- It feels a bit too flat for some
The New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12 (“1080”) deserves a close look for runners seeking abundant cushion without feeling super high off the ground. Its 34-millimeter stack height under the heel and 8-millimeter drop is deceiving. Though it’s slightly taller than the Hoka Clifton 9 and the On Cloudmonster, it feels closer to the ground. The shoe’s forgiving knit upper is soft, stretchy, and incredibly comfortable, making it an especially worthy choice if you have bunions or other discomfort around your toes or the tops of your feet. In fact, this shoe, along with the Hoka Clifton 9, got top marks from our testers for its upper comfort.
Testers noted that the shoe was also super comfortable out of the box — one of our testers took it for fifteen miles on its first trial run and felt like she could keep cruising all day. Like other top picks in this guide, this shoe offers a nice balance between soft, comfortable cushion and firm, responsive cushion. An 8-millimeter offset can work well for a broad range of runners who prefer a middle-of-the-road drop. This shoe may feel a little flat for runners who like a bouncy ride. However, 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: 34/26 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 8 millimeters
Other Great Cushioned Running Shoes: Topo Athletic Specter ($160)
Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 8.5 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 7.5 | Cushion: 7.5
- Lightweight, bouncy, responsive
- The wide, rounded toebox is too big for some
- They’re 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 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. Other testers 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. Finally, 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
Other Great Cushioned Running Shoes: Nike Invincible 3 ($180)
- ZoomX midsole foam is plush and bouncy and feels like it will last forever
- It’s the most expensive shoe in this guide
- The outsole 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. It’s not a lightweight shoe. At 10.2 ounces, it’s one of the heaviest shoes on this list, along with the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12. However, Nike’s ZoomX foam in the midsole feels bouncy and plush, making this a great shoe for everyday miles for just about any distance. Testers definitely honed in on the shoe’s midsole foam, which feels like it will last forever, and the spacious toebox accommodates a wider forefoot.
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, testers noted that the shoe performs well on dry pavement and light off-road surfaces but feels unstable on trails, and the outsole gets slippery in the rain.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.2 ounces (289 grams) | Stack Height: 40/31 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 9 millimeters
Other Great Cushioned Running Shoes: Asics Gel Nimbus 25 ($160)
Overall Rating: 7.5 | Upper Comfort: 8 | Underfoot Feel: 7 | Responsiveness: 7.5 | Stability: 8.5 | Cushion: 8
Introduced in February 2023, 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. If you’re familiar with the Nimbus family, the first thing you’ll likely notice about the newest 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 in running shoes. This more moderate drop broadens the shoe’s appeal since it can comfortably fit a wider variety of feet and preferences.
Asics also updated 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.
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, cushioned road running shoe that does best at easy paces and medium distances, such as on pre-race shakeouts or post-race 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
Stack Height – Refers to the maximum amount of shoe material (cushion) between the foot and the ground.
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 opening of the shoe, which wraps around the heel to help hold it in place.
How to Choose
Why choose 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 New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12, can help ease the transition between more traditional running shoes and cushioned ones.
Choosing the right amount of cushion
The right amount of cushion is the amount that feels the best to you. There are so many options 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 amount 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. The Asics Gel Nimbus 25 had the highest stack height of the shoes, making it into this guide with 41.5 millimeters under the heel. Meanwhile, minimalist shoes with very little cushion will let you feel every pebble underfoot, but — ouch! The shoes in this guide fall in the middle ground between highly cushioned and minimalist, with about 30 to 40 millimeters of stack height underfoot — more than a traditional running shoe but well within a range that lots of runners prefer.
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 deliver better energy return with each step, creating an experience that’s bouncy, springy, and light; however, it could also feel too firm 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 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. 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 Nike Invincible 3 to have a great balance between plush and bouncy.
Considering 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 Hoka Clifton 9, 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 day. 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.
Both stability and neutral running shoes can fall into the category of cushioned running shoes. Many running brands offer similar shoes in both a stability and neutral option, such as the Hoka Clifton 9 and the Hoka Arahi 6, which have 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.
Shape of the Toebox
As with cushioning, choosing 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 fairly roomy toebox, though the Asics Nimbus 25, New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12, and Nike Invincible 3 have a more traditional-looking 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 currently on the market. We whittled down this list and sent our top picks to our team of testers, who extensively test dozens of running shoes each year, 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.
Please note that product models are routinely discontinued in the running world, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing and research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most products will likely remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear you’ll use for a long time.
As with all of our guides, we invite and appreciate your input on the best cushioned road running shoes in the comments section below.
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 Asics Gel Nimbus 25, which feel pretty plush underfoot, 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, are quite 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, springy, but not too firm. 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 comfortable or 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.
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 pavement. 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 there’s no guarantee that wearing a pair of highly cushioned shoes, like the Asics Gel Nimbus 25, will 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. This sole flare 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 Gel Nimbus 25, Hoka Clifton 9, and Nike Invincible 3 are shoes with 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. 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 low 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 any 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 kind of 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 be 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 comes down to 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 best stability running shoes guide 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.