Whatever your motivation for finding the best cushioned trail running shoes, be it aiding in injury prevention and recovery, reducing fatigue in your legs from day to day, or because you mainly run hard-packed, non-technical trails, the choices right now are plentiful and much more varied than in the past. The stalwarts like Altra and Hoka now have to compete with newcomers to the cushioned space like Scarpa, Salomon, and La Sportiva — with some of these brands producing some of the very best of the bunch.
Many elements we love in a highly cushioned shoe, like the plush ride, finally include features that cushioned shoes typically lack, such as lightness, ground feel, and stability, so we no longer have to choose cushion over all else.
We rounded up and tested the best moderately and maximally cushioned trail running shoes, and you can click on any of the links below to jump straight to a certain shoe. To learn more about choosing the right cushioned trail running shoe for you, scroll down to our recommendations for how to choose, as well as our frequently asked questions. Finally, learn more about our research and testing methodology.
Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
- Best Cushioned Trail Shoe: La Sportiva Akasha II
- Other Great Cushioned Trail Shoes: Scarpa Spin Infinity, New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7, and La Sportiva Jackal II
- Best Maximal Trail Shoe: Hoka Tecton X 2
- Other Great Maximal Trail Shoes: Brooks Caldera 6, Hoka Speedgoat 5, Salomon Glide Max TR
Check out our best trail running shoes guide for more generalist trail shoes.
Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoe: La Sportiva Akasha II ($175)
- The only cushioned shoe that can truly stand up to rugged mountain running
- Uninspiring midsole, poofy tongue
Our expectations were high with the release of the La Sportiva Akasha II; fortunately, it delivers. The first La Sportiva Akasha felt like a runaway hit — it was wider, more cushioned, and more comfortable over long distances than anything La Sportiva had previously produced. Except for the wildly inconsistent sizing, the original Akasha was a shoe many of us bought and re-bought over the few years it was available.
People devastated at the discontinuation of the original Akasha were thrilled to see the new model out. This new model finds success by not straying too far from the original. Like the first edition, the midsole is moderately responsive, but the shoe emphasizes protection and traction over a midsole that makes you want to run fast on long climbs or flat trails.
Though it is one of our favorites, the La Sportiva Akasha II seems to excel in relatively specific terrain; it didn’t inspire us much on easy terrain or easy runs. It’s really a shoe for slogging up and over mountains with enough cushion to make the journey a bit more comfortable, and the traction over rock is incredible.
La Sportiva’s own FriXion XT 2.0 rubber is used on the outsole with a reverse direction lug pattern — the forefoot lug configuration helps to brake while the heel lug pattern incorporates La Sportiva’s Trail Rocker system, which helps push the foot through the gait cycle.
Longevity was a brilliant characteristic of the first Akasha, and it continues with this second version. Four hundred miles of use was the norm for the first version, and we expect to see the same performance here.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 11.5 ounces (325 grams) | Stack Height: 31/25 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 6 millimeters
Other Great Cushioned Trail Shoes: Scarpa Spin Infinity ($159)
- Provides outstanding protection and confidence during long mountain runs
- The upper is so protective that it lacks breathability
The Scarpa Spin Infinity joins two other “Spins” — the Scarpa Spin 2.0 and Scarpa Spin Ultra — in Scarpa’s growing trail running shoe selection and is the first dedicated to longer distances. (Read our Scarpa Spin Ultra review here.) It has a firmer midsole than expected for the substantial stack height — 35 to 31 millimeters heel/toe. The laces are excellent, and the unique lace garage is a wonderful feature.
In one run with a start temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius), the midsole did firm up slightly, but less noticeably than other cushioned shoes we tested in the same temperatures.
The outsole uses Vibram’s Megagrip, so, like the La Sportiva Akasha II discussed above, this shoe performs the best on rocky, technical terrain that you’d find on long mountain runs. And similarly to the Akasha II again, the Spin Infinity feels a little flat on smooth trails. The shoes provided excellent traction in spring conditions like snow, slush, mud, slop, and slick rock.
The Spin Infinity has an excellent integrated sock to keep debris out, making it feel like something you’d find in a Topo shoe. But unlike the fit of a Topo, the Spin Infinity is not kind to higher volume foot shapes.
The toebox is quite narrow, especially for a long-distance-oriented shoe. This is where another La Sportiva comparison can be made. Both brands come from true exceptionalism in rock climbing footwear; sometimes, the related running shoes fit too tight. The trail running community would benefit if Scarpa followed La Sportiva’s lead toward having slightly wider-fitting options available.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.7 ounces (303 grams) | Stack Height: 35/31 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 4 millimeters
Other Great Cushioned Trail Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v7 ($140)
- For a highly cushioned shoe, downhill running stability is excellent
- Amazing from a pure, cushioned perspective, but it can be hard to keep turning over
The New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7 experienced some fairly significant updates from the previous model, making it feel like a pretty different shoe. Fresh out of the box, the previous version, the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6, felt very well cushioned. This is not the case with the new version and probably has something to do with the latest version weighing nearly an ounce and a half less than the older one. The lower level of cushioning was surprising to one of our testers, and she noticed substantially less arch support than she needed with her high arches. Still, testers found that the shoe provided plenty of cushion and deemed it an excellent option for a trail shoe that can also perform well on the road. While the high level of cushion didn’t necessarily make the shoe feel fast or inspiring for speed, it is an excellent choice for outings that involve a lot of power hiking and tromping around in the mountains. The brand has used the Fresh Foam cushioning for a long time and delivers an ultra-cushioned ride while maintaining lateral stability. Because of this, the shoe provided a high level of confidence on long, 2,000-foot descents on technical trails. The heel rudder also helps to improve stability on the downhill when you’re landing heel first.
This shoe maintains many of the same great features that landed its predecessor on this list in the first place. The outsole provides excellent grip on various surfaces, and our testers found them to work well on steep and rubbly descents. The resilient upper is essentially the same as the previous version.
With an 8-millimeter drop, the heel stack height of 28 millimeters is slightly firmer than many New Balance road shoes and, despite not having a rock plate, is highly protective from sharp objects.
The toebox protects your feet from rocks, roots, and debris. Runners with narrow feet will find plenty of room for toe splay.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.2 ounces (290 grams) | Stack Height: 28/20 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 8 millimeters
Other Great Cushioned Trail Shoes: La Sportiva Jackal II ($165)
- It is an excellent combo of grippy, responsive, and supportive for long mountain days
- Finicky sizing
While the La Sportiva Jackal II might be the least cushioned shoe in this guide, it’s still a plush ride that manages to balance cushioning and responsiveness. One tester described the Jackal II as “an all-day, most terrain, workhorse of a mountain running shoe.” Another tester who’d not run in the original Jackal noted she had “retrospective FOMO” and raved that “no break-in time was required for the Jackal II to claim MVP-status of my shoe pile and honorable mention for their stellar performance delivering relatively unscathed feet from a multi-day mountain run-cation.”
With its other foot in the climbing world, it’s no surprise that La Sportiva produced a shoe with excellent grip in the Jackal II. La Sportiva made this second iteration of the Jackal lighter and more breathable.
There are two models of Jackal II on the market. The standard version highlighted here “is more voluminous and accommodating through the forefoot and midfoot overall, yet retains a slightly stiffer structure with the overlays,” according to a tester. There’s also the Jackal II BOA, which employs a BOA-dial closure system, which the same tester noted has an “overall fit [that] is lower volume, really making the foot at one with the shoe — especially compared to the regular, non-BOA Jackal II.” The BOA version gets a slight edge at shorter distances as being racier or more responsive, while the standard version is a true all-day mountain running shoe.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.7 ounces (275 grams) | Stack Height: 29/22 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 7 millimeters
Best Maximal Trail Shoe: Hoka Tecton X 2 ($225)
- One of the best uppers on any trail shoe in years
- Fast, technical descents may feel more unpredictable than other shoes due to the carbon plates
The Hoka Tecton X 2 is an updated version of the brand’s first carbon-plated trail shoe. With ProFlyX foam and two independent carbon plates, this shoe provides a plush yet poppy ride at a very reasonable weight. While the price of this shoe is still a hard pill to swallow, its performance attributes can justify the cost.
The most prominent update this shoe received over its predecessor, the Hoka Tecton X, is the Matryx upper. It is highly supportive and provides a better lockdown than the previous version of the shoe. The material also dries quickly after it gets wet. Though I didn’t have difficulty controlling the original Tecton X, many did due to the stiff carbon plates and overall stack height; I found the new version more confidence inspiring on descents. The more rigid upper and the cushioning closer to the ground provided a higher level of control.
While other lightweight shoes will likely grind down your legs on any run beyond 20 miles, this cushioned yet lightweight shoe is still comfortable and forgiving over longer distances. Paired with a Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole for excellent traction in various conditions, the Tecton X 2 continues to raise the bar for what we can expect from carbon-plated trail running shoes going forward.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.1 ounces (258 grams) | Stack Height: 33/28 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 5 millimeters
Other Great Maximal Cushioned Trail Shoes: Brooks Caldera 6 ($150)
- Fantastic upper with excellent protection and lockdown
- Fans of the fit of previous Calderas will notice a much different ride in the Caldera 6
Longtime fans of the Brooks Caldera line might be taken aback by the new Brooks Caldera 6. Cushioning is maximal, but several testers found it capable of delivering more than just a super soft ride. The huge surface area of the outsole can make the shoe feel clunky and give the runner a feeling of discoordination on technical or rocky terrain, but with some consistent miles in the shoes, we adapted to it well. These shoes have a noticeable transition from the stack height at the metatarsal to no stack at the tip, but we quickly got used to the unusual feel.
The outsole provides excellent traction in mud, wet and dry rocks, and rocks covered in a thin layer of sand or dirt. The performance in mud depends on its consistency; wet, clumpy mud sheds much faster than dryer mud. With all the outsole surface area, you will feel the unshed mud as unwelcome additional baggage.
The upper reminds us of the Hoka Zinal — learn more in our Hoka Zinal review — and keeps debris out very well. In Moab, Utah, one tester’s feet were completely protected from incoming debris by the Caldera 6 during a 33-mile run through dry and deep sand, while their running partner had 1.5 teaspoons of sand come out of each of their shoes when they were finished. The upper fits nicely, with plenty of room to lock down your foot, and the tongue shape and thickness are perfect.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 11 ounces (313g) | Stack Height: 35/29 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 6 millimeters
Other Great Maximal Cushioned Trail Shoes: Hoka Speedgoat 5 ($155)
- The new upper and different midsole are a step up from previous Speedgoats
- The shoe is not for narrow-footed runners
The Hoka Speedgoat 5 brings the most change from one version to the next since the Speedgoat 2 replaced the Speedgoat 1. A new upper, a borrowed midsole, and updated traction on the outsole make it less constrictive and lighter than any Speedgoat model to date.
The outsole is made of the same Vibram Megagrip material and has a very similar lug pattern to the previous version. The Speedgoat, throughout the years, has been a high performer in many different conditions, but the Speedgoat 5 is improved with its new lugs-on-lugs feature, which adds surface area for additional traction. One tester called it “one of the best outsoles I’ve ever used.”
This midsole is slightly softer than the Speedgoat 4 but very similar to the Hoka Evo Speedgoat. It’s a single-density midsole foam without bells and whistles — no rocker, cage, or anything else to change your gait or pronation. It just feels like a good, well-cushioned midsole with plenty of protection while going slow or fast. It is a slightly softer midsole, which adds some extra bounce.
iRunFar gear tester Travis Liles, who has reviewed all versions of the Speedgoat, remarks that the Speedgoat 5 just lets your foot do what it needs to to get comfortable. This shoe definitely works better on wider feet and may be challenging to cinch down around narrow feet.
The Speedgoat 5 has a 4-millimeter drop from heel to toe and weighs 10 ounces, so longtime fans of the Hoka Speedgoat lineage will find that the shoe’s heritage aspects remain present. The Hoka Speedgoat 5’s midsole has all the cushion any ultrarunner could want, and the outsole has loads of traction for almost all conditions.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10 ounces (284g) | Stack Height: 33/29 millimeters heel/toe for men’s, 31/27 for women’s | Drop: 4 millimeters
Other Great Maximal Cushioned Trail Shoes: Salomon Glide Max TR ($160)
- Wide toebox
- Thick upper
With the Salomon Glide Max TR, we get the legendary brand’s first foray into the maximally cushioned trail running category. The shoe features an Energyfoam midsole of 36 millimeters and stays under 10 ounces for a U.S. men’s size 9, a very reasonable weight for such a well-cushioned shoe.
The extra midsole offers an even more plush ride than some of Salomon’s other more cushioned shoes, including the Ultra Glide and Ultra Glide 2. This shoe is more plush than the cushioning of Salomon’s Sense Ride line.
Because of the high stack height, it struggles on technical terrain where quick and precise foot movements are needed, but this shoe excels when it comes to covering long miles comfortably. The lug pattern is very similar to Salomon’s Sense Ride shoes, and the four-millimeter lugs provide enough traction on various surfaces.
The upper of this is quite robust to provide support. The material is warm and could be an issue during warmer weather runs. It may also struggle with drying after running in the rain or if a run involves water crossings. The lacing system keeps the shoe in place and snug.
While Salomon is generally known for narrower shoes, they’ve gone with a wider toebox for this model. This makes it more accessible to a wider variety of people who traditionally haven’t been able to fit into other shoes from the brand. Ultimately, this shoe is an excellent option for running long distances over less technical trails.
Read our in-depth Salomon Glide Max TR review.
Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.8 ounces (278 grams) | Stack Height: 38/32 millimeters heel/toe | Drop: 6 millimeters
Comparing the Best Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
|La Sportiva Akasha II||$175||11.5 ounces||6 millimeters|
|Scarpa Spin Infinity||$80||10.7 ounces||4 millimeters|
|adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra||$106||11.6 ounces||8 millimeters|
|New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7||$140||10.2 ounces||8 millimeters|
|Hoka Tecton X 2||$225||9.1 ounces||5 millimeters|
|Brooks Caldera 6||$110||11 ounces||6 millimeters|
|Hoka Speedgoat 5||$155||10 ounces||4 millimeters|
|Salomon Glide Max TR||$160||9.8 ounces||5 millimeters|
|La Sportiva Jackal II
||$165||9.7 ounces||7 millimeters|
Anatomy of the Trail Shoe
While we tried to be non-technical and avoid jargon in describing the shoes above, there are some terms common to the trail running world that those new to it might not know. Understanding these can help you choose the best cushioned trail running shoes for your running style and foot shape. Someone with a narrow foot might struggle with the Hoka Speedgoat 5, and wider-footed people might have a hard time with the narrow toebox of the Scarpa Spin Infinity.
- Heel-to-Toe Drop (Or Just Drop): Heel-to-toe drop refers to the difference in height from the heel to the toe of a shoe. Currently, heel-to-toe drop in trail shoes varies from none to 12 millimeters. Some runners prefer the natural movement of no drop, while the same can irritate the lower legs of runners used to traditional running shoes with drops of 8 to 12 millimeters. Plenty of trail shoe models offer moderate drops of 4 to 8 millimeters.
- Lugs: Lugs refer to the protrusions of material on the bottom of an outsole (see below). While road running shoes often have minimal lugs, trail shoes generally have lugs that are 3 to 6 millimeters deep. Some trail shoes designed specifically for muddy conditions can have lugs as deep as 8 millimeters!
- Midsole: This is the spongy component between an outsole (see below) and your foot. These days, midsoles feature a wide variety of “foams” and range from minimal thickness to nearly 3 centimeters of material.
- Outsole: This is the bottommost layer of a shoe that contacts the ground, and it’s generally made of a rubber or rubber-like compound.
- Rock Plate: The rock plate is a layer of deformation-resistant material, whether a plastic sheet, carbon plate, or other material, that sits between the outsole and the sock liner. The rock plate aims to prevent injury to the bottom of the foot as rocks or roots push through the shoe from below. Rock plates vary in length from the entire length of a shoe to the forefoot only.
- Toebox: The toebox is the forward cavity of a shoe where your toes fit. Toeboxes tend to be narrower in trail shoes aimed at faster or more technical running, while many runners prefer roomier toeboxes as the length of their runs increases to multiple hours.
Buying Advice: How to Choose a Cushioned Trail Running Shoe
As with all other shoe types, finding the best cushioned trail running shoes for you will depend on your running style and the shape of your foot. There are several factors to consider when choosing between the carbon-plated Hoka Tecton X 2 and the mountain-ready La Sportiva Akasha II.
The stack height number will instantly indicate the amount of cushion to expect from a shoe. A cushioned shoe can have any number of millimeters of drop, but a stack height of 28 to 32 millimeters is average.
On the other hand, a shoe’s drop indicates how much midfoot and forefoot strike you will feel. A shoe can have a very high stack height and still be zero drop, though no shoes like this are included in this guide. More typical is the 33-millimeter stack height and five-millimeter drop of the Hoka Tecton X 2.
With a primary goal of a cushioned shoe being comfort, nearly all of the shoes we selected as the best are very accommodating for swelling feet over long distances. Many less cushioned shoes require some sizing trickery to accommodate the foot and leg fatigue that is a part of ultrarunning. We commonly require sizing up in less cushioned shoes as runs get longer, but most of the shoes in this guide are perfect in the size you would traditionally wear. Shoes with a narrow toebox, like the Scarpa Spin Infinity, may become less comfortable over longer distances.
The added stack height in cushioned shoes can lead to stability issues on uneven surfaces, especially where lateral movement is required. One way to combat this is through lockdown with the upper. Lockdown is the way your midfoot and heel lock into the shoe through the heel and tongue construction and the lacing configuration. Cushioned shoes can be notoriously sloppy-feeling or loose, even giving your foot the feeling of sliding around; these are telltale signs that the shoe’s lockdown is poor. Our team found that the Brooks Caldera 6 had an excellent level of lockdown, especially for a cushioned trail running shoe.
Why You Should Trust Us
Ten iRunFar staff members began with a list of 24 cushioned trail running shoes and, over several months and seasons of testing, whittled down 12 finalists. From there, specific feedback was tallied so we could recommend the best cushioned trail running shoes on the market today.
Our testers’ history with specific shoes includes the entire line in the cases of the Brooks Caldera and Hoka Speedgoat. At the same time, shoes that are newer to the cushioned category still have characteristics of other models from the brand that we could reference, like sizing consistency and durability.
Our team tested the shoes in winter and into the muddy and wet spring across the U.S. Rockies and Pacific Northwest. We found summer conditions in Utah and Arizona and some rare mud-running opportunities in the wet spring conditions in Boulder, Colorado.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
How much cushion is right?
In the past, this was a more serious question than today; back then, you might have sacrificed lockdown, stability, and weight for the plushness of a super-stacked shoe. Today, maximally cushioned shoes offer much better all-around performance than in the past, when these shoes were relegated to only smooth trails or away from any surface that might cause an ankle roll.
So how much cushion is right for you depends on your overall foot, ankle, and leg health — combined with factors like terrain, how much road you’re running to get to the trails and budget. Many people will use a maximally cushioned shoe, like the Brooks Caldera 6, for recovery runs, long runs, or as a way to reintroduce running after injury.
Do I need a highly cushioned shoe to race ultramarathons?
The short answer is no, but many runners, especially inexperienced ones, will appreciate the added comfort and cushion when facing longer-than-normal distances. Experienced racers will have a better feeling of whether they can sacrifice some comfort for less weight or acquire some comfort from a more aggressive, rockered shoe. The Hoka Speedgoat 5 strikes a nice balance between comfort and racing performance.
I don’t run high mileage. Should I still consider a cushioned shoe?
Yes. The notion that maximally cushioned shoes are only for people who run many miles or do ultramarathons frequently is misguided. Many of us will use a cushioned shoe like the Hoka Speedgoat 5 for all our running, be it long or short, thanks to the overall comfort and enjoyment the cushion provides.
I have a history of foot pain. Should I use cushioned shoes?
It really depends on your particular injury history, but for common ailments like tendinitis and sesamoid pain, you’ll want to really examine the stiffness or plushness of the shoe’s midsole and whether your particular pain would be relieved by one or the other. In general, because of the increased midsole stack and cushioning provided during each step, you can expect shoes such as the Brooks Caldera 6 to be beneficial for dealing with injuries.
I am wary of high-cushioned shoes, as I don’t want to feel like I’m on stilts on technical terrain. What can I do about this?
Look closely to find cushioned shoes with less stack height, a highly rated outsole like Vibram, and a firmer midsole. This combination of characteristics will give you more control, especially if paired with an upper with excellent lockdown. If you are a newer runner, it helps to experiment with different types of shoes to learn how lockdown and stack height affect your specific needs and habits as a runner. A shoe like the La Sportiva Jackal II provides both cushion and high performance on technical terrain.
What is the difference between foam durometer and stack height with cushioned shoes?
The durometer measures the firmness of the foam under your foot. The stack height is the amount of foam found between your foot and the ground. The Salomon Glide Max TR has the highest stack height in this guide, with a 38- and 32-millimeter stack for the heel and toe.
Do cushioned trail running shoes wear out faster than normal shoes?
While the foam in cushioned shoes can compress throughout a long run or ultra, it will rebound quickly and be ready to use again. Our testers have found that they can get up to 500 miles of use out of the La Sportiva Akasha II and Hoka Speedgoat 5 without noticing the significant compaction of the cushion. The outsoles and uppers of the best cushioned trail running shoes will last just as long as non-cushioned shoes.
Where to Buy Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
If you are in the market for the best cushioned trail running shoes and have the chance, swing by your local running store to see if they can set you up with a pair. Not only will they have the knowledge to match a pair to your needs and the skill to size the shoes properly, but the store’s selection should also be well-suited for local trails. Whether you want a pair of La Sportiva Akasha II shoes for mountain running or the Hoka Tecton X 2 for their carbon plates, a running shop can help you find what you want.
Many local outdoor stores also carry a selection of trail running shoes (as they often double as great hiking shoes) that would, once again, be suited for the local environment.
If you know what you’re looking for, online outdoor retailers like REI and Backcountry carry a massive selection of cushioned trail running shoes from many manufacturers. These days, you’re likely to find just as many or more trail shoes on Amazon, with free two-day shipping if you’re a Prime member.
If you’ve still not found a trail shoe that strikes your fancy, you could keep poking around Road Runner Sports, Running Warehouse, and even smaller specialty sites like Skyrun until you find your match.
Call for Comments
- Do you like more or less cushion in a trail running shoe?
- Do you have any favorite cushioned trail running shoes that we didn’t include in this guide?
- Have you tried any of the ones we did include, and what was your experience like?