Whatever your motivation for using 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 are having 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, are finally being rounded out with features that cushioned shoes typically lack, such as lightness, ground feel, and stability, so we no longer have to choose cushion over all else.
With so many options to choose from, many factors can come into play: How do the shoes hold up over time? Will a single pair of cushioned shoes be useful over a variety of surface types and over short and long distances? How much cushion is too much? Too little?
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 how to choose 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 Shoe: Salomon Ultra Glide
- Other Great Cushioned Trail Shoes: La Sportiva Akasha II, Scarpa Spin Infinity, and adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra
- Best Maximal Trail Shoe: Hoka Tecton X
- Other Great Maximal Cushioned Trail Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6, Brooks Caldera 6, and Hoka Speedgoat 5
For a look at more generalist trail shoes, check out our best trail running shoes guide.
Best Cushioned Trail Shoe: Salomon Ultra Glide ($140)
With the Salomon Ultra Glide, we get the legendary brand’s first foray into the cushioned trail running category, featuring 38 millimeters of Energy Surge midsole foam and staying under 10 ounces. Offering a gentler ride than the Salomon Sense Ride 4 — read our Salomon Sense Ride 4 review — this shoe finds the right mix of cushioning — copious but not spongy — which has helped manage fatigue during runs of three to five hours. When compared to Salomon’s previous shoes, the overall cushioning of this shoe is reminiscent of the forefoot cushioning in the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 — check out our Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 review as well. This is the softest Salomon shoe we’ve tested, and unlike the S/Lab range, it offers a palatable price tag of $140.
Expect the same durability and form-fit feel from the SensiFit technology, but with a wider toebox that should accommodate many more runners who have traditionally found Salomon trail running shoes to be too firm and too narrow. One of our testers was nursing foot tendinitis while testing this shoe and found it to be the one shoe where her foot pain was undetectable.
The soft Energy Surge midsole is paired with a modern rocker design, which we found very responsive and not overdone; it still feels comfortable when the trail tilts up or down steeply.
The outsole of the Ultra Glide has Salomon’s typical 4-millimeter lug with short cutouts and performs really well on slickrock in Moab, Utah, soft snow, and across the dusty trails of the Colorado Front Range. Icy conditions are not a natural habitat for this shoe.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 9.7 ounces (274g)
- Stack Height: 38/32 millimeters heel/toe
- Drop: 6 millimeters
- Pro: The best mix of cushion in a lightweight responsive design
- Con: Minimal arch support from the OrthoLite liner
Other Great Cushioned Trail Shoes
Our expectations were high with the release of the La Sportiva Akasha II and 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 couple of years it was available.
Now, this second version delivers just as well, mostly because it doesn’t stray too far from the original! Just like the first edition, the midsole is moderately responsive, but the shoe gives more emphasis to 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 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 (325g)
- Stack Height: 31/25 millimeters heel/toe
- Drop: 6 millimeters
- Pro: The only cushioned shoe that can truly stand up to rugged mountain running
- Cons: Uninspiring midsole, poofy tongue
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. Here’s our Scarpa Spin Ultra review, if you like. It has a firmer midsole than we were expecting for the substantial stack height — 35 to 31 millimeters heel/toe. The laces are excellent and the unique lace garage itself is a wonderful feature.
In one run with a start temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius), the midsole did firm up a bit, but much 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, and slop, as well as on slickrock.
The Spin Infinity has a nice 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 and sometimes the related running shoes fit much too tight. And, although it’s nice that Scarpa is expanding its trail shoe offerings, it’d be great if they followed La Sportiva’s recent path of offering slightly wider-fitting options.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 10.7 ounces (303g)
- Stack Height: 35/31 millimeters heel/toe
- Drop: 4 millimeters
- Pro: Provides outstanding protection and confidence during long mountain runs
- Con: The upper is so protective that it lacks breathability
The adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra has one of the longest break-in periods we’ve experienced in some time. But patient runners will be rewarded. One tester had never had such a 180-degree change in opinion on a gear item in her life.
Out of the box, they are some of the stiffest shoes we’ve ever worn; you have to totally unlace the shoe to get into them. “Stiffer than my wildland fire boots,” our tester added.
The heel collar is really tall and, in the beginning, it rubbed on both our Achilles tendon and ankle bones. The remedy was to walk around in them for about 10 days before running in them. This provided a sufficient break-in and the result was remarkable. Frustration turned to curiosity turned to love.
These shoes are still a bit stiff, but they form perfectly on your foot, breathe well, and unlike many maximally cushioned shoes that feel squishy, the stiff foam softens up to just the right amount and has a great rebound effect. Over a really long race, your shoe feel will go from extra firm to having great cushion and responsiveness, instead of getting boggy and packed down like some other cushioned shoes.
Fortunately, we spent months testing the adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra, because on the first impression, there was little to find redeeming.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 11.6 ounces (328g)
- Stack Height: 38/30 millimeters heel/toe
- Drop: 8 millimeters
- Pro: The break-in period produces a very comfortable and high-performing midsole
- Con: Some might still find this shoe too stiff even after it’s broken in
Best Maximal Trail Shoe: Hoka Tecton X ($200)
Let’s start with a bold proclamation from iRunFar’s founder, Bryon Powell, who says, “The Hoka Tecton X is my favorite Hoka trail shoe, ever; easily!”
The Tecton X is a shoe unlike anything Hoka has produced thus far, and not just because it’s a carbon-plated trail running shoe. ProFlyX foam combined with two independent carbon plates gives this trail shoe a plush yet poppy ride and weighs just 8.7 ounces.
The upper has hints of the Hoka Challenger or Hoka Torrent lines — check out our Hoka Torrent 2 review — but hugs the foot in a way that feels secure and not too narrow for wide feet. While offering solid lockdown, the upper still feels plush and breathable. It’s the Goldilocks upper in that everything is just right.
The Tecton X has resoundingly one of the best uppers we’ve experienced in a trail shoe in years. However, one tester noted that although there is better lockdown with the upper than the Hoka Speedgoat 5 — read our Hoka Speedgoat 5 review — the Tecton X ride can get a little wild on really technical terrain with the carbon plates creating added propulsion.
Despite a tall stack height and a pair of carbon plates, the shoe feels more stable than most of the other cushioned trail shoes that we’ve tried. It’s also much more responsive than we would have expected with a shoe of this stack height.
Paired with a Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole for excellent traction in a variety of conditions, the Tecton X raises the bar for what we can expect from carbon-plated trail running shoes going forward.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 8.7 ounces (248g)
- Stack Height: 33/28 millimeters heel/toe for men’s, 32/27 for women’s
- Drop: 5 millimeters
- Pro: One of the best uppers on any trail shoe in years
- Con: Fast, technical descents may feel more unpredictable than other shoes due to the carbon plates
Other Great Maximal Cushioned Trail Shoes
Lighter than its predecessor but retaining many of the previous version’s best attributes, the New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6 provides a competitively priced, cushy, and smooth-riding trail shoe that can even be used on the road. The Fresh Foam cushioning is the runaway highlight. This longtime New Balance compound is engineered to deliver an ultra-cushioned ride while maintaining lateral stability.
Compared to some of its rivals, we found the Hierro v6 to be one of the most confidence-inspiring cushioned shoes on descents of 2,000 feet and more. This is in part because a special heel rudder helps to improve stability on the downhill as you land on your heel first.
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 understated toebox has performance characteristics reminiscent of a steel-toed boot, said one tester. This protection is from New Balance’s Toe Protect technology, which aims to guard and protect your feet from rocks, roots, and debris. Runners with narrow feet will find plenty of room for toe splay and the shoe fit true to size for several of our testers.
- Actual Weight (U.S. men’s 9): 11.4 ounces (323g)
- Stack Height: 28/20 millimeters heel/toe
- Drop: 8 millimeters
- Pro: For a highly cushioned shoe, downhill running stability is excellent
- Con: Amazing from a pure cushioned perspective but can be hard to keep turning over
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. The very quick transition from a high stack height at the metatarsals to no stack at the tip of your toes is very noticeable on the first couple runs, but our feet adapted quickly.
The outsole provides great 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 really nicely, with plenty of room to really 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
- Pro: Fantastic upper with excellent protection and lockdown
- Con: Fans of the fit of previous Calderas will notice a much different ride in the Caldera 6
The Hoka Speedgoat 5 brings the most amount of 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 Vibram Megagrip outsole is the same as previous versions of Speedgoat, with a similar lug pattern. The Speedgoat throughout the years has been a high performer in a lot of 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 a little 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. It works assuming your foot is wide enough, but it is not a strong lock-down shoe like previous versions and may not be able 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
- Pro: The new upper and different midsole are a step up from previous Speedgoats
- Con: The shoe is not for narrow-footed runners
Anatomy of the Trail Shoe
While we tried to be nontechnical 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.
- 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 are made from 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. 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 somewhere between the outsole and the sock liner. The rock plate’s purpose is 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 full 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
The stack height number will give an instant indication of 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 normal. Outliers in this guide are the adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra and the Salomon Ultra Glide with 38 millimeters.
A shoe’s drop, on the other hand, is an indicator of 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.
With a main 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 are a part of ultrarunning. It is common for us to 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.
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.
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 and the shoes we’ve selected for this guide are the consensus favorites.
Our testers’ history with certain 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 starting 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 in the running world product models are routinely discontinued, 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 as well as 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 of the products are likely to remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear that you’ll be using 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 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 feel of whether they can sacrifice some comfort for less weight, or if they can acquire some comfort from a more aggressive, rockered shoe.
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 a lot of miles or do ultramarathons frequently is misguided. Many of us will use a cushioned shoe for all of 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 therefore cushioning provided during each step, you can expect these shoes 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?
Take a close look to find cushioned shoes that have 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.
What is the difference between foam durometer and stack height with cushioned shoes?
The durometer is the measure of the firmness of the foam under your foot. The stack height is the amount of foam found between your foot and the ground.
How long will a cushioned shoe last?
Despite what feels like a lot of foam in a cushioned shoe, the material will break down at a similar rate as less cushioned shoes, although many of our testers regularly get up to 500 enjoyable miles out of shoes in the La Sportiva Akasha and the Hoka Speedgoat series.
Where to Buy Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
If you are in the market for some 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 properly size the shoes, the store’s selection should also be well-suited for local trails.
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 huge selection of cushioned trail running shoes from a multitude of 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?