Best running shoes for heel strikers

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

The transition groove of the Saucony Ride 15.

This article has been updated with current models for November 2022. The Asics Kayano Lite 2 and New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2 have been replaced with their updated versions. The Asics Glideride 2 has been removed. Except for the narrower ‘B’ width, the women’s models are almost identical to men’s.

Wait. Do we really need an article to tell us which shoes work for heel strikers? Doesn’t that include most running shoes?

If only things were that simple. It takes a lot more than just a cushioned heel for a running shoe to be rearfoot-friendly.

There are other overlooked aspects like the heel-to-toe offset, rearfoot stability, and a midsole design that promotes smoother landings. Just how do these factors help? Here’s a quick primer.

A high heel-to-toe offset

The 8 mm offset of the Saucony Ride 15.

The ‘drop’ or offset of a shoe is defined as the thickness between the front and rear midsole heights. After reviewing shoes for over a decade, we believe that a heel-to-toe drop of between 5 mm and 10 mm is the sweet spot for heel strikers.

A high heel-to-toe offset implies that the rear is substantially thicker than the front. Not only does that result in a higher level of cushioning, but the thicker heel also promotes comfortable rearfoot landings. The opposite is also true, and that is why midfoot/forefoot strikers prefer running shoes with a lower offset.

Just know that this so-called ‘rule’ isn’t a blanket generalization, but it increases the chances of a running shoe being rearfoot friendly. For most runners, even low-offset models like the Saucony Kinvara 13 will work just fine.

A supportive rearfoot

The heel view of the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 V12.

Despite the difference between the inner and outer midsole, the 1080V12 delivers a very neutral and supportive ride experience.

Not everything ends and begins with the midsole cushioning. If the rearfoot is the first point of contact during the gait cycle, it needs to be stable.

The midsole should have a neutral ride character with minimal cushioning bias. In other words, one side of the midsole shouldn’t be excessively softer than the other.

The midsole of the Asics Kayano Lite cut open.

A supportive heel midsole makes a running shoe suitable for heel strikers.

Also, the entire heel shouldn’t be overly soft.

That’s the reason why this guide excludes models like the Nike ZoomX Invincible. While those are excellent products, the heel isn’t stable enough for rearfoot landing. The New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 2 is an exception because its midsole is not overly thick.

A beveled heel edge

The heel landing zone of the Saucony Ride 15.

A heel with an angled curve (also called the heel spring) allows the foot to land gradually instead of edge striking abruptly. It helps if the outsole crash pad is segmented or split from the main outsole by a groove. Such crash pads flex during landing for gentle transitions.

Not all shoes on this guide have an articulated landing zone, but we’ve tried our best to find the ones that do.

For the sake of brevity, this list only covers neutral daily trainers. By that definition, running shoes from the stability category are excluded. The Kayano Lite 3 doesn’t count because it happens to be a supportive neutral trainer instead of the medially-posted trainer that the Kayano 29 is.

1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 24

We love what Asics is doing to its entire running shoe line.

It’s not just about the rapid-fire release of innovative running shoes, but even their existing models are getting a lot more than superficial annual updates.

The Asics Cumulus 24 in a park.

The Asics Cumulus 24 is a please-all daily trainer.

Take, for instance, the Asics Cumulus. The last version – the 23 – was excellent, and so is the 24.

The newest Cumulus is an incremental improvement over the 23, and that’s a good thing considering how capable the 23 was.

The reflective details on the Asics Cumulus 24.

Not only is the Cumulus 24 brand-new design from the ground up, the ride character feels peppier than the 23 – thanks to the Flytefoam Blast midsole. If that sounds familiar, this evolution has its parallels in the Nimbus 24 redesign.

The 10 mm heel offset of the Flytefoam midsole delivers a heel-biased cushioning that also includes a beveled edge and groove-assisted landing zone. The updated outsole layout with its rounded lugs makes the transitions smoother from heel to toe.

The soft upper fits true to size. The Cumulus 24 also benefits from an inner sleeve, a feature that was missing on the Cumulus 23. Our review dives deep into the subtle changes on the new Cumulus.

Also see: The Brooks Ghost 14 is excellent too, and comparable to the Cumulus.

2) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39

The Pegasus 37 and 38 were average at best, so things could only improve from there. And it has, by leaps and bounds. The Pegasus 39 has been completely refreshed for 2022, and part of that redesign is a softer React midsole with two Zoom Air bags.

Unlike the Pegasus 38, the Pegasus 39 now has heel Zoom Air that results in a more balanced ride character. Our review dives deep into the changes, so it’s worth a read.

The side profile of the Nike Pegasus 39.

The beveled heel and cushioned rearfoot midsole make the Pegasus 39 an excellent shoe for heel strikers.

The rearfoot outsole of the Nike Pegasus 39.

There’s plenty of outsole rubber coverage and grip for rearfoot strikers to land on.

The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39 on the road.

It’s also a better rearfoot striker’s shoe, as the Zoom Air bag and softer React core deliver lively cushioning during landings. The midsole is fairly supportive and doesn’t have a cushioning bias.

Runners who trade their Pegasus 38 for the 39 will discover the new upper to be an improvement. The exterior is lined with a full sleeve from the midfoot to toe-box, and the spacer mesh lining adds true-to-size comfort.

3) Saucony Ride 15

The Saucony Ride 15 is a better rearfoot striker’s shoe than the Ride 14, and we say that for three reasons.

The first reason is the updated midsole that’s marginally softer. The taller foam stack increases ride comfort, but without losing the supportive and transition-friendly ride that this model is known for.

The Saucony Ride 15 on the boardwalk.

It’s still a firm running shoe, but there’s a sense of more give under the foot. Our review dives deep into the inner workings of the Ride 15.

The removable Pwrrun+ footbed of the Saucony Ride 15.

The Pwrrun+ insole of the Saucony Guide 15.

The Ride and Guide 15 both have Pwrrun+ (expanded Polyurethane) midsoles.

Two, the insole is new for the V15. And it’s not just any footbed, but one that’s made of expanded PU (Pwrrun+) foam. This elevates the level of step-in comfort.

The heel bevel of the Saucony Ride 15.

The transition groove of the Saucony Ride 15.

Lastly, the heel is generously flared and beveled for an easy transition. Additionally, the Saucony Ride 15 also has a new transition groove that guides the foot through the gait cycle. It seems that Saucony has taken the Asics ‘Guidance line’ to heart.

The lacing panel of the Saucony Ride 15.

There’s not much to write about the upper, except that it’s soft, sleeved, spacious, and breathes well.

4) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 4

Even with an expanded Polyurethane midsole, the Reebok Floatride Energy 4 doesn’t have a lot of rearfoot softness.

Instead, the ride experience is an exercise in moderation. The cushioning is neither too soft nor too firm, and yet there’s plenty of impact protection no matter where you land or how long the distance.

Making that happen is a resilient Polyurethane foam that Reebok calls Floatride. Don’t let the seemingly low-profile midsole put you off; the dense quality of the midsole is perfectly capable of hard heel landings. As a bonus, there’s plenty of stability too.

Also, the Forever Floatride is a very durable shoe. That’s a lot of miles per dollar if you consider the $110 retail price. Well, but it used to be a $100 shoe, so if you can find the V3 for cheap, get it. Both the Floatride 3 and 4 share the same midsole, so you won’t miss anything new – because there isn’t.

5) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V12

Foam, foam everywhere. That’s a good description of the Fresh Foam X 1080V12.

The 1080 V12 happens to be a great pick for heel strikers if long-distance comfort is a priority. The slight rocker shape of the midsole gives the 1080 its polished landing manners, and the multi-piece outsole facilitates a smooth loading experience.

The heel bevel of the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 V12.

The heel has a generous bevel for gentle transitions and compatibility with different footstrike patterns.

The laser perforations of the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 V12.

The outer midsole has laser-cut perforations for added softness.

There’s plenty of cushioning on tap even for marathon-level distances. The reformulated Fresh Foam keeps the feet fresh over multi-hour wearings without any slowness.

Though the upper has a snug forefoot fit, the soft and stretchy mesh will accommodate most foot types. Multiple widths are optional as a sizing backup. Our in-depth review is here.

Also see: The Hoka Clifton 8 – another excellent distance-friendly shoe.

6) Asics Gel-Nimbus 24

There are many good reasons why the Nimbus 24 is an excellent heel-striker’s running shoe.

The midsole is taller in the back (26 mm) than it is in the front (16 mm), and that equates to a lot of rearfoot comfort. The two densities of Flytefoam and visible Gel come together perfectly to create a comfortable high-mileage trainer that’s also great for runners who land heel first.

The heel view of the Asics Gel Nimbus 24.

Though the wraparound Gel doesn’t influence the cushioning softness, it acts as a stability feature.

Included in the 10 mm heel-to-toe offset midsole is a rearfoot geometry that makes the best use of the foam, Gel, and segmented crash pad. The split outsole crash pad makes the landings smooth, whereas the thick midsole provides ample comfort.

The ride isn’t the only part that’s plush.

The Asics Nimbus 24 on the waterfront.

The new upper uses a mesh with a soft hand feel and a knit tongue that makes the fit extremely comfortable. Having said that, a lot of runners will miss the plush padded tongue from the Nimbus 23.

For what it’s worth, the new Flytefoam midsole makes the 24 the bounciest Nimbus yet. We wear-tested and reviewed the Nimbus 24 recently.

7) Brooks Glycerin 20

If overly soft trainers aren’t your thing, then the rearfoot-friendly Brooks Glycerin 20 should be of interest.

Ignore the adjective-laden product literature; the Brooks DNA Loft V3 foam isn’t ‘super-soft’ as Brooks claims. It’s a modified version of what the Hyperion Tempo uses – a Nitrogen infused EVA foam with a firm undertone. To know more, our in-depth review covers various aspects of the Glycerin 20’s ride and upper fit.

The DNA Loft V3 foam of the Brooks Glycerin 20.

The Glycerin has always been a firm shoe, and the V20 is more of the same.

At best, the midsole has a medium-soft ride with sufficient rearfoot and forefoot stability. The Glycerin 20’s unique midsole ‘bumpers’ create an ultra-stable, yet comfortable cushioning experience.

The heel view of the Brooks Glycerin 20.

The neutral midsole design and firm DNA Loft V3 foam make the ride suitable for rearfoot strikers.

The Glycerin’s midsole usually has a rounded heel for easy landings, and the 20 continues that tradition. The curved heel bevel and split crash pad work together to result in optimal heel landings.

This version lacks an inner sleeve, so the upper is more spacious and breathable than the Glycerin 19.

Also see: The Brooks Glycerin GTS 20 – a Glycerin variant with raised sidewalls (Guiderails) for a higher level of under-arch support.

8) Asics Gel-Kayano Lite 3

Some brands do certain things very well. New Balance is great for widths. Nike has an established track record of bringing ground-breaking shoe tech into the market.

One of the things that Asics excels at is providing rearfoot-loaded cushioning, and the Kayano Lite 3 is a good example.

Two factors make the Kayano Lite 3 suitable for rearfoot strikers. Given its 10 mm heel to toe drop, most of the Flytefoam stack is available under the heel. So landing heel first results in a comfortable ride experience.

The flared sidewalls also make the rearfoot very supportive, since there’s a wide midsole base under the foot. The Kayano Lite 3 has a redesigned midsole, but its overall ride is similar to the Kayano Lite 1 and 2.

Though there’s a Gel pad inside the midsole, most of its cushioning is delivered by the Flytefoam midsole. The heel-to-toe loading feels extremely smooth while being supportive enough – regardless of whether you’re heel or forefoot striking.

The Kayano Lite 3’s upper fit and feel is excellent. The mesh exterior is soft and smooth; the padded tongue and heel add a plush yet secure feel.

9) New Balance FuelCell Rebel V3

Thanks to its featherweight Fuelcell midsole, the New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V3 is the lightest rearfoot striker-friendly shoe on this list.

Despite its astonishing 7.4 ounces/209 gram weight, the Rebel delivers lots of bouncy comfort for everyday training as well as long-distance runs – like a half-marathon, for example.

At the same time, the heel midsole isn’t very thick so rearfoot landings do not feel unstable. Besides the rounded heel edge, the separate outsole piece works together with the midsole for a smooth transition.

Just like the Fuelcell midsole, the Rebel V3’s upper is super lightweight and breathable. Even though the tongue isn’t padded, the raw-edged flap is extremely soft, and so is the collapsible heel. The accommodating upper creates a secure interior environment.

The Rebel V3 gets a redesigned upper that seems to have addressed the durability concerns of the Fuelcell Rebel V2.

Do you own any of these shoes? Improve this review by sharing your insights – submit a review here.

Other reviews and guides