Best running shoes for heel strikers

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

Heel striking in the Asics Nimbus 25.

This article has been updated with current models for November 2023. The New Balance 1080V12 has been replaced with its updated version. The Reebok Floatride Energy 4 has been removed. Except for the narrower ‘B’ width, the women’s models are almost identical to men’s.

Rearfoot striking in the Brooks Glycerin 20.

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 14 or Hoka Bondi 8 will work just fine.

A supportive rearfoot

The heel view of the Asics Nimbus 25.

Thanks to its wide midsole, the Nimbus 25 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 Vaporfly. While those are excellent products, the heel isn’t stable enough for rearfoot landing. The New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 3 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.

1) Asics Nimbus 25

There are many good reasons why the Nimbus 25 is an excellent heel-striker’s running shoe. Of course, if you want to find out more, we recommend reading our full review.

The midsole is much taller under the heel (41.5 mm) than it is in the front (33.5 mm), and that translates into abundant rearfoot comfort. In short, the Nimbus is a comfortable high-mileage trainer that’s also great for runners who land heel first.

The transition groove of the Asics Nimbus 25.

The Nimbus 25’s cushioning is heel-loaded.

The Asics Nimbus 25 on the road.

The Nimbus 25 is excellent for heel landing.

The 8 mm heel-to-toe offset midsole has a rearfoot geometry that makes the best use of the thick foam stack. The split outsole crash pad makes the landings smooth, whereas the thick midsole provides ample comfort. However, the outsole grip is average.

The heel collar of the Asics Nimbus 25.

The heel collar is plush and secure as ever.

The new upper uses a heel collar with a soft foam ‘pod’ and a knit tongue that makes the fit extremely comfortable. Having said that, the thick upper does a poor job of ventilation, so the Nimbus 25 is uncomfortable on warm days.

For what it’s worth, the new Flytefoam Blast midsole makes the 25 the bounciest Nimbus yet. The forefoot is thicker, less flexible, and has a high ‘spring’ to make it easier for the foot to ‘roll forward’. While very soft, the Nimbus 25 doesn’t feel lazy at all.

2) Asics Cumulus 25

Not only is the Cumulus 25 brand-new design from the ground up, but the ride character also feels peppier than the 24 – thanks to the Flytefoam Blast+ midsole.

The 8 mm heel offset (versus the Cumulus 24’s 10 mm drop) of the Flytefoam midsole delivers heel-biased cushioning. The updated outsole layout with its rounded lugs makes the transitions smoother from heel to toe – and so does the beveled edge and groove-assisted landing zone.

The soft upper fits true to size. The Cumulus 25’s upper borrows elements from the Nimbus 25, so we get a plump tongue and heel with a comfortable interior.

Also see: The Brooks Ghost 15 is excellent too, and comparable to the Cumulus.

3) Nike Pegasus 40

The Pegasus 40 is based on the same midsole and outsole as the Pegasus 39, so the ride experience hasn’t changed at all.

The rearfoot outsole of the Nike Pegasus 39.

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

The Pegasus 40 when loaded.

The Pegasus 40 is an excellent 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. Our review explains the inner workings of the Pegasus 40.

Runners who trade their Pegasus 39 for the 40 will discover minor fit improvements. The cord-based lacing has been replaced with a strap-based system, so the midfoot fits better. Like the last time, the upper fits true to size.

4) Saucony Ride 16

The Saucony Ride 16 is built on the same midsole architecture as the Ride 15, so very little has changed.

The EVA foam stack offers plenty of ride comfort without losing the supportive and transition-friendly ride that this model is known for. It’s still a firm running shoe, but there’s a sense of ‘give’ under the foot. Given the shared midsole, our Ride 15 review is relevant.

The removable Pwrrun+ footbed of the Saucony Ride 15.

The Pwrrun+ insole of the Saucony Guide 15.

Both the Ride 16 and Guide 16 have Pwrrun+ (expanded Polyurethane) midsoles.

The Ride 16 also has our favorite feature from the Ride 15 – a footbed made of expanded PU (Pwrrun+) foam. This elevates the level of step-in comfort.

The transition groove of the Saucony Ride 15.

Lastly, the heel is generously flared and beveled for an easy transition. Additionally, the Saucony Ride 16 also has a transition groove that guides the foot through the gait cycle.

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

5) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V13

Midsole foam, and lots of it. That’s a good description of the Fresh Foam X 1080V13. This is by far, the most cushioned 1080 to date.

The 1080 V13 is 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 outsole of the New Balance 1080V13.

There’s plenty of cushioning on tap even for marathon-level distances. The reformulated Fresh Foam keeps the feet fresh over long-distance runs without feeling slow.

Though the upper ditches the stretchy upper last seen on the 1080V12, the standard ‘D’ width will accommodate most foot types. Multiple widths are optional as a sizing backup.

Also see: The Hoka Clifton 9 – another excellent distance-friendly shoe.

6) 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 overtone. 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.

Heel striking in the Brooks Glycerin 20.

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.

7) 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. Our in-depth review explores the capabilities of this responsive tempo trainer.

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.

New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V3 on the waterfront.

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 side profile of the New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V3.

The mesh seems much sturdier than before, and an inner sleeve also reinforces the upper.

The Rebel V3 gets a redesigned upper that addresses the durability concerns of the Fuelcell Rebel V2.

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