Best running shoes for heel strikers

by Solereview editors


This article has been updated with current models for October 2020. We’ve replaced the Mizuno Wave Rider 23, and the Saucony Ride ISO 2 with their updated versions. The adidas Supernova and the New Balance Fuelcell Prism EnergyStreak are new additions. The New Balance FuelCell Propel has been removed.

Wait. Do we really need a guide to tell us which shoes work for rearfoot landing runners? Doesn’t that include most shoes?

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

There are overlooked aspects such as the heel-to-toe offset, the level of heel support, and a midsole design that promotes better landings. And how exactly do these factors help? Here’s a quick primer on what you need to look for.

A high heel-to-toe drop

The ‘drop’ of a shoe is the difference between the front and rear midsole thickness. Based on our experience, a gradient between 5 mm and 10 mm works better for heel strikers. And why is that?

A higher offset means that the rear is substantially thicker than the front. Not only do you get a higher level of cushioning upon impact, but the thicker back also promotes 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 deal-breaker, but it increases the chances of making a blind shoe buy successful. For most runners, models like the Saucony Kinvara 11 will also work just fine.

A supportive rearfoot

It isn’t just about the cushioning. If the rearfoot is the first point of contact during the gait cycle, it needs to be supportive. The midsole should have a fairly neutral behavior with zero or minimal bias. In other words, one side of the midsole shouldn’t be softer than the other.

To that end, the entire heel shouldn’t be overly soft. This is the reason why this guide leaves out models like the Asics Novablast or the Nike Vaporfly Next %. While those are excellent running shoes, the heel isn’t stable enough for rearfoot landing.

A beveled heel edge

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 upon landing for smoother transitions.

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

Also, this list only covers neutral daily trainers. By that definition, running shoes from the stability category are excluded. The New Balance Prism EnergyStreak is an exception because of its ultra-mild medial post.

We haven’t mentioned low-profile trainers for tempo runs either. If you’re interested, we recommend the excellent adidas adizero Boston 9 or the Reebok Floatride Run Fast.

1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 22

If you were in the market to buy a pair of Asics Cumulus, should you get the 21 at a bargain or the brand-new Cumulus 22? If you’re not on a budget, may we suggest the 22?

The new Cumulus is an improvement over the old. The cushioning feels (more) sorted due to the redesigned midsole and reformulated Flytefoam. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the rearfoot-biased cushioning of the Cumulus.

With a heel stack of 23 mm, most of the foam, Gel, and what-not is loaded in the back. Contrast this with the mere 13 mm thickness of the forefoot. The transitions are smooth, and the 10 mm drop ensures that heel strikers get most of the Flytefoam goodness.

Other design features like a grooved heel crash pad and curved heel edge assist rearfoot landings.

2) adidas Supernova

The adidas Supernova has a full-length Boost midsole that is softest at the heel before transitioning to a firmer zone. That is perfect for runners who land heel first. There’s more exposed Boost foam at the rear for a more cushioned experience.

It’s also very supportive for a shoe of this class. The EVA frame keeps the Boost’s softness in check and produces stable transitions. This blend of soft and firm adds versatility to the Supernova’s character, so this is a shoe that works for every day and long-distance runs alike.

Not only is the upper comfortable, but it also fits well and looks great. So that’s another thing that the Supernova has going for it. All this goodness is available for a retail price of $100.

Also see: The adidas SolarGlide 3.

3) adidas UltraBoost 20

Really? Do we need to explain why the adidas Ultraboost 20 is suitable for people who land rearfoot? One look at the midsole should give you the answer.

The full-length Boost midsole tapers from thick to slim, thus packing most of the springy cushioning under the heel. The midsole is wide and ridged as well, so soft landings need not come at the cost of stability.

The UltraBoost also has a generous heel bevel for smooth landings and transitions.

4) Asics Glide Ride

We had a lot of fun while reviewing the Asics Glideride, and we hope that’s also true for everyone else.

This Asics shoe’s unique geometry spices the ride character. A Nylon plate is embedded inside the midsole that leads – or rolls – the foot quickly towards toe-off. And that is the fun part; the gait process doesn’t feel like much work.

In the rear, the dual-density midsole does a superlative job of absorbing foot-strikes. The heel delivers a brief sensation of cushioned softness before the foot transitions to the firmer part of the plated midsole.

5) Brooks Glycerin 18

If overly soft rearfoot-friendly trainers aren’t your thing, then the Brooks Glycerin 18 will be an object of interest.

Ignore the adjective-laden marketing claims and blog posts. The Brooks DNA Loft foam isn’t ‘super-soft’ or ‘pillow-like’.

At best, the midsole has a medium-soft ride with plenty of rearfoot and forefoot stability. It is still a very comfortable daily trainer, so don’t let all this talk of firmness scare you away.

The Glycerin’s midsole has always featured a rounded heel for easy landings, and the 18 continues the tradition. The curved heel bevel and split crash pad work together to create an optimal heel landing experience.

Also see: The Brooks Ghost 13. The full-length midsole of the Ghost makes it a better value proposition than the Ghost 12.

6) Mizuno Wave Rider 24

So far, if you have been avoiding the Mizuno Wave Rider due to its (previously) firm ride, the Rider 24 may give you a reason to cheer. Though the fit and feel of the spacious upper feels familiar, there’s been an overall softening of the midsole.

The softer ride is the result of reformulated midsole density and also the addition of a new foam that Mizuno calls ‘Enerzy’. The Wave plate is also much smaller, as it no longer forms the shank as the 23 did. Eliminating the footbridge reduces the rigidity and increases the softness.

That said, the rearfoot is an excellent blend of cushioning softness and stability. The rigid plate prevents the foam from bottoming while allowing the transitions to happen smoothly.

7) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2

Unlike the cushy UltraBoost or the 1080, the Reebok Floatride Energy 2 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 dense expanded 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. When you consider the shoe’s $100 retail price, that’s a lot of miles for your money.

Also see: The Reebok Harmony Road 3.5

8) Saucony Ride 13

The Saucony Ride 13 isn’t your typical running shoe with a soft heel. As a matter of fact, the only noticeable layer softness is comprised of the insole and the Pwrrun+ (e-TPU) topsole. This is a medium-soft-firm running shoe with a do-it-all personality. The versatility applies to its snug-fitting and comfortable upper as well – there are no superfluous trims crowding the mesh.

Rearfoot strikers will discover a ride that is cushioned yet has a firm undertone. And this is a good thing; landing heel first needn’t come at the cost of stability. The firmness keeps the weight centered, and the single-density midsole guides the foot through the transition phase.

In our opinion, this is one of the best mid-priced neutral trainers for heel strikers.

9) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37

For 2020, the Pegasus has been reworked from the ground up. And guess what – the headlining act is the rearfoot design.

For the first time in the Pegasus’s recent history, the heel doesn’t have an Air bag. Replacing the springy unit of compressed air is a React foam core.

So what happens now? Does the Pegasus turn soft and mushy in the rear? Not exactly – though there’s a huge difference between the Pegasus 36 and 37.

The rear midsole is supported by the concave sidewall design. This makes the heel less soft than it appears, and that’s a positive from a ride perspective.

Heel-striking runners get the cushioning they need but without the sink-in softness. The Pegasus remains a comfortable daily trainer; it’s just a different shoe than the one it replaces.

Also see: The Nike Pegasus Turbo V2

10) Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit

View the React Infinity Run as an alternative to the Epic React. An alternative that has a lot more cushioning in the rear; the kind that makes long-distance runs at slow speeds a pleasure.

The wide midsole also adds cushioning volume in the back.

Just one thing – this shoe excels at straight-line running at easy speeds. However, its performance on uneven surfaces or tracks leaves much to be desired. The Infinity has simply too much midsole for anything other than road running. Our full review covers this behavior in detail.

11) New Balance 1080V10

Foam, foam everywhere. That’s a good description of the 1080V10.

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

There’s plenty of cushioning on tap even for marathon-distance runs. The reformulated Fresh Foam keeps the feet fresh over multi-hour wearings – and we view the V10 as one of the best versions to date.

Also see: The Hoka Clifton 7 – another excellent max-cushioned shoe with a lower heel-to-toe offset of 5 mm.

12) New Balance FuelCell Prism EnergyStreak

The Prism EnergyStreak has a medial post, but that’s ok. It is still a good fit for rearfoot-striking runners. The ‘medial post’ we speak of is this tiny triangular piece (of firm foam) that’s co-molded with the midsole. So for all practical purposes, the EnergyStreak is as neutral as the Propel.

This is one of the lightest rearfoot striker-friendly shoes here. Even at 8.6 ounces/244 grams, the Prism delivers lots of cushioning comfort for daily training as well as longer distances. There’s a lot of outsole for grip and transitions; the forefoot outsole is made of blown rubber for padded roll-offs.

The lightweight upper fits smooth and secure, thanks to its last and the no-sew shell. The plush heel and collar wrap softly around the ankles and complement the cushy ride character.

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