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 drop
The ‘drop’ of a shoe is the difference in thickness between the front and rear midsole height. Based on our experience, a gradient between 5 mm and 10 mm works better 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 12 will also work just as well.
A supportive rearfoot
Not everything is about the 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.
Also, the entire heel shouldn’t be overly soft. That’s the reason why this guide excludes models like the Asics Novablast or Nike ZoomX Invincible. While those are excellent products, 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 gentle transitions.
Not all shoes on this guide feature 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 New Balance Fuelcell Prism is an exception due to its ultra-mild medial post. The Kayano Lite too, happens to be a supportive neutral trainer.
We haven’t listed low-profile trainers for tempo runs either. If you’re interested, we recommend the excellent adidas adizero Boston 9.
In case you haven’t already noticed, Asics makes a clean sweep of this guide. That happens for a credible reason; many of their models have rearfoot-loaded cushioning with a beveled heel and grooved crash pad.
1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 23
We love what Asics is doing with 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.
Take, for instance, the Asics Cumulus. The last version – the 22 – was excellent, and so is the 23. The newest Cumulus is an improvement over the 22, and that’s no small feat considering how capable the 22 was.
Though the Cumulus 23 has a brand-new design from the ground up, the overall ride and fit character is similar to the 22.
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 23 also benefits from an elevated exterior styling, thanks to the raised detailing on the knit mesh.
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 ride 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 everyday 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, which is good as it gets.
Also see: The adidas SolarGlide.
3) Asics Glide Ride 2
The Glideride 2’s unique midsole geometry isn’t a gimmick; it adds a lot of functional value while making the run an enjoyable experience.
A Nylon plate is embedded within the midsole that leads – or rolls – the foot quickly towards toe-off. This approach to embedding a plate differs from how Nike or Saucony does it. Here, the plate serves as a transition aid rather than adding a springboard effect to the cushioning.
As a result, the gait process doesn’t feel like much work. The GlideRide 2 is fun as it gets.
In the rear, the dual-density midsole does a superlative job of absorbing the rearfoot landings. The heel delivers a brief sensation of cushioned softness before the foot transitions to the firmer section of the plated midsole. The outsole center groove helps with straight-line tracking as the loading progresses towards the forefoot.
Like most recent Asics releases, the GlideRide 2 is an improved version of the V1. The newly-designed midsole has higher sidewalls for a better cupping action, and the updated outsole is (more) pliable because of the latticed rubber lugs.
The soft and smooth upper fits true to size and complements the cushy midsole perfectly.
4) Asics Gel-Nimbus 23
We see the newest Nimbus as probably the best iteration to date. The two densities of Flytefoam and visible Gel come together perfectly to create a comfortable high-mileage trainer that’s also great for heel strikers.
Included in the 10 mm heel-to-toe offset midsole is a heel design 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 new upper uses a mesh with a soft hand feel and a padded tongue that makes the fit extremely comfortable.
5) Asics Gel-Kayano Lite
What? Another Asics running shoe?
Some brands do certain things very well. New Balance does great on widths. Nike has an established track record of introducing ground-breaking shoe tech.
One of the things that Asics excels at is providing rearfoot-loaded cushioning, and the Kayano Lite is yet another example.
Two factors make the Kayano Lite suitable for rearfoot strikers. With a 10 mm offset midsole, the bulk of the Flytefoam stack resides under the heel. Hence, landing in the rear produces a comfortable ride experience.
The flared sidewalls also make the rearfoot very supportive – there’s a wide midsole base for the foot to land on.
Though there’s an internal Gel pad inside the midsole, the Kayano Lite rides like a running shoe with a single-density foam midsole. The heel-to-toe loading feels extremely smooth while being supportive enough – no matter whether it’s a heel or forefoot striker.
If our detailed review is anything to go by, the Kayano Lite’s upper fit and feel is excellent as well.
6) Brooks Glycerin 19
If overly soft trainers aren’t your thing, then the rearfoot-friendly Brooks Glycerin 19 should be of interest.
Ignore the adjective-laden marketing claims and blog spiels. The Brooks DNA Loft foam isn’t ‘super-soft’ or ‘pillow-like’.
At best, the midsole has a medium-soft ride with sufficient rearfoot and forefoot stability.
The Glycerin’s midsole usually has a rounded heel for easy landings, and the 19 continues that tradition. The curved heel bevel and split crash pad work together to result in optimal heel landings.
Also see: The Brooks Glycerin GTS 19 – a Glycerin variant with raised sidewalls (Guiderails) for a higher level of under-arch support.
7) 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 of the spacious upper feels familiar, the midsole is a lot softer.
The newly acquired ride character is the result of the reformulated midsole density and also the addition of a new foam that Mizuno calls ‘Enerzy’. The Wave plate is much smaller, as it no longer forms the shank like how 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.
Also see: The Mizuno Wave Inspire 17.
8) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 3
Even with an expanded Polyurethane midsole, the Reebok Floatride Energy 3 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 for the money when considering the shoe’s $100 retail price.
Also see: The Saucony Triumph 18 – a running shoe that uses a similar e-TPU midsole as the Floatride but in a higher stacked configuration.
9) Saucony Ride 14
The Saucony Ride 14 isn’t your typical everyday neutral running shoe with a soft heel. 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 – no superfluous trims crowd the mesh.
Rearfoot strikers will discover a cushioned ride with 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, whereas 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.
10) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
For 2021, the Pegasus 38 receives an upper-only refresh. It is based on the same midsole and outsole as the 37, so the ride quality is identical. It also implies that the Pegasus 38 is just as heel striker-friendly as the 37.
The midsole heel of the Peg 38 is molded out of a single-density React foam core. This provides ample cushioning in the rear, along with a peppy forefoot that relies on a large Zoom Air bag.
Even though the rearfoot is softer than the front, the stability is decent.
With an identical ride comes the inevitable question – is it worth getting the Pegasus 38 over the 37?
We say yes. The Pegasus 38 now has a ‘proper’ padded tongue that is a better match for its daily trainer persona. We have no idea what Nike was thinking when they decided that the flat tongue had a place on the 37.
11) Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2
Though the React Infinity Run 2 retains the V1’s midsole and outsole, it’s an improvement from a stability perspective.
We have the new upper to thank for. While the fit (still) isn’t perfect, the snug midfoot fit makes the ride more supportive.
Other than that, the React Infinity V2 has the same qualities that made the V1 suitable for rearfoot strikers. The React foam midsole has a pronounced heel bevel for smooth transitions; the plastic heel clip adds much-needed stability over the cushioned midsole.
It’s a nice shoe for daily runs and high-mileage sessions alike.
12) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V11
Foam, foam everywhere. That’s a good description of the Fresh Foam 1080V11.
The 1080 happens to be a great pick for heel strikers if long-distance comfort is a purchase factor. 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-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 backup.
Also see: The Hoka Clifton 7 – another excellent distance-friendly shoe.
13) New Balance FuelCell Prism
The FuelCell Prism 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 Prism is a neutral running shoe.
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 everyday runs as well as long-distance sessions. 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 due to its last profile and the no-sew shell. The plush heel and collar wrap softly around the ankles and complements the cushy ride character.