In this product guide:
- 1. The origin story of heel drops
- 2. Long-distance trainer with a 4 mm drop: Hoka Bondi 8
- 3. Everyday trainer with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Endorphin Shift V3
- 4. Tempo trainer with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Kinvara 14
- 5. Max-cushioned trainer with a 4 mm drop: New Balance Fresh Foam More V4
- 6. Stability trainer with a 4 mm drop: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V5
- 7. 5K road racer with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Type A9
- 8. Trail running shoe with a 4 mm drop: Nike Terra Kiger 9
- 9. Trail running shoe with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Peregrine 13
How did heel drops become one of the most talked-about things in the running shoe industry? The origin story of heel-to-toe offsets is worth telling.
The entire movement was based on the notion that running barefoot – or the act of running in minimalist footwear – was healthy. It was ironic, however, that the ‘barefoot’ concept led to the creation of new running shoe categories – which was the exact opposite of true barefoot running.
Ah, the irony of it all. New footwear categories attempted to commercialize different levels of minimalism. Vibram mimicked the anatomy of the human foot with its ‘Five-Fingers’ series. Others started selling zero-drop sandals. The rest adopted a middle ground, and marketed zero or low-drop running shoes.
Brands like Nike were ahead of the times with their ultra-flexible ‘Free’ assortment. There was a time when they shipped container loads of these products.
If you’ve made it so far and (still) haven’t the faintest idea of what was just said, here’s a brief primer on heel ‘drops.’
What is a heel-to-toe drop or offset?
Every running shoe has a foam midsole, and the said midsole has a certain thickness across its length. For example, if you were to measure the forefoot thickness with a caliper, you’ll get a certain number in millimeters, say, 20 mm. In the rear, the midsole could be 30 mm.
A heel drop is nothing but the difference between the forefoot and rearfoot midsole thickness. In this case, 30 mm – 20 mm = a 10 mm drop. Similarly, a 20 mm forefoot and 24 mm rear would mean that the running shoe has a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset.
And why is this spec perceived to be important?
A lower drop running shoe is thought to promote a more ‘natural’ gait. The underlying rationale is that if barefoot running is zero drop, why should running shoes have a thicker heel?
A low heel-to-toe slope is also associated with forefoot and midfoot striking. The logic is that having a lower slope allows the foot to make full ground contact rather than catching the heel first.
That, of course, is debatable. A video of elite runners racing a marathon in higher drop (8 mm+) shoes will often show them landing full-contact instead of rearfoot striking. As they say, it’s the runner and not the shoe.
It’s obvious that the overall design also plays a part in how the shoe behaves – the discussion should not be reduced to just the heel offset.
(Related read: The best running shoes for midfoot and forefoot strikers)
It is safe to assume that the barefoot running boom also vilified rearfoot landings. However, there is no scientific evidence linking it to decreased biomechanical efficiency or a higher risk of injuries.
Midsole drops are a personal choice so maybe over time, 4-6 mm offsets became the preferred norm for purists. That said, we must point out that published heel drop specs are to be taken with a grain of salt. Not all shoes with the same heel offset number are the same.
A softly-cushioned 4 mm drop midsole will behave differently under weight-loaded conditions than a firmer 4 mm drop midsole. A softer midsole will compress under the weight (and impact), thus creating a ‘dynamic’ heel drop that is lower than the advertised number.
Do you want to know what Solereview thinks? It’s pointless to obsess over an exact number. Though this guide is about running shoes with a 4 mm offset, it makes no difference whether you buy a 2, 5, or even a 6 mm offset shoe instead. Even the 8 mm drop Asics Superblast is excellent for midfoot striking.
It’s also getting harder to find running shoes with a 4 mm gradient. Though there are solid choices like the Saucony Peregrine 13 and Nike Terra Kiger 9, you’ll have access to a wider and better assortment if you’re not fixated on a specific number. Hoka and New Balance are great places to find running shoes with a 5-6 mm offset.
Is there a downside to running in low-drop shoes? Not really, but if you’re transitioning from a higher drop (8-12 mm) shoe, make sure to gradually build up the miles. This will allow the calves and Achilles to get accustomed and reduce the chances of initial soreness.
1) Long-distance cruiser with a 4 mm drop: Hoka One One Bondi 8
Not many max-cushioned running shoes have a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset, but the Hoka Bondi 8 is an exception.
The Bondi is generally perceived to be Hoka’s purest expression of its max-midsole concept, but it feels a bit dated in the face of running shoes with more advanced cushioning technologies.
Below the foot is the now-familiar sense of deep cushioning. The Hoka Bondi 8 isn’t as slow as it looks, though – the transition-friendly rocker shape that promotes a forward roll.
That said, we prefer the Hoka Bondi 7 over the Bondi 8, and our review explains why. So if you can score the Bondi 7 for less money than the 8, go for it.
The Bondi 8 fits narrower than the 7, and also needs a break-in period because of the stiff midsole edges. Else, the upper is true-to-size, secure, and comfortable.
2) Everyday trainer with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Endorphin Shift V3
When we reviewed the first version of the Saucony Endorphin Shift in 2020, the shoe wasn’t what we had imagined it to be. Just to be clear, we don’t say this in a bad way.
Going by Saucony’s marketing, we assumed that the Shift’s midsole transitions had a noticeable ‘roll-forward’ effect.
That may be true of the higher-priced Endorphin Pro V3 and Speed V3, but the Shift relies on just a thick midsole without a plate. It’s also worth noting that the Shift’s midsole isn’t made of PEBA, but of Pwrrun foam (an EVA blend) that’s used on the Ride 16.
While both the Speed and Pro have a noticeable ‘roll forward’ behavior and a bouncy midsole, the Shift is more subdued. Its rocker-shaped forefoot can only do so much.
Even though the Endorphin Shift 3’s midsole is brand-new, its ride character isn’t all that different from the V1 and V2. The cushioning is marginally softer, that’s all.
Summing up, the Endorphin Shift 3 is a cushioned shoe with a firm and somewhat flat ride. The kind of ride that’s versatile enough for daily runs and high-mileage runs at faster paces. The midsole is made of firm Pwrrun foam, so the ride stability is better than the bouncier Speed 3 and Pro 3.
Saucony’s upper game has been strong the past few years, so the Endorphin Shift’s upper fit and feel is excellent. The upper combines soft materials with minimal construction to deliver a lightweight, comfortable, accommodating, yet secure fit. The upper fits true to size.
3) Tempo trainer with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Kinvara 14
Backed with 13 years of history, the lightweight Kinvara has established itself as the quintessential 4 mm drop trainer.
The Kinvara 14 deviates from its brief, though. For most of its life, the Kinvara had been a firm and low-profile trainer for enhanced ground feel. It had just the right amount of cushioning for 10K runs, and was comfortable enough to be a daily trainer. A minimal upper and nearly all-foam outsole cut down on weight.
This Kinvara adds several millimeters of stack over the 14. The heel goes up to 31 mm from 28.5 mm, and the forefoot from 24.5 mm to 27 mm. So the 4 mm drop comes from a different set of dimensions. The EVA insole and Pwrrun+ ‘topsole’ is replaced by a single layer of Pwrrun+ insole – the same footbed that’s on the Saucony Triumph.
It’s not surprising that the Kinvara gains some cushioning softness with a corresponding dilution of the ground feel. History repeats itself, and this change is similar to what happened between the Kinvara 4 and Kinvara 5.
On a relative scale, the Kinvara 14 is a slower shoe than the 13. For the true Kinvara experience, we recommend that you get the V13 – it’s closer to the ideal Kinvara than the 14.
The rearfoot is very supportive due to the flared sidewalls and wide midsole. The softer ride packs sufficient comfort for long-distance runs of up to a half-marathon.
The Kinvara 14’s is minimally constructed, breathable, and fits narrower than the Kinvara 13. The sizing fits true-to-size.
4) Max-cushioned trainer with a 4 mm drop: New Balance Fresh Foam X More V4
There’s enough foam in the Fresh Foam More V4 to trigger an existential crisis, but who cares. Even though we’re spoiled for choices with Fresh Foam this and Fresh Foam that, there’s no mistaking the Fresh Foam More’s intentions.
The premise of the Fresh Foam More is very simple – cram as much midsole foam as the laws of physics permit.
This is an example of New Balance maxing out the boundaries of its Fresh Foam midsole concept. There’s more foam in this shoe than any other NB model, the 1080 included. Just the heel is 34 mm thick.
So what – and who – is this shoe even meant for?
It’s a lazy, slow run shoe where the heel-to-toe drop is contextually irrelevant. The copious amounts of foam guarantee a soft ride, but gets in the way of going fast.
As with all the recent Fresh Foam updates, the V4 is an improvement over the last-gen model. The midsole is softer with more life in it. Sure, the tinkered formulation helps, but so does the outsole geometry.
The outsole layout divides the rubber lugs with wide channels of exposed Fresh Foam. This allows the rubber outsole to flex better with the midsole – a process that results in distraction-free softness. The deep groove under the heel adds stability to the soft ride.
The redesigned upper is also an improvement. The true-to-size and comfort upper retains all the good things from the last model while improving the low-light visibility.
5) Stability trainer with a 4 mm drop: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V5
With the newly introduced changes, the Fresh Foam Vongo V5 ends up being the only traditional stability shoe on this guide. In other words, it’s a running shoe with a firmer medial post.
Now wait a minute; where did the medial post come from? After all, the Vongos V1 to V4 did not have any.
For over four years, the Vongo had always been the odd one out in New Balance’s stability running shoe assortment. Unlike a conventional (860) stability shoe, the midsole lacked a firmer midsole wedge. Instead, the shoe used a deep channel on the outsole to center the weight and make the ride stable.
For some reason, New Balance has now decided that the Vongo V5 needed to become a conventional stability running shoe. The inner midsole has a visible section of firmer foam (medial post), whereas the rest of the midsole is made of Fresh Foam EVA.
So what we have here is a firmly cushioned stability shoe with a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset. From a usage perspective, the Vongo 5 is a comfortable and stable shoe that’s a versatile daily trainer across different paces and mileage ranges.
6) 5K road racer with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Type A9
The Saucony Type A9 is built around a road-racer template that we are all familiar with.
Like the others in this category, the low-profile midsole uses firm EVA to give it speed-friendly manners. Above it is a lightweight racer upper that disappears on your feet. This shoe is comparable to the New Balance 1400V6 – another stellar shoe but with a higher heel-to-toe offset.
Also see: The Saucony Fastwitch 9.
7) Trail runner with a 4 mm drop: Nike Terra Kiger 9
Here’s the lowdown. The Terra Kiger 9 is a versatile trail running shoe with plenty of ride comfort. The outsole grip is decent, and the breathable upper fits true-to-size.
There are many changes over the Kiger 8. For one, the midsole no longer has a forefoot Zoom Air bag – it is now 100% React foam. The outsole layout has also changed, with more exposed React midsole under the midfoot. The forefoot outsole is also perforated, as compared to the opaque design of the Kiger 8.
While the V9 has many of the excellent qualities that we liked on the previous Kiger, the ride is softer and less protective under the ball of the foot.
8) Trail runner with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Peregrine 13
The Saucony Peregrine 13 has only minor updates over the last year’s version, so it continues to be a trail running shoe with a nuanced fit and ride character.
The ride is cushioned enough for the trail, yet firm and stable enough for uneven terrain. The EVA midsole houses a protective rock plate over a sticky rubber (Pwrtrac) outsole for grip over wet surfaces. The Peregrine 13 has a noticeable sense of step-in softness because of the thick Pwrrun+ (E-TPU) insole.
On the upper, a gaiter attachment loop is provided, along with a reinforced toe-bumper, and a smooth and secure fit that is comfortable enough for off-road runs.
Saucony is the rare brand that sells an assortment of trail running shoes with a 4 mm offset. Otherwise, this category is usually populated with 8 -10 drop models.