Best running shoes with 4 mm heel drop

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

The 4 mm offset of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

This article has been updated with current models for January 2023. The New Balance Fresh Foam More V3 and Saucony Endorphin Shift V2 have been replaced with their newest versions. The Brooks Caldera 5 has been removed.

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.

The calculation of a running shoe heel drop.

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.

For example, the Asics Glideride 3 and Asics HyperSpeed 2 have a heel offset of 5 mm, and so do many shoes from Hoka One One. The Clifton 8, for example, is an extremely popular (low drop) choice.

The Saucony Kinvara 13 on the pavement.

The Kinvara 13 is one of the most popular trainers with a 4 mm heel drop.

It’s also getting harder to find running shoes with a 4 mm gradient. Though there are solid choices like the Saucony Kinvara 13 or Saucony Peregrine 12, 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 7

(Editor’s note: Just in case you were wondering why we recommend the Bondi 7 instead of the Bondi 8, that’s because we see the Bondi 7 as the better version.)

Not many deeply cushioned running shoes have a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset. Thankfully, the Hoka Bondi 7 is one.

Often viewed as Hoka’s purest expression of its max-midsole concept, the seventh version of this popular model is the best in the series yet. It’s even better than the Bondi 8.

The Hoka Bondi 7 in a marathon.

The midsole of the Hoka Bondi 7.

The rocker midsole has a 4 mm heel offset, thus making it suitable for forefoot/midfoot strikers.

Below the foot is the now-familiar goodness of deep cushioning. The tall foam stack is capable of everything that’s thrown at it, and then some. It even manages to feel nimble during runs – thanks to the transition-friendly rocker shape that promotes a forward roll. Our full review is here.

The thick midsole is mated to an equally comfortable upper. The exteriors are generously covered with welded overlays for support, and the soft upper has comfort-oriented features like the memory foam heel collar.

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 15.

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 13

The Kinvara 12 was easily the best version we had tested since the V4. The Kinvara has long been the standard-bearer for the 4 mm drop trainer category, and the 2021 version came with several advancements.

The Pwrrun+ topsole of the Saucony Kinvara 13.

Not much has changed on the Kinvara 13; we were half hoping that the Kinvara 13 had the bouncy Pwrrun+ insole from the Guide 15 and Peregrine 12. It does not. However, there’s a Pwrrun+ Topsole (e-TPU) and insole over an EVA foam blend midsole that feels peppy during faster runs.

The rearfoot is very supportive due to the flared sidewalls and firmer ride. The outsole grip benefits from the defined forefoot grooves, and the ride packs sufficient comfort for long-distance runs.

The lacing panel of the Saucony Kinvara 13.

The Kinvara 13’s upper is devoid of unnecessary trims. The outer mesh is a smooth textile with no overlays, and the tongue is thin yet cushioned enough to filter the lacing pressure. The K-13 also has a tongue pull tab.

It’s worth mentioning that the Kinvara 13 now comes with just a partial gusset instead of a full inner sleeve that the 12 had. This update makes the interiors slightly more accommodating.

We view the Kinvara 13 as an extremely versatile running shoe. It’s padded enough for long-distance runs of up to a half marathon, yet feels nimble enough for faster runs.

Even though the midsole isn’t made of new-age foams like Pebax, the 7.2 Oz/204 gram Kinvara is respectably lightweight. Our detailed review of the Kinvara 13 is here.

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 pace and mileage ranges.

6) Speed trainer with a 4 mm drop: Skechers GoRun Razor Excess 2

The Razor Excess 2 has a slightly higher amount of cushioning than the Razor and Razor+. That is the result of a 2 mm thicker stack than the Razor 3 as well as a broader midsole.

However, the term ‘excess’ should be consumed with a grain of salt, as the Razor Excess has a firm ride.

This low-profile pacer has a similar ride as the Brooks Hyperion Tempo, except that the latter has a higher heel drop. The Skechers Hyperburst foam is EVA foam infused with supercritical Nitrogen, and the result is a foam block with a firm and resilient ride.

The Excess 2’s forefoot midsole is Carbon-infused. In simple English, that means there’s a stiff winglet or mini transition plate to make the turnovers efficient.

Along with a low midsole offset, the Razor Excess’s ride experience blends cushioning and speed with an incredibly lightweight build. The upper fit is snug, but isn’t as wonky as some of the other Skechers models – which is good.

The Razor Excess 2 is best used as a race-day or speed training shoe.

7) 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.

8) Trail runner with a 4 mm drop: Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 8

Since the Terra Kiger 8 is an upper-only refresh, it has the same midsole and outsole as the 7.

That means the V8 has many of the excellent qualities that we liked on the previous Kiger model. The low-profile midsole isn’t generously cushioned like the Wildhorse 7 or competing products like the Brooks Cascadia 16, it isn’t lacking in ride comfort.

At the same time, the ride isn’t stiff like the Saucony Peregrine 12 either. You know what that means – the 4 mm offset Kiger occupies the sweet spot between a speed shoe and an everyday trail runner.

The React midsole is equal parts soft and stiff. The foam section is soft, whereas the forefoot Zoom Air bag and rock plate under the heel make the Kiger protective over technical terrain.

Here’s the bottomline. The Terra Kiger 8 is a versatile trail running shoe with plenty of ride comfort, courtesy of the React foam midsole and Zoom Air bag. The outsole grip is decent, and the smooth interiors offer moderate levels of protection on the trail.

The Kiger 8’s redesigned upper is a lot more breathable than the 7, thanks to the sieve-like vents on the engineered mesh exterior.

9) Trail runner with a 4 mm drop: Saucony Peregrine 12

Though the Saucony Peregrine 12 was completely redesigned last year, it continues to be a trail running shoe with a nuanced fit and ride character. Our ultra-detailed review is here.

The Pwrrun+ insole of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

The rock shield of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

The outsole protection of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

Be it pointy roots or rocks, the rock shield performs as advertised.

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 12’s cushioning is softer under the foot – thanks to the new Pwrrun+ (E-TPU) insole.

The fused toe-bumper of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

The Saucony Peregrine 12 with a gaiter attachment.

This is what the Peregrine 12 looks like with a gaiter.

On the upper, many goodies from the V11 are carried forward. There’s a gaiter attachment loop, a reinforced toe-bumper, and a smooth and secure fit that is comfortable enough for high-mileage trail 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.

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