The word ‘comfort’ means different things to different people. Some runners equate a soft midsole with comfort. Others don’t care about how soft the ride is, and instead use a plush and roomy upper as a yardstick.
What is solereview’s definition of a comfortable running shoe? After all, we’ve reviewed hundreds of shoes and clocked thousands of miles over the last decade.
In our opinion, it’s about finding a fine balance between the different attributes. For instance, the midsole should be cushioned with a level of step-in comfort that is immediately accessible upon wearing the shoe.
At the same time, the upper should (preferably) be made of soft-touch materials for a plush over-the-foot experience. The fit shouldn’t be overly snug or have hot spots.
It’s easier to filter shoes when you apply these selection criteria.
For instance, we have excluded models like the Nike Pegasus and Saucony Ride. Even the otherwise brilliant Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2 does not make it to the list. Though it has plenty of high-quality cushioning, it’s not the same thing as step-in comfort. With the Reebok shoe, the upper is more business-like than plush.
So which shoes are on this list? Good you asked.
Along with the ‘safe’ choices from last year, there are a lot of new names here. If the Vomero 5 is gone, it’s been replaced with the cushy React Infinity Run. The Ultraboost has received comfort-oriented updates, so now it’s on our list.
Saucony’s Everun cushioning evolves into the bouncier and softer Pwrrun+, so the Saucony Triumph 18 reserves a spot. The max-cushioning category is represented by popular models like the Hoka Clifton and the New Balance 1080
Here you go – more than a dozen of the most comfortable running shoes sorted in the order of our preference.
1) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V10
The reformulated and softer ‘Fresh Foam X’ midsole earns the 1080V10 a spot on this guide. And it’s not just the uber-thick midsole that makes the ride comfortable.
Even the outsole is softer as the V10 leaves the large rubber outsole behind and adopts an articulated/split layout. This enhances the cushioning experience – and that directly co-relates to the ride comfort.
Be it daily runs or high-mileage workouts, the 1080V10 delivers gobs of comfort whenever – and wherever – you need it. The spacious and soft upper is the perfect cherry on top; the 1080V10 has the most comfortable and accommodating toe-box of the year.
2) Hoka One One Bondi 7
This is the running shoe with the most cushioning here. The proof lies in the pudding, or in this case, the midsole. The mega stack of soft and responsive foam makes the otherwise punishing runs a joy. Be it the shorter 5K daily runs or ultra-marathon distances, the Bondi 7 makes sure that the cushioning doesn’t run out.
There’s a lot of plushness stitched into the upper too. For 2020, the redesigned upper gets a comfort-oriented upgrade. The heel collar is now quilted with memory foam and delivers a cushy blend of a secure fit and plushness.
It’s worth noting that the Bondi 7 doesn’t feel mushy at all. Though the ride is supremely cushioned, the resilient foam material and the rocker-shape work together to produce speed-friendly transitions.
3) Hoka One One Clifton 7
If the Hoka Bondi 7 piques your interest but appears intimidating, then the Clifton 7 is the next best thing. Just like the Bondi, the midsole and the upper combines their strengths to result in a very comfortable fit and ride experience. Except that the Clifton is lighter with everything dialed down a notch when compared to the Bondi.
There’s not a lot of layering on the upper, and yet the insides are a great place to be. The front has a broad toe-box, thus making the fit accommodating while simultaneously locking the foot in place. There’s a newfound plushness in even the heel and tongue, something that was merely a wish list for the first version of the Clifton.
The soft and responsive stack of foam is wide through the forefoot and has a rocker shape. The curved profile increases ride comfort by allowing the transitions to happen quicker instead of having to labor though. The high-volume design ensures that there’s bouncy softness available in every part of the midsole.
Be it everyday use or high-mileage endurance runs, the Clifton 7 checks all the boxes on the ride and fit comfort.
4) adidas UltraBoost 20
For a long time, the stiff panels on the Ultraboost’s midfoot were a detriment to comfort – until now. The upper has panels, but they’re made of a soft rubbery synthetic that clasps the midfoot in comfort.
The heel clip is made of molded TPU, but that’s insulated by a soft and padded heel collar. The bootie design of the Primeknit upper fits securely – sans hot-spots.
And of course, you have an extra-sized Boost midsole that is comfortable enough for miles and miles of easy runs. The supportive Continental rubber outsole brings everything together with its multi-weather traction.
5) adidas UltraBoost S&L
This Ultraboost model trades the regular (and elastic) knit upper for a closed mesh with suede and leather overlays. The plastic midfoot cage (seen on the original) isn’t there either.
As a result, there’s more room inside the forefoot without the constricting feel of the midfoot cage. The S&L version uses a leather midfoot panel that feels a lot better than the plastic vice. The collar and the tongue use the same soft lining as the regular UltraBoost, thus giving the interiors a plush feel.
The full-length Boost midsole doesn’t need an introduction; the cushioned and bouncy e-TPU foam is excellent for both step-in and all-day comfort.
6) Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit
The difference lies in the wider and higher-volume midsole of the React Infinity. As a result, there’s more of the lively React foam under the foot. Stability is ok – as long as you don’t take the shoe on off-road adventures.
The Flyknit upper has mellowed over the years to become more comfortable. It provides a decent level of lock-down and is nowhere as compressive as some of the early Flyknit models.
7) Saucony Triumph 18
While the Triumph 17 also featured on the last edit of this buyer’s guide, we weren’t exactly happy with the latter’s upper fit. It was too narrow in the forefoot due to a couple of design limitations.
With the Triumph 18, the said paucity of space is less of an issue. The fit is still secure but it does a superior job at accommodating the foot. Of course, the interior environment is super plush – as it has been for the previous Triumph models.
The soft and bouncy Pwrrun+ foam midsole is a good fit for the comfortable upper. This expanded Polyurethane (E-TPU) material is an evolution of the firmer Everun midsole foam.
Though both the cushioning tech share a common ingredient, the latest foam makes its comfort-oriented character very obvious. The midsole is more responsive under the foot, as it compresses and bounces back during the footstrikes and the transitions that follow.
The Triumph 18 is an excellent running shoe if all-day comfort is a purchase-influencing factor.
8) Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 4
If the Wave Sky 4 came with a plastic Wave plate, we wouldn’t have included it here. But this Mizuno is different.
The dual-density midsole is now made of two layers of foam, each with different cushioning properties. A Polyurethane-based foam is stacked over a layer of EVA foam, and this results in a pleasing mix of responsiveness and cushioning.
Also, the lack of a Wave plate means that the cushioning feel is a lot more consistent than other Wave-plated Mizunos. The top and bottom layers are interlocked in a wave pattern from the heel to toe, thus making the ride smoother through the midsole length.
While the midsole isn’t overly soft, the ride comfort is noticeable. The thick insole helps, but most of the heavy lifting is done by the twin-density midsole.
The upper feels plush, as it should be. The interior comfort was never in question on both the Mizuno Wave Sky 3 and Horizon, and the Waveknit 4 is no exception. The knit upper wraps over the foot snugly and comfortably.
9) Brooks Glycerin 18
There’s a certain harmony in how the Brooks Glycerin 18 brings its act together. The midsole isn’t the softest but delivers a smooth and comfortable ride that has become a hallmark of this franchise. The multi-piece outsole flexes and works seamlessly with the midsole to make the transition(s) smooth.
Despite the upper redesign that relies on a single-piece engineered mesh, the interior has the familiar plushness that the Glycerin is known for. Both the heel and tongue use a soft lining and foam padding that grips the foot in all-day comfort.
10) Reebok Floatride Run 2.0
This model succeeds the original Floatride Ultraknit – a shoe that was more lifestyle sneaker than a serious performance-running product.
The Floatride Run 2 is an improvement over the last model. The slip-on Ultraknit upper gets an additional pair of eyelets that help lock down the foot better. The urethane midfoot cage is slimmer and no longer feels overbearing.
That said, the Floatride Run 2 still has a very leisurely upper fit so use this Reebok shoe only for activities of a low-intensity nature.
If you’re looking for a soft yet ultra-lightweight ride, you’ll find it on the Floatride. The 10 mm drop midsole uses the namesake foam – a cushy and responsive PEBAX foam that makes run extremely comfortable.
The EVA midsole rim has been toned down for a cushier ride experience.
11) Saucony Endorphin Shift
We go against the conventional wisdom here. Comfort isn’t only defined by an uber-cushioned midsole; rather, the whole needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. Though the Endorphin Shift has a relatively firm ride quality, it isn’t lacking in comfort.
The midsole has a considerable stack height, so running out of cushioning is the last thing one needs to worry about. There is some upper-level softness in the form of the Pwrrun+ topsole and the EVA foam insole, and those two provide a welcome layer of step-in comfort.
But the superb upper is the real reason why the Endorphin Shift features on the list. For an upper that looks so light, the interiors are incredibly comfortable.
The outer mesh is a spacer kind – the one that has a squishy feel and soft-touch on the inside. Both the tongue and heel use a lining material that can truly be called ‘deluxe’ without sounding hyperbolic. Rounding everything off are the interior proportions; the fit is accommodating without feeling sloppy.
12) Asics Gel-Cumulus 22
Something (nice) has happened to Asics in the last year, and that’s reflected in their recent releases. They’ve (finally) shaken off the design inertia and infused their products with a dose of freshness. Intros like the GlideRide and Novablast are proof enough.
A lot of that is rubbing off on the regular models like the Nimbus and Cumulus. If the last year’s Cumulus 21 was a surprise improvement, the Cumulus 22 goes farther in 2020.
The one-piece engineered mesh upper has a soft and seamless feel with a true-to-size profile. The lack of stitched logos or overlays creates an interior that is free of seam bumps and pressure spots.
Who knew Flytefoam could be so cushy? The Cumulus 22 has a soft and comfortable midsole that is just right for daily training and when runs take you longer. A dual-density foam and Gel pad adds extra cushioning in the heel.
13) Saucony Kinvara 11
Given its low-drop and low-profile form factor, the Kinvara 11 seems like a misfit on this guide. But comfort isn’t just about the thickest midsole or a luxurious upper, it is about the absence of discomfort.
And there’s a lot of missing things on the Kinvara 11. A stiff upper mesh and thick overlays are absent, and so is a scratchy heel collar. A harsh ride is also absent on the Kinvara. And wait, there’s very little bulk too. This shoe weighs under 8-ounces.
All these missing pieces create a ride quality that is smooth, cushioned, and comfortable. The lightweight upper has an accommodating and breathable fit that keeps the foot locked down during runs.
It’s easy to describe the entire Kinvara 11 experience as distraction-free, and if that isn’t the definition of comfort, what is?