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.
If you ask us, it’s about finding the sweet spot between the different attributes. For example, the midsole should be cushioned with a level of step-in comfort that’s immediately accessible.
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, models like the Nike Pegasus and Saucony Ride are excluded. Even the otherwise brilliant Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 3 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. On the Reebok shoe, the upper is more business-like rather than plush.
So which shoes are on this list? Glad you asked.
Along with the ‘safe’ choices like the Brooks Glycerin, Hoka Bondi, Clifton, and New Balance 1080 from the last year, there are a lot of new products. If the Nike React Infinity Run is gone, it has been replaced with the uber-cushy ZoomX Invincible Run.
The omission of the adidas Ultraboost and Saucony Triumph are worth discussing. The 2021 version of the Ultraboost has turned into a lifestyle sneaker with a firmer ride, so it gets knocked off this list.
We’ve also made changes to how this guide is compiled. Unlike the previous edition that grouped all the models into a single list, we’ve grouped the recommended shoes by their use-cases. After all, a shoe that’s comfortable for speed runs isn’t the same kind that works during high-mileage cruising.
Here you go – more than a dozen running shoes that are sorted in the order of our preference.
Category 1: Comfortable neutral trainers
1) Asics Gel-Nimbus 23
This has been long overdue. The Asics Nimbus should have been on this guide all this while, but the shoe was simply not good enough.
But that changes for 2021 – the Nimbus 23 is the uber-cushioned and super-comfortable running shoe that it should have been in the first place.
As noted in our review, its dual-density foam midsole feels incredibly soft and plush. Our detailed tear-down is proof that most of the comfort comes from a soft Flytefoam stack rather than the Gel pads. But we’re splitting hairs here – the ends justify the means.
An equally comfortable and premium upper is paired with the cushy midsole. The mesh has a soft hand feel, and so do the padded tongue and heel. The true-to-size upper has an accommodating fit in multiple (optional) widths.
Easy runs at slow speeds are the best use case for the Nimbus 23’s ride character.
Also see: The Asics Cumulus 23 – a toned-down version of the Nimbus. Still very soft, very comfortable, and slightly more versatile because of the lighter build.
2) Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit
We reviewed this product earlier this year. Back then, we said that it had the cushiest ride of all the shoes we’ve had the pleasure to wear-test.
Our opinion stands; the Nike ZoomX Invincible is a helluva comfortable shoe. That feat is made possible by the prodigious PEBA foam midsole (ZoomX) that’s not only thick but also ultra-wide under the heel and forefoot.
As a result, the underfoot experience involves a high level of ride comfort. The Invincible isn’t the best shoe for high-paced runs, but it’s game for everything else. Easy runs and casual-wear uses are its wheelhouse.
Unlike some Nike running shoes, the upper is spacious and packed with interior comfort. The Invincible’s tongue and heel forego the oft-seen minimalist approach, and opt for foam-filled goodness.
3) Hoka One One Bondi 7
This is a running shoe with a lot of cushioning. The proof lies in the pudding, or this case, the midsole.
The mega stack of soft and responsive foam makes the otherwise punishing runs a joy. Be it shorter everyday runs or ultra-marathon distances, the cushioning comfort is never in short supply.
There’s a lot of plushness stitched into the upper. For the Bondi 7, the redesigned upper gets a comfort-oriented upgrade.
The heel collar is now quilted with memory foam to deliver a heady mix of secure fit and plushness. Runners who seek more upper room can find that in the optional 2E and 4E widths.
Despite all that foam, the Bondi 7 doesn’t feel mushy. Though the ride is supremely cushioned, the resilient foam material and the rocker shape work together to produce a speed-friendly loading.
4) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V11
The 1080 switched to a reformulated and softer ‘Fresh Foam’ midsole a couple of years ago. Despite the use of a humble EVA-blend foam, the Fresh Foam 1080 V11 continues to be an extremely comfortable running shoe that comes into its own during long-distance runs.
Its high-volume midsole helps the 1080V11 deliver copious amounts of comfort whenever it’s called upon – be it everyday runs or marathon-level efforts.
The softer sections of the blown rubber outsole muffle the hard landings and transitions. This enhances the cushioning experience – and that directly co-relates to the ride comfort.
The spacious and soft upper is the cherry on the top; the elastic toe-box is very comfortable. The interiors have a comfortable and accommodating fit that’s also available in different widths.
5) Hoka One One Clifton 8
If the Hoka Bondi 7 piques your interest but appears intimidating, then the Clifton 8 is the next best thing.
Just like the Bondi, the midsole and upper join forces to deliver 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 fit may be narrow, but that also locks in the foot securely. Foam-quilted plushness is available in 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 enhances the ride versatility by allowing the transitions to happen quickly. 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 8 checks all the boxes on the ride and upper comfort.
Also see: Asics Novablast V2.
6) Asics Gel-Nimbus Lite 2
We had an in-depth look at the Asics Nimbus Lite 2 recently, and we loved what we found. It belongs to the new breed of Asics running shoe that blends its tried-and-tested comfort package with performance-driven improvements.
The Nimbus Lite 2’s Flytefoam midsole is packed with ride comfort for runs of varying distances. However, unlike the standard Nimbus 23 that struggles at higher speeds, the Lite version is amenable to spirited workouts. The Nimbus Lite 2 feels more agile with smoother transitions.
The snug upper is very comfortable, and the conforming fit holds the foot closer to the midsole for better power delivery. These performance-oriented tweaks deliver a unique combination of comfort and use-case versatility.
7) Brooks Glycerin 19
There’s a certain harmony in how the Brooks Glycerin 19 brings its act together.
The midsole isn’t the softest, but it 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 process as smooth as possible.
Despite the upper redesign that relies on a single-piece engineered mesh, the interior produces 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.
8) New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2
New Balance did a 0 -100 on the Fuelcell Rebel in just a year, and that’s why the Rebel V1 did not feature on this guide the last year.
The completely redesigned V2 is nothing like the V1 – thanks to the new midsole that replaces the ‘regular’ Fuelcell foam with the one from the high-performance RC Elite.
With these upgrades, the new Rebel V2 transforms into an incredibly lightweight trainer that also acquires newfound comfort. The soft and responsive Fuelcell midsole is versatile enough for fast runs, distance races, and everything in between.
Its comfortable ride is one of the enablers of the said versatility. The single-density midsole provides efficient cushioning and transition quality for all foot-strike orientations.
New Balance has kept the upper layering to a minimum, thus reducing needless bulk over the foot.
This design approach, when combined with the thoughtful construction, leads to gains in interior comfort. The thin mesh is breathable and soft; the thin raw tongue flap is soft and non-distracting. In the back, the padded heel collar is gentle over the Achilles.
Even with the minimal upper, one needs to buy a half size larger in the Rebel V2. Some runners go a full size up.
Category 2: Comfortable low-profile trainers and racing shoes.
1) Saucony Kinvara 12
And here we thought that the Kinvara had peaked in 2019. The Kinvara 10 and 11 mated a soft upper with a comfortable yet efficient ride, so how much better could they become?
The Kinvara 12 begs to differ. In our review, we stated that it was the best Kinvara version since the V4.
The firm and low-profile ride of the 4 mm midsole makes a triumphant return, and added comfort arrives in the form of the E-TPU topsole and molded insole. The 12 may not be as cushy as the 10 and 11, but the Kinvara was never meant to be a soft shoe.
So while the Kinvara is always willing to go hard and fast, it does so with plenty of midsole and upper comfort. It’s worth nothing that recent Saucony products have been on a tear with their soft, secure, lightweight, and breezy uppers.
The Kinvara 12’s redesigned upper with its disappear-over-the-feet character is a perfect match for the midsole that combines versatile comfort with an efficient ride.
Given its low-drop and low-profile form factor, the Kinvara 12 seems like a misfit on this guide. But sometimes comfort isn’t just about the thickest midsole or a luxurious upper, it is about the absence of discomfort.
It’s easy to describe the wholesome Kinvara 12 experience as distraction-free, and if that isn’t the definition of comfort, what is?
2) Saucony Endorphin Speed V2
The last few years have brought to us a smorgasbord of highly-cushioned racers, and it all began with the Carbon-plated Nike Vaporfly.
The industry abandoned the traditional racing flat template in the favour of this new form factor. At last, it was possible to combine a comfortable ride with a speed-friendly ride character.
Of all the existing plate-infused distance racers, the Saucony Endorphin Speed V2 is the best value proposition; it’s an superlative balance between price and performance.
Its PEBA midsole has the functional benefits of the more expensive plated shoes but at a relatively affordable price. The E-Speed 2 has a Nylon plate instead of Carbon, but whatever. The non-Carbon plate achieves the same effect without the sticker shock.
The soft midsole delivers a very high level of responsive ride comfort. The midsole comfort is paired with an equally comfortable upper that’s lightweight, breathable, and secure.
The V2 is nearly identical to the E-Speed V1 (our review is here), so either version works just as well.
Category 3: Comfortable trail running shoes.
1) New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V6
A characteristic that’s often found lacking in trail running shoes is ride and fit comfort.
Their purpose dictates that the ride needs to be stiff for stability and protection. The upper of a trail shoe is usually narrow to prevent the foot from sliding inside.
While the said feature set works for technical trails, runners may find the cushioning comfort lacking over longer distances.
This is where a trail running shoe like the New Balance Hierro V6 adds value. Its thick Fresh Foam stack adds ride comfort to your high-mileage trail workouts while possessing all the required performance bits.
Under the cushy midsole is an aggressively lugged Vibram outsole for reliable traction. The upper has an accommodating fit with soft interiors, thus resulting in a high level of comfort.
The tightly woven mesh, inner sleeve, and padded entry work together to make the fit secure. The Hierro also retails in three widths for an adjustable fit.
Also see: Hoka Challenger ATR 6
2) Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 7
Technically speaking, the Terra Kiger 7 occupies the sweet spot between the softer Wildhorse 7 and Pegasus Trail 3.
It has a comfortable ride due to the cushy React foam midsole and forefoot Zoom Air unit. Also included are a heel rock plate and two-piece outsole, so the Terra Kiger combines distance-worthy comfort with protective outdoors-oriented features.
The upper is basic, but trail-functional – a sleeved tongue with a soft flap results in a distraction-free midfoot fit. The toe-bumper is reinforced for protection, and the speed loop-assisted lacing locks the foot down.
An asymmetrically-skewed heel pull loop makes the Kiger easy to put on.