The softest running shoes

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

The softest running shoes for men

This article has been updated with current models for November 2022. The New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2 has been replaced with its updated version.

The term ‘softness’ isn’t set in stone – or should we say, foam. A shoe’s place on the softness scale is a fast-moving goal post that depends on the trending cushioning technology.

Not long ago, the likes of adidas Boost, Nike React, and Saucony Everun occupied the top spots on this curated list. While there were exceptions like Hoka and Brooks, models like the Ultraboost were the go-to shoes for a soft ride.

The introduction of PEBA foam-based midsoles turned the definition of ‘soft’ on its head. It began with the Nike Vaporfly 4%; later, brands like Reebok and Saucony came up with their versions of PEBA midsoles.

It’s a good thing that this list is about the ‘softest’ running shoes. That means that ride stability and transition quality, while important, need not be prioritized.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 V12 on the road.

On this guide, the Asics Nimbus 24 and New Balance 1080 V12 manage to balance all three attributes (softness, stability, transitions) reasonably well. However, the ride stability isn’t the forte of several other shoes like the Nike Vaporfly and the first two versions of the Saucony Endorphin Pro. (The V3 is much better, though)

Chances are, you’ll quickly scroll down to see which shoes are included in this guide.

When you do, the omission of the Brooks Glycerin and adidas Ultraboost 22 may come as a surprise. These two shoes are comfortable, but this guide is about the ‘softest’ running shoes – hence their exclusion. Also, the Glycerin 20’s new DNA Loft V3 foam isn’t as soft as Brooks claims. The new Pegasus Turbo Next Nature also has a soft ride, but its upper leaves a lot to be desired.

The adidas Ultraboost 21 was been redesigned with a firmer outsole that’s shared with the Ultraboost 22, so the ride isn’t as soft as it used to be. That is why we have featured the ‘retro’ Ultraboost 4.0 DNA in its place.

The terms soft, cushioned, and padded are often conflated. A cushioned shoe needn’t be soft. A padded shoe could be cushioned, but without being soft.

There are two qualifiers for a running shoe to be truly soft. At least, that’s how solereview defines it.

First, the foam material should compress the moment it is loaded. Two, the midsole made of the said foam should be a high-volume kind.

That’s why the New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 3 features on this list. Unlike the Rebel V1, the plump midsole uses the same midsole material as the RC Elite, thus giving it a soft and bouncy ride despite its 7.4-ounce weight.

Softness comes in various forms, with some being better than others. The Nike Vaporfly Next % V2 and Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 demonstrate that ride softness and quick transitions can happily co-exist.

Taking the top spot here is the Nike ZoomX Invincible – an uber-soft shoe with a high-volume midsole made of PEBA foam.

The list is sorted in the order of our recommendation.

1) Softest long-distance cruiser: Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit V2

In our detailed review of the inaugural model, we said that the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit V1 was the softest shoe we’ve ever reviewed.

The Invincible V2 has been in the market for a while now, and our opinion hasn’t changed. Compared to the other shoes on this list, it’s not even a contest. The V2 has the same midsole as the V1, so the ride quality is identical. Our in-depth review of the redesigned model is here.

The volume of the ZoomX midsole is distributed vertically and horizontally – thus making sure that there’s softness available no matter where or how the loading takes place.

Even with a 9 mm heel-to-toe offset, the forefoot has ample softness as well – thanks to its 28 mm stack height.

The lasting of the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2.

The Invincible Run breaks from tradition by ditching the lasting strobel. This gives the foot direct access to the ZoomX core.

It’s worth noting that nearly all of the cushioning softness is delivered by the midsole; the removable insole is thin, and the lasting doesn’t even exist. This allows the foot to be close to the cushy midsole. The thin and pliable outsole doesn’t get in the way of the cushioning softness.

The inner sleeve of the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2.

The sleeve also forms the forefoot and toe-box lining.

The upper comfort and plushness complement the soft ride well. The interiors are smooth and accommodating, and features like the padded heel and tongue make fit very comfortable.

All that said, there are limits to the Invincible Run’s capabilities. Reserve it for the easy runs or walks; faster runs and races are best left to the likes of the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 or Saucony Endorphin Pro V3.

The plastic heel clip of the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2.

For 2022, the Invincible Run 2 comes with a redesigned heel clip with raised edges.

If you’re wondering what is the difference between the Invincible Run V1 and V2, here’s a quick overview. The plastic heel stabilizer has raised sides (see image above) for an improved cupping action around the heel.

The upper uses a new tongue and wider lacing, thus making the interior more accommodating while reducing the lacing pressure.

2) Softest daily trainer: Asics Gel-Nimbus 24

The last year’s Nimbus 23 came close to the ideal version of the Nimbus. It had a plush, soft ride with an equally comfortable upper to match.

The Asics Nimbus 24 on the waterfront.

For 2022, Asics has updated the Nimbus with a more responsive Flytefoam midsole – yes, the same material that’s used on the Novablast 2.

As noted in our detailed review, the Nimbus 24 doesn’t lose any of its cushioning softness.

The Flytefoam Blast midsole foam of the Asics Gel Nimbus 24.

The new Flytefoam variant works together with the updated midfoot shank placement to create a soft, yet peppy ride.

The removable insole of the Asics Gel Nimbus 24.

Here’s taking a closer look at the Ortholite insole.

The dual-density Flytefoam midsole creates a soft and plush underfoot experience. That’s further enhanced by the foam insole and lasting, and the blown rubber outsole also contributes to the forefoot padding.

The single-piece knit mesh upper is smooth and comfortable. The seamless exterior and inner sleeve add plenty of interior comfort. The stretchy knit tongue of the Nimbus 24 is sure to divide opinions; if you recall, the Nimbus 23 had a plump tongue packed with soft foam.

This is an excellent shoe for long-distance runs at easy paces (6 min/km, 10 min/mile range) or casual everyday use.

3) Softest daily trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V12

The Fresh Foam midsole is beginning to show its age, but it still delivers a softly cushioned ride with plenty of distance-friendly comfort. Our recent review praised the New Balance 1080V12’s improved ride quality and upper fit.

The Fresh Foam X midsole of the New Balance 1080 V12.

The Ortholite insole of the New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 V12.

Making the soft cushioning happen is a high-volume foam midsole and multi-piece outsole that cushions every foot strike. Fresh Foam is an EVA foam variant, but that doesn’t stop it from delivering a ride experience that is both comfortable and lively.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 V12 on the waterfront.

Unlike some of the shoes listed here, the Fresh Foam X 1080 V12 feels relatively agile for its cushioning class. In other words, the 1080 doesn’t feel slow and cumbersome to lug around. It weighs just over 9 ounces, so this isn’t a heavy shoe at all. The rocker-shaped midsole is good at making the transitions smoother.

The redesigned outsole makes use of independent slabs divided by flex grooves. The forefoot outsole is made of (softer) blown rubber, so this new geometry flexes together with the midsole to elevate the cushioning levels.

We love the upper fit; the knit mesh is soft, stretchy, and accommodating while delivering a secure fit. It comes in multiple widths as well.

4) Softest responsive trainer: New Balance Supercomp Trainer

It’s hard to fit the New Balance Supercomp Trainer into a specific category of running shoes.

Its 8 mm heel-to-toe offset is the product of a super tall midsole that’s 47 mm high under the heel. Yes, that’s not a typo. Not only is the high-volume extremely soft, but it also avoids any mushiness – thanks to the internal Carbon plate and higher rocker profile.

The inner plate has a slightly different orientation than the kind that’s on the Saucony Endorphin or Nike Vaporfly. Here, the plate acts as a transition device like the Asics Glideride, but with a much softer ride. The Fuelcell foam used on the SC Trainer is low-density and extremely soft.

In the end, the SC Trainer hits a sweet spot between cushioning softness and responsiveness. This isn’t a shoe that’s eager to go fast, but it doesn’t feel like running on molasses either. The ‘scooped midsole’ design creates a hollow section on the outsole for smoother transitions.

The lightweight upper is built and fits like a racing shoe. It’s snug, yet lightweight, while keeping creature comforts like tongue padding to a minimum.

5) Softest tempo trainer: New Balance FuelCell Rebel V3

The Fuelcell Rebel V3 packs an unbelievable amount of bouncy softness for its 7.4-ounce weight. The cushioning softness doesn’t have the depth of the 1080, but there’s plenty of everyday comfort available on demand.

The highly responsive nature of the Fuelcell foam also works at tempo paces, so the Rebel 3 can transition effortlessly between easy runs and quick paces.

The Rebel V3’s $130 retail price is very reasonable for what it offers.

The lightweight and breathable upper is secure with a soft wrap. The last year’s model had durability issues, so the Rebel V3 appears to have addressed those concerns. The upper is made of a thicker mesh, and an inner sleeve reinforces the midfoot.

6) Softest marathon racer: Nike Vaporfly Next% V2

This model is the second edition of the Nike Vaporfly Next% – the follow-up shoe to the excellent 4%.

The Nike Vaporfly Next % is a slightly modified version of the 4%, so there’re many similarities.

The ZoomX midsole of the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2.

100% of the midsole is ZoomX foam, so the ride is extremely cushioned and responsive while weighing very little. We’ve also reviewed the Alphafly Next%, but we prefer the Vaporfly’s more consistent ride quality.

And just like the Vaporfly 4%, a heel-to-toe Carbon fiber plate gives the Next% V2 its characteristic snap.

The breathable tongue of the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2.

We’d take the Next% V2’s mesh over the V1’s Vaporweave any day. It breathes so much better.

The thin upper also helps cut down on weight, and its asymmetrical lacing is a clever way to reduce the top-down pressure. Though the V2’s upper is ‘new’, there’s not much change from the V1. The midsole and outsole stay the same.

The Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 in a marathon.

Its softness doesn’t come at the cost of speed. The Next % is one of those rare shoes where the softness and ‘fast’ feel co-exist harmoniously. This makes the Next % an excellent long-distance running shoe; going far doesn’t mean punishing the feet. We covered the minutiae of the Vaporfly Next% 2 in our detailed review.

Do keep in mind, however, that the rearfoot stability is lacking due to the softness. That was true of the original 4% as well, and even competing shoes like the Saucony Endorphin Pro suffers from this limitation. It’s not a drawback as long as the rearfoot isn’t loaded at slow paces.

7) Softest marathon racer – Saucony Endorphin Pro V3

The Endorphin Pro V3 is one of two Saucony running shoes that use a PEBA midsole with an internal plate.

The other shoe is the Endorphin Speed V3, except that it uses a Nylon plate instead of a Carbon one. Since the Pro version lacks the (thicker) fabric lasting under the insole, it is the softer of the two – and hence the reason why it’s featured here over the Speed model. Here’s our detailed review if you want to know more.

The beveled heel of the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3.

The Pwrrub PB midsole of the Endorphin Speed 3 creates a soft and responsive underfoot feel. The Carbon plate does the rest.

Saucony’s take on the PEBA foam midsole is interesting. Instead of a single block of molded foam, the midsole uses hundreds of fused foam globules. The result is a soft and bouncy ride that’s excellent for high-speed, long-distance runs in relative comfort.

For 2022, both the Endorphin Pro and Speed get upgraded with a wider midsole for improved stability. Of course, that’s relative to the prior versions – the Speed and Pro 3 are nowhere as stable as regular trainers.

Co-existing with the soft cushioning is a resilient quality that feels ‘tighter’ than the Nike ZoomX. A full-length Carbon Fiber plate makes the ride engaging by adding a snappy feel to the rearfoot while making the forefoot transition-friendly.

The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 compared with Endorphin Pro 3.

Despite the shared softness, there are significant differences between the E-Speed 3 and Pro 3.

The outsole of the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3.

The Endorphin Pro 3 has windows exposing the Carbon plate, whereas the Speed 3 doesn’t.

The Pwrrun+ insole of the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3.

The Pro 3 has a Pwrrun+ footbed; the Speed 3 has the EVA-based kind.

Besides the lighter upper with a collapsible heel, the Pro 3 also differs from the Speed V3 in another way. The cut-outs on the outsole (and midsole) expose the Carbon plate in the midfoot and forefoot.

The Pro 3 has a Pwrrun+ (E-TPU) footbed, whereas the Speed 3 has an insole that’s made of EVA foam.

The toe spring of the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3.

The high toe spring and rigid forefoot help the foot ‘roll forward’ during transitions.

This quality is what Saucony advertises as ‘Speedroll’ – the rigid forefoot helps the foot roll quicker during the push-off phase. The rearfoot stability isn’t great, nor is the outsole grip – two things that a potential buyer needs to be mindful of.

The lightweight upper is well-ventilated with a comfortable, true-to-size fit.

8) Softest low-profile racer – Nike ZoomX Streakfly

The Reebok Floatride Run Fast 3 no longer seems to be available, but fret not. There’s a new-ish road racer called the Nike ZoomX Streakfly, and it is the softest running shoe of its kind.

As long as your runs are limited to 10K or below, the Streakfly’s midsole will deliver sufficient ride comfort. Since this shoe lacks a high-volume midsole, distances that are longer than 10K will increase the chances of fatigue.

The Nike ZoomX Streakfly in a 10K race.

The ZoomX Streakfly’s soft ride keeps the feet fresh for up to a 10K distance.

The heel bevel of the Nike ZoomX_Streakfly

Unlike most low-profile flats like the Saucony Type A9 or adidas adios 6 that have a firm ride, the Streakfly’s ZoomX midsole offers a soft underfoot experience. After all, Nike’s ZoomX foam is the same material that makes the Invincible Run and Vaporfly possible.

The Streakfly also has a stiff plate under the forefoot for quick turnovers during a high-cadence run. But the Streakfly isn’t without limitations; our in-depth review went through the pros and cons of this cushioned tempo trainer.

Also see: New Balance Supercomp pacer.

9) Softest trail running shoe – Nike Wildhorse 7

For this edition of this guide, we thought of including a trail running shoe with a soft ride. Even though adidas sells several trail shoes with a Boost foam midsole, we found the Wildhorse 7 to have one of the softest trail shoes on the market. The recently reviewed Pegasus Trail 4 comes a close second.

Making that happen is a high-volume foam midsole in a dual-density stack. The React foam frame under the heel delivers soft cushioning during trail runs, and so does the forefoot midsole.

A rugged outsole protects the soft midsole and offers dependable traction over the trail.

The smooth and secure upper design is similar to the Wildhorse 6; the heel has a soft gaiter collar around the ankles to prevent dust from entering.

The midfoot uses a loop-based lacing system for quick cinching, and protective details over the mesh upper shields the foot without adding weight or stiffness.

Also see: Hoka Challenger ATR 6.

10) Softest athleisure runner – adidas UltraBoost 1.0 DNA

Oddly, the high-volume midsole of the latest Ultraboost 22 doesn’t necessarily make it a very soft shoe.

The stiffer outsole and larger Torsion shank make the ride more stable. That may be a good thing while running, but that dials down the overall softness.

Under the changed circumstances, we recommend the DNA variant of the Ultraboost if a soft ride is what you’re after. To be specific, the Ultraboost 1.0 DNA.

It uses (almost) the same midsole and outsole as the original Ultraboost. A full-length stack of soft Boost foam connects directly to the upper, with a cushy insole creating the layer of step-in cushioning.

The outsole design helps as well. Unlike the stiff geometry of the Ultraboost 22, the latticed layout of the Ultraboost DNA (with exposed Boost foam windows) does a better job of flexing along with the midsole. This helps make the ride softer.

Like the UB-22, the 1.0 DNA is best used as an athleisure shoe or low-intensity running. Though the stretchy upper covers the foot in a soft and snug fit, the midfoot cage isn’t ideal for high-mileage runs.

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