The softest running shoes

by Solereview editors

Softest-running_shoes_2020

This article has been updated with current models for November 2020. The Hoka Bondi 6 and the Saucony Triumph 17 have been replaced with their updated versions. The Hoka Clifton 7 and Nike Vaporfly Next % are new additions. The New Balance FuelCell Propel, Nike Pegasus Turbo 2, and Reebok Floatride Run 2 have been removed.

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

When you do so, you may be surprised by the omission of the Brooks Glycerin, Asics Nimbus, or the Mizuno Wave Sky.

The terms soft, cushioned, and padded are often conflated. A cushioned shoe can do what it claims without being soft. A padded shoe may cushioned, but not necessarily 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 weight loaded. Two, the midsole made of the said foam should be a high-volume kind.

You must be thinking – what do I need a soft shoe for? I like my runs to feel lively and not be bogged down by softness. This generalization was true five years ago when a soft running shoe was the preferred footwear for easy runs.

But times have changed. Softness comes in various forms, with some being better than the others.

Nowadays, rarely are top-tier cushioning platforms made of EVA foam. Replacing EVA are various hi-tech formulations such as expanded TPU, PEBA, and others which are not only soft but also deliver reliable performance.

Here, only the New Balance 1080V10, Hoka Bondi 7, and Hoka Clifton 7 use an EVA variant – the rest on this guide don’t.

The Brooks Glycerin and the Mizuno Wave Sky are soft and comfortable, but this guide is about the ‘softest’ running shoes – so those models don’t make the cut.

The list is sorted in the order of our recommendation. Without further ado, here is our pick of the seven softest running shoes:

1) Nike Vaporfly Next%

The Nike Vaporfly Next % is a slightly modified version of the 4%, so there’re a lot of similarities. Nike uses ZoomX in 100% of the midsole, so the ride is supremely cushioned and responsive while being lightweight.

And just like the Vaporfly 4%, a heel to toe Carbon fiber plate gives the Next% its characteristic snap. The thin upper also helps cut down on weight, and its asymmetrical lacing is a clever way to reduce the top-down pressure.

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 % the idea long-distance running shoe; going far doesn’t mean punishing the feet.

Do keep in mind, however, that the rearfoot stability is lacking due to the softness.

Also see: The Nike Alphafly Next%.

2) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V10

The Fresh Foam midsole finally delivers.

After years of somewhat mediocre ride performance, the V10’s deep cushioning finally succeeds at keeping the feet fresh over long distances.

Making that possible 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 redesigned outsole makes use of independent slabs divided by flex grooves. The forefoot outsole is made of soft blown rubber, so this new geometry flexes together with the midsole to elevate the cushioning level.

We love what New Balance has done to the upper fit; there’s a generous amount of room inside the toe-box.

3) Hoka Clifton 7

The Hoka Clifton returns for the 7th time, and it does so in a near-perfect fashion. The V7 epitomizes the ideal Clifton – a mega-cushioned running shoe that feels light on the feet while being comfortable enough for high-mileage runs.

We’ll get to the midsole in a bit, but the real hero of the 2020 Clifton is the redesigned upper. For years, the Clifton’s upper was plagued with bugs like pressure hot-spots or the less than perfect finishing. We’re happy to report that this is no longer the case.

The engineered mesh exterior has a pleasing fit quality, one that has plenty of room inside the forefoot. At the same time, the true-to-size fit has a soft heel collar and tongue that enhances interior comfort.

As for the midsole, it happens to be a very comfortable ride that relies on a deep stack of foam. The rocker-shape design makes the Clifton easy to run in as well.

Even with all the softness, there’s no sense of slowness. The ride is also supportive, thanks to the wide midsole and outsole geometry that results in a planted feel.

Underneath, the rubber lugs provide both grip and transition smoothness.

4) Hoka One One Bondi 7

If you were to ask someone to quickly name two Hoka shoes, we’re pretty sure that the Bondi and Clifton would be the answer. These models have been long-time ambassadors of Hoka’s maximal cushioning concept. There’s a good reason why a shoe like the Bondi has stood the test of time.

Here, the midsole isn’t pasted to an upper; it’s the other way around – the upper is an afterthought. The Bondi 7 is nearly all foam to ensure a healthy separation between your foot and the road.

This cushioning thickness doesn’t come at the cost of running efficiency. As with most Hoka shoes, the rocker design of the midsole allows quick turnovers. So it is possible for soft cushioning and smooth transitions to coexist, after all.

The Bondi 7 has a lot of inherent stability; something that’s evident in how the shoe is designed. The midsole is thick and wide, thus making the ride very supportive. The rigidity of the midsole helps too.

The upper, while very plush, has additional features that add to the shoe’s overall stability. There’s a lot more structure over the upper; the forefoot, lacing panel, and heel are reinforced with overlays for support. The Bondi 7’s heel collar is also quilted with memory-foam – something that’s new for 2020.

5) Saucony Triumph 18

While we liked the Everun-based Triumph, we prefer the newer Triumph(s) with the softer Pwrrun+ midsoles.

Going by material specs alone, there’s not much difference between Everun and Pwrrrun+. Both are based on expanded Polyurethane, the same material that adidas Boost and Reebok Floatride Energy are made of.

That being said, the Pwrrun+ foam is a lot softer and livelier than Everun. That’s the reason why the Triumph 18 shows up on this guide. It’s important to make it clear that ’softness’ doesn’t mean ultra-squishy here.

The Pwrrun+ foam occupies between cushioning comfort and stability, a trait that is also the result of a wide midsole. This non-mushy character makes the Triumph 18 a good candidate for heavier runners as well.

The levels of upper plushness are similar to the Triumph 17, except that there’s slightly more room in the front due to the less aggressive heel counter that frees up some room.

6) adidas UltraBoost S&L

The S&L version of the UltraBoost is a much more comfortable shoe than the standard version. That’s because the Suede & Leather overlays replace the stiff plastic cage of the original model to improve the upper comfort. The upper is roomier inside due to its non-Primeknit mesh construction.

It shares the full-length Boost foam midsole with the regular UltraBoost, so you get the same cushy softness for high-mileage comfort.

7) adidas UltraBoost 20

Though the UltraBoost doesn’t look as fresh as it did back in 2014, it still has a few tricks left. The full-length Boost midsole has come to be associated with a soft ride that makes multi-hour wearings comfortable.

The UltraBoost 20 has the same midsole as the 19, and that’s good news – you get an identical high-volume foam stack under a redesigned upper. Though the heel is a lot thicker than the forefoot, springy softness is available throughout the length of the shoe.

The new upper is an improvement over the 19. We say this mostly because of the new (and softer) midfoot panels. Instead of applying pressure over the foot, the rubber-like overlays work together with the knit upper to create a smooth fit.

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