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 which cushioning technology is the flavor of the day.
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 the quality of ride stability and transitions, while desirable, need not be prioritized.
On this guide, the Hoka Bondi 7 and New Balance 1080 V11 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 Saucony Endorphin Pro.
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 soft and comfortable, but this guide is about the ‘softest’ running shoes – hence their exclusion.
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. So while shoes like the Reebok Floatride Run Fast 3 and Asics Metaracer have a soft underfoot feel, their low-profile midsoles do not make the cut.
On the other hand, the New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 2 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-ounce weight.
Softness comes in various forms, with some being better than others. The Nike Vaporfly Next % and Saucony Endorphin Pro V2 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 an ultra high volume midsole made of PEBA foam.
The list is sorted in the order of our recommendation.
1) Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit
In our detailed review, we said that the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit was the softest shoe we’ve ever reviewed.
It’s been many months since we said that, and our opinion hasn’t changed. Compared to the other shoes on this list, it’s not even a contest.
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.
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 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.
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 V2.
2) 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. For 2022, Asics has updated the Nimbus with a more responsive Flytefoam midsole – yes, the same material that’s used on the Novablast 2.
Nonetheless, the Nimbus 24 doesn’t lose any of its cushioning softness.
The dual-density Flytefoam midsole and visible Gel pad create 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 super plush. The seamless exterior and the 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) 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.
100% of the midsole is ZoomX foam, so the ride is supremely 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 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.
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.
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.
4) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V11
The Fresh Foam midsole is beginning to show its age, but it still delivers a softly cushioned ride with plenty of distance-friendly comfort. The Fresh Foam is based on EVA-blend foam, so it lacks the bounciness of PEBA-based foams, and even when compared to the New Balance FuelCell Rebel V2.
However, if it needs to remain relevant, future versions of the 1080s should switch to a new-gen foam like FuelCell.
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.
Unlike some of the shoes listed here, the 1080 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 soft blown rubber, so this new geometry flexes together with the midsole to elevate the cushioning levels.
We love what New Balance has done to the upper fit; the knit mesh is soft, stretchy, and accommodating while delivering a secure fit. It comes in multiple widths as well.
5) 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 the foot and the ground.
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 this version.
6) Saucony Endorphin Pro V2
The Endorphin Pro V2 is one of two Saucony running shoes that use a PEBA midsole with an internal plate.
The other shoe is the Endorphin Speed, except that it uses a Nylon plate instead of a Carbon one. Since the Pro version lacks the 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.
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.
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.
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. The Endorphin Pro V1 and V2 are very alike, and share an identical chassis – only the upper has been redesigned to include a midfoot strap.
7) adidas UltraBoost 4.0 DNA
Oddly, the higher volume midsole of the latest Ultraboost 21 doesn’t necessarily make it softer than the previous version.
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 4.0 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 21, 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-21, the 4.0 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.
8) New Balance FuelCell Rebel V2
Forget what you thought you knew about the New Balance Fuelcell Rebel. The second iteration of the Rebel is nothing like the first – thanks to the brand new midsole that uses the same midsole foam as the high-end New Balance RC Elite.
Don’t be misled by the 7-2-ounce weight; the Fuelcell midsole packs an unbelievable amount of bouncy softness for its size. The lightweight softness may not be very deep like the 1080 or a Hoka shoe, 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 2 can switch effortlessly between easy runs and quick paces.
The Rebel V2’s $130 retail price is very reasonable for what it offers.
The lightweight upper is very breezy and soft over the foot. There are just two things one needs to know about the Rebel 2’s upper. One, the sizing fits small, so get a half size larger than your regular size.
The second issue concerns the upper durability. Based on online feedback, the lightweight upper and lack of support structures doesn’t seem to be durable.
9) 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 in the market.
Making that happen is a high-volume foam midsole in a dual-density stack. The React foam frame under the heel delivers a 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 the 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.