Best cushioned run shoes to buy in 2023
Whether you’re targeting a long-distance race or just want more spring in your step, a set of cushioned run shoes will do the job. We test 10 new pairs
The not-too-distant past saw a clear delineation between race and training run shoes. Race shoes were little more than a stretch of fabric, while off-season shoes were heavy.
Advancements have seen race shoes retain their lithe construction but with less sacrifice to comfort, while off-season shoes have retained cushioning, lost mass and improved flexibility. You only have to look at the weights of some of the shoes on test here to realise that times really have changed.
If you’re taking on a longer race or are simply a runner who’s more comfortable in cushioned shoes, you may not want to switch to racing flats.
Plus with technology in shoes intended for high mileage progressing in recent years, you don’t necessarily need to. If anything, changing your shoes for race day is a recipe for disaster, especially if you’re not used to lower drops.
Of course, for the average age-group athlete, consuming mile after mile in search of faster 2023 race performance is their primary remit, meaning every shoe here’s designed with greater cushioning to absorb stresses and reduce injury potential.
That’s the theory. In practice, runners will debate the ideas that ‘high cushioning equals low injury’ and ‘zero drop versus pillowy soles’ endlessly. Yet anecdotally, experienced athletes – especially of a taller, larger disposition – appreciate the dampening of forces rebounding off the pavement.
And if that encourages more off-season run miles, even better. How much is optimum? We’d recommend a mix of long runs and intervals. Aim for double-figure weekly run mileage (not 60 – you work and aren’t solely a runner) but don’t forget a spot of speedwork to remind your neurological system to fire rapidly.
Right, onto the test…
Best cushioned run shoes for men
Under Armour Infinite 4
The fourth edition of the Under Armour Infinite is aimed at neutral runners looking to rack up the mileage. We like the stealth aesthetic, though there are six other colourways available.
The quality of the ride is decent, too, starting off slightly firm but soon softening up, though not so much that you lose that valuable connection with the ground.
Comfort’s great from the get-go thanks to a 3D-moulded sockliner, a breathable and flexible mesh upper, and UA’s trademark HOVR cushioning, which delivers an 8mm drop – that’s pretty standard for a mileage trainer. It comes in at 343g for a UK size 10.5.
All in all, it’s a fine shoe, though fans of previous incarnations will be disappointed that there’s no Bluetooth connectivity allowing you to connect to apps like MapMyRun for a wealth of data analysis
Verdict: Fine shoe, though don’t come here for connectivity.
If you’re looking for vibrancy and svelteness, you’ve come to the right place, as these yellow pumps are the lightest on test at 285g (UK10.5).
It’s marketed as a ‘performance stability trainer’ with gait guidance purportedly delivered by Saucony’s PWRRUN frame. That’s a clunky way of describing its curved shape that not only provides stability but also provides a pretty swift transition from landing to toe-off.
It has an 8mm drop, albeit that’s from a pretty lofty 36.5mm heel and 28.5mm forefoot. Visually, that’s in Hoka territory but, like Hoka, that bulky aesthetic doesn’t come at the cost of a tactile ride.
Grip proved impressive in a particularly wet test period, though the highly breathable upper suffered somewhat in the same conditions.
Still, that shouldn’t put you off as modern-day breathability does come at the slight expense of the occasional wet-footed run.
Verdict: Not cheap, but this is one impressive mileage shoe.
Asics Kayano 29
The Kayano is on the verge of its 30th chapter, one that started back in 1993, and, to celebrate, this latest version comes in at a mighty £175. That’s a hefty outlay, though history shows that price doesn’t always deter triathletes and runners.
It weighs 350g (UK10.5), which makes this the lightest Kayano ever. That said, it’s still packed with myriad technologies for mileage munching.
These include Asics’ FF Blast Plus cushioning, which is incredibly comfortable; a new to Kayano Litetruss construction that aids stability and guides the foot on toe-off; and a cosy stretch-knit upper that, again, is comfortable and breathes well.
Drop is relatively large at 10mm and, to this tester at least, who generally prefers a more minimalist shoe, it does feel a touch cumbersome, certainly on faster runs. That said, we know many triathletes who’d love it for that cradling comfort.
Verdict: 30 years since its first model, the Kayano continues to appeal.
First up, let’s look at the star-lacing system found on this stability trainer from On. It’s said to provide added security, but in practice it didn’t feel any different than a traditional system and felt a touch gimmicky. We’re not sure about its looks, either.
On the positive, its almost-corrugated Cloudtec outsole delivers a firm ride that, similar to the Under Armours, soon softens through use. But not so much that it dents that tangible feeling of projecting forward at pace.
Uniquely, the Cloudstratus uses not one but two layers of its Helion foam for increased comfort and energy rebound. In truth, this wasn’t perceptible over previous efforts, arguably because that outsole design is so dominant.
At 332g (UK10.5), it’s on standard footing when it comes to high-mileage weight, while its drop is only 6mm, which does assist on faster off-season efforts.
Verdict: Another solid effort from On, but we’re unconvinced by the lacing.
361° Spire 5
361° has given the neutral Spire quite an overhaul, the major change being the dropping of the carbon-fibre plate that was embedded in the midfoot shank. This certainly adds to the shoe’s flexibility, which is particularly noticeable on toe-off.
It retains the full-length layer of Quikspring+ foam, but beneath it now sits ‘highrebound Quikflame technology’. This is potentially a game-changer for 361° as it provides a much comfier, bouncier stride than firmer versions of old.
Meanwhile, the upper’s a breathable knit fabric and keeps things nice and cool.
It comes in at 336g (UK10.5) and features a 9mm drop from a 29mm heel and 20mm forefoot, which makes it fine for long runs and reasonable intensity efforts, but it’s not one for all-out bursts. It also lacks guidance for those who struggle with stability.
Overall, though, this is arguably the finest 361° shoe we’ve tested.
Verdict: No more carbon plate makes the Spire 5 this brand’s finest effort to date.
Best cushioned run shoes for women
Hoka Clifton 9
The Clifton 9s slip on like a glove – to the point where you can almost forget you’re wearing them.
Hoka has added 3mm in stack height to this new model, bringing the heel to 29mm, but that said, they have somehow made them even lighter at 205g (UK7.5).
Even with this extra cushioning they still have good rebound propelling you forward, making them really well balanced.
They have a lower heel drop of 5mm but have a good rocker through the midfoot helping propel you forward.
The Cliftons easily handled some mid-distance, eight-mile runs during our test period, but would easily handle longer distance. We found the fit just about right, but size up if you aren’t sure.
The upper mesh material is really soft, giving them a comfy fit and, although Hoka has both increased cushioning and made them lighter, it doesn’t feel like they’ve cut back anywhere.
Verdict: A lightweight, high-performing cushioned running shoe.
New Balance Fresh Foam X More V 4
New Balance has packed their Fresh Foam X into these trainers with a higher heel stack than they’ve ever used before, at roughly 34mm.
They have a rocker shape and good flex to help them deliver a really soft and smooth ride. The shoes also have a wide base, which did make our feet feel a bit bigger, but despite all the foam they’re still lightweight at 237g (UK7.5).
The lining was the softest of all the trainers and our feet just slipped into them, while the upper mesh material hugged our feet but was also breathable. The shoe did sit a little higher around the ankles but we didn’t notice any rubbing or pressure points.
They aren’t as responsive as the rest, but all the foam made for a really squishy and stable ride. If you want maximum foam and comfort for some steady runs, then these are a great shoe. Plus, they have a little reflective N logo for extra visibility.
Verdict: A super squishy and stable ride for steady runs.
With their distinctive look, the Cloudmonster features On’s biggest ever CloudTec cushioning for ‘massive cushioning and max energy’.
They take a bit of getting used to as, although they certainly have lots of cushioning, they still felt a bit firmer than some others.
Despite having only a 6mm drop, the rocker shape and powerful Speedboard provided good rebound and forward propulsion, and at 230g (UK7.5) they were one of the lighter trainers on test.
We felt the recycled upper was a little thin and they weren’t as fitted or comfortable as the rest. They were breathable, though, and the lining was nice and soft.
The sizing comes up a little small for us, so it might be worth going up half a size to allow for foot expansion on longer runs.
The On Cloudmonster certainly deserves praise for its propulsive ride and would be capable of delivering on both shorter and longer runs.
Verdict: A well-cushioned running shoe, just lacking for us on fit and comfort.
Saucony Triumph 20
Saucony has updated the Triumph 20 with new PWRRUN+ foam that they claim is softer and lighter than ever before – and with a 37mm heel stack they certainly have packed it in!
These were the joint heaviest on test (249g, UK7.5), but they felt really comfortable once they were on and both fit and sizing is good.
The newly-updated geometry gives a heel drop of 10mm and a rocker feel that does give good forward propulsion when running.
With the high foam stack they did feel cushioned, but similar to the Ons we did find them a little firmer than the others. This does however make them quite responsive, especially with the rocker through the forefoot.
They’re also a vegan shoe and contain recycled materials to make them more eco-friendly.
They weren’t necessarily the fastest, but with good cushioning and fit they’re great for covering a variety of mileage.
Verdict: Not the fastest, but still a solid shoe for everyday miles.
Asics Gel-Cumulus 24
These trainers fit like a glove, the OrthoLite X-30 soft sock liner meaning you pop them on and forget about them, which for us is the sign of a great shoe.
We tested this zingy Oasis Green, but they have a strong range of colours if looks are important to you.
This latest version of the Gel-Cumulus has been updated with Asics FF Blast cushioning, which is purported to help create a softer landing and more responsive toe-off.
We found they had really good, squidgy cushioning, but crucially, they still managed to be responsive, with an 8mm drop and decent forward propulsion.
The Gel-Cumulus also feature gender-specific 3D Space Construction to ensure a good fit, while the upper mesh material is breathable and made from recycled material with reflective accents to help visibility in low light.
These are trainers you could wear all day, and they come with the versatility to suit different runners and distances.
Verdict: A comfortable, high-performing, all-round cushioned running shoe.
If cushioned running shoes aren’t your thing, take a look at our list of the best barefoot running shoes.