Runners often cite cushioning as the primary characteristic they look for in a running shoe. Yet while some shoes emphasize cushioning above all else, a careful balancing of cushioning, stability and responsiveness usually creates the best ride. These trainers excel in that balance; cushioning is primary, but—by combining diverse layers, tooling strategic geometries, and fine-tuning new materials—each delivers a nuanced, unique ride. Try them out and see if one complements your stride and carries you on long, comfortable miles.
Mizuno Wave Horizon 4
- 11.1 oz (M) 9.7 oz (W)
- ~10 mm
At a glance: Plush cushioning, subtle stability and upper comfort for smooth distance training on the long road.
A posh, form-fitting, supportive trainer that is well appointed for long runs, the Horizon 4 could fall in either the cushioning or stability category. A major departure for Mizuno, this model has no plastic wave plate, instead it uses three types of material to create a “Foam Wave” that provides both stability and a soft, relaxed, “floating” ride. The bottom layer of cushioning foam creates the platform, and has more substantial wave lugs on the arch side for a touch of stability; above that, a ring of a second foam creates a cradle that surrounds the foot, while a third, high-rebound foam that lies under your sole.
The upper features a new technology that reduces the space between the foot and the engineered, durable jacquard mesh fabric. Testers found the fit and hold were very comfortable and secure, with a plush padded tongue and heel collar, plus substantial TPU overlays that wrap the instep and tie into the lacing.
The forefoot flex falls smack in the middle between floppy and rigid, delivering a more traditional heel-toe transition down the 10 mm drop from the heel, into the flex, and on to push off. The midsole and outsole held up to multiple kilometers with zeal, showing little wear over the test miles.
All this comfort and durability makes the weight tip the scales a bit, but testers found it wasn’t noticeable on the run, especially when countered by the impact-dissipating midsole that felt light and responsive in action.
New Balance 1080v10
- 10.3 oz (M) 8.9 oz (W)
- ~8 mm
At a glance: Soft landings and smooth transitions from a flexible, comfortably-cushioned midsole and foot-grabbing upper.
New Balance orchestrated a symphonic blend of comfort and performance with the 10th version of the 1080. The Hypoknit, bootie-like upper with its 3D molded heel cup draws all the attention, while the reformulated Fresh Foam X completes the soft and smooth-running package. While previous Fresh Foam models tended to deliver a ride that leaned to the firm side, this new compound gives both so-soft cushioning and an energetic rebound.
Testers were impressed by the cushioning, flexibility, transition and overall comfort. The cushioning from the Fresh Foam X midsole and blown rubber outsole stood out as exceptional, yet most of the test team also noted it didn’t diminish road feel, flexibility or responsiveness. A few felt that the softness made the ride a bit too squishy and unstable, one calling them, “very cushioned, good for recovery days not for long, hard days.” But other testers echoed the one who said, “I enjoyed the cushioning and support they offer, making them a good choice for longer runs and/or runs on concrete/tougher surfaces.”
Our testers did find the sizing ran small and detracted from their experience, so we recommend trying on a pair at a specialty running store to dial in the right fit. Except for the sizing, however, the bootie upper construction got high marks for its malleable stretch and cupped heel that held securely and comfortably without any excess padding. “I like the flexibility and malleability of the upper on this shoe,” said a tester. “Extremely comfortable, almost flimsy, but not quite!”
Skechers GOrun Ride 8 Hyper
- 8.7 oz (M) 7.2 oz (W)
- ~6 mm
At a glance: Responsive dampening and lasting energy return in a lightweight, comfortable package.
Lauded for its rebounding Hyper Burst midsole, the GOrun Ride 8 Hyper got superlative scores in the comfort and performance categories. If you haven’t tried Hyper Burst yet, you’re in for a treat. The ultralight, gas-expanded foam at first feels almost firm. Then, as weight is applied, it contours under the foot with little displacement, catching, holding and supporting your foot even as it cushions, creating a ride that feels bouncy in its responsiveness. One tester described it this way, “I felt like the shoe was propelling me forward. It felt hard and at the same time, elastic.”
The breathable, flexible knit upper, although found to lack visual appeal to some of our test team, was comfortable, with plenty of room in the toe box. The forefoot isn’t constricting at all, with so much volume it made for some sloppiness while cornering for low-volume testers. The durable upper, combined with the Goodyear outsole rubber and perpetuity of Hyper Burst’s energy return properties, mean these could hold up for longer than most shoes.
While the Ride falls in the well-cushioned trainer slot of the Skechers line, between the light, fast GOrun and the Max Road, testers thought these could also double for marathon racers, given their light weight. They also were deemed good for travel and standing around in because of their supportive comfort.
Topo Magnifly 3
- 10 oz (M) 8.3 oz (W)
- 0 mm
At a glance: Smooth, soft landings and explosive toe-offs in this zero-drop trainer with a big toe box.
The Magnifly is a zero-drop shoe that doesn’t feel all that minimal. Topo achieves this with a soft layer of foam on the top of the midsole that gives in when weighted, plus a hefty toe-spring (upward turn of the toe) that rolls your stride smoothly forward off your toe. The ride ends up feeling not much different than that of a 4–6 mm drop midsole.
As a zero-drop shoe, however, you notice how smoothly and quietly you touch down. “I loved the feeling of security in this shoe when making contact with the ground,” said one tester. The dual-density midsole with a softer upper layer and firm platform for responsive propulsion impressed our test team, albeit those used to thicker shoes felt them better for shorter training runs or races.
The shape of the shoe, with a snug mid-foot and wide toe box, is an attribute welcomed by all, especially those with higher-volume feet or those who appreciate full splay. “These feel like they were made specifically for me,” raved one tester. Topo removed the overlays on the engineered mesh of this third version of the Magnifly, making the foot-wrapping upper softly flexible. Combined with the well-padded, molded foam collar, the shoe was comfortable enough to overlook styling that feels a little elementary.
“I didn’t notice the shoe, which is my barometer for a good road-running shoe,” said one tester. Another reported, “Among a pile of running shoes, I kept reaching for these as my ‘comfort shoe’ when heading out for a short daily run.” As a bonus, the OrthoLite foam footbed features anti-microbial properties to reduce foot stench.
361 Spire 4
- 10 oz (M) 8.2 oz (W)
- ~9 mm
At a glance: Utilitarian workhorse neutral trainer without gimmicks for strong, distraction-free running.
361 improved its classic, lightweight neutral trainer by focusing on comfort and tinkering with the upper fit and midsole cushioning and responsiveness. While retaining a layer of their proprietary bouncy and durable QU!KFOAM, the surrounding EVA midsole has been retooled to be softer and more resilient.
According to our testers, the brand succeeded as the Spire 4 felt cushy from its first impression to its last mile of the run. One tester described the cushioning as “just right—offering good level of support without the clunkiness that often comes with a well-cushioned shoe. I would use these for speedwork.” Another said, “The new midsole material had a nice resilience to it and the shoes performed well in aiding an efficient gait.” The cushioning didn’t connect with all, however: One tester observed the shoe ran so cushy with his stride that, “it feels like it drains all the energy that you put into it.”
The fit is snug and supportive, with thick padding around the heel and a lace-integrated wrapping system securing the saddle. While it runs true to size, those used to wide toe boxes might find the Spire constraining. When it gets dialed-in, however, it disappears. “I didn’t think much about the Spire 4 while running and that’s a good thing,” summed up a tester. “In other words, these neutral shoes let you run easy and don’t create any noise.”