Running shoes just keep getting softer. While this may sound like sweet relief for your overworked joints, there can be too much of a good thing. That's because cushioning that's too spongy can compromise a shoe's stability and reduce the amount of energy returned with each stride. Many shoe makers try to strike the right balance by layering soft materials over dense midsoles so the shoes feel cushy yet still offer a firm ride.
Most running shoes, whether they're motion-control, stability, neutral-cushioned, or performance-trainers, offer a mix of soft and firm cushioning to match different needs. Since their low body mass doesn't demand dense cushioning, lighter runners do better with softer neutral or performance shoes. Heavier runners, conversely, need stiffer stability or motion-control shoes. In addition to your weight, your arch type (see The Wet Test) and how much your feet pronate (roll inward to dissipate ground impact) also help determine the best shoe for your feet.
To evaluate the cushioning, performance, and fit of the latest running shoes, we performed extensive mechanical analysis at the RW Shoe Lab and solicited feedback from an army of wear-testers. The results of all this testing are in the reviews and wear-tester comments that follow.
To test the 30 shoes in this guide, we asked 350 wear-testers in San Diego; Allentown, Pennsylvania; and East Lansing, Michigan, to run in them for a month and then give us their feedback. We also mechanically tested every model at the RW Shoe Lab, an independent testing facility in Portland, Oregon.
CUSHIONING: How soft/firm the sole is in the heel and in the forefoot. Too soft, and it may lack stability; too firm, and it may not provide enough protection.
FLEXIBILITY: How much torque it takes to flex the shoe at toe-off.
RESPONSIVENESS: The springiness of the forefoot, which indicates how smoothly a shoe moves with the foot through the gait cycle.
Etonic Minado 3 MC
Weight: 14 oz (M) 12 oz (W)
We Say: This ultrasupportive shoe has an entirely new sole that's lower to the ground and slightly less rigid, as demonstrated in our lab tests. Unlike most motion-control shoes, which tend to be firm underfoot, the Minado offers a remarkably cushy ride. The soft feel comes from a thick sockliner and a foam insert, both of which can be removed to make room for orthotics. A not-so-welcome update to the shoe, however, is its $15 price increase. Recommended for big, flat-arched runners who need extra support or room for their orthotics.
Wear-Testers Say: "I ran in the first version, and this one is even better, lighter, and more responsive." —Doug Wilcop, 41, East Lansing
"I like that Etonic lightened this shoe." —Michele Belisle, 37, Allentown
BEST UPDATE: Saucony ProGrid Stabil CS
Weight: 13.4 oz (M) 9.7 oz (W)
We Say: The latest Stabil has a roomier toebox that accommodates orthotics, as well as the flat-arched runners who tend to run in the shoe. These runners have had to endure relatively hard, inflexible shoes, but that's not the case here. Our lab tests show the Stabil's flexibility to be above average. As with the Minado (left) the support post on the shoe's arch side runs into the forefoot for maximum pronation control. Unfortunately, this shoe also comes with a $25 price bump. Recommended for big runners who need plenty of motion control.
Wear-Testers Say: "It was supportive and didn't need a break-in period." —Elizabeth Dean, 25, East Lansing
"A not-too-heavy, cushioned shoe." —Mark Villwock, 26, East Lansing