Wait. Do we really need an article to tell us which shoes work for heel strikers? Doesn’t that include most running shoes?
If only things were that simple. It takes a lot more than just a cushioned heel for a running shoe to be rearfoot-friendly.
There are other overlooked aspects like the heel-to-toe offset, rearfoot stability, and a midsole design that promotes smoother landings. Just how do these factors help? Here’s a quick primer.
A high heel-to-toe offset
The ‘drop’ or offset of a shoe is defined as the thickness between the front and rear midsole heights. After reviewing shoes for over a decade, we believe that a heel-to-toe drop of between 5 mm and 10 mm is the sweet spot for heel strikers.
A high heel-to-toe offset implies that the rear is substantially thicker than the front. Not only does that result in a higher level of cushioning, but the thicker heel also promotes comfortable rearfoot landings. The opposite is also true, and that is why midfoot/forefoot strikers prefer running shoes with a lower offset.
Just know that this so-called ‘rule’ isn’t a blanket generalization, but it increases the chances of a running shoe being rearfoot friendly. For most runners, even low-offset models like the Saucony Kinvara 13 will work just fine.
A supportive rearfoot
Not everything ends and begins with the midsole cushioning. If the rearfoot is the first point of contact during the gait cycle, it needs to be stable.
The midsole should have a neutral ride character with minimal cushioning bias. In other words, one side of the midsole shouldn’t be excessively softer than the other.
Also, the entire heel shouldn’t be overly soft.
That’s the reason why this guide excludes models like the Nike ZoomX Invincible. While those are excellent products, the heel isn’t stable enough for rearfoot landing. The New Balance Fuelcell Rebel 2 is an exception because its midsole is not overly thick.
A beveled heel edge
A heel with an angled curve (also called the heel spring) allows the foot to land gradually instead of edge striking abruptly. It helps if the outsole crash pad is segmented or split from the main outsole by a groove. Such crash pads flex during landing for gentle transitions.
Not all shoes on this guide have an articulated landing zone, but we’ve tried our best to find the ones that do.
For the sake of brevity, this list only covers neutral daily trainers. By that definition, running shoes from the stability category are excluded. The Kayano Lite 2 doesn’t count because it happens to be a supportive neutral trainer instead of the medially-posted trainer that the Kayano 28 is.
We haven’t listed low-profile trainers for tempo runs either. If you’re interested, we recommend the excellent adidas adizero adios 6. Even the Brooks Hyperion Tempo will do nicely.
1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 23
We love what Asics is doing to its entire running shoe line.
It’s not just about the rapid-fire release of innovative running shoes, but even their existing models are getting a lot more than superficial annual updates.
Take, for instance, the Asics Cumulus. The last version – the 22 – was excellent, and so is the 23. The newest Cumulus is an improvement over the 22, and that’s no small feat considering how capable the 22 was.
Though the Cumulus 23 has a brand-new design from the ground up, the overall ride and fit character is similar to the 22.
The 10 mm heel offset of the Flytefoam midsole delivers a heel-biased cushioning that also includes a beveled edge and groove-assisted landing zone. The updated outsole layout with its rounded lugs makes the transitions smoother from heel to toe.
The soft upper fits true to size. The Cumulus 23 also benefits from an elevated exterior styling, thanks to the raised detailing on the knit mesh.
Also see: The Brooks Ghost 14 is excellent too, and comparable to the Cumulus 23.
2) adidas Solarglide 5
Even though this new adidas running shoe has a similar-sounding name as the last year’s Solarglide 4, it’s been redone from the ground up. That means that this version behaves very differently than the SG4 – in both good and not-so-good ways.
Let’s get to the relevant part first. The ultra-stable Boost foam midsole makes the Solarglide 5 an excellent running shoe for rearfoot strikers.
The Boost foam core is cushioned and responsive, but it’s supported by a firmer EVA rim and plastic midfoot shank. Don’t be confused; the midfoot shank (aka the LEP) extends over the rear and front midsole to form a stabilizing wing. This design blends cushioning comfort with a high level of stability.
The beveled heel is also articulated (with exposed Boost sections) for gentle transitions. There’s a generous amount of Boost within the midsole, so the Solarglide 5 is a good fit for everyday runs at easy paces.
And that’s the thing – the Solarglide is much heavier than before, so that limits its use case to easy runs. In a relative sense, the lighter Solarglide 4 was a more versatile shoe.
Except for one thing, we like the new upper on the Solarglide 5. The accommodating upper (no widths here, sorry) is soft and breathable.
However, we don’t understand why adidas chose not to sleeve the tongue. The raw edges of the free-standing tongue tend to fold over the foot, and that is somewhat annoying.
More to follow in our upcoming review.
3) Asics Glide Ride 2
The Glideride 2’s unique midsole geometry isn’t a gimmick; it adds a lot of functional value while making the runs enjoyable. We reviewed the shoe last year.
A Nylon plate is embedded within the midsole that leads – or rolls – the foot quickly towards toe-off. This approach to embedding a plate differs from how Nike or Saucony does it. Here, the plate serves as a transition aid rather than adding a springboard flavor.
As a result, the gait process doesn’t feel like much work. The GlideRide 2 is as fun as it gets.
In the rear, the dual-density midsole does a superlative job of absorbing the rearfoot landings. The heel delivers a brief sensation of cushioned softness before the foot transitions to the firmer section of the plated midsole. The outsole center groove helps with straight-line tracking as the loading progresses towards the forefoot.
Like most recent Asics releases, the GlideRide 2 is an improved version of the V1. The newly-designed midsole has higher sidewalls for a better cupping action, and the updated outsole is (more) pliable because of the latticed rubber lugs.
The soft and smooth upper fits true to size and complements the cushy midsole perfectly.
4) Asics Gel-Nimbus 24
There are many good reasons why the Nimbus 24 is an excellent heel-striker’s running shoe.
The midsole is taller in the back (26 mm) than it is in the front (16 mm), and that equates to a lot of rearfoot comfort. The two densities of Flytefoam and visible Gel come together perfectly to create a comfortable high-mileage trainer that’s also great for runners who land heel first.
Included in the 10 mm heel-to-toe offset midsole is a rearfoot geometry that makes the best use of the foam, Gel, and segmented crash pad. The split outsole crash pad makes the landings smooth, whereas the thick midsole provides ample comfort.
The ride isn’t the only part that’s plush. The new upper uses a mesh with a soft hand feel and a knit tongue that makes the fit extremely comfortable. Having said that, a lot of runners will miss the plush padded tongue from the Nimbus 23.
For what it’s worth, the new Flytefoam midsole makes the 24 the bounciest Nimbus yet.
5) Asics Gel-Kayano Lite 2
What? Another Asics running shoe?
Some brands do certain things very well. New Balance is great for widths. Nike has an established track record of introducing ground-breaking shoe tech.
One of the things that Asics excels at is providing rearfoot-loaded cushioning, and the Kayano Lite 2 is yet another example.
Two factors make the Kayano Lite 2 suitable for rearfoot strikers. With a 10 mm offset midsole, the bulk of the Flytefoam stack is situated under the heel. Thus, rearfoot landings equate to a comfortable ride experience.
The flared sidewalls also make the rearfoot very supportive – there’s a wide midsole base for the foot to land on.
Though there’s an internal Gel pad inside the midsole, the Kayano Lite rides like a running shoe with a single-density foam midsole. The heel-to-toe loading feels extremely smooth while being supportive enough – regardless of heel or forefoot striking.
The Kayano Lite 2’s upper fit and feel is excellent. The mesh exterior is soft and smooth; the padded tongue and heel add a plush yet secure feel.
6) Brooks Glycerin 19
If overly soft trainers aren’t your thing, then the rearfoot-friendly Brooks Glycerin 19 should be of interest.
Ignore the adjective-laden marketing claims and advertorials. The Brooks DNA Loft foam isn’t ‘super-soft’ or ‘pillow-like’.
At best, the midsole has a medium-soft ride with sufficient rearfoot and forefoot stability.
The Glycerin’s midsole usually has a rounded heel for easy landings, and the 19 continues that tradition. The curved heel bevel and split crash pad work together to result in optimal heel landings.
Also see: The Brooks Glycerin GTS 19 – a Glycerin variant with raised sidewalls (Guiderails) for a higher level of under-arch support.
7) Mizuno Wave Rider 25
Before the Wave Rider 24 showed up, Mizuno’s popular neutral trainer had a firm ride that took a few days to break in. That was due to the large PEBAX (stiff thermoplastic, not the foam) ‘Wave’ plate that also doubled as the midfoot shank.
The Rider 24 acquired a markedly changed ride quality. It was the result of a reformulated midsole density and also the addition of a new foam called Mizuno ‘Enerzy’. The 24’s much smaller Wave plate no longer formed the shank like how the 23 did; eliminating the footbridge decreases the rigidity and increases the softness.
The Wave Rider 25 features a similar midsole and outsole as the 24, so the ride experience is uncannily similar. The rear midsole produces an excellent blend of cushioning softness and stability. The rigid plate prevents the foam from bottoming while allowing the transitions to happen smoothly.
Also see: The Mizuno Wave Inspire 17.
8) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 4
Even with an expanded Polyurethane midsole, the Reebok Floatride Energy 4 doesn’t have a lot of rearfoot softness.
Instead, the ride experience is an exercise in moderation. The cushioning is neither too soft nor too firm, and yet there’s plenty of impact protection no matter where you land or how long the distance.
Making that happen is a resilient Polyurethane foam that Reebok calls Floatride. Don’t let the seemingly low-profile midsole put you off; the dense quality of the midsole is perfectly capable of hard heel landings. As a bonus, there’s plenty of stability too.
Also, the Forever Floatride is a very durable shoe. That’s a lot of miles per dollar if you consider the $110 retail price. Well, but it used to be a $100 shoe, so if you can find the V3 for cheap, get it. Both the Floatride 3 and 4 share the same midsole, so you won’t miss anything new – because there isn’t.
Also see: The Saucony Triumph 19 – a running shoe that uses a similar e-TPU midsole as the Floatride but in a higher stacked configuration.
9) Saucony Ride 15
The Saucony Ride 15 is a better rearfoot striker’s shoe than the Ride 14, and we say that for three reasons.
The first reason is the updated midsole that’s marginally softer. The taller foam stack increases ride comfort, but without losing the supportive and transition-friendly ride that this model is known for.
Two, the insole is new for the V15. And it’s not just any footbed, but one that’s made of expanded PU (Pwrrun+) foam. This elevates the level of step-in comfort.
Lastly, the heel is generously flared and beveled for an easy transition. Additionally, the Saucony Ride 5 also has a new transition groove that guides the foot through the gait cycle. It seems that Saucony has taken the Asics ‘Guidance line’ to heart.
There’s not much to write about the upper, except that it’s soft, sleeved, spacious, and breathes well.
10) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
Last year, the Pegasus 38 only received an upper-only refresh. It is based on the same midsole and outsole as the 37, so the ride quality is identical. It also implies that the Pegasus 38 is just as heel striker-friendly as the 37.
The midsole heel of the Peg 38 is molded out of a single-density React foam core. This provides ample cushioning in the rear, along with a peppy forefoot that relies on a large Zoom Air bag.
Even though the rearfoot is softer than the front, the stability is decent.
With an identical ride comes the inevitable question – is it worth getting the Pegasus 38 over the 37?
We say yes. The Pegasus 38 now has a ‘proper’ padded tongue that is a better match for its daily trainer persona. We have no idea what Nike was thinking when they decided that the flat tongue had a place on the 37.
11) Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2
Though the React Infinity Run 2 retains the V1’s midsole and outsole, it’s an improvement from a stability perspective.
We have the new upper to thank for. While the fit (still) isn’t perfect, the snug midfoot fit makes the ride more supportive.
Other than that, the React Infinity V2 has the same qualities that made the V1 suitable for rearfoot strikers. The React foam midsole has a pronounced heel bevel for smooth transitions; the plastic heel clip adds much-needed stability over the cushioned midsole.
It’s a nice shoe for daily runs and high-mileage sessions alike.
12) New Balance Fresh Foam 1080V11
Foam, foam everywhere. That’s a good description of the Fresh Foam 1080V11.
The 1080 happens to be a great pick for heel strikers if long-distance comfort is a priority. The slight rocker shape of the midsole gives the 1080 its polished landing manners, and the multi-piece outsole facilitates a smooth loading experience.
There’s plenty of cushioning on tap even for marathon-level distances. The reformulated Fresh Foam keeps the feet fresh over multi-hour wearings without any slowness.
Though the upper has a snug forefoot fit, the soft and stretchy mesh will accommodate most foot types. Multiple widths are optional as a sizing backup.
Also see: The Hoka Clifton 8 – another excellent distance-friendly shoe.
13) New Balance FuelCell Rebel V2
The New Balance Fuelcell Rebel V2 is the lightest rearfoot striker-friendly shoe on this list, thanks to its featherweight Fuelcell midsole.
We’d like to make it clear that the Rebel V2 is nothing like the Rebel V1 – the latter was based on a completely different cushioning platform. Our wear-tested review can be read here.
Despite its astonishing 7.2 ounces/204 gram weight, the Rebel delivers lots of bouncy comfort for everyday runs as well as long-distance training.
At the same time, the heel midsole isn’t very thick so rearfoot landings do not feel unstable. Besides the rounded heel edge, the separate outsole piece in the back flexes together with the midsole for a smooth transition.
Just like the Fuelcell midsole, the Rebel V2’s upper is super lightweight and breathable. Even though the tongue isn’t padded, the raw-edged flap is extremely soft, and so is the collapsible heel. The accommodating upper creates a secure interior environment.
Lastly, a word of caution. Though we haven’t experienced any durability issues with our pair of the FuelCell Rebel 2, there are stray reports of premature mesh failure. The fit also runs small, so buying a half size larger is recommended.