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Recommended Zero Drop, Cushioned Road Running Shoes

Saucony VirrataIf you’re interested in going more minimal with your running shoes, but don’t want to give up cushioning, this is the pace to look. A growing niche in the running shoe world is for zero drop shoes that retain some amount of cushion – I put a lot of miles on shoes in this category, and below is my current list of recommended models.

Note: I’ve only included shoes that I personally have worn or that have been reviewed here on If you think there’s a shoe that should be here that’s not currently included, leave a comment and I’ll look at giving it a try!

Zero Drop, Cushioned Road Shoes

Saucony Virrata

Stack Height: 17mm, 17mm
Weight: 6.7oz

Quick Take: great forefoot cushion, narrower fit, my marathon shoe
My Full Review (click to read)

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Mizuno Wave EVO Cursoris

Stack Height: 18mm, 18mm
Weight: 6.8oz

Quick Take: wide forefoot, great breathability, soft feel underfoot
My Full Review (click to read)

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Merrell Bare Access 2

Stack Height: 14mm, 14mm
Weight: 6.2oz

Quick Take: wide forefoot, firm ride, reasonably priced
My Full Review (click to read)

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Altra Instinct 1.5

Stack Height: 16mm, 16mm
Weight: 9.7oz

Quick Take: super wide forefoot, firm ride 
My Full Review (click to read)

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Buy at Optimal Run (ships internationally)

 Skechers GoBionic

Stack Height: 11.5mm, 11.5mm 
Weight: 6.0oz

Quick Take: super flexible, sockless upper, roomy forefoot, low price
My Full Review (click to read)

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Altra Torin

Stack Height: 28mm, 28mm
Weight: 9.0oz

Quick Take: super wide forefoot, max cushioning in a zero drop shoe
Nate’s Review (click to read)

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New Balance MR00

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm
Weight: 6.1oz

Quick Take: firm ride, good ground feel, but narrow through the midfoot
My Full Review (click to read)

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Brooks PureDrift

Stack Height: 12mm, 12mm
Weight: 6.1oz

Quick Take: wide forefoot, firm ride, very flexible
My Full Review (click to read)

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. I switched to zero drop/minimal/”barely there” shoes and dramatically improved running form after my first and only marathon, Chicago 2010. I would get occasional knee pain, hip pain, and even lower back pain with heavy shoes, so I fully embraced the switch. However, it’s been a bit of a bittersweet relationship w/ minimal shoes.

    I absolutely love running in Vapor Gloves, but my toes “burn” after about 7 miles and blister easily. I love the form and feel, but not the aftermath. Same w/ VFFs. Add Bare Access 2 to that list, but the breakdown is later. I find my minimal shoes cause me to run *less* and not more, which is most frustrating of all.

    I’ve traded one set of complications for another, and I’m hopeful something in this post is the answer. I passed up the Skechers for the BA2 this past Spring, so a look there seems prudent. I imagine my concerns are not mine alone, hence the rambling history. Thanks for the fantastic blog, Pete, and of course for the stellar reviews!

    • bob baks says:

      I’m sure some would say that running in minimal shoes still isn’t the same as running in no shoes. It’s possible that running barefoot a bit may make you aware of things you’re doing that are causing the blisters. Fixing that may be a better answer than a new pair of shoes.

    • Pete Larson says:

      You might try one of the softer shoes from this list as a switch up – my two favorites here are the Virrata and the Cursoris because the cushioning works better for me.
      Sent from my iPad

    • Eric Villanueva says:

      I’ve fought with blisters as well in most of my shoes. I would prefer to go sockless in them, but because of the blister issue I usually have to wear a thin pair. Going straight barefoot is good to shore up form, but it does a number on uncalloused feet. I’ve been able to work up to 5-6 miles barefoot, but the skin on my feet pay the price since I typically only run on asphalt. I really like my GoBionics, but because of the seam above the toes my pinkie toes get rubbed raw unless I’m in socks. In my Runamocs I’ll get a blister on the bottom of my feet at the front of the arch. In my NB MR00’s and Instincts the back of my heel gets rubbed raw. Even in my Xero’s I’ll get the occasional rubbing on the toe strap. All of these issues (minus the Xero’s) can be solved with socks so I go with that.

      • Zedric Dimalanta says:

        With the GoBionic, I find that running without the insoles gives me just enough clearance that my toes don’t rub up against the seam (it also helps that I got them a half-size larger than what the folks at the store recommended).

  2. BryanEW710 says:

    I really want to give the Cursoris a shot, but does the Altra One get a spot on this list?

    • Pete Larson says:

      The One will likely have a spot, but I don’t have them yet. Only included shoes I’ve worn or that Nate has reviewed for me.
      Sent from my iPad

  3. David Annetts says:

    I’d second The One’s. The Evo Cursoris are very comfortable, and a significant step forward from Mirage 2s in terms of speed and feel. However, their cushioning for me ends longer runs with feet much more tired than the Mirages. Like the Mirage’s, the high-wear parts of the sole seem to miss my foot strike (forefoot central to outside). The One’s, with less cushioning, have no such issues, and the sole is all high-wear rubber that remains pristine after 100 km (at 50 km, the Evo’s show significant wear). I feel everything underfoot, and the only downside seems to be traction in the wet. On wet pebbled bitumen, ice skates may have more traction. .The One’s are a brilliant shoe.

  4. Altra The One. I can run farther in this shoe than I can in the Merrell Bare Access 2.

    • BryanEW710 says:

      That is a telling thought. I love my BA2’s, but the couple times I’ve ran more than 5mi in them I just couldn’t figure out how people do it. They’re great shoes if you’re running no more than 30mi/wk.

      • Stéphane says:

        I’ve quite a few 10+ miles runs in the BA2s without any kind of pain or discomfort in the feet or lower legs. I’m not sure they’re a good choice for a transitioning shoe because they’re not very forgiving when you heel strike, but otherwise they’re great shoes, in my opnion (the only thing I’d change is the heel that I find a tad sloppy) and I will probably run my next half marathon in them and hopefully break 90 minutes.

        • BryanEW710 says:

          For the record, I’m 6’1″, 175lbs. That makes me pretty hard on shoes even when I’m trying to be light on my feet.

          • Stéphane says:

            Fair enough, I’m 6′, 140lbs.

          • BryanEW710 says:

            I’ve found the heels are cushioned *enough*, but I’ve worn the forefoot pretty hard and fast.

          • Stéphane says:

            My problem with the heel is not so much the lack of cushioning ( I usually don’t run long enough to have to heel strike) as the fact it’s slightly too loose. I like the way the trail glove fits a lot better.
            That being said I have been a bit surprised by how fast the vibram outsole wears out on the BA2s. But it could be due to the fact I don’t run light enough.

          • BryanEW710 says:

            So I’m not the only one who is disappointed with the outsole durability on the BA2?! I was beginning to think I was just nuts.

            I’ve got 150mi on mine and the main pad at the balls of my feet is already starting to wear completely flat.

          • Stéphane says:

            I’m not sure how many miles I’ve put on my BA2s, but the general feeling is that the tread on the outside of the foot (where I land) is disappearing too fast.
            It’s still holding up better than my Kinvaras 3, so I’m not really complaining.

          • BryanEW710 says:

            I don’t regret buying them, but I’m disappointed in how quickly they’ve worn.

          • Stéphane says:

            I just checked and it appears I’ve put around 300 miles on mine in the last 2 months, so it’s probably not as bad as I first thought. Still, I’m not sure they’ll carry me another 300.

          • BryanEW710 says:

            If I could make it *to* 300 miles, I’d be amazed.

          • Pete Larson says:

            My buddy Nate has had delamination of the outsole on his pair, he mostly uses them as a casual shoe.

            Pete Larson’s Web Links:
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            -Discussion Forum:

  5. Don Livingston says:

    The GoBionics are my favorite running shoe but I am not proficient enough to run in them more than 4 or 5 miles. Past that my feet and legs begin to feel the pounding. I’d be curious to know your thoughts on the Torin as I love zero drop shoes but need more cushioning for a marathon length. I noticed the review link was from a guest reviewer.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I have a pair of Torins, but haven’t run in them yet. Just bought a pair for my wife to try as an alternative to her Hokas. Nate loves them, and I trust his opinion – he writes a lot of guest reviews for me.
      Sent from my iPad

  6. Surfing Vol says:


    I run in more than half the shoes listed — mark it up to wide feet, high toes and trying to find the right tool.

    In my opinion the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris is by far the most comfortable, but the outsole is NOT lasting at all. I have 4 times as many miles on my Brooks Pure Drifts, which are the most similar in terms of outsoles, and the BPDs show far less wear.

    I know that you are a smaller (i.e., lighter) runner, and I wonder if you are having the same experience with the Cursoris.


  7. Josh M. says:

    Altra The One is my new favorite running shoe. It just feels right with its medium firmness, not to soft or too hard and it just kind of disappears on my feet when running. I have the Merrell Bare Access and they are a little to firm, the Altra Instinct is a little too heavy, the New Balance MR00 was uncomfortable in the midfoot for me and after some failed shoe surgery they went in the trash, the go bionic is an ok shoe but I never wear it because I always have the One on.
    I love the Merrell Road Glove but it has no cushiong so I just wear it for Crossfit and casual wear.

  8. I currently run in the Brooks PureDrift with PureCadence 2 insoles installed and love them. I’m looking forward to the PureDrift 2. Pete, any rumors on changes for the PureDrift 2? I know in your review you recommended making them a little softer, I hope Brooks listens!

  9. Steve Tremblay says:

    Even Vibram starts to make five finger cushioned shoe



  10. Flaming June says:

    I’m really interested in your review of the evo cursoris. I still have 4 pairs of the original GoRuns that I haven’t worn – but I’m already looking to the future! One thing I love about my GoRuns is that they really don’t have much of a collar. I put them on/off without ever untie-ing. Are any of these shoes made like that?

  11. Steve Kooyman says:

    I always look forward to the shoe guide–thanks! Though not as drastic as your wife’s Hoka One One adventure, I am enjoying running in the plush Altra Torins. The beginning of each run feels like most shoes, but these have the extra “bounce” to get home at the end.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I just bought her a pair of Torims, she developed a tear in the upper of the Hokas after less than 50 miles. Keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll work out!
      Sent from my iPad

  12. Love my GObionics….my MR00’s are nice too, but not as nice as the GObionics.

  13. BryanEW710 says:

    Any thoughts on the Cursoris from the audience?

  14. Mark Hewitt says:

    I have a long term update for Bare Access 2, I managed approx. 700miles on a pair, the soles would be good for about another 300miles for me but I got splits at medial forefoot and they started rubbing. A good shoe when you break them in the arch area!!! I have run up to 24 miles in them with no problem but a marathon is probably my limit at moment. For £37 I cant ask for more really can I?

  15. Mike Denham says:

    Hi Petey (Sorry, I call everyone I know named Peter, Petey.)

    You have any plans to do something like this again soon with updated 2014 models? In looking into zero drop footwear, I found this to be one of the best info sources/comparisons on the web. Coming off a knee tweak I started lifting, reading and started over, determined to run with great form. I came across Eric Orton’s material and it has been a lifesaver for me but sorting through all the marketing noise is difficult, at best. Immediately, I am looking for a moderately cushioned zero drop shoe with a wider toe box and would love to see this list updated. Thanks!

  16. John Robillard says:

    I need shoes that will accept a 12 mm lift in the right shoe. Reqiure a removable insole. Anyone have any recommendations I try to stay with minimal or no lift as with the insert; the lift is exaggerated; exerting pressure on the ball of the foot.

  17. I’ve tried Saucony Virrata (happy for 2 years in that shoe) and just recently switched to Merrell Bare Access as the Virrata & Virrata 2 are discontinued. Gotta say, the Bare Access 4 is like running in flip flops vs. the Virrata. I guess I like a zero drop but cushioned shoe, vs. the Bare Access which, I should have known by the name, would be a bit harsher on the ball & heel of my foot. One foot (left) tends to cry in pain right at the ball when running in these. Otherwise they are okay but not very comfortable.

    Would I really feel a difference by using the Kinvara? I want something as close to the Virrata as possible – lightweight, zero drop (ideally), but cushioned, relatively speaking to some of the other offerings. Who has used & enjoyed the Altra Instinct here? The Mizuno?

    • Update: my feet got used to the Bare Access shoes just fine after a week of training, and I’ve been using them exclusively since February. Running a marathon in them in a week and a half. Still, as nice and light as they are, I really loved the Virrata. I tried Altra shoes and just didn’t like the way they fit – tried two different types and wasn’t liking it, felt like the sole and upper were just not jiving with each other; the cushioning felt simply off. So that brand is out. Any other suggestions for good zero drop road shoes?

  18. Since I have switched to barefoot/minimal shoes, my foot started to numb after 5km. Is it can be related to shoes I am using? I have used Vapor Glov 3 and currently using NB minimals. Will you please advise how can I avoide numb foot problem providing currently I am running on Asphalt.

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