This is the year of maximum cushioning, with major brands far and wide trotting out brick-thick models. Sure, fat shoes are luxuriously comfortable, inviting higher-impact runners and recovering athletes to land on dreamy pillows of puff. But every pitch has its catch. And while deep cushioning spares your legs, it also slows you down, sucking energy from every step. Corpulent kicks also tend to be much pricier. And even moderately fat shoes must strike a balance between cushion and efficiency, although the very best deliver on each of those fronts. We picked seven that represent the apogee of both persuasions, though some—like the speedily plush LunarTempo 2—bridge the divide better than others.
Nike LunarTempo 2
Gear of the Year
Several shoes now provide ample cushion in a sub-eight-ounce design, delivering a ride that’s responsive enough to hammer a speed workout or cruise for hours in comfort. The LunarTempo 2 just does it best. It starts with Nike’s popular Lunarlon midsole, a thin but springy foam that soaks up hard landings and pops on toe-off. The engineered mesh upper sucks onto your foot like a sock, delivering a customized fit without overlays, thanks to the cage of thin Flywire cables that lock in the midfoot. None of that is new, but with the thicker-than-barefoot foam and still-racy feel, the LunarTempo had the broadest appeal of any shoe in our test. At this price, it’s proof that a Benji can still get you an exceptional ride. 7.4 ounces; 8 mm drop
Hoka One One Tracer
Best For: Low-impact racing.
The Test: The Tracer was designed as Hoka’s lightweight speed-training shoe, but it’s a great gateway drug for runners getting into racing. While the Tracer still has a generous 22 millimeters of stack in the heel (two-thirds the normal Hoka cush), the ride is far quicker and more responsive than anything else in the company’s line. Our team raved about it for low-impact speed sessions and longer training runs, breaking Hoka out of the cruising and recovery niche it has dominated for several years. “This will be my go-to shoe for long-distance racing in 2016,” one tester said. Our only quibble: the heel cradle feels lumpy. Size up: fits a half-size small.
The Verdict: Fat boy can move! 7 oz; 4 mm drop
Saucony Kinvara 7
Best For: Lightweight training in comfort.
The Test: Seven generations after it exploded onto the scene, the Kinvara remains one of the most loved lightweight trainers, checking all the boxes for faster runners who don’t want the harshness of true speed shoes. A secure but flexible upper? Check. Wide-open forefoot? Yup. Quick turnover, soft on impact, springy on toe-off? Oui, sí, hai! “Few trainers can perform so well at such a light weight,” wrote one tester. The new Everun foam heel might add a smidge of softness to the cup, but it’s barely perceptible. Fair warning: heavy landers (200-plus-pound heel strikers) might bottom out.
The Verdict: A perennial favorite that’s stronger than ever. 7.7 oz; 4 mm drop
Best For: Narrow feet, lightweight training.
The Test: The brand-new FuzeX immediately split our test team in two. The fans liked the svelte form, quick turnover, moderately soft gel-like ride, and secure fit—a more responsive feel than we’ve seen from ASICS. The haters slammed the shoe’s abrasively stiff upper, strikingly narrow design, and high-cut collar, which rubbed some ankles the wrong way. But all agreed that the centerpiece technology—a new FuzeGel foam-and-gel midsole material—feels great: plush but nicely low-riding.
The Verdict: A smooth strider that’s smart underfoot. But not for everyone. 10.4 oz; 12 mm drop
New Balance Fresh Foam 1080
Best For: Those with a plush fetish.
The Test: The Fresh Foam totally revamps New Balance’s tired 1080 line, and we loved the new look and feel. With its fat, bootie-construction tongue, extra-thick slab of springy foam, slow-cinching, stretchy laces, and streamlined upper, the 1080 won our vote for best slip-on comfort of the test—think Ugg boot for the workout set. On the road, it’s definitely slow and sluggish (“More squish, less rebound,” said one tester) but also deliciously smooth and not overstacked. A great alternative to some of the massive shoes out there.
The Verdict: Extreme comfort sans extreme proportions. 10.4 oz; 8 mm drop
Brooks Transcend 3
Best For: Supportive cushioning; bigger runners.
The Test: An archetypal fatty, the Transcend got an overhaul this year, dropping a full ounce by slimming back on some unnecessary midsole girth while maintaining a wide, impact-dispersing outsole and a stable, confident landing. “A solid, well-cushioned ride that doesn’t feel bulky,” one tester reported. Responsive? Quick on the turnover? No. This is still a cruise ship, just a smaller one.
The Verdict: One of the more refined fatties on the market grows up and slims down. 10.9 oz; 8 mm drop
Adidas Ultra Boost St
Best For: Heel strikers and cushioning fiends.
The Test: If you can’t get enough of that soft, bouncy Adidas Boost foam, here comes your double helping. The Ultra Boost sinks extra deep into its thick, gummy foam—by far the squishiest shoe here. “Like running on marshmallows,” one tester said. It’s also emphatically oriented to heel strikers (the eight millimeter drop feels more like twelve) and rather heavy. Still, the foam does have some spring; one tester commented that the shoe propelled him forward. Pronators, be warned: while the “St” stands for stability, this was the most wobbly and unstable shoe in our test.
The Verdict: A luxuriously deep pillow at a premium price. 12.2 oz; 8 mm drop