Zero Drop Cushioned Running Shoes Comparison

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This spring, zero-drop footwear is getting a boost – in terms of underfoot cushioning and protection. Once the exclusive domain of “minimal” footwear, zero-drop designs are growing up (off the ground, that is) with thicker platforms designed to provide more impact protection.

Three big brands – Brooks, Mizuno and Saucony – have introduced cushioned, zero-drop models this year. We took to the roads in all three, and here’s how they stack up.

Brooks PureDrift

Likes: Excellent ground feel, flexible platform that moves with the foot, wide forefoot allows for natural toe splay

Dislikes: Many runners will want more underfoot protection, midsole pods are noticeable, upper may be too generous for some

Verdict: The Brooks PureDrift delivers a near barefoot experience suited best for experienced minimalist runners

6.1 oz (Men’s 9), $100 MSRP

The PureDrift got a lot of buzz before its January release. Known for its close to the ground feel, this shoe maintains a touch of cushioning underfoot. One of the more minimal releases of the year, the PureDrift is a treat for those looking for an almost barefoot ride.

Not as cushioned as it may appear, the extra firm underfoot feel makes it best reserved for experienced minimalist runners. Removal of the sockliner allows for an even closer to the ground experience, though testers agreed that the difference in cushioning is small.

The PureDrift platform utilizes a pod construction that delivers remarkable flexibility, especially in the forefoot. The pods are noticeable underfoot when transitioning from landing to toe-off, though the effect on the overall ride is small.

The toebox is the widest in this test, and there’s a roomy fit throughout the shoe. Runners with narrower feet may notice scrunching of excess material over the top of the foot.

Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris

Likes: Stretch mesh for slipper-like fit and breathability, ample room for toe splay, responsive forefoot cushioning

Dislikes: Toebox is not as wide as other options, internal stitching can limit sockless wear

Verdict: The Wave Evo Cursoris is stripped down to a set of core technologies to provide ground feel and impact protection

6.8 oz (Men’s 9), $120 MSRP

The Wave Evo Cursoris utilizes Mizuno’s approach to technology – the Wave plate, their characteristic responsive ride, their cradling of the foot in key areas – but optimized for the midfoot striker.

This shoe offers a slipper-like fit. The toebox does allow some toe splay, though not to the extent of the wider PureDrift. A few testers found that stitching at the base of the tongue caused some irritation during sockless use, but otherwise the upper received a lot of praise.

In terms of cushioning, the Cursoris sits between the PureDrift and the Virrata, offering a moderate amount of impact protection and rebound for a shoe with such low stack heights. We credited the feel at least in part to its midfoot Wave plate.

Runners who like a firmer underfoot feel or who have an efficient stride should be able to use the Cursoris for high mileage running.

Saucony Virrata

Likes: Seamless interior and a sock-like fit, protective cushioning, smooth ride from heel to toe

Dislikes: Narrower toe box limits toe-splay, outsole wears quickly in the midfoot

Verdict: A cushioned zero-drop shoe with a performance feel, we think the Saucony Virrata is one of the best buys of 2013

6.7 oz (Men’s 9), $90 MSRP

Of all the new running footwear releases of 2013, few models have equaled the hype and excitement of Saucony’s Virrata. A close cousin to the ever-popular Kinvara, the Virrata introduces a flexible, light, and cushioned zero-drop shoe to Saucony’s already diverse running shoe assortment.

The Virrata uses internal bootie construction to create a seamless environment around the foot and offers a snug and comfortable fit. The Virrata does lack the wider forefoot of the PureDrift and the Cursoris, fitting more like a performance shoe in the toebox.

The Virrata offers the most impact protection of the shoes in this comparison. The ride is incredibly smooth, lacking the sharp landing typical of a zero drop shoe, and effortlessly rolls forward through toe-off thanks to deep flex grooves in the platform. Grip on the road is adequate, though the outsole gets easily chewed up due to minimal use of carbon rubber to save weight.

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