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.
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.
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.
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.