Top 5 Zero Drop Running Shoes with Cushion

Craving the benefits of a zero-drop shoe but hesitant to ditch the cushion? You're not alone! This post explores the world of zero-drop shoes with padding, introducing you to practical options and helping you find the perfect fit for your feet.

So you want a zero-drop shoe!? But you’re not ready to give up the cushion. 

I get it; cushion has its benefits. Although I can’t promise that barefoot shoes won’t come up at some point 🙂 

In this post, we’ll look at some of the best zero-drop shoes in this niche and maybe introduce you to a new brand or two.

And more importantly, I’ll take you through each shoe’s fit and feel to ensure it’s the right match for YOUR FEET! 

So, let’s get straight into it with a legend in the zero-drop shoe scene. 

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Zero-drop road running shoes

Altra Escalante 3

Altra almost certainly came up in the conversation if you’ve ever talked zero-drop to anyone. They are the most significant player in this market, considering all their models are zero-drop.

And one model standing out from the crowd: The Altra Escalante 3. 

The Escalante has had a substantial following since its inception, and now, even though it’s lost some of its wide forgiving squishiness, it’s still a solid choice. 

Elegant Escalante 3

A wide toe box that narrows towards the midfoot. Another standout feature of Altra’s are the wide toe boxes. They allow your toes to splay and help the foot work naturally. This is no different in the Escalante, but the midfoot has narrowed down over the years. That’s good in some sense because they used to be sloppy on the feet. Now they feel much more race ready. 

The Escalante 3 achieves a strong lockdown partly due to the lack of depth but equally down to the perfected heel. It’s not the deepest of shoes. I even swapped out the thick insoles for thinner options to gain more room in the shoe. But that does mean there’s no sliding around in the shoe. The heel wraps snuggly around the heel and provides a perfect heel lock.

Altra Escalante tongue

It’s a soft ride if you’re used to conventional shoes at this stack height. With a height of 24mm, usually, you’d find shoes with a firm and responsive midsole. That’s where the Escalante has always differed. It’s soft and squishy like the high-stack shoes but still somewhat responsive. It’s not for everyone, but it works if you want some ground feel. 

There’s some flex, but don’t expect a barefoot feeling. Again, the Escalante has stiffened over time, which means it’s lost some flexibility. Anyone used to a lot of flex underfoot will feel out of place in the Escalante, but if you’re coming from conventional brands, it’s a great stepping stone into minimal shoes. 

Altra Escalante Outsole

Who’s the Altra Escalante for?

Fit: Wide toe box, average to low volume foot. If you have a narrow heel, try before you buy.

Feel: Less ground feel, more cushion for those easy days or PR attempts!

Escalante 3

Type: Road

Width: Wide

Stack height: 24mm

Weight: 9.3oz / 263g

The closet to barefoot you can get in Altra shoes. Read the Full Review

Topo Athletics ST-5

Topo Athletics ST-4 zero drop

The ST-5 has a great balance between minimal and cushion, but with one fundamental flaw, I’ll come to later. 

Along with Altra, Topo is another brand that started its life with lower-to-the-ground zero-drop shoes. Although not all Topos are zero-drop now, some elements carry over. 

Topo Athletics ST-4 Outsole

The toe box is plenty wide enough to fit most foot types. Taking a bird’s eye view of the ST-5 highlights the width of the toebox, minimal taper around the big toe, and the (generally speaking) more square-than-conventionally-shaped shoes. These attributes mean that 95% of foot types will fit the toebox with no issues. 

The heel could use a little more work. The heel cup is an odd design, using a wetsuit-like material with minimal padding. Usually, an unstructured heel works well for me, but this time the collar just didn’t wrap around and lock me in a place like I’d want to. The feeling didn’t translate into any problems during a run, but I can’t say it was perfect. This particular design would be most comfortable for those with a slightly larger ankle or broader heel.

Topo Athletics ST-4 heel cuff

14mm of softer cushion is the sweet spot. There’s a fine line between high-cushioned and loss-of-ground feel, and ST-5 straddles that perfectly! When I planted my foot, I could feel a little give which I would describe as squishy, which makes them perfect for long, easy runs as a barefoot runner. For others, they’ll suit shorter distances or as a transition shoe from a conventional shoe brand. 

Arch support….. seriously?! The conventional shoe industry has no issue with arch support in shoes. But in the barefoot world, arch support is a no-no. Your arch has a specific purpose in the running gait. It should be trained to take the load upon landing and act as a spring upon take off. While the support is minimal, and I technically only felt it when walking, it’s there. The design flies in the face of the original Topo designs, where barefoot was king, so why the change? 

Who’s the Topo ST-5 for?

Those who can’t do the Escalante for some reason. 

Fit: Wide toe box and an average depth. The heel lock could be an issue for some.

Feel: Great ground feel; just ensure you rotate with a barefoot option so you don’t lose that arch strength!

ST-5

Type: Road

Width: Wide

Stack height: 14mm

Weight: 6.6oz / 187g for men’s US9

Great mixture of minimal and cushion, with one flaw. Read the Full Review

Lems Primal 2

Lems Primal 2 zero drop option

We’re dropping in stack height with the Primal 2.

With a total stack height of 12.5mm (with insole), this is on the verge of being classed as a minimal shoe. But that might work for you! 

If you’ve been looking for wide, you’ve been looking for Lems! The Primal 2 is the widest of all the shoes on this list. From the forefoot to the midfoot, Lems have designed their shoes to accommodate those who need that little extra space. 

It’s the lightweight option you may have been looking for! Many studies have shown that a lighter running shoe is more efficient, which leads to faster times. You have to put less effort into throwing your feet back and forth. The Primal 2 comes in at 6.9oz (195g) for a men’s US9, which is lighter than 90% of running shoes out there! 

Which Altra Shoe is for you?

Take a quick 4-question quiz to identify the perfect Altra running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!


You should go slow when transitioning into a low-stack height shoe. This is true for most of the shoes on this list, but as the Primal 2 is the lowest of the bunch, you’ll be putting much more load through the feet and lower legs (and that’s a good thing for training gains). Because of that, you should rotate the Primal 2’s in slowly and build the distance over time.

The Primal 2 is cheaper than any other shoe on this list. The RRP is $110, and if you’re new to barefoot/minimal running and have wide feet, the price makes the Primal 2 an attractive choice.

Who’s the Lems Primal 2 for?

Fit: Super wide feet from the forefoot to the midfoot. 

Feel: Minimal with a ton of flex. You need to like ground feel!

Primal 2

Type: Road

Width: Wide

Stack height: 12.5mm

Weight: 6.9oz / 195 g

You could almost say this is a barefoot shoe. But it’s wide if you need it! Read the Full Review

Zero drop trail running options

Altra Lone Peak 8

Here’s the first trail mention! Because zero drop is for the trail too!

Most people have heard of the Lone Peak. It has a strong following in the US trail scene and is the OG for soft flat trail shoes. 

Altra Lone Peak 7 Zero drop trail option

The Lone Peak 8 has a wide toe box allowing your toes to splay. Sporting Altra’s “Original Fit,” there is added width in the toe box for those with a wider toe splay. But if you still find they squeeze a little through the forefoot to the midfoot, the wide option is likely for you.

The forefoot width continues back towards the heel. Feet come in all different sizes, and the Lone Peak fits one type of foot particularly well. One that I like to call the log. The wide continues from the forefoot all the way back with slight variation. This fit differs from brands like Hoka or Salomon, who aim for a “precision” fit in the midfoot and heel (that’s code for narrow). So if you have midfoot or heel width issues, try the Lone Peak!

Altra Lone Peak 7 toe box

The midsole still feels soft but not bouncy like new foams on the market. Altra hasn’t made those big leaps in midsole bliss yet. It’s still old-school EVA which is dense and a little heavier than the new Pebax. That’s not bad for everyone; some, including me, feel a little uneasy on these newer bouncy foams, and, honestly, I prefer a good, firm EVA. It’s also cheaper! So it keeps the Lone Peak from climbing into those stupid $200 ranges. 

With an updated Maxtrac outsole, slippy rocks will be less of an issue. If there is one thing that all shoes struggle with, it’s grip in different environments. Previous Lone Peaks dealt with mud reasonably well, thanks to the unique tread pattern. But when it came to wet rocks, the outsole failed. The Lone Peak 8 fixes this with a new tacky rubber, much like super rubbers from La Sportiva, but does that mean they’ll wear down quicker? Only time will tell. 

Who’s the Altra Lone Peak 8 for?

Fit: Wide, straight feet. Choose the wide option if your width is in the midfoot.

Feel: Soft, flexible, with a tiny bit of pop. 

Lone Peak 8

Type: Trail

Width: Wide

Stack height: 25mm

Weight: 10.7oz / 303g for men’s US9

The original wide, zero-drop aggressive trail shoe. Read the Full Review

Altra Superior 6

Altra superior 6 zero drop option

Another one from Altra, because they make the best trail running shoes! 

The Superior is similar to the Lone Peak, just cut back somewhat. 

Less stack height, less aggressive, and less volume across the midfoot. And I think it’s a better shoe all around! 🙂 

Altra Superior 6 solid grip

The forefoot is wide and beautifully squared towards the big toe. Altra’s foot-shaped toebox still exists! It’s wide enough for super toe splayers and even fits my stupid bulbous big toe. 🙂 So yeah, it’s wide enough for most of you out there. The taper on the little toe side is not too aggressive, so it should fit a more square-shaped foot. 

It’s wide, but our feet are 3D! There’s no depth to this shoe. If you have a lot of volume in your foot, you may have felt a lot of pressure on the top of the foot in Altra’s. For me, the Superior 6 is no different. I felt a lot of pressure over the top of my foot from the upper. So my super sneaky trick is to replace the insole with something thinner, like a Xero Shoes insole. 

Altra Superior 6 toe box

You need to be comfortable with your feet doing the work! If there is one thing we’re passionate about at Barefoot Run Review, it’s foot function. Most modern shoes don’t allow your foot to move, let alone contribute to the running gait. The Superior’s do allow your feet to work! The shoe is flexible enough to feel your foot engage on toe-off and minimal enough that your calves will get a good workout. 

It’ll take a little time for all the materials to break in. The materials in the upper and midsole are a little stiff and lifeless at first. So it’s going to take a little time to break things in. After 50km, the Superior felt less like a cast and more like an extension of my foot, which is all a shoe should be! 

Who’s the Altra Superior 6 for?

Fit: Wide toebox with a shallow depth. Great for those who drown in a Lone Peak.

Feel: Responsive with some ground feel! The flexibility grows over time. 

Superior 6

Type: Trail

Width: Wide

Stack height: 21mm

Weight: 9.5oz / 270g

The most minimal trail runner from Altra and a favorite alternative for barefoot runners. Read the Full Review

Conclusion

And that’s your top 5 zero-drop shoes!

Some for the trail and some for the road. 

Just remember, the main factor on all these shoes is fit, so if you want to drill down into more details on any of these shoes, check out the full reviews below. 

Altra Esclante 3 Review

Topo Athletics ST-5 Review

Altra Lone Peak 8 Review

Altra Superior 6 Review

Lems Primal 2 Review

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Altra Lone Peak 8

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Altra Lone Peak 8

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Altra Superior 6

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Altra Escalante 3

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Altra Lone Peak 7

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Altra Torin 7

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Altra Outroad 2

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Altra Rivera 3

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Altra Torin 6

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Altra Outroad

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Altra Timp 4

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Altra Superior 5

Nick
Nick

Nick is a UESCA-certified ultramarathon coach and avid barefoot runner, having over 5 years of experience in barefoot training and has competed in multiple ultra marathons wearing barefoot shoes. Starting his journey in the running industry over 10 years ago in New Zealand, Nick evolved from a running shoe salesperson to a passionate advocate for the transformative power of barefoot running. He believes in its potential to enhance running experiences for all and combines his unique insights from both personal achievements and professional coaching to guide and inspire the running community."

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10 Comments

  1. You should get a hold of the Whitin zero drop running shoes with wide toe box to review. Strikingly similar to one of the brands in your list @ 1/3 the price. Would probably be a great option for those unable to spring for $150 Altras or the like.

    I actually got them instead of some of the other options on your list being a newer runner who is doing reletively short (sub 5 mile) runs and is on the frugal side but loves barefoot shoes.

    • Yeah, I like the idea, and I’ve seen them in the past.

      What model do you have? How do you think the durability will be?
      From what I see, they only do barefoot/minimal stack height options?

      • I agree.. esp since ppl who are zero-drop curious might not be able or willing to spend that much on an experiment. I just purchased Whitin, too. A pretty basic line, but I’m loving the increased flexibility in sole! Please review!

        • Thanks for the further recommendation. I’ve found a model with a 5mm stack height, so certainly in the barefoot style. I’ll look at reviewing these towards the end of the year. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to put this together, Nick. When the Altra Escalante first hit the shelves, I recommended it to clients. Unfortunately, the current version has more stack height, and the soft cushioning system means the foot is in an unstable environment.

    It’s great to see Topo featured, and I love the color of those Lems!

    Your review of the Altra Lone Peak and Superior 6 was helpful, and with so few options these days, both shoes are worthy of recommending to my clients. Thanks again!

    • Thanks for the kind words Rick!

      I agree; something is missing in the market today. Lower stack height, soft and flexible. Inov8 used to cover that, and Altra did too, but now they’ve all moved in different directions. The Altra Escalante Racer could fill this gap still, but it’d be great to have something more durable.

  3. Hi, firstly I want to say your reviews are the best around. I am not a runner but I fitness walk between 5 and 8kms per day. I want to buy a pair of Already and my local shop only had Timp4 shoes and I am not a fan of the garish orange but they felt very comfortable. My question is which shoe would you recommend as a fitness walker. I’m leaning toward the Torin 7.
    Thank you in advance
    Steve

    • Thanks so much for your kind words!
      Personally, if I were to promote the philosophy behind Barefoot Run Review, if you’re choosing a walking shoe, I’d suggest looking at minimal/barefoot shoes. You’d work your distance up to let your feet build the strength they’re lost over the years.
      But if you’re still looking for cushion, then I’d suggest looking at a lower stack height than the Torins. The Escalante 3 would be a good choice if you know Altra’s fit well.

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